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Drill manual for 17th century harquebusiers

The term Harquebusier was used to denote the most common form of cavalryman found in Western Europe during the the early and mid 17th century.



The lobster-tailed pot, breastplate, buff coat and bridle arm gauntlet typically worn by the harquebusier

This type of cavalryman was characterised by the use of a form of carbine, initially termed a "harquebus" (a word derived from the heavier infantry weapon, the arquebus). In the late 16th century the harquebusier was envisioned, like the similar and earlier petronel, as a support for more heavily armoured cavalry, demi-lancers or pistol-armed cuirassiers and reiters. Later, towards the mid 17th century, the harquebusier became the standard type of cavalry found throughout western Europe. The later harquebusier was increasingly used in a shock role on the battlefield. Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and the cavalry leaders of the English Civil War, such as Prince Rupert of the Rhine and Oliver Cromwell, employed harquesbusiers very aggressively: charging with sword in hand, thus relegating their firearms to a secondary function.[1] Indeed by the 1620s cavalry not equipped with a carbine could be termed "harquebusiers," just from the level and style of their armour protection.[2]


The typical harquebusier would have worn an iron cuirass, with a breast and backplate, and an open faced helmet such as a lobster tailed pot; the fashion conscious could replace the helmet with a broad-brimmed felt hat, often worn over a concealed iron skullcap or secrete. In England, in 1629, a harquebusier's armour cost one pound and six shillings, that of a cuirassier four pounds and ten shillings.[3] A more wealthy harquebusier may have worn a buff coat (more expensive than an iron cuirass) under his armour and a metal gauntlet to protect his bridle hand and forearm. The harquebusier would have been armed with a doglock carbine, hung from a swivel attached to a baldric, pistols in saddle holsters and a stout, straight-bladed, sword.[4] The 'dog' of the doglock was a type of safety-catch, very useful to prevent the unintentional firing of the carbine when on horseback.

National variation in the battlefield employment of harquebusiers existed. The French tended to retain the use of firearms, often their harquebusiers would give a volley of carbine and or pistol fire before closing with the sword. The Swedes and Royalist English charged home directly with the sword, not using firearms. The Parliamentarian cavalry retained the use of firearms in the charge until later in the Civil War, but by the time of the New Model Army had largely adopted the direct charge with the sword.[5] The Swedes usually charged at speed, the English Ironsides charged at a slower pace, troopers keeping together knee-to-knee, in order to retain their formation.


The term harquebusier fell out of use gradually, harquebusiers becoming part of the undifferentiated "horse" or, in French, "cavalerie" of the early and mid 18th century. In the British army many cavalry regiments having their origins as units of harquebusiers eventually transformed into dragoons. The equipment of the harquebusier disappeared at different rates, the doglock carbine was replaced by the 'true' flintlock in the late 1600s. Cuirasses fell in and out of fashion during the 18th century before the Napoleonic renaissance of the cuirassier in the first decade of the 19th century. The lobster tailed pot helmet fell out of favour in most countries by 1700, though the Austrian army retained this type of helmet for its cuirassiers into the 1780s.


  1. ^ Tincey, p. 5.
  2. ^ Brzezinski, pp. 4-5.
  3. ^ Haythornthwaite, pp. 45 and 49.
  4. ^ Tincey, pp. 11-16
  5. ^ Haythornthwaite, pp. 51-52.


  • Brzezinski, R. (Hook, R. - illustrator) (1993) The Army of Gustavus Adolphus (2) Cavalry. Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1-85532-350-8
  • Haythornthwaite, P. (1983) The English Civil War, An Illustrated History Blandford Press. ISBN 1-85409-323-1.
  • Tincey, J. (McBride, A. - illustrator) (1990) Soldiers of the English Civil War (2) Cavalry, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 0850459400


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