Col John Birch's Regiment of Foote

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Pike

The pike is one of the oldest weapons, whose earliest recorded use was by the Macedonians led by Philip II who was Alexander the Great's father. It is a long thrusting wooden spear tipped with steel. Greek pikes were around 22ft long and were used in phalanx formation as an attacking weapon. By the seventeenth century, pikes had reduced to 18ft in length and were primarily defensive, used to protect vulnerable musket from cavalry charges.

A typical pikeman of the English Civil Wars often carried a short sword called a hanger which was used when an enemy got past the tip of his pike. He would also wear a morion (a steel helmet) and armour such as back-and-breast plates and tassets to protect the thighs. As the wars progressed, however, the heavy armour was increasingly discarded by troops as it was cumbersome, uncomfortable and often ill-fitting.

Although essentially a defensive weapon, pike-on-pike engagements did occur. The pike would close in formation with the rear ranks continuing to push forward against the ranks in front in what is often called a 'push of pike'. It took longer to train a pikeman than a musketeer, and only the biggest, strongest men were chosen to be pikemen because of the unwieldy nature of the weapon. However, although pike was thought of as the more honourable weapon, it was increasingly falling out of use in favour of musket. It is thought that at the start of the wars pike outnumbered musket, but by the end there were more than twice as many musket than pike.

Pike today

In the Sealed Knot, the pike fight in basic styles: point and push. At point, the opposing units engage in wide formation with pikes levelled "at charge". As they close, pikeman fence with their pikes, aiming to stab their opponents. When engaging at push, the block engage in a narrow, tight formation with points raised for safety and attempt to push their opponents backwards. This is fiercely competitive, physical and resembles a large rugby scrum with long sticks.

Although the battles are scripted, the individual pike block engagements certainly aren't. Pike take great pride in their block: this pride instils a strong sense of camaraderie and produces very hard-fought engagements. Because of the intensity of pike fighting, many pikemen come off the battlefield without having noticed the rain, the cannon, or their aching bones. Pike fighting appeals most to the more physically inclined among us!

Apart from the basic clothing, pikeman only need a helmet and leather gauntlets. Pikes are provided by the regiment, and it's always possible to borrow a helmet until you get your own.

A pikeman's view

"I've been a pikeman for a few years now and still get as big a kick out of it as I did at my first battle. That nervous tingly feeling of anticipation before every scrap is still with me. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I find it exhilarating, physical and completely addictive. Every battle is different but there's always the same feeling of camaraderie on the field and friendship off it... and of course the bruise counting! I come off the field exhausted, happy, and ready for a beer."

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