Siege of La Rochelle


Cardinal Richelieu at the Siege of La Rochelle

British (English) School; The Siege of La Rochelle, 1627-1628; National Trust, Dyrham Park;

British (English) School; The Siege of La Rochelle, 1627-1628; National Trust, Dyrham Park;

August 1627-October 28, 1628
La Rochelle on the southwest Atlantic coast of France
French Army
Citizens of La Rochelle, supported by England
Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu
Jean Guiton; George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham
Approx. # Troops
Some 29,000
City population of 27,000; 6,000 English troops
Richelieu amends the Edict of Nantes with the Huguenots losing the right to maintain fortified towns and military formations independent of the crown. The long siege also brings the creation of the French Navy.

The Protestant Reformation, especially the radical version preached by Frenchman John Calvin (ne Jean Cauvin), who set himself up in Geneva, spread to France soon after it began. Calvinism was particularly appealing to the French middle class and nobles. As the nobles were often the chief source of opposition to the Crown, French kings naturally took alarm. In the 1550s the government of Henri II persecuted adherents of the new faith, who came to be called Huguenots, and burned a number of them at the stake. Despite this persecution, Calvinism continued to make inroads, especially in southwestern France.

During 1562-1598 France experienced a series of costly religious wars during which the Huguenots established a number of fortified cities, including La Rochelle on the southwestern Atlantic coast. The wars were settled when the Huguenot champion, Henri de Navarre, became king of France as Henri IV. Because the great majority of Frenchmen were still Catholic and because Henri IV wished to secure the Catholic stronghold of Paris, he converted to Catholicism (“Paris is well worth a mass,” he is supposed to have said). To mollify his former coreligionists, he issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598 that granted religious toleration and full civil rights to the Huguenots. The edict also allowed them to fortify some 100 towns where the Huguenot faith was in the majority.

Unfortunately for France, Henri IV’s reign was brief; he was stabbed to death in Paris by a religious fanatic in 1610. His son, Louis XIII (r. 1610-1643), was then only nine years old. Louis grew up to be weak and indecisive, but he had a capable chief minister in Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu, who was the virtual ruler of France during 1624-1642. This born administrator made raison d’etat (reason of state) the dominant consideration in all his policies. Although he was a sincere Catholic, Richelieu never let religion get in the way of strengthening the state.

To Richelieu, the Huguenot-fortified towns formed a state within a state and were thus unacceptable. Alarmed by Richelieu’s stance, the Huguenots rebelled under the leadership of the dukes de Rohan and Soubise. Richelieu responded by declaring the suppression of the rebellion his first priority in 1625. Protestant, rich, and looking toward England, La Rochelle relished its independence. The city itself lay at the end of a channel. Off it were two islands: the closest, Ile de Re, and the more distant Ile d’Oleron. La Rochelle was the strongest of the Huguenot fortresses and the center of resistance to royal rule.

In 1626 La Rochelle had been forced to accept a royal commissioner, to agree not to arm its ships, and to accord full rights to Catholics. In March 1627 France formed an alliance with Spain that solidified its position. Six months later Richelieu’s forces initiated a siege of the city and exchanged artillery fire with its Huguenot defenders. Because La Rochelle was a port it could receive aid by sea, and in June 1627 King Charles I of England sent 120 ships and 6,000 soldiers there under his favorite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

The English fleet arrived at Ile de Re on July 10. If the people of La Rochelle welcomed the troops, Buckingham was to place them under command of the Duc de Soubise, who arrived with him. If not, the men would return to England. Soubise went to La Rochelle to negotiate with its leaders, but they feared the consequences of welcoming English troops. Buckingham therefore ordered his men ashore to secure Fort St. Martin on Ile de Re, which was controlled by the royalists, as a base for future operations. His men, most of whom had been pressed, were poorly trained, and many refused to go ashore. Others bolted on the first gunfire with the royal garrison on the island. Buckingham was thus unable to take the fort; instead, he resorted to a blockade.

Richelieu was certain that if Buckingham took Fort St. Martin, his siege operation would fail. Richelieu therefore sent French ships to supply the fort, called up feudal levies, and sent about 20,000 men toward La Rochelle. The brother of the king, Gaston d’Orleans, had nominal command, but field command was held by the Duc d’Angouleme. As it worked out, Richelieu actually retained direction of affairs.

In August, Angouleme closed off the city from the land side, and the city fathers voted to call on Buckingham for arms and assistance. The royal garrison on the Ile de Re continued to hold out, although on October 1 its commander, Jean de St. Bonnet de Toiras, sent word that his men were almost out of food and that without relief he would have to surrender on the evening of October 8. Therefore, on the night of October 7 Richelieu sent a relief force of 47 vessels under an adventurer named Beaulieu-Persac. That night a battle took place off Ile de Re between the French and English warships. Although he was eventually forced to surrender, Beaulieu-Persac succeeded in distracting the English long enough for his 29 supply ships to beach themselves on the island.

A few days later King Louis XIII arrived in the vicinity of La Rochelle. Richelieu then personally led 9,000 reinforcements to the Ile de Re and Ile d’Oleron from northern French mainland ports. Running short of supplies himself, in desperation Buckingham and 2,000 men launched a last attempt to storm Fort St. Martin on November 5. The English took the outer works but were then driven back and shortly thereafter came under heavy attack from the French relief force. On November 8 Buckingham sailed away with the half of his force that remained.

With Ile de Re secure, Richelieu could concentrate on La Rochelle. In November the French constructed a powerful siege line more than seven miles long with 11 forts and 18 redoubts. The French lacked the means to blockade the city completely from the sea, but after reading how Alexander the Great had built a great causeway to end the siege of Tyre, Richelieu ordered construction of a great stone dike at the end of the bay to close La Rochelle off from the sea. Jean de Thirot, architect to the king, and Clement Metezeau, the king’s master builder, had charge of construction.

Work began in October and for all practical purposes was complete by January 1628, with the jetty and 56 ships chained together and armed to form a floating wall. In addition, Richelieu assembled 36 galleys and pinnaces in the roadstead to attack any expedition launched from La Rochelle to destroy the dike.

In March an English ship made it to La Rochelle with supplies and promised assistance from Charles I. The people of La Rochelle took heart and elected Jean Guiton as mayor. He infused new life in the defense. Moreover, in early May an English fleet under Lord Denbigh arrived. The English ships briefly bombarded the dike but without effect. Then, learning that a Spanish fleet was at sea, Denbigh sailed away on May 18. On September 28 a larger English fleet under Count Lindsey appeared off the dike, transporting 11 regiments and food for many months, but the troops were disaffected, and it departed without landing either men or supplies.

With this final disappointment and virtually no hope of resupply, on October 29 the La Rochelle garrison finally surrendered. During the siege, largely as the consequence of famine and disease, the population of the city went from 27,000 to only 5,000 people. Richelieu entered the city in triumph, and French troops immediately began the destruction of La Rochelle’s walls and fortifications. Richelieu then amended the Edict of Nantes in the Peace of Alais, which formally ended the siege. The Huguenots lost the right to maintain fortified towns and military formations independent of the Crown. They did, however, retain full religious and civil rights until 1685, when King Louis XIV, much to the detriment of his kingdom, annulled the Edict of Nantes altogether.

One reason the siege had taken so long was that France did not have much of a navy. Richelieu may be regarded as the father of the French Navy, for he ordered construction of a force of 38 warships for the Atlantic and 10 for the Mediterranean.


Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

O’Connell, D. P. Richelieu. New York: World Publishing, 1968.

Sutherland, N. M. The Huguenot Struggle for Recognition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980.

Wood, James B. The Army of the King: Warfare, Soldiers, and Society during the Wars of Religion in France, 1562-1676. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

English Civil War Starts in the West


Various Musketeers


1643 the newly raised regiment of cuirassiers commanded by Sir Arthur Hesilrige


Musketeers’ equipment 1: Musketeers 2: Hats & Montero caps 3, 4: Bandoleers & tools 5: Muskets

Fighting broke out in the west even before the King raised his standard at Nottingham on 22 August 1642. At the end of July the Marquis of Hertford turned up in Bath with the King’s commission as Lieutenant General of the six western counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire and Wiltshire. Charged with distributing commissions of array to the King’s supporters in those counties, he chose to proclaim the fact not in hostile Bristol but in the rather safer atmosphere of Wells. Unfortunately, his call to arms met with a muted response, and while the local Trained Band was persuaded to muster under Sir Edward Rodney, they made it plain that they had absolutely no intention of fighting anybody. This was unhelpful to say the least, but on the other hand Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lunsford succeeded in raising some 240 volunteers for a marching regiment to be commanded by his brother Sir Thomas. Three troops of horse were also raised, two for Lord Grandison’s Regiment and the third commanded by Sir Ralph Hopton.

Meanwhile, Sir Alexander Popham was having rather better success in raising volunteers and Trained Bands for the service of Parliament. On 1 August 1,200 men were mustered at Shepton Mallet, and although Hopton turned up as well hoping to disrupt the proceedings, he hastily withdrew after counting heads. This reluctance to initiate hostilities did not last long. Just three days later the first shots were fired in a minor skirmish at Marshall’s Elm on 4 August. Although the Cavaliers claimed a famous victory, their celebrations were cut short next day when Popham moved forward with his whole force and compelled them to retreat to Sherborne.

Thereafter, there was something of a lull, but the Earl of Bedford was sent down from London to take charge, and with 7,000 men at his back, he turned up before Sherborne on 2 September. Not surprisingly the Royalists hastily threw themselves into the castle, but then finding Bedford more cautious than his numbers warranted, they reoccupied the town with some 300 foot. A rather half-hearted siege, or rather blockade, then followed, but Bedford pulled out on the 6th and fell back to Yeovil.

The following afternoon Hertford sent Hopton after them with 100 horse, sixty dragoons and 200 foot. It was intended to be no more than a reconnaissance in force, but Hopton nearly came to grief just as he was preparing to withdraw from his observation post on the curiously named Babylon Hill. Intent on watching Yeovil Bridge, the Cavaliers failed to see a party of Parliamentarians coming out of the town until it was almost too late. Sending off his foot at once, Hopton tried to cover their retreat with his cavalry. Two of his troops led by Captain Edward Stowell:

… charg’d verie gallantly and routed the enemy, but withall (his troops consisting of new horse, and the Enemy being more in number) was rowted himselfe; and Capt. Moreton., being a little too neere him was likewise broaken with the same shocke, and the trueth is in verie short tyme, all the horse on both sides were in a confusion: At the same tyme a troope of the Enemyes horse charg’d up in the hollow-way on the right hand, where (Sir Tho: Lunsford having forgotten to put a party of muskettiers as before) they found no opposicion till they came among the voluntiers upon the topp of the Hill, where by a very extraordinary accident, Sir James Colborne with a fowling gunne shott at the Captain in the head of the troope, and at the same instant Mr. John Stowell charg’d him single (by which of their hands it was, it is not certaine) but the Captain was slayne, and the troope (being raw fellows) immedyately rowted. In this extreame confusion Sir Ralph Hopton was enforced to make good the retreate with a few officers and Gentlemen that rallyed to him …

Despite seeing the Royalists off the premises, Bedford made no attempt to exploit his little victory. On the contrary, displaying his usual lack of resolution, he promptly decamped to Dorchester. Heartily glad to find him gone, the Cavaliers hung on at Sherborne until news came through on the 18th that Portsmouth had been taken by Sir William Waller. This unhappy news seems to have finally convinced Hertford that he was engaged in a hopeless task, so he abandoned Sherborne and headed north with all his forces to Minehead. The intention was then to ferry them across the Bristol Channel and march to join the King, but when they arrived in the little port it was to find only two ships there. These were sufficient to carry Sir Thomas Lunsford’s Regiment and the guns, but the cavalry had to be left behind. With Bedford closing in, there was little alternative but for Hopton to bid goodbye to Hertford and the Lunsford brothers and retire westwards into Cornwall.

Bedford made no attempt to pursue him, and instead rejoined Essex to play a less than glorious part in the Battle of Edgehill.3 This was rather unfortunate, for Hopton’s arrival in Cornwall altered the balance of power there in the King’s favour. Encouraged by the arrival of his cavalry, the local Royalists managed to bring over 3,000 men to a muster on Moilesbarrow Down on 4 October. For the most part they belonged to the Trained Bands, and although they enabled Hopton to occupy Launceston and secure the line of the Tamar, they also displayed the Bands’ traditional reluctance to cross the border into neighbouring Devon. Consequently, five of the Cornish leaders engaged to raise and maintain volunteer regiments, and with this little army at his back Hopton turned ambitious and cast his eyes on Plymouth.

As a first step they moved forward and occupied Mount Edgecumbe House and Millbrook, thus securing the Cornish side of the sound, and then forced a Parliamentarian detachment to retire from Plympton. This detachment had a curious history. At the beginning of October Lord Forbes’ regiment of Scots mercenaries, who had been carrying out a series of piratical raids on rebel-held territory in Ireland, put into Plymouth and were promptly hired to defend it. Thus fortuitously garrisoned, the town was secured pending the arrival of Bedford’s replacement, Lord Robartes, and three newly raised regiments. Two amphibious raids by the garrison on the outpost at Millbrook were beaten off, but on the night of 6 December Colonel William Ruthven, the mercenaries’ commander launched an altogether more successful raid on Modbury.

Hopton had arrived there earlier that day in an attempt to raise the Devon Royalists, but the gathering ‘was rather like a great fair’,4 and he could scarcely find enough armed men to mount sentries. Inevitably Ruthven (who had also been appointed commander-in-chief of the western forces) mounted a raid which scattered the assembled Royalists, captured the High Sheriff and very nearly snapped up Hopton as well. Then, taking no chances, instead of returning directly to Plymouth, he marched hard for Dartmouth and shipped both his men and the prisoners back by sea.

Without the Devon men there was no hope for the present of taking Plymouth, yet Hopton needed to secure a proper base where he could shelter and supply his army through the winter. An alternative had to be found, and so he turned his attention to Exeter instead. At first all went well. The city was summoned on 30 December, and Topsham was seized in order to prevent supplies or reinforcements coming up the Exe estuary. Unfortunately for the Royalists, while they were thus occupied in sealing off the seaward approaches to Exeter, Colonel Ruthven mounted a large body of musketeers on every nag he could find, and threw himself into the landward side of the city. This unexpected stroke did far more than simply dash the Royalists’ hopes of taking Exeter for as Hopton admitted:

Their expectation of ammunition, subsistence and increase from the County utterly failed, so as the army was enforced in that bitter season of the year (encumbered with all sorts of wants, and with the disorder and general mutiny of the Foot) to retreat towards Cornwall.

Baffled, the Cavaliers fell back by Crediton and Okehampton. Ruthven, indefatigable as ever, soon got on their track and, notwithstanding a creditable rearguard action at Bridstowe, he chased them all the way back into Cornwall and mounted an unsuccessful attack on Saltash. Even this minor reverse worked to his advantage for, while the Cavaliers’ attention was fixed on the town, he managed to pass a body of men across the Tamar at Newbridge. Hopton was now in a most unenviable position. Ruthven had forestalled him at every turn and was now mounting an invasion of Cornwall. What was more, additional Parliamentarian troops were known to be on the way, commanded by the Earl of Stamford who had hitherto been making a nuisance of himself in the Severn valley. Once he joined forces with Ruthven the two of them would be well nigh unstoppable.

At this point Hopton had an undeserved stroke of luck. Three Parliamentarian ships were driven by bad weather to seek shelter in Falmouth. Naturally enough, they were promptly seized by the Royalists, and the powder found on board (together with an equally welcome supply of hard cash) encouraged them to fight one last battle. At a muster held at Boconnoc on 18 January Hopton’s de facto position as commander of the Cornish army was formally confirmed6 and the decision was taken to counter-attack.

Accordingly, they marched next morning from Boconnoc, and at about noon came up with Ruthven’s army on some rising ground known as Braddock Down, just outside Liskeard. The Parliamentarians had rather more cavalry than the Royalists, but fewer infantry. Moreover, all of Ruthven’s foot were a mixture of raw country levies and Trained Bands; his Scots mercenaries had been left behind to hold Plymouth. Nevertheless his position was strong enough to give Hopton pause to think, and he drew up his army on another low hill, leaving a shallow valley between them.

For about two hours both commanders maintained their positions. Understandably enough neither general felt too keen about descending into the valley and fighting uphill. Ruthven might have done well to avoid battle altogether and wait for Stamford, but he had done well enough against Hopton thus far and he was no doubt confident of beating him again before the Earl arrived to steal his thunder. For his part Hopton was equally keen to anticipate Stamford’s arrival and so, firing two cannon as a signal, he sent the Cornish surging forward. Both horse and foot crossed the valley and advanced so resolutely that Ruthven’s men were seized with a sudden panic. The Parliamentarian foot fired just one ragged volley, and then broke and ran before the Royalists could come up with them. To add to Ruthven’s chagrin, as they streamed back through Liskeard in great disorder, the townspeople suddenly rediscovered their loyalty to King Charles and rose up against them. Afterwards the Cornish claimed to have lost just two men and, while it is likely that most of Ruthven’s men ran away too quickly to be killed, some 1,250 of them surrendered along with five good guns and all his baggage.

Otherwise, Ruthven got clean away, for the Cavaliers rested at Liskeard on the 20th, but once they had sobered up, Hopton divided his forces. One column directed upon Launceston sent Stamford into headlong retreat, while he himself marched on Saltash. Ruthven was busily digging in there, but the town was peremptorily stormed on the 23rd. This time Hopton claimed to have taken another 140 prisoners, but Ruthven and most of his men were taken off in small boats. Buoyed up by their altered fortunes the Royalists then proceeded to overstretch themselves again by making a second attempt to blockade Plymouth.

Once again they were hampered by the customary refusal of the Cornish Trained Bands to cross the Tamar. There was no alternative but to divide the army into a number of relatively small detachments and quite inevitably, on 21 February, Ruthven sallied out and fell upon Sir Nicholas Slanning’s post at Modbury. The Cavaliers at first put up a creditable resistance, but as soon as it grew dark, they fell back to Plympton leaving behind 100 dead, 150 prisoners and five guns. To make matters worse, it was learned that Stamford was pulling an army together at Kingsbridge, so next day Hopton mustered his forces on Roborough Down and then retired to Tavistock.

On the 28th he, Ruthven and Stamford agreed a local ceasefire. Bitter experience had shown that neither side was strong enough to invade the territory of the other so it seemed sensible to call a halt to unnecessary raiding during what remained of the winter. What was perhaps more surprising was that the ceasefire actually held for the stipulated forty days and nights.

Battle of Stratton, Cornwall, 16 May 1643 I


Sir Arthur Hesilrige’s Cuirassiers (known as Hesilrige’s London Lobsters due to their armour).


Beacon Hill

At the time Stamford was lying at Exeter recovering from an attack of gout. In his absence the Parliamentarian field army was commanded by Major General James Chudleigh. Soon after midnight he set off from Lifton with 1,500 musketeers, 200 pikemen and five troops of horse with the intention of attacking Launceston. Warned of his approach Hopton took up a defensive position on Beacon Hill with Sir Bevill Grenville’s Regiment, and was joined there by Godolphin’s just before Chudleigh turned up at about 9am. Finding the hedges at the foot of the hill stuffed full of Royalist musketeers made Chudleigh hesitate, but an hour later he launched his attack and cleared the hedges. However, further progress was arrested by the arrival of Lord Mohun’s Regiment and some horse and dragoons led by Sir John Berkeley.

Thereafter, the battle settled down into an inconclusive firefight while both sides waited for further reinforcements to come up. The next to appear were Colonels Slanning and Trevannion, but Chudleigh was joined at the same by Sir John Merrick’s Foot (a regular regiment sent down by Essex), and a detachment of Northcote’s Regiment. Nevertheless, with his whole army now concentrated, Hopton felt confident enough to launch a full-blown counter-attack. By this time it was starting to get dark and the attack threw Chudleigh’s men into confusion. A hasty retreat then followed, covered by Merrick’s regulars, but as the Royalists took neither guns, colours nor any appreciable number of prisoners, it may be concluded that the victory was by no means as complete as they thought.

Sourton Down

At any rate, Hopton now decided to follow up the supposed victory by mounting a dawn assault on what he fondly imagined to be the shattered remnants of Chudleigh’s army at Okehampton, on the morning of the 26th. This entailed a night march but the Royalists blithely set off and walked straight into an ambush on Sourton Down.

Hopton himself admitted afterwards that he and some of the other Royalist commanders were ‘carelessly entertaining themselves in the head of the dragoons’ when they abruptly discovered a body of cavalry a mere carbine shot away. It was all too obvious that they were within carbine range, for they greeted the Royalists with a volley which inflicted few casualties but naturally inspired a fearful panic. As it happened, there were only 100 Parliamentarians, but none of the Royalists were disposed to hang around counting heads. Following up his initial success, Chudleigh plunged into the disordered Royalist ranks. Hopton’s dragoons turned and ran, carrying away their own cavalry who had halted uncertainly behind them. They in turn rode over the infantry until Grenville and Mohun made a desperate stand by the guns. Hopton himself, mounted on a faster horse, got as far as the rearguard, but then finding that no one was actually pursuing him, he turned around and brought up Sir Nicholas Slanning’s Regiment to reinforce Grenville.

At this point there was a pause as Chudleigh, not wishing to push his luck, drew off and summoned up 1,000 foot from Okehampton. During the lull the Cavaliers manned an old ditch and planted swine feathers (pointed stakes) in front of their guns. Eventually they saw the distinctive glow of slow-match as Chudleigh’s infantry came up and fired two cannon-shot into them. This unseasonable welcome halted the Parliamentarians in their tracks. They may not have been too keen about fighting in the dark – which can hold all manner of terrors for those unused to it – and the prospect of assaulting a force of unknown size dug in with artillery was too much for them.

Nothing daunted, Chudleigh himself essayed another cavalry charge but found his way blocked by the swine feathers. Baffled by this unexpected obstacle and thoroughly disgusted by the craven behaviour of his foot, he then decided to call it a night and returned to Okehampton under the cover of a sudden rainstorm which thoroughly drenched both armies. The Royalists had survived the night, but there was no disguising the reality of their defeat and they fell back in to Bridstowe in considerable disorder. In the process they also managed to lose Hopton’s personal baggage and with it correspondence detailing Royalist plans to advance into Somerset in order to open up communications with the King’s Oxford Army.

Stamford, whose gout had been miraculously cured by the victory on Sourton Down, was determined to prevent this, and ordering his forces to concentrate at Torrington, he crossed the Cornish border on 15 May. Knowing that Hopton would be certain to launch an immediate counter-attack, Stamford took up a strong position on a 200-foot ridge at Stratton and waited for him. The Parliamentarian forces appear to have comprised some 5,400 foot, 200 horse and thirteen small guns. Hopton on the other hand, distracted by Ruthven’s still active garrison in Plymouth and by a diversionary raid on Bodmin, could muster only 2,400 foot and 500 horse. Nevertheless, a council of war concluded that ‘notwithstanding the great visible disadvantage that they must either force the Enemies’ Camp, while the most part of their Horse and dragoons were from them, or unavoidably perish.’

Thus far, the fighting in the west had been extremely volatile and characterised by sudden assaults and even more precipitate retreats, but the battle of Stratton was altogether different. The Royalists moved forward to their start-line under cover of darkness, and at dawn commenced a brisk firefight with the Parliamentarian musketeers lining the hedges at the foot of the hill.

For some reason, the Cornish Royalists do not appear to have deployed their infantry in conventional brigade or battalion formations, but rather seem to have favoured forming a front line of musketeers behind which stands of pikemen waited until called forward to effect a breakthrough, or to mount a counter-attack, as the case might be. This can be seen quite clearly at Stratton, for while the musketeers were thus engaged Hopton formed his pikemen into four assault columns each about 600 strong. The first, under his personal command, was to attack on the right against the southern end of Stamford’s position, two more under Grenville and Slanning were to attack in the centre, while the fourth led by Godolphin formed the left wing. In reserve were some 500 horse under Colonel John Digby

At about 5am all four columns rolled forward but were unable to clear the hedge-line, and the battle degenerated once more into a desultory firefight. Hopton stubbornly refused to pull off, and this phase of the battle lasted for about ten hours. By about 3pm, however, the Cornish musketeers were running short of ammunition and Chudleigh decided, possibly independently of Stamford, that the moment had come for a counter-attack. Placing himself at the head of a stand of pikemen, he swept down the hill and ran full tilt into Sir Bevill Grenville’s pikemen. So sharp was the shock of the onset that Grenville and most of his front rank were knocked off their feet.9 Naturally enough, Chudleigh’s men were also a little disordered as a result and unable to withstand a very prompt counter-attack launched by Sir John Berkeley. Not only were the Parliamentarians thrown back in their turn, but Chudleigh too may have been knocked off his feet for he was amongst the prisoners. While the Parliamentarians were thus distracted the Royalist flanking columns renewed their assault and this time managed to push their way on to the upper slopes of the ridge. Stamford’s left abruptly gave way, and with his infantry reserves already committed to Chudleigh’s ill-fated counter-attack and most of his cavalry off raiding Bodmin, he was unable to prevent his line being rolled up. Regiment by regiment his army was broken, but he bravely remained on the field until, according to Colonel John Weare, he had but twenty men standing by him. Then, having fired off his guns one last time, he and Weare fled to Exeter, leaving behind 300 dead, 1,700 prisoners, the thirteen guns and most precious of all, seventy barrels of powder – enough to fight another battle.

Hopton now proceeded to occupy Launceston where he received the happy news that the Marquis of Hertford and Prince Maurice were marching to join him with a substantial force of horse and foot. He had already received warning that such a move was imminent, and so he made a dash for Chard in Somerset and there rendezvoused with Hertford and Maurice on 4 June. Once combined, their forces mustered a very respectable 2,000 horse, 4,000 foot, a regiment of dragoons and a useful train of artillery. Clarendon implies that the army’s command structure was less than satisfactory for:

… how small soever the Marquis’s party was in number, it was supplied with all the general officers of a royal army, a general, a lieutenant-general, general of Horse, general of the ordnance, major-general of Horse, and another of Foot …

It was no doubt intended that they would recruit an army large enough to justify their employment. In the meantime, although Hertford still held the King’s commission as notional General of the Western Counties, his Lieutenant General, Prince Maurice, was the one who actually exercised that command. The Earl of Caernarvon was General of the Horse, with Sir James Hamilton as Major General under him. The Earl of Marlborough was General of the Ordnance, and Sir Ralph Hopton served as Field Marshall. As was customary the important strategic decisions were taken by a Council of War comprising all the senior officers of the army.

As to those strategic decisions, thus far the campaign in the west had been of only local significance, but now the Cornish army was required for something far more important.  The Royalists’ overriding concern at this time was the security of the King’s Road. Bitter experience had shown that it could not be kept open by locally raised forces, and that it was equally dangerous to divert troops from the main Oxford army for that purpose. Now Maurice was once again charged with taking Bristol and securing the lower end of the Severn valley.

Battle of Stratton, Cornwall, 16 May 1643 II



British Battles

Instead of marching directly upon the city he first set about securing his position by taking Taunton Dene – which surrendered under the threat of being stormed – and then Bridgewater and Wells. At the latter place the Royalists received the disturbing but not unexpected news that Sir William Waller was concentrating his own army from the Severn valley and what remained of the Western forces at Bath. Notwithstanding the fact that Stamford’s foot had been well beaten at Stratton, Waller probably mustered about the same number of infantry as Maurice. As for the cavalry, Stamford’s 1,200 horse and dragoons were still available for service. In addition Waller also had his own veteran regiments of horse and dragoons, Colonel Robert Burghill’s regulars and a newly raised regiment of cuirassiers commanded by Sir Arthur Hesilrige.

Some sort of reconnaissance in force was obviously called for so Maurice took Caernarvon’s Regiment out on the 10th to have a look at them. As frequently happens in this sort of affair, he ventured too close and was promptly attacked by some horse and dragoons. Caernarvon’s men evidently did not put up much of a fight, for they were promptly beaten back into Chewton Mendip where Maurice was wounded and captured. The rest of the Royalist army was moving into its quarters when the unhappy news came through and a rather odd argument ensued. Some officers of Maurice’s own regiment held that they were under his direct orders to take up their quarters, and that should they attempt to rescue him they could be court-martialled for disobedience! Captain Richard Atkyns, however, announced himself willing to take the risk and set off at the head of his squadron.

Happily, he almost at once ram into the Earl of Caernarvon who professed himself heartily glad to see the Captain and readily gave him orders to attempt a rescue. Thus reassured, Atkyns pushed on and ran into some dragoons, but providentially (or so he says), a thick mist suddenly descended and under cover of it the dragoons mounted up and fell back. If this was true they cannot have fallen back far for Atkyns and Caernarvon then encountered two squadrons of Waller’s Regiment, flanked by dragoons lining some hedges. Nothing daunted Atkyns promptly charged the left-hand squadron commanded by Captain Edward Kightley:

The dragoons on both sides, seeing us so mixed with their men that they could not fire at us, but might kill their own men as well as ours; took horse and away they run also. In this charge I gave one Captain Kitely quarter twice, and at last he was killed: the Lord Arundel of Wardour also, took a dragoon’s colours, as if it were hereditary to the family to do so; but all of us overran the Prince, being a prisoner in that party; for he was on foot, and had a great hurt upon his head, and I suppose not known to be the Prince. My groom coming after us, espied the Prince, and all being in confusion, he alighted from his horse, and gave him to the Prince, which carried him off: and though this was a very great success, yet we were in as great danger as ever; for now we were in disorder and had spent our shot; and had not time to charge again; [i.e. to reload] and my Lieutenant and Cornet, with above half the Party, followed the chase of those that ran, within half a mile of their army; that when I came to rally, I found I had not 30 men; we then had three fresh troops to charge, which were in our rear, but by reason of their marching through a wainshard before they could be put in order: I told those of my party, that if we did not put a good face upon it, and charge them presently, before they were in order, we were all dead men or prisoners; which they apprehending, we charged them; and they made as it were a lane for us, being as willing to be gone as we ourselves.

Having suffered ‘two shrewd cuts’ on the head, and then having been ridden over by his own men, rather slowed Maurice down, and it was not until 2 July that his outriders readied Bradford-on-Avon, about five miles south-east of Bath. Waller was already waiting for them, covering Bath in a strong position on Claverton Down, so the decision was taken to swing farther east in an attempt to outflank him. This turned out to be a surprisingly delicate operation for Maurice was clearly determined not to take any unnecessary risks. As a first step Hopton was sent with a detachment of Cornish foot to dislodge a covering party from Monkton Farleigh. This was accomplished without much difficulty and the Parliamentarians were then driven back through Batheaston and on to the southern slopes of Lansdown Hill, a long steep-sided ridge running north-west from Bath. At the same time Maurice successfully crossed the Avon only to find Waller retiring into Bath. That evening the Royalists decided to continue their turning movement in the hope of seizing Lansdown Hill and thus interposing their forces between Waller and Bristol.

Unfortunately, Waller was equally alive to this possibility, and next morning the Cavaliers were dismayed to find his whole army occupying Lansdown. Judging the position to be too strong to force, they then drew off to Marshfield, some six miles north of the city. There they were well placed both to act against Wailer’s communications with Bristol and to receive supplies and reinforcements from Oxford. Waller, however, had no intention of being turned out of Bath without a fight and began digging in on top of the ridge.

Early on the morning of 5 July this fact was discovered by a party of Royalist horse led by Major George Lower, but he allowed himself to be driven off so vigorously that the Cavaliers turned out expecting a full-scale attack. Some desultory skirmishing then followed. Preceded by dismounted dragoons, the Royalists pushed forward and eventually established themselves on Freezing Hill, immediately to the north of Waller’s opposition astride the Bath Road where it crosses Lansdown. At this point it was decided to call it a day, since too much ammunition was being expended to little purpose and the decision was taken to return to Marshfield.

Had Waller been content to let them go, things might well have turned out differently, but at about 3pm Colonel Robert Burghill moved forward with some 300 horse and a large body of dragooners. At first he met with some success, and the Royalist withdrawal became disorderly. Maurice had earlier ordered Hopton to provide detachments of musketeers to interline the cavalry squadrons, but far from strengthening the horse they only got in the way. Relations between the Cornish foot and the Oxford horse were already bad enough, and the necessary happy cooperation between the two was consequently non-existent. Unable to coordinate any counter-attacks, the cavalry fell back, and some even ran as far as Oxford, abandoning the musketeers to their own devices. They for their part very bloody-mindedly held on to their positions amongst the hedgerows and momentarily brought the Parliamentarian advance to a standstill.

Granted this brief respite Caernarvon at last managed to fight back. First the Marquis of Hertford’s own Lifeguard troop, commanded by Lord Arundell of Trerice, put in a charge, and in the melee Robert Burghill was badly wounded. Caernarvon then tried to second this success by leading forward his own regiment and, although he succeeded in driving the Parliamentarians into the valley separating Freezing Hill from Lansdown, he in his turn was wounded when Waller committed reinforcements of his own. Nevertheless, the Parliamentarians were unable to clear the valley bottom and soon retired back up the hill.

So far so good. The Royalists might now have retired to Marshfield in safety, but finding that his Cornish infantry had worked themselves up into something approaching hysteria, Hopton decided to give them the heads and, without bothering to consult Prince Maurice, he ordered a frontal assault on the Lansdown position.

Not surprisingly, this hasty attack quickly came to grief. Hopton began by employing his favourite tactic of pushing a column of pikemen straight up the Bath Road, while:

… sending out as they went strong parties of musketeers on each hand to second one another, to endeavour under the cover of the enclosed grounds to gain the flank of the enemy on the top of the Hill, which at last they did …

As the Royalist pikemen went up the road, they marched into a blizzard of fire from both entrenched guns and Parliamentarian musketeers alike which at first stopped them dead in their tracks. The attack might have stalled altogether were it not for Sir Bevill Grenville who rallied the pikemen, placed some musketeers on one flank – where they very prudently established themselves behind a stone wall – and got some horse to cover his right. Again pushing up the road, littered by now with dead and wounded men, Grenville gained the brow of the hill before being halted by a succession of cavalry charges – three according to Hopton. The last of them seems to have been most successful for Grenville, and many of his men were cut down and in the end the Cornish pikemen may only have held because Grenville’s fifteen-year-old son was hoisted into his father’s saddle.

In the meantime, relief was at hand in the shape of some cavalry led by Sir Robert Walsh and Richard Atkyns:

As I went up the hill, which was very steep and hollow, I met several dead and wounded officers brought off; besides several running away, that I had much ado to get up by them. When I came to the top of the hill, I saw Sir Bevill Grinvill’s stand of pikes, which certainly preserved our army from a total rout, with the loss of his most precious life: they stood as upon the eaves of an house for steepness, but as unmoveable as a rock; on which side of this stand of pikes our horse were, I could not discover; for the air was so darkened by the smoke of the powder, that for a quarter of an hour together (I dare say) there was no light seen, but what the fire of the volleys of shot gave; and ‘twas the greatest storm that ever I saw.

Unable to dislodge Grenville’s men and threatened by the Royalist musketeers working their way up on either flank, Waller meanwhile pulled back to what Atkyns describes as a very large sheep-cote surrounded by a stone wall. From there it proved impossible to dislodge him and both sides settled down to shoot it out until nightfall. During the night the Royalist commanders decided upon a withdrawal for their losses had been terrible and they were almost out of ammunition. In preparation for this their guns were sent away, but at about one in the morning some suspicious activity inspired them to send forward a scout who made the happy discovery that Waller was gone. As a Royalist Colonel named Slingsby afterwards remarked: ‘we were glad they were gone for if they had not I know who had within an hour …’

The Royalists may have been left in possession of the field, but to all intents and purposes it was they and not Waller who had lost the battle – a quite unnecessary one brought on by Hopton’s insubordination. At daylight they began retiring to Marshfield and might have taken up their old quarters there had not Hopton been badly injured when a precious ammunition cart blew up. Waller’s army was in much better shape and, having called up reinforcements from Bristol, he quickly got on their trail and hustled them straight through Marshfield. They then halted at Chippenham for two days, but with Waller now pressing hard on their retreat, they set off again and reached Devizes on the night of 9 July. Maurice tried to make a stand on Roundway Down next day, but finding the army had neither the stomach nor the ammunition for another battle, he pulled it back into the town. That night a Council of War agreed that the foot would stand a siege there while Hertford, Maurice and the horse broke out and rode for Oxford to bring relief.


Fu-Go balloon bombs


The illustrations depict the following weapons, from left to right: canister for the Ta bomb with a Ta bomb beside it, Ko-Dan rubber bomb, Type 99 No. 3 Mk. 3 Sanga and the Fu-Go.

The secret weapons that were developed by the United States against Japan, and vice versa, included some of the most fanciful ever seen in war. The Japanese resolved to launch incendiary attacks against the United States, and manufactured some 9,000 hydrogen balloons to which they fitted small incendiary weapons that could burn for over an hour and 33lb (15kg) of high explosive anti-personnel bombs. The plan was to launch them into the high-altitude jet-stream – which the Japanese had just discovered – so that the weapons were carried across the Pacific to North America. The balloons were made of paper and were assembled by young women, mostly acting students from nearby schools. The washi paper for the balloons was made from large sheets stuck together with ‘devil’s tongue’ gel made by boiling the roots of arum lilies. Virtually the entire stocks of the arum root gel disappeared from the stores, partly to feed the balloon industry, but also because it had a pleasant taste and was being consumed by the students in copious quantities.

Toward the close of 1943 and into the early part of February 1944, the Japanese launched balloons equipped with radios which were tracked so their courses could be monitored. Two stations set up in Hokkaido and in Chiba Prefecture could track the balloons only through the first portion of their flight, but once over the open ocean all con- tact was lost. The Japanese were aware that the west-to-east wind speeds were at their peak from November through to March, topping out at 298km/h (185mph). In addition, a shortage of meteorological data on weather patterns over the ocean and at high altitudes limited the ability to plan trajectories for th balloons. While the winds were higher, it was also winter throughout most of the launch window. In addition, the balloons had to be released in clear, cloudless weather with little surface wind. If balloons were sent up in over- cast skies with precipitation laden clouds, moisture would collect on the balloons which would freeze at higher altitudes, adding weight resulting in the balloons being unable to reach the S. Three major launch ites were selected: Nako 0 (Fukushima Prefecture), Otsu (Ibaraki Prefecture) and Ichin Omiya (Chiba Prefecture).

Starting in November 1944, the Special Balloon Regiment established under the Imperial Japanese Army released a continuous stream of these balloons from Ibaraki Prefecture, on the western side of Honshu. On 3 November 1944, the Fu-Go balloon bombing campaign was officially opened. In all, between 9,000-10,000 balloons were avail- able and by 20 November, the first en masse launchings had taken place. Prior to launch, the sandbag release mechanism was set based on the estimated wind speeds to ensure the balloon was over the US before releasing its payload. The gas envelope was only partially filled to allow for expansion of the hydrogen at an altitude of 4,877m (I6,000ft). On a good day crews could launch up to 200 balloons. March 1945 would see the highest number of balloons deployed, 3,000 in all, and the final launch was made on 20 April. Typically included in batches of balloon launches would be a radio equipped balloon to allow for tracking.

Unlikely as it seems, the ruse worked; most of the balloons burst or deflated, landing in the sea, but over 1,000 of these secret weapons reached North America and a quarter of them caused damage, mostly small forest fires. The first reports of the fireballs descending from the skies were dismissed as farmhand gossip, but towards the end of 1944 the authorities realized what was happening. Some of the balloons landed intact and were examined by the military. The payload contained magnesium as an incendiary device, partly to set fire to the balloons on landing, but also to ensure that the device was consumed in the blaze, so that the Americans would not discover the true nature of these strange balloons.

However, the balloons produced minimal interference with the conduct of the war, and once the nature of the weapons had been discovered, many were shot down by warplanes in mid-flight. A secret agreement was made with newspaper editors, so that reports of successful attacks were never published, and the Japanese could not find out how successful their balloons had been. After five months had passed without any news of damage appearing in the American news media, the Japanese became discouraged and discontinued their attacks. In reality, 285 balloon bomb incidents had been reported and some of the balloons reached as far as Michigan. One was found by a group of holidaymakers in the Oregon woods, all of whom were killed when they tried to move it and the anti-personnel mine exploded.


SOE Drop by Ivan Berryman.
Halifax B.II Series 1 (Special) JP254 of 148 Special Duties Squadron, RAF is depicted over the drop zone near to the Alt Aussee salt mine in the Austrian Alps as two of the four SOE agents exit the bomber via the crew access door. Their mission was to secure and protect 6,755 items of the world’s greatest works of art that had been looted and stored by the Germans as they swept across Europe. With the allied forces closing in, the Germans had planned to blow up the entire store to prevent the artworks from falling into the hands of the liberators. Once on the ground, the four agents linked up with local resistance fighters and the mine and its valuable contents were eventually secured, the explosives made safe and the entire cache taken into the safe keeping of the 80th US Infantry Division as the German occupation of Europe crumbled.

So called because these clandestine units usually only flew missions into Nazi-occupied territory at night during the period of the full moon, the Royal Air Force Special Duties squadrons were equipped with Westland Lysander and Lockheed Hudson aircraft. The original Moon Squadron consisted of the four Lysanders of the Special Duties unit, 419 Flight (based initially at North Weald, Essex, and then at Stapleford, Abbots, and Stradishall), which was amalgamated with three Whitley and two Halifax bombers to form 161 Squadron at Tempsford in February 1942 be- fore being disbanded in June 1945.

Meanwhile, 138 (Special Duties) Squadron had been formed at Newmarket in February 1941 and combined with the King’s Flight (419 Flight). In August 1941, 419 Flight became 138 Squadron, with eight Whitleys and two Lysanders, which were replaced with the Halifax in October 1942. Based at Tempsford, the Halifax was replaced with Stirlings in September 1944, and in March 1945 was transferred to Bomber Command and reequipped with Lancasters. All these units acted on behalf of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and Special Operations Executive, and the first such mission of World War II was the dropping into France in October 1940 by the 419 Flight Whitley of a SIS agent, Philip Schneidau, who was collected from Montigny 10 days later by a Lysander from Stradishall, via Tangmere, flown by Wally Farley.

In the Mediterranean theater, 267 Squadron, equipped with Dakotas, was transferred from Heliopolis in Egypt to Bari in Italy to perform Special Duties in the Balkans. In February 1945, the squadron was posted to Burma, but flew regular transport missions. In September 1943, 1575 Special Duties Flight at Blida, Algeria, was redesignated as 624 Squadron and flew clandestine missions to France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and the Balkans until it was disbanded in September 1944. Also flying into Poland from the Mediterranean was 1586 Flight, staffed with Polish personnel. It was redesignated as 301 Squadron in November 1944, to fly missions over the Balkans, and was disbanded in December 1946.

In the Far East 240 Squadron (based at Redhills Lake, Madras, and equipped with Catalinas) flew Special Duties flights from April 1943, landing agents on the Burmese coast. Missions to Malaya and the Dutch East Indies followed, and the squadron was disbanded in July 1945. Also at Redhills Lake were three Catalinas of 357 Squadron, previously formed at Digri in February 1944 from 1576 (Special Duties) Squadron with seven Hudsons and three Liberators. The 357 Squadron was disbanded in November 1945. The 628 Squadron, at Redhills Lake from March 1944, infiltrated Force 136 personnel into Burma and Malaya with Catalinas until it was disbanded in October the same year. The 1576 Flight (formed at Chaklala, India, in June 1943) flew flights over Burma, using a forward base at Dum Dum, Calcutta, and was disbanded in February 1944.

In January 1945, 358 Squadron had a brief existence at Digri with 16 Liberators, dropping supplies across southeast Asia until it too was disbanded in November 1945.

The Moon Squadrons relied on four main aircraft, with the slow but sturdy Lysander, with a range of 800 miles, proving the most reliable for pickup operations, capable of carrying up to four passengers. Also popular were the long-range B-24 Liberator and the PBY-1 Catalina flying boat for amphibious operations. The Whitley, which was obsolete at the outbreak of war, with a range of 1,500 miles, was used to drop agents into Nazi-occupied Europe until late in 1942, when it was replaced by the Halifax with a range of 1,860 miles.

Safavid Empire: Expansion And Military Organization


Persian Musketeer in time of Abbas I by Habib-Allah Mashadi after Falsafi.

The Safavid Empire was not a conquest state: Safavid conquest did not imply a change in the form of administration. During the expansion of the empire, the Safavid regime closely resembled the Aqquyunlu and Timurid regimes that it supplanted. It also came to terms with the Tajik aristocracy, which included the established ulama. Their religious prestige, status as landholders, and role in the transmission of land revenue to recipients designated by the regime made them indispensable. In many areas, the notables made the regime real by connecting it to the peasants. Safavid conquest meant continuity, not change, except for the establishment of Shiism. The mode of expansion did not define the regime, as it did for the Ottomans and Mughals. Substantial parts of the Aqquyunlu confederation, including some components of the paramount Bayandur clan and of the Timurid confederation, joined the Qizilbash confederation.

Safavid military organization inevitably resembled that of the Aqquyunlu and Timurids. The Safavid army had two main components before the time of Shah Abbas, the confederate uymaqs and the qurchis. The qurchis were the Safavid war band but differed from the pattern of earlier tribal confederations. They were recruited as individuals and paid from the central treasury but came from the Qizilbash tribes and retained tribal affiliations. Some 1,500 in number under Ismail I, they served as the retinue of the shah in battle, as palace guards, and as royal couriers and occasionally went on independent expeditions. Positions in the corps were frequently hereditary, and officers were promoted from within. Before the reign of Abbas I, the chief of the qurchis, or qurchibashi, normally came from the dominant uymaq and had little political power. The qurchis were part of the tribal power rather than a means of counterbalancing it. They did, apparently, begin to use firearms during the reign of Shah Tahmasp, who increased their number to 5,000.

Under Abbas, the political and military significance of the qurchis changed. He expanded the corps to 10,000. The qurchibashi became one of the most prominent officials of the state. Abbas appointed qurchis to provincial governorships in place of Qizilbash chiefs. The expansion of the size and role of the qurchis was a central aspect of Abbas’s military reforms. The qurchis were a different mechanism for drawing upon the same pool of manpower that provided the Qizilbash tribal forces. Though becoming a qurchi did not extinguish tribal loyalty, it diluted tribal ties and rein- forced fidelity to the ruler.

The early Safavid rulers drew on other sources of soldiers and military technology to strengthen their positions. Ismail sought artillery and technicians from Venice in 1502 and 1509. The defeat at Chaldiran gave further impetus to the acquisition of firearms. A small corps of artillerymen (tupchis) and infantry (tufangchis) had firearms by 1516. Descriptions of the Safavid order of battle at Jam in 1528 and of a military review in 1530 show that the Safavid forces then included both battlefield artillery—several hundred light guns at Jam—and several thousand infantrymen armed with guns. At Jam, the forces with firearms served in the center of the formation, as the Janissaries and sipahis of the Porte did in the Ottoman army. In the first phase of the battle, the Uzbek tribal cavalry engaged and defeated the Qizilbash tribal cavalry on both wings of the Safavid formation. The Uzbeks did not, however, engage the Safavid center, which was deployed in the Ottoman tabur jangi formation. The Uzbek forces reached the rear of the Safavid army, but this success did not affect the outcome of the battle. When the Uzbek forces were disorganized by victory, the Safavid center, under Tahmasp’s personal command, charged the Uzbek center. The Uzbek forces scattered. At Jam, the Safavids fielded a typical gunpow- der-empire army and won a typical gunpowder-empire victory, even though the Qizilbash continued to dominate internal politics.

Under Abbas and afterwards, the tupchis and tufangchis remained important components of the Safavid army. One historian asserts that each corps had 12,000 men. The Safavids apparently recruited new cavalry units from tribal groups, Iranian and Turkic, outside the Qizilbash, in addition to expanding the tupchis and the tufangchis. Infantry units became a substantial part of the army by the time of Abbas’s wars with the Ottomans in Iraq. According to Willem Floor, the tufangchis were local peasant levies, organized for local defense but also liable for service on imperial campaigns far from home. Tufangchis from Khurasan fought in Anatolia. At least some, probably most, tufangchis were Tajiks; some must have been peasants. But they never became a potent force in Safavid politics. Since the Safavid Empire had a far weaker agrarian base than the Ottoman Empire, it is not surprising that the peasants carried less political weight.

Military slaves (qullar) frequently commanded the tupchis and tufangchis. Tahmasp apparently began development of a military slave corps. The prisoners from his Caucasian campaigns, converted to Islam and made military slaves, probably became the nucleus of the corps of ghula- man-i khassay-i sharifa (slaves of the royal household; also called the qullar), which is first mentioned under Abbas. The ethnic origin of the ghulams did not matter; the extraordinary loyalty and reliability of military slaves in general, coupled, apparently, with same high level of military training as the Janissaries, did. Because all of the new corps apparently served in the center of the battle formation, the precise tactical role of the ghulams is unclear. They were mounted but used firearms; presumably they fought as dragoons (mounted infantry). There may have been separate cavalry and infantry components, on the Ottoman model. Contemporary historiography on the Safavids pays little attention to military history; Martin Dickson’s description of Jam is the only battle history. For this reason, assessment of the precise military roles and effectiveness of the new army units is difficult. As the next two sections explain, ghulams frequently served in high positions in the central and provincial administrations during and after the reign of Abbas I. Abbas created the office of sipahsalar (commander-in-chief ) for the commander of the central army, supplanting the Qizilbash amir al-umara, mentioned below.

Abbas’s reforms created an army capable of meeting the Ottoman army in the field. The Safavids no longer needed the Fabian strategy of Tahmasp’s time. Though they were recruited directly, these forces were not always paid directly from the central treasury. They actually constituted a new provincial army because many of them, especially the qullar, held land-revenue assignments (tiyul, a Turkic word comparable to the Arabic iqta) in the provinces. In fact, these corps constituted a new provincial army, drawing revenue from the khassa provinces rather than the mamalik provinces. Because they held, apparently, individual tiyuls assigned by the central government, these corps, or some components of them, resembled the Ottoman sipahi army. Abbas’s reforms thus created a new provincial army, supported by a new form of provincial administration.

The original provincial army, of course, was the Qizilbash confederation. It first materialized as an army when Ismail summoned his followers to Erzincan in 1500, uniting his distant tribal followers with the men who had been his entourage in hiding in Lahijan. At that time, rivalry between Ismail’s personal followers and the chiefs of the Qizilbash tribes began. Within a decade, the original Sufis of Lahijan, to use Masashi Haneda’s phrase, had lost most of their influence. Turkmen chieftains occupied most high offices. Like other tribal confederations of the period, the traditional battle formation of the Qizilbash reflected the hierarchy of tribes within a confederation. The battle formations reflected the dominance of the Shamlu and Ustajlu tribes.

At the time of the 1530 military review, the Qizilbash tribes provided 84,900 of 105,800 troops. The tribal proportion of actual fighters was probably greater. The chief of the most powerful Qizilbash uymaq normally held the posts of vakil (royal deputy and chief minister) and amir alumara (commander in chief ) as long as the Qizilbash dominance lasted. The Qizilbash tribes were not, however, taut hierarchies with a single leader. Each normally had two major leaders, one at court and one in the provinces. Tahmasp increased his leverage against the Qizilbash by cultivating lesser chieftains within the tribes.

In the Qizilbash army, the individual soldiers had no direct ties to the ruler at all. Their loyalties were to their relatives and, ultimately, to their tribal leaders. Aside from occasional reviews like that of 1530, the central administration had little or no control over the size, equipment, or composition of the Qizilbash forces. Before the Abbasi transformation, Qizilbash chiefs were provincial governors and the commanders of the troops supported by their provinces. The central regime had minimal control over the provincial forces and governments. From the perspective of military administration, the weakness of the Safavid regime between 1514 and 1594 consisted of the lack of central control over the provincial army or of loyalty on the part of the provincial army to the ruler. One aspect of Abbas’s reforms addressed this issue.

Abbas used the principle of shahisivani to rally Qizilbash to his cause, beginning early in his reign, to gain support against the dominance of Murshid Quli Khan Ustajlu. Abbas organized the Qizilbash who responded to such calls for action into new military units. Like the expansion of the qurchis, the creation of the shahsivin units drew on Qizilbash manpower but bypassed the tribal leadership. The new pat- tern of provincial administration, with Tajiks, qurchis, and ghulams supplanting Qizilbash chiefs, did not end the role of the Qizilbash tribesmen in the provincial army. They continued to serve under the new governors and were paid either by land-revenue assignments or in cash from provincial treasuries.

The institutional structure of the Safavid army changed little after the time of Abbas I, but its fighting power degenerated considerably. External threats did not disappear entirely, but the Uzbeks remained weak and divided; the Treaty of Qasr-i Shirin marked the end of the Ottoman threat, and the Mughal threat to Qandahar ended in 1653. The Safavids did not attempt expansion, perhaps because of the enormous cost of their Qandahar expedition. Financial pressure led to significant reductions in military expenditure, including the abolition of the posts of sipahsalar in 1653–1654 and tupchibashi in 1658.

The Duc De Choiseul And The Rebuilding Of The French Navy


Ville de Paris in Rochefort, 1764

At the beginning of 1763 France possessed 47 ships of the line, some of which were in need of repairs, and Spain 37, whereas the British had 111. If the Bourbons were to seek revenge in another war, they would need not only to match the number of British ships of the line but to surpass it, given Britain’s advantage in giant 90- and 100-gun ships, her pool of experienced and confident sailors and officers, and her veteran commanders. The British attempted to maintain 80 ships of the line in condition to serve. Louis set a goal of 80 ships of the line for the French navy and expected Spain to provide 60; the duc de Choiseul hoped they would be ready in four or five years.

France had a head start because of the ships of the line donated during 1762, of which only two had been launched by the end of the year. During the first four years after the Treaty of Paris the French navy launched the other fifteen donated ships, purchased the Vengeur, 64, and rebuilt the Conquérant, 74, Palmier, 74, and Zodiaque, 74. Choiseul complained to Ossun in 1762 that he worked eight hours a day on naval matters and was convinced the navy needed a complete overhaul. In March 1765 he issued a comprehensive reform and codification of naval regulations. He also made a major effort to fill the dockyards with the naval materiel necessary for building, repairing, and maintaining the fleet. The number of masts rose from 1,576 in 1763 to 4,341 in 1766 and the amount of wood for constructing hulls from 497,322 cubic feet to 697,000 cubic feet, while the amount of hemp and number of anchors also increased.

As naval minister, Choiseul also was responsible for France’s remaining colonies. He unsuccessfully tried to circumvent the Treaty of Paris by reestablishing control over the posts France had lost in the region of the Senegal and Gambia rivers of western Africa. In the West Indies, the heart of the remaining French Empire, he replaced commanders, gave Guadeloupe its own governor general, and attempted to strengthen military authority. He also made an un- successful attempt to colonize French Guiana on the northern coast of South America. Perhaps most importantly he loosened mercantilistic restrictions on trade between France and the West Indies so as to balance more fairly the needs of West Indian planters and the merchants of the French ports. His efforts had mixed results, but they did demonstrate a commitment to strengthening the colonies economically and militarily.

France would stand a better chance of defending her colonies and of taking the offense in a future war if the British army and navy were tied down by a revolt in North America. In 1765 Choiseul predicted an eventual American revolution, although he told Louis XV that they probably would not see it themselves. He sent a Lieutenant Pontleroy to the British colonies to gather intelligence. The results were sufficiently encouraging for him to send a more senior observer, Acting Lieutenant Colonel Johann de Kalb, who a decade later became a major general in the Continental army. By the time de Kalb returned to France in 1768, however, Choiseul seems to have given up any hope of an impending rebellion, an opinion shared by de Kalb.

By this time Choiseul seems also to have abandoned hope of a war of revenge in the near future. The improved relations between Britain and her American colonies during the Rockingham administration of 1765–66 may have had an effect on his thinking, but by the end of 1766 several other factors also seem to have inhibited thoughts of an early war. The first factor was the difficulty of sustaining the French navy’s building program until the goal of 80 ships of the line was reached, given the king’s waning interest and the continuing weakness of royal finances. The navy still had not paid all its debts from the war, and the government had difficulty increasing its revenues. Second, the Spanish navy’s rebuilding program, the necessary corollary to the French, began very slowly. During the first four years of peace Spain launched only eight ships of the line. It would be several more years before Spain possessed the 60 ships of the line upon which France counted. Third, Choiseul’s attention seems to have been increasingly diverted by France’s declining influence in eastern Europe. After Augustus III of Poland died in October 1763, France was unable to prevent the election to the Polish throne of a Russian-backed candidate, Empress Catherine II’s former lover Stanislas Poniatowski. Catherine and her new ally Frederick II of Prussia were not satisfied, however, and promptly demanded that Poland protect the rights of the country’s Protestant and Orthodox Catholic religious minorities. If the Polish Diet could be bullied into such a concession and into recognizing Catherine and Frederick as protectors of Poland’s religious minorities, Poland effectively would lose its remaining independence and France her pretense of influence in Polish affairs. France’s influence in Sweden and Denmark was rapidly declining, too. In April 1766 Choiseul turned over the naval ministry to his cousin the duc de Praslin and resumed direct control over foreign affairs; however important to him may have been preparing for war against Britain, the problems of the continent demanded his immediate attention.

After Choiseul left office, the naval budget was reduced. This had an impact on the royal dockyards. Although wood for construction continued to arrive, the number of masts and amount of hemp and sailcloth began to decline.

Ironically, Choiseul’s new tenure as foreign minister was marked by a colonial conflict. Charles III was outraged when he learned the British had sent a small squadron and landing party to one of the Falkland Islands, off the Spanish portion of South America. Choiseul counseled moderation, telling Spain in September 1766, that France would need another eighteen months to prepare for war. Within a few months he postponed until 1769 the projected time at which France would be ready. Meanwhile the French naval ministry gave a guarded reaction to a detailed Spanish plan of war. The Spanish government soon was distracted by internal political issues, and the Falkland Island crisis was deferred for several years. When it finally occurred in 1770 the French navy still was not ready to fight. Its program of ship construction had been drastically reduced after 1766 and did not revive until after Louis XV’s death in 1774. From 1766 through 1774 it launched only eleven ships of the line, the Couronne, 80, Actif, 74, Bien-Aimé, 74, César, 74, Victoire, 74, Alexandre, 64, Brillant, 64, Eveillé, 64, Protée, 64, Roland, 64, and Solitaire, 64. (It also purchased the Actionnaire, 64, Indien, 64, and Mars, 64, from the bankrupt East India Company.) This did not equal the seventeen ships of the line that were lost or retired from service between the beginning of 1763 and the end of 1774 (the Royal-Louis, 116, Couronne, 74, Défenseur, 74, Actif, 64, Altier, 64, Aventurier [ex-Saint-François- de-Paule], 64, an earlier Brillant, 64, Content, 64, an earlier Eveillé, 64, Hasard [ex-Notre-Dame-de-Rosaire], 64, Mars, 64, an earlier Protée, 64, Rencontre [ex- Vierge-de-Santé], 64, Sage, 64, an earlier Solitaire, 64, Ferme, 56, and Utile, 56). Thus, only sixty ships of the line were available on 1 January 1775. This was only thirteen more than on 1 January 1763 and only three more than on 1 January 1755.

During his second tenure as foreign minister, Choiseul enjoyed one clear victory, the leasing from the Republic of Genoa of the island of Corsica, which proved a permanent acquisition. In spite of the British public’s outrage, the weak government of the ailing Pitt, now Earl of Chatham, and the inexperienced Augustus Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton, protested but did nothing more. This victory was overshadowed, however, by disastrous defeats for France’s friends in eastern Europe. In March 1768 the Poles rebelled against their government in response to the rights recently given to religious minorities. Six months later the Turks, with French encouragement, went to war against the Russians. Chosieul had badly misjudged the situation. Logistical and financial difficulties prevented France from sending more than limited financial aid and a few volunteers to help the Polish rebels. The relatively modern Russian army was called into Poland, and it proved more than a match for both the Poles and the Turks. Aided by the British, the Russians even were able to send a fleet from the Baltic via Britain to the Aegean Sea, where in 1770 it annihilated a Turkish fleet. France’s entire system of client states in eastern European now was threatened and her impotence in foreign affairs revealed to all.

Choiseul’s position at the French court also was weakening. It is possible he at least flirted with the idea that a war with Britain would restore his power. In 1770 the conflict over the Falklands became acute when the Spanish commander at Buenos Aires sent a squadron to the British post at Port Egmont and expelled the garrison. Choiseul’s diplomatic correspondence with Ossun was ambiguous about France’s plans and the king was left in doubt about Choiseul’s intentions. Facing renewed struggles with the parlements, Louis XV wished peace at any price and extracted a promise from Choiseul that he would do his utmost to preserve it. In December 1770, his suspicions that Choiseul was pursuing a separate policy led to the downfall of the foreign minister. War was averted when Charles III apologized to George III for the insult given Britain. In exchange, Frederick, Lord North, the British prime minister, secretly promised that Britain quietly would evacuate the islands later.

Choiseul’s downfall also brought down his cousin, Naval Minister Praslin. After a short interval Pierre-Etienne Bourgeois de Boynes, the former president of the Parlement of Besançon and supporter of the king whom Chosieul had betrayed, became naval minister. During his three years in office, supplies of masts, wood for construction, and other naval materiel declined drastically. With its rebuilding program stalled and its dockyards depleted of supplies, the navy apparently was not very formidable when he left office in 1774. Nevertheless it had hidden strengths and in several areas was superior to the navy of twenty years earlier. First, its ships of the line on average were somewhat larger. At the end of 1774, 32 of its 60 ships of the line carried 74 or more guns (increasingly the measure of a true ship of the line), whereas only 25 of the 57 ships of the line at the beginning of 1755 had carried that many guns. More importantly, thanks to the great expansion of colonial trade and fishing since the end of the Seven Years’ War, it could draw on a larger pool of sailors and hence man more ships. Here, France’s saving of her access to the Newfoundland and St. Lawrence fisheries was crucial; the sailors they trained made the difference of perhaps a dozen ships of the line. (The fisheries trained roughly a third of the navy’s sailors. If half of these could not have found alternate maritime employment, the navy would have lost a sixth of the crews of the 63–73 ships of the line it used in the War of American Independence.) The balance of opposing naval forces in the War for American Independence was so close that a dozen ships of the line were enough to make a crucial difference. More likely, however, France would not have risked involvement in the war had the navy been weakened by the loss of the fishery. Finally, the navy could look for help from the Spanish navy, which had grown almost as large as the French; from 1767 through 1774 it launched 22 ships of the line. The French navy had received Spanish help during the Seven Years’War only after it had been fatally weakened; if it could find earlier help, it might hope for different results, even though the British launched 52 ships of the line between 1 January 1763 and 1 January 1775 and ended the period with 106 ships of the line.

In 1774 the possibility that the French navy might soon see combat, however, was unlikely. What transformed the situation was the death of Louis XV and the accession to the foreign ministry of a former member of the “Secret du Roi” who put into practice the policies of the “Secret,” including striking at Russia through Great Britain.

From Jonathan Dull, The French Navy in the Seven Years’ War