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"Mounted Arquebusiers" Topic

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Prince Alberts Revenge08 Aug 2012 12:25 p.m. PST

When did mounted arquebusiers start to appear? Did thier tactics change during that time? In my readings of early Italian Wars, it seems that they were very prevalent.

Condottiere08 Aug 2012 1:31 p.m. PST

If I recall correctly, Vitelli developed mounted arquebusiers in Italy before 1500. But certainly around the time of, or just before, the start of the Italian Wars. Although some refer to Giovanni dei Medici's Bande Nere as the first, which would be a couple of decades after Vitelli.

Daniel S10 Aug 2012 3:08 p.m. PST

Vitelli is the first user I've encountered as well, the problem is that there is very little detailed evidence telling how his men fought. Did they simply ride to battle and then fought on foot or if they were able to fight mounted as well? The later is hard to do with a matchlock arquebus, not impossible but it won't be fun for you or your horse. Reloading is the hardest part due to the need to remove the match while handling powder and shot, doint this while holding the reins and keeping the horse calm would be an impressive feat of dexterity and horsemanship.

Mounted use became easier with the invention of the wheellock around 1500, the earlierst surviving guns date to 1505 and by 1517 wheellock weapons were considered such a problem that Emperor Maximilian outlawed both their use and manufacture. How quickly these early wheellocks were adopted for large scale military use is hard to say, not only were wheellocks expensive but the early designs were fargile and somewhat unreliable as well (the spring was mounted externaly and much more exposed to wear and tear). Fine for hunting and target shooting but not well suited to prolonged use in the field.

I'm more and more convinced that the early mounted arquebusiers fought mostly on foot due to the problems involved in using a matchlock from horse back. In addition neither Arfaoil's work on the "Black Bands" nor Potter's work on the French army has turned up any evidence of mounted arquebusiers being recruited as light cavalry. There is also a noteworthy lack of decriptions of mounted arquebusiers fighting mounted in the early years, it is only in the 1540's that such descriptions become numerous. Giorgio Basta considers the mounted arquebusier to have been invented in Piedmont which probably means the wars of the later 1530's and 1540's. Now Basta did not fight in these wars himself as he was born in 1544 but his father saw extensive service in the later Italian wars and Basta repeatedly references his fathers experience and methods in some of his chapters on cavalry warfare.

From the 1540's onward you see the mounted arquebusier slowly developing two separate branches. In France and the Netherlands the mounted arquebusier becomes a true light cavalryman, at best wearing a helmet and breastplate. In Germany the Schützenpferd become a sort of light battle cavalry wearing a combination of mail and plate armour. Armed with pistols & arquebus they become the primary German cavalry fighting the Ottomans as they were not only cheaper than the old heavy lancers but also more effective. In the "West" the Schützenpferd were recruited for their skill with the pistol and became more (in)famous as the Reiters/Reistres/Rutters of the Wars of Religion in France and the Netherlands.

Ilodic10 Aug 2012 8:09 p.m. PST

It was my understanding that mounted arquebuisers filled the role much as the mounted crossbowman…. riding into battle and NOT firing from horse, much like an early dragoon, if you will.


Matheo11 Aug 2012 3:15 a.m. PST

What do you guys make of these then?


YouTube link

I know the latter is "just a movie", but it got me thinking. The fact alone that Black Bands are considered by some as the first organised mounted arquebusier unit might suggest that they really developed some kind of tactic, maybe not different from cuirassiers moving up close, discharging their pistols and then charging home with swords about a century later. Just a food for thought, what do you think?

Ilodic11 Aug 2012 10:23 a.m. PST


In the above photos the figures are armed with handgonnes. Simply a metal tube with bands forge welded together. It is the simpliest form of firearm, and was widely used during the early 14th. century. Because of the short barrel, the accuracy and penetration of the handgonne was not very great at all. I have several reproductions, and it is my understanding handgonnes were deployed and fired by mounted men as well as infantry. Often times on armoured breastplate you may find a "rest" used for a handgonne (also called a hand cannon.)

One other interesting side note is the projectile often used by handgonners, was a "musket arrow". Essentially these were very short arrow, about 3-4" long and had a tight fit in the barrel, with a hardened tip. I have made several of these over the years, and and have fired them through my hand cannons as well as through my Brown Bess musket. The penetrating power of musket arrows in incredable. In fact, out of a short barrel handgonne, a musket arrow has far more penetration than a lead projectile out of a 18th-19th. century muzzle loaded musket. They do not carry very far, but wer designed as "anti-armour" projectiles, much like a sabot from a modern day main battle tank. So this makes sense why a mounted, armoured man would be armed witha a handgonne…to take down other armed cavalry.

If you wish to learn more about handgonnes, the link below is an excellent source of information, but has had very little activity over the last 4-5 years.


Matheo11 Aug 2012 3:17 p.m. PST

Thanks, I know what handgun/handgonne is.
My question was rather about the idea of using firearms while mounted. Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't the arquebuses fitted with some kind of matchlock? If so, they'd be even easier to fire from horseback than 'gonnes. Considering this, why would mounted arquebusiers dismount to fire?

Ilodic11 Aug 2012 4:53 p.m. PST

In reference to Daniel's post about matchlocks being difficult to fire from a mount, may have to do with riding with a lit match and loose powder (or just the recoil of a full musket), or even worse, perhaps, loading a matchlock from a mount which could be spooked at any moment.
However, this does not quite explain why the same problems were not present in handgonnes when mounted. Maybe they were, and phased out as well for a similar reason I posed. The only other major differance between a handgonne and an aruquebus (other than barrel length), is that some handgonne's do not have a trigger, or serpentine. They were mostly set off as in the illustration above via either a lit match, or by a hot wire which was heated in coals prior to touching the powder. I doubt the later was used on horseback for obvious reasons.

I could see setting a lit match onto the trigger and blowing on it prior to opening the pan as in an arquebus being more troublesome than blowing on a lit match and just touching the pan.

You have a made a good point, and I will look through a book I have linked below. It does a very good job of explaining the overall development of firearms in Europe.



Matheo12 Aug 2012 3:09 a.m. PST

That's why I also linked the movie clip – even though it is, as I mentioned, "just a movie", I find the idea of matches being lit by a fellow on foot, just prior to moving up to an enemy and discharging, quite plausible. The way I see it, all the loading would be done well away from the enemy; then matches are lit, whole unit advances quickly (thanks to being mounted), fires their weapons and then retires to reload. Kind of a reiter tactic ;)
I'm curious as to what you'll find in that book, ilodic. Thanks.

Puster Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2012 9:12 a.m. PST

Afaik the usage of the handgonnes was considered for heavier cavalry to create disorder in the enemy ranks – the knights would then discard the fired weapons and take advantage by attacking.

I have, however, nor read of any successfull usage of that tactics. The illustration does not look contemporary, and probably just shows the illustrators version of the same "tactic".

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