Subject: Schwarz Reiter 'black rider' mercenary cavalry
Setting: Germany / western Europe mid-late 16thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Arnold 2001 p98
"A new type of heavy horsemen [SIC] first appeared in Germany in the 1540s, the reiters or ritters. These had abandoned the lance for the pistol, a short-barrelled firearm light enough to be wielded with one hand even from a moving horse."
* Tarassuk/Blair 1979 p369
"In the military field, the pistol restored some of the cavalry's effectiveness; the weapon gave them an adequate means of response to the long pike and the murderous fire of the arquebus. The German Reiter, armed with two or more pistols, introduced a new tactical maneuver, the caracole: instead of the traditional charge, the columns of horsemen advanced abreast in close ranks; each rank, after discharging their pistols at the enemy 'square,' wheeled to a flank and fell in again at the rear, while the next rank advanced and repeated the maneuver."
* Vuksic/Grbasic 1993 p100
"Towards the middle of the sixteenth century, Thuringian Count Günter of Schwartzburg created the Schwarzern Reitern (Black Horsemen). It was a modern cavalry unit, stressing firepower and agility. Reiter or ritter meant only 'rider', but it became the generic name for the mercenary, partly armoured cavalrymen recruited in Germany in the 1550s, and later, during the Wars of Religion, in Spain, Italy, and France.
"These reiters (swarte rutters to the English) were also hired by Henry VIII. They were armoured cavalrymen, but rode unarmoured horses."
* Royal Ontario Museum > Samuel European Galleries > Arms and Armor
"La cavalerie, repoussée aux confins du champ de bataille par les piques et les armes à feu, se reprit rapidement en s'octroyant un nouveau rôle. En Allemagne tout d'abord où, dès le milieu du XVIe siècle, la cavalerie prit un nouveau visage: elle se délesta de la lance et se dota d'épées et d'arquebuses à rouet. De force de choc, la cavalerie devint puissance de feu mobile. Les armures se simplifièrent beaucoup, la rapidité des mouvements étant considérée comme la meilleure protection contre les balles."
* Stone 1934 p526
"REITERS, ROUTERS. Cavalry of the first half [SIC] of the 16th century armed with pistols. The were also called noirs harnois or schwartz reiters on account of the black armor they wore." [reference omitted]
* Arnold 2001 p99-100
"The tactics of the reiters were as innovative as their weapons. Their speciality was the fire drill called the caracole, a term apparently borrowed from infantry practice. ... In the cavalry caracole, a deep but relatively narrow formation of reiters halted in front of their target, but well beyond the effective range of retaliatory small arms fire. Successive ranks of pistoleers then trotted to within point-blank pistol distance, discharged their guns, wheeled and returned to the back of the formation to reload and wait until their rank was once again the foremost. When performed with discipline the caracole must have produced a withering stream of constant fire, particularly against a formation of infantry standing in open ground. It is hard to imagine the caracole being used against fellow cavalry, but there is no question of the reiters flinching at a confrontation with lance-armed men-at-arms."
* Carey/Allfree/Cairns 2006 p212-213
"During this period of tactical experimentation, the Germans developed a new kind of cavalry armoured in a breastplate and high, heavy leather boots, and armed with three wheel-lock pistols. This new mercenary light cavalry, called Schwarzreiters or 'black riders' because of their black armour and accoutrements, attacked enemy formations using the revolving tactics of the caracole.
"To execute the caracole, these reiters, as they were soon called, trotted toward their enemy in a line of small, dense columns, each several ranks deep and with intervals of about two horses' width between files. In a tactic reminiscent of the Parthian shot, the reiters fired their three muzzle-loading pistols, then swung 180 degrees and filed to the rear to reload. Usually the caracole tactic was employed before a general advance as a means of disrupting enemy cavalry and infantry formations. But the time and awkwardness of reloading while mounted meant the caracole was a very difficult manoeuvre to carry out effectively, and, like light cavalry from the classical and medieval period, it was easily disrupted by an enemy heavy cavalry countercharge."
* Vuksic/Grbasic 1993 p100
"The armour used by the reiters was not uniform and could vary from just a mail shirt or cape, through corselet (often with mail sleeves), to three-quarter armour. Helmets ranged from simple 'iron-hats' to burgonets or morions. ...
" ... Their armour was often blackened; a common measure to fight rust. However, it was also the source of the name schwarz reiter, as well as of the French diables noirs."
* Arnold 2001 p98-99
"Reiters wore complete or nearly complete suits of armour -- fashionably blackened. This touch gave them their nickname of 'black riders' or 'devil riders'. An unusually sharp appetite for plunder helped darken their reputation as well. Horses were unbarded."
* Vuksic/Grbasic 1993 p100
"They ... carried wheel-lock pistols, a German invention which soon replaced the spear, especially in the second half of the century, and became a symbol of the reiters. [...]
"... They were armed with large pistols of the faustrohre type (faust - hand, rohre, barrel), thus named because they were as well suited for clubbing as for shooting the enemy. It had a barrel length of about 50 cm/20 in, weighed about 3 kg/6.5 lb and fired a 30g/1 oz lead ball. The pistol could be aimed accurately from approximately 20 paces; unaimed fire could be effective up to 45 m/50 yds. However, it was effective against the most heavily armoured opponents only at a few paces.
"A reiter was usually armed with two or three pistols: two carried in holsters on his saddle bow, and the third, precariously, in his right boot. There were, however, mercenary companies where reiters had up to six pistols -- four in holsters, and one in each boot."
* Arnold 2001 p98
"The critical innovation was not the pistol's length but its clockwork firing mechanism, the wheel lock. To ready his weapon the pistoleer used a wrench or spanner to crank a serrated wheel against a stiff spring until a small nut engaged the wheel and held it in check. Pulling the trigger then released this nut, spinning the serrated wheel against a lump of pyrites to produce a shower of sparks into the powder pan, thus firing the gun. Once loaded and wound, a wheel-lock pistol could be held until needed -- and then steadied and fired with one hand. Because they were a more expensive and more finicky weapon than the rude matchlock, wheel locks tended to be limited to cavalry and sporting guns. Each reiter rode into battle with at least a brace of wheel-lock pistols in his saddle holsters; some boasted three or four or more, the extras tucked into belts and boot-tops. Some also had a longer barreled gun slung over the shoulder."
* Imperial Austria 1992 p47-48
"Unlike the matchlock with its smouldering slow-match, the wheel-locks they used had spark-producing ignition systems. A spring-tensioned wheel was cocked or spanned using a special key called a spanner. When the trigger was pulled, the wheel spun from the sudden release of tension, rotated against a piece of iron pyrite clamped in the jaws of the cock, thus producing sparks, much like a cigarette lighter. These sparks fell into a small pan containing priming powder poured from a special flask. When ignited, the powder in turn set off the main charge."
* Tarassuk/Blair 1979 p370
"For most of the 16th century the great mass of pistols was produced in Germany, while elsewhere, partly because of restrictive legislation, local differentiation did not become evident until the latter part of the century. In the German wheel-lock pistol, the angle between butt and barrel was greatly increased, the barrel was lengthened, and the lock was improved by the adoption, among other things, of a V-spring for the cock. In the second half of the century, the 'puffer,' characterized by a big ball on the butt, became the favorite cavalry weapon; the ball gave the horseman a solid grip as he drew the weapon out of the holster. Of interest in that period was the production, also centered in Germany, of all-metal pistols; the wooden stock was replaced by a stock of steel or brass, which made the weapon stronger, though more expensive."
* Imperial Austria 1992 p47
"Just before the middle of the sixteenth century, pistoleer cavalry came into being. These troops, sometimes called Schwarze Reiter ('Black Riders') after the darkened armours they wore, carried sword, estoc, dagger, and lance, or a brace of pistols. Soon these troops relied almost exclusively on their firepower."
* Arnold 2001 p98
"Besides firearms, each horseman carried a long, stout stabbing sword, the estoc, and a dagger."