Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1625 English cuirassier
Subject: cuirassier
Culture: Stuart English
Setting: England early-mid 17thc
Evolution: ... > 1356 English knyȝt 1471 English knight > 1536 Tudor knight > 1565 Elizabethan noble > 1625 English cuirassier

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Royal Armouries Leeds souvenir guide 2022 p30-31
"In the early 17th century the lancer had been replaced by the cuirassier, wearing three-quarter armour and armed with a pair of pistols and a sword. But the harquebusier, or light cavalryman, was the much more common kind of mounted soldier.
    "A cuirassier was a heavy cavalryman who wore full plate-metal armour with tassets on his thighs and leather boots. This heavy armour (20kg) was difficult to move in but gave good protection allowing the cuirassier to concentrate on using his two pistols. He carried a sword, a pair of wheellock or flintlock pistols and sometimes a pollaxe or horseman's hammer. His breast and backplate would be proofed (tested) against pistol balls and sometimes musket balls."

* Dowen 2019 p12
"Although many military theorists and commanders still valued the tactical role of the heavily armoured cavalryman, by 1600 more lightly armoured cavalry were moving into favour.  Equipped with a range of short barrelled flint- and wheelock firearms, and less encumbered by heavy armour, these light cavalrymen were eminently suited for a wide variety of roles.  By the 1630s many Continental armies had dispensed with fully armoured cuirassiers as being both tactically less versatile and too costly to equip, although Britain, which had largely remained on the sidelines during recent events in Europe, continued to field fully armoured cuirassiers in the early years of the Civil Wars.  However, by 1643/4 they too had become a rare sight."

* Royal Armouries Museum > War Gallery
"The lancer and the cuirassier  At the beginning of the century the fully-armoured lancer who also carried a sword and a pair of pistols, was still considered to be a battle winner.  With the cavalry's increasing reliance on firepower, however, before the middle of the century he had been replaced by the cuirassier who was armed with pistols, but still wore full armour.
    "It became increasingly difficult, especially during the Thirty Years War on the Continent, to obtain horses strong enough to carry the weight of armour, equipment, and man.  Soldiers were also increasingly reluctant to serve as cuirassiers and by the 1650s nearly all cavalry were harquebusiers."


* Oakeshott 1999 p70-71
"With the end of the Elizabethan period and with the introduction of the so-called 'Cavalier' styles of dress, armor changed again and became hideous. ...  The short-waisted doublet was imitated by a very short, shapeless breastplate; the fauld became insignificant and carried an enormous pair of very long tassets reaching below the knees.  These tassets of course conformed to the vast, baggy knee-length breeches that were fashionable from about 1610 until 1650.  These great breeches had advantages for the marauding soldier, for large quantities of loot could be stuffed into them.  The wearing of armor was almost abandoned after 1650, which, if our historical curiosity were to concern simply the look of armor, was a good thing.  Better to discard the essential concept of armor than to endure its more horrible styles.
​    "Such was the armor worn by the heavy cavalry in the English Civil War and in the endless wars on the Continent ...."

* Dowen 2019 p14-18
"In 1642 the Royalist captain Henry Hexham noted in his Principles of the Art Military that cuirassiers were equipped with a pistol-proof helmet, a gorget, breast and back plates ('ideally pistol-proofe'), a pair of pauldrons and vambraces, a culet or 'gard de reines', a pair of gauntlets and a pair of knee-length tassets.  Although not mentioned by Hexham, other writers recommended cuirassiers wore a buff coat to protect the body 'from the pinching of his ponderous armour'.  How far this ideal reflected actual practice is not always clear.
    "Whilst most contemporary military manuals depicted cuirassiers wearing close helmets, by the 1630s this was being increasingly replaced by the lighter 'close burgonet' which provided better ventilation and all-round visibility.  Constructed in a very similar manner to the close helmet, the distinguishing feature of the close burgonet was the pivoted projecting peak, or fall.  One common style of face-guard incorporated a series of long vertical bars directly attached to the peak.  Another, the 'Todenkopf' or 'Death's Head' helmet, featured a face-guard in the form of a face or skull.  By the mid 1630s, both artistic and literary evidence indicates that growing numbers of cuirassiers were dispensing with close-helmets altogether and instead equipping themselves with the lightweight zischägge, or pott.
    "The short-waisted breastplate, some of which were pistol-proof, incorporated a flange at the base for the attachment of the tassets.  A corresponding flange on the backplate enabled the attachment of the culet, or garde de reins, which protected the lower back and buttocks.  The culet could either take the form of a short skirt formed of narrow horizontal lames or, in the Eastern European style, a series of metal scales riveted to a leather backing.  The front of the legs were protected by a pair of long laminated tassets which extended from the waist to the knee.  From the late 16th century the wearing of greaves and sabatons had become increasingly rare (although they were sometimes included with higher quality armours) with the lower legs instead protected by stout leather riding boots.  Many tassets were formed of two or three sections which allowed the wearer to shorten them if required.  The vambraces were usually made with the upper and lower arms permanently joined together, however, some allowed the lower part to be removed by the provision of a slot and turning pin located between the shoulder and elbow.  As an additional protective measure some Continental armours incorporated a series of narrow articulating lames, or splints, which protected the inner bend of the elbows."


* Wilkinson 1971 p108
"A great variety of swords was used during the seventeenth century, including several which had evolved from earlier models.  The most common, certainly in Britain, was the cavalry broadsword.  Fitted with blades of varying widths, sometimes two or three inches wide, it had several short fullers just below the guard.  Hilts were quite elaborate, a series of bars springing from the pommel and ending below the grip to form a basket to protect the hand.  Often the bars were chiseled; many had a head believed to be a death mask of Charles I cut into them which gained the swords the title of mortuary swords."

* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/LaRocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson 1993 p72 (Anthony North, "Seventeenth-century Europe" p72-83)
"The 'mortuary hilt', probably the best known of all English seventeenth-century hilts, was yet another variant of the basket hilt.  'Mortuary' is a nineteenth-century coining and describes the supposed resemblance of the portrait heads chiselled on such hilts to the martyred Charles I.  The bowl-shaped guard extending back to the pommel suggests direct descent from the short hangers with double-shell guards and wide knucklebows produced by the Hounslow factory in the 1630s. In fact, the earliest basket-hilted swords of this type have guards decorated with the same scallop shell design as that found on early London hangers.
​    "The first mortuary-hilted swords appeared in about 1630, and were the standard weapon of both Royalist and Parliamentarian cavalry during the Civil War.  They were usually fitted with a long single-edged blade for cutting and thrusting, and like all basket hilts had a leather lining inside the basket.  Their quality is variable; some had very crude guards, probably made by local blacksmiths, and others are of very accomplished workmanship.  The better hilts are chiselled in relief with equestrian warriors or trophies, sometimes with a crest or coat-of-arms worked into the design.  The finest are encrusted with silver or gilded.
​    "Mortuary hilts underwent minor changes in the century that followed, such as the addition of extra bars linking the bowl to the knuckleguard and the incorporation of small plates which projected down the blade.  There was a vogue in the 1640s for chiselled portrait faces on the hilt -- hence the term 'mortuary' -- and in the 1650s and 1660s the guard became much shallower."

* Withers 2010 p47 = Withers/Capwell 2010 p295
"During the English Civil War (1642-51) the so-called 'mortuary sword' was another peculiarly English sword type carried extensively.  It was given the erroneous title 'mortuary' by Victorian sword collectors because of the application of decorative work to the hilt that featured a series of engraved human faces, supposedly in memory of the beheaded Charles I (executed in 1649) and his wife, Henrietta Maria.  Although there is a mortuary sword in the collection of HM The Queen at Windsor that bears a likeness to Charles I and his queen, mortuary swords with human faces were being carried as early as 1635.  Not all of them display human faces as the primary decorative motif.  Alternative hilt decoration comprises armed figures, coats of arms and extensive engraving, including both fanciful and geometric designs.
​    "The main features of the mortuary sword are a dish- or boat-shaped guard with a wide wrist guard and two branched knuckle-bows screwed to the pommel.  Shield-shaped langets (to guard the shaft) are found at the top of the blade forte and probably acted to keep the hilt solid into the blade.  Blades were normally of backsword type and single or double-edged towards the end of the blade to enable a thrusting capacity.
​    "The mortuary sword, which fell out of use around 1670, was carried by both Royalist and Parliamentarian cavalry throughout the English Civil War.  Oliver Cromwell was believed to have carried a mortuary sword during the Battle of Drogheda, in 1649, and an example attributed to him still exists in England."

* Martyn 2004 p14
"The Mortuary sword has received a lot of publicity as a weapon used throughout the Civil War by both sides of the conflict. Deservedly so, as it is peculiar to British weaponry and carried mainly by the officers and gentlemen of the cavalry units, generally recognizable by the formation of the hilt and the mask decoration applied to the surface of the baseguard. The general formation of the mortuary hilt is that of a dished baseguard connected to the pommel by a branched knucklebow and two side branches, generally stiffened by double branches towards the baseguard."