Thursday, 1 February 2018

Irish Chieftan and Noble Cavalry


Following on from a look at the Kern, Galloglass and Horseboys who formed much of the infantry of Gaelic Irish armies in the 16th century I have turned my attention to the Irish Cavalry. A bit of a labour of love this unit as no manufacturer really makes perfect figures for these chaps at the moment. I have had to make a few compromises with the figures and I have based some of the colours and additions on conjecture but I hope they are fairly close to how they may have looked.

The cavalry arm of the Gaelic Lordships was normally made up of the nobility, in fact they could often be all directly related. This at first seems odd but a few examples may help to illustrate. Turlough an fhiona O Donnell, lord of Tirconnell, d.1423, had 18 eighteen sons by 10 different women and 59 grandsons in the male line. The O'Reilly lord of East Brefny, Mulmora, d.1566, had at least 58 grandsons who took the name of O'Reilly. In this light it is easy to understand how the Cavalry component of a sept could easily be a family affair in the most literal of senses. The "close" family aristocratic element could also be augmented by their more wealthy followers who answered their call to arms or "rising out". This could be further enhanced by young nobles who frequently traveled to other Irish Lordships to take service with another Lord. So for example in 1406 two sons of the King of Connacht travelled to Offaly with their attendants to serve the Lord of Offaly against the English of Meath. 

When looking at contemporary pictures of how these horsemen were armed and equipped a fairly broad spectrum has been used as there really aren't that many images. However just by looking at the first two pictures below, one from c.1399 and the other from c.1580 what is immediately striking is how similar the horsemen look despite nearly two centuries in between. The two unusual things about the Irish cavalry of the 16th Century were that they didn't use stirrups and that they used long lances overarm rather than the normal couched lance of late medieval/early renaissance warfare. John Dymmok in "A Treatise of Ireland" c.1600 described them as such "The horsemen are armed with headpeeces, shirtes of mayle or jackes, a sworde, a skayne, and a speare. They ryde vyon paddes, or pillowes without styrvps, and in this differ from ours; that in joyninge with the enemy, theye beare not their staves or launces vnder arme, and so put it to the reste, but takinge yt by the midle, beare yt aboue arme, and soe encounter." As with the Kern and Galloglass they of course had their attendants as grooms for their horses as well as leading their spare mounts and taking care of their harness and weaponry. Dymmok goes on to state that "Every Horsman hath two or thre horses, and to euery horse a knave : his horse of service is allwaies led spare, and his knave, which caryeth his harness and speare, rydeth vpon the other, or els upon a hackeney."


Depiction of Irish Horsemen attacking Richard IIs Cavalry c.1399

16th Century Irish Horseman c.1580. He is actually a Burke and so an Anglo-Irishman riding and armed in Gaelic Irish style.

As with the Irish infantry I was keen to have the cavalry component of the army looking as much like those in the original sources as possible. I used the old Redoubt Enterprises Irish miniatures from their renaissance range for my horsemen but had to do quite a bit of conversion work to complete the unit. I think the biggest issue for me was that the Redoubt figures all have large wicker shields. As I mentioned in my last post I think this comes from Edmund Spensers  "A View of the present State of Ireland" of 1596 where he states "their longe broad sheeldes, made but with wicker roddes, which are comonly used amongst the said Northeren Irishe". This may have been the case but the image below showing Irish Cavalry in a skirmish with English Horsemen (who are actually quite similarly equipped save for the stirrups and boots) has some really good depictions of Irish Cavalry shields. Only two examples of these shields or targes survive and there is a great description of making replicas of them here on Claiomh, the Irish living history groups, Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ClaiomhLivingHistory/videos/vb.146967882013099/1189489427760934/?type=2&theater .

This shield issue meant I had the nasty job of removing the cast on wicker shields using a knife, drill and saw. It took ages and I can safely say I will not be attempting to remove 11 cast on large shields from metal miniatures again! I replaced the wicker shields with as close as I could get to the Irish shields in the image above. I know that the large bosses in the centre are not really correct and what is more frustrating is that Vendel used to make shields exactly like those in Derrickes image and they were available in packs on their own but such is the way with miniatures. Little niche ranges often appear and then disappear a few years later. I also included a couple bucklers from The Assault Group and painted some designs on them. These were inspired by a line from Edmund Spenser "Likewise rownd lether targettes, as the Spanyarde fashion, who used it, for the most part, paynted, which in Ireland they use alsoe, in many places, colored after ther rude fashion". I have mirrored the image of one of the Irish standards on one of the targes and on the other I attempted a Gaelic style pattern similar to the kind of thing seen on the Kerns Jackets (I think these Jackets may have perhaps been called Ioanars, following on from my last post).


Irish Horse from John Derricke's Image of Ireland 1581. Note the "hook" style nasal guards on the front of their helmets, plumes on the back of some of the helms and the shields worn on straps. The fallen horsemen at the bottom of the image also shed useful light on how they were equipped.

An Irish Chieftan, horse, showing the trappings off beautifully, and horseboy from The Image of Ireland, John Derricke 1581.

When it comes to the horses I have to give Redoubt credit as they are the only manufacturer I know of who have made any horses in 28mm that are in the unique Irish trappings with a "cushion" being ridden on rather than a saddle. The image above by John Derricke shows how this worked very clearly. I am glad this element of the Irish cavalry can be represented on the miniatures. As a nod to the contemporary images, and also to some of the images shown in my last post, I added various different plumes to the horsemen. Ok, so some of the plumes I added maybe a little over the top compared to those seen in the images but I really think they add to the cavalry and make them look suitably aristocratic. Some of the images show relatively simple plumes, for example the mounted chieftan in the image below or the cavalry fleeing from the English shown above. Others head accoutrements are a bit more dramatic, for example the Wild Irish Rider of 1575 or the Chieftan shown being blessed by a priest and then on horseback in one of John Derricke's images.

With regard to these two images, both shown below, firstly I am unsure what type of troop the "Wild Irish Rider" is really meant to represent. He certainly doesn't seem to be an aristocratic Irishman from his dress but he is riding stirrupless in the Irish manner and certainly dressed like a native Irishman of the 1500s. Ian Heath in his "Armies of the Sixteenth Century" argues that Horseboys normally fought on foot, despite their name which was more to do with the fact that they cared for the nobles horses and led the spare mounts. Certainly by Tyrones Rebellion or the Nine Years War, as it is also known, the Irish did have lighter cavalry than the mail armoured nobles so perhaps some Irish Chiefs also fielded even lighter horse armed with bows and darts or javelins earlier in the century. Horses were certainly in plentiful supply in Ireland.

Close up of an Irish Chieftan, note the plume at the top of his helm.

A lighter armed "Wild Irish Rider" Abraham de Bruyn 1575.

An Irish Chieftan riding under the O'Neill Banner.

Secondly, have a look at the images of the Chieftan shown below and then have a look at Redoubts representation of a Gaelic Chief. Apart from the helmet I think you will agree their miniature looks very similar, wrapped in his "brat" or is it an Irish mantle? He certainly looks the part. If you have a look a the image of the Irish cavalry fleeing the English horse you will notice that their helmets have quite unusual nose guards. Surviving pieces and images show Galloglass helmets sometimes had these as well. The miniatures also have these on their helmets which is a nice touch. Quite why they also have mail hanging from the back of their helms I am unsure, as I haven't seen this in the images I have looked at but maybe I have missed something. You will notice I've chosen to represent a lot of the helms as painted or maybe cloth covered. My "excuse" for this is that if you look at some of the images of Kern and Galloglass in my last post they have coloured helmets. If these infantrymen did then surely their aristocratic betters wouldn't want to be outdone! The painted helms are also a nice throwback to the Anglo-Norman roots some of these horsemen may have had. The mail armoured Burke in one of the images above is in fact Anglo-Irish, Burke being a corruption of de Burgh, and even the great Shane O'Neill was a grandson, on his maternal side, of Garret Mor, the 8th Earl of Kildare.

Two depictions on an Irish Chieftan from Derrickes Image of Ireland 1581. Note the unsual helmet and plume.

So here are the horsemen, shown with Petes superb Irish flags: http://thegreatitalianwars.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/16th-century-irish.html. The flag I have chosen to show with the unit is taken from a picture map of the Battle of the Erne Fords in 1593, shown below. Annoyingly I couldn't find a really large copy of this image online, but it is flying in the block of horsemen at the top of the image. Flags, or bratachs in Gaelic, weren't particularly popular with the native Irish. In fact in some images of the later 16th century they are shown simply carrying captured English ensigns! Note also in this final image that in 1593 the cavalry are still using the lance overarm. A couple of the miniatures I have painted are carrying darts or javelins rather than these long lances. As with the Kern, the dart was still a popular weapon with the Irish Nobility. Ian Heath notes a skirmish between Neill Garbh O Donnell, who went against his cousin Red Hugh O Donnell, and fought for the English in the Nine Years War. Neill fought another kinsman, Rory, who thrust a large javelin into the head of Neill's horse but was able to retrieve it as it was held on a thong.

All in all I am fairly pleased with the finished unit. I think they are colourful and flamboyant enough to represent the Gaelic Irish aristocracy. There are a few nasty areas behind the shields that were created when I removed the original wicker shields. I have tried to simply paint these areas in shadow, as can be seen in the photo of the miniatures from the rear and I don't think this detracts too much from the finished horsemen. The Redshanks will hopefully be up next and I will try and get some photos of the whole host assembled as well.

Irish Noble Cavalry armed with Swords, Darts or Javelins and Long Lances that were used overarm.

Irish Noble Cavalry. The flag, or bratach in Gaelic, is from a depiction of Hugh Maguires cavalry at the Battle of the Erne Fords 1593, see the image below.

Battle of the Erne Fords 1593, the Irish Cavalry can be seen in the top of the image holding their lances overarm.

The Irish Horse from behind.


5 comments:

  1. Nice post, I didn't know redoubt even did anything remotely renaissance Irish, I think you've captured the feel really well, and yes taking shields off figures is not much fun! I picked up Battles in Ireland the other day and it has most of the illustrations you've shown but I haven't seen the one from Richard the seconds reign. The Burke illustration could almost be Norman without stirrups, maybe conquest plastic Normans next time, it'll be easier to carve off plastic shields!
    Best Iain

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  2. Nice work Oli, they look great on the large bases!

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  3. Excellent, informative post, Oli! I always appreciate the history you weave into the post.

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  4. Wonderful work Oli! I've used those very same hounds for one of my cavalry units as well. They seem to amplify the sense of movement of the horses. Great stuff.

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  5. Excelent!!! Not just the figs but the history Research. I´m gonna have to add some Renaissance to my Collection..it´s Logical..medieval does end up in the Renaissance after all :-)

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