Saturday, July 16, 2011

Imperial Armies of the Thirty Years War (2)

Although the cavalry's previous domination of the battlefield had been superseded by that of pike-and-shot infantry by the start of the 17th century, the mounted arm retained several significant roles. As in other Western European countries at the beginning of the Thirty Years' War, the Imperial cavalry was now composed of several distinct types of mounted troops. The regular battle cavalry comprised cuirassiers and harquebusiers, which were in the process of being augmented by dragoons - still considered during this period to be mounted infantry. For other duties the Imperial authorities recruited Croats and Hungarian hussars, irregular light cavalry drawn from the Military Frontier with the Ottoman Turks. During the course of the wars these were supplemented with mercenary Polish (usually light) cavalry. Cuirassiers (also termed lancers or pistoleers) were the heaviest cavalry, successors to the medieval knights who had been rendered almost obsolete during the 16th century by improved infantry firearms and tactics. They derived their name from the largest piece of armour still employed, the breast- and backplate or cuirass. Although their importance had been greatly diminished by social change and military developments, it was this cavalry type which usually provided bodyguard units, such as the 200-strong single company of lancers who formed Graf Wallenstein's Leibgarde in 1627.