Soldiers with a point to prove: what’s it like being a pikeman?

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Just like in the English Civil War, there are two main types of infantry soldier in the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote: pikemen and musketeers.

Being a pikeman is one of the more strenuous roles you can do in the Sealed Knot, combining structured drill movements and coordination with the qualities of a competitive sport. Whether we’re fighting traditionally ‘at point’ or in the scrum-like ‘pike push’, it’s a physical contact sport and a great way to relieve stress!

The pike itself was an old weapon – made from a single 18 feet-long piece of English ash and tipped with a steel spike. It was a weapon that required good upper body strength and balance, as well as nerves of steel.

Pikes were mainly useful as a defence against enemy cavalry, presenting a wall of sharp points to ward them off and protect vulnerable musketeers while they reloaded.  Unlike the musket, it was considered a weapon for gentlemen because you fought your enemy up close but the tide of war was changing and the ratio of musketeers to pikemen changed drastically between 1642 and 1660 from 2:1 to up to 4:1.

If you’d like to find out more about being a pikeman in the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote, visit our pike webpage.

In the Sealed Knot, pikemen fight in one of two ways: ‘point’ and ‘push’.

At ‘point’ is traditionally how pikemen fought each other. Big blocks of pikeman would level their pikes (see right) and advance towards each other into a crush called ‘push of pike’, when the front ranks would draw swords and engage in deadly hand-to-hand fighting.

This was hard work and often left them vulnerable to attack by cavalry at their sides. Pikemen had to stick together, as to break apart meant disaster.

The other way we fight is called ‘pike pushing’. This is a modern invention, but gives the hobby an exciting competitive edge. Pike blocks of up to 20 men lock together in a rugby scrum-like formation with their pikes held aloft, they then walk or run into an opposing block to try and push them over or force them back. This can be very hard work, but very rewarding if you win!

Although it’s not how pikemen really fought, it does re-create the atmosphere of a battlefield – people shouting, physical exertion, and aggression – for the public, while giving members of competitive sport to engage in.

Manchester’s pike block is well respected on the battlefield and we have previously won the Armie of Parliament’s pike push competition several times. There are no boundaries of sex or build to take part, anyone willing to give it a go is welcome.

To give you an idea of what it’s like in a push, here is some footage from the recent pike push competition at the Army’s Easter training event at Naseby in Northamptonshire. Although it is staged, it should give you a feel of how pike pushing takes place:

Being a pikeman is tremendously fun and very rewarding – marching off the battlefield after a good day is a real thrill and the whole thing gives you a real sense of camaraderie. But don’t just take our word for it, hear it from some of our pikemen:

Fancy giving it a go? Experience amazing weekends of battle and making new friends by joining today. You can have a taster weekend for as little as £12 – and we’ll even lend you your kit! Go to www.earlofmanchesters.co.uk or e-mail manchesterspr@ymail.com for more information or a joining form.

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