The Weapons and Armor of Goode’s Company

An Elizabethan company of foot is armed primarily with pikes, muskets or harquebuses, and halberds or bills. It might also employ, at various times: archers, German or Swiss mercenaries armed with two-handed swords, or even (while on service in the Low Countries) targeteers. Depending on their duties, soldiers might be heavily armored or wear no armor at all.


A pike.


A pike is essentially a large spear, often sixteen feet long, used to defend infantry formations against cavalry. In addition to being tasty, the average horse possesses a certain rude cunning. When presented with the business end of a few dozen pikes, often he will choose to stop rather than to charge headlong into them. Pikes can also be useful against our fellow men, who often lack the sense God gave a horse.

A pike.

Musket and Harquebus

The muskets used by Goode’s Company and every other English company of the 1580’s are smoothbore matchlocks. The musketeer carries a length of slow-match, a hemp rope treated to make it burn like a very slow fuse. To fire his weapon, the musketeer loads it and then affixes the end of the match to a mechanism on the gun. When he pulls the trigger, the hot match is lowered into the pan, igniting the powder and firing the musket. A full-sized musket is heavy enough to require a “shooting stick” to rest upon during aiming, while a harquebus is small enough to be managed without one.

A halberd.

Halberd, Partisan and Bill

The English are nothing if not traditionalists, and we maintain the weapons of our ancestors. The halberd and forest bill are two types of pole arms, often used to defend the ensign or musketeers when they are outside the formation. The halberd is also the traditional weapon of the sergeant, while the Captain is traditionally armed with a partisan.

A halberd.


Pikes break. Muskets run out of powder. Halberds, um, get stuck in a Spaniard’s skull or something. The point is that sometimes you need a fallback weapon; you need a sword. Swords are like women: everyone has his own idea of the perfect one. The most popular kind of sword in Goode’s Company is commonly called a rapier, though purists would doubtless insist on “sidesword” because it has a more sturdy blade.

We employ the occasional German who, in addition to dressing like a peacock, invariably comes equipped with either a giant two-handed sword called a “zweihander” (two-hander) or a short sword with a simple guard called a “katzbalger” (cat-fighter). Do not believe the rumors that the zweihanders are used to cut the heads off of pikes.


A Cabasset Helmet

A Cabasset Helmet

A Cabasset Helmet

A Comb Morion


The most basic form of armor worn by a soldier is his helmet. In the sixteenth century, the two most popular types of helmets are the comb morion and the cabasset. Both of these styles of helmet may be equipped with steel cheek plates and are usually secured by a broad ribbon tied under the chin. While it is not unknown for them to be also fitted with protective faceplates, it is very very rare.

Musketeers, understandably disinclined toward close combat because of the bottles of explosive strapped to their chests, often find these helmets too bulky. Instead, they wear a soft hat with a brim which can protect their face from the flash of the priming pan. The more cautious among them, however, wear a metal skull cap—called a “secret”—under their hat.

Peascod Breatplate

Peascod Breast & Back Plate

A good “breast & back” is the foundation of any suit of armor. The most modern, fashionable style of armor is the new “peascod” shape. Peascod breastplates have a slightly pot-bellied appearance, since the sides slope to a point centered in front of the abdomen rather than conforming to the body. This provides some room for more padding, but more importantly causes weapons thrust at the chest and belly from the front to waste their force by sliding off to one side. Civilian fashion has begun to imitate this shape with the introduction of peascod doublets. A breastplate is often sold with a small dent in it, called a proof-mark, where it has been shot with a special pistol to demonstrate that it is “proof” against musket balls. That this might weaken the armor at that point has apparently not occurred to anyone yet.

A Gorget with Spaulders.

Gorget and Spaulders

A gorget protects the neck, while spaulders conform to and defend the shoulders. Soldiers often discard spaulders and, less frequently, the gorget to save weight on the march.

Doublet of Holes.

Under the Armor

What do soldiers wear under their armor? Wealthier soldiers, like officers, wear a padded arming doublet, with maille patches at the vulnerable armpits. Lesser soldiers must make do with less expensive solutions. If they are lucky, or have some money, they can wear a “doublet of holes”, which is a series of metal rings sewn into a sleeveless doublet (a jerkin, really). Sort of a poor-man’s maille. More likely, they simply wear their armor over their normal doublet because they cannot afford special arming clothes.