Friday, April 24, 2015
The Lions of Spain
This was what I intended to write about, but over the course of researching this little project of mine, I discovered that the setting is far richer than I initially assumed. In video game terms think the best of Assassin's Creed 2 except without the need for elaborate conceits like Templar schemes, parkour assassins or a sci-fi animus. Spain during its golden age had the Inquisition, numerous wars and every manner of courtly intrigue imaginable. That, with just a little artistic indulgence, makes for an exciting time and place to be in itself. Aside from naval combat during the age of sail, a topic I've already addressed extensively earlier this month, European land warfare had its own unique characteristics during the latter part of the 16th and early 17th centuries.
Often referred to as the age of "pike and shot," infantry were organized into closely knit blocks composed of a mixture of three soldier types. First, there were the pikemen, who were the at the core, but could change formation quickly on command to a hollow square in which other troop types could take refuge. When deployed as such, the long two-handed pikes would bristle outward creating a hedge of spikes to repulse enemy cavalry attacks. Second were the musketeers, or harquebusiers, that stood in the wings and carried smooth-bore matchlock guns. These soldiers gave the unit striking power at a distance and could be arrayed to unleash a single massive volley or alternatively a steady stream of gunfire depending on the desired configuration. Lastly was a small, elite cadre of swordsmen tasked with guarding the banners. In a pinch the could also be used for short range assaults, a tactic which proved to be effective at breaking pike-against-pike deadlocks. It's important to note that this final group varied by nation. In Spain they were "rodeleros" (or sword-and-buckler men), while in Germany they were "Doppelsöldners," strong men who got double pay and wielded two-handed swords called "Zweihänders." Meanwhile the Swiss didn't use swordsmen at all, preferring instead to have halberdiers fill the role.
Getting back to video games, I think it would be cool to take the role of an alférez and command a tercio in battle. At your side would be the alabardero and arcabucero (officers in charge of cold and hot steel respectively). Tercios were made up of professional volunteers (sometimes pardoned criminals) and often nurtured by low ranking nobility called "hildagos." In that sense the player could handle recruitment, equipping, training and management of his tercio. A strong emphasis on retaining veterans meant experience and determination were extremely important, not to mention skill in combat.
I should end this by noting that Spain's golden age represents a country at the height of its power and decadence, not to mention wealth. The "golden" part isn't a called so because of some sort of cultural enlightenment (although many great works of art were made then). It's called such because huge amounts of wealth flowed from the new world into Spain, feeding corruption, decadence and petty violence at all levels of the social strata save the ever hardworking peasants at the bottom of what was a very top heavy empire.