Pierre Picouet on Spanish Tercios from Pavia to Rocroi

I got a bit worried last week. Dr Pierre Picouet’s website on the Spanish Tercios had disappeared. But I quick email to the man himself and I discovered that the website had just moved. It is now at Tercio1617. What a relief. Pierre’s material is a must read for anybody with an interest in Spain, the tercios, the Great Italian Wars and/or the Thirty Years War. To celebrate finding it again I thought I’d do a small tour of the website.

Languages

Pierre kindly provides his material in French (his native language), Spanish and English. The only exception is his book – this is only available in French.

Tactics

The real gold for me is Pierre’s work on Infantry Combat Tactics. Pierre starts by summarising the tactics used by the tercios in the 16th and 17th centuries. He also considers Dutch, Swedish and French tactics and methods of deployment. Pierre follows with a big piece on fire tactics including various ways in which shot delivered fire. Pierre also briefly covers siege warfare.

Regarding deployment I, again, find it interesting how the wargaming convention of pike with shot wings was not the convention on the field of battle. Many of the formations Pierre shows have the shot behind the pike! That includes both Dutch and Swedish formations. Of course shot did form on the flank of the pikes but it was not universal in this period.

I like Pierre’s summary of the Spanish infantry. After all Pierre is pro-Spanish and so am I.

Many authors have focused too much on the fact that the Tercio had a big square of pikemen with gunmen on the wings. In fact the massive Tercio of 3 000 was used in few battles (first half of the XVI century). The Spanish infantry preferred skirmishes actions using a detachment(s) of harquebusiers and Musketeers in the Mangas and supported by the block of pikemen. In most of the battles of the Flanders war, the Tercio squadron had 1 000 – 1 200 men or less with at least 60% of musketeers and harquebusiers.

During many years the tactical advantage of the Spanish infantry was to be able to create mobile combat group where each soldiers knew what to do. These mobile groups, the mangas, had a strong discipline and could face different situation, they were able to disrupt enemy formation. In general term the Spanish infantry had a strong “esprit de corps” and for most of the time they knew that they were the best infantry in Europe. That was possible because the Tercio were few in numbers; the situation changed a lot when their enemies were able to maintain large armies like the french army of Louis XIV in the second half of the XVII century.

The Battles

Pierre has written up a fairly comprehensive timeline of the tercios from Pavia to Rocroi. He has also put together some pages on specific battles of the tercios. I’ll touch on only a few.

Thirty Years War

Pierre looks at some of the battles of the Thirty Years War. What a bonanza for me as Pierre covers all three of my specific interests: Fleurus, Nordlingen and Rocroi.

One of the things I like about Pierre Picouet is he is happy to challenge received wisdom about this period. Take for example Rocroi which is often portrayed as a massive french victory that shattered the spanish tercios for all time. It isn’t true. Here is Pierre’s version:

Spanish losses are important but less than the ones usually reported in most of the sources available. It is estimated that the Spanish loose some 7 300 men divided in 3 500 dead, wounded and deserters and 3 826 prisoners including the men who capitulated. For the native Spanish soldiers we have some 1 000 dead and 2 000 prisoners. French losses are important for such battle, they are estimated by the French at 2 000 dead and some 2 500 wounded. In fact from the 18th of May and the 15th of June the French losses mount to more than 5 000 men in total.

Rocroi was not a great and decisive French victory, but it was well exploited by the French propaganda to support the weak French government of Mazarin and the house of Condé. For the Spanish it was a tactical defeat in a secondary war front, in 1643-1944 the main activity of the Spanish was to reconquer Catalonia and most of the money and troops were for the royal army of Catalonia, at the same time it can be said that the territory of Franche-Conté was not invaded.

So the spanish lost 40% more men than the french. That doesn’t sound great but bear in mind that medieval battles would result in 1000% (one thousand) more losses for the loser. And this 40% figure includes prisoners. If you exclude the prisoners the french had considerably more dead and wounded than the spanish army. Much of the spanish army marched off and then rallied around a secondary force that was approaching. The french did hold the field at the end of the battle but the spanish achieved their strategic objective, i.e. ensuring territory of Franche-Conté was not invaded. On balance that doesn’t sound like a resounding victory.

Great Italian Wars

Pierre has covered three battles from the Great Italian Wars:

I’ll come back to these in due course. I’ve got some rough notes on Pavia but my Great Italian Wars needs an overhaul and I’ll look to Pierre’s site for inspiration.

Pierre Picouet Les Tercio Espagnols 1600-1660

Pierre Picouet Les Tercio Espagnols 1600-1660

Eighty Years War

Pierre covers three battles of the Dutch Revolt, i.e. the period before the Eighty Years War merges into the Thirty Years War. It is such a rarity to see any coverage of this war and I’m very pleased to find somebody else with an interest.

Other stuff

Pierre’s website has some very valuable material on the soldiers of the spanish armies. How they were organised, equipped, uniformed, and employed.

Les Tercios Espagnols 1600-1660

Finally, Pierre Picouet has written a book on the spanish tercios. Although now rare Pierre’s book is available from Amazon USA, UK, and Canada:

Picouet, P. (2010). Les Tercios Espagnols 1600-1660. LRT Editions. [French].

I’m no expert in French but I found the book surprisingly easy to read. For some reason easier than the Spanish books I own.

The book covers similar ground to the website but isn’t exactly the same. For example the book and website have a lot of overlap on Battle of Nordlingen, and are consistent, but you can pick out different details from each source.

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