Renaissance Battlefield Tactics

I’m not happy with the various renaissance wargaming rules I’ve seen so I thought I’d type up some thoughts about how battlefield tactics. Applies to Italian Wars, Eighty Years War / Dutch Revolt, and Thirty Years War. I’m not sure where it will lead but we’ll see …

See various pages of Organisation:

Troop Quality

For the greater part of the 16th century the Spanish foot soldiers were the best in Europe (Heath, 1997). Until the introduction of the reforms of Maurice of Nassau in the 1590s Spanish infantry were clearly superior to their Dutch opponents.

Paper, scissors, rock

Combined pike and shot could stand off cavalry frontally, but their flanks were vulnerable (Heath, 1997).

Shock cavalry (e.g. Lancers) rode down cavalry using caracole (Heath, 1997).

Shot infantry would beat cavalry using caracole (Heath, 1997).

Caracole was effective against other cavalry using caracole and against unsupported pikes (Heath, 1997).


Thanks to Javi Gomez and Antonio Carrasco for help with the translation.


Escuadróns (squadrons) were the most common Spanish battlefield formation during the tercio period (Heath, 1997). They comprised of selected companies for particular purposes and could be from a few hundred to several thousand men. The shot companies of several tercio were sometimes grouped in this way.

Gush (1975) has some contemporary drawings of Tercio formations.

Formation Description in Spanish Description in English
Escuadrón en batalla Squadron deployed for battle
Escuadrón guarnecido con mangas dobladas en las hileras Squadron protected by doubled sleeves [mangas] in the rows
Escuadrón guarnecido con mangas dobladas perfiladas Squadron protected by doubled sleeves [mangas] on the perimeter
Escuadrón marchando por el flanco, en el órden profundo Squadron marching to the flank, in column formation.
Escuadrón guarnecido con mangas destacadas Squadron protected by detached sleeves [mangas]
Mangas were detached “sleeves” of arquebusiers / musketeers.


Brzenzinski, R. (1995). The Army of Gustavus Adolphus 1: Infantry [Men-at-Arms 235]. Osprey.

Heath, I. (1997). Armies of the Sixteenth Century: The Armies of England, Ireland, the United Provinces, and the Spanish Netherlands 1487-1609. Foundry Books.

Gush, G. (1975). Renaissance Armies 1480-1650. Patrick Stephens.

Part of this book are available on-line on the myArmoury site:

The Burgundian Army of Charles
the Bold

The Swiss
The Italians
Military Orders
The English: Henry VIII to Elizabeth
The Irish
The Scots
The Spanish
The French

Miller, D. (1976). The Landsknechts [Men-At-Arms 58]. Osprey.

Oman, C. (1987). A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century. London: Greenhill Books. Originally published 1937.

Parker, G. (1972). The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659: The logistics of Spanish Victory and Defeat in the Low Countries’ Wars. Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, F. (1993). The art of war in Italy 1494-1529 (originally published 1921). Essex, UK: Partizan Press.

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