The Eighty Years War (1568-1648) overlapped the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). The organisation for the main protagonists of the Eighty Years War, Spanish and Dutch, are given here. See the Organisation in the Thirty Years War page for Swedes, French, Imperialist, etc.
Also see the Order of Battle pages for:
The company was the building block of Infantry organisation (Heath, 1997). Larger units were made up of a number of companies. The company was not, however, necessarily a battlefield formation. The Pike and shot components of a company were usually deployed separately in the field.
In proportions of pike to shot, I’ve included command elements, swordsmen etc in the pike component. Although not strictly accurate this gives a reasonable approximation of the fire power of the unit relative to its size.
A Spanish vandera or bandera (literally Ensign, but meaning company) were from 100 to 300 men (Heath, 1997). The size varied with time being 120-150 men in the 1560s, 200 men in the 1570s but down to 100 men by the end of the 16th century. Companies were either pike (initially a mix of 2/3 Pike and 1/3 Shot) or Shot (100% Shot); the shot only companies were abolished in 1632. They had 15-25 muskets per company, depending on the period and unit, and by 1601 1/3 of the shot were musket armed. (Heath points out that Parker, 1972, mistakenly omits the Arquebusiers from the “Pike” companies, which would mean they only have 20 Musketeers, which is unlikely.)
The first 20 Spanish coronelas, coronelias, or colonellias, (little columns) were created in 1505 (Gush, 1976; Heath, 1997). The first batch had a 1,000 to 1,500 men, but subsequently a column could have fewer men. Pikes predominated, but they were supported by up to 20% sword and buckler men, a few halberdiers, and the remainder arquebusiers.
The Spanish tercios (thirds) appeared in the 1530s, when the existing coronelas were grouped into threes (Gush, 1976). From 1566 four or five typically served in the Netherlands at any one time (Heath, 1997). They had 1,500 to 8,300, but averaging 3,000 to 4,000; Gush, says the tercios of the 16th century were probably only 1,500 to 3,000 men. The pike component started at 50% but fell to 40% by the 1580s, and 20-30% in the 17th century. Halberdiers and sword and buckler men were mixed in with the pikes, but never amounted to more than 5-10% of the pikes. The remainder were shot. Shot was predominately arquebusiers, although there were 15-20 musketeers per company (about 10% of the whole), but Parma’s army in the Netherlands in the late 16th Century is said to have had more muskets than arquebus’. Even in the 17th century the proportion of muskets was often only 10% of the whole and never more than 33%. The tercio was used in the field, but often escuadróns were used instead. Towards the end of the century tercio started to be called Regiments.
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.
Spanish regiments appeared in the 1580s and were formed from independent companies which weren’t part of tercio (Heath, 1997). They averaged about 1,000 men. Towards the end of the 16th century tercio started to be called regiments as well, which I guess corresponds to their reduced in size.
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.
Italian infantry were organised like the Spanish, i.e. in colonelli and tercio (Heath, 1997).
Burgundian infantry appeared in Spanish service from 1577/8 (Heath, 1997). Initially they were organised into regiments but in 1598 they were reorganised into tercio. Burgundian tercios had between 30-50% pike and the remainder shot (Heath, 1997).
German Fähnlein (companies) were bigger than their Spanish counterparts (Heath, 1997). Miller (1976) gives them as 400 men in the early 16th Century. At that time 300 had pike, 50 two-handed swords or halberds, and the final 50 had arquebus (12%).
By mid 16th Century the company was up to 500 men in size although this subsequently shrunk to 300 men (Heath, 1997). Officially 50% were pike and the remainder shot, but in reality less than 25% had firearms. By the later 16th Century Miller (1976) says on only 200-220 pikes were necessary, but doesn’t mention the composition of the remainder. A low proportion of shot was recorded as late as 1601. On the other hand by 1601 the Germans had a higher proportion of muskets with 60% of their shot having muskets and 40% arquebus.
German regiments were bigger than their Spanish counterparts, comprising five to ten companies of 300-500 men each (Heath, 1997). This would give a regimental size of 1,500 to 5,000 men, i.e. pretty much like a tercio.
Germans infantry never used tercio(Heath, 1997), although Miller (1976) shows a very similar German formation (Gevierte Ordnung) from 1540 where the regimental pike block has four small sleeves of shot.
Walloon companies shrunk from 300 in the mid 16th century and had shrunk to 200 in 1592 (Heath, 1997). Like the Spanish they had Pike companies (25 of whom were musketeers and the remainder pike) and Shot companies (Heath gives 57% musket and 43% arquebus, but also says “equal numbers” when referring to 1601).
Walloon regiments had five, six or ten companies, of 200-300 men (Health, 1997). This gives a total of 1,000 to 3,000 men, so large compared to a Spanish regiment but small compared to a tercio. I don’t know the pike to shot ratio was for a regiment.
Walloon infantry were organised into tercios from 1602 (Heath, 1997).
Dutch companies varied from 120 to 400 men although from 1574 companies of 150 or 200 were most common (Heath, 1997). In 1598 the company size shrunk to 120, 135 or 150, or 160 depending on the province. In 1601 it changed again to 113, 135 or 180 depending on the province. In all cases the size of the command element stayed the same, so proportion of officers increased over time. From 1605 the arquebus was abandoned. It is worth mentioning that the Dutch musket was 25% lighter than those of other countries. The proportion of shot also varied with time.
|Date||Size||Shot||Others (including command, pike, halberds, swords, etc)|
|1579||150||87 arquebus (58%)||63 (42%)|
|1586||150||70 (47%); 18 musket and 52 arquebus||80 (53%)|
|1586||200||97 (49%); 24 muskets and 73 arquebus||103 (51%)|
|1596||135||74 (55%); 30 musket and 44 arquebus||61 (45%)|
|1597||113||59 (52%); 28 musket and 31 arquebus||54 (48%)|
|??||113||64 (57%)||49 (43%)|
The term “regiment” was used for two different administrative organisations in Dutch service (Heath, 1997). Each Dutch province provided a regiment (e.g. the Holland Regiment), but companies were also organised into different and smaller administrative regiments for the duration of a campaign. Neither organisation was used in the field.
By 1592 Dutch regiments were being divided into two or more Hopen (battalions) in the field (Heath, 1997). Each contained between five and 11 companies, and in practice this meant a battalion size of between 500 and 1,000 men. Usually the pikes were in the centre of the battalion and the shot on the flanks, although occasionally the shot would be in front of the pike. Initially battalions were 12 ranks deep. By 1595 the pike were sometimes only 6 ranks deep and the shot 10 ranks. From 1594 the shot were divided into sections of 4 files to allow volley fire. When distant from the enemy the shot would be ahead of the pike, but as the distance closed they withdrew to be in line with the 5th or 6th rank of pike, or if threatened by cavalry under the pikes.
The Dutch grouped their regiments and battalions into three brigades: the van, the battle, the rear (Heath, 1997). Sometimes the brigades formed up side by side, but more normally they formed three lines. The battalions of each line deployed behind the gaps in the line in front, thus forming a checker board pattern.
French Huguenot companies were between 150 and 250 men (Heath, 1997).
Typically most English, Scots and Irish in a Spanish army were organised into a single regiment of 200 to 1700 men (Heath, 1997). I don’t know the pike to shot ratio was for a regiment.
British troops in Dutch employ were organised along Dutch lines (Heath, 1997). Similarly for those in Swedish employ (Brzenzinski, 1995).
Corneta or Vanen (Cornet) or Tropa (Troop)
Typically a Spanish cornet was 60-100 men (Heath, 1997).
Dutch cornets were a similar size (Heath, 1997). In 1589 a cuirassier cornet had 100 men, a lancer cornet 75 and a mounted arquebusier cornet 60. In 1591 all cornets were theoretically standardised on 120 men, although they typically only reached 100 men. In 1596/7 100 men was made the standard cornet size, although they usually had only 70 men in the field. Dutch cavalry formed up 7 deep.
German cornets were 150-200 strong (Heath, 1997).
Trozo, Cavalry Tercio, Cavalry Regiment
Three to eight Spanish cornets (typically three to six) formed a Trozo (Heath, 1997). Probably just an administrative formation.
The typical battlefield formation for cavalry was a temporary group of 300-600 men (Heath, 1997). Some German groups had up to 1,000.
Typically Dutch cavalry formed up in a checker board formation of cornets (Heath, 1997).
The Spanish used four specific calibres of artillery: cannon, demi-cannon, quarter-cannon or field-piece, and eight-cannon or falcon (Heath, 1997). Cannon were only used in sieges. The other types had gun carriages and limbers. Normally only half a dozen were used in a battle.
The Dutch, following Spanish practice, adopted the same four calibres (Heath, 1997). All Dutch pieces were cast in bronze, had gun carriages and limbers. Like their Spanish counterparts, few were fielded during battle; roughly 4-6.
Spanish Order of Battle
The Spanish Army of Flanders contained troops from several ‘Nations’. The Spanish rated these troops in this order of ability:
- British (English, Irish, Scots)
Bandes d’Ordonnance of the Netherlands
In the 1560s there were 1,800 heavy cavalry divided into 15 bande d’Ordonnance (Parker, 1977). The bandes were comprised noblemen of the Netherlands but were paid for by the state. Given the numbers almost half the noblemen of the Netherlands were in the bandes. The bandes trained together. They could also serve abroad – being on the 1562 and 1567 expeditions to France. Orange and Egmont were both captains of a bande d’Ordonnance.
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:
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.