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Some of the military terminology of the mid-seventeenth century is sufficiently obscure to be virtually unintelligible even with a modern dictionary. The following elucidates some of the terms which may be encountered in works of the Civil War period.

It should be noted that, in their descriptions of peices of artillery, the authors adopt the scale of weight and caliber given in William Eldred's, The Gunner's Glasse (London, 1646). Several other scales exist, and on occassion differ substantially.


Lancespesata (or lancepresado): Continental term encountered occasionally in England signifying a ‘broken lance’, originally a gentleman of a troop of horse who had lost his mount and become attached to a company of foot until rehorsed; additional N.C.O.

Last: Unit of weight equalling 4,000 lbs. (r,814kg).

Laudianism: Religious policies led by Archbishop Laud in the 1630s, often inspired by arminianism, that promoted uniformity in worship and discipline and a promotion of ritual and ceremonial.

Leaguer: Camp. Usually use of the encampment of a besieging army.

Levellers: Radical political group active 1647-9, who had considerable support within the New Model Army. Their programme included an extension of the franchise, religious toleration, and the House of Lords’ abolition.

Limber (or Lymore): A carriage (usually two-wheeled) with shafts to fasten the trail of travelling carriages for artillery by means of a pintle or iron pin.

Lobster-tail Helmet: Cavalry helmet owing its name to its neck-guard of overlapping steel plates. Several types of this helmet were used during the Civil War, the most common being the ‘English pot’, with a three-bar guard covering the face, and the &8216;Dutch pot’, with a single sliding noseguard.

Long Parliament: Met 3rd November 1640 and sat, without being dissolved, until 16th March 1660. After 1648 and Pride’s Purge it became known as the Rump Parliament, which Cromwell expelled in 1653 and which reconvened in 1659.

Lunarie: Formation of arraying troops in a half-moon shape.

Lynch-pin: Iron pin that passed through the axletree and secured the truck on the axle of an artillery piece.


Matchlock: The most common system of firearm ignition at the time of the Civil War. An S-shaped lever, the serpentine, held the match, a length of glowing cord. When the trigger was pressed, the serpentine decended, bringing the match into contact with the priming powder and firing the weapon. Although inefficient, the matchlock had the advantage of cheapness, costing less than a wheel-lock or snaphaunce.

Minion: Four-pounder field-piece.

Montero: Cap sometimes worn with military dress. Its exact appearance is unknown, but it may have resembled a modern riding hat.

Morion: Open helmet with a high comb and a brim rising to peaks at the front and rear. Sometimes provided with earpieces. Often worn by pikemen.

Musket or Musquet: Smooth-bore infantry weapon. Most muskets in use in the Civil War were matchlock, and were usually fired from a rest.

See above. A wooden rest topped with a stirrup shaped metal head to receive the musket whilst aimed. Usually spiked at the bottom ostensibly for securing in the ground but sometimes made into a pike head for additional fighting utility.


New Model Army: Parliamentary fighting force established after 17th February 1645, based largely upon the Eastern Association and under Fairfax’s command, and crucial to Parliament’s success. TIt became imbued with radicalism and Leveller ideas.

Nineteen Propositions: Ultimatum sent to the King by Parliament on 1st June 1642.


Ordinances: Legislation passing through Parliament but lacking royal assent, therefore technically not Acts and so dependent upon their enforceability.

Oxford Parliament: Alternative body of MPs and peers loyal to the King, which met at Oxford from January 1644 until being dissolved by Charles I in March 1645 after it proposed compromise.


Partisan or Partizan: Staff weapon with a broad, symmetrical blade. Carried by infantry officers during the Civil War.

Passelunt: Allowance of match for the use of sentinels.

Passevolant: An ‘invisible man’ on a company’s muster roll, for whom pay was drawn and appropriated by the captain or other officers; in Sweden this practice was legalized but limited to 10 passevolants per company in the hope that it would prevent further corruption.

Patroville: as ‘round’ (q.v.); also a party doing ‘rounds’ Perspective glass: telescope.

Personal Rule: Period during which Charles I ruled without recourse to Parliament, but with many expedients for raising revenues, from March 1629 until the meeting of the Short Parliament in April 1640.

Petition of Right: Grievances presented to the King by Parliament in 1629, which was soon followed by the dissolution Parliament and the eleven years of the Personal Rule.

Picqueer: To Skirmish.

Pike: (i) Staff weapon, usually between twelve and eighteen feet in length. The head was usually small, either leaf or diamond-shaped. The half-pike was a short version, similar to the pertisan, and sometimes carried by infantry officers. (ii) Body of Pikemen.

Pistoleer: Cavalryman equipped with a pair of pistols as his main offensive weapon. Obsolete by the time of the Civil War.

Pole-axe or Poll-axe: Weapon similar to a small battle-axe, usually with an axe blade on one side and a hammer or spike on the other. Useful for piercing armour or helmet, and very popular with the Royalist cavalry.

Posse Comitatus:: The able-bodied private citizen of a country, raised and commanded by the sheriff.

Pot-piece: Variety of mortar.

Presbyterianism: Church government by presbyters of equal rank, without bishops. It was the main form of church government in Scotland; the attempts to introduce it in England in 1647 following the intentions expressed in the Solemn League and Covenant were crushed by the Independents

Pride’s Purge: Exclusion from the Long Parliament of 140 MPs considered antagonistic to the Army in December 1648, by a group under Colonel Thomas Pride. The residue became known as the Rump Parliament.

Punchoon: Barrel or cask (Scottish).

Puritanism: A blanket term for more extreme Protestants. Strictly speaking, puritanism (with a small p) was the accepted condition of religion before the advent of Laudianism, with little emphasis upon ritual and special emphasis on preaching. The term Puritan (with upper case P) became a particular form of abuse in the early years of the Civil War.

Putney Debates: Debates, especially involving soldiers and officers of the New Model Army, that were held in Putney church, surry in October and November 1647 to discuss Leveller ideas and the issues of the Agreement of the people.


Quoin: (Artillery) triangular piece of wood placed under the breech of a gun to elevate or depress it.


Rammerwand: Musket ramrod.

Rapier: Straight-bladed sword, usually with an elaborate hilt. The rapier was designed for thrusting rather than cutting. It was a civil, not a military weapon, though numerous rapiers saw service in the Civil War.

Refusing: Tactical disposition of protecting a flank by stationing a unit at the rear of the flank.

Root and Branch: Pressure for the abolition of bishops, vigorously expressed in the Root and Branch Petition of the clergy of London sent to Parliament in December 1640.

Round: One who visits sentinels (sentries) during the time of the sentry’s duty.

Rump Parliament: Remaining membership of the House of Commons following Pride’s Purge in 1648, usually around 80 in number. They were ejected by Cromwell in 1653 and recalled in 1659.

Running-trench: Approach trench Sconce: earthwork fortification, usually to house a battery, and usually detached from the main defences of a place.


Saker: Field-piece firing a six-pound shot.

Self-Denying Ordinance: Measure of 3rd 1645 paving the way for the establishment of the New Model Army, preventing MPs or peers from holding military office (although excluding Cromwell).

Sequestration: Parliamentary process of seizing estates of Royalists, and the diversion of the revenues to the war effort, following an ordinance of March 1643.

Ship Money: Contentious form of raising revenue ostensibly for maritime defence used by Charles I during the period of Personal Rule, and levied on all counties rather than coastal areas after 1635. The case against John Hampden for nonpayment helped focus opposition. The Long Parliament abolished the tax on 5th July 1641.

Short Parliament: Following the Bishops’ Wars Charles I was forced to recall Parliament to raise finance. Meeting on 13th April 1640, it was dissolved on 5th May when it resisted the royal will.

Shot, Shotte: Musketeers.

Snaphance or Snaphaunce: Early form of flintlock. Invented towards the end of the sixteenth century. More efficient than the matchlock, and less expensive than the wheel-lock.

Solemn Engagement: A military covenant of the New Model Army, that proceeded the establishment of the Army’s General Council.

Solemn League and Covenant: Alliance between Parliament and the Scottish ¯i>Covenanters of September 1643, promising to enforce Presbyterianism in England. From 5th February 1644 all those holding command under Parliament were forced to take the Covenant, but its measures were never enforced.

Sow: Siege tower as used in the NMiddle Ages, for assulting a fortress wall; not in common usage but did exist during the Civil War, one having so uncommon an appearance that it ‘sorely frighted our men at Froom’ (see Grose, vol. I, pp. 385-6).

Span: To ‘span’ a wheel lock firearm was to cock it; hence ‘spanner’ for a wheel lock key.

Spontoon: Staff weapon with a broad, symmetrical blade. Carried by infantry officers during the Civil War.

Square murtherer: Variety of mortar.

Staff weapon: A cutting or thrusting weapon mounted on a long handle. Pikes, halberds, partisans and spontoons were all staff weapons.

Star Chamber: Court of law at Westminster used for speedy action, and seen as an instrument of royal oppression during the period of the Personal Rule and so abolished by the Long Parliament in 1640.

Swine-feather (or Swedish feather): Short double-ended pike intended to provide a defence for musketeers, being planted to form a portable palisade.


Tertia, Tercio, Tertio: Brigade. (orig. Spanish) Derived from the Spanish practice of grouping three regiments into a battlefield unit during the late 16th to early 17th centuries.

Thill, thiller: Cart shafts.

Thomason Tracts: Unique and voluminous collection of publications during the Civil War years and the lapsing of censorship, collected by London bookseller George Thomason and now in the British Library.

Tortle: Variety of mortar.

Trained bands: Citizens under arms organized on a county or urban basis, extensively used in the early days of the Civil War.

Travaille: reveille (orig. French).

Tuck: Straight-bladed sword.


Wheel-Lock: System of firearm ignition. A piece of iron pyrites was held against a toothed wheel, which was wound up againt a spring. Pressure on the trigger caused the wheel to spin and sparks flew into the priming-pan, firing the weapon. Infinitely preferable to the matchlock, but its expense restricted its availability. Normally used on cavalry pistols and carbines.

Worm (or Wadhook): A wooden staff with twin spiral iron hooks on its end used to scour the inside of cannon barrels to remove burning embers or blockages.


Zap: Sap (from Italian zappa, a mattock).

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