How we ended up at the palace almost accused of murdering the Queens own Guards.
A Halberd from Queen Mary's Black Watch Guard
I first started to write this for a professor of history who wanted to know how Halberd's and other weapons of the period were used. I grew up at 'the downs' near London in that life 400 years ago and the queens guards often trained there with the Halberd (also called Halbard and Halbert) so I remember how it was used. I seem to only recall them training with the Halberd and not training with swords or other weapons. I have to assume they only trained with the Halberd at the downs since there were great open expanses which are needed for the halberd to practice there and they probably trained to use other weapons like swords indoors where they could keep it more secret.
Halberd's were light weigh and efficient killers. The kind used by the army were perhaps quite different from the kind they used to defend the queen. Even though they look like only an axe they had very thin blades and the entire weapon was very light. The kind of Halberd used at the castle was not designed to deal with very thick armor but the hook on the top was for peeling off armor (think about and old style can opener). It was mostly for facing people, often irate citizens, with shorter weapons like knives and swords.
Do you see the front edge of the thin 'knife like' blade
where it is a bit darker? It's not straight, it's at an angle. That is the real
thing, It actually provides the lift of an airplane wing when swung horizitally in order to chop off heads at over 30' distance. This one has not
been 'bent' straight by well meaning owners.
This one has the blade slanted the other direction so it was swung from left to right instead of right to left. These are both originals as is declared on the web site I found these pictures on.
many people have straightened them out nor does it appear to be a counterfeit or copy since they probably make them straight. However, it's often hard to know when the top has been straightened. [It has been brought to my attention that some Halberds were made with straight blades for close defense work through out it's history. The kind with the tilted blade that I recall quit being used I think in the early 19th. century when crowds got armed with guns and this use of Halberd became ineffective. I'm also pretty certain that they had flat blade Halberds back then for different uses like protecting the queen however they never even brought them to the downs where I lived to practice with so I don't recall ever seeing them.
All I can bring forth are my memories from then. If something happened in the room next to where I was (or on the other side of the world) I wouldn't know it happened unless I was told about it. I only recall what I learned 400 years ago. I will tell you the same thing I learned back then, wrong or not. (My Viking lives were filled with dragon lore and there were about 50 kinds of dragons. We even had 'fart dragons'. Those protected the sulfur springs.).]
When a child puts their hand outside the car window at 45 mph and tilts it, his hand becomes an air foil and the wind makes it go up and down like an airplane wing or helicopter blade. That is what the tilt on the blade does. A man can swing that around in circles for half a day and not have to hold it up since the air foil creates the needed lift.
Each section of wood was about two meters long and they fit together so the guards could make them very long.
It's primary use was for defense of the queen. An assassin in a crowd might have a small crossbow hidden or pistol and pull it out but he would have to be near the front of the crowd. The guards would have at least one long halberd and they could just reach out and drop it on the persons head. Even today it would be useful in protecting royalty.
Normally, when standing watch the guards just used one section and the Halberd was about 7-8 feet long. If there was any trouble in the area or unrest they fitted a second section on and suddenly it was 14" long. With that they could reach out and 'touch you' at about 19'.
I finally found an example of how long they were and guess where? In the Royal Armouries Museum of course, where else to find authentic Halberds? I looked through 50 pictures of Halberds in a google search for a long version of the weapon and not a single one is nearly the 20' lengths that were used but I kept at it and I found a lot of similar weapons. The handles could be changed by removing a pin that held them on and it took seconds to do. (These memories are as strong as my memories of Chatsworth High School I attended. I can no more doubt the length of the Halberts than I could the existence of Chatsworth High School.)
If an enemy happened to have the same length weapon then they could add a total of up to five sections (30' long) and they could manage to control it as they twirl it over their head like a helicopter blade. In practicality about 25' was the maximum length most men could easily manage. To get that extra 5' which could make all the difference in the world there were height requirements as the larger men could handle longer Halberds.
One man armed with one of these could completely stop everyone from going down a 60'+ wide street by swinging it around and around over his head. It would stop a riot of a hundred people moving against the castle. With the lift provided by the blade he could swing it for hours or until help arrived. They could either reach out to 35' feet by leaning forward or lean backwards, holding the handle near their chest, and strike at 27'. Two men could overlap by about 20' and it was much more deadly. Two guards standing in a street 100 ' across could and have kept 200 people at bay with their Halberds. Often they would have a blade being swung over their head by another guard behind them. He was their back up and if something happened or the crowd charged in mass the front man would drop to one knee and just hold his Halberd in front like a spear and the back up would step forward. The crowd would run right into both the spear plus the rotating Halberd. The guards had all kinds of maneuvers with multiple patterns.
When used for the attack it was not as they call them today 'a fire and forget weapon'. It was like a smart missile with the aim point a persons neck. They typically swung the Halberd a bit like a baseball bat from straight up or vertical position. It was brought almost straight down and directly behind the guard. As it neared the bottom the handle was twisted a bit and it went horizontal. At the normal speed the blade provided the same lift as the weapon weighed. It's glide path was perfectly flat. The guards liked the long trajectory of a half circle so they would have the time to compensate and bring it perfectly on target which was a persons neck and when it got around to the front in about a half second they would hit within an inch of where they wanted to hit (using a 20-30' long Halberd).
They practiced on 3" wood pegs. As a warning our Globe Theater one guard held up a stick and told us. 'This is the length of your spine that we can hit to chop off your head,' and with that another guard brought down his halberd and cut a 3" section off the stick. It popped up in the air and the first guard caught it and then held it aloft for everyone to consider. Great showmanship, we all were impressed.
Sometimes as people came in London gate they would grab an apple and do the same thing putting the apple on a knife. I heard they made Catholic Monks hold the apples as a sign of faith!
They most often used the knife part and not the hatchet. That hatchet part I think was a warning so people would know they were deadly. They all had to be executioners before they became Queens guards so they would not waver to kill and they would kill without remorse. When you saw that hatchet you knew they were executioners. It was modeled after the executioners axe. They only answered to the queen and would only get fired for being drunk on the job.
The flat angled up blade was longer and hence much more certain and it was more uniform. They would hit the neck and it would pop the head into the air going round and round and the blade would automatically deflect upward and go right back to the vertical position. Exactly where it was a couple seconds before but dripping blood and there would be a head and body on the ground. It took about two seconds from start to finish (with two lengths of handle ~14 ft). Then the guard was ready for the next person that stepped forward from the crowd.
The queens guards got call out for riot control at the Globe a few times and they got upset about having to work and walk across the bridge. [The government did not know if the crowds would go for the castle or what. Nobody had ever gotten that size of a crowd excited before except in battle.]
The guards answered to no one but the Queen and nobody had her ear at the Globe. The men were ruthless. They were also executioners and were allowed to kill without reason or provocation. They did not have to justify it. They were there to save the Queens life and they were expected to react without thinking and without fear of retribution and if they killed too fast to often then too bad for the innocent. That person was usually moving too fast near the Queen or moving suspiciously. They directly saved the Queens life two times in her early reign (while Mary was alive) and waiting until they were certain of the persons intent never would have been fast enough to stop one assassin.
They decided to teach us lessons. They started killing both people visiting London to go to go to the Globe and people they knew that worked at the globe. They would deposit the bodies in front of the Globe every morning because relatives would come looking for them at the globe. I can't recall what they did with the heads but I think they kept them as ID and sold them back to the relatives. There would be ten bodies out there in the morning sometimes and it sickened me because of the onus. If I made good plays then more people got killed and I spent a long time distraught over that. Here is what would happen if they decided to kill you.
Then the stage hands took care of it but it was kept secret from me. This is pretty much how it was handled. The globe gave tickets to the guards and they thought it was a nice bribe so they decided they would not kill another person for awhile. (We both know that doesn't work, it just leads to more bribes and larger ones.)
In the play the wrong mask was held up and it was a strange wicker one and people pointed it out to the guards so they laughed at it. It was put down pretending they had the wrong one and the right one was lifted
When the guards were first formed they considered it a sport to kill peasants and did so with great relish. So the blame really went to those who taught the present guards. So that weekend almost every retired or fired Queens guard was simultaneously murdered over most of England and Wales (at least 20 died as a show of strength) and a wicker mask was found nearly all of them. Identical to the one at the Globe.
The only problem was that the head Sheriff of England (the equivalent of the director of Scotland yard or the FBI) was at the show and he was a very astute observer. He went to the globe every time there was a new show since that is where he got a lot of his information. He saw and fixated on the mask because it was both unusual and nothing like he had seen at the Globe.
We thought that was going to be the end of the Theater for certain and all of our lives. Apparently though the Sheriff had to deal with those headless bodies that were put out in front of the Globe and two of them were actors that were his friends.
The Queens guard only answered to the Queen and that is the way it is (or was). Even the head Sheriff of England could say nothing about the guards unless she asked him, so he just waited. When she asked him he told her everything and how nice his murdered actor friends and all the good times they had together and how he knew their family.* That hung the guards pretty well.
This is what happened. Lot's of people came to London to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones until over 100 relatives wanted to kill the guard that killed their son. We realized that the guards had been taught this behavior by the previous guards. Someone, I don't who but I suspected William, just found out where the retired guards lived and sent those 100+ relatives the address of the retired guard that lived nearest them with a symbol of a quarter moon and a certain date.
That is all it took. People fought it out to determine who was going to get to do the dirty deed. One big ex guard was drowned by the hands of 14 people. At several killings evidence (footprints and many hand prints of different sizes) were left that showed at least 12 people participated.
The queen did not need to discipline anyone but I don't know if she did or not.
The final outcome was for the Queen had her Chamberlain endorse the actors. The Chamberlain was the personal attendant of the Queen. It is a thinly veiled endorsement and inherant protection of the queen. It was about the only way that she could protect the actors without taking direct responsibility for the plays themselves.
always had the ear of the Queen so without a doubt anything that happened to the actors got to the Queen. There was no doubt about it then. It gave them full protection from not only her guards but nobody messes with the actors after that.
*The important thing was the following. The head sheriff needed to find out the truth about certain crimes throughout England, especially large crimes involving slavery, commandeering of ancestral homes by aristocrats and even an embroilment with the Netherlands over fishing rights, but how? If he went to the area nobody would talk or they would be killed by one faction or another. Find someone from the area when they were visiting London? What in a pub half drunk and a bellicose swaggared besides? What information could these people provide? His needs were intelligence, someone who could keep a secret, someone who could read and write, someone who could be trusted to be truthful and was both detached from the situation and could view both sides of it. Merchants who traveled to London every month or two on a scheduled basis for supplies and a saw Shakespeare's plays when they were in town fit the bill and were only the persons who met even two of five criteria and they met all five of them. There was no other alternative really and the Queens Guard were killing them off and their contacts which were the actors. Yet head sheriff of all England could say nothing until and unless the Queen asked him first. The information stopped an ultimatum on horseback that was being delivered. A group of quaint costal villagers forgot to mention that the men from low countries who were fishing in their waters were paying them for the right to so and that they had maintained the payments the entire time. Armed vessels would have faced each other in the channel and who knows what would have happened (besides my having written another play) but for the merchant that came in from that village to see a Shakespeare play (I think it was 'Taming of the Shrew'). I rarely learned about this information transfer except this time it wasn't a secret nor was it a conflict among Englishmen. A lot of people were running around screaming like in one of my plays trying to avert a war. No, wait. The time they were running around was different time and they had already fired cannon over the misunderstandings or misquotes. I'll try to separate the two events and recall the other parts of each of them.
All rights reserved. © J Pinil, Inc. 2003