[I was in charge of London's defense works which is why I know so much about Medieval English weapons.]
In the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica they fall just short of asking the question 'what was the Bill used for?' when they explain everything else about it such as descriptions of several bills and how many were used in the various battles on each side. People just don't seem to know what it was used for and how it was used.
The bill had a 6-8 foot pole. Bills had a big hook on them for tripping the front legs of horses and pulling men, armored or not, off of them. That hook won't slip over the horses hooves. They were often issued to pikemen as a second weapon which they would leave besides them on the ground ready for use against the odd knight. The hook was also used by the second line of men against enemy infantrymen. They would reach between the legs of their own first line troops to pull the enemies first line troops off their feet.
they used that 'spear point' to pry open the armor and stab the person or directly penetrate light armor as it's also a lance. The
knob looking thing
on the top looks like it may have had a several inch long needle in it
which could penetrate the toughest armor. Alternately the Bill was used to
hook the throat of the knights horse and that way if the man quickly
pulled the horse backwards and sideways it would cause the horse to
fall down on top of the knight which trapped him. This was important if
you wanted to keep the knight alive and well to ransom him to back to his
family, which was the custom.
See the Agincourt page for the exception to the selling back of prisoners. What you read is really what happened.
Now that you know all about the bill you can go impress your friends. You can probably see them in some old paintings. Let me know if you find one. I think the bill was invented by Switzerland.
Why was Mary executed?
Queen Elizabeth did it mainly because Mary would not command her followers to cease attacks/rebellions (such as the Earl's Rebellion) which claimed many lives. The last life that was lost during those rebellions was Mary's and that put a stop to the rebellions.
One rebellion which was covered up took place in London itself. Nearly 700 were laid out dead in front of Queen Elizabeth 'on the green' by about 75 tower warders in about 10 minutes time using halberds. The queen's regular guard had been sent off chasing after some assassins and the warders were the second string. Spies had warned the guards at the castle so they sent the warders.
The rebels had to hide their arms to keep them secret and that meant they had mostly knives, several shields and about 10 swords which gave those 10 a reach of about 5 and 1/2 feet. The halberds of the Tower warders had one added section which provided an 18 foot long handle, with about a 20 foot reach. You do the math.
That is why only one warder was killed and only two were wounded.
Mary would have been killed long before the rebels had gotten anywhere near setting her free and she knew that. So did the rebels, that is why they did not try to free her and that is why they attacked Queen Elizabeth with assassination being their intent.
Nothing was written about this rebellion in order to avoid inspiring others to do the same. However mentions of it have snuck into publications, now and again.
Mary knew all along that the rebels were poorly equipped and too small a force to win. Though they were doomed from the start Mary was bored and thought the fun and excitement it supplied was worth it. She had grown a little mad but not nearly so mad as to think they could have won. Others in her family had been unkind and even mean but never so totally heartless as she was.
I apologize for my emotionality but I had several friends from near Manchester who were killed while doing Mary's bidding.
I understand that history says that Queen Elizabeth did not make the decision to have Mary executed:
Lord Burghley was keener than Elizabeth on taking robust action with Scotland, and on having allegedly dispatched Mary Queen of Scots' death warrant without Elizabeth's express command, was excluded from court for some time. Many believe, however, that Elizabeth simply couldn't handle her own complicity in the death of another monarch. PBS
what gives? Queen Elizabeth was terrified of the Scots for the simple
reason that they were as gullible as hell. They would get told one
was the cause of all their problems (or the solution to all their problems) and they would all go off the deep
end to assault that one person (or exalt them). As far as I knew it would only
happen if they only got one person in their sights. If two or more
people were thought to be the problem (or the solution) they were totally helpless. That
is the history
of the Scots (400 years ago). At least once every year they would get a
priest that they would proclaim as being the savior of the world and it
all rested with that one person. Actually it was about every 2 years
they came up with one of them. It made life interesting. Did any of
them make it into the history books besides William Wallace (Braveheart), the Pope and Mary of Scotland?
By making it appear that the responsibility for the beheading was only partly Queen Elizabeth's fault it completely defocused and defused the anger of the Scots.
The halberds of the Yeoman Warders when used properly were the smoothest deadly dance I ever
saw. The warders would swing them around and around in a huge circle.
The broad light
blades of the flat thin Yeoman Warder English halberd was much different and had a lot
more area than 'war' halberds. They were able to provide lift like a helicopter
blade which kept them in the air while spinning them around in a big circle.
The halberd on the right is from Queen Mary's Black Watch Guard- It's not a copy. The halberds of the Tower warders had a larger but different shape blade in the back so it would balance out the lift provided by the front blade.
Otherwise they are very similar. You can easily see how the slightly turned top blade (lance) would add lift while being spun around by the warder (just like when you were a child and you put your hand out the car window). The top blade would provide all the lift that was needed and the ax blade would remain in a totally flat trajectory so it would not be deflected when it hit someone. It would slice right through a neck, behead a person, stay airborne, make another circle and two seconds later cut off another head until there was no one standing except the man holding the halberd.
Often several warders would overlap each others spinning blades and would alternate swinging them over each others head like the blades in an egg beater. In the massacre of the 700 they did just that and each one also had about 4 warders on one knee beneath his spinning halberd who used their halberds as spears.
One dispersal that I saw was a riot of 120 being chased down a 70 foot wide street by two warders with one halberd each on a 10 foot shaft whose slowly rotating blades made two overlapping 25 foot circles that came within inches of the buildings on each side of the road. They had what was identical to a leather dog leash which had the loop over their one wrist and when they targeted someone they would let go of the handle and the spinning halberd would extend another few feet for a half a second and then they would snap on the leash and pull back the halberd, then grab the shaft. There would be another person on the ground and the halberd would still be spinning in a 25 foot circle. It took a lot of strength to do that so they were given lots of beef to build muscles. So earning their beefeater nickname
To my knowledge they were not called beefeaters at the time but they got all the beef they wanted. Queen Elizabeth's court would come to a halt if they ran out of beef before they got another supply. Then we actually had to go find a cow for them. I always knew where to find one within 5 miles of the tower and for a good price. They needed the extra strength that it gave them to twirl those halberds around in 25' circles.
The royal stables where I grew up was nearly in the shadow of the Tower of London (at times it actually was). I think I have it marked right on this map. The tower is at the bottom left with the moat around it.
The warders came to the field near the stables to practice. In good weather every day they would be out in the field, up to 4 at a time, spinning halberds in beautiful overlapping patterns making an amazing choreographed dance with the long handle halberds. They would use walnuts on a pole as targets to practice on for cutting off a mans head. Each walnut being approximately the size of a man's vertebrae. Usually they would hit 10 out 10 walnuts at about 10 feet (using a short handled halberd).
As a little girl I thought it was some kind of amazing dance with long sticks. It looked very much like batons that cheerleaders twirl combined with synchronized swimming.
Note: I think they had three styles of halberds. The design I am describing was the long range halberds that needed the space to practice in which our field provided. These were more like 'sniper rifles'. They were not what they normally stood guard with. They practiced using the close range halberds at the tower and not in the big field but I never saw them practicing with them. Those were the equivalent of a handgun. The halberd was also used against armor and it was essentially a over sized can opener for opening up knight's armor and usually it had the addition of a hook for pulling them off their horses. These served the same purpose as today's anti tank missiles.
They had about five sub types of anti-armor halberds.
were for Spanish knights. The lower half of Spanish amour was loose
fitting but it fit together tightly when in the saddle. It formed a
kind of basket which supported the knight during long rides. It was
made of a
tough steel so you had to go under it like at the armpits or else knock
them off the horse first and then go in between the lower
halbert was for French foot soldiers. Their armor had the metal bound
so you had to cut the leather first to get between the metal pieces.
German armor was to tight to get in between so you had to make
lots of small holes with a thin needle point on a special halberd. What
finally used on German armor was a type of heavy pollaxe with a 5
handle and a sharp 8 pound head. This was used to chop off one of
disjoint a leg or
just crumble their armor at the knee backwards. [Note: I may have mixed up the countries in the last 400+ years.]
This Swiss collection of halberds (left) is so varied because they were surrounded by all the above countries. They needed the largest number of halberd styles. Each blade of these 'can openers' were for defeating the armor of a certain country. Since the Swiss might end up fighting eight countries they had halberds that had up to 5 different blades such as those toward the right.
Hence you will often see the same or very similar style halberds being used by all the countries in an area except for one. That missing halberd is the one that is needed to defeat that country's armor.
You can see about a dozen kinds of the best halberds and one lance that the warders had for a little party called the execution of the Earl of Essex in the picture to the right. It looks like they may have been expecting some party crashers from Ireland and Scotland costumed in both heavy and light armor.
However, it's obvious they were not expecting the crashers to ride in on horses or they would have brought several bills (left) to the little Earl of Essex affair.
The halberd at the bottom right (of the picture right) shows that the queen was possibly there with her personal guards (compare it with the halberd above of the black watch guard). I was there and I can tell you this: it was a messy beheading. The axeman actually aims to chop between the vertebrae and usually is 100%. The first swing however hit the Earl's shoulder as well and that took most of the blow but it did sever the spine. The second missed him completely and finally the third hit the neck square on.
How did the axeman suddenly become inaccurate? It started a week before the execution.
It was a very interesting look that Queen Elizabeth gave me when I suggested that she get the Earl's own wood chopper/gardener/forester to chop his head off. The wood cutter had been involved, I think, in turning in the Earl and he did it in part for violating his own two daughters, one at the age of 8. When the Earl convicted himself with his own braggart's words the wood choppers testimony was not needed but he was still in town. I told Elizabeth he would probably pay her to chop off the Earl's head. She was taken aback by the novel idea of someone actually paying her money since she was the one that did the paying.
(Maybe the queen did take my advice. Maybe that was the wood chopper and he made the execution into a slow torture for his own pleasure. Severing the spine prevents a person from breathing so they suffocate to death. Then he only partly cut an artery and the blood squirted sideways far out in the audience. That is why I said it was messy. Does anyone know who the executioner was?)
Also, there were reports of other executions where an enemy of the condemned bribed the regular executioner to 'take his time'. I explain it here.
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