Billmen - myth?

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zauberdachs
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Post by zauberdachs »

Sorry for the long post as Silver has quite a bit to say about bills. For the full document see:

http://www.thearma.org/Manuals/GSilver.htm

He describes a clear different between the forest bill, i.e. I think the agricultural tool, and the black bill, i.e I think the implement designed for war. Technique wise he seems to describe them as equally for thrusts and cuts.

I've cut out the relevant passages below:

"The forest bill is a double weapon by reason of the head, and therefore has eight wards, four with the staff, four with the head, four of them to be used as with the staff, and the other four with the head, the one up, the other down, and the other(s) sideways."

"To know the perfect length of your short staff, or half pike, forest bill, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of vantage and perfect lengths, you shall stand upright, hold the staff upright close by your body, with your left hand, reaching with your right hand your staff as high as you can, and then allow to that length a space to set both your hands, when you come to fight, wherein you may conveniently strike, thrust, and ward, & that is the just length to be made according to your stature. And this note, that these lengths will commonly fall out o be eight or nine foot long, and will fit, although not just, the statures of all men without any hindrance at all unto them in their fight, because in any weapon wherein the hands may be removed , and at liberty, to make the weapon longer of shorter in fight(ing) at his pleasure, a foot of the staff being behind the back most hand does no harm."

"The battle axe, the halberd, the black-bill, or such like weapons of weight, appertaining unto guard or battle, are all one in fight, and have advantage against the two handed sword, the sword and buckler, the sword and target, the sword and dagger, or the rapier and poniard."

The short staff or half pike, forest bill, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of perfect length, have the advantage against the battle axe, the halberd, the black bill, the two handed sword, the sword and target, and are too hard for two swords and daggers, or two rapier and poniards with gauntlets, and for the long staff and morris pike."

"The Welch hook or forest bill, have advantage against all manner of weapons whatsoever."

"Yet understand, that in battles, and where variety of weapons are, among multitudes of men and horses, the sword and target, the two handed sword, battle axe, the black bill, and halberd, are better weapons, and more dangerous in their offence and forces, than is the sword and buckler, short staff, long staff, or forest bill. The sword and target leads upon shot, and in troops defends thrusts and blows given by battle axe, halberds, black bill, or two handed swords, far better than can the sword and buckler."

"the staff is very uncertain, but the bill is a more certain mark, by reason of the breadth of the head, whereby as the bill has advantage in his wards in the head, so therefor has the staff the like defence, or rather more, to play upon the head of he bill, not only to make a perfect good ward, but thereby, the rather to cast the bill out of the right line, whereby the staff man may thrust safe, and endanger the bill man. and the reason because therein he is the first mover, wherein there is great vantage, both in time and force. And if the bill man is not very skillful (all vantages and disadvantages of both sides being considered,) the short staff will prove the better weapon."
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Dave B
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Post by Dave B »

zauberdachs wrote:He describes a clear different between the forest bill, i.e. I think the agricultural tool, and the black bill, i.e I think the implement designed for war.
Why would you come to that conclusion. all the other weapons he describes are military weapons, why isn't 'forest bill' just a different style of bill that happens to be smaller than a black bill?

Not critisising, just curious
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zauberdachs
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Post by zauberdachs »

Dave B wrote:
zauberdachs wrote:He describes a clear different between the forest bill, i.e. I think the agricultural tool, and the black bill, i.e I think the implement designed for war.
Why would you come to that conclusion. all the other weapons he describes are military weapons, why isn't 'forest bill' just a different style of bill that happens to be smaller than a black bill?

Not critisising, just curious
Good question to be honest and I'm not sure as you can see.

Why, simply as the "Forest Bill" sounds a lot like the foresters bill that you see in contemporary images and that you can still buy for this purpose today.

Quite willing to concede it could be wrong :)
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Post by m300572 »

"The forest bill is a double weapon by reason of the head, and therefore has eight wards, four with the staff, four with the head, four of them to be used as with the staff, and the other four with the head, the one up, the other down, and the other(s) sideways."
'Twould help if we knew what a forest bill was! :roll: Given the four wards with the head (any advice from the historical fencing peeps on how the wards work would be good on this) I reckon this could be a "Yorkshire" billhook type head which has a curved cutting edge with a bill on one side and a back edge on the reverse side of the blade, with a long haft - could be over ten foot as the hold suggests the gap between the hands can be 8 or 9 feet with a foot at the butt, plus the head length so you could end up with a weapon around 12 feet long which seems unwieldy.

It would be longer than the "black bill" however as the advantage rules seem to be to do with length of weapon and the forest bill has the advantage over all (apart from the Welsh Hook, presumably a leek harvesting implement! :twisted: )

Adds a little to the "by hook or by crook" expression though - if you had a 12 foot billhook you could collect a lot of firewood!
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Post by Fox »

Should we consider "forest bill" as a contrast to "morris pike"?

In the case of morris pike, the morris means moorland, i.e. it's a very long spear for use in open terrain; what, in modern parlance, we mean when we say pike.

So does forest in this context simply indicate a slightly shorter weapon, usable in more restricted terrain?

The forest bill is specifically described with other weapons that are generally longer polearms, and Silver is specifically describing them as being about 8ft or so.

The black bill is then described as being heavier and shorter.

I don't see we can learn anything from that except that the forest bill has lighter head and is shafted on a longer pole.

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Post by m300572 »

Although, on reflection, we musn't actually assume that a "forest" anything was used in woodland, forest being a legal term denoting areas under forest law rather than woodland - so possibly a direct correlation with the morris pike as a lot of "forests" were moorland (Dartmoor, Bowland, Rossendale etc).


As you say, its not adding much to the original debate, although it is interesting in its own way, so take this plane away from CUBA!
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Post by Fox »

Yes, of course.
From the Latin foris, which simply means outside or outdoors.

So it could be taken to have the same interpretation as morris.

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Post by Phil the Grips »

Silver is-
a) c16th making golden age suggestions about the medieval era that may only be in his imagination or certainly not the whole truth
b) self published and in bad need of an editor. In fact his seond book was never published until a few hundred years after his lifetime, and even then as a curio. the first is a rant, the second is an attempt at a treatise.
c) contradictory
d) obscure and muddled
e) biased to make his own point, as well as ill-informed (most of what he suggests had been in the italian schools for centuries too)
f) one of those bluff old generals in the armchair whinging that it "aint like the old days" between naps
etc etc etc

For example he mentions the axe as as good weapon and gives several wards for it- what he means by axe is obscure as the pollaxe was out of favour for centuries, the only military force using them in the C16th were the Irish and so why would he exhort their use , they were not a prizeplay weapon, nor taught in English schools of Fence and the only common axe in any context of the era was the singlehanded horsmen's axe that wont work with the suggested method.

He may be a source, but certainly not a very good one.

"Four wards with the head"- if consistent with the rest of his system- would be two up and two down, on the inside and outside of the body.

As for military vs civilian- it wass common for militia and town guards to carry polearms. Hence why Mr Silver may include them in his military and self defence book (the primary aim of his rant- very similar to today's daily mail going on about Knife culture and foreigners).

Hope does the same- hence the bit where you see defnce against lochaber Axe as this was the arm of the Edinburgh Watch at the time so you'd likely ned to know how to defnd against one if you'd been spotted killing someone in a duel.
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Post by Fox »

Phil the Grips wrote:as the pollaxe was out of favour for centuries
Surely you mean a century [at best]?
Phil the Grips wrote:Silver is-
a) c16th etc. etc.
I did consider pointing that out, but I thought I might see if we went anywhere useful first.

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Post by Phil the Grips »

yep- a century. I was possessed of a Silver like zeal as I typed ;)

Silver isn't much use as a source for anything other than proving that-

Romeo and Juliet was based on real tensions and people in London in the C16th
he compiled a concept of tempo that is useful in fencing theory
there was a transistion between old and new styles of swordplay of the era

That's about it...
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Post by Hobbitstomper »

There is a picture of glaives in both the Holkham Bible (~1370) and Sherbourne Missal (~1400). The Holkham Bible also has a picture of a proper bill with a hook on it.

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Post by behanner »

I'v seen photos of yalls when looking for bills to purchase. Our brush axe/brush hook/bank blade tend to have 3-4' handles and are used most commonly used when you want to use only one tool to deal with heavy brush and limbs. Basically it is meant to be whatever you need it to be, so while maybe a little short for a weapon it certainly would work and you certainly could put a longer handle on it and still have it be very useable.

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Post by Adam R »

Adam R wrote:I think you would have to wait until Silver for commentary on bills - it is 1599(ish) though - possibly they are longer than the medieval bill - but they are referred to for individual combat rather than commentaries on how to use them in groups. Nothing Medieval IIRC though.
:roll:

This was the only reason to point at Silver - to show how they weren't found in medieval fighting manuals (or at least - for the pedants - none that have survived and been brought to light) - probably because of the audience of such books were not likely to be the bill carrying types!
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Post by Fox »

Phil the Grips wrote:Silver isn't much use as a source for anything other than proving that-

Romeo and Juliet was based on real tensions and people in London in the C16th
he compiled a concept of tempo that is useful in fencing theory
there was a transistion between old and new styles of swordplay of the era

That's about it...
Oh that's harsh. Because most of what Silver writes is a commentary/essay rather than a treatise it doesn't mean there's nothing to learn from it.

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Post by Fox »

Finally stumbled across the source for my picture on page 1.
It's The capture of Ribodane from Chronique d' Angleterre.
It's late 15thC, probably produced in the low lands.

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Post by Colin Middleton »

Off track again, but...

Reading through the Howard Accounts this morning, I stunbled on a payment from a fellow called "Spearman" (his surname, I think). Is this just coincidence, or could it be a tiny little shred of evidence for a naming convention?
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Post by m300572 »

I stunbled on a payment from a fellow called "Spearman" (his surname, I think). Is this just coincidence, or could it be a tiny little shred of evidence for a naming convention?
Or he could have been tall and thin with a pointy head! :lol:
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Post by behanner »

Fuel for the fire.

War Materials purchased by William Ross for the French expedition of 1475.

660 black bills
154 white bills
106 bills
80 battle axes
25 battle axes, gilt
400 morispikes
1,660 Stakes for the field
400 lances
300 lances

Remnants stored at Calais
128 black bills
420 stakes for the field
170 headed spears
142 white bills
73 battle axes
17 gilt battle axes
300 spears without heads

War materials stored at Calais 1481
9 godon dawghes with pikes of iron
60 gilt battle axes
172 battle axes
24(number maybe not right) white bills called sages
119 new black bills
941 spear heads
162 black bills
4 black bills without halfts
843 spears of Rhenish clystes?
404 spears of fir
Variety of other spears, darts and marospikes

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Post by Ghost »

behanner wrote:Fuel for the fire.
843 spears of Rhenish clystes?
would someone care to enlighten me what a Rhenish clystes is

Behnanner - where did you get this from - I've not seen it this inventory before ?
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Post by behanner »

My guess is that it is Rhenish as in Rhineland but other then that I was unable to take a guess.

A dissertation I have about the French expedition of 1475. There are lots of sources out there that almost no one here has seen that have either been transcribed or are in print. Just kinda shows how bad stuff written on the military aspects of the WOR is.

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Post by Dave Key »

behanner wrote:A dissertation I have about the French expedition of 1475. There are lots of sources out there that almost no one here has seen that have either been transcribed or are in print. Just kinda shows how bad stuff written on the military aspects of the WOR is.
Got to agree with Brent here (and my great thanks to him for telling me about that dissertation ... amazing lists of equipment from buckets to collapsible boats and literally thousands of bows!, it also has several examples of the Indentures and Ordinances for War ... invaluable) if you look at the quantity of period materials that are available it's almost embarassing. And the sources in print is only the surface of what exists in places like the National Archives ... rolls of details of soldiers, equipment, supplies etc etc etc. Often these are far more difficult to work from as they are not transcribed and frequently not in English.

But with regard to the published work ... you often don't even have to dig through Libraries and old Journals anymore. For example to find the information on the Scotish soldiers I had to find a x-reference, then get a copy of the Arts of Parliament through Inter-Library Loan (they were NOT amused 65p for the biggest book you've ever seen!!!) and then sit down and read through it line by line ... now I can look it up online. Almost seems too easy, taken some of the fun out of the chase ;-)

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Post by Laffin Jon Terris »

m300572 wrote:
"The forest bill is a double weapon by reason of the head, and therefore has eight wards, four with the staff, four with the head, four of them to be used as with the staff, and the other four with the head, the one up, the other down, and the other(s) sideways."
'Twould help if we knew what a forest bill was! :roll: Given the four wards with the head (any advice from the historical fencing peeps on how the wards work would be good on this) I reckon this could be a "Yorkshire" billhook type head which has a curved cutting edge with a bill on one side and a back edge on the reverse side of the blade, with a long haft - could be over ten foot as the hold suggests the gap between the hands can be 8 or 9 feet with a foot at the butt, plus the head length so you could end up with a weapon around 12 feet long which seems unwieldy.

It would be longer than the "black bill" however as the advantage rules seem to be to do with length of weapon and the forest bill has the advantage over all (apart from the Welsh Hook, presumably a leek harvesting implement! :twisted: )
I think the opposite here,

For starters to have a span of 8 or 9 feet between your hands you must either be incredibly large or have the bill flat against your chest and your arms straight out to the sides.

To be able to use four wards at each end of the bill I would suggest (only from my limited experience) that the bill wants to be no more than 8 or 9 feet long in total so that these is less chance of "grounding" the weapon as you switch from warding at one end to warding at the other.

From chatting to some experienced (professional) woodsmen it appears that "working bills" are not normally sharp on the inside of the hook, that is there to help pick stuff up instead of cutting.

I agree with the suggestion of brown bills being the original agricultural tool and black bills being deliberately made weapons, mainly because the agricultural types are not normally fitted with extra spikes!

Quite where this puts "White Bills" I don't know (or is it a Tommy Steele reference? :wink: )

edited because I missed a word out! :roll:
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Post by Colin Middleton »

My guess is that a white bill is one with no rust treatment on it, while a black bill has something put on the blade to stop it rusting. I've no solid evidence to back it up, just putting together comments that others have offered on related subjects over the years.
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Post by behanner »

Colin Middleton wrote:My guess is that a white bill is one with no rust treatment on it, while a black bill has something put on the blade to stop it rusting.
I'd guess that a white one is one that has been polished where as a black one is still black from the forge. If you leave the carbon that forms naturally from working iron or steel in the forge on a piece it is rather rust resistant.

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Post by Colin Middleton »

behanner wrote:
Colin Middleton wrote:My guess is that a white bill is one with no rust treatment on it, while a black bill has something put on the blade to stop it rusting.
I'd guess that a white one is one that has been polished where as a black one is still black from the forge. If you leave the carbon that forms naturally from working iron or steel in the forge on a piece it is rather rust resistant.
Good point. Alwhite armour is often considered to be polished to shine! I was thinking of bows where a white bow is reckoned to be unvarnised. Complexed :?

If only we knew which was cheaper, we might have a clue.
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Post by behanner »

Colin Middleton wrote:
If only we knew which was cheaper, we might have a clue.
We do.

Black Bills 11d
White Bills 3s 4d
Bills 4s 4d
hedging bills 7d

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Post by Colin Middleton »

In that case, I'm with you on the black bill being unpolished.

I wonder what a 'bill' is as opposed to the cheaper options.
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Post by behanner »

Colin Middleton wrote:I wonder what a 'bill' is as opposed to the cheaper options.
The information is from a summary so it is likely that from the actual acconts a bill and a white bill are the same just not distinguished.

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Post by Dave Key »

Fox wrote:Should we consider "forest bill" as a contrast to "morris pike"?

In the case of morris pike, the morris means moorland, i.e. it's a very long spear for use in open terrain; what, in modern parlance, we mean when we say pike.
Fox,

I'm curious where the association of "morris" with "moorland" that you cite originates.

I have seen "moris" in different guises variously interpreted, including "Moorish" (i.e. arab).

Also in the 1475 inventory you could interpret "morispikes" as "moris-pikes" or "mori[s]-spikes" for example and in the 1481 listing "marospikes" are listed alongside "other spears, darts and marospikes" so may refer to a smaller, possibly thrown, weapon rather than a Pike.

Any thoughts/comments?


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Post by Fox »

Dave Key wrote:
Fox wrote:Should we consider "forest bill" as a contrast to "morris pike"?

In the case of morris pike, the morris means moorland, i.e. it's a very long spear for use in open terrain; what, in modern parlance, we mean when we say pike.
Fox,

I'm curious where the association of "morris" with "moorland" that you cite originates.

I have seen "moris" in different guises variously interpreted, including "Moorish" (i.e. arab).

Also in the 1475 inventory you could interpret "morispikes" as "moris-pikes" or "mori[s]-spikes" for example and in the 1481 listing "marospikes" are listed alongside "other spears, darts and marospikes" so may refer to a smaller, possibly thrown, weapon rather than a Pike.

Any thoughts/comments?


Cheers
Dave
To suggest that a morris pike is short makes a nonsence of Silver's descriptions of perfect length in Paradoxes of Defence. Perhaps marospikes are something else again.

With regards to the word morris, I was of the understanding that it had two meanings, Morrish from the Middle English moreys , and moorland from the Middle English mor or morr.

I found some reference to it when I was orignally looking at Paradoxes of Defence. I'll have to go away and find it again.

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