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Bill drill commands.

Posted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 6:15 pm
by Stuart Ivinson
Here's one for all the 15th C. infantry types:

Over the years I've encountered many reenactment groups, and the majority of all 15th C groups I've met use the same or very similar words of command when demonstrating bill drill (carry, knee bend, turn to your staves, turn away from your staves etc. etc.).

I've not delved deeply into the subject, but nowhere have I ever seen drill commands recorded from this period. When I've asked reenactors they never seem to be able to give me the origin of this set of commands - it's always 'we learned it off another group'.

So my questions are:

Does anyone know the origin of these commands?

Are these commands deemed to be accurate or are they a modern construct based upon the language of the time?

Has anyone ever come across actual recorded words of command from the 15th C.?

Thanks for your help.


Stuart Ivinson.

Re: Bill drill commands.

Posted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 7:21 pm
by Simon Atford
To the best of my knowledge they are "educated guesses" as we don't know exactly what orders were given as there are no drill manuals for the period. If I I'm wrong about this please correct me someone.

I have heard the words you quoted used but in our group we say order your arms, advance your arms, port your and arms, charge your arms and rest on your bills. These commands were taught to us by a member of the Stafford Household back in the '90s and we have subsequently prepare to hack and step (step forward and thrust with the bill). I can't say which if either set of commands is more correct.

Re: Bill drill commands.

Posted: Tue Mar 14, 2017 11:52 am
by Stuart Ivinson
Hi Simon,

"Educated guess" is what I thought - but always good to check it out.

Thanks for your reply,


Re: Bill drill commands.

Posted: Wed Mar 15, 2017 10:42 pm
by guthrie
A lot of this sort of thing was copied from 17th century civil war stuff, so the ultimate origin may lie with the sealed knot etc. Exactly what they base their commands on I don't know, but I think there are manuals from the period.

Re: Bill drill commands.

Posted: Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:08 pm
by Simon Atford
There are unlikely to be anything like drill manuals before the invention of the printing press and probably not before the 17th Century but they are likely to be based on earlier practice.

Re: Bill drill commands.

Posted: Thu Mar 16, 2017 6:29 pm
by Merlon.
I have over two hundred drill manuals, the majority of which are C17.
They start to emerge in C16, earliest I have is 1550, but don't start to be common before 1575. That broadly coincides with when the shift to pike and shot armies begins to occur,