Part 15 - Spanish Ginetes to Caballos Corazas


THE SPANISH 'KNIGHTS', like the Spanish infantry, were reorganised by Ferdinand and Isabella, becoming a semi-regular 'Constabulary' on the pattern of the French 'Bandes d'Ordonnance'. Their Catholic Majesties also somewhat lightened the man-at-arms' full armour and introduced a rather handier 'Lanza d'Armas' in place of the very heavy medieval 'Lanzon'. They are said to have abolished horse-armour, but some Spanish cavalry certainly retained this much later.
    In 1493 the 'Old Guard of Castile' was created, originally 2,000 strong, in 25 companies of 80 men-at-arms, each also having 20 light 'Ginetes' (Genitors) attached. Each man-at-arms had two horses and a page who rode his 'turnabout' horse and carried his lance. The 'Old Guard' (who survived in reduced form to the 17th Century) wore 'white' armour (uncovered, polished steel), with red plumes and the horse-trappings illustrated.
    As well as the men-at-arms in Royal service, there were also the lances of the Military Orders, Grandees, Nobles, Prelates, and of the wealthier inhabitants of Andalusia and Murcia. The Grandees and nobles raised about 1,800 horse in the 1530s and '40s (a quarter only were actually men-at-arms); the 'Cavalry of Distinction' of Andalusia and Murcia may have reached 6,000, but only a small proportion of these would be men-at-arms, and most of these cavalry were of rather dubious quality in training and equipment. Many served only in Spain.
    From 1519 Spain also had the Bandes d'Ordonnance of the Low Countries, some 3,000 excellent Burgundian 'lances' in squadrons of about 20.
    During the Italian Wars, the Spanish also used a fair number of well-equipped but not over-enthusiastic Italian lances (a 'lance' contained the man-at-arms himself, a page or squire, and one or two lighter cavalry and servants; Italian ones had four horsemen, at least one a non-combatant; the lighter cavalry would form up separately in battle).
    Spain always had some difficulty in maintaining many well-equipped men-at-arms; by 1505 there were actually only nine companies, totalling 1,050, and though Philip II raised the total to 17 companies, these were reduced in 1560 to 50 each. The standard of their mounts and armour is said to have been below that of other nations, and in the later 16th Century they did not form more than about ten per cent of the usual cavalry force.
    In the 17th Century - officially from 1633 - the men-at-arms lost their lances; their armour was reduced to morion and cuirasse, and they were armed with pistols. In their new guise they were known as 'Caballos Corazas'.


    Up to 1512, most Spanish lighter cavalry seem to have been incorporated in the lances of the men-at-arms; they would have operated separately and thereafter were organised separately, normally in 'cornets' of 100 (up to 500 for general's cornet), which could be grouped in provisional 'Trozos' of 300 to 600, or 'Tercios' of 500 or more; these could be grouped in regiments or brigades. Cornets, of lancers and arquebusiers at least, were identifiable by cassocks of a unit colour, worn over armour.
    The lighter cavalry who tended to replace the men-at-arms were the lancers. Found in other armies (English demi-lances for example), they were particularly characteristic of the Spanish, and continued to carry their lances through the first half of the 17th Century (though the lance itself became lighter).
    They wore three-quarter armour, open helmet, and rode unarmoured horses, and by the mid-16th Century carried a pistol in place of the man-at-arms' mace.


    These were the typical Spanish light cavalry of the 15th and early 16th Century. Dashing skirmishers, they carried the heart-shaped Moorish shield and used Moorish tactics - feigned retreats and so on. Gonzalo de Cordoba's arm in 1495 had 500 genitors compared to a mere 100 men-at-arms. They could carry crossbows, but their chief weapons were sword and javelin. Some had plate armour, but most had mail shirt or brigantine, steel cap or morion, and odd bits of arm and leg armour.

Stradiots and Italians

    Stradiots (who probably got their name from the Spanish) were introduced in 1507. These 'Albanians' were also employed by Venice and France; they dressed very like the Turks they often fought, and carried scimitar and sometimes a Turkish type shield. Their favourite weapons were mace or war-hammer, and a short lance or spear with a point at both ends. A steel bascinet replaced the Turkish turban, and they wore mail shirt or padded aketon. Later, considerable numbers of Italian light cavalry were hired, at first with crossbow, later with arquebus.


    In 1502, the 'Archers of Burgundy' were incorporated into the Spanish cavalry as, apparently, a sort of Royal bodyguard. They wore a plumed open-face burgonet, mail shirt, and some arm and leg armour, with a loose white surcoat bearing the red cross of Burgundy on front and back. The fore-quarters of their mounts were protected by a 'clibano' decorated with a royal monogram. Unlike many 'Archers' of the period, they actually carried a bow, in a bowcase-cum-quiver slung on the right of the saddle. They also had two-handed swords (!) and I would imagine that a light lance would also be carried.

Firearm cavalry

    Firearm cavalry or 'escopeteros' appeared early in the Spanish army, and were first organised into separate bodies in the very early 16th Century.
    The two chief types of the 16th Century were 'Herreruelos' and 'Herguletiers' (mounted arquebusiers). From the later Italian wars they replaced the earlier Ginetes.
    The Herreruelos were armed with pistols, and fairly heavily armoured, corresponding to the hired German reiters and other cuirassier types, while the arquebusiers were lighter, only about half of them wearing corselets, the rest leather, and were armed with a longer-range weapon. They also operated on foot as well as mounted. Mounted, both could play a similar role, operating in front or on the flanks of men-at-arms and lancers, preparing and supporting attacks by their fire, but herreruelos were more likely to charge in themselves. Both types carried swords, and arquebusiers sometimes carried a pistol too (while in the 17th Century cuirassiers and Caballos Corazas could have arquebusses).
    Dragoons first appeared in Spanish ranks in the 1630s, and tended to replace the mounted arquebusiers in the 1640s and later. They were similarly armed but carried, besides sword and arquebus, a mace and a small pick which could be used to tether the horse while the rider operated dismounted. Their advantage was really cheapness - being mounted infantry rather than cavalry able to operate dismounted, they could be worse-mounted than the arquebusiers and required no armour. The early dragoons had a white slouch hat with a red feather, buff coat, calfskin gauntlets and boots and breeches decorated with red slashes and piping.


    It is hard to fix the relative proportions of these cavalry types. Sir Roger Williams, referring to the second half of the 16th Century, says there were five lancer cornets to every one of herguletiers, but Spanish writers of similar but slightly later period suggest 25 percent lancers, 25 to 30 percent arquebusiers, and most of the rest cuirassiers (probably including herreruelos and the German pistoleers hired in large numbers). The Spaniards did not consider Germans very highly but their horses were cheap and plentiful and often formed from 25 to 40 per cent of the 'Spanish' cavalry from Charles V's time on. Indeed, one should remember that a large part of any Spanish army was usually non-Spanish - in 1588 the Duke of Parma's army of 60,000 men had only 18 per cent Spaniards, whereas Germans and Walloons, in their own units, made up around a third of the army each!
    It is usually said, following Oman, that cavalry were a small proportion of Spanish armies. Certainly the infantry were the main strength, and the observation made may be true of the early Italian wars, but later the cavalry usually seem to have made up from a quarter to a third of the army.


    Most infantry flags and many cavalry ones would be based, at least from 1519 on, upon the red 'cross raguly' of Burgundy (really two staffs with cut-off 'shoots' on each side, it could simply appear as a red 'X'). It could be on a plain white background, or a chequered or striped one of green, black or blue and white, or more elaborate like those illustrated.
    During the union with the Empire, Imperial eagles, sometimes bearing the arms of the Spanish provinces, could also appear, and the red-white-red Hapsburg horizontal stripes are also likely. Religious subjects were also very usual, such as: red, with the Virgin in glory in gold; blue, with the virgin in glory, moon and stars, and the inscriptions 'Ave Gratia Plena', 'Stella Maris' and 'Pulcher ut Luna'; or Virgin on one side, Christ crucified on the other.
    Commanders-in-chief had their own standard of guidon shape carried with them. That used by Don John of Austria in the Netherlands bore a crucifix and the motto 'In Hoc Signo Vici Turcos, In Hoc Haereticos Vincam'.
    Infantry had the usual six-foot squarish standards, lancers often long swallow-tailed standards, other cavalry usually small square flags.


Key to drawings: a trumpeter, 1525. Breeches red slashed yellow; upper sleeves yellow slashed red, lower sleeves and hose yellow; jacket buckskin; saddle blue, edged gold; white felt hat, probably with red plume. b Genitor, 1509. Shield is roughly heart-shaped, with slight 'V' when seen from above, and is white with a red line about three inches in from edge. Steel cap black, brigantine red. Note elbow and knee armour. Plume red or pink.
c Caballo Coraza, early 17th Century. Corselet and morion steel; sleeves yellow, shoulder pads red and yellow; breeches red and yellow; boots, bandolier, gauntlets and harness (the only horse trapping is a plain breast strap) all brown. d Herreruelo, 1560. Leg and arm armour and corselet polished steel; breeches black, striped red; cloak black, lined red; 'bowler' hat black with red ribbon and many holes showing red lining. e mounted arquebusier, 1630s. Jacket yellow; cross, shoulder pads and under-sleeves red; breeches blue with red stripes; hose yellow; boots black. Note hanging sleeves. f and h Escopetero, 1508, and Caballo Ligero, 1493. Escopetero has black saddle edged red; red and yellow slashed breeches. Lancer's trousers are brown; corselet covered. Both steel armour and leather horse trappings. g man-at-arms, 1560. Breeches yellow; cassock purple; lining, cross and plume red; pennon red over yellow. h horse trappings of Old Guard of Castile, 1490s. Lion red on white (arms of Leon); castle yellow on red (arms of Castile). They are placed in opposite order on other side. i standard bearer, 1525. Saddle, harness and tassels red; saddle edged silver; saddle cloth edged gold; armour and scales, covering rear of horse only, polished steel; plumes (from front) yellow-red-white; standard white, with gold crucifix and red cross.

Key to flags a Cardinal Ximenes' flag, carried at the taking of Oran, which he led. White flag, dark shading, lines and tassels, Cardinal's hat red; light shading gold. b also 1509. Red cross and border on white. c cavalry flag, about 1600, showing the Virgin Mary. One possibility for this is a red flag and figure with gold rays. d the old 'national' flag. Likely to be carried by Spanish in early 16th Century. Yellow castle on red (Castile), red lion on white (Leon). e carried by pikes at Pavia, 1525. Quarters as 'd' alternating with (probably) the four red pales on yellow of Aragon - which could also be carried on its own. f Catalonia. Four red bars on yellow. g men-at-arms flag at Pavia. Probably yellow castles on red quartered with four red pales on yellow, tail of flag white. h cavalry flag at Pavia. Probably red crosses on white, and either red on white or red on yellow stripes; tail white. i mounted standard, 1503, Green flag, black eagle, rest gold. j red cross raguly, green and white stripes: late 16th or early 17th Century. k cavalry flag, probably 17th Century. Colours include red on white, gold on red or white on gold. l yellow cross on red, 1588. Used on ships, but I am not sure about land forces. m 16th Century, red on yellow. Also seen on ships. n simplest form of 16th Century infantry flag - red on white.

More Spanish flags. The one on the left has a white outer edge and background with red cross and green checks. Second left is a red cross on a white background. The dark triangles are green. Border is red with small diagonals and squares in corners green. The third flag is white with a red cross raguly carrying the motto 'Non Minor Est Virtus' in white. The smaller cross is red with a red, green and yellow shield in the centre. The border is green with yellow diagonal dashes. The flag on the right is a red cross on a white background, all other detail green.

The Spanish army in order of battle at Nieuport in 1600. Note large pike blocks (one made from two Tercios), various types of cavalry, and massive gun teams and limbers in the foreground (the Spanish in the Netherlands were the first to use artillery limbers) (by kind permission of the National Army Museum).

Spanish Genitor shield showing heart-shape derived from Moorish shields (Tower of London Armouries).


    I would like to thank Mrs Anita Denials for her assistance with the articles on the Spanish Army.

Previous: Part 14: Spanish infantry
Next: Part 16 - The French

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See also: Spanish & Moorish Soldiers in Conquest of Oran, 1509, painted by Juan de Borgoņa, 1514
The 1535 Hapsburg Attack on La Goleta from the 1744 copies of the 'Conquest of Tunis' Tapestries.
Spanish Soldiers in Códice De Trajes, 1547
Other Spanish & North African Resources