Saturday, November 19, 2016

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Clothes and Weapons
Of his initial encounter with Roanoke Algonquians, Captain Arthur Barlowe wrote the following:
We remained by the side of this Island two whole dayes before we saw any people of the Countrey: the third day we espied one small boate rowing towardes us having in it three persons: this boat came to the Island side, foure harquebuzshot from our shippes, and there two of the people remaining, the third came along the shoreside towards us, and wee being then all within boord, he walked up and downe upon the point of the land next unto us: then the Master and the Pilot of the Admirall, Simon Ferdinando, and the Captaine Philip Amadas, my selfe, and others rowed to the land, whose comming this fellow attended, never making any shewe of feare or doubt. And after he had spoken of many things not understood by us, we brought him with his owne good liking, aboord the ships, and gave him a shirt, a hat & some other things, and made him taste of our wine, and our meat, which he liked very wel: and after having viewed both barks, he departed, and went to his owne boat againe, which hee had left in a little Cove or Creeke adjoyning: assoone as hee was two bow shoot into the water, hee fell to fishing, and in lesse then halfe an houre, he had laden his boate as deepe as it could swimme, with which hee came againe to the point of the lande, and there he divided his fish into two parts, pointing one part to the ship, and the other to the pinnesse: which, after he had, as much as he might, requited the former benefites received, departed out of our sight.
I have just finished my chapter that recounts this event, narrated from English scientist Thomas Harriot’s and Algonquian warrior Wanchese’s viewpoints.  It was necessary for me to research the clothing these exploring Englishmen could have worn and the weapons they probably possessed.  The internet article “Arms and Armor of the Roanoke Colonists” ( and follow-up internet articles about these weapons and articles about sailors’ clothing in the late 16th Century provided me the information I wanted.
Let me first describe the clothes.
The typical male dress at that time comprised a hat, linen shirt, jerkin, breeches, hose, and shoes. The most prevalent foot coverings were either slip-on shoes or ankle boots. Some jerkins/doublets had buttons for closures; others had holes for lacing.  Common seamen wore very baggy breeches with woollen stockings, a thigh-length blouse or coat, and a tall, hairy hat.  Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Thomas Cavendish, Jacques Sores, François Le Clerc, and other gentlemen dressed in costumes appropriate to their rank.  They wore either hose or a combination of hose and breeches (close-fitting or baggy trousers tied with ribbons or garters near the knee).  Over these came padded doublets (like a stiff, form-fitting shirt), jackets, and cloaks.  Colors were bright, and clothes were ornamented with embroidery and jewels.  A wide ruff surrounded the neck, and almost everyone wore a beard and mustache.

Seafarers since the 1570s favored the Monmouth cap, a "skull cap" which was knitted from brown wool.

A seaman's shirt was typical of the peasant worker, loose fitting and flowing so as to not constrict movement. The shirt may or may not have a collar depending on when and where it was fabricated. Collars became more typical in the mid-sixteenth century onwards as a fashion statement, known as a ruff.  A common sailor generally favored the gathered neck, and a loose flowing shirt. It became common to place a knotted kerchief around the neck as an enclosure. The black neckerchief or bandana first appeared in the 16th century and was utilized as a sweat band and a collar enclosure. Black was the predominant color as it was practical and did not readily show dirt.

"Venetian breeches" or simply "venetians" were common with sailors from the 16-18th centuries.  Originally they were "gartered" at the knees with ties or belting, and later  variations were buttoned and became common in Admiralty lists and eventually became referred to as "knee breeches."

Here is a ship captain or bosun wearing "Venetian Breeches" or "knee-breeches."

Another type of lower garment that was worn by sailors from at least the 16th Century, was a long trouser-like garment with wide, loose fitted legs open at the bottom. In the 16th Century, this generally set the sailor apart from the landsman fashions at the time, and are generally referred to as "slops". In the Elizabethan era, these lower garments ran full length.

A non-sailor passenger of high regard probably wore a doublet, the chief upper garment worn by men from the 15th to the 17th century. It was a close-fitting, waisted, padded jacket worn over a shirt.  It had no collar until 1540, allowing the shirt to be seen at the neck.  The shirt was also visible through slashes or pinking in the material.  The sleeves, which at first were sometimes plain and close-fitting, became wide, padded, and slashed with complex designs. Detachable sleeves were worn after 1540. The doublet fastened down the front with buttons, hooks, or laces in the 16th Century.  Thomas Harriot and John White probably wore doublets.

Captains of ships -- Arthur Barlowe, for instance -- anticipating combat, might have chosen to wear a coat of plates, commonly referred to as a "jack."  The jack was made of small iron plates – often from recycled pieces of older plate armor -- sewed between layers of felt and canvas.  Here is one c1590.,_English_or_Scottish,_c1590,_Royal_Armoury,_Leeds.JPG

I have the hot-tempered, aggressive Philip Amadas wear chest armor, part of what was called a corselet.  The corselet consisted of two plates connected on the sides via hinges and bronze pins.  It was made up of a gorget, breast covering, back and tassets, full arms and gauntlets.

If Amadas wore a corselet chest protector, he also probably wore a morion, a type of open helmet used from the middle 16th to early 17th centuries, having usually a flat brim and a crest from front to back.  The crest or comb on the top of the helmet was designed to strengthen it. Later versions also had cheek guards and even removable faceplates to protect the soldier from sword cuts.

Now for the weapons.

Barlowe’s account tells us that the exploratory party fired an arquebus during their first day’s investigation of the land next to where they had anchored their ships.

Under the banke or hill whereon we stoode, we behelde the vallyes replenished with goodly Cedar trees, and having discharged our harquebuz-shot, such a flocke of Cranes (the most part white), arose under us, with such a cry redoubled by many ecchoes, as if an armie of men had showted all together.

The arquebus was an early muzzle-loaded firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries.  Like its successor the musket, it was a smoothbore firearm.  The arquebus was a shoulder-fired firearm which used the matchlock mechanism, the first mechanism to facilitate the firing of a handheld firearm. The trigger on early arquebuses was similar to those of medieval crossbows. When the trigger was squeezed, a curved arm known as the serpentine was lowered, plunging a slow-burning match into the flashpan to fire the weapon.  (More on the matchlock mechanism below)  As a low-velocity firearm, the arquebus was used against enemies who were often partially or fully protected by steel-plate armor. Plate armor worn upon the torso was standard in European combat from about 1400 until the middle of the 17th century. Good suits of plate would usually stop an arquebus ball at long range.  However, at close range, it was possible to pierce even heavy cavalry armor, although penetration was heavily dependent on the power of the arquebus and the quality of the armor.  The arquebus needed a pole that extended to the ground to stabilize it when aimed and fired.

The matchlock was the first mechanism, or "lock," invented to facilitate the firing of a hand-held firearm. This design removed the need to lower by hand a lit match into the weapon's flash pan and made it possible to have both hands free to keep a firm grip on the weapon at the moment of firing, and, more importantly, to keep both eyes on the target.  The classic European matchlock gun held a burning slow match in a clamp at the end of a small curved lever known as the serpentine. Upon the pulling of a lever (or in later models a trigger) protruding from the bottom of the gun and connected to the serpentine, the clamp dropped down, lowering the smoldering match into the flash pan to ignite the priming powder. The flash from the primer traveled through the touch hole igniting the main charge of propellant in the gun barrel. On release of the lever or trigger, the spring-loaded serpentine would move in reverse to clear the pan. For obvious safety reasons the match would be removed before the reloading of the gun. Both ends of the match were usually kept alight in case one end should be accidentally extinguished.  An inherent weakness of the matchlock was the necessity of keeping the match constantly lit. The match was steeped in potassium nitrate to keep the match lit for extended periods of time. Being the sole source of ignition for the powder, if the match was not lit when the gun needed to be fired, the mechanism was useless, and the weapon became little more than an expensive club.

A petronel was a 16th or 17th century firearm, defined as a horseman’s piece. It was the fire-arm which developed on the one hand into the pistol and on the other into the carbine. The name (French petrinel or poitrinal) was given to the weapon either because it was fired with the butt resting against the chest (French poitrine, Latin pectus) or it was carried slung from a belt across the chest. Petronels are found with either matchlock or wheellock mechanisms.

By the early 16th Century, as armor use declined due to increasingly effective firearms while the need for individual close-combat skills decreased on the battlefield for similar reasons, there was an increased amount of civilian combat and dueling. Large crowded urban centers saw an increase in private armed fighting among all classes and a thrusting method of unarmed fencing suited to these encounters quickly developed. Under these conditions new lighter, longer, quick thrusting single-hand swords, called rapiers, specifically intended for unarmored combat, gained advantage over more traditional military cut-and-thrust swords. They were soon adopted by the aristocracy as the dueling weapon of choice. During the 16th Century, the use of these long, narrow blades for unarmored civilian fighting took hold.  Designs for this optimal thrusting sword evolved.

A dagger is a double-edged blade used for stabbing or thrusting. Daggers often fulfilled the role of a secondary defense weapon in close combat.  Daggers may be differentiated from knives in that daggers are intended primarily for stabbing whereas knives are usually single-edged and intended mostly for cutting.  Most cultures fought mainly with pole weapons, swords, and axes at arm's length after having utilized bows, spears, slings, or other long-range weapons.  With the advent of protective plate armor during the Middle Ages, the dagger was used effectively to stab through the gaps in armor.

A halberd was a two-handed pole weapon use prominently during the 14th and 15th centuries.  The halberd consisted of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on a long shaft. It always had a hook or thorn on the back side of the axe blade for grappling mounted combatants.

The bill was a polearm weapon used by infantry in medieval Europe. The bill was similar in size, function and appearance to the halberd, differing mainly in the hooked blade form.  Derived originally from the agricultural billhook, the bill consisted of a hooked chopping blade with several pointed projections mounted on a staff. The end of the cutting blade curves forward to form a hook, which is the bill's distinguishing characteristic. In addition, the blade almost universally had one pronounced spike straight off the top like a spear head, and also a hook or spike mounted on the reverse side of the blade.   The black bill was5 or 6 feet long, while the forest bill was 8 or 9 feet long.  One advantage that it had over other polearms was that while it had the stopping power of a spear and the power of an axe, it also had the addition of a pronounced hook. If the sheer power of a swing did not fell the horse or its rider, the bill's hook was excellent at finding a chink in the plate armor of cavalrymen, dragging the unlucky horseman off his mount to be finished off with either a sword, spear or the bill itself. These characteristics also made it effective against heavily armored infantry, dragging them into the melee or exploiting the weak points in their armor.  The small point found on the trailing edge of some bills was also useful for puncturing armor -- concentrating the force of the blow onto the point.  During the 16th Century when most European states were adopting the pike and arquebus, the English preferred to stick with the combination of bill and English longbow. Even in the Tudor period, bills were still common with levies sent to fight the Scots.  Although obsolete as a military weapon by the 17th Century, bills were sent (along with other obsolete arms and armor) to the New World with English colonists to provide defense against Native Americans and Spanish military expeditions.

Here are three excerpts from my chapter.

They were armed. They had swords, inside something covering them, hung from something about their waists. They were long swords, not the length or shape of the wooden swords he and his village’s warriors sometimes used in battle. They also had something [petronels] nearly the length of their forearms, something narrow that pointed. These they also had tucked under the something about their waists. One of them had a long spear, longer than what he and his friends used to fish. It [the bill] was not made of wood but of something he had not ever seen. At the end of it was a point but also two curved cutting pieces and something else that chopped. To defeat a man with this killing spear, a warrior would have to get himself past the cutting and piercing things, grab the center of the spear, and wrenched it away, a very difficult task.
These Tassantassuk carried these weapons not for self-protection – he, one against six, was no threat – but for display, a warning to him of their superior montaoc. 

The one in the center of the group, the shortest one – too young to be their leader, Wanchese thought – spoke. His eyes flashed. He was not content. Wanchese saw emotion close to anger. Anger because I do not understood his words. The Tassantassuk had a strange protection [a corselet] over his arms, chest, and stomach. It was gray in color. Its surface looked hard. Wanchese imagined the point of an arrow bouncing off it. On his head he wore a strange object [a morion], tall and ugly and hard-looking like what protected his chest.
The others were not so protected. They covered their bodies not with animal skins but other things, things very strange. Even their arms, legs, and feet were covered. One of them, the oldest of them, wore something [a jack] over his chest that did not have the hard surface that the shorter man wore.  The surface looked soft. He could see that sewing had been done. Not like the shorter man, all the others wore something tight and soft [Monmouth cap] over their hair. Coarse hair extended from cheek bones and chins. They and what they wore stank!
“I’ll have the bugger know something first!” Amadas stepped over to the savage, who, cat-like, turned to face him. Amadas pointed at the hilt of his sword. “I saw you looking at it. You may see it.” His eyebrows, an invitation, lifted.
The savage stared at the hilt, looked briefly at Amadas, nodded.
“He needs to know how the land lies!” Amadas said aggressively.  He drew his blade.
Head lowered, the savage stared. His right fingers touched the steel. He felt its edges with his thumb and forefinger. He then straightened, looked at Amadas again, nodded.
“He takes your meaning,” Barlowe said.
The savage pointed at Amadas’s petronel, slung from the belt that crossed the little man’s chest.
“Rot me!” Amadas exclaimed. “Inquisitive bugger!”
“Give him a demonstration!” Fernandez grinned.
“I wonder at this,” Barlowe said.
“God’s breath, old man! I don’t give a fart in hell! I command here! White! Get a hand to bring up spare fardage! I’ll put a hole in it!”
They waited.
Amadas produced a petronel ball. He held it two feet in front of the savage’s face. He pantomimed inserting the ball in the petronel’s barrel. He took aim at a distant sailor, made an explosive sound, walked with the ball the length of the quarterdeck, and thumped the ball against the sailor’s chest.
White reappeared holding the slat of wood.
“Have that man prop it against the capstan! Tell him to stand afar!”
The petronel already primed, the match lit, Amadas aimed, its butt against his chest close to his right shoulder. “Not very accurate but meant to kill charging cavalry,” he excused. Harriot was amused that Amadas felt the need to explain, especially using words the recipient could not understand.
The savage leaned toward the petronel. The explosion and profuse smoke sent him staggering backward. Nearly squatting, he arrested his fall. Instantly, he sprung upright, muscles strained, eyes enlarged, face taut.
“Come with me!” Amadas ordered. He motioned toward the section of fardage. They walked to it, examined the hole made by the ball.