Back to: Is it just me, or ... | Forward to: Questions, questions...

New Guest Blogger: Kari Sperring

We have a new guest blogger to keep you informed and entertained for the next couple of weeks: author and academic Kari Sperring.

Kari Sperring grew up dreaming of joining the musketeers and saving France, only to discover that the company had been disbanded in 1776. Disappointed, she became a historian instead and as Kari Maund has written and published five books and many articles on Celtic and Viking history and co-authored a book on the history and real people behind her favourite novel, The Three Musketeers (with Phil Nanson). She has published short stories in several British anthologies: Her first novel Living with Ghosts was published by DAW books in March 2009: her second, The Grass King's Concubine, came out, also from DAW, in August 2012.

She's been a barmaid, a tax officer, a P.A. and a university lecturer, and has found that her fascinations, professional or hobby-level, feed and expand into her fiction. Living With Ghosts evolved from her love of France and its history, ghosts, mysteries, Celtic culture, strange magic, sharks, and sword-fights: The Grass King's Concubine has even found a creative role for book-keeping. She's British and lives in Cambridge, England, and is currently at work on her third and fourth novels at once, because she needs more complications in her life. She can be found at, on Facebook (Kari Sperring), Twitter (@karisperring) and on Live Journal as la_marquise_de_.



Welcome Kari - it's lovely to see you again.

I'm partway though Grass King's Concubine and enjoying it so far. I'm loving the way you've managed to generate a fantasy world that's based more on 19th Century mores than 12th.


Welcome, Kari. Always happy to have a historian's perspective :)


Thank you! I shall hope to be interesting.


Welcome Kari :)


I live about 20 minutes from d'Artagnan's birthplace where they celebrated his 400th birthday last week.

While the French musketeers were disbanded in 1776 they were reformed several times until 1816. So there's just no excuse :-)


I'm envious, Mike. I've been to Castelmore: lovely place. I keep hoping the musketeers will be re-formed.


Those interested in the Musketeers might find the Amazon link for The Four Musketeers: The True Story of D'Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis and Athos useful. It's an excellent book.


I didn't know that, and we've met (which is I think a first for me and one of Charlie's guest bloggers).

As for re-forming the Musketeers, with the note that we'd have to form the British Musketeers, I'd be in it!


As a descendant of Vikings, via the Huguenots, I find all that very interesting. Of course, as the genetic-marker-tracer historian/anthropologist/genetics-researchers are finding out ... Meanwhile, there's an awful lot of celtic-bollocks STILL being rabbitted on about, especially in Wales & Ireland, when the Celts came from the European MAINLAND, and pre-Roman Britannia/Hibernia had been populated by norhtward coastwise migrations (i.e. from what we now call Portugal, Spain & Brittanny. Oops.



I'll bite. What's a P.A.?


They don't have P.A.'s in the USA? Boggle.


All I can think of is Professional Association. The legal form that lawyers, architects, accountants, etc... take as a company.

XYZ Architects, PA

Maybe I'm missing the obvious.


Ask your personal assistant to sort it out.


Ah. Don't run into many of them (people with such a title) over here. At least outside of the large corp organizations.


I lived in the US for years which is where I first heard of them. They were everywhere. I believe that in LA (which was not where I lived), that everyone who has an IMDB entry has at least one to wipe their brows and tweet for them.


I don't run with the crowd that has the income to spend on hiring others to do their dirty work, err, help them out with their busy life.


There's a Viking/Huguenot connection? I'd be interested in hearing more.


Back in the 60s I was a talking to this little lizard . Never mind how. He say “You better not dis me, I got tyrannosaurus DNA.!” I’ve read that genetic-markers show we are all descended from a small group that lived thru the big ice age at the very south of Spain. Its all just a matter of time after that.
From over here it looks like the  Musketeers were a trusted gang of royalist thugs. No matter whats on TV, Royals are just not the same over here as they are over there. 1776 don't you know. Hmm, "the French musketeers were disbanded in 1776"


Iirc according to Oppenheimer there were two principal migration routes, south from the Spanish Breton enclave, and a north across from eastern europe, slightly later.

Love his books though I find his writing style a bit maddening - he always seems to obfuscate his main points somewhat. Fascinating and well researched stuff though.


Route A: Atlantic Coast up from Spain. With no English Channel or North Sea this basically covers the traditional Celtic areas.

Route B: overland from the Balkans.

This is Stone Age migration, but it led to a genetic-marker split which can still be seen in what was labelled Celtic and Anglo-Saxon.

But it's harder to distinguish the migrations at the end of the Ice Age from, for instance, the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons.

Yeah, that's from Oppenheimer. The Origins of the British. It was part of a bunch of stuff that Amazon had in a special sale in late May: 99p for the Kindle edition. I didn't have any trouble with his writing style.

(I wonder if far-future archaeologists will find these plastic and glass things scattered through the last years of the Golden Age, and class them as ritual objects?)


PA for Personal Assistant isn't in my dialect of Canadian English either. "Secretary" would be the usual short form for that role.


If you call a Secretary a PA its a non-female title. And they give them titles instead of more money.


As for re-forming the Musketeers, with the note that we'd have to form the British Musketeers, I'd be in it!

I give you the Company of Pikemen and Musketeers (, the veteran arm of a peculiar regiment of covert-ops-trained City of London lawyers and investment bankers...


I can't speak for Kari (and she is more than capable of speaking for herself anyway), but I had a light cavalry unit in mind rather than infantry!


What, you think pikemen couldn't be light cavalry?

(The thought of a squadron of riders, each with a pike whose head wobbles up and down as they ride ... okay, maybe not.)


The Vikings were quite busy along the Atlantic Coast around the Bay of Biscay, trying to find a land route to the Mediterranean. They fought their way through what is now Gascony, so if you were sitting around Castlemore at different eras you would have seen Vikings and Moors going past, probably plundering old Roman villas as they went. It's a very congested area, historically speaking.

There are a few places in the SW France that have obviously Nordic derivations. Biarritz for example is a corruption of Bjornhus.


You could always look at the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. Or even King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery.

A young officer cadet I knew went off to the Regulars; his Cavalry Regiment decided that horses were just the job for patrolling the rough country around their base in Bosnia, so they went and rented some local mounts, then did some patrolling on horseback. I'm not sure how practical it turned out to be, or whether it was just a chance at some posing and some good PR...


...and with some digging, here's a link with some photos...


Interesting -- in my part of the US (Midwest), a PA is a Physician's Assistant, who does many of the job duties of a physician under a physician's supervision.


Can we assume that I know that a pikestaff is (or should be) 15 feet long?

Mounted halbardeers might be doable though.

28 - I'm definitely older than Charlie is; a career in military service stopped being possible some decades ago.

The Maxim Corporation showed off a camel-mounted machine gun once as part of its sales effort in the Middle East. Whether the camels were fitted with a bullet-deflecting helmet I don't know. A gun-cam perhaps?


And in Afganistan OGA and SF where using horses (a well as dirt nikes) and had to send an urgent purchase request for western style saddles.

And in the early stages of the "late unplesentness in afganistan" - the Northern alliance mouted at least one cav charge in conjunction with Allied forces

34: 33: Was that a cavalry charge complete with laser target designators for the incoming missiles? 32: As for camel guns, the Brits have been selling those to the Middle East for a long time. They're handier in the desert than wheeled carriers, although training a camel to stand still when the gun is fired is probably one of those non-trivial exercises. 31: And working backwards, there's a form of pike used by mounted troops. It's called a lance.

Anyway, welcome Kari.


Para 3 - Or not so much; all the evidence I know of is that if pike could form square (or hedgehog) and hold, they were pretty much water-tight against cavalry lances.


After all, the pikeman only has to persuade the horse of the folly of getting too close.

I do get a general impression that the pike tended to come off badly against shorter easier-handled weapons. Maybe the advantage of the Greek phalanx was more in the discipline of the unit than in the length of the pike. And a collection of farmers in "Git Orrff My Land!" mode is still hard to intimidate.

(Serious point: it's changing now, but it used to be that most farmers had experience of being about large animals. It's nearly a half-century gone for me, but I still have a feeling of alert tension, rather than fear.)


in my part of the US (Midwest), a PA is a Physician's Assistant, who does many of the job duties of a physician under a physician's supervision.

THAT's the one I was drawing a blank on. PAs go through the doctor edu track but stop at a Masters before they start their clinicals. Or similar. Basically the same as a nurse practitioner but via a different track. AIUI they both can do basically the same stuff. Most of what a doctor can do but they have to be under the authority of a full doctor but not supervised by one. Or some such.

Anyway I doubt that Kari was that kind of PA.


(Serious point: it's changing now, but it used to be that most farmers had experience of being about large animals. It's nearly a half-century gone for me, but I still have a feeling of alert tension, rather than fear.

You mean that constant awareness of where your feet are in relation to theirs at all times? And also paying close attention to their teeth?


And how far and in what direction the nearest gate is, in extreme cases. All of which would be abrogated somewhat by 15 feet plus of sharp between you and them.


My impression is that, as long as they don't try to move, pretty much any well-disciplined infantry in close order could stand up to cavalry. William Wallace's "schiltrons" in the battle of Stirling Bridge were, I believe, pikemen, but Harold's housecarls (axemen) did OK against William of Normandy until they were conned into breaking ranks. The problem is that you're stuck in position, because if you try to manoeuvre you're likely to open up too much. I think that was the advantage of pikemen versus cavalry, compared to other forms of infantry: a well-drilled pike squadron could actually move about while still presenting a sufficiently dense front of sharp pointy things to deter any sensible horse.


I'm pretty sure lancers and pike are different functions (cf cavalry and infantry), but the point is that when you put a pike on a horse, you've got the makings of a lancer.

In slightly more modern terminology, pike squares are weapons of denial. They don't work well unless the pikesmen are highly trained, because keeping in a square with pointy bits out while moving is hard. However, you can arm a bunch of peasants with pikes, plant them in some place where you don't want them to move, and they're a pretty good defense against troops armed with other hand weapons. Interlace their ranks with crossbows or muskets, and they make a fairly useful formation, for Medieval warfare. Provided they hold.

Yes, halbardiers or dudes with greatswords can theoretically cut their way through (though there's a reason they were paid at twice the rate of the guys holding the pike--they had to be big, strong, and brave enough to actually try that stunt). Similarly, the Roman army certainly figured out a formation (I think it was the saw) that allowed them to penetrate hoplite formations effectively. Still, pikes had their place.

Knights and men-at-arms are cavalry, used best in the role of marauders, where they come charging in, cause a lot of damage, and don't hang around to get trapped by the infantry. In the case of pikes vs. lancers, it really depends on whether the pikes withstand the charge in enough numbers to stop the horses.

Personally (and I used this in a book), I'd love to see more medieval minded authors combine squad-level pike fighting with salto del pastor from the Canary islands. Just put a pike head on one of those garotas they use, and you've got the makings of an interesting set of flying pike formations.


Wow, that salto stuff looks dangerous!


Probably it is dangerous, but I kind of wish I'd had the chance to learn. If I ever get to the Canary Islands, I may well try it out. On a more practical note, I do love using a 2-meter stick when hiking on steep hills. Long sticks really make life easier in steep mountains, even though they are currently unpopular. The astia for salto del pastor (shepherd's leap) is basically a 4 meter staff, except that they like using it for stunts as well.


Pretty much anything else I had to say on the subject of pike etc has been covered between #36 and #41 inclusive.


Yes, for values of 'pike' which equate to 'long spear'. And some lancers were light cavalry.

I think on the whole the pike is a somewhat heavier and longer weapon than the lance, though. Something which might have meant the cavalry were heavy.

(It doesn't help that I tend to think of an overly long halberd when someone says pike.)


Re. lance and pike - you try aiming a 16 foot long wooden pole whilst riding a horse. Lances are always much shorter than pikes, although I don't have any information to hand about it.

Of course people are forgetting the effects of the longbow as a long range artillery/ machine gun type weapon. As experienced by the SCots multiple times e.g. Falkirk through to Halidon Hill.

Which is where the cavalry comes in - send them in a flanking manouvre on the archers before the archers are ready, and scatter them. It is also noteworthy that evidence suggests that Bruce at Bannockburn trained his schiltrons in simple manouvring, because when you think about it just sitting there isn't enough, you have to be able to close in and do damage to your enemy. This can also be seen in civil war battles, where I am pretty sure that blocks of pikement were manouvring all over the place, albeit slowly. In their case sitting still would lead to decimation by cannon.


It gets interesting when you get horse archers, like Lajos Kassa (YouTube).

(As Mike Shevdon says: first you have to learn to ride. Then you learn to ride without using your hands. Then you can think obout using a bow from horseback.)


And, whilst doing all that, you can try and learn to fire a recurve accurately whilst running.


By the English Civil War the infantry had settled, across most of Europe, as regiments of mixed pikemen and musketeers, There'd been a lot of tactical development, from roughly the Spanish tercio to the system used by Swedish troops in the Thirty Years War.

There's a summary here. What often gets glossed over are the improvements in the manufacturing methods for firearms. It's not just the development of new gun-locks or of cartridges. These things were to greatly increase the rate of fire and the number of rounds carried by a soldier. It was about being able to make the gun barrels.

It's not a period I've dug into, but the chances are that a lot of stuff you might have heard is wrong. You get the same about every war. Oman's account of the Battle of Maida is infamously wrong about what the troops did. He presented it as a mathematical exercise in musket counting, French columns against British line, when both sides fought in linear formations. You can read the letters of people who were there.

So, when somebody talks about Dutch or Swedish systems, just remember that those armies had a lot more training and experience than those of the English Civil War.


re NA cav charge yep they had and ODA designating the target but the NA cav went early and almost got hit by the airstrike.

The osprey SF in afganistan book has more details



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 20, 2012 11:03 PM.

Is it just me, or ... was the previous entry in this blog.

Questions, questions... is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog