Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I think I first encountered this term in George Gush's venerable and much-beloved Renaissance Armies. (Yes, on checking, there he is, page 51.) It always struck me as quite strange, language-wise, not least because it's practically unpronounceable for a native English-speaker. Moreover, I could never find it in any halfway decent Spanish-English dictionary, and I always wondered about its etymology. Not to worry -- after foraging in Google Books, I was able to pin it down.

This was a Spanish term for reiter-type heavy cavalry. According to contemporary sources, they were German cavalry, not necessarily Spanish. The name probably came from the application of the Spanish term for a short coat with a collar but no cape (herreruélo or ferreruélo) to the armor worn by the reiters. This armor, according to Nuñez de Alba (Dialogos del soldado) first appeared in 1547 in the Schmalkaldic War. The Titian portrait of the Emperor Charles V in his “Mühlberg harness” is a good example of this armor (at least as worn by a wealthy warrior). The armor worn in the portrait consists of: back- and breastplates; taces; tassets; gorget; espaliers reaching to the elbow over mail sleeves; gauntlets; and morion. The emperor is armed with a javelin and a pistol.

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