“The Raid of the Reidswire” is an often overlooked ballad, which Scott included in The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. It recounts the events of the 7th July 1575 at the Redeswire, where a run-of-the-mill Warden’s meeting degenerated into a battle. It is more frequently referred to as a skirmish, as the two sides did not meet with the intention of engaging in pitched battle. The Scots won the day, but the weapons each side had brought to the meeting were telling in terms of effectiveness: the English had their feared bows, but the Scots are armed with guns – “but we had pisolets enough” remarks the ballad. All of this set the thought processes on a slightly different trajectory. Even with the relatively low level of casualties at the Redeswire, the flash and fire of the pistols must have come as a dreadful shock to the English opponents. The English archers, of course, had their glory at Crecy, with the lightly equipped and often low-born archers decimating the flower of French knights. I considered, then, what I would consider the most impressive and terrifying force, before the era of long-range missiles and modern warfare. There are many, of course, to consider.
Those Crecy archers, Rome’s legions (or perhaps those guerilla troops who tracked and slaughtered Varus’s legions in the dark forest of Germany) are certainly more than worthy of consideration , but for my part, those elite winged hussars of Poland strike me as being some of the most impressive of the last 1000 years. There is much speculation regarding those fine wings and effectiveness in warfare, but goodness, to be faced by an onslaught of galloping horses, lowered lances, thrumming banners, and mounted men, it seems, with wings rising from their backs – I cannot recall another charge – not even that of the Scots Greys – which may have surpassed it in visual and auditory impact.