The Spanish Armada of 1588

Elizabethan Trayned Bands

Main Troop types


Caliver matchlocks - these were light fireams for skirmishing ahead of the dense formations of pike, bill and heavy musket. The late 16th century was a transition period, when armour was starting to reduce especially in the firearmed troops.

Photos: Pat Patrick



Heavy musket - these larger bore guns usually required a forked rest, to keep the gun held steady.  Musket would march in the block with the pike and bill, as close fire support.

Photo Pat Patrick


Left side - A typical Billmen, the bill was a weapon left over from the medieval period but still in use.

Right side - A pikeman, this weapon was replacing the bill as the shock weapon.

Photos by: Pat Patrick

Background History

Before giving details of the the units that Taunton Garrison portray, a little background is needed.

King Henry VIII is well known for having broken with Rome (Catholicism) and established the Church of England with himself as the head.  This had far reaching consequences.

Henry's son Edward VI, succeeded to the throne, but died aged 15 years. His cousin, Lady Jane Grey, was then proclaimed queen (uncrowned), but was deposed after 9 days by Mary, Edward's eldest sister.  Mary I was a Catholic and with her new husband Philip II of Spain, sought to expunge Protestantism and restore Catholicism.  The result of this zealous campaign (approx. 300 protestants burnt at the stake),  left her with the nickname 'Bloody' Mary.

1558 Mary died and was succeeded by her half sister Elizabeth.  The Catholic period was over as Elizabeth was a staunch Protestant.

Elizabeth's early years were fraught with uncertainty and danger but she was a brilliant politician and gradually secured her throne.

Philip II (Mary's widower),  had hoped that Elizabeth would marry him so he could continue his work of bringing England back to Rome. Elizabeth toyed with him to buy time, this he did not like!

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots had a claim to the English throne. Catholic conspirators plotted to put her there. Elizabeth, fearing this plot, had her imprisoned when Mary was forced to flee to England after being implicated in a Scottish murder plot. 

1585 the war with Spain began due to several factors, which included that fact that Philip II did not get his marriage to Elizabeth.  The Pope encouraged Phillip to attack England. England was supporting the Dutch Protestants against the Spanish. An  English army led by Lord Robert Dudley lent support to the Dutch revolt in December of that year. (the Anglo-Spanish war continued on and off until 1603).

1586 the Babbington Plot to kill Queen Elizabeth implicated Mary Queen of Scots.

1587 Mary Queen of Scots was executed causing consternation throughout Europe, (it was not the done thing for one sovereign to kill another!)  Another black mark against Elizabeth in Philip's eyes and probably the final straw that led to his invasion plans. 

Philip gathered the greatest armada (navy) of ships ever seen, to invade England. He was aided by Pope Sixtus V, who allowed Philip to make the venture against England a 'crusade'. His men were granted indulgences and the Pope promised a large subsidy to help pay for the holy cause.


In May of that year the Armada set sail under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia (who had no naval experience).

The fleet consisted of 22 Galleons and 108 armed merchant vessels.  The plan was to collect the Duke of Parma's army from the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium) and then land in England with a total force of about 55,000 men, an incredible number for that time.

England had no standing army and had to rely on the Trayned Bands, a part time militia raised in each shire by local commanders.

The ability of the country to raise local forces goes back to Saxon times when men were called upon by their feudal Lord for service in the 'Fyrd' (local forces) to fight enemies within the county boundaries e.g. Vikings.

The Elizabethan Trained Band system (often spelt 'Trayned Bands' at the time) was initiated in 1573 to form the basis of an army when required at short notice. 


Taunton Garrison will usually be portraying a Somerset unit, although all counties were organised in the same way.

The Somerset Trayned Band regiments in the 1580's were commanded by: 

Sir John Stowell (or Stawell) lived at Cothelstone Manor just outside Taunton. 

Sir John Clyfton (or Clifton) lived at Barrington Court.

Sir George Sydenham of Coombe Sydenham Manor, Stogumber. His daughter, Elizabeth, married Sir Francis Drake in 1585.

Sir Arthur Hopton of Witham Friary, near Evercreech. Great Grandfather to Sir Ralph Hopton of Stratton (b.1596 - d.1652).

Sir Henry Berkley (or Berkeley) of Bruton. His father Sir Maurice Berkley was the standard bearer for Henry VIII. The family are the same line as those living at Berkeley Castle.

All regiments approximately consisting of:

 300 Calivermen (light matchlocks)

100 Musketeers (heavy matchlocks)

280 Pike (corslets)

120 billmen (probably no armour, maybe jacks)

 Total: 800 men (plus about, 20 archers)

Archers were still in use but only few in number, and not usually recorded on muster rolls. Some county units still had archers in 1620.

The Armada

The Armada was opposed at sea by a small English fleet, but as history shows, by dogged determination the smaller attacker was able to harry and outmanoeuvre the lumbering Spanish fleet.  The weather also played an important role.  Details of the campaign can easily be found on the internet.  Taunton Garrison's main concern is the protrayal of the land based Trayned Bands.