The Elizabethan Trayned Bandes

The Trayned Bandes had 3 general components; The trained bands; The untrained men and The pioneers. All men between 16 and 60 were elligible.

The Trained bands were the chosen volunteers from the local community who would spend up to 2 days a month and possibly a week every quarter in training. More typically, as the local parish was paying, they would restrict their formal training to a few days a year. A trained man would be paid 1 shilling a day for the time spent away from his normal work. In the earlier part of the reign he would be issued his arms & armour only when he was to train, but very soon it was realised to be more cost effective if he was permanentely issued with his equipment. Up to 10% of the eligible population in any county were trained men.

The Untrained Men were the bulk of the resident population. They did no training and were raised only in times of crisis. They would be trained by the Trained Bands and used to fill out the ranks of the county regiment. In the Armada crisis the Northampton Regiment was trained for two weeks at Towcester before marching to London. The trained men would only be paind when the levy was raised and the county would pay for them until they left the county boundary, after that the state paid. Typically they were paid 8d/day.

The Pioneers were the lower social orders, wastrels, vagrants, criminals and vagabonds, they were used as ‘cannon fodder’, typically with no training and few weapons. If a conscription was required to go to Ireland it would be the Pioneers that filled the ranks.

The national muster of 1575 showed 183,000 able men in 37 counties, 12,000 were trained, 63,000 untrained, 3,000 cavalry, that left 105,000 untrained ( probably not all pioneers in terms of social class ! ).

Regiments varied in the number of companies and the size of companies. 1585 in the Low Countries the English regiment was 4,091 men in 27 companies !. By 1588 the concept of 1,000 man regiments was known but not recommended.


In Northamptonshire, the typical Trained Bands member was a Yeoman ( by no means typical of the Country ), they volunteered as the pay was good and they were ( inexempt from conscription for abroad.

When conscripted troops were required, it would come as a warrant from the Lord Leiutenant of the county, the local sheriff or justice would provide a selection of ‘volunteers’ from which an appointed captaine, sergeant or corporal would choose the required amount as specified on the warrant. Obviously the justice would ‘encourage’ undesirables and wastrels to be chosen.

In companies or bands ( approximately 100 men ) levied for service abroad an allowance was given for 4 gentlemen volunteers.


Very little is documented of the tactics of the Elizabethan army. A few wood-cuts survive and these are very contradictory. Therefore most of the following information is speculation and awaits more evidence.

Earlier in the period ( 1540-1560’s ), the wood-cuts indicate that the English tactics were very basic. Comprising of a softening-up by range weapons ( Bow; Arquebus & Caliver ), followed by a disorganised charge. The archers would then attempt to stand-off and shoot at close range into the flanks of the enemy, while the rest armed with pike; bill; halberd; sword & buckler would use brute force to shatter the enemy. While this tactic is very effective when well-trained troops fight clan style armies like the Irish ( & Scots ? ), it is a receipe for disaster against more organised troops such as the Spanish. It is noticable that later wood-cuts ( 1588/9 ) show English soldiers in formations akin to those expected in the 1640s. Robert Barret ( 1598 ) shows a column of march as being arquebus ( & calivers ? ); bows;muskets pikes;bills and then reversed for the secondary divisions. This indicates the adaptation of the Spanish tactics, being more formalised in company structures. It is also bourne out by the account of the Raid on Cadiz ( 1596 ) in which the regiments were clearly on a mixed-arm company structure, and when necessary fought in a disciplined Line of Battle.


The Trayned Bandes varied in each county as to if they had a uniform or not, certainly some counties did. Northamptonshire equipped its Trayned Bandes with Green coats ( for archers/firearms ) or Blue coats ( for pole armed men ). It is not indicated how these coats were issued.

The troops fighting abroad did recieve issues of clothing, typically twice a year. The Summer issue for troops in the Low Countries was :- Canvas doublet lined with white linen, a pair a venetians ( breeches ) of Kentish broadcloth ( wool ) linen lined, two shirts of holland cloth, two pairs of shoes, two pairs of kersey stockings and a hat. The Winter issue :- a cassaque, a doublet, a pair of ventians, a hat, two shirts, three pairs of stockings and three pairs of shoes.


Prior to the Armada there is little evidence to indicate that Muskets were a primary weapon. Certainly in 1575 the English army was using a combination of Bows & Calivers, the woodcuts show no obvious existence of muskets. The typical company structure was between 30% and 60% range troops, a typical makeup might be 15% bows; 20% calivers 20% muskets, 10% bills; 5% halberds and 30% pike.

The Trayned Bandes were not using the musket as a standard weapon until the 1590s. The caliver was the standard firearm for much of Elizabeth’s reign and the English typically used the swept butt till the 1590s.

The caliver was the standard firearm for much of Elizabeth’s reign and the English typically used the swept butt till the 1590s. It had a smaller bore than the musket and therefore had less accuracy and penetrating power. It was slowly superceded by the musket but as the musket required a rest to be able to shoot accurately the rate of fire was reduced from up to 3 a minute with the caliver to not much more than 1 a minute with the musket.

The bow was still much in use in the Trayned Bandes until the turn of the century ( despite orders to cease its use in 1593 ), in fact some counties still had a significant amount of bowmen in the 1620s. A strong archer could shoot an arrow 300 yards or more, but the usual effective range was about 100 yards ( similar to firearms ). A competant archer was supposed to be able to put more than 6 arrows a minute into a 3 foot across target at 100 yards. Thomas Wyatt ( 1547 ) stated the equipment of an archer being a leather ( padded ) or mail jerkin; a helmet; vambraces; a good sword; a short dagger; a bow; a sheaf of arrows & 3 bow strings in a waterproof case, any failing to produce such ( and having the means to purchase ) should be ‘greveously punyshed’.

Cadiz – 1596

The warrants for mustering of troops were dispatched in the last weeks of March 1596. There were to be 6 colonels regiments of 750 and 2 generals regiments of 1,000 ( 6,500 men altogether ). 2,000 English troops were withdrawn from the Low Countries for the duration as a part of the force and they were intermingled with untrained men. It was rumoured ( at least in high circles ) that the force was leveied to either support Drake in the West Indies or to invade Brittainy to blockade the transport of Spanish troops to Ireland.

By Easter ( early April ) the ships were mustering at Dover, however the Spanish invaded France and the force was re-planned to help support the French. On 14th April Essex & 3 regiments marched from London on the Dover road, however the previous day Calais fell, the citadel remained but was stormed on the 14th and all the French were put to the sword. The news arrived at Dover at the same time as the troops led by Essex.

Calais was abandoned and Cadiz re-instated as the target. Throughout May training proceeded in Plymouth. The fleet left on 1st June 1596.


Within the Elizabethan military structure the ranking was usually as follows :- Colonel General; Lieutenant General ( or Lieutenant Colonel ); Sergeant Major General; Colonel; Captaine; Lieutenant; Sergeant Major; Ensigne; Sergeant; Corporal, though in some cases earlier titles such as Ancient and Wiffler were still in use.

Care must be taken in examining ranks as ‘Corporal of The Field’ and ‘Coporal of The Camp’ were actually titles for acting Lieutenants.
By the late Elizabethan Era, halberds were carried by Sergeants ( also by a contingent of the company designated as colour guard ).

Written by Mark, 1999