Second Half of 15th Century
Half of 16th Century
Half of 16th Century
Half of 17th Century
Half of 17th Century
end of 17th Century
End of the 16th Century
In 1576 the
new King, Stefan Batory (Stephen Bathory), began reorganising
the army. He ensured the disappearance
of the knight and halted the hussars' increasing use of armour, keeping
them a fast manoeuvrable heavy cavalry. Batory increased the training
of the hussars and so laid down the basis of this superb cavalry.
Batory was determined to improve the Polish infantry and it received
the greatest reorganisation. He modelled the new infantry on Hungarian
infantry (90% arquebusiers, 10% spearmen) and also ended the use
He also formed
the wybraniecka infantry, literally
translated as 'selected' infantry, but a more accurate term being
'draughted'. His proposals were for a peasant to serve in his new
force for every 'lan' of land, but this was cut by the Sejm
to apply only to leased Royal lands and so provided only a fraction
of Batory's intended force. The Wybraniecka
infantry were also organised on Hungarian lines; they had to supply
their own weapons, arquebus, sabre and axe, and uniform to a specified
colour. Batory introduced wooden cartridges for the infantry as
well as axes, which were mainly used in the construction of fortifications.
made use of other infantry including Germans, Cossacks, and Scots,
and made an unsuccessful attempt to form units of noble infantry
which lasted only one year.
of both the artillery and the infantry gave the Polish army an increased
besieging capability, illustrated by Batory's three successful campaigns
against Muscovy. Unfortunately Batory died in 1586, tired with his
constant struggle with the Sejm to obtain an army suitable in numbers
for a country as large and with as many aggressive neighbours as
Poland. Soon after his death the Polish army returned to its pre-Batory
notions of infantry numbers.
a brilliant organiser and had laid down the basis for future successes
(Byczyna, Kircholm, Kluszyn, Chocim). He had lightened the infantryman's
load by removing the use of infantry armour and kept the cavalry
mobile, giving the army a powerful offensive capability.
Zygmunt III Vasa
At the time
of Zygmunt (Sigismund)
III (1589-1631) the standing army and Wybraniecka
infantry were extended to apply to Lithuania. In winter the standing
army forces stayed at barracks set up on the nearest Royal estates
to the Ukraine, an oath was introduced and their pay increased.
The army was often raised to around 30,000 men, but only for a particular
campaign; in peacetime the numbers fell to only a few thousand,
the standing army. This lack of continuity was very destructive
and often superb victories on the battlefield could not be fully
exploited. It also meant a slow response to enemy invasions, money
usually had to be borrowed and later obtained from the Sejm. The
main reasons for this small peacetime force were cost and the Sejm's
fear that a monarch with a large army could threaten the nobles'
"golden freedom". It was not until the late 18th Century
that the nobles realised the need for a strong standing army, which
was not a threat to freedom but a defence of it, though by then
it was too late.
the problems in maintaining a large mercenary army for any reasonable
period of time, use was made of other types of forces:
private armies of powerful magnates (such as the Radziwill, Ostrogski
and Zamoyski families) - the troops tended to be of poorer quality
than the Royal forces, although, since they included mercenaries,
also had units of good quality. Some units, like the hussars, were
often more showily dressed than their Royal army counterparts.
Cossacks were increasingly used to supplement the Polish army
especially in the south where their numbers reached 40,000. They
were first and foremost infantry, being hardy and ferocious especially
in defence, as well as cheap. In war they were highly prized,
but in peace their forays into Turkish territories caused many
conflicts. They also often rebelled against restrictions on their
register, as only registered Cossacks received any pay, and bloody
campaigns were needed to keep them in check.