Introduction page Battles and campaigns 1450 to 1697 Army composition
main conflicts 1450-1697 Maps of Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth Army's development 1450-1697

Army Development

Second Half of 15th Century

First Half of 16th Century

Second Half of 16th Century

First Half of 17th Century

Reforms of 1632-1633

Second Half of 17th Century

The end of 17th Century

End of the 16th Century

Stefan Batory
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 of armour.

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.

Batory also 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.

The expansion 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.

Batory was 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 Zygmunt III Vasa - King of Poland 1589 to 1631
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.

Because of the problems in maintaining a large mercenary army for any reasonable period of time, use was made of other types of forces:

  • The 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.
  • Zaporozhian 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.

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