Tuesday 18 July 2023

Rodeleros or Shield-Bearers

This post covers a new unit of pikemen for my Thirty Years War forces and includes a brief discussion of shield-bearers also known as Rodeleros, or sometimes as sword and buckler men.

28mm Imperial pikemen by 1898 Miniatures and Avanpost Miniatures.

I've been on a bit of painting hiatus since the preparations for Salute back in April. Most of my recent hobby time has been spent in research for potential new projects, but I have tried to keep some painting going as well. My Imperial forces are missing a few pikemen and so I have painted up a few bases using pikemen from the 1898 Miniatures and Avanpost Miniatures Thirty Years War ranges. 

Also in my pile-of-potential were some Avanpost 'sword and buckler' men that I have been looking for an excuse to use.


The Spanish "Rodeleros", translating to "shield-bearers", seem to have started as a component of the Spanish infantry Tercios in the late 15th / early16th century.  The term "sword and buckler men" also seems a popular way to describe them. A small proportion of the Tercio would be armed with swords and small metal shields to try and break deadlocks when pike formations met.  They seem to have fallen out of fashion, perhaps due to their vulnerability to mounted opponents, and to have been replaced by halberdiers.  

A stylised picture of early 16th century infantry combat with rodeleros fighting through a pike formation in the centre.

By the Thirty Years War I'm not sure of evidence for separate formations of infantry with sword and shield. There seems to have been some discussion in the period of their use in support of pikemen, and of having the equipment to hand in the baggage to use when troops were called on to storm breeches etc.  It was also suggested that larger metal shields would be able to protect pikemen from the shooting of musketeers, but I'm not sure of any evidence that this was tried. 

Detail from The Battle of Kirchholm (1605) by Snayers - officers with shields at the front perhaps?

The wonderful Kadrinazi blog by Michal Paradwoski (here) points out some figures in the Battle of Kircholm by Snayers that are carrying shields.  The unit represented is part of the Swedish army and Michal wonders if Snayers may have been using his knowledge of Imperial infantry for inspiration here. 

Shield Bearers

Sword and shield armed soldiers also appear in 17th century contemporary art in association with the colour parties of infantry formations.  I assume that their role was to defend the colours.  This was probably partly ceremonial as well as functional.  

Shield bearers lead the formation of the Cracow Militia on the Stockholm Roll

Two shield bearers are typically shown with their swords drawn so that they are always ready for any danger that threatens their formation's colours.  

The Night Watch by Rembrandt.  Can you spot the two Shield-Bearers?

Detail from The Night Watch of one shield bearer.

Detail from The Night Watch of the other shield bearer.

Even one of my favourite 17th century pictures includes these shield bearers!  Perhaps not at first obvious but the two shield-bearers are in the picture, carrying their shields, and with their swords drawn as expected with the company's colour on show and therefore in need of protection.

Forming The Unit

At least two 28mm Thirty Years War ranges include shield-bearers or 'sword and buckler' men: Warlord and Avanpost.  When Avanpost released their figures I had ordered some due to the very nice sculpts.  As I was selecting figures for the pike unit I was reminded of these figures and so decided to add them in as 'interest'.  It is also worth noting that Avanpost and 1898 scuplkts fit together very nicely.

Pike with command group - command group 28mm Avanpost.

When the pike unit has a command stand placed in the front it looks like the shield-bearers are there ready to defend the ensigns carrying the colours. 

Pike unit with included shield-bearers.

Without the command stand the shield bearers provide some added colour.  

Close up of the shield bearer.

The other shield bearer in a nice burgonet with shoulder armour in addition to the back and breast plates.

I like the 1898 Miniatures pikemen sculpts in the rest of the unit as they are in a really nice variety of slightly relaxed poses; here looking like they are 'catching their breath', adjusting their equipment, as they prepare for the next assault.   

I would be very interested to hear what other people think about Rodeleros, or shield-bearers, in the Thirty Years War period. 

Until next time!

Andy @ The Friends of General Haig.