Today we put an Arms and Armor English Bill through its paces. The English Bill is a 16th century pole arm that was common in parts of the British Isles. A Royal Armouries inventory of the late 1500s lists 6,700 Bills in the arsenal, indicating that these were a valued weapon of war. There were in fact an arsenal of them on board the Mary Rose when it sank.
An original Bill from the Royal Armouries
As an infantry weapon these would have been issued to common soldiers during periods of conflict and would have been used against both armored and unarmored foes, both singly and in massed ranks. This suggests that the English Bill would have been effective for cutting as well as piercing and bludgeoning. We put those qualities to the test by using a Bill to cut tatami, chop a piece of lumber, and pierce through a piece of steel sheet.
Front chisel point and result on 18 gauge steel
Back spike English Bill against 18 gauge steel
To learn more about the history and development of this weapon, check out this earlier blog.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985