The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Commander's baton
  • Commander's baton
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Spain
  • c. 1590
  • Steel, silver and gold, heat-tinted and false-damascened
  • Length: 77.8 cm
    Diameter: 3.1 cm
    Weight: 0.9 kg
  • Inscription: 'NVMERO DE GENTE' Total number of troops
    Inscription: 'TANTAS POR HILERA' Number in each rank
    Inscription: 'TANTAS HILERAS'
    Inscription: 'SOBRAS' Overs
    Inscription: 'FRENTE DE ESAVADRO AVADRADO DE SITIO' Frontage of column
    Inscription: 'COSTADO DE ESDRON AVADRADO DE SITIO' Flank of column
    Inscription: 'SOBRAS' Overs
    Inscription: 'FRENTE DE ESADRON AVADRADO DE GENTE' Front of square
    Inscription: 'COSTADO DE ESAVADRON AVADRADO DE GENTE' Flank or side of square
    Inscription: 'SOBRAS' Overs
  • A989
  • European Armoury III
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Commander's baton, in the form of a hollow steel tube, the surface blued and covered with tables of figures inlaid in gold within silver lines; at one end are the arms of Ponce de Léon, Duke of Arcos, Léon impaling Aragon; within a border charged with escutcheons of Bidaure, or, a fesse azure. One end is open, and was originally closed by a spring cap. It was probably used, as Meyrick suggested, to contain the muster-roll of an army.

    Bands of running foliage divided the baton into two parts (vertically) and into sixteen tables (horizontally), making thirty-two tables in all. Each half is further divided by silver lines into ten columns, the headings of which are first given in capitals and then repeated in lower-case letters. Much is now obliterated, but the transcript given by Skelton would appear, with slight amendments, to be correct, though he has misread Numero for Frente and Numero for Costado in two cases:

    1–NVMERO DE GENTE (total number of troops)
    2–TANTAS POR HILERA (number in each rank)
    3–TANTAS HILERAS (number of ranks)
    4–SOBRAS (overs)
    5–FRENTE DE ESAVADRO AVADRADO DE SITIO (frontage of column)
    7–SOBRAS (overs)
    9–COSTADO DE ESVADRON AVADRADO DE GENTE (flank or side of square)
    10–SOBRAS (overs)

    Column 1 gives the total number of troops starting at 100 and rising by 50 to 300. The figures in the corresponding column of the remaining tables ascend by fifties until 1,100 is reached, and then by hundreds to 15,200 which is the highest figure on the baton.

    The second column gives the number of ranks, always uneven in number. These are 3, 5, 7 and 9 until the number of troops has reached 12,000 when it becomes 5, 7, 9 and 11. The third column states the numbers in each rank, and the fourth, the overs or surplus. For example, 100 troops formed into 9 ranks will give 11 in each rank and 1 over.

    The columns 2-4 refer to troops in line, 5-7 to those in column, and 8-10 to those in square. For example, 100 troops in column will have a front of 7, and flank of 14, with two over. In the same way 100 troops in square will have a front and flank of 10 with none over. Or, to take an example from higher up the scale, 7,200 troops would provide 7 ranks of 1,028 with 4 over; a column of 60 abreast would have a flank of 120 with none over, while a square would have a front of 84, a side of 85 with 60 over. The higher figures are cramped for want of space, and about 3,040 groups of figures are given in an area of about 100 square inches.

    Spanish, about 1590.

    Skelton, Preface, pp. xii-xv, and pl. XXXI; Laking, European Armour IV, fig. 1405.

    Provenance: Sir S. R. Meyrick, who stated in 1830 that this baton, together with a whole-length portrait of Philip II– an 'exquisite picture probably by Alonzo Sanches Coello, the court painter'– was given by Philip to the Duke of Alba, and that both were purchased from the effects of the late duchess at Madrid. This tradition has yet to be confirmed. Purchased by Sir Richard Wallace from T. M. Whitehead, 8 Duke St., St. James's (The Duke of Alva's baton, russet steel damascened with gold, covered with arithmetical figures. Meyrick Colln. 704 [sic], £260, receipted bill, 30 July, 1783).

    The arms are those of Don Rodrigo Ponce de León, the third Duke of Arcos, who was born in 1545, succeeded in 1573, received the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1601, and died in 1630. As the arms are not represented within the collar of the Golden Fleece the baton was almost certainly made prior to 1601. It bears a wired-on label with the number 893, and another numbered 519; these have no reference to the number it bore when the Meyrick Collection was exhibited at South Kensington in 1869, where it was no. 744.
    The tables on this baton are taken from one of the many military tracts published in the second half of the 16th century. That of Girolamo Cataneo was first printed in 1571 at Brescia: Modo di formare con prestezza le moderne Battaglie di Picche, Archibugieri et Cavalleria, and afterwards published in an English translation in 1588, entitled Most briefe Tables to know redily how many ranckes of footemen... go to the making of a just battaille. Another was published by Marco Tullio Berardi at Bologna in 1603; Trattato Militare, nel quale si contengono varii modi di formare Battaglie o Squadroni con facilita di nuova inventione. A similar baton of the Conde de Lemos is in the possession of the present Duchess of Alba, and one made for Vespasiano Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, is in the Royal Armouries.