“Of the Army Strength and Wars” During the Dutch Period.- Robert Knox.

“The King’s  power consists in the natural  strength  of his country, in his Watches, and in the Craft, more than the courage of his soldiers.


“He hath no artificial Forts or Castles, but Nature hath supplied the want of them. For the whole country of Cande-uda stands upon such high hills, and those so difficult to pass, that it is all an impregnable fort : and so is more especially Digligyneur his present palace.


a.There  are constant watches set in convenient places in all parts of the country, and Thorn-gates; but in time of danger, besides the ordinary watches, others are added in all towns, and in all places, and in every cross road exceeding  thick, so that it is not possible for any one to pass unobserved. These thorn-gates which I here mention and have done before. are made of a sort of thorn-bush, or thorn-tree; each stick or whereof thrusts out on all sides round about sharp prickles, like iron rails, of three or four inches long: one of these very thorns I have lately  seen in the repository  at Gresham College. These sticks or branches being as trig as a good cane, arc platted one very close to another, and so being fastened and  tied to three or four upright spars are made in the fashion of a door. This is hung upon a door case ten or twelve feet high, (so that, they may, and do ride through upon elephants )made of three pieces of timber like a gallows. after this manner TT, the thorn door hanging upon the transverse piece like a shop window. and so they lift it up, or clap it down as there is occasion. and tie it with a rope to a cross bar”

“But especially in all roads and passages from the city which the King now inhabits, very strict watches ale kept, which suffer none to pass without a passport, which is the print of a seal in clay : it is given at the court to them who have license to go through the watches. The Seals are different, according to the profession of the party : to a soldier is given the print of a man with a pike on his shoulder : to a labourer, a man with two bags hanging on each end of a pole upon his shoulder, which is the manner they commonly carry their loads. To a white man, the passport is the print of a man with a sword by his side, and a hat on his head, and as many men as there are in the company, so many prints there must be in the clay.”

Commanders and Role

“Besides the Dissawas, spoken of before, who are great generals, there are other great captains, as those they called Mote Ralls, as much as to say Scribes, because they keep the rolls or registers of certain companies of soldiers, each containing nine hundred and seventy men. who are under their command. Of these Mote-Ralls, there are four principal. But besides these there are smaller Commanders over soldiers, who receive their appointments from the King, and are not  under the command of the former great ones.

“All these both commanders and common soldiers must wait at  the court with this difference. The great men must do it continually, each one having his particular watch appointed by the King. But the Private soldiers take their turns of watching, and when they go, they carry all their provisions for the time of their stay with them upon their backs. These soldiers are not listed, but are by succession the son after the father. For which service they enjoy certain lands and  inheritances, which are instead of wages or pay. If they omit or neglect this duty, they lose or forfeit their inheritance ; of if they please to be released or discharged they may, by parting with their land .Then their commander placeth another in their room, but as long as the land lies void, he converts the profits to his own use. He who takes it afterwards gives a bribe to the commander who ,yet notwithstanding will not permit him to hold it ,above two or three Years, unless he renews his bribe”.


“The soldiers of the high lands, called Cande-uda, are dispersed all over the land. so that one scarcely knows the other, the King not suffering many neighbours and townsmen to be in one company’ which hath always heretofore been so ordered for fear of conspiracies.

When the King sends any of these commanders with their armies abroad to war or otherwise,  sometimes they see not his face, but he sends out their orders to them by a messenger another times he Admits them to his presence and gives them their orders with his own mouth, nothing in writing. And when several of them are sent together upon any design, there is not any one appointed to be chief Commander or General over the whole army; but each one as being chief over his  own men, disposeth and ordereth them according to his pleasure. This sometimes begets disagreement among themselves, and by these means their designs are frustrated. Neither doth the King like or approve that the great Commanders of his soldiers should be very intimate or good fiends, lest they should conspire against him, nor will he allow them to disagree in such a manner as to be publickly known and observed.

“When there are any tidings to send the King, they do not send in general together by consent, but each one sends particularly by himself; and their common practice is to inform what they can one against another thinking thereby to obtain the most favour and good will from the King.”

When the armies are sent abroad, as he doth send them very often against the Dutch, it goeth very hard with the soldiers, who must carry their victuals and pots to dress it upon their backs besides their arms, which are swords, pikes, bows and arrows, and good guns.


As for tents, for their armies always lie in the field, they carry with them Tallipat leaves, which are very light and convenient with these they make their tents, fixing sticks into the ground and laying other pieces of wood athwart, after the manner of the roof of a house, and so lay their leaves over all to shoot the rains off; making these tents stronger or slighter according  to the time of their tarriance.


Having spent what provisions they carried out with them, they go home to fetch more so that after a month or two a great part of the army is always absent'”


“In their war but little valour is used, although they do accomplish many notable exploits. For all they do is by crafty stratagems. They will never meet their enemies in the field to give them a repulse by battle and force of arms; neither is the enemy like to meet with any opposition at their first going out to invade the King’s coasts the king’s soldiers knowing the adverse forces are at first wary and vigilant  as also well protected with all necessaries. But their usual practice is to way-lay them, and stop up the ways before them, there being convenient places in alI the roads, which they have contrived for such purposes.

At these places the woods are not suffered to be felled, but kept  to shelter them from the sight of their enemies. Here they lie lurking and plant their guns between the rocks and trees, with which they  do great damage to their enemies  before they are aware. Nor can they then suddenly rush in upon them, being so well guarded with bushes and rocks before them, through which before their enemies can get they flee, carrying their great guns upon their shoulders and are gone into the woods. where it is impossible to find them, until they come themselves to meet them after the former manner.

“They likewise prepare against the enemy’s coming great bushy trees. having them ready cut  hanging only by withes which grow in the wood; these as they march along they let fall among them with many shot and arrows’.

“Being sent upon any design they  are very circumspect to keep it hidden from the enemy’s knowledge. by suffering only those to pass who may make for their benefit and advantage : their great endeavour being to take their enemies un-provided and at unawares.

Battle Experience Commanders

“By the long wars first between them and the Portuguese, ad  since with the Hollander, they have had such ample experience as hath much improved them in the art of war above what they were formerly. Many of the chief commanders and leaders of their armies  are men who formally  served the Portuguese against them. By which  they come to know the disposition and discipline of Christian  armies, insomuch that they have given the Dutch  several overthrows and taken forts from them which they had up in the country.

“If the king’s men do not successfully accomplish the design he sends them upon, to be sure they shall have a lusty piece of work given them to take revenge on them; for not using, their weapon well : he exercises them with other tools, houghs and pickaxes about his palace. During the time they stay to work  they must bring their victuals with them, not having  money there to by. They cannot carry a a quantity sufficient for above  one month, and when their provisions are al  spent if they will have any  more, they must go home and fetch them. But that is not permitted them without giving a fee to the Governor or his Overseer. Neither can they go without his leave, for besides this punishment, Watches which are in every road from Kings city will stop and seize them”.


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