Cheval de frise

Cheval de frise
Cheval de frise at the Confederate Fort Mahone defenses at Siege of Petersburg

The cheval de frise (plural: chevaux de frise) was a Medieval defensive obstacle consisting of a portable frame (sometimes just a simple log) covered with many long iron or wooden spikes or even actual spears. They were principally intended as an anti-cavalry obstacle but could also be moved quickly to help block a breach in another barrier. They remained in occasional use until they were replaced by wire obstacles just after the American Civil War. During the Civil War, it was most often used by the Confederates.[1] However, during World War I, chevaux de frise were used to temporarily plug gaps in barbed wire.[2] Chevaux de frise of barbed wire were used in jungle fighting on south Pacific islands during World War II.

The term is also applied to defensive works comprising a series of closely set upright stones found outside the ramparts of Iron Age hillforts in northern Europe.[3]


Cheval de frise according to the later use of the term, broken glass studding the top of a wall in a nineteenth century fort

French: Cheval de frise means "Frisian horse".[4][5] The Frisians, having little cavalry of their own, relied heavily on such anti-cavalry obstacles. The term also came to be used for any spiked obstacle, such as broken glass embedded in mortar on the top of a wall.


Hessian map showing the placement of cheveaux de frise in the Delaware River in 1777.

A variation of the chevaux de frise are Czech hedgehog anti-tank obstacles, typically composed of three rails, crossed in such a way that they form a six-spiked figure, possibly sealed in concrete or partly buried in sand or earth (very much like a metal abatis). They can also be mined. The Atlantic Wall used millions of such obstacles to slow down landing of armored and mechanized troops, which would make them easy targets for machine guns and coastal artillery.

An anti-ship version was designed by Robert Erskine as a means of keeping British warships out of the Hudson River during the American Revolutionary War. The device was never deployed in the Hudson, but similar devices planned by Ben Franklin were used in the Delaware River near Philadelphia, in between Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer.[6] A cheval de frise was retrieved from the Delaware River in Philadelphia on November 13, 2007 in excellent condition, after more than two centuries in the river.[7]

The "knife rest" or "Spanish rider" is a modern wire obstacle functionally similar to the cheval de frise, and sometimes called that.


  1. ^ Mahan, Peter, Chevaux-de-frise, NPS, .
  2. ^ Thomas Boyd (2000). Through the Wheat. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 226. ISBN 0-8032-6168-3. 
  3. ^ Timothy Darvill (2002). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-1995-3404-3. 
  4. ^ Chevaux de Frise, Charleston footprints, 2011-2-24, .
  5. ^ Friesian horse.
  6. ^ Lossing, "III", Field Book of the Revolution, II, Roots web, .
  7. ^ "Revolutionary War Artifact from the Depths of the Delaware River". Independence Seaport Museum. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 

Friesian Horse Breed

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Cheval-de-frise — Che*val de frise , n.; commonly used in the pl. {Chevaux de frise}. [F.; cheval horse + Frise Friesland, where it was first used.] (Mil.) A piece of timber or an iron barrel traversed with iron pointed spikes or spears, five or six feet long,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • cheval-de-frise — [shə val΄ də frēz′] n. pl. chevaux de frise [shə vō΄də frēz′] [Fr < cheval, a horse + de, of + Frise, FRIESLAND: first used by Frisians, who lacked cavalry, against Spaniards] 1. an obstacle, usually a piece of wood with projecting spikes,… …   English World dictionary

  • cheval de frise — 1680s, from French, lit. horse of Frisia, supposedly because it was first employed there as a defense against cavalry. Plural chevaux de frise …   Etymology dictionary

  • Cheval de frise — ● Cheval de frise défense accessoire, formée d un axe muni de croisillons appointés, garnis de ronce artificielle …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Cheval de frise — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Cheval De Frise est un duo français de rock expérimental ; Les chevaux de frise sont un type de barrières, utilisées depuis le Moyen Âge. Catégorie  …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Cheval De Frise (groupe) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Cheval de frise. Cheval De Frise est un groupe de rock français formé à Bordeaux en 1998. Le groupe est un duo : Thomas Bonvalet à la guitare classique amplifiée et Vincent Beysselance à la batterie. L… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • cheval-de-frise — che•val de frise [[t]ʃəˈvæl dəˈfriz[/t]] n. pl. che•vaux de frise [[t]ʃəˈvoʊ dəˈfriz[/t]] for Usu., chevaux de frise. a portable defensive obstacle, typically a beam from which rows of sharpened stakes protrude, used in field fortifications or to …   From formal English to slang

  • cheval-de-frise — /sheuh val deuh freez /, n., pl. chevaux de frise /sheuh voh deuh freez /. Usually, chevaux de frise. a portable obstacle, usually a sawhorse, covered with projecting spikes or barbed wire, for military use in closing a passage, breaking in a… …   Universalium

  • cheval-de-frise — noun (plural chevaux de frise) Etymology: French, literally, horse from Friesland Date: 1668 1. a defense consisting typically of a timber or an iron barrel covered with projecting spikes and often strung with barbed wire 2. a protecting line (as …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • cheval-de-frise — che·val de frise …   English syllables

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