A native of Mikawa Province in Japan, he lived during the Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo periods. Ieyasu promoted him from daimyo of the Ōtaki han (100 000 koku) to the Kuwana han (150 000 koku) as a reward for his service. In addition, his son Honda Tadatomo became daimyo of Ōtaki. In 1609, he retired, and his other son Tadamasa took over Kuwana. His grandson, Tadatoki, married the granddaughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Senhime. Despite his years of loyal service, Tadakatsu became increasingly estranged from the Tokugawa shogunate (bakufu) as it evolved from a military to a civilian political institution. This was a fate shared by many other warriors of the time, who were not able to make the conversion from the chaotic lifetime of warfare of the Sengoku period to the more stable peace of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Such was Honda's reputation that he attracted notice from the most influential figures in Japan at the time. Oda Nobunaga, who was notoriously disinclined to praise his followers called him a "samurai among samurai". Moreover, Toyotomi Hideyoshi noted that the best samurai were "Honda Tadakatsu in the east and Tachibana Muneshige in the west". Even Takeda Shingen praised Honda, saying that "[h]e is a luxury of Tokugawa Ieyasu". It was widely acknowledged that he was a reputed samurai and a loyal retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Tadakatsu is often referred to as "The Warrior who surpassed Death itself" because he never once suffered a significant wound, despite being the veteran of over 100 battles by the end of his life, and because he was never defeated by another samurai. In theater and other contemporary works, Tadakatsu is often characterized as the opposite of Ieyasu's other great general, Ii Naomasa. While both were fierce warriors of the Tokugawa, Tadakatsu's ability to elude injury is often contrasted with the common depiction of Naomasa enduring many battle wounds, but fighting through them.
Honda Tadakatsu is generally regarded as one of Tokugawa Ieyasu's finest generals, and he fought in almost all of his master's major battles. He gained distinction at the Battle of Anegawa (1570), helping in the defeat of the armies under the Azai and Asakura clans along with Tokugawa's ally, Oda Nobunaga. Tadakatsu also served at Tokugawa's greatest defeat, the Battle of Mikatagahara (1572), where he commanded the left wing of his master's army, facing off against troops under one of the Takeda clan's more notable generals, Naito Masatoyo. Although that battle ended in defeat, Honda Tadakatsu was one of those Tokugawa generals present to exact vengeance upon the Takeda at the Battle of Nagashino (1575). Honda commanded a rank of musketeers as the combined Oda-Tokugawa forces annihilated Takeda Katsuyori's army, partly thanks to the skillful use of ranked muskets, as they fired in cycling volleys. One would fire while another was reloading and another was cleaning the barrel of the musket. This enabled the muskets to fire without stopping, destroying the Takeda army. This was the first example of this highly effective tactic that the world had seen.His finest moment came in the Komaki Campaign (1584). Left at Komaki while Ieyasu departed to engage Toyotomi troops at Nagakute, Tadakatsu observed a huge host under Hideyoshi himself move out in pursuit. With a handful of men, Tadakatsu rode out and challenged the Toyotomi army from the opposite bank of the Shonai River. Toyotomi Hideyoshi (who outnumbered Honda by up to 50 or 60 to 1) was said to have been struck by the bravery of this warrior, and ordered that no harm come to him, his men, or Ishikawa Yasumichi, who accompanied him on this bid to buy time for Ieyasu.
Honda Tadakatsu was present at the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), where Tokugawa Ieyasu's forces defeated the western alliance of daimyo under Ishida Mitsunari, allowing Tokugawa to assume control of the country, bringing the Sengoku era to a close.
Tadakatsu seems to have been a colorful figure, around whom a few legends have sprung up - it is often said that of all the battles in which he served, he never once received a wound. His helmet, famously adorned with deer antlers, ensured that he was always a recognizable figure on the field of battle. His horse was known as Mikuniguro. His spear was named Tonbo-Giri, or Dragonfly Cutter, because it was said that the tip of the spear was so sharp that a dragonfly that landed on it was cut in two. His fighting prowess with it was so great that it became known as one of the "Three Great Spears of Japan".
He was followed in service to the Tokugawa by his sons Tadamasa (1575-1638) and Tadatomo (1582-1615), both of whom would serve in the Osaka Campaigns (1614,1615).
In popular cultureEdit
He is a playable character in Pokémon Conquest (Pokémon + Nobunaga's Ambition in Japan), with his partner Pokémon being Metagross and Dialga. He is a playable character in Samurai Warriors in the service of Tokugawa Ieyasu and Warriors Orochi game series. He appears in Onimusha 3: Demon Siege and is playable in a bonus game accessible once the main story is completed.