Th Century German Soldiers

In the 1460s-70s many German and Swiss small cities and towns employed mercenaries or small bands of their own townspeople as security forces. In such troubled times many citizens preferred to pay for substitutes rather than serve themselves. Swordsmen like this soldier, trained in fighting with the hand-and-a-half sword and practised during many inter-city squabbles, ┬╗ere sought-after professionals. In war he would also carry a halberd. Germany and Switzerland did not then exist as separate political nations; a soldier's loyalty would be firstly to whoever paid him. and secondly to the Emperor and those who spoke his language.

He wears good quality clothes and a fine sallet. breast and back plates and gauntlets, in the ribbed and pointed style much favoured by what might be called the 'common soldier' of the German-speaking world. His armour is well-fitted, cleverly hammered to shape to reduce the weight to a necessary minimum while keeping the most vulnerable points thick enough to withstand blows. His sallet skull is hammered out of one piece of metal, its compound curves graceful and subtle. Even the most workaday 'ammunition armour' retained these qualities.

Armour was transported wrapped in blanket material, packed in straw in barrels, or in baskets (though the Chronique tie Troyes of the 1470s mentions that French troops were specifically forbidden to carry theirs in paniers). On campaign it needed constant maintenance. Broken straps and buckles and the rivets holding the different plates together had to be replaced or repaired; a broken shoulder strap at an awkward moment could make an armour unwearable. (Photos Anne Embleton)

15th Century Soldier BohemiaMan Wearing His Belt Buckle Worn Side

(Top left) The most common protection for the neck was a mail collar ('standard'), usually lined, fastened with buckles, buttons or hooks at side or back, like this example. (Photo Gerry Embleton)

(Centre left) All men and women had small possessions to carry - money, keys, an eating knife, perhaps a spoon, a handkerchief ('muckinder'), a comb. etc. They carried them in a purse firmly fixed to their bell. A knife or dagger frequently hung behind the purse, out of the way. Only very rarely were cups and other items hung from the belt, and contemporary pictures of soldiers almost never show even a purse. Anything dangling from a waist belt could be too easily lost or stolen; no doubt such things were carried under the coat or jacket. Women frequently wore their purses hanging between their shirts and their skirts. Metal ornaments were popular, their weight helping to keep the llap of the purse down -in crudely cast lead, in pewter or brass for the humbler sort, in silver and gilt for the wealthy.

An early 16th century book lists what a servant should have ready for his master to carry when travelling - and it might equally apply to a well-paid 15th century household archer: 'Purse, dagger, cloak, night cap, kerchief, shoeing horn, wallet, shoes, spear, bag, hood, halter, saddle cloth, spurs, hat, horse comb, bow, arrows, sword, buckler, gloves, string, bracer, pen, paper, ink, parchment, red wax, pumice (eraser), books, penknife, comb, thimble, needle, thread, spare points, bodkin, knife, shoemaker's thread'. (Photo Anne Embleton) (Itottom left) These stout ankle boots have hobnails, 'clump' soles (two layers, sewn together internally), and are closed with two buckles and a point. (Photo Anne Embleton)

(Above) Deep kettle hats with or without eye slits and aventails were popular in the German-speaking Empire and Bohemia. (Photo Gerry Embleton)

Jack Sallet Buckler Sword

I Right) Officer of the Black Forest infantry contingent in the 1474 campaign, dressed in black and armed with pole-axe and sword. Note the slit sleeves of his hooded overgown.

Many town contingents were properly equipped and uniformed expeditionary forces. To give some picture of the 15th century army on the march and in camp, we cite one example among many. In 1431 Regensburg sent its contribution to the army going against the invading Hussites. Following the commander marched 73 horsemen and 71 crossbowmen with the banner. Next 16 handgunners preceded a wagon with a crucifix and a chaplain. Supporting personnel included smiths, leather workers, pike makers and armourers, tailors, cooks and butchers. There were six cannon with shot and lead; 41 wagons loaded with powder and more lead, 60,000 crossbow bolts and arrows, 300 fire arrows, 19 handguns, cowhides for the stables and lents, and corn for six weeks. Provisions included cooked meat and bacon. 1,200 cheeses. 80 stockfish, candles, vinegar, olive oil, saffron, ginger, Austrian wine and a vast supply of beer. Ninety oxen followed with their herders.

We have references to many uniformed contingents - e.g. Frankfurt in red and white, Nuremberg all in red. Strasbourg levies wore half-red, half-white tunics from the 14th century, as did the contingents raised by its guilds and the mercenaries paid by the city. In 1473 Augsburg wore red, white and green. In 1474 Walshut and the Black Forest soldiers were all in black, Colmar in red and blue. That year Johan von Venningen, Bishop of Basel, mobilised 1,000 men in red tunics with the colours of the bishopric on their left arms. In 1459 the Count Palatine of the Rhine sent 1,300 men to aid the Landgrave of Hesse all clothed in his blue and white. We also read of wagons uniformly painted, each with a recognition sign.

(Helow) Light armour, like this worn by two German swordsmen at practice cl470, was also popular for war. Many soldiers seem to have gone without leg protection for the sake of mobility.

(Photos Gerry Embleton)

Gerry Embleton

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