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About Landsknechts
A Text by Herbert Norris
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I have slightly modified this text, ever so slightly, for ease of the reading, grammar, and space concerns. However the text was taken from the Herbert Norris book, Costume and Fashion.

The Landsknechts were mercenary soldiers, who served on foot and were of great repute during the early years of the sixteenth century. The word "lanzknechte" was also used for a German pikeman, billnman, or halberdier.

The Confederate Germans, frequently referred to as "Switzers," though usually called Swiss, were sorely oppressed by the various continental powers, especially the Empire. Perhaps their greatest enemy was Charles le Téméraire, Duke of Burgundy. When he invaded Switzerland in 1475-6 he was utterly routed at Granson after fierce fighting by the Swiss ; his army was destroyed, and his camp, abounding with untold riches, entirely sacked. Frantic destruction followed; and the Swiss, reduced by their poverty and hardships to rags and tatters, seized a wealth of treasure such as they had never before imagined. They demolished the wonderful pavilions in which the magnificent Duke and his equally magnificent entourage had been housed, and here follow the narrator's own words :

All his (Charles le Téméraire's) tents were of silk, of several colours, which, the battle being ended, being all torn to pieces by the Swiss soldiers, of a part of one colour they made them doublets, of the rest of the colours (pants,) hose and caps, returning hoe in hat habit; so ever in remembrance of that by them achieved, and their liberty recovered, even to this day they go still in their particolours , which consist of doublets and breeches, drawn Out with huge puffs of taffatee or linen, and their hose party coloured red and yellow, and other colours.'

At Nancy, Charles le Téméraire, received his death-blow on Twelfth Eve, 1477, and the Swiss recovered their liberty. It was proved on this memorable occasion that men on foot lightly armed were more than a match for knights in full armour.

The Swiss had made their reputation for bravery, and from this time they became much in demand as mercenaries, being engaged by various War-Lords of different nationalities. In 1487, at the recommendation, curiously enough, of their former invader's widow, Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy, they joined the forces of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, under the captaincy of Martin schwartz, in the Lambert Simnel rebellion, where, however, these mercenaries were annihilated at the Battle of Stoke by Henry VII's archers. The Swiss carried hand fire machines , of the latest type but the old-fashioned bow and arrow prevailed. A nasty knock for firearms!

The Swiss victory over fifteen thousand Austrians at Dornach in 1499 finally won their independence: and in the same year, at the Peace of Basle, the Emperor Maximilian tacitly acknowledged that the Confederation, although nominally subject to the Empire, was practically independent.

Maximilian had a very great regard for these brave and lusty mountaineers, although they had fought continuously against his ancestors, and the father of his wife, Marie of Burgundy; and as early as 1482 he had set his heart on training and organizing them into a company of foot-soldiers, which ultimately became the envy and terror of Europe, and the finest fighters in the world. By the year 1511 Swiss mercenaries were entirely associated with Germany, and the name "Landsknechte" was applied to them. They were sworn to the most severe discipline, but were allowed to retain their own costume, characterized by "excessive" slashings, puffings, particolour, and other eccentricities.

The fame of the Landsknechte, spread all over Europe, and much interest was taken in their extraordinary apparel. Originating as their costume did from dire necessity and patched together as best could be contrived from all manner of odd pieces, it revealed in voluntarily many a peep of equally disreputable undergarments. but the fame of their military achievements fired the imagination of the courts of Europe, and fashionable Society deliberately imitated what had been a makeshift making cutes and slashes important additions to the tailor's vocabulary.

Plate VII A represents a typical Landsknecht in characteristic complicated costume of the early sixteenth century, by which time the Company was thoroughly organized. The white, but often dirty yellow, shirt is full and gathered into an upstanding neckband. The sleeves of the shirt are also full, and either these or the coloured linings of the outer sleeves are pulled through 'I the straps of the sleeves and are visible. The scarlet jacket of the overdress is shaped to bulge round the figure: it is decorated with three different kinds of cutes. The top cutes of the jacket continue round the shoulder of the right sleeve. This sleeve is composed of narrow straps, all of them sufficiently long to bulge just above the elbow, part of the way down the forearm, and again at the wrist, where they are fixed to a narrow band. The left sleeve of purple, lined with orange, starts at the shoulder seam with a moderate-sized puff, followed by a smaller one, both with cutes: next comes a large puff of straps, then two small ones with cutes, almost elbow level: a large puff of straps comes almost to the wrist, where the sleeve finishes with two small puffs with cutes. The clothing of the hips is divided per pale by a codpiece. The right of green is cut longitudinally and fits close. At hip-bone level is a strong piped heading ; two puffs of straps finish above the knee with a small puff with cutes ; below the knee a puff of straps ; and on the lower part of the leg a plain blue hose. On the left leg from the waist to above the knee is a covering composed of spiral bands in blue, ornamented along its entire length with cutes showing yellow underneath, the hose striped scarlet and white pushing up the lowest puff. A tied garter of purple is worn on the left leg only.

The head is covered with a close-fitting blue cap of cloth edged with loops, and decorated with five cutes radiating from the centre (see Fig. 373). On this is placed, very much on the left side of the head, a hat of fawn felt with a normal basin-shaped crown, having a very wide brim cut at regular distances all round, each portion being turned back and fastened to the base of the crown so as to form stiff loops. (A similar hat is shown in Fig. 371.) Round the brim, at all angles, are placed ostrich plumes which vary in number, colour,and length. A cord, or cords, were often attached to the brim and hung in front so that the hat could be pushed off the head and lie on the back.

It was the general rule with this kind of costume to have the different parts in varying colours. Each section of straps would be loosely lined with a contrasting colour so that the lining could be pulled through the spaces between the straps.

The colours used were reds, blues, purples, greens, yellows, white, black, and buff, in all their variety of shades, but usually of the most glaring tones.

A battalion of these picturesque fellows arrayed in their gaudy clothes glowing beneath a forest of tremendously long lances of ash, often painted red, must have been an impressive sight. Fig. 224 shows two lines of them: those in the first row carry halberds, those in the second long lances. During a campaign in 1504, the Emperor Maximilian and his son entered Cologne in triumph, attended by Landsknechte in their multi-coloured costumes and carrying their red lances across their shoulders.

In 1505 a section of these Swiss mercenaries was engaged by Pope Julius II, who then founded the Papal Swiss Guard.


Norris, Herbert. Costume and Fashion, Vol. 3, The Tudors, Book I : 1485 - 1547. London : J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1938.

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2006 March 28