Thursday 2 March 2017

WIP - Early Landsknechts

During my ramblings on this blog I have mentioned a few times how it would be great if a manufacturer would produce some early Landsknechts, representing those that would have fought in the earlier clashes of the Italian Wars. I have been watching The Assault Groups progress on just such figures for a few years now and was keen to get started on them when they were released at the end of last year, . If you have followed this blog for a while, you will know I like to try and get into the finer details of the sometimes quite outlandish styles of both the Landsknechts and the Reisläufer. So while I paint my way through a big block of these colourful chaps it is a good time to look at some contemporary images of the early Landsknechts and compare them to the figures TAG have made to represent them.

Most wargamers are familiar with Landsknechts. They are an iconic troop type with their puffed and slashed doublet and hose, exaggerated cod pieces, large two handed swords, beards and jauntily worn hats. Of course this is a stereotype. They were seen on European battlefields for nearly a century and during this time, unsurprisingly, their fashions changed radically. What interests me, especially as a 15th Century reenactor, is how they took the late 15th Century doublet and hose, worn in the 1490s, and by 1500 were already starting to demonstrate a style that was quite radical in comparison.

There are lots of images that show this development and show what these troops would have looked like from the late 1490s through to around 1510, the period I think these miniatures best represent. I have included quite a lot of such images below. I hope you don't find it overkill, but personally I love these early pictures and find it fascinating to pick out the little details. These details can often be seen in other contemporary art that is in a completely different format or to a very different standard but helps to give further credence to some of the styles or fashion quirks that initially seem quite bizarre.

Before continuing to discuss these early Landsknecht styles it is worth pointing out their relationship to the Reisläufer or Swiss mercenaries. The Landsknecht were initially developed as a response to the Swiss in the 1480s, following their victories over the Burgundians in the 1470s. While the Reisläufer are seen as distinct from the Landsknecht, which was undoubtedly the case, they were still technically part of the Holy Roman Empire and it is hard to tell how much cross pollination there was in terms of their style and that of the Landsknechts, especially those raised in South Germany. I have attempted to discuss the difference in appearance of the Landsknechts and Swiss on this blog before: Who influenced who and were they really that different are probably impossible questions to answer, especially in the first decade of the Sixteenth Century, but they are questions worth bearing in mind as well.

Infantry from the Kriegsbuch, 1496

What I love about this first image, from the Kriegsbuch of 1496, is that although the style of art still looks essentially very late medieval, some of the early Landsknecht fashions can already been seen. Apart from the soldiers in full harness, all appear to have a leg left bare, wearing just "breeches" and not the entire lower part or "stocking" of their hose. The musicians especially, with their plumed hats and part coloured outfits are starting to look like more like the classic Landsknechts most, well most wargamers at least, would recognise.

Beheading of John the Baptist c.1500 Master MZ Munich

As we move more definitely into the 16th century, there are plenty of contemporary images that start to demonstrate a clear style for the Landsknechts. The large puffs and slashes with lots of material showing through are not yet apparent but smaller puffs and slashes certainly are. To me it seems the puffed shoulders look very similar to the 15th century maheutres or mahoitres that can be seen in Burgundian and French chronicles of the 1470s and 1480s. Perhaps showing that these type of clothes don't just spring from nowhere but are following developments in the 15th century.

The doublets start to become more unique in the way a large part of the chest and back is left uncovered with just the lining showing. Alternatively a lighter "coat" is worn over the doublet. It is hard to tell. From the beheading image above and the Dürer images below it seems that the former is the case - that the doublet is essentially split in two with the chest and back showing a different material from the rest of the garment. It looks to be the lining as it appears to be underneath the shoulders and sleeves. The clothes look so tight that it seems difficult to see them as separate garments. Saying that however, a study of the Zeugbuch images would argue the opposite. That the Landsknechts do indeed where tight short coats over their doublet and hose.

Dürer Landsknechts c.1500
Dürer Landsknechts 1500-1503
Dürer Landsknecht Standard Bearer c.1502-1503

Arquebusiers from the Zeugbuch, 1502

Landsknecht Pikeman, Zeugbuch 1502

Landsknecht Halberdier, Zeugbuch 1502, note the bizarre octopus like sleeves!

Landsknecht "Doppelhaken" and crew, Zeugbuch 1502, as in the image above one of the crew has quite bizarre octopus like sleeves.

Landsknecht "Doppelhaken" and crew, Zeugbuch 1502

Landsknecht Arquebusier, Zeugbuch 1502

From as early as the 1496 Kriegsbuch it seems that the hose are no longer always worn as a single garment but instead are separated into "breeches" and then lower "stockings". This is clearly demonstrated in lots of the contemporary art. The Assault Group have done a fantastic job of depicting plenty of Landsknechts in these multi part hose, sometimes with them unlaced, sometimes with them rolled down and sometimes just wearing the breeches with one leg left bare.

When first looking at these images sometimes quite bizzare details seem to simply be artistic licence. A good example of this are the octopus like sleeves that two of the Landsknechts in the Zeugbuch are wearing. This is definitely one of the more extreme Landsknecht quirks that I have seen and doesn't seem to appear in many other pieces of art from this period. However, if you look closely at the officer in one of Paul Dolnsteins excellent sketches from c.1504 (see below), he is indeed wearing exactly the same style of doublet or coat with sleeves that end in these really quite impractical tenticles! It does seem that some of them dressed like that.

Landsknecht Ensign and Officer, Paul Dolnsteins diary, c.1504. Note the lower hose laced to the breeches and the sleeves of the officer.

Landsknechts at practise with pikes, Paul Dolnsteins diary, c.1504

Landsknechts duelling with pikes, Paul Dolnsteins diary, c.1504

Landsknecht Standard Bearer and Officer, Paul Dolnsteins diary, c.1504

Those images from the very early 1500s that are in colour are particularly useful as another Landsknecht trait was their love of colourful outfits. In my post on Mounted Crossbowmen from the start of the 16th Century I used some images taken from Kriegsbuch, a superb blog by Daniel S. I have again returned to this source and used some of his photos of a painting from 1502 illustrating a conflict between the city of Nuremburg and the forces of Kasimir von Bradenburg-Kulmbach. The two posts that discuss the infantry can be found here: and here . From these images and from those of Diebold Schillings Illustrated Chronicle, also shown below, it seems that although some Landsknechts wore extremely colourful multi part and striped outfits, others were less outlandish. In these images they are also shown in one coloured doublet and hose. Again this could be artistic licence with the artist simply choosing not to show all of them in these more complex designs simply to save time. The Zeugbuch, however, shows both simpler and more complex styles, supporting the argument that they weren't all quite so flamboyant.

Detail of German Infantry with a captive man at arms from a painting of 1502 showing a battle between the forces of the the city of Nuremburg and Kasimir von Brandenburg-Kulmbach

Detail from the same painting as above showing German Infantry, 1502. Note how many of them are shown in outfits of one colour.

Another detail from the painting depicting the battle before the gates of Nuremburg, showing German infantry c.1502

Landsknechts, early 1500s, from the Illustrated Chronicle by Diebold Schilling, note how they are wearing the red cross of the Swabian League rather than the Hapsburg saltire.

Landsknechts, early 1500s, from the Illustrated Chronicle by Diebold Schilling. It may simply be artistic licence but in this image they are shown in much less flamboyant outfits.

A further signature of the Landsknechts is the Katzbalger. The short sidearm that they wore, often quite provocatively. What is interesting about the very early Landsknechts is that they carried a style of sword that was developing into the Katzbalger but was not quite yet at that distinctive style. In most of these images, swords with "S" shaped crossguards can be seen but the more horizontal S shaped guards of the true Katzbalger have not yet developed. Furthermore the blades of the swords are still relatively long in many of the images, the Katzbalger of the 1510s and 1520s was a relatively short bladed weapon. The image below from "The Mocking of Christ" shows one of these swords very clearly. The one worn by this Landsknecht in 1509 already has a shorter blade but the crossguards are still in a vertical "S" rather than the more horizontal "S" or figure of eight horizontal guard that came later. The Assault Group figures have captured this detail really nicely and all of the swords have these "S" shaped guards.

Landsknecht from Lucas van Leydens "The Mocking of Christ" 1509

So how have I chosen to start painting up these figures? Despite my loathing of painting fine detail I have really had to bite the bullet on this unit and paint lots and lots of stripes! A quick glance at the contemporary images and it is undeniable that they loved all sorts of vertical, diagonal and horizontal stripes. No examples of horizontally striped miniatures have been included yet, but I am working on some at the moment. I still think the horizontal stripes look odd but one look at the Zeugbuch Arquebusiers or a few of Paul Dolnsteins companions and it is clear that they did wear them.

A detail that has been left off is painting the Hapsburg saltire on any of these miniatures, mainly in case I want to shove them into the back ranks of a Reisläufer block. Interestingly in the Diebold Schilling images shown above they wear red crosses rather than saltires but are marching under the Hapsburg saltire - my guess is that the red cross is for the Swabian League but I may be wrong. The saltires don't seem universal in the contemporary images so I am happy to leave them off.

Early Landsknechts showing off their stripes and in "breeches" with the lower hose or "stockings" unlaced or not worn at all.

The Assault Group Early Landsknechts all carrying swords with "S" shaped cross guards.

In some images of early Landsknechts they are shown in quite simple, one coloured, doublet and hose. I have chosen to paint up some of the figures in this more simple style.

Of course a few head swaps using Perry Miniatures plastic heads from their Wars of the Roses range had to be made. I wanted to increase the already quite wide variety in the figures and as they are for the very early 1500s was keen to include some late 15th century sallets and steel skulls.  There are museum examples of painted munition quality helmets from c.1500 so a few painted sallets have also made it into the pike block. The pikes have yet to be painted up and added but an assortment of polearms is also carried by some of the troops.

A few Landsknechts with assorted polearms and one two handed swordsman

For this post, in an attempt to better illustrate some of my ramblings, I thought I would try something different by including a couple of images that show how the miniatures try to reflect what is seen in the art of the period. On a PC they will probably work more effectively as the image can be looked at in more detail but if this is read on a phone or Ipad I am guessing they may look slightly strange! Below these images is another way of  attempting the same result, simply by having the contemporary image before the photo of the figures. I am not entirely sure these collage style images work, let me know what you think. 

I still have another three bases of pike to complete and then a couple of skirmishing bases of arquebusiers, but feel like the hardest part of this block is complete. Now to get back to painting some more of those bloody stripes!

The contemporary images of early Landsknechts show them wearing these open doublets or perhaps they are short coats over a tighter doublet. Often the material of the hose carries through to this. I have tried to reflect this on some of the miniatures and have included details from contemporary images to, hopefully, illustrate what I am trying to achieve!

All sorts of hat styles are shown in contemporary images. I like the fact The Assault Group have chosen to show these particularly odd fur looking ones as seen in these images, it seems often worn by officers.

Landsknecht Musicians, Paul Dolnsteins diary, c.1504

Landsknecht Musicians, early 1500s, hopefully they give a similar impression to those sketched by Paul Dolnstein!

The block of early Landsknechts so far

The progress so far on The Assault Group early Landsknechts


  1. Great post. Fantastic background info on these early landschnecks. Love the finished product too.

  2. Great post Oli, and your early Landsknechts are coming along very well!

  3. Wonderful subject and wonderful post! Great reading (love the Katzbalger's paragraph) and fabulous figures...excellent!

  4. Excellent post Oli!

    With reference to the open chest and back over-garment, similar items appear worn over armour by men at arms. Is it possible that these garments were also worn when armour was not and by the men who took them from the war dead?

    They would then pass from being just war booty, to being proof of having fought and then subsequently a signifying fashion item amongst Landsknechts in general.

    Just a thought...

    1. That is an interesting point Jim and one I had not thought off. I know exactly the type of garment you are referring to and while I have never been a fan of the theory that Landsknecht clothing was in part derived from "war booty", the origins of this particular garment could indeed stem from this. Those "coats" do indeed look very similar to the type of thing very late 15th century men at arms would wear. Its the best theory for them I have come across some far!

  5. Super Oli, great attention to detail using those original art works, i really like the quatered painted helmet in black and white too!

  6. Very nice indeed, I think with the fairly plain surfaces (as opposed to slashing of the later years) stripes are the way forward and you've certainly done that justice. Super looking unit !

  7. I think you've done a great job on these early landsknechts and the Perry head swaps work really well.
    Best Iain

  8. TAG chose not to include katzbalgers with their early Landsknechts, so as to differentiate with their later versions, even though this generic sword was around in the late 15th Century. Just like the gladius, there's no standard katzbalger: blade lengths varied, but never the length of a longsword, and varying S and Figure-8 shaped quillons - the problem is that there's hardly any surviving genuine originals.

    I like these figures, but would have to replace some of the sidearms with katzbalgers - no one makes 'em ATM - or design my own quillons - not that talented, even though it'd be the easiest/cheapest option - and remount the scabbards higher up and almost at an horizontal angle.

    1. Wargames Foundry provide separate (well they are attached to the feet of the miniatures) katzbalgers with a lot of their Landsknecht poses. If you are happy to use some of their figures as later Reislaufer and give them Perry Plastic swords you could use the left over metal Katzbalgers for the TAG figures. They are the only ones I can think of as a ready made option.

    2. Would you know which Landsknecht packs have separate katzbalger - the few I have the scabbards cast on the body?

      Maybe due to casting issues, the katzbalgers I've seen so far, have quillons that look like katana tsuba - the as yet to be released Pro Gloria plastics, for instance. Was thinking of making figure-8 and s-shaped quillons out of thin wire, but not looking forward to doing it 40+ times.

      Steel Fist are offering some attacking infnatry in the current kickstarter: IIRC, each figure will be supplied with a separate katzbalger and longsword, so could be fielded as either a Landsknecht or Reislaufer.

      Since katzbalger are parallel to the body, I suppose I could press-mould the rest, like what Stuart's been doing with the Perry figures on his blog.

      Since I'm not in an hurry, TAG will eventually release Pavia era Landsknechts and so will offer separate katzbalger.

    3. Going from the Foundry website at present - packs: REN 035, REN 043, REN 045 and REN 048, all have separate Katzbalgers. I am not 100% but I think REN 041, REN 044 and REN 047 do as well, but its been a long time since I painted any of them. The others all have them cast on the body.

      I don't think TAG will ever do Pavia era Landsknecht as I know Pete would prefer to "fill the gaps" that other manufacturers haven't done. I think up next are Swiss for the 1540s and then they are going to do Swiss for 1500 using the same dolls as they did for the Landsknecht.

    4. Thanks. According to this LAF thread, , Steel Fist is considering offering the katzbalgers and longswords for sale separately, though don't know yet if it's a pledge level on the kickstarter.

      Maybe Pete's plans changed, as the last time I had asked, over a year ago, he mentioned later Landsknechts. I had also asked about adding to existing ranges, such as dismounted and mounted men at arms in Italianate armor and more infantry in brigandine, since it was popular among Italians and existed in one form or another till the end of the century, but was told it's not going to happen.:-(

      Wondering why the output rate has slowed...

      The dolls shouldn't have had cast on swords, as it limits the possibility of easy conversions.

  9. Quite an impressive feat of early Landsknecht uniformology, Oli. Your painting of the stripning is equally impressive. Well done! This is a post I will return to as a reference. Good to see TAG has done proper research into the costume of these early warriors. You know your stuff!

  10. Fantastic post and research and wonderfully painted minis as ever! I'd like to think that the outward fashion and posture (incl. naming a weapon Katzbalger) was never accidental and loaded with scorn for all conventions. If one had to make a gangster movie of that period, they would dress up like them, to signal that they meant business.

  11. Oli, is there any way I can contact you in private?

    1. drop me an email at oliverfrg @ (without the gaps of course)

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  13. great stuff Oliver, really excellent thanks for the research


  14. Hello, I love your detailed posts and continue to use them as a reference.
    Thank you for all the effort!

    1. Thanks Andrew, I am really pleased my strange obsession with this era is of use!