EXAMPLES OF IMPERIAL MILITARY DRESS c.1578

Text by Simon Chick

Arquebusier No.6 1986

    In 1578 Joseph Amman of Nuremburg first published his book of woodcuts called 'Kuntsbuchlin' which comprised of a collection of civilian and military costumes, heraldic devices and religious studies.* The book was intended for the growing numbers of general book purchasers. The woodcuts included several examples of military dress from troops both within and outside the borders of the Holy Roman Empire during the latter half of the sixteenth century. This article reproduces some of the woodcuts in order to provide examples of arms, armour and dress of imperial troops of circa 1578, most of which have not been used in recent studies of the period.

    Figure 1: This figure illustrates a 'Landsknecht' mercenary, typical of the majority of the Imperial infantry throughout the sixteenth century and who also saw employment in most European armies. His dress displays the fashionable padded jerkin and sleeves with 'slashing' that allowed linings to show through and which led to highly colourful costumes. His right leg is covered with a loose fitting plunderhose with ribbons tied at the knee, while his other leg has a tight fitting hose. He also has a wide brimmed soft hat decorated by ostrich feather plumes. His only weapon is a sword, but it is probable that he would have carried a dagger and a pike, or halberd.

    Figure 2: This woodcut (with figure 3) represents a reiter whose main arm were pistols fired in caracole tactics. He is armed with a pair of flintlock pistols. For protection he wears a large mail collar stretching down to his chest. In addition he wears a tall fur hat and long riding boots.

    Figure 3: This 'reiter' is less well protected in contrast to the previous illustration. He holds a flintlock pistol, in a rather peculiar way, as one of a pair. He is armed with a breast and back plates and wears large puffed sleeves of Landsknecht influence with a ruffed collar and a low crowned felt or fur hat. He also carries a dagger or short sword.

    Figure 4: This illustration shows a pair of mounted arquebusiers with the left-hand figure armed with a matchlock firing mechanism. Both men are wearing breastplates and morions with high combs and etched decoration and plumes. Both also wear loose fitting sleeves, of which the left-hand man has ruffed collar and cuffs, as well as a padded doublet. Other weapons include a sword and what may be the butt of a pistol on the right-hand figure. Both men wear tight fitting long riding boots with spurs.

    Figure 5: These men are similarly arquebusiers but are more heavily armoured than those of figure 4. The man on the left wears a tall 'pork-pie' type hat, a back and breast plate as well as plate armour pauldrons, vambraces and gauntlets over a mail shirt, which is also visible below the backplate. The right-hand figure is armed with an open-faced burgonet with a comb and plume. He too wears a breastplate, of globular shape with a shallow neck common to the period c.1540-1580. He also wears pauldrons and gauntlets over mail sleeves. Both men carry arquebuses and a pair of pistols with the right-hand figure sporting an additional pistol tucked through his waistbelt. For close combat the men carry long swords and daggers.

    Figure 6: This man is described in the contemporary etching as a "Knight with lance". He wears a fashionable suit of armour which includes a close helmet or armet with a ribbed visor and plume. Instead of sebaton he wears pointed leather shoes. Over his armour he has a square necked jerkin with deep slashings on the chest and sleeves with obvious landsknecht influences. He carries a heavy lance and a long sword.

    Figure 7: A cavalryman armed with what appears to be a stirrup crossbow. His costume is typically German and illustrates fashionable slashes as well as parti-coloured jerkins and tight-fitting hose. The wide brimmed hat has a bolt pinned to it which appears to have been common practice in the sixteenth century. He has a sword and a dagger at his waist.

    Figure 8: As well as Imperial costumes Amman also included peoples on the borders of the Holy Roman Empire. This man is a Hungarian hussar or nobleman. He is armed with a lance and sabre and is protected by a curved eastern-style shield. The costume comprises of an animal fur cloak over an ankle length caftan that is fastened by frogging at the chest and has a sash at the waist. He also wears a low Hungarian cap with an upturned brim and plume.

    Figure 9: This etching illustrates a pair of Hungarian cavalrymen, possibly hussars or officers. The left-hand figure wears a long, probably ankle-length caftan with frogging similar to Turkish dress. He is armed with a sword and carried a wedge-shaped mace. The horse is decorated with a leopard skin which is draped over the horse's head and secured by a large plume. The figure on the right has a richly decorated cloak with a fur collar over a knee length caftan, under which is visible a skirt and tight-fitting trousers and shoes. Both men wear Hungarian caps decorated with eagle feathers and a long ostrich plume. The right-hand figure is armed merely with a sabre but on the field is likely to have carried a lance as does figure 8.

    Figure 10: This figure shows an example of Amman's interpretation of Ottoman Turkish costumes which tended to be rather fanciful and exaggerated many facets of Turkish fashions. This man is probably representative of a feudal spahi. He wears a long caftan with long flowing sleeves which is likely to have covered any mail armour. He also has an overlarge turban with enormous plumes, both of which are undoubtedly creations of the artist's imagination. He carried a lance to which is attached a pennant decorated with a crescent and pointed star and a curved sabre.

    * Reprinted by Dover Publications (New York, 1968)


Other resources:
Light Horsemen by Albrecht Dürer, 1489
Knight, Death and the Devil by Albrecht Dürer, 1513
The Adventures of the Knight Theuerdank, 1517
The Triumph of Maximilian
Emperor Charles V in procession after his coronation by Pope Clement VII in Bologna on 24 February 1530, by Nicolaus Hogenberg
The Entry of Emperor Charles V into Augsburg, 1530, by Jörg Breu
Landsknechts & German Lancers in 'Sermon of John the Baptist', by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1549
The Universal Soldier by George Gush
The Imperialists by George Gush
Index of Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers