History Highlights, Notes on German Culture

Landsknechte are probably best known for the variety and flamboyance of their unconventional uniforms

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Image from a book, History of Clothing, from a page showing outfits from the first third of the 16th century. The three men at the right are Landsknechte, demonstrating the very colorful and unique clothing that was worn by these mercenary soldiers.

Landsknechte became an important military force through late 15th- and 16th-century Europe. At the height of their success, the Landsknechte ranked among the most-effective foot soldiers in the world. Consisting predominantly of German mercenary pikemen and supporting foot soldiers, they fought in phalanxes, integrating mobility with shock, their squares of hundreds of pikemen and halberdiers could rebuff heavy cavalry charges, allowing the artisans and peasants who made up the squares to take down knights. The weight of those tight disciplined formations pressed down on opponents, transforming the pike square into a weapon in its own right.

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This drawing of Hauptmann (Captain) Hans Werfeld, by Carl Röchling, shows that their leaders were usually the most flamboyant.

These five “double-paid soldiers” are each holding a two-hand sword. The image demonstrates the vivid colors that were an integral part of the Landsknecht “look”, as documented in 1501 by Hans Burckmaier in this excerpt from the horizontal scrollwork ‘Triumph of Emperor Maximilian”.

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Landsknechte schooled in the use of the Zweihänder, a two-handed sword, were entitled to double pay and thus qualified as Doppelsöldner. The fencing guild of the Brotherhood of St. Mark had the monopoly on the use of the Zweihänder after Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, granted it to them in 1487.

The Zweihänder was allegedly used by the Doppelsöldner to break through formations of pikemen, especially Swiss pikemen, by either being swung to break the ends of the pikes themselves or to knock them aside and attack the pikemen directly.

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