The Landsknecht, (pronounced [ˈlantsknɛçt] ), plural: Landsknechte, were mercenary soldiers who became an important military force through late 15th- and 16th-century Europe. Consisting predominantly of German mercenary pikemen and supporting foot soldiers, they were the universal mercenaries of early modern Europe, sometimes fighting on both sides of a conflict.
Infantry is a military specialization that engages in military combat on foot, distinguished from cavalry, artillery, and tank forces. Also known as foot soldiers or infanteers, infantry traditionally relies on moving by foot between combats as well, but may also use mounts, military vehicles, or other transport. Infantry make up a large portion of all armed forces in most nations, and typically bear the largest brunt in warfare, as measured by casualties, deprivation, or physical and psychological stress.
Early modern Europe is the period of European history between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, roughly the late 15th century to the late 18th century. Historians variously mark the beginning of the early modern period with the invention of moveable type printing in the 1450s, the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the end of the Wars of the Roses in 1487, the beginning of the High Renaissance in Italy in the 1490s, the end of the Reconquista and subsequent voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Americas in 1492, or the start of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. The precise dates of its end point also vary and are usually linked with either the start of the French Revolution in 1789 or with the more vaguely defined beginning of the Industrial Revolution in late 18th century England.
The Germanic compound Landsknecht (earlier Lantknecht, without Fugen-"s") combines Land and Knecht to form "servant of the land."The compound Lantknecht was used during the 15th century for bailiffs or court ushers.
A bailiff is a manager, overseer or custodian; a legal officer to whom some degree of authority or jurisdiction is given. Bailiffs are of various kinds and their offices and duties vary greatly.
A court usher is a position in a law court. Tasks generally performed by court ushers involve escorting participants to the courtroom, and seeing that they are suitably hydrated, as well as ensuring the secure transaction of legal documents within the courtroom and deciding the order of cases. The roles of an usher may vary with the type of court they serve. In Scottish courts the position is called "court officer" or "bar officer" or, for the higher courts, the "macer".
The word Landsknecht first appeared in the German language circa 1470 to describe certain troops in the army of Charles, Duke of Burgundy. As early as 1500, the term was morphed into Lanzknecht, referring to the unit's use of the pike as its main weapon.
German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.
Charles the Bold, baptised Charles Martin, was Duke of Burgundy from 1467 to 1477. He was the last Duke of Burgundy from the House of Valois.
Duke of Burgundy was a title borne by the rulers of the Duchy of Burgundy, a small portion of traditional lands of Burgundians west of river Saône which in 843 was allotted to Charles the Bald's kingdom of West Franks. Under the Ancien Régime, the Duke of Burgundy was the premier lay peer of the kingdom of France.
Over the Burgundian Wars, the well-organized and supplied armies of Charles the Bold were defeated again and again by the Swiss Confederation,which wielded an ad hoc militia army. Charles's army lacked esprit de corps because of its composition by feudal lords, mercenaries, and levied gentry. The Swiss army, though poorly organized, were highly motivated, aggressive, and well-trained with their arms. The Swiss pikemen, called Reisläufer, repeatedly defeated and eventually killed Charles, eliminating Burgundy as a European power. Archduke Maximilian I von Habsburg, who inherited Burgundy in 1477 by marrying Mary of Burgundy, was greatly influenced by the Swiss victories. When the French contested the inheritance, Maximilian levied a Flemish army and defeated the French in 1479 at the Battle of Guinegate using Swiss tactics. The dissolution of his levied army at war's end found Maximilian wanting a permanent and organized military force like the Confederation's to protect his domain. The existing Burgundian structure was inadequate to this end, however, and moreover the French wielded a monopoly on the hiring of Reisläufer.
The Burgundian Wars (1474–1477) were a conflict between the Dukes of Burgundy and the Old Swiss Confederacy and its allies. Open war broke out in 1474, and in the following years the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, was defeated three times on the battlefield and killed in the Battle of Nancy in 1477. The Duchy of Burgundy and several other Burgundian lands then became part of France, while the Burgundian Netherlands and the Franche-Comté were inherited by Charles's daughter Mary of Burgundy, and eventually passed to the House of Habsburg upon her death because of her marriage to Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.
Ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning literally "for this". In English, it generally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and not intended to be able to be adapted to other purposes.
Maximilian I was Holy Roman Emperor from 1508 until his death. He was never crowned by the pope, as the journey to Rome was always too risky. He was instead proclaimed emperor elect by Pope Julius II at Trent, thus breaking the long tradition of requiring a papal coronation for the adoption of the imperial title. Maximilian was the son of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, and Eleanor of Portugal. He ruled jointly with his father for the last ten years of the latter's reign, from c. 1483 to his father's death in 1493.
Maximilian began raising the first Landsknecht units in 1486,amassing 6,000–8,000 mercenaries. One of these units he gave to Eitel Friedrich II, Count of Hohenzollern, who trained them with Swiss instructors in Bruges in 1487 to become the "Black Guard" – the first Landsknechte. In 1488, Maximilian organized the Swabian League, creating an army of 12,000 infantry and 1,200 cavalry to deter Bavaria and Bohemia. This is considered to be the first Landsknecht army to be raised in Germany. Maximilian raised a strong army for the Austrian-Hungarian War of 1490, and succeeded in driving the Hungarians out of the Austria. The Landsknechte in his army refused to serve after sacking Stuhlweissenburg (now Székesfehérvár, Hungary), citing lack of pay and stopping Maximilian's advance on Budapest. To prevent a repeat of Stuhlweissenburg, Maximilian now sought to homogenize the Landsknechte into a fully professional, and mostly Germanic military force.
Eitel Friedrich II, Count of Hohenzollern was a count of Hohenzollern and belonged to the Swabian line of the House of Hohenzollern. He was the first president of the Reichskammergericht. As a close friend of the Archduke and later Emperor Maximilian I, he gained great influence in the imperial politics. He managed to consolidate and expand his own territory.
Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium, in the northwest of the country, and the seventh largest city of the country by population.
The Black Band was a formation of 16th century mercenaries, largely pikemen, probably serving as Landsknechts. They fought in the French army for ten years, seeing service in several notable engagements, including the Battle of Marignano and the Battle of Pavia.
In the 1490s, the well-trained Landsknechte managed to defeat significantly greater Frisian armies. Paul Dolnsteinwrote of the siege of Älvsborg Fortress in July 1502, fighting for the King of Denmark: "We were 1800 Germans, and we were attacked by 15000 Swedish farmers ... we struck most of them dead." In 1521, the Spaniards recruited German infantrymen to defend their country against the French because, as they stated "our infantry does not perform as well in its native country as abroad". At the Battle of Bicocca and the Battle of Marignano (1515), the Landsknecht performed well, defeating the famed Reisläufer.
The Battle of Bicocca or La Bicocca was fought on 27 April 1522, during the Italian War of 1521–26. A combined French and Venetian force under Odet of Foix, Viscount of Lautrec, was decisively defeated by an Imperial–Spanish and Papal army under the overall command of Prospero Colonna. Lautrec then withdrew from Lombardy, leaving the Duchy of Milan in Imperial hands.
The Battle of Marignano was fought during the phase of the Italian Wars (1494–1559) called the War of the League of Cambrai, between France and the Old Swiss Confederacy. It took place on 13–14 September 1515 near the town today called Melegnano, 16 km southeast of Milan. It resulted in a victory for the French forces.
The Imperial Landsknechte were instrumental in many of the Emperor's victories, including the decisive Battle of Pavia in 1525. The same year, they also managed to defeat the peasants' revolt in the Empire. At their peak in the early 16th century, the Landsknechte were considered as formidable soldiers who were often brave and loyal. However, these qualities may have declined afterward.
From the 1560s on, the reputation of the Landsknechte steadily decreased. In the French Wars of Religion and the Eighty Years War, their bravery and discipline came under criticism, and the Spanish elements of the army of Flanders regularly deprecated the battlefield usefulness of the Landsknechte, somewhat unfairly. Their status also suffered from the rising reputation of the dreaded Spanish tercios which, however, were far less abundant and more expensive to train. It should also be noted that when serving in southern Europe, Landsknechte were still considered as elite troops. In the army of the Dutch rebels, many German mercenaries were hired but were forced to give up some Landsknecht traditions in order to increase their discipline in River Crossing and their Naval fighting abilities.
They are attested as deployed in the armies of Kings John III of Navarre and successor Henry II of Navarre during their campaigns to reconquer Navarre (1512–1524). In the same context, they are also found fighting on Charles V's side (battle for Hondarribia, 1521–1524) where they performed strongly. They also served in high numbers in the Imperial army during the campaigns of Austria (1532), France (1542), Germanic Reformed League (1547) and in of all the Italian wars.
The army of the Holy Roman Emperor defeated the French army in Italy, but funds were not available to pay the soldiers. The 34,000 Imperial troops mutinied and forced their commander, Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, to lead them towards Rome. The Sack of Rome in 1527 was executed by some 6,000 Spaniards under the Duke, 14,000 Landsknechte under Georg von Frundsberg, some Italian infantry and some cavalry.
As with the Reisläufer, a regiment of Landsknechte was raised by a lord with a letter patent (Bestallungsbrief) that named the unit colonel (Obrist). This document laid out the size and structure of the unit, the pay of its men, and contained its Articles of War (Artikelsbriefe). Upon accepting the commission and securing funding, either through a bank loan or a grant from the lord, the colonel assembled his chain of command. His captains, once appointed, would then go to a locality he knew with drummers and fifers. Recruits gathered at a specified place and time for the muster. There, they would parade under an arch and be inspected by the colonel and his captains, then be paid their first months' salary. The colonel next read Bestallungsbrief in full to the soldiers, who then swore oaths of allegiance to cause, officers, and the Emperor. This ceremony also saw the appointing of the unit staff and its standard bearers, or Fähnriche (ensigns), who swore to never lose the standard.
The colonel was the highest–ranking officer in a Landsknecht in a regiment, but if his force contained more than one regiment he could become a Generalobrist. If it contained cavalry and artillery in addition to its infantry, then he could be a Feldobrist or Generalfeldobrist.The regiment would be commanded by a lieutenant colonel in the colonel's stead. The regiment itself was formed by ten Fähnlein , equivalent to a company and commanded by a captain. A Fähnlein was made up by 400 men, including 100 veterans. Rotten, equivalent to a platoon, were the building blocks of the Fähnlein and contained either ten ordinary Landsknechte or six Doppelsöldner, led by a Rottmeister elected by his unit. In totality, the regiment averaged at 4,000 men; ten Fähnlein, containing 40 Rotten. Unit sergeant majors, called Feldweibel , were tasked with training drill and formation. The regimental sergeant major, Oberster-Feldweibel was responsible for drill on the battlefield. Rotten sergeants, Weibel, were charged with ensuring discipline and relaying liaisons between enlisted men and their officers. One of these men, the Gemeinweibel, was the spokesman for the men and was elected monthly.
According to Imperial law, a colonel could have a staff of 22 officers but in practice this depended on the colonel's wealth.Included in that staff were a chaplain, a scribe, a doctor, a scout, his personal quartermaster and ensign, a drummer and fifer, and a bodyguard ( Trabanten ) of eight men. Captains also had a staff that included much of the same, but with additional musicians and two Doppelsöldner to protect him. A provost marshal and Schultheiss were appointed by the colonel to maintain military discipline and to prosecute the Artikelsbriefe respectively. The provost was unimpeachable, and feared. Harsh punishments could be expected for offenses such as mutiny or drunkenness on duty. A provost had a retinue of a jailer, bailiff, and executioner (Freimann).
Just like the Reisläufer, Landsknecht formations consisted of men trained and armed with pikes, halberds, and swords. 4.2 meters (14 ft). Experienced and well-equipped soldiers, receiving double a normal Landsknecht's pay and getting the title Doppelsöldner , made up a quarter of each Fähnlein. 50 of these men were armed with a halberd or with a 66-inch (170 cm) two-handed sword called a Zweihänder while another fifty were arquebusiers. All Landsknechte, regardless of primary weapon, carried a short sword called a Katzbalger for close melee combat. By the end of the 16th century, however, the number of pikemen in a Fähnlein had diminished to around 200.300 men of a Fähnlein would be armed with a pike, though a Landsknecht's pike was generally shorter than a Reisläufer's at about
Tactics were also copied part and parcel from the Swiss.Landsknechte fought in a pike square they called the gevierte Ordnung, forty to sixty men deep. Doppelsöldnern made up the formation's first two ranks. Then came the ensigns, and then the squares themselves. Pikemen, supported by halberdiers, formed the square while swordsmen made up their front and rear. The most experienced soldiers were located at the back of the formation and arquebusiers were placed on its flanks. In the attack, a band of soldiers called a forlorn hope preceded the pike square to break enemy pikes.
The pikemen were supported by halberdiers, who would rush a gap in an opposing line,a tactic also copied from the Swiss.
The Tross were the camp followers or "baggage train" who traveled with each Landsknecht unit, carrying military necessities, the food, and the belongings of each soldier and his family. The Tross was made up of women, children and some craftsmen. Women and young boys set up Landsknecht camps, cooked, mended injuries, and dug and cleaned latrines.A Landsknecht was usually forbidden by his Bestallungsbrief from having more than one woman in the baggage train. The Tross was overseen by a "whore's sergeant" (Hurenweibel).
A pike is a pole weapon, a very long thrusting spear formerly used extensively by infantry. Pikes were used regularly in European warfare from the Late Middle Ages to the early 18th century, and were wielded by foot soldiers deployed in close quarters, until their replacement by the bayonet. The pike found extensive use with Landsknecht armies and Swiss mercenaries, who employed it as their main weapon and used it in pike square formations. A similar weapon, the sarissa, was also used by Alexander the Great's Macedonian phalanx infantry to great effect. Generally, a spear becomes a pike when it is too long to be wielded with one hand in combat.
Swiss Guards are the Swiss soldiers who have served as guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century.
Swiss mercenaries (Reisläufer) were notable for their service in foreign armies, especially the armies of the Kings of France, throughout the Early Modern period of European history, from the Later Middle Ages into the Age of the European Enlightenment. Their service as mercenaries was at its peak during the Renaissance, when their proven battlefield capabilities made them sought-after mercenary troops. There followed a period of decline, as technological and organizational advances counteracted the Swiss' advantages. Switzerland's military isolationism largely put an end to organized mercenary activity; the principal remnant of the practice is the Pontifical Swiss Guard at the Vatican.
A tercio or tercio español was a powerful Spanish infantry division during the time of Habsburg Spain known for its victories on European battlefields in the early modern period.
Gefreiter is a German, Swiss and Austrian military rank that has existed since the 16th century. It is usually the second rank or grade to which an enlisted soldier, airman or sailor could be promoted.
The Battle of Cerignola was fought on April 28, 1503, between Spanish and French armies, in Cerignola, near Bari in Southern Italy. Spanish forces, under Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, formed by 6,300 men, including 2,000 landsknechte, with more than 1,000 arquebusiers, and 20 cannons, defeated the French who had 9,000 men; mainly heavy gendarme cavalry and Swiss mercenary pikemen, with about 40 cannons, and led by Louis d'Armagnac, Duke of Nemours, who was killed. It was one of the first European battles won by gunpowder weapons, as the assault by Swiss pikemen and French cavalry was shattered by the fire of Spanish arquebusiers behind a ditch.
The Battle of Novara was a battle of the War of the League of Cambrai fought on 6 June 1513, near Novara, in Northern Italy. A French attacking force was routed by allied Milanese–Swiss troops, the consequence of which was that France was forced to withdraw entirely from Italy.
Georg von Frundsberg was a German military and Landsknecht leader in the service of the Holy Roman Empire and Imperial House of Habsburg. An early modern proponent of infantry tactics, he established his reputation in active service during the Italian Wars under Emperor Maximilian I and his successor Charles V.
The Battle of Ceresole took place on 11 April 1544, during the Italian War of 1542–46, outside the village of Ceresole d'Alba in the Piedmont region of Italy. A French army, commanded by François de Bourbon, Count of Enghien, defeated the combined forces of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain, commanded by Alfonso d'Avalos d'Aquino, Marquis del Vasto. Despite having inflicted substantial casualties on the Imperial troops, the French subsequently failed to exploit their victory by taking Milan.
The Zweihänder, also Doppelhänder ('double-hander'), Beidhänder ('both-hander'), Bihänder or Bidenhänder, is a large two-handed sword primarily in use during the early decades of the 16th century.
The Battle of Hard was the first large-scale battle in the Swabian War, waged between the Imperials under the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and the Swiss Confederates. The battle was fought on 20 February 1499, a cold and foggy day, between 10,000 Imperial troops, mostly from the Swabian Circles, and a smaller number of Swiss troops, often called Reisläufer.
The Tross was the camp follower contingent of the Landsknecht mercenary regiments which originated at the end of the fifteenth century, and were the dominant form of infantry mercenary force throughout the sixteenth century. Each Landsknecht unit traveled with a Tross contingent, which followed behind. They carried the military and fighting necessities, the food and the belongings of each "Soldat" ("soldier") and his family. Members of the Tross were made up of women, children, craftsmen and day laborers. The term "support staff" can be used to give the German word a clearer meaning, although its true English translation is "unit train" or "baggage train".
Doppelsöldner were Landsknechte in 16th-century Germany who volunteered to fight in the front line, taking on extra risk, in exchange for double payment. The stated ratio was that one Landsknecht in four would be a Doppelsöldner. The Doppelsöldner of each company were usually issued with ranged weapons, such as a crossbow or an arquebus, and arranged in the wings of a square, in front of the pikemen.
Pike and shot is a historical infantry combat formation that evolved during the Italian Wars before the late seventeenth century evolution of the bayonet. The infantry formations of the period were a mix of pike and early firearms ("shot"), either arquebusiers or musketeers.
Rodeleros, also called espadachines ("swordsmen") and colloquially known as "Sword and Buckler Men", were Spanish troops in the early 16th century, equipped with steel shields or bucklers known as rodela and swords . Originally conceived as an Italian attempt to revive the legionary swordsman, they were adopted by the Spanish and used with great efficiency in the Italian Wars during the 1510s and 1520s, but discontinued in the 1530s.
The push of pike was a particular feature of late medieval and Early Modern warfare that occurred when two opposing columns of pikemen met and became locked in position along a front of interleaved pikes. During push of pike, opposing blocks of pikemen would advance with their pikes "charged" horizontally at shoulder level to jab at one another until bodily contact was made. The two sides would then push physically until one or other of them gave way. The push of pike would continue until one of the opposing formations routed or fled, which would generally lead to massive casualties. Each man pressed on the one in front, and so sometimes the formations would crush against each other and many pikemen would have to fight in closer melee combat. The Italians referred to this as 'Bad War' after seeing Swiss pikemen become locked in thick combat, where because both formations refused to back down both sides lost huge numbers of men in the bloody melee. Rodeleros along with the Doppelsöldner were used in order to break push of pike engagements. The push of pike played an important role in the English civil war as one-third of the infantry consisted of pikemen. Pikemen often cut down the lengths of their pikes in order to make them more manageable. This habit had on many occasions disastrous consequences as the side with the longest pikes had the advantage during push of pike.
The Fähnlein was a military unit approximately equivalent to the company or battalion which was used in parts of Europe during the Middle Ages. The size of the unit varied, originally a Fähnlein could consist of as many as 1,000 soldiers, but numbers were generally less, around 500. It was sub-divided into sections or Rotten of between 6 and 12 men.
The Battle of Drakenburg took place on 23 May 1547 to the north of Nienburg, between the Protestant army of the Schmalkaldic League and the imperial troops of Eric II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Prince of Calenberg. It resulted in an imperial defeat. Eric was forced to swim over the Weser River to save his own life. As a consequence, the imperialists left northern Germany, contributing to freedom of religion for Lutherans and Catholics in northern Germany.
The Feldhauptmann was a historical military appointment, during the time of the Landsknechte or mercenaries in European warfare, who commanded a Fähnlein, a unit of roughly battalion-size. A literal translation is "field captain".
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