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Landsknecht Study Questions

What is a Landsknecht? What is the fog of war?
What is a Mercenary? How did the dopplesoldners get their name?
What is the difference between a soldier and a mercenary? Why do the Landsknecht have their wives and children with them?
How much is a soldier paid? Why do the Landsknecht dress so differently than anyone else?
What did soldiers do for fun? What is a phalanx?
What is an harquebus? Why is it considered bad luck to let a musketeer stay in your home overnight?
What is a pike? What is the difference between a soldier and a knight?
How long is a pike? What is a katzbalger?
Why is a pike so long? What kind of foods do soldiers eat?
What is the Holy Roman Empire? How do the Landsknecht carry their wealth?
Who became soldiers and why? How do you tell whom the soldier is fighting for?
What is a Reisläufer? Why do the Reisläufers and the Landsknechts hate each other so much?
Write out an old Landsknecht saying. 

What is a Landsknecht?

"Landsknecht" means literally "servant of the country." The Landsknechts were German mercenary soldiers who thrived from approximately 1487 - 1556 and were originally created as a force to support the Holy Roman Empire-building predilections of Maximilian I, heir to the Holy Roman Empire. They soon began hiring themselves out to the highest bidder and thus became formal mercenaries. Recruited primarily from the poor in southern Germany, they became known for their outlandish dress and effective fighting tactics. In their heyday, they were the finest fighting force in Europe. 

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 What is a Mercenary?

[Middle English mercenarie, a mercenary, from Old French mercenaire, from Latin mercnnrius, from mercs, wages, price.] A professional soldier hired for service in a foreign army.

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What is a pike?

A long infantry spear used in formation. The pike grew to lengths of 18 feet or more, and really was only affective when used in massed numbers.

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How did the dopplesoldners get their name?

The more experienced mercenaries for hire had some form of body armour. It was because of this they could demand bonus pay known as "Double pay." These Landsknecht were known as dopplesoldners (literally "double mercenaries"), whose contracts specified that they have "harness" or armor. Three-quarter harness or "almain rivet" would consist of a helmet, collar, breastplate, tassets, pauldrons, vambraces and mittens or gauntlets.

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What is the fog of war?

After the artillery opened up the battle and both sides fired for some time trying to eliminate each other's artillery, the actual battlefield was covered in smoke by the time the soldiers took the field. This means that the "obvious" tactics of flanking the pike blocks were not so easy to see. The general on the hill just saw a smoke covered field and knew where his units and the enemy units entered the field. The unit commanders had to deal with things as they came out of the smoke.

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Why do the Landsknecht have their wives and children with them?

Men who joined a Landsknecht Fähnlein (company) usually brought along a woman to care for them-a sister, wife, or daughter. These women were called "Hure"- literally, "harlot" -but they were not prostitutes, just campfollowers (Kampfrauen) They cared for the men between battles, and even participated in battles, following behind the fighting, looting the dead and killing the almost-dead. Some even assisted the heavy artillery, stripping enemy houses of wood that was used later for earthworks.

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How much is a soldier paid?

A soldier serving Queen Elizabeth makes 240 pence a month. A Landsknecht pikeman makes 4 gilder a month. This is about 288 pence. To compare, the average farmer would make about 288 pence or 4 gilder in a year. A soldier's pay includes food, but not drink. A Landsknecht had to provide his own food.

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Why do the Landsknecht dress so differently than anyone else?

Landsknecht clothing is easily the most gaudy and obnoxious in the Renaissance. The Landsknechts are exempt from the sumptuary laws regulating clothing styles that other citizens have to follow. The Holy Roman Emperor granted them this dispensation because their lives tend to be so "short and brutish."

Their clothing is characterized by its "puff and slash" decoration, created by cutting slashes in the outer garments and pulling puffs of the under garments through those slashes. Sleeves often balloon out dramatically, as do pants. Often, their sleeves are mismatched, with one pattern of puffs and set of colors on one arm and a different puff pattern and set of colors on the other! Pants legs sometimes are mismatched too. They wear large flat hats, the size of pizzas, often festooned with ostrich feathers. Some wear obscenely immense codpieces covering their genitals. Even their shoes are decorated with puff-and-slash. The overall effect can be quite eye-twisting.

The "puff and slash" style of clothing was adopted by non-Germans too, becoming a standard mode of decoration in several parts of Europe. The English nobility was particularly enamored of puff and slash. Henry VIII started wearing it after seeing it on Landsknechts he had hired; in fact, the famous painting of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein depicts him in a doublet decorated with puff and slash. Other paintings of Henry depict him wearing what looks like a knee-length skirt; he adopted this style from German warskirts worn by some Landsknechts. Henry's children Edward VI and Elizabeth I also wore puff and slash.

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What is the difference between a soldier and a mercenary?

Why do soldiers fight? One answer is hidden in the word soldier itself. Its first recorded occurrence is found in a work composed around 1300, the word having come into Middle English (as soudier) from Old French soudoior and Anglo-Norman soudeour. The Old French word, first recorded in the 12th century, is derived from sol or soud, Old French forms of Modern French sou. There is no longer a French coin named sou, but the meaning of sou alerts us to the fact that money is involved. Indeed, Old French sol referred to a coin and also meant "pay," and a soudoior was a man who fought for pay. This was a concept worth expressing in an era when many men were not paid for fighting but did it in service to a feudal superior. Thus soldier is parallel to the word mercenary, which goes back to Latin mercnnrius, derived from mercs, "pay," and meaning "working for pay." The word could also be used as a noun, one of whose senses was "a soldier of fortune."

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What is a phalanx?

A formation of infantry carrying overlapping shields and long spears, developed by Philip II of Macedon and used by Alexander the Great.

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What is a harquebus?

Also Arquebus. A heavy portable matchlock gun invented during the 15th century. Also called hackbut. During the early to mid 15th century there appeared a simple matchlock device called a serpentine which was essentially a "S" shaped piece of metal with a central pivot attached to the side of the gun. By pulling on the bottom half of the pivot you lowered the upper half, which held a burning slow match (hemp or cotton rope soaked in saltpeter) into a flash pan containing a priming charge to fire the gun. The firearm that utilized this device was known as the arquebus.

The benefits of the arquebus were that you could now use both hands to hold the gun and take a rudimentary aim by placing the gun's stock against your chest or shoulder and looking down the barrel. As a result of this the inaccurate handgonnes of the time started to be discarded in favor of the arquebus, a weapon that was more powerful and faster loading than the crossbow. However, it would not be until the battle of Pavia, Italy in 1525 that the arquebus's full potential would be realized. During the battle 3000 arquebusiers protected by pikemen dealt a devastating defeat to the French by killing over 8000 of their armored cavalrymen and thus ending the knights domination over Europe's battlefields.

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Why is it considered bad luck to let a musketeer stay in your home overnight?

Early firearms such as the harquebus and muskets used woven cord soaked in nitrates (many times obtained by soaking in urine) known as a match to light the black powder charge. Many times, musketeers/harquebusiers would steal the ropes from the rope beds to make matches. Homeowners would wake to find their hospitality paid by a missing bed framework.

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What did soldiers do for fun?

In a soldier's camp you may find gambling, drinking, singing and dancing. Songs were also sung when traveling, helping to keep up morale and march tempo.

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What is the difference between a soldier and a knight?

A knight is a person of noble birth trained to arms and chivalry. A soldier can come from any level of society, sometimes with little knowledge of courtly virtues.

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How long is a pike?

Pikes can range from 16 feet up to 22 feet. The average pike ranges from 16 to 18 feet however.

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Why is a pike so long?

Combat is often a matter of hitting your opponent with your weapon before he can hit you with his. If your weapon is longer than his, you can hit him and he cannot harm you. Pikes are designed to face down enemy units on foot that carry swords and spears as well as units on horseback that carry long lances. Lances average about 9 feet in length. Pikes are longer than any other weapon (except ranged weapons like bows and harquebus) so the enemy cannot touch the wielder of the pike while he can hit them easily.

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What is a katzbalger?

The Landsknecht unique form of sidearm was the Katzbalger (possibly Cat Gutter or Cat Fighter). Designed for the in close hand to hand combat of a melee, these weapons were shorter than other broadswords but very quick in action. The unique hilt consisted of a figure eight shaped guard. The grip and pommel were of a unique style as well but are very comfortable and well suited for the style of combat. The sword blade sometimes had two parallel fullers approximately 1/3 of the way down the blade. 

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What is the Holy Roman Empire?

The Holy Roman Empire was a political grouping of smaller kingdoms in Central Europe. Instead of a single king ruling a single kingdom, the Emperor ruled over a series of small kingdoms run by Dukes. 

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How do the Landsknecht carry their wealth?

Landsknecht rarely carried coins. Landsknecht wear their wealth, either by gold chains and pearls around their neck or in the quality of their clothes. The gold chains and pearls were used to pay for other items of need, breaking a link or two off a chain looped around the neck was acceptable payment.

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Who became soldiers and why?

The reasons why anyone would become a soldier or mercenary are as varied as the individuals involved. However, most soldiers enlist because of the need for a steady job, a belief in defending their country or principles and some were forced to join by authorities in their home country (subscription). Mercenary companies on the other hand offered better pay, more individual freedoms and looting rights. Looting rights allow a soldier to pick up valuables off of the dead, or remove valuables from homes within cities being taken by force. In Landsknecht armies, the artillery units have first rights to any church bells when it comes to looting because the metals used to make the bells could be melted down and used to forge new cannon barrels.

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How do you tell whom the soldier is fighting for?

If a soldier is a member of a regular army, he will be wearing livery (an outer garment sometimes for padded protection and sometimes just to display his allegiance) with his country or his lord's heraldic symbols on it. Mercenary units however will often fly the flag or banner of the noble that hired them and sometimes they wear small patches or cloth sewn onto the outer garments that show the heraldry of the hiring lord or king. Some mercenary units will display some acknowledgment of their country or origin before they displayed whom they are fighting for. For example, many Landsknechts wear the "X" shaped cross cut into their clothing. This represents the cross of Saint Andrew and is a traditional symbol of the Holy Roman Empire. At the same time, many Reisläufers will wear the "+" shaped cross cut into their clothing. This represents the cross of the Swiss Confederation. Many times on a battlefield the only way to determine if a soldier is Reisläufer or Landsknecht is by looking at the pattern of the crosses cut into his clothing as they otherwise dress so similarly. 

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What is a Reisläufer?

The Reisläufer is a Swiss mercenary in much the same way that a Landsknecht is a German mercenary. The Reisläufer and the Landsknecht have a terrible blood feud going on that involves both sides fighting to the death whenever they met on the battlefield.

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Why do the Reisläufers and the Landsknechts hate each other so much?

The Reisläufers were hired by Maximilian I to train his new Landsknecht units in 1486. Due to this, the Landsknechts and the Reisläufers are constantly trying to obtain the same mercenary jobs. They are equally trained and fight using the same techniques so there are constant conflicts of interest. In addition, the Swiss still are exerting their recently won independence from the Holy Roman Empire. So there is a history of dislike toward anything Imperial by the Swiss and the Landsknecht see the Swiss as traitors.

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What kind of foods do soldiers eat?

Most soldiers of a country are provided food provisions by the army (they have a part of their pay withheld to cover this expense) while mercenary units usually had to provide their own food and provisions. Landsknecht armies have administrative officers along whose job it is to set up local merchants and establish pricing structures for the troops to be able to buy food along the way. These officers are called Hurenwebel by the landsknechts. Typical foodstuff that a soldier would expect to eat on campaign is breads, fruits (varies based upon locality of the army at the time) and many vegetables. Apples, grapes, nuts, turnips were very common and stews were often made of many of their ingredients. Meat was often brought "on the hoof" and slaughtered as needed. It was much more rare than fruits and vegetables.

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Write out an old Landsknecht saying. 

"You do not truly own anything that you can not carry at a dead run."

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Last modified: Tuesday May 08, 2012 12:01:32 PM.