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SWISS HALBERDIER, 15th CENTURY

An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, volume 1
by Ian Heath


[Based on Diebold Schilling the Younger's 'Lucerne Chronicle' depicting the Battle of Grandson. (according to note 107)]
103.      SWISS HALBERDIER, 15th CENTURY

Taken from a picture in Diebold Schilling's later 'Lucerne Chronicles', this figure represents a halberdier at the Battle of Arbedo. He wears cantonal colours (in this instance white/blue/white hose, denoting Zug), which were certainly being worn by Swiss troops by the first half of the 15th century, though not in any uniform way - for example, in the same unit one man might wear a white and blue mi-parti tunic, another blue and white striped hose, and so on. More standardised use of cantonal colours may be intended by chroniclers' references to a Fribourg contingent wearing black and white in 1443, and to the St Gall contingent wearing red at the Battle of Grandson. The late-l5th century 'Tschachtlan Chronicles' certainly show Bernese troops all wearing nearly identical yellow tunics with their cantonal emblem of a black bear as shown in 103a.

The halberd, called a Swiss voulge by many authorities, first appeared in Switzerland and South Germany c. 1275 and was soon adopted in large numbers by the Swiss. The Austrians felt its deadly effects at Morgarten as early as 1315, of which battle a contemporary reports that 'their murderous halberds cut the best-armed of their enemies into small pieces.' The halberd actually carried by this figure is a variety called a Sempach halberd, with short langets descending from front and back of the socket and sometimes with a separate backward-facing hook fitted by its own eye between the two eyes of the blade proper. This type of halberd was in fact largely obsolete by c. 1420. For a later variety see figure 107. Another popular polearm among the Swiss was the bec de faucon (see figure 35), which was particularly popular with the levies of Lucerne, hence its modern-day description as a 'Lucerne hammer'.

The helmet worn here is a sallet or salade, already referred to under several earlier figures. This seems to have evolved from the Italian celata, which had a sweeping neck-guard with a slightly upturned 'tail' and often a pointed peak too. The celata appeared during the second half of the 14th century, while the sallet is first recorded in 1419. In one form or another it became almost universal among infantrymen by c. 1440, though their sallets were often little more than a hemispherical skull-cap with a very slight tail (see, for example, figures 18 and 118). The visored type worn here is a characteristically German variety, of which some examples have the tail so elongated that from front to back the helmet can measure up to 15-18".



Next: 104 & 105. SWISS PIKEMEN, 15th CENTURY, in Armies of the Middle Ages, volume 1 by Ian Heath