The reconstruction of a 14:th century gauntlet

Handske01

This is a short text about reconstructing a type: 1 gauntlet of the Visby massgrave findings. It is not an exact copy, but a reconstruction of a gauntlet ‘of that type’. Only the right hand gauntlet was found, but Thordeman nevertheless describes it as follows: “All plates have rivets on the outside and were, consequently, fastened to a covering”, which means that all the plates where covered by leather or cloth. Some other gloves in the excavation was thought to have parts covered by leather/cloth and parts riveted onto the leather/cloth. This is not specific to these excavations and other gloves have been found where this has been the case.

Handske02

Schematic drawing of the gauntlet in question

The reconstruction misses the buckle and has some fancy looking cosmetical plates to some rivets. Also there was no cuff found close to this gauntlet. This can mean that it had no cuff, that the cuff was of a material that perished or that it has gotten lost along with part of one finger. The small strip at the wrist Thordeman thinks “It is possible that they form the transition to a cuff, if such existed. They may also concievably have formed the stiffening of a small cuff.”

I have opted to make them the transition to a cuff and have chosen a stiff full metal cuff as the one found on gauntlet no 10. riveted to the inside of the leather.

Handske03

Other cuffs of leather, probably with metal reinforcements, from a 1340′s manuscript

The making of the glove was done by firstly getting an inner ‘lining glove’. Thordeman doesn’t think metal was carried next to the skin and I agree. After this an outer glove was made in thicker cowhide. A glove corresponding to the outer part of the inner glove was cut out, leaving the palm free. This was then made soft by soaking in oil (normal run of the mill olive oil). After this the plates was riveted into the outer glove, making sure they could move over each other in the joints. After this was done, the outer layer (with the riveted in metal plates) was sewn onto the inner glove.

Handske04

The thumb of the glove showing the yellow felt lining between the gloves

To get a little padding a layer of felt was put between the layers. This is really good, because they might be a tad uncomfortable without. The cuff was left unlined though.The round decorations was put on to give them a more fancy look. That is also why I opted for brass rivets. The original have iron rivets all over.

Handske05

The finished glove, a little beaten up and dirty after some seasons on the battlefield

So… How do they work? They do not have the same flexibility as gauntlets having the plates riveted to the outside. The outer leather doesn’t let the plates move so well and they can feel a bit sluggish in response. On the other hand they don’t crave as much polishing as all parts are covered. Also I used way to small rivet heads and they have eaten through the leather on several places.

This article, written by Johan Käll, was previously published on our old webpage.

Late medieval chest

Kista 01

This chest is dated to 15:th century but is of a form commonly used in the 14:th century. The chest has probably seen use as a vestment coffer, serving as storage for the priestly wardrobe. It is made out of oak and relies on square plugs in round holes to keep the parts in place.

The body of the chest

The front of the chest is based on the ‘legboards’. These are probably slotted and the three face boards slid down the slots. The upper and lower plank is then plugged in place.

Kista02

Red arrows denote these plugs in the picture, the green/yellow shows the sidebeams that are described below

The front and back are joined together by side beams that are slotted into the legboards and plugged into these with a plug driven in diagonally from the side of the board.

Kista03

Seen here is the inside of the sidebeam as it is slotted into the legboard. The plug on the inside has been left ‘unpruned’

Between the horizontal beams vertical ones are inserted to stabilise and distance them (see picture above). On the inside of the beams ordinary planks form a wall. How these are fastened I do not know.

The Bottom

The lower face and backplank has a ‘shelf’ cut into them as well as the legboards. The bottom planks rest against the shelf and a beam running over the middle. The beam is haphazardly plugged into the front and back with uncut plugs.

Kista04a

The shelf and underlying beam

Other chests from the same age have two beams under the bottom but this particular one sport just the single one.

The lid

The lid is made of planks attached to an underlying beam on the shortsides. This is so short it passes down between the frontboard and backboards.

Kista06

The lid, marked red. This picture shows how the beam fits into the chest body

The hinges are made of iron and is attached to the inside of the lid and the backside of the chest. On other chests of the same construction the hinges are mostly on the inside in both fastenings.

Final comments

This document does not have any measurements as it is only to show the way the chest was built. A guess of its size would be that it is about 1,60 m long, about 0,5 deep and 0,90 high. The boards may have been glued as well as plugged, Although it does not seem likely. Since we could not open the chest some details of construction is still a mystery.

Kista07

The boards to be slotted into others are generally cut in an easy way, as shown on this simple rendering. It is cut by sawing, rather than by using an axe or another edged tool

Even if this is a chest that was used in a church, pictures from the time tells us it was also in secular use.

Appendix

Kista08

This picture taken by Thomas Hagaeus of a chest in Transylvania, prob. 14:th century, shows how the planks are fitted into the beams

Kista09

Other chests of similar construction from the National historical museum, Sweden

This article, by Johan Käll, was previously published on our old webpage.

A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning

Ways of old

In many ways, Sweden was still a fledgling nation in the fourteenth century. There does not seem to be much national identity. Many probably thought of themselves as East Goths, West Goths, Svears or Finns. The king was elected in the area of Svealand, and then had to travel to the different areas to be accepted in the other areas. This journey was called Eriksgata (“Erik’s Way”) after the first king that made it. An Eriksgata was surrounded by rules and tradition. Failure by the king to follow them, was not taken lightly. The reign of Ragnvald “Knaphuvud” (Short of head or Dumb head) was very short, as he ignored the rule of hostages upon entering Västergötland. This traditional rule means that the king needs to wait for “hostages” or rather escort when entering a province. Ragnvald Knaphuvud was of the opinion that he was so powerful that he didn’t need any escort, and entered Västergötland with his own sworn men. The people of the area promptly killed him, and did not want anything to do with the kingdom of Sweden for several years after that incident.

Karta_eriksgata

In the latter part of the century a greater centralization of power starts to appear. The kingdom is becoming more structured and works more like a united nation than before. The power struggles between the king and the nobles dominates the national politics during the period. The true power was mostly concentrated to Sweden’s richest and most powerful man of all times; Bo Jonsson Grip. Only a squire (and hence not even a knight), he owned Finland (called “the Eastern half of the Realm”) and most of two parts of the rest of Sweden at the time of his death in 1386.

bojonsson_01

The seal of Bo Jonsson Grip – the mightiest man yet in Sweden

A feud between brothers

But let’s look at how power and politics developed in Sweden in the beginning of the fourteenth century – it gives us something to fall back to when discussing the subject later in the century. The conflict between the brothers started in 1306 where the brothers Erik and Valdemar wanted a bigger piece of the action. Hence, they seized their older brother, king Birger, at his estate Håtuna, and imprisoned him in Stockholm. Several years later he was set free under condition that he split his realm with his younger brothers. Some years later, in christmas time 1317,  the king took his revenge, and seized his brothers at Nyköpingshus, where he confined them and according to tradition let them starve to death. Birger himself was forced to live in exile for most of his remaining life, and his son was executed by his brothers’ supporters.Erik, who after his death became a hero of almost epic proportions, and was portrayed as “the true noble Swedish knight”. The Erikskrönika (Erik’s chronicle) that describes him as a true, gentle knight, also gives the modern reader a glance at something closer to reality – he was most likely as scheming and backstabbing as any noble of the time. In the fourteenth century however, he and his brother Valdemar was tragic victims to imprisonment (and starvation to death in the dungeon of Nyköpinghus castle) by his evil brother king Birger. The Mecklenburgische Reimchronik, written in the 1370′s, describes it thus:

Nu starb von dem hungere gar, der eyne herczoge Woldemar /…/ Do her des mochte getun nicht me, du starb her ouch yn hungirs we.

In 1319 the three year old Magnus Eriksson, son of the starved-to-death duke Erik, is elected king of Sweden and inherits at the same time the crown of Norway. Magnus was seen as the most fitting heir to the throne by his father’s supporters. A three-year-old on the throne suited the nobles just fine, since it in effect let them rule, even though the young king’s mother, the Duchess Ingeborg, was a bit more stubborn and powerful than the council of nobles really liked. She and her aide/lover Knut Porse planned an attack on the province of Skåne, which annoyed the nobles. In general, they also disliked the influence Knut Porse had over Ingeborg, and they had no intention whatsoever of helping them out. However, the expedition to Skåne couldn’t be successful without support from somebody, and that somebody turned out to be the north German nobleman Henrik of Mecklenburg. By betrothing her four year old daughter Eufemia to Henrik’s son Albrecht the elder of Mecklenburg, Ingeborg had the support of the north Germans. The campaign against Skåne was a failure, but the bond between the Swedish royals and the Germans remained, something that would be of the greatest importance some years later, as we will well see.

Enough is enough

The council lost what patience they had with Ingeborg. Fighting a long war on Novgorod in the Finnish part of Sweden, they certainly didn’t need another front. In 1323 the decided that something had to be done. They signed a treaty with the Novgorodians at the castle of Nöteborg, and thereby regulated the Swedish/Russian borders in Finland. Then they turned on the capable duchess, and besieged her strong castle of Axvalla. 1326 the nobles and Ingeborg finally come to terms and she is forced to give up much of her power. She is given the small Dovå castle to support herself.

karta_soder

Something rotten in the state of Denmark

At the same time, king Kristoffer of Denmark was in quite a pickle; his predecessors and himself had been leading an irresponsible foreign policy and hence they had to pawn one Danish region after another to creditors from Holstein in northern Germany. Skåne and the better part of mainland Denmark was under German rule. A lot of the people of Denmark and Skåne was less than satisfied with the ruling Holsteiners, because they were “merciless” to the commoners. Under the command of the archbishop of Lund, Karl Erikssøn, the people rebelled against count Johan of Holstein, besieged Helsingborg and seized the count’s other estates in 1332.

The year before, in 1331, the young Magnus Eriksson, the son of countess Ingeborg, came of age. He was 15 years old and hence acceeded the formal royal power from his mother. He immediately proceeded to confirm the old privilegies of the rebelling archbishop Karl – even though he in theory was was subordinated to Johan of Holstein, who owned Skåne and therefore was the only person that really could confirm any privilegies of old. The young king took a longshot to consolidate his power in the wealthy province.

Magnus gain Skåne – and lose it

The counts of Holstein wanted to end the rebellion and mustered an army at Sjælland to come to Helsingborg’s rescue. Magnus, in his turn, sent ships and soldiers to oppose the counts, but he was in the end convinced to refrain from violence. He was allowed to buy the province of Skåne for the immense sum of 34 000 marks of silver (about 8 000 kilos of pure silver). The people of Skåne, including the archbishop, the nobles and number of burghers and peasants voluntarily swore an oath of fealthy to Magnus, whom they looked upon as their master and king. He was crowned in 1336. After this Magnus begins calling himself “the king of Sweden, Norway and Scania”. Also, this is about the time when three crowns start to appear as a symbol of the realm.

Skåne held one of Europe’s most important markets which generated an enormous tax revenue, a prequisite for Magnus ability to repay his huge loan. But Skåne slipped out of hus grasp sooner than he could ever anticipate. Valdemar Kristofferssøn, more known as Valdemar Atterdag was celebrated as Danish king in 1340. He had come to terms with the Holstein counts after great efforts, cunning diplomacy and military action. In 1348 Denmark was his. Even though he in 1341 had agreed on an “unbreakable peace” with Magnus, and 1343 renounced his claims for Skåne, he conquered the province after only a couple of months on campaign. The Swedish army under Erengisle Jarl and Karl Ulfsson is camped at lake Ringsjön but stays passive. The only thing they seem to manage is to kill the exiled Bengt Algotsson (we will return to Bengt Algotsson later); it is said his murderers were Karl Ulfsson of Tofta and Magnus Niklisson. Then the Swedish army returns north. The nobles showed very little interest in fighting in Scania. The revenues from the market in Skåne was no more, and king Magnus could never be free of his debts – he only switched creditors.

Valdemaratterdag_01

A fresco showing king Valdemar Atterdag of Denmark, circa 1370

Being on a roll, Valdemar sets sail for the islands of Gotland and Öland in 1361. Öland is taken relatively easy, and despite warnings from Magnus, the Gotlanders are taken by surprise. The campaign culminates the 27th of July in the battle of Visby where almost 2000 Gotlandish commoners were slaughtered by Danish and German mercenaries, and thrown into massgraves. Visby is plundered, and according to legend, Valdemar forces the inhabitants of the city to tear down a part of its city walls. Even though the attack was a great success, it was a mistake; Visby was part of the Hanseatic League. The city of Lübeck starts negotiations with the Swedes in August, and a combined attack is planned. The Swedish nobles, however, are showing usual reluctance to support their king. The mustering of troops is going slow, but about a year after the attack on Visby, Magnus (with some help from his son Håkon) has gathered enough men to launch an attack on Valdemar in the city of Helsingborg. 27 koggs and 25 other vessels set out to teach the Danes a lesson.

Continue reading here.

This article, written by Johan Käll and Peter Ahlqvist, was in part previously posted on our old webpage under the name 14thc Political climate.

 

This text is the first of a series of four. Read more in the same series here:
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union

These pages might also prove useful:
Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412
Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century

A note on 14th century warfare

To begin with, we shall have a short introduction to which types of arms and armour that were used in fourteenth century Sweden. The law of each county (or country, as Sweden more or less existed as a form of confederacy at this time) stated that each and every free man where to own arms and armor so they would be able to do service in the levy. Although this differed from one place to another, the laws provided very specifically which types of weapons and armor that the peasants were obliged to have in their possession.

The law stated that each man should have a muza (probably mail coif – a disputed interpretation), chainmail or plata (some form of body protection, most likely a coat-of-plates), järnhatt (generally kettlehat, but other types of helmets were also used) and a shield (the round shield existed side by side with the heater shield. Pavises however, doesn’t seem to have been in high use). Have a look here to learn more about the armor of the time. The weapons mentioned in the laws are first of all bows, with a specific amount of arrows (three tolfter, dozens). Some of the county laws state that a spear also should be part of the soldiers weaponry.

kittelhatt_01

The kettlehat was a very common type of helmet for the foot soldier

The equipment mentioned in the laws correspond well with the archaeological finds from the excavation of the mass graves of the so called Korsbetningen. These graves were dug for the around 1800 local Gotland peasants, who died fighting invading Danes in the battle of Visby, the 27th of July, 1361, and are situated outside the city walls of Visby in the Swedish province of Gotland. One aspect that does not comply with the weaponry prescribed in the laws, is the lack of arrow points. A handful if any were discovered. Instead a great number of points of crossbow bolts were found. Whether this means that the crossbow had superseded the bow as the regulated weapon, or if bows simply were not used in this particular battle, is not easy to know.

The axe seems to have been a favoured weapon. The Viking style long axe survives long after the dark ages, and is still popular in the fifteenth century. The halberd does not appear until later (the first evidence - however doubtful – is dated to 1410-1415). Different types of war hammers and maces were in use, leaving tell tale holes in the skulls of excavated fighters.

yxa_01

Big war axes were used extensively

There is also evidence handgonnes were used. To which extent we do not know, but the oldest handgonne known is the Swedish Loshult handgonne (Loshult is a parish in the south of Sweden), dated to 1340-1350. Several other handgonnes have been found, like the famous Mörkö handgonne (dated to late fourteenth century), and this indicates they were not extremely uncommon. As Sweden was very influenced by Germans and German fashion, the weapons and armour in use were generally of German style.

mörkö_01

The unique Mörkö bronze handgonne

The armoured horseman

The Alsnö stadga (the statute of Alsnö), 1279-1280, stated that each man that presented an armoured horseman to fight for the king would be void of taxes. It was a general opinion that the king should “live off his own” (“his own” being the area of Uppsala öd north of Stockholm, lands with the purpose of providing the king with an income – generally referred to as Kronolän – “the crown’s fief”), and therefore the taxes were not very high to begin with. Even so there weren’t many knights in Sweden, and hence the Swedish military forces during the fourteenth century was an army mostly consisting of free peasants. It has been suggested that at the height of Swedish chivalry, the kingdom could muster maybe 500 knights. During a period Sweden had as little as three knighted families.

A reason for the relatively few knights is the Swedish terrain. Apart from some areas in central Östergötland, Västergötland and parts of Svealand, it consists mainly of rocks, dense woods and lots of lakes and streams. When the knight was mounted he would have trouble manoeuvring the rough ground, and as the he relied much in his advantage of being on horseback, the terrain was certainly not an ideal one. As dense forests with lots of obstacles provides to little space for an army of riders, the purpose of knights are lost. The terrain simply prevents them from charging enemies in a broad line of battle (which were the knight’s preferred way of fighting). Another reason for the lack of knights might be that they could only be knighted by the king himself. The knights where divided in two groups, riddare (knight) and knape/väpnare/sven (squire). To keep their status as nobles, they were obliged to present themselves once a year at muster points.

riddare_01

Foreign knights were having trouble negotiating the dense forests

An army of peasants…

Sweden never had a continental style feudalism, and the free class of peasants were a strong and respected group. The nobles were always keen to have them on their side – for example to overthrow the king without the aid of the peasants, was impossible and unthinkable. Then again, the peasants mainly wanted to be left out of big game politics and mind their own business. Even so, the peasants were required by law to fight for the king in times of need. Even in the fourteenth century, this was an old law. It was based on the so called “ledung” law, which stated the peasants obligation to provide ships for the fleet, but was some what modernized to fit the needs of the time.

The army was probably never very big. In chronicles such as Erikskrönikan absurd numbers of soldiers are often mentioned, but one must take into account that ballads and other poetic texts might mostly be fiction. In the case of the mentioned Erikskrönikan, it is a question of political propaganda, and this force us to be suspicious to the numbers described. However, other numbers has been suggested, based on treaties and personal letters.. In 1363, for example, Albrecht departs from Warnemünde in Germany along with Swedish nobles and not more than 1600 soldiers to claim the Swedish crown.

In the same year Albrecht’s predecessor Magnus and his son Håkan, king of Norway, puts up an army together with the Hanseatic league. It consists of about 4000 soldiers, siege engines and ships. Note that this relatively large army is put together by two kings and one of the mightiest political factions of the time. 1389 the Danish queen opposes king Albrecht with an army consisting of “1500 horsemen along with footmen”, and four years later is mentioned a pirate fleet of 1200 men. As mentioned above the battle of Visby left about 1800 dead bodies, and it has been said that very few of the Gotlanders defending Visby survived. This can be compared to Henry Vs army of Azincourt – about 7000 soldiers (at the siege of Harfleur it has been said it was even bigger).

korsbetning_01

Approximately 1 800 peasants were killed outside Visby in 1361

The somewhat puny number of soldiers in the Swedish armies are probably based on two factors, the first being that Sweden at the time only had about a million inhabitants, of which only about 30% – at the very most – were suited for battle. Taking into account that a nation wide muster was impossible due to communication and transportation difficulties, 1500-2000 men is about the most that could be enrolled from the areas adjacent to the muster points. The second factor is simply a matter of logistics. In a country of poorly developed agriculture, armed free peasants and dense woodland it is not easy to provide enough food to sustain much more than about 2000 marching soldiers.

…reinforced by Germans

As complement to the levied troops, especially when waging war in foreign land (in this case mostly Denmark, Russia or Novgorod), the use of German mercenaries were common. They consisted mainly of different kinds of specialists (like for example gunners and bombard crews). The Hanseatic league supplied both Danes and Swedes with troops depending on who gave them the sweetest deals. Free mercenaries, not tied to the Hanseatic League, were most likely also employed. The North German Hanseatic city of Lübeck was the site of the North European mercenary market for centuries. Mercenaries were expensive, however, and the economy of the realm was almost always strained (the cocky Swedich peasants weren’t willing to pay too heavy taxes).

lûbeck_01

Mercenaries gathered in the north German city of Lübeck

This resulted in that parts of the land occasionally was held by German nobles as security for loans that the king could not pay. To squeeze out as much as possible from the stalwart peasants, these nobles themselves employed German mercenaries. These men did not care who got in their way; they were professional soldiers with no ties or bonds to the population – they might even have seen the Swedish commoners as nothing less than enemies, and Swedish laws meant little to them and their masters, as they were only “guests” in the country.

This problem worsened under the realm of king Albrecht of Mecklenburg, himself a German, invited and elected to the throne by Swedish nobles, as a strategy in the always ongoing struggle for power; their plan was for Albrecht to serve as a puppet, and rule the land themselves. The monk Andreas Lydekini later describes the state of the realm: “Then the birds of prey settled on the cliff tops, for the Germans oppressed the land for many a year.” Once Albrecht was seated in the throne, he realized that he hadn’t much to work with – it was expensive business being king, and he sort of inherited a lot of huge debts. His solution was to give his German knights and sheriffs areas of land as deposit.

The army in battle and on campaign

Most campaigning in Scandinavia took place during the winter time, when the ground was covered with snow, and the lakes and streams were frozen. The snow usually settles in November-December, and with few exceptions it stays until February-March. The army could travel the short routes across the frozen waters, and in some cases use sleighs to move quickly on the snow. We know at least scouts and vanguard used skis in the 15th C. It is mentioned that Karl Knutsson used skiers in his campaign against Skåne (Scania – a province in the south of Sweden, at the time more or less a part of Denmark), and there is little reason to doubt the usage of skis in the fourteenth century, as finds of skis from as early as the viking age has been made. Skiing and sleighing is a lot faster than to negotiate the hilly, dense forests by foot. Itineraries most often lists two different routes of travel, one during winter time and one during summer time. The one describing the winter time route generally describes a road that is two thirds shorter in both distance and time.

Another positive aspect of winter time campaigning is that the peasants were not needed at home to bring in crops, plough or tend the farm as much as during spring, summer and autumn. In some instances the winter was an advantage during defensive warfare. The Swedes made defensive position on the ice of a lake, cut holes in the ice in the evening, and allowed the water to freeze over night. In the early morning they covered the thin layer of ice with snow and waited for their enemies to charge them. There is, of course downsides with winter campaigning.

winter_01

Winter campaigning has its disadvantages, but also its advantages

First of all, it is the cold. This could not have been a very big problem; the soldiers were used to being out in winter cold. Campaigning was not much different from the ordinary work day at the farm, in terms of physical efforts and being exposed to cold. Still, it is challenging to be outdoors for days, marching and maybe not having as much food and drink as you need. The real problem though, must have been the short days. During the darkest winter days, the sun sets at three or four in the afternoon, and rise again about nine or ten in the morning (in some parts of Sweden, the sun never rises at all during parts of winter time), which gives us seven hours of daylight at the most. As it is difficult to navigate an entire army through pitch black winter forest in the snow, the darkness put a hamper on the army’s movability.

How did this army of peasants and a handful of mercenaries stand up to the more continental armies of the Danes, packed with knights and great numbers of hired soldiers? As history tells us, quite well. The Swedes most often tried to avoid battle on open ground, where Danish knights would have the opportunity to ride them down. Instead they kept to the forests, which were essentially roadless, apart from the highways – little more than trails of mud or gorges, merely adapted for wanderers with sumpter horses. The roads were also kept to high ground, so that they wouldn’t turn into streams in case of heavy downfall. On these already narrow paths, the Swedes lay in wait for the invaders.

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Swedish peasant soldiers lay in wait in the dense forests

When the enemy least expected, the defenders felled trees across the path, so called bråtar, and to make things worse for their visitors, they cut of any route of escape by chopping down trees at the rear of the enemy troupe. As soon as the falling trees hit the ground, the defenders started a deadly crossfire of arrows and crossbow bolts. Most peasants relied on hunting as well as farming for survival, they where most likely skilled archers, that did not have to be ordered to the butts for training like for example English bowmen. The enemy had no choice but to try and clear the road of the heavy trees, but the bråtar was well defended by Swedes with a grudge. The Danish cavalry was at a disadvantage when trying to charge over the bråtar, so clearing the trees from the opposition was not an easy task.

As soon as the Swedes were driven off, the time consuming work of dragging the bråtar from the trail began. At the meantime, the defenders went some kilometre along the path to the next prepared ambush, had a meal, bandaged their wounds and had some hours rest, until the invaders reached their spot, weary and with bruised morale. And then everything happened all over again. It was a hard, nigh impossible task to invade Sweden by land. The Swedes also enjoyed the advantage of being at their own turf, hence knowing every path and every bit of land in the area, and so they could navigate at their own leisure, when the invaders had to stick to the trails or get hopelessly lost.

Insignias and field markings

The Swedes does not seem to have made much use of insignias, badges, tabards or shield heraldics. As far as we know, no pictorial or written evidence speak of soldiers displaying badges or their masters colors, even in those sources when one might expect them. Shield paintings often seem to have had more decorative than heraldic purpose. It might be of interest, that no “Grant of arms” was (or is) needed in Sweden. You simply painted a shield with a motif of your liking, and started to work the trademark in. German troops might have followed German fashion, and some of the mightier families might also have adapted to the German trend, as many nobles in Sweden were actually from Germany at the time. Even the society as a whole was greatly influenced by German habit, language and culture, as many merchants and people in positions of power originated from Germany.

In the above mentioned Karl Knutsson’s campaign against Skåne, we know that the gunners marched under the flag of St Erik (considered national and patron saint of Sweden, although he has never been canonized by the Vatican). Otherwise, evidence are scarce. The symbol of the kingdom of Sweden, three golden crowns on a blue field (as seen in Albrecht of Mecklenburg’s seal) seems to have been displayed on flags in the army. First appearing as the arms of Sweden in a cardinal palace in Avignon 1320, it is still the field insignia of the Swedish military. King Magnus Eriksson (Albrecht of Mecklenburgs predecessor) might have used it, and it fits well with him being king of Norway, Sweden and Skåne. We know for sure that king Albrecht used the three crowns, and on the effigies of bishop Henrik of Finnland, dating to early fifteenth century, Swedish crusaders are happily waving their three crown banners.

Trekronor_01

An old Swedish trademark, still used by our hockey team and the army – the three crowns

It took a long time before the Swedish army adopted uniform clothing. Even in the eighteenth century it was stated that “the soldier fights in his own clothes”, even if royal regiments had uniforms. To recognize each other in battle, a sheaf of straw or a twig of fir was attached to the hat or helmet. Something close to insignia was the use of foxtails and wolf tails. The otherwise notoriously unreliable sixteenth century writer Olaus Magnus writes: “To taunt their enemies, the Swedes tie wolf or fox tails to their spears.” Normally, we would treat this as nonsense, more or less, but as the German painter Albrecht Dürer actually depicts knights with foxtails or wolf tails on their lances, this might really be the case.

What is so taunting about wolf tails and fox tails? These animals was hated and scorned for killing livestock and (in the case of the wolf) sometimes even pose a threat to human beings. The punishment “to be hanged with wolves” where a convicted man or woman was hung up alongside the bodies of wolves, was a most degrading execution.

Article by Johan Käll, previously published at our old webpage