A guide to Swedish clothes (En guide till svenska kläder)

"Ware Swenske."

(Be ye Swedish.)

-Daniel Fallström

Making a 16th Century Swede, or, the clothes of those who fought against and alongside Landsknechts in the North

I have just begun, in the past few months, delving into a new area of deep interest for me, and it's incredible how things have come full-circle for me. My Mother has always been interested in genealogy, and found many of our German and Finnish ancestors having to do with the early history of Sweden, my home. One was even a Hauptmann of a company of Landsknechts, which was an incredible discovery in and of itself because I have been studying and trying to recreate Landsknecht history for awhile. Even more amazing was the fact that he was hired by Swedish nobles to fight in the war against the Union of Kalmar for the freedom of Sweden.

Landsknechts had much to do with the formation of Sweden as its own state. They were hired by Danes to fight rebellious Swedish peasants at the turn of the 16th century. Many were then hired by Swedish counts and nobles (among them the first Swedish king, Gustav Vasa) to help in the war against the Union of Kalmar for the freedom of Sweden. As a result of this, the Danish kings Kristian II and Fredrik I, along with many Danish counts, hired Landsknechts to suppress this revolution. Even after Sweden became a state of its own, the new king Gustav Vasa hired Landsknechts to suppress Swedish peasant rebellions.

The Landsknecht Paul Dolnstein wrote in his diary about fighting the Swedes in a campaign in 1502:

We were 1800 Germans and we were attacked by 15,000 Swedish farmers. God gave us victory and we struck most of them dead. We were all wearing breast and back plates, skullcaps and arm defences, and they had crossbows and good pikes made from swords. Afterwards, the King of Denmark knighted us all and id us great honour and paid us well and let us return over the sea in 1503. I, PaulDolnstein was there and Sir Sigmund List was our Obrist.

He also wrote of their appearance, describing their baggy pants, outmoded helmets (kettle helmets as seen in his sketches), snapsacks, sword-staffs, and crossbows.

Here is a bit of an outline of early-renaissance (about 1500-1550) Swedish clothing. Since they seemed to have been "behind" in the eyes of the Germans, the baggy pants that he was describing was most likely a variation of the ever-common braies that were used in Europe. Braies were a type of underwear and were worn under the legs of hose, but were also worn as the main mode of covering the lower half by peasants working in the fields and at their trades. Since the Swedish fighting forces of the time were mostly made up of peasant farmers, and because their everyday items were out of date compared to contemporary Germans, it would not be a stretch to say that the construction of these pants was about the same as the braies of the 15th and 14th centuries that had been a mainstay of European culture for so long. Another clue pointing to the use of braies is that the depictions show no crotch seams, which is relevant because braies are made up of a single piece of fabric and have no crotch seams. Many have conjectured that the pants they wore were a type of over-pants to cover a set of hose or such, but considering the difficulty and expenses of constructing tight, form-fitting hose, it is more likely that they wore these baggy pants or braies as their main layer for the lower half. If this is true, then, the stockings worn underneath would have been simple woolen fabric sewn (not knitted) stockings. They were most likely made of rough and naturally colored linen, which has been a staple of Scandinavian clothing for millennia; this is also supported by the images of the Swedes in which their baggy pants were often very wrinkled.

In reference to an early 17th century depiction of the peasant rebel leader Nils Dacke, it seems that they wore a type of tie of bandwoven construction just below the knee to hold the baggy pants up; but this must be taken with a grain of salt, as the source is almost a century older than the actual event itself. More often than naught, Swedes were shown as wearing their baggy pants without any type of ties, especially in Paul Dolnstein's diary. This must be regarded as Dolnstein is a primary witness of the action at the time.

The shoes they wore in the depictions seem to be of the long, tapered "Poulaine" type that was common in the 15th century. It's likely that they were simply an exact model of or a similar iteration of those types of shoes, because of their use of "outdated" clothing.

Shirts were simple, light linen shirts with very little gathering or pleating, if any at all.

The doublets they wore seemed to have been waist-length and rather short, with a single row of buttons or ties hidden on the inside and a small flap on the bottom hem by the waist for show. They were of the slim cut that was popular up until the Elizabethan times, with very narrow and small tab/lower pieces just below the waist that did very little to lengthen the doublet, but did not have the pointy waist; only a more rounded, horizontal, and straight-across waist. The collar was a mid-neck-height vertical standup type. Sleeves were simple sand straight-tube. The image of Nils Dacke displays his doublet of a very dull and natural color, but with comparatively bright red and narrow trim on the hems. Also, Dacke's doublet was long compared to earlier depictions; about hip-length. However, as shown in most of Dolnstein's primary source images, the doublets were only waist-length. Few church depictions show the doublets as having two colors, with the left hand blocks of fabric having a different coloration than the right hand, but this is also to be looked at with skepticism as the church art of the time was very stylized. These would have been of a rough wool.

The depictions by Dolnstein only vaguely show any doublets, but rather show Swedish soldiers wearing breastplates, so it would be acceptable to wear captured German or simple, outdated breastplates. They are also shown wearing kettle hats, which were very common helmets in the 15th century, especially in Germany. Some had eye slits, some did not. There was a very specific onion-shaped Swedish style that is quite well documented, however. Pictures will be included.

They used snapsacks, which was written about in Dolnstein's diary, and almost every sketch by Dolnstein shows the Swedes as wearing snapsacks. They were tied at both ends; the basic construction was a tube of softer leather or heavy linen with hemmed ends, and the ends were bunched and tied with a rope or strap of thin leather to seal the bag. This type of snapsack was common at the time and used commonly up until the 18th century, so it is likely that they were of almost the exact same construction.

They wore thin leather belts of very simple make with one- or two-ring fasteners. They may have been the only decorated pieces of clothing, with rivets, studs, or buttons sewn all around, which is common in the primary source images. On these belts, they wore simple knives and daggers, which were common in Scandinavia and other Germanic lands of the time. The image of Nils Dacke shows him wearing keys on his belt, but this also would have been either artistic license or a nod to his slightly higher-than-peasant status due to his leadership.

Hats, aside from the kettle helmets and the arming caps they wore underneath, as well as chain mail coifs, were not as widely documented. One church image shows the hat as long and pointy, much like a stiff Santa hat. It is unclear what the construction or material these hats were of, although most likely of felted wool, possibly knitted.

Finally, their main weapons of choice remained either the crossbow, bow, or the sword-staff. The sword-staff was a short pike with a sword blade welded on, with various twisted patterns and S-shaped quillions. These are well-documented and quite specific to the area.

While an important consideration, it is not clear what Swedes wore during the wintertime at this point in the research.

It is important to keep in mind while making a set of Swedish soldiers' clothing for the early 16th century that they were peasants and very poor farmers and tradesmen. They had the roughest of linens and wools and the oldest of armor and arms. They had very little flashy coloration but mostly neutral and natural colors, aside from trim. Lastly, they did not slash their clothing at all, despite their heavy contact with the Germans.

This is a very simple set of clothing, and if you are even remotely involved in recreating renaissance history, you may already have the pieces to put together a Swedish outfit right away. This would be a fun and easy persona to do, and as a common enemy and ally of the Landsknechts, you would have much to do and many to do battle with. I'd like to put together a small group of renaissance Swedish reenactors for this purpose, and to back up and put to use my research in the area. I will be continuing my research and giving updates on my progress of the outfit as soon as I return home to Stockholm, where many sources lie in wait for me. I will also be posting more in-depth history on the wars of the era that Sweden was fighting.

Here are a few images:

A Swedish peasant in battle with a Landsknecht, from Paul Dolnstein's diary. Note the snapsack, kettle helmet, Poulaine-style shoes, and swordstaff. Also, a breastplate with a style similar to German armor of the time.

A Swedish battle formation, from Paul Dolnstein's diary. Note the many crossbows alongside the swordstaffs, as well as the breastplates, kettle helmets, and snapsacks.

The image of Nils Dacke.

Church image showing elf-like hat of popcorn style, baggy and crotch-seamless pants, Poulaine style shoes, and suspect doublet of two colors.

To learn how to make braies, look at the following site's "baggy braies" instructions:


To learn how to make a snapsack:


The peasant's poulaine shoes:


A description of a wonderful recreation of the swordstaff (stavsvärd):


A great reproduction of the Swedish style of kettle helmet:


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Comment by Kapten on September 4, 2014 at 11:15pm
Comment by Kapten on October 22, 2012 at 3:11pm

Darn, your image links are broken! Please if you have time, locate them again and upload them to Landsknecht.org for safe storage.

Comment by Kapten on May 28, 2012 at 3:52pm

Almost forgot, in 2003 I constructed a jacket on commission for Upplandsmuseet in Uppsala. It was for an exhibition about the Good Friday Battle (Långfredagsslaget) of 1520. A landsknecht and a Swedish peasant soldier were represented. For some not very archaeological reason somebody decided to choose Dolnstein as a reference for the costumes. It's of course is 20 years too early, perhaps the peasant's clothes didn't change that much, but the landsknecht fashion certainly did. I insisted on doing a typical 1520 continental jacket, so in the end there was kind of a mix, as somebody else did the rest of the costume. In an case, the Swedish soldier was portrayed carrying a sword staff, here in the interpretation of Peter Johnsson (these are the only pictures I have):

Source: http://www.landsknecht.org/photo/langfredagsslaget-at-upplandsmusee...

Source: http://www.landsknecht.org/photo/upplandsmuseet-p1300006?context=user

Comment by Kapten on October 24, 2011 at 1:40am
I had a chat with Martin Skoog about this battle. You should really talk to him. He has read all available material on this event, which is very limited, and then continued doing research on primary sources. There is a second side to Dolnstein's description.
Comment by Aiden Jönsson on October 18, 2011 at 6:31am

Många tackar Kapten! Thanks so much, I'm glad someone's interested :) Do you live in Sweden?

Thank you so much for the constructive commentary on this little research project. I'm not too used to it and am just getting into the idea of putting out and writing about the things that I research for fun and out of real, pure interest. You have raised some excellent questions that I may not have thought about!

It's incredibly sad how those numbers turned out. I love Landsknecht history, but really, in this case, my heritage takes the primary place. It's too sad; it just shows what odds the Swedes of the time were at. You're right, I'm sure there's more to learn about the event, but it's safe to say that they were definitely against all odds, being farmers and not warriors and having outdated weaponry.

I haven't read the thesis! I should though, Dolnstein certainly interests me. Things like this have taken a place on the back burner for me since beginning junior year in mechanical engineering X) I'll make a note to read about it.

And thanks about the quote. I found few sources about the actual source, and had to resort to my experiences at Nordiska Museet. I will change its source to Daniel Fallström until I find evidence that suggests Vasa was indeed the origin of the phrase. I would like to believe that it was one of Vasa's motto, as it would finally be one of those epic cases where we can be proud of our history. Just found it rather fitting for this case!

The time difference between Dolnstein, the actual revolution, and the time of Nils Dacke was indeed something that I considered. The target time period would be the 1520s, when the revolution occurred, as the Vasa became king in 1523. However, I found that there was little variation between these times when it came down to the basic Swedish soldier, and apparently Swedes have been fighting Landsknechts for a long time, leading to a nicely usable impression as an enemy and/or ally. Even in visiting Medeltidsmuseet in Stockholm, I found that they had an original crossbow from the early 16th century/late 15th century (I should read further into this, but for the most part, old things that were laying about were used), around the time of these occurrences. My goal was to give a general guide to an impression of these soldiers for reenacting that would be fairly accurate... However, I am totally open to further developing this impression further; perhaps it will blossom into something great! :D
Comment by Kapten on October 18, 2011 at 1:34am

Great project! Looking forward to hear more about this. I must say I really like the recreated sword-staff, a pretty cool weapon.

Have you read Martin Skoog's thesis on the Dolnstein diaries?

One thing strikes me - and please don't take this the wrong way, I'm a Swede and I dig your initiative - but  how amazingly lousy soldiers mustn't those sad Swedes have been. I mean 1 800 against 15 000 plus the Swedes fought for their lives and the landsknechts for money. Perhaps I just don't have all the facts about the event.

You open with "Ware Swenske", the formulation made me curious. Linda Landberg writes in her thesis, bearing that very title, that (I translate):

It's a phrase taken from a poem by Daniel Fallström (1858-1937) that is carved in the base of the Gustav Vasa statue by Carl Milles (1875-1955) in Nordiska museet in Stockholm. The sculpture was finished in 1925 ...

It seems to be believed that it was one of Gustav Vasa's mottos, but it's not listed here at least. Do you have any mor info on the subject?

Another thing is that Dolnstein is evidently 20 years before Gösta is elected. Which time frame are you considering? The german landsknecht influence became greater and greater by each year, especially when Gustav Vasa came to power. If you are considering farmer soldiers from Vasa's time, are there any more sources?

Best of luck!


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