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"Good books on medieval scandnavian armies" Topic

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Don Sebastian27 Aug 2014 10:51 p.m. PST

Guys, can anyone suggest some good books about the medieval danish and swedish armies? Books in any language would be welcome. I have the ospreys on the subject, but they are really bad.

Gattamalata28 Aug 2014 11:12 a.m. PST


Don Sebastian28 Aug 2014 5:53 p.m. PST

They have almost nothing about the composition of the armies and the Military organization. I've also read some reviews that mentioned the use of outdated and limited sources, tough I can' t verify since I've read nothing else on the subject.

Glengarry529 Aug 2014 11:32 p.m. PST

The more history I read the more I realise so much of what we think we know about the past is based on flimsy evidence or guesswork. It could be the information you seek just isn't there.

Don Sebastian02 Sep 2014 12:31 p.m. PST

But wouldn't there be any surviving information about the organization of the medieval armies of denmark and sweden? I mean, there is surviving information about lots of smaller states from that period…

janner02 Sep 2014 1:09 p.m. PST

Can you be a bit more specific, i.e. have you a particular time period or campaign in mind?

Daniel S03 Sep 2014 7:28 a.m. PST

The Ospreys are pretty wretched, they did bring in a Swedish expert only to ignore 90% of the corrections that were suggested.

The problem with Scandinavia is that so many sources have been lost and they were not plentifull to begin with due to the underdeveloped nature of for example Sweden. With mest of Swedish medieval history going up in flames in 1697 we have very little hard data that predates the Vasas

Don Sebastian03 Sep 2014 3:52 p.m. PST

Janner, I'm specially interested in their 15th century military organization, but information about it during previous centuries would be good too.

Daniel, isn't there any work that tries to use the surviving sources to describe what is known of the swedish medieval military?

janner04 Sep 2014 2:13 a.m. PST

If you're interested in gaming the Kalmar Union, might I suggest an excellent blog called 'Dalauppror' by Swedish gamer, Michael Leck :-)

I also suggest looking up the drawings of the German mercenary, Paul Dolstein.

Edit – double post deleted

Daniel S04 Sep 2014 2:34 a.m. PST

You have to understand just how extensive the destruction was, the Royal Library had a collection of 24500 books and some 1400 handwritten manuscripts. Of these 6000 books and only 300 manuscripts survived. And librarians only saved that many by throwing the books out of windows.

For the letters and documents belonging to the various archives we have no hard numbers but estimation is that at least 1/3 of those were lost, doesn't sound to bad but that number does not tell the full story. Because of the way in which documents were stored certain sections were hit much harder than others because it was impossible to reach them in time. This included the medieval section and the "secret" archive which among other things house all of the "field archives" of Swedish fieldmarshals as well as all the letters sent to the Queen by Swedish commanders during the TYW. Those collection were basicly wiped out. In addition the Danish King Christian II had removed much of the archives in Stockholm in 1520, it is impossible to tell how much was lost before the remnants were returned to Sweden much later. It is likely that parts suffered the same fate as the Danish medieval documents which Christian IV happily turned into fireworks in the 17th century…

So except for some very rare fragments research into Swedish army of the 15th Century relies mainly on narrative sources and those are not plentifull either. Not to mention that Swedish military system did not generate a lot of documents to begin with.

Core of Swedish army was the levy of free men. Regardless wether he was a yeoman who worked his own land or a peasant who worked the land of a noble or the Church all Swedish men were free. This gave them not only the right to speak and vote at the "thing" but also carried the obligation to arm themselves according to the regulations laid down by law. The details of the law varied a bit from province to province but basicly they were:
"Bow" (Includes crossbows as well since Swedish word "båge" in the 14th to 16th centuries was used for both types of weapons.
Sword or axe
Kettle hat
Mail coat or coat of plates
Some provinces added a spear as well.
Most of the provincial laws were written down during the 14th Century and the list of arms & armour reflect this.
During the 15th Century arms and armour did change, the crossbow increasingly replaced the bow and mail coats and coat of plates were replaced with plate armour. Shields disappeared and polearms appeared. By 1500 peasant levy had evolved to the form seen in the image by Paul Dolnstein


Because it generated no "paper trail" we know nothing about the details of how the peasant levy was organised or commanded in combat. The narrative sources hint that men from the same province fought together, probably with men from the same parish and the same "härad" fighting together. If a province was invaded it was the duty of all free men to muster for the levy but the full levy was a rare sight even then. When fighting offensivly only part of the levy was mustered. For example King Karl Knutsson in the mid-15th Century requested a levy of 1 man in 8 for war with Denmark. The 7 men that did not go would be duty bound to provide the man that went to war with supplies for the campaign.

One important but elusive group was what one Swedish historian has termed the "peasant nobility". These were yeomen (men who owned their own land) who were wealthy enough to be able to lay claim to "frälse" (noble) status but did not do so. (See below for explaination of Swedish nobility)
We do know that these men held importan positions in times of peace due to their wealth and status and it is likely that they did so in times of war as well. Their wealth would have allowed them to equip themselves above and beyond the demands of the law as well.

janner04 Sep 2014 9:54 a.m. PST

An excellent contribution, Daniel :-)

Daniel S04 Sep 2014 11:44 a.m. PST

Thank you :-)

To continue were I was when my connection to the net broke down.
It is probably this "peasant nobility" which the so called "Karlskrönikan" chronicle refers to in it's description of the Swedish army in 1452 when it mentions that among the Peasant levy was men who had "both horse and harness" as good as those of any "hofman". "Hofman" in plural "Hofmän" was a c phrase used to refer to cavalry. The word could be used to refer to any cavalryman regardless of equipment but in this case we have confirmation that it is used as reference to mounted crossbowmen since the chronicle mentions that these well equipped "peasants" were able to span and shoot their crossbows from horseback just as well as any "hofman". (Armoured mounted crossbowmen were probably the typical cavalry seen in Sweden at the time)

To continue on to the complex subject of the Swedish nobility and it's military role. The Swedish system of nobility was quite diffrent from continental Europe. There was never a feudal system in place and there was no title nobility with diffrent ranks before the mid-16th Century. The nobility, the "Frälse" enjoyed freedom from taxation in return for providing armed service to the King. To claim "Frälse" status one had to appear at a muster with horse, arms and armour, demonstrate that one knew how to use them and take an oath to the King. Failure to fullfill the oath or to appear at the annual musters would result in loss of "Frälse" status. During the 14th Century the status became hereditary but could still be lost due to failure to provide armed service, during the 15th Century it became necessary to have a "sköldebrev" (a form of patent of nobility) which could only be issued by the King or the Regent.

The nobility could be divided into two groups, a small group of very wealthy landowners, the Magnates. And the mass of the nobility, the Gentry, who were rather poor by European standards.
The Magnates are often refered to as "rådsadel" in Swedish sources, lit, "council nobles" because they had a seat in the "Råd" the Royal council which was the goverment of Sweden. The Rådsadel also controlled many of the "slottslän" which Sweden and Finland was divided into

Most of the Gentry would serve in person perhaps accompanied by the odd retainer ("Sven", plural "Svenner") while the Magnates fielded large armed retinues. "Large" by Swedish standards, few were able to raise more than a few hundred "Svenner", for example Tord Bonde, the Marshal of Sweden had a retinue of 300 "svenner" as well as 100 "småsvenner" ("små"= little, ie young.), the later were similar to the pages found in continenal armies.

The military potential of the Swedish nobility was limited, most researchers estimate that no more than 500-600 men of military age were available from the noble families themselves. Even the highest estimate is no larger than 1000 men. To this must be added the retainers whose number is almost impossible to estimate due to a lack of sources. The end result was that nobility became heavily reliant on the levy of yeomen and peasants to fight in the civil wars that plauged Sweden as well as to fight the various Danish Kings that tried to reestablish a firm version of the Kalmar Union. The peasants & yeomen took note of their importance and as they gained confidence in their military abilities they did not hesitate to revolt against unfair taxation or to throw their weight behind a popular noble who supported their cause. (It should be noted that the peasants did not act as a unified national body but rather acted along provincial loyalities. So provincial levies often faced one another in battle.)

Don Sebastian04 Sep 2014 1:17 p.m. PST

Daniel, that was amazing! It's really sad that so many documents that could make the picture even clearer were lost :/
And was there any regulation concening the equipment of the "Svenner" retainers?

Janner, I know the blog, and it's great. I just wish it had more about the danish military (The only information I've been able to find on them was that, apparently, danish peasant militia had short spears and that they used lots of german mercenaries). Do you know more about the subject?

The Last Conformist04 Sep 2014 10:55 p.m. PST

The Rådsadel also controlled many of the "slottslän" which Sweden and Finland was divided into
A "Slottslän", lit. "castle fief", being a normally non-hereditary governorate.

janner05 Sep 2014 7:22 a.m. PST

I'll see what I can dig out from my Danish friends :-)

Don Sebastian05 Sep 2014 2:49 p.m. PST

Thank you Janner! I look foward to see what you can find (:

Don Sebastian09 Sep 2014 3:44 p.m. PST

Daniel and Last Conformist, would any of you know what would the equipment of the "Svenner" and "småsvenner" retainers be?

Daniel S10 Sep 2014 3:50 a.m. PST

Småsvenner were basicly pages and servants, essentially non-combatants in most circumstances. Tord Bonde's use of his "småsvenner" as combat troops was noted because it was unusual and because the "småsvenner" charged with sharpend wooden stakes without iron/steel heads. (I.e an improvised weapon)

"Svenner" was a catch all phrase and we have very limited information about their equipment. The information we have suggest mounted crossbowmen and lancers with partial plate armour. Using a fair bit of conjecture I'd say that they were by the last decades similar to the cavalry seen in the Hausbuch from Schloss Wolfegg


But it is only in the 16th Century that we get begin to get detailed descriptions of cavalry equipment.

Don Sebastian10 Sep 2014 7:30 a.m. PST

Thank you very much, Daniel!

P.S.: What happened to your "Kriegsbuch" blog? It was by far one of the best military history blogs ever.

Daniel S10 Sep 2014 2:19 p.m. PST

Thank you :-),the blog is on hold at the moment but should be available, it turns up in my google searches at least. Since "free" time has been in short supply the last two years there have been no new posts since I've focused on other projects. I'm slowly buildning a "library" of posts and will restart the blog when I feel I have a decent amount of texts that are worth posting.

Don Sebastian18 Sep 2014 11:19 a.m. PST

Got it! I'm really looking foward to read those future posts (:

And Daniel, would you have know anything about the Danish military of the 14th and 15th centuries? (I'm specially puzzled as to what native foot soldiers/militia did the danish kings have, other than their 15th century german mercenaries)

Don Sebastian24 Sep 2014 8:27 p.m. PST

Any clues on the danish, guys?

LorenzoMele24 Sep 2014 11:05 p.m. PST

To my knowledge, the only miniatures expressely made to depict swedish medieval infantry are made by Khurasan


Don Sebastian02 Oct 2014 7:48 p.m. PST

Anyone knows anything about the danish medieval armies?

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