Subject: szlachcic noble cavalryman
Setting: Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, eastern Europe 16-17thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Zamoyski 1987 p107
"[A nebulous but pervasive influence on the outlook of the szlachta] stemmed from a theory elaborated by various writers at the beginning of the [sixteenth] century to the effect that the Polish szlachta were not of the same Slav stock as the peasantry, but descendants of the Sarmatians, a warrior people from the Black Sea Steppe who had swept through South-Eastern Europe in the sixth century. This theory drew a neat pseudo-ethnic distinction between the political nation and the rest of the population, the plebs, and was accepted with enthusiasm by the multi-racial szlachta in spite of its illogicality. How far they really believed in it is not clear, but it was useful and appealing to this motley collection who were far more at home with the 'noble warrior' Sarmatian myth than with the image of Christian Chivalry, with all that this entailed in terms of fealty, homage, service, humility and vassalage.
"In time, the Sarmatian ethic, or simply Sarmatism, supplanted others and grew into an all-embracing ideology, but in the sixteenth century its influence was visible principally in manners and tastes. As a result of contacts with Hungary and Ottoman Turkey various accoutrements of Persian origin were gradually incorporated into everyday wear and use. By the end of the century the Polish costume had come closer in style to that of the Turks than to any Western European apparel."
* Zamoyski 1987 p55
"The origins of the szlachta remain obscure. Polish coats of armor are utterly unlike those of European chivalry, and were held in common by whole clans which fought as regiments. It is not known whether these originated as family or tribal groupings, but their existence has suggested an analogy with the clans of Scotland. A more apt analogy might perhaps be made with the Rajputs of northern India. Like both of these, and unlike any other gentry in Europe, the szlachta was not limited by nor did it depend for its status on either wealth, or land, or royal writ. It was defined by its function, that of a warrior caste. Clannish and arrogant as it was, the szlachta did not underpin its position with the feudal pillars of gentle kinship on the one hand and contempt for the villein on the other. Its bases were subtly but markedly different; mutual solidarity, and fierce rivalry with other classes. Its attitude was often indistinguishable form that of a modern trade union."
* Grbašić/Vukšić 1989 p21
"Cavalry was the largest and best branch of the Polish military. It was divided into hussars, panzers, dragoons and units of light cavalry. Hussar units were the elite of the Polish army, thus the place of choice for military service of the middle and high nobility. In the second half of the 17th century, the hussar was an archaic horseman, and could still be found only in Poland."
* Zamoyski 1987 p155-156
"The pride and glory of the Polish cavalry, its mailed fist, was the Husaria, the winged cavalry. This operated in regiments of about three hundred men highly skilled and armed to the teeth. The companions of the front rank carried an astonishing lance of up to twenty feet in length, which outreached infantry pikes, allowing the Husaria to cut straight through a square. Having planted his lance in the chest of an enemy pikeman, the companion then drew either his sabre or another weapon peculiar to the Poles, a rapier with a six-foot blade which doubled as a short lance. Each companion also carried a pair of pistols, a short carbine; a bow and arrows; and a variety of other weapons, the most lethal of which was the czekan, a long steel hammer which could go through heads and helmets like butter. ...
"[...] For over a century, the Husaria were the lords of the battlefield. Kircholm (1605), where 4,000 Poles under Chodkiewicz accounted for 14,000 Swedes, was little more than one long cavalry manoeuvre ending in the Husaria's charge. Klushino (1610), where Zółkiewski with 6,000 Poles of whom only 200 were infantry, defeated 30,000 Muscovites and 5,000 German and Scottish mercenaries, was a Husaria victory, as was the battle of Gniew (1656), in which 5,500 Polish cavalry defeated 13,000 Swedes. In many other battles, from Byczyna (1588) and Trzciana (1629) to the relief of Vienna (1683), the Husaria dealt the decisive blow."
* Pogonowski 2000 p113-114
"The Polish climate required warmer clothing than was fashionable in southern and western Europe. Thus, Poland was exposed to eastern influences. The Armenians introduced Persian-style clothes to Poland. On the other hand, centuries of wars with the Ottoman Empire exposed the Poles to Turkish clothes and decorations."
* Davies 2005 p191
"Styles of dress observed ... priorities [of proclaiming cultural excellence]. It was important that the nobleman and noblewoman should display their quality. For the man, weapons were carried well into the eighteenth century -- a sabre when outside, a dagger at his belt indoors. The thigh-length leather boots ... struck a pose of manliness and chivalry. The ankle-length house-smock, or żupan, the sleeveless waistcoat or delia, and the huge, flared over-coat or kontusz, kept the trousers hidden from view. The close-fitting cap in Poland, and the tall, fur kolpak in Lithuania, provided the normal headgear. ... All authorities agree that the use of sable fur was a traditional Polish fashion for both sexes. Sable was used for trimmings, for linings, and in the form of soroki or bundles of 'forty skins' for winter coats. It was widely remarked, also, that gold and jewels were publicly worn in uncommon quantities, as fastenings, pins, brooches, links, clusters, and as every form of decoration. Poverty-stricken noblemen would rather starve than part with their heirlooms."
* Racinet 1988 p274
"The basis of Polish national costume is an over-garment with slashed sleeves called a kontousch. This garment first arrived in Poland from the Persia [sic] toward the end of the 15th century, though it was not frequently seen until the end of the 16th century. By then it had been more widely adopted among the nobility and also by the bourgeoisie, but the original style had been modified in accordance with Polish taste.
"The kontousch was put on over an under-garment called a joupane, and had a neckline low enough to show the latter, with its row of six buttons. It crossed over slightly at the belt and was smooth at the front, while at the back there were large pleats from the waist down.
"The sleeves were wide from the shoulder to the elbow and then narrowed towards the wrist, being slashed their whole length at the front to show some of the sleeve of the joupane. The arms could easily be slipped out of the sleeves, which could either hang down at the sides, or be thrown back over the shoulders.
"Sometimes the kontousch was buttoned up to the neck and it had gold and silver frogs as well as buttons. It was trimmed with material in the same colour as the garment itself or with gold or silver. The lining of was [sic] always the same colour as the joupane. The collar was sometimes upright and sometimes folded flat around the neckline.
"The Polish nobility never wore anything other than bonnets on their heads. Either these were made entirely of fur, or decorated with pieces of fur to give the same effect." ...
* Zamoyski 1987 p197
"By the early 1600s the Polish cavalry had adopted most of the weapons used by the Turks as well as many of their tactics. The Hetmans used the Turkish baton for command, and the horse-tails which denoted the highest rank among the Turks were born [sic] aloft behind them too. The Poles also dressed more and more like their foe, and even the Tatar habit of shaving the head was widely practiced on campaign. So much so that on the eve of the Battle of Vienna the king had to order all Polish troops to wear a straw cockade so that their European allies should not take them for Turks, from whom they were virtually indistinguishable. With Sobieski's accession to the throne, military fashion invaded the court and became institutionalised. This 'Sarmatian' costume had the advantage of being non-partisan, while French or German clothes were equated with foreign intrigue. The growing complex vis-a-vis Western Europe meant that it was the advanced West and not the still obscure (though physically more dangerous) East whose influence was feared. The Sarmatian costume became a symbol of healthy, straightforward patriotic 'Polishness'."
* Zamoyski 1987 p156
"Many drawings, prints and written sources from the sixteenth century depict or describe winged horsemen. According to one source, this habit of ornamentation came from Asia, and was adopted by peoples who became part of the Turkish Empire. Another locates it in medieval Serbia. Besides their ornamental function, the wings had a ritual one -- giving the rider 'the ease and speed of a bird carried by the wind', and, supposedly, a protective function too. The nomadic peoples of the Asian and Russian steppes used lassoes to snare horses, and these could also be used for capturing riders. The wings were supposed to hinder the use of a lasso. "[...] The Husaria wore helmets, thick steel breastplates and shoulder and arm guards, or eastern scale armour. The companions also wore wooden arcs bristling with eagle feathers rising over their heads like two wings from attachments on the back of the saddle or the shoulders. Over one shoulder they wore the skin of a tiger or leopard as a cloak. These served to frighten the enemy's horses, and indeed the enemy himself, and the wings had the added advantage of preventing Tatars eager for ransom from lassoing the Polish riders in a melee. But the main purpose of these accoutrements was to give an impression of splendour. The companions in the Husaria were young noblemen who liked to show off their wealth. Helmets and breastplates were chased or studded with gold and often set with semi-precious stones. Harnesses, saddles and horse-cloths were embroidered and embellished with gold and gems. The long lance was painted like a stick of rock and decorated with a five-foot-long silk pennant which made a frightful noise at the charge."
* Ostrowski 1999 p73
"WIth time the Polish hussar cavalry abandoned Hungarian wooden shields, adopting light laminated armor with an open zischägge helmet, wings in the Tatar-Turkish style, and a decoration in the form of a skin of a beast of prey: tiger, leopard, or wolf. They still mainly fought with the long lance reaching a length of five meters (almost fifteen feet), hollow inside for lightness, with a short iron head and a long pennon. At full gallop a hussar easily transfixed his opponent wish such a lance which however, would snap on impact. Therefore, when fighting at close quarters, he used a saber, estoc, war hammer, and pistols. The hussar's feathered wings had no particular function except for their psychological role of making him a superhuman creature. As far back as the sixteenth century dyed ostrich feathers were used, and later as a rule those of birds of prey, eagles or hawks; but in view of the scarcity of these even dyed goose or swan feathers were sometimes employed. The wings were fixed in tubular holders of the cantle or less frequently fastened to the backplate of the armor. Generally a single, not very tall wing with black feathers was used in combat and a pair of more splendid wings on parade. Occasionally hussars put the wings aside before a battle."
* Grbašić/Vukšić 1989 p23
"The hussar was protected by a helmet, a breastplate invulnerable to pistol shots and a backplate to which were fastened a pair of wings, which earned them the name of 'winged hussars.' These wings were not merely decorative; they had the very practical function of preventing the much faster and more maneuverable Tartars or Cossacks from slipping a lasso over the rider and pulling him from his mount. In the last third of the 17th century, scale armor, to which wings were not affixed, came into use."
* Vuksic/Grbasic 1993 p134
"The hussar's breast armour, made on the basis of the Italian anima armour, could withstand a musket shot from 20 paces, while the back armour was impervious to a pistol shot from point-blank range. The most frequent gilt ornaments on the breastplate were the Virgin Mary on the left side and the cross on the right. Besides a heavy lance 5 m/16 ft long, the hussars had a type of combat sabre (karabela boyova), a straight sword 170 cm/70 in long for piercing mail coif (konzerz) and two pistols carried in saddle holsters."
* Grbašić/Vukšić 1989 p23
"Besides the sword and lance, the hussar carried two pistols and an armor-piercing long sword -- koncerz -- which hung on his saddle."
* Withers 2010 p38 caption = Withers/Capwell 2010 p286 caption
"A Polish estoc ... would have been used by the cavalry. The needle-like blade was ideal for penetrating armour."
Sabers (Batorówka, Husarska, Karabela, Ordynka)
* Ostrowski 1999 p195
"Every Polish gentleman considered himself a soldier and defender of the faith and the fatherland, deriving from this axiom his rights and privileges. He regularly carried a saber, a claim denied to plebians, and identified a military uniform as a national costume. He also went out of his way to obtain at least a titular officer's function in the army. When summoned, gentlemen had the obligation to present themselves, armed, in camp, where their skills and weapons were assessed. Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries these activities acquired a more and more symbolic character, and the levee en masse of the gentry was no longer of any importance on the battlefield. The descendants of the medieval knighthood had in fact turned into landed gentry.
"This of course does not mean that a gentleman found skill with weapons useless. A career in the army was one of the main opportunities for a son of a modest gentleman. Even in the period of formal peace the southeastern provinces were incessantly threatened by Tatar invasions and Cossack rebellions. The weakness of executive power invited conflicts between neighbors and even private wars. Hence, a gentleman who wanted to be safe from his belligerent neighbor or to exact a favorable verdict from the tribunal had to be skilled in using a weapon and to keep a few armed men. The magnates had under their command private armies at times several thousand strong."
* Zamoyski 1987 p155
"[T]heir sabre was probably the finest cutting weapon ever in use in a European army. It was the curved eastern sabre, modified by the Hungarians and further adapted by the Poles in the sixteenth century until it reached a combination of length, weight and curve which gave it an uniquely [sic] high ratio of cutting-power to effort expended."
* Davies 2005 p182
"Murder ... was considered somewhat less serious than other types of offence. Noblemen, who always carried a sword, were expected to fend for themselves."
Impact Weapons (Buława, Buzdygan, Czekan, Nadziak, Obuch)
* Paszkiewicz online
"In the Middle Ages, and later, until approximately the middle of the XVIth century the war hammers used in Poland were of German or Italian style. But towards the end of the XVIth century distinctive local variations were created. They consist of three types known as: czekan (Hungarian czakany), nadziak and obuch. It should be pointed out that clear distinction among these types and accurate use of the names developed only with time. In the late XVIth century and early XVIIth century the names, in particular czekan and nadziak, seem to be used indiscriminately, even in official documents such as 'the constitutions', i.e. the laws passed by the Polish Sejm (Parliament). Anyway, at least towards the middle of the XVIIIth century, and probably much earlier, the distinction was well established and generally accepted.
"[...] War hammers, in the variations described above, were very popular in Poland for over two centuries, from the middle of the XVIth to the second half of the XVIIIth. In fact, they were a favourite weapon of the Polish nobility in war or peace time, next only to the sabre. They were also regarded as a particularly dangerous weapon. Three times -in 1578, 1601, and 1620 – laws ('constitutions') were passed by the Sejm, (the Parliaments) forbidding their use except 'in war against the enemy of the country', and introducing heavy penalties, but all in vain.
As for reasons why war hammers were so dangerous and for the assessment of their popularity, the best thing is to quote the Rev. A. Kitowicz: 'When a nobleman was leaving the house he would buckle the sabre to his side and take an ‘obuch’ in his hand, an instrument which was also called ‘nadziak’ and ‘czekan’. It consisted of a haft, one inch thick and waist-high; the handle was round and elongated made of silver, plated or plain brass, and with a hammer on the other side, made of steel, silver or brass. This hammer had a hammer-head similar to the shoemaker’s; if on the other side it was formed into the shape of an axe, it was called ‘czekan’, if it was in the form of a thick, slightly sloping spike, it was called ‘nadziak’, and if curved like a round cracknel, then ‘obuch’.'
“It was a terrible instrument in the hand of a Pole, and particularly so when he was in the mood for quarrels and scuffles. With the sabre one could cut off somebody’s hand, cut the face, injure the head, and the running blood of the adversary would calm down the rancour. But with the obuch one could cause a deadly wound without even seeing the blood, and – not seeing it – he would not calm down instantly, but would strike several times without cutting the skin, breaking ribs and bones at the same time.”
“The nobleman walking with an obuch often injured his serfs and sometimes even killed them. Because of the danger it represented it was forbidden to come armed with a nadziak at the time of big meetings, sessions of parliament, sessions of the local councils or tribunals where scuffles were common. At the entrance to the Gniezno cathedral there is a fixed notice warning people whosoever would enter this house of God with such a brigandish instrument he would be excommunicated. And indeed it was a brigandish instrument for if someone should hit somebody else with the nadziak’s sharp end behind the ear he would kill him instantly, pushing through his temples a fatal iron.”"
* Williams 2014 p68
"[S]ome Polish noblemen had themselves portrayed wearing caftan-like robes and holding spherical or winged maces of Turkish type (gürz and şeşber)."