Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Imperial Army (of the Holy Roman Empire).

Battle of Dornach July 22, 1499 – Landsknecht - Contemporary woodcut of the Battle of Dornach.
The Battle of Dornach was a battle fought on 22 July 1499 between the troops of Emperor Maximilian I and the Old Swiss Confederacy close to the Swiss village of Dornach. The battle turned into a decisive defeat for Maximilian, and concluded the Swabian War between the Swiss and the Swabian League: it amounted to de-facto independence of Switzerland from the Holy Roman Empire, acknowledged by Maximilian in the Treaty of Basel on 22 September (the independence was however not formally recognized until the Peace of Westphalia of 1648).

‘‘Landesabwehr.’’ The emperor traditionally had the right, as a German king, to issue a ‘‘bannum’’ in times of extreme need. In theory, this and other edicts applied to all subjects of military age, excepting only women, shepherds, and clergy. In fact, the bannum mostly called on the feudal service obligations of German knighthood (the ‘‘Ritterstand’’). In some cases, peasant militia were called up as foot soldiers while townsmen served as auxiliaries, usually, as archers or crossbowmen. The old feudal military order, dating to Charlemagne, required enfeoffed nobles and retainers to serve free for three months, which was significantly longer than the servitium debitum in France and England. This rule was invoked as late as the mid-13th century, but otherwise was eroded by the rise of service-for-pay arrangements even among German nobility. Still, as late as the early 15th century the idea of mandatory feudal service survived in the Empire: in 1401 German towns and nobles were summoned to an Imperial campaign in Italy by region (‘‘Landesaufgebot’’) and by individual fief (‘‘Lehnsaufgebot’’). While noble ‘‘officers’’ were paid a set fee, town militia received nothing. In the late 1480s, Emperor Maximilian I organized Landsknechte companies to mimic, and hopefully to best, the Swiss squares. In 1500 he gave responsibility for regional defense and recruitment to the Reichskreis.

In the 16th century the Hofkriegsrat, or Imperial War Council, controlled 25,000 Imperial troops, but only on paper. Real control rested with the Imperial princes, and with commanders responsible for regional military order appointed by discrete Reichskreis. The Landsknechte were strictly mercenary troops. That meant in a shooting war the emperors relied principally on military contractors to raise mercenary armies to supplement noble heavy cavalry. There was no serious attempt to raise a conscript Imperial force because the emperors had no funds to pay for it outside revenues from their hereditary lands. Once the Protestant Reformation took hold in Germany it was next to impossible for emperors to obtain necessary funds and authorization from divided princes to raise and maintain Imperial troops, a problem made evident during Charles V’s desultory war with the princes of the Schmalkaldic League. Just before the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) the Imperial princes divided openly into confessional associations that briefly fielded their own armies: the Catholic League and Protestant Union. As a result, most Imperial troops from 1618 to 1648 were mercenaries raised by military entrepreneurs and sustained not by taxes but by forced contributions (there's a difference!).

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