On the 24th of June, Prof. Dr. Regula Schmid Keeling was invited to participate to a museum talk at the Old Arsenal of Solothurn (Museum Altes Zeughaus). The museum has one of the largest collections of armour in Europe. The conversation was part of a series of lunch talks at the museum, with a Q&A format. Prof. Dr. Regula Schmid Keeling had the opportunity to present research finds of this current project, as well as of her own research to a broader audience. Through various questions the discussion addressed subjects such as: what are the different types of armour, who possessed it, what was the value of such objects, and when were they worn were addressed. She brought to light many examples of local history from research conducted on documents from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries kept in Swiss archives. The talk was recorded and you can listen to it following the link below. Beware, the ltalk was held in Swiss German dialect.
A peculiar piece of art can be found in the military collection of the “State Archive of Fribourg”. An ink sketch of what appears to be a sixteenth century warrior, with his weapon and a banner, has been drawn on the first folio of an administrative document. The creator or the purpose of this drawing are unknown, but its location, on a 1433 members list of Fribourg’s Bakers’ guild, provides the opportunity to talk about a particularly interesting element of Fribourg’s military organisation: the Reisgesellschaft.
First, the drawing needs to be examined. The figure depicted is wearing typical rich and opulent sixteenth century clothing, as well as some type of a one-handed sword, most likely a katzbalger. An inscription designates the figure as a “Hans Schzeker” (or maybe “Schzekel”). The artist/author is unknown, and no specific details are known in regards to the specific identity of the person depicted besides a potential name. Could it be a representation of one of the Bakers’ guild members as a fighter? As it seems logical, some elements can contradict this hypothesis. The banner represented in the drawing displays a Saint George’s cross, which does not correspond to the two keys traditionally displayed on the Bakers’ guild banner. Additionally, the name mentioned, Hans Schzeker (and its potential variation), cannot be traced to any of the fifteenth and sixteenth century guild lists. However, it is worth mentioning that no research has yet been done on the identity of the individuals mentioned in them. The chronological gap between the production of the document and the addition of the drawing is most intriguing. Because of the nature of the document, it is possible that any member of the Bakers’ guild with access to this document could have drawn on it. However, as puzzling as it is, the drawing is not the only interesting element of this document.
The type of document on which the little piece of art was drawn is a list of members of the “craftsmanship and travel company” (Hantwerck und Reisgeselschaft). The word Reisgesellschaft is important in the context of Fribourg’s military history, because it was systematically used since the 1460s to define any armed company mobilised for military expeditions. During those military enterprises, documents were produced to register the names of men involved, their salary and the expedition’s overall spending. They provide invaluable information on the evolution of the armed companies, mainly because they indicate that more specialised personnel (scribes, priests etc) was integrated in the companies since the 1490s. The complexity of those documents also increased during this period and they became complete “travel books” (Reisbücher). Lists of men constitute an important body of sources not only in Fribourg’s archives, as more than a hundred are preserved in its military collections, but also in other Swiss cities. Documents that can be labelled as “Harnischrödeln” were produced during the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries in many Swiss towns, such as Luzern or Brugg.
In Fribourg, craftsmen’s guilds were organisations that originally served religious and social purposes. Similarly to religious brotherhoods, the craftsmen guilds gathered during religious events and cultivated solidarity between the guilds’ members. A charter written in 1464 tells us more on the practical purposes of the Reisgesellschaft, which relied on the solidarity between its members to adjust to certain situations, such as covering travel expenses, being kept as prisoner during war or even death while participating in a military operation.
Fribourg’s military organisation was similar to other cities in the Holy Roman Empire, where citizens were mobilised based on their districts or their guilds. For the citizens of those cities, it was a civic duty to participate in the defence of the walls or in military expeditions. For example, craftsmen guilds in the city of Liege had an active military role and guilds had to finance the collective expense of the expedition, such as the supplies, the transport and the military decorum. One notable practice was the creation of a banner, which served as an identity element for guilds members. In the case of fifteenth century Fribourg, the four districts (Bourg, Auge, Hôpitaux, Neuveville) were systematically involved in military expeditions, and their guilds were mobilized mainly between the 1460s and the first decades of the sixteenth century. During this period, more than fifty armed companies can be identified within the limits of the city walls. If every guild, such as the Tailors or the Smiths, were organised in armed companies bearing the name of their craft, other groups were named after objects or mythical figures such as the Star (Lesteile), the Flying Stag (von dem Fliegenden Hirtz), the Red Griffin (Le Griffon roge) or the Tree (Larbere). This Golden Age for the Reisgesellschaften can be correlated with the closer ties between Fribourg and the Old Swiss Confederation, with numerous military campaigns. The first occurrence is the conquest of Thurgau by the Confederation in 1460, when a conflict between the Pope and Sigismund von Habsburg pushed the Swiss to seize part of the Archduke’s territory. Reisgesellschaften were thus integrated in a large scale military operation (for the city of Fribourg), with members of the patrician families in commanding roles (Captain, advisors), a treasurer and an artillery master. The companies were paid by the city and composed the largest body of fighters, as 186 of the 264 men mobilized went under their guilds’ banners.
The Reisgesellschaften are an important part of Fribourg’s military history and it is not a surprise to find a drawing of a soldier in a guild members’ list. However, this drawing is one of a kind in Fribourg’s archives (or, as far as we know based on ongoing research, in Switzerland) and a small indirect and beautiful piece of evidence of the importance of armed companies. They were more than groups of citizen-fighters; they were an integral part of the guilds’ function and were based on the solidarity between the guilds’ members.
 Archives de l’État de Fribourg, Boulangers 3.1, 1433, fol. 1.
 “Der Pfisternn geselschaft die fürenn zweii schusset”, Archives de l’État de Fribourg, Affaires Militaires IV, 7, fol. 61.
 Regula Schmid, “The armour of the common soldier in the late middle ages. Harnischrödel as sources for the history of urban martial culture”, Acta Periodica Duellatorum, vol. 5, 2 (2017), pp. 7-24.
 Hellmut Gutzwiller, “Die Zünfte in Freiburg I. Ue. 1460-1650”, Freiburger Geschichtsblätter, 41-42 (1949), p. 6.
 Archives de l’État de Fribourg, Stadtsachen A 265, 1464.
 Guillaume Mora-Dieu, “Les corporations et la défense d’une ville: l’exemple de Liège”, Médiévales, 73, 2 (2017), pp. 198-199.
 Gaston Castella, “La politique extérieure de Fribourg depuis ses origines jusqu’à son entrée dans la Confédération (1157-1481), Fribourg – Freiburg, 1157-1481, Fribourg: Fragnière (1957), p. 176 et ss.
 Albert Büchi, “La particiation de Fribourg à la conquête de la Thurgovie (1460)”, Annales fribourgeoises, 18 (1930),pp. 21-33.
Buried in the lines of the accounting books of the City of Solothurn lies a mention of the purchase of saltpetre from the pope himself in 1444 (fig. 1).
The Pope in Basel… dealing saltpetre?
Pope Eugene IV (1383-1447, see fig. 2) was indeed present in Basel, several times during the longest Ecumenical Council (1431-1449) in history. This council assisted in the city’s great economic expansion and cultural development. Even the Medici opened a banking agency there between 1433 and 1444. Emperor Sigismund was responsible for the safety of the council and expected the Swiss Confederates (with the assistance of the allied towns of Fribourg and Solothurn) to ensure peace during the assemblies. This explains why the city of Solothurn was heavily involved in discussions about matters regarding defences – especially about artillery – between Basel, Bern and Fribourg. It does not explain, however, why the Pope would deal in saltpetre.
Saltpetre in the recipe… with vinegar or urine?
Gunpowder was used in Europe from the fourteenth century onwards. Its basic components are: saltpetre (potassium nitrate), sulphur and coal, but a lot of additional elements found their way into the early recipes, such as wood shavings, urine, wine, vinegar, a variety of salts, camphor or salammoniac. The anonymous author or compiler of the Firework book (Feuerwerksbuch) of ca. 1420 explains how to corn gunpowder into “lumps” (Knollen) to deal with the problem of dampness:
Moisten a mixture of saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal with “good wine vinegar. And grind the mixture together with a wooden mortar and make it so moist with the vinegar that it will clump together, and then roll the lumps as large as you want them to be. Then take a glazed round deep saucepan or a pot or a copper bowl and press the lumps in wet just as you would force a cheese into a pot; then knock it out onto a board – it will come out easily.”.
This process is illustrated in another Firework book kept in Zürich (Fig. 3) where one can see the air-drying process in the sun. These Knollen are then prepared by the master gunner to ready the gunpowder to fire. The process of producing gunpowder in Europe is not well documented before the second part of the fifteenth century, and remains somehow obscure or even ‘magical’, mostly because its production remained to a large extent experimental.
The least stable element in the mixture is the saltpetre because the potassium nitrate is obtained through a process that involves bacterial action (discovered, in the 19th century, by the microbiologist Serge Winogradsky). Saltpetre was indeed produced in Europe, for example in Frankfurt. However, better-quality saltpetre arrived at the time from the Orient,  with northern Italy being one of its most important commercial gateway int Europe. In the same year saltpetre was purchased from the pope, the Solothurn accounting book also registers a greater amount of saltpetre bought at the fairs in Geneva, without, however, giving an indication of its original provenance.
Guns on the wall and master gunners at service
Already in the last quarter of the fourteenth century, several master gunners were hired by towns or princes for their well-needed services. In Solothurn, the first documented master gunner appears in the sources in 1442. By 1444, the accounting books mention at least two master gunners: Master Berchtold and Master Heinrich. Several lines in the accounting books of these years show these masters traveling to Bern and Basel and buying gunpowder, portable firearms and cannons to equip the town’s defences and fighting forces. Portable guns were also produced locally by the skilled metalworkers (here by the armour maker in 1444). The security of the Council of Basel was not the only concern of Solothurn. East of the town, war was waging in fits and starts (the so-called Old Zürich War of 1436-1450), and in the West, conflict arose with the “Armagnacs”, French mercenaries under the command of the daupin, the future Louis XI (Battle of Saint-Jacques sur la Birse, 1444, see fig. 4). The city of Fribourg, and old ally of Solothurn, follows the same timeline, with the first master gunners in service of the town in 1443/4. But just like in Solothurn, firearms were already in use earlier.
Papal gunners and holy gunpowder
The use of gunpowder advanced in the fifteenth century, and so did the manufacturing technology of guns and canons, gunpowder circulation and the master gunner’s trade. However, it remained unpopular in discourses and depictions, where gunners are easily associated with diabolic figures. The first printed edition of Saint Augustinus’ De Civitate Dei (printed in Basel by Johann Amerbach in 1489) for example depicts a devil shooting a gun (fig. 5). Despite this widespread association, the papacy had fully embraced the progress of the artillery since early on. Pius II (1458-1464), the third Pope in succession to Eugene VI, owned 13 guns, which he named after the 12 apostles and his mother, Vitoria.
The papacy hired a master gunner in 1450, Jörg of Nuremberg. He was captured by the Turks when casting guns in Bosnia for the Duke Stephen the Great of Moldavia in 1456. He then served the Turks until 1480 when he was sent to Alexandria from where he escaped and returned to papal services.
But what about the pope as dealer of saltpetre in 1444? It remains unclear if this was a regular papal side-business or if some cunning sellers of gunpowder benefited from the presence and fame of the pope in Basel to sell their product to the Solothurn master gunner. With Basel being at the centre of widespread trade at the time, and in view of the fact that a good-quality product from the Orient might have easily found its way to the upper Rhine region, one call well imagine how a “trademark” of holy gunpowder could have impressed a town involved in war at the time.
Credit for the main image: Frontpiece of the De Civitate Dei of Aurelius Augustinus (woodcut from Meister des Haintz Narr), printed by Johann Amerbach (Basel, 1489), detail. Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum (BSB – Ink A-863 – GW 2888) urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb00025317-8
 The 17th Council had 25 sessions in Basel, Florence and Ferrara between the year 1431 and 1449.
 Translation of Bert S. Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe (Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 71. The digitized manuscript and bibliographical information about it are available at the University Library of Heidelberg (online: https://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg585, accessed 20.05.2020).
 Bert S. Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe (Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 58.
 Wilfried Tittmann, ‘China, Europa und die Entwicklung der Feuerwaffen’ in Europaïsche Technick im Mittelalter: 800-1400. Tradition und Innovation, edited by Uta Lindgreen (Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1996), pp. 317-32.
 Item fazin hatt bracht von Ienf Salpetter und zentner 18lib Ienf gewicht tut an Solott’ gewicht 10 zentner 61lib da hort ein zentner nach Ienfer 12 guld und 12gross. tut in einer / summa 29 gulden und 1gross SS. Solothurn, Staatsarchiv, BB25, vol. 4 (1444), p. 82. Transcribed by the author.
 Leng, Rainer, ‘Zum Verhältnis von Kunst und Krieg in den illustrierten Kriegslehren des 15. und 16. Jahrunderts’, in ‘Mars und die Musen’: das Wechselspiel von Militär, Krieg und Kunst in der Frühen Neuzeit, ed. by Jutta Nowosadtko and Matthias Rogg, Herrschaft und soziale Systeme in der frühen Neuzeit, 5 (Berlin: Lit-Verl, 2008), pp. 33–58, here p. 40.
 Item ein Büchsenmeister der die büchsen beschiessen sollte verzart an Clewin lopsinger 10SS. Staatsarchiv, BB25, vol. 2 (1442). Transcribed by the author.
 Louis Jäggi (500 Jahre Schützengesellschaft Der Stadt Solothurn, 1462-1962 : Die Entwicklung Des Schützenwesens Der Stadt Solothurn von Ihren Anfängen Bis Zur Gegenwart (Solothurn: Union Druck, 1962)) mentions the two masters in 1444, but ommitted the master mentioned in 1442.
 Item dem Harnascher im Hensli peters hus vmb siben handbüchsen 7guldn. Staatsarchiv, BB25, vol. 4 (1444). Transcribed by the author.
 In a document of 1431, large and medium cannons equiped already the fortification walls. For references and details about the master gunner, see Willy Schulze, ‘Freiburgs Krieg Gegen Savoyen 1447-1448 : Kann Sich Eine Mittelalterliche Stadt Überhaupt Noch Einen Krieg Leisten?’, Freiburger Geschichtsblätter, 79 (2002), 7–54 <https://doi.org/10.5169/SEALS-391870>.
 Bernard Rathgen, ‘Feuer- und fernwaffen beim päpstlichen Heere im 14. Jahrhundert’, Zeitschrift für historisches Waffenkunde 7 (1915-17), 1-15.
 According to the writings of Enea Silvio Piccolomini (1405-1464). I would like to thank Kelly DeVries for this reference.
 Based on the master gunner own account (printed in the 1480s), see A. Vasiliev, ‘Jörg of Nurember: a writer contemporary with the fall of Constantinople’, Byzantion, 10 (1935), 205-9, quoted and commented in Peter Purton, The Medieval Military Engineer (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2018), p. 260.