Known and unknown Swiss martial figures. Who’s the bastard who pushed me?

This joke is reminiscent of the legend of Winkelried, a Swiss hero who impaled himself on enemy pikes to enable his compatriots to break through the lines. Christophe Vuilleumier and Frédéric Rossi chose this image for their collective book, shedding new light on 100 Swiss historical figures from the pen of thirty historians. Selected entries from the book published in 2016 are now available on the blog of the Swiss National Museum (in French and German), with delightful additional images.

Discover the martial figures by browsing this selection of entries:

Hans Waldmann (1435-1489), the Zurich Tyrant, by Christophe Vuilleumier

How the young peasant Hans Waldmann (1435-1489) rose from war hero to the hated mayor of Zurich.

Wilhelm Tell (14th c.), the brainless hero, by Laurent Flutsch

How a former 14th century mercenary needlessly endangers the life of his son and becomes an icon anyway.

Otho of Grandson (1340?-1397), the last knight poet, by Alain Corbellari

How Othon de Grandson, an important medieval poet, died in a duel.

Niklaus Manuel Deutsch (1484-1530), the macabre mercenary, by Christophe Vuilleumier

How Niklaus Manuel Deutsch lived through the most warlike periods of the Confederation and became a pioneer of the Reformation.

Joachim Meyer (1537-1571), knife maker, free fencer and master at arms, by Daniel Jaquet

How the craftmen Joachim Meyer from Basel published a fight book and held fencing schools in Strasbourg.

Stay tuned for more martial figures. This post will be updated as soon as they appear on the blog of the Swiss National Museum (status as at 14.11.2020).

Forthcoming are:

Arnold Winkelried (14th c.), from war hero to dragon slayer, by Daniel Jaquet
Ulrich von Hohensax (1462-1538), a captain of fury and blood, by Christophe Vuilleumiers
Joachim Meyer (1537-1571), knife maker, free fencer and master at arms, by Daniel Jaquet
Adrien de Bubenberg (1434-1479), Morat above all, by Frédéric Rossi

Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part I

The aim of this six-part essay is to investigate the fortunes of a fighting knight in the 1420s, his armour, and the key role of urban centres in supporting the martial culture of his ilk. They are illustrated with objects from Glasgow Museums’ collections and others.

A Silver Sallet at Orléans in 1437

On 7 February 1437 the notaire of Orléans scribbled the following entry:

Olivier des Brosses et Jehan Phelippe, armeurier demourant a Orliens, receurent de Jehan Bourgeoys, cousturier demourant a Orliens, une salade appartenant a Guillaume Stewart, Escossoys comme ils disoient, bordee d’argent, avecques une hoppe d’argent, tout ledit argent pesant deux marcs sept onces comme ilz disoient, que ledit Bourgeoys avoit en gaige dudit Escossoys pour trois reaulx d’or

Olivier des Brosses and Jehan Phelippe, armourer of Orléans, have received from Jehan Bourgeoys, couturier (tailor) of Orléans, one sallet belonging to William Stewart, a Scot, as they claim, bordered with silver with a silver hoop, all the said silver weighs two marcs seven onces, as they claim, that the said Bourgeoys had accepted as a pledge from the said Scot for three royaux d’or.[1]

‘The most common and the best, as seems to me’

The sallet is a type of helmet. An anonymous Frenchman writing in 1446 of the arms and armour of his day understood that it afforded the fighting man good protection whilst allowing ease of movement, vision, and breathing: ‘the most common and the best, as seems to me, are the head defences called sallets’ (‘la plus co[m]mune et la meilleur a mon semblant est larmeure de teste qui se appelle sallades’).[2] It might be of one piece (Fig. 1) or fitted with a visor (Fig. 2). Some are beautifully-decorated works of art: examples being the one crafted as part of the harness for Archduke Sigismund of the Tyrol in the Kunsthistorisches Museum,Vienna, the sallet of Emperor Maximilian I in New York’s Metropolitan Museum and that of Philip I in the Real Armería, Madrid.

Fig. 1: Sallet forged in one piece with central flattened keel form ridge over the skull passing into long pointed tail at the back and descending sharply to horizontal sight slit in front, the lower edge of which juts beyond the upper; lining rivets surround the base of the skull at eye level and are continued inside on metal strap fixed to the brow of the sight slit. Germany.;id=32743;type=101

 The silver borders referred to in the notaire’s entry were applied strips of decoration. An elegant survival of this type is the sabaton (plate foot defence) from the components of armour for the young Dauphin (later Charles VI) dedicated to Chartres Cathedral in the 1380s (now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres). On it are the remains of a border of silver-gilt fleur-de-lys.[3]

Fig. 2: Sculpture featuring a visored sallet. Stone head of a warrior, possibly from a statue of St George. Made in France , circa 1520.;id=40277;type=101

We now have our silver sallet, but who was its owner? What was he doing pawning his martial equipment in this urban centre and why? Find out in the next installment.

[1] Orléans, Archives départementales du Loiret, 3E10151, fol. 114v. I am extremely grateful to Prof. Kouky Fianu for her kind assistance locating this document and generously sharing her transcription.

[2] Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 1997, fol. 64r. A full scan of this MS is available at:

[3] F. H. Cripps-Day, ‘The Armour at Chartres’, The Connoisseur, 110 (1942), 91-95.

Mastering Artillery and Festivities?: Burgh Appointments in Aberdeen in 1523

In April 1523, an entry in the council register of the Scottish burgh of Aberdeen appointed two individuals, Thomas Menzies and Patrick Lesly, as Masters of Artillery for the following year.[1] Out of context, this appointment seems unsurprising. The first recorded Masters of Artillery in Aberdeen were appointed in 1512; both Menzies and Lesly were significantly involved in burgh government in the 1520s and in April 1523 had also been appointed to a small council advising on defence against a feared English attack.[2] However, eyebrows are often raised for, in the same register entry, the two men were also appointed as Lords of Bon-Accord, Aberdeen’s ‘lord of misrule’ figure, who led the burgh’s traditional seasonal celebrations.[3] At first, appointing the Lords of Bon-Accord to take charge of the burgh artillery, particularly in a year in which war with England threatened, seems irresponsible, if not wilfully ignorant, on the part of the burgh council. However, further investigation highlights that the two roles shared several key similarities.  

Image: Map of New Aberdeen from James Gordon, Abredoniae novae et veteris description (1661). Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland from


Firstly, it is important to recognise the organisational scope of both roles. The Lords of Bon-Accord might be expected to organise plays, burgh ridings, decorations, dances, and banquets.[4] The role of the Masters of Artillery in Aberdeen involved acquiring supplies for the artillery, raising relevant funds, ensuring gunners were paid, and playing a role in organising the physical defence of the burgh.[5] Both roles therefore required an individual with both the time to facilitate, and the skill to organise, the activities within their remit.


Aberdeen’s civic government was relatively closed, and only limited individuals, like Menzies and Lesly, would be considered appropriate holders for roles which confirmed, or affirmed, status. Indeed, in Aberdeen in 1531 the role of the Lord of Bon-Accord was described specifically as ‘an office of honour.’[6] While the prestige of the role of the Master of Artillery was less explicitly stated, at the national level Lord Methven, the third husband of the Dowager Queen Margaret, was, in 1528, appointed ‘gret Lieutennat of the gret artilyhie quhilk with us is an office honourable’, suggesting that a command role over artillery imparted a degree of status and honour.[7] It is also notable that the Menzies family, who dominated Aberdeen’s politics in the sixteenth century, continually ensured their control of the burgh’s artillery, seemingly both for security and as a statement of status and authority.

Utilising Gunpowder

Masters of Artillery were involved in ensuring the burgh was supplied with gunpowder which was, in turn, frequently used during burgh festivities. Gunners commonly played a role on these occasions while, in Edinburgh, entertainments in the first half of the sixteenth century often referenced payments for gunpowder, sometimes explicitly delivered to the local equivalent of the Lord of Bon-Accord.[8] In Aberdeen, it is also known that an artillery salute was fired in 1512 at the royal entry of Queen Margaret, and that the Lords of Bon-Accord were heavily involved in organising royal visits to the burgh in 1492 and 1552.[9] It is highly likely, therefore, that the Lords of Bon-Accord would have played a role in organising the salute in 1512, although it is perhaps not coincidental that this is also the first year for which a record of the Masters of Artillery survives for the burgh.

The roles of Master of Artillery and Lord of Bon-Accord therefore, shared several common features – both required organisational skills, bestowed status and required a degree of mutual knowledge. While there is no evidence at present that the conflation of these roles was explicitly repeated, a recurrence would perhaps not be as surprising as it had, at first, appeared.

[1] Anna Mill, Medieval Plays in Scotland (Norwood, 1978), p. 142.

[2] ACA/1/9, p.108; ACA/1/11, p. 272; William Kennedy, An Alphabetical Index [….] 1398 – 1800 (copy), MS 595 (1826), Vol. 10 p.81; Vol. 11 p.99.

[3] Mill, Medieval Plays, p.142; Michael Lynch & H. Dingwall, ‘Elite Society in Town and Country’ in E. Patricia Dennison, David Ditchburn & Michael Lynch (eds), Aberdeen Before 1800: A New History (East Linton, 2002), p. 183.

[4] Mill, Medieval Plays, p. 27.

[5]ACA/1/11, p 90.

[6] Mill, Medieval Plays, p. 143.

[7] David Caldwell, Guns in Scotland: The manufacture and use of guns and their influence on warfare from the fourteenth century to c. 1625 (University of Edinburgh, Unpublished PhD thesis, 1981), pp. 181-2.

[8] Philip Butterworth, ‘Theatre of Fire: Special Effects in Early English and Scottish Theatre’ (London, 1998), pp. 132-3; John Smith, The Hammermen of Edinburgh and the Altar in St Giles Church (Edinburgh, 1906), p.30.

[9] Mills, Medieval Plays, p. 133, 149; Priscilla Bawcutt (ed.), The Poems of William Dunbar, Vol. 1 (Glasgow, 1998), p. 64.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search