Military defense in the royal towns of Touraine during the Wars of Religion: a daily martial culture

Abstract: During the Wars of Religion, the urban spaces of Touraine were affected by civil and religious violence, but above all by the presence of soldiers. The rich corpus of administrative sources preserved for the royal towns of Amboise, Chinon and Loches allows us to understand the central place occupied by military issues in these different municipal policies, as effective ways of preserving the urban space and identity.

The three royal towns of Amboise, Chinon and Loches, spread across the Touraine region, all had fortresses, real royal strongholds, which had to be defended from the crown’s enemies in the context of the Wars of Religion. The three municipal authorities, responsible for ensuring the defense of their urban areas through a system of citizen guards, were therefore in regular contact with the soldiers, whether they were sent by the royal authorities to guard the town and the castle, or
simply as a stopover on their way to a war zone . Military and defensive1 issues are therefore omnipresent in the administrative documents of these three cities and are manifested by the militarisation of urban spaces. This paper proposes, among other things, to compare the military and defensive mechanisms of the three cities, as well as their impact on urban life, in order to understand the place of the martial fact in the political culture of the second half of the 16th century.

1 SOURIAC Pierre-Jean, « Foules et guerres civiles. Mobilisation, présence militaire dans la région toulousaine durant la première décennie des guerres de Religion (1562-1570) », L’effort de guerre, Actes du 127e congrès du C.T.H.S, Nancy, 2002, CTHS, p.31-51, 2004.

Watch the video of the presentation:

Acknowledgement: This poster was presented in the panel: Martial Urban Space: Defending and safeguarding the town, during the conference Martial Culture in European Towns (1350-1550), at the University of Bern (11-13 November, 2021)

Bernese connection to “new military history” @Forschungstag 2019, University of Bern

Our team presented the project with our posters at the annual Science Day of the Humanities Faculty of the University of Bern. We were glad to be neighbours with the team of Philippe Rogger (Prof. Dr. André Holenstein), who are also busy with military history matters and martial culture with their project focused on military entrepreneurs in Switzerland (16-17th c.).

It was a nice occasion to showcase the connection between our two projects. The University of Bern is indeed hosting two four years research projects financed by the Swiss Science Foundation with a focus on new ways to do military history. In fact, this would make us not far of being a competence centre on the matter. Maybe for the Future… Our performance at the Science Day put aside, we are also working to communicate about this connection with a forthcoming Institute podcast. Stay tuned!

We had the opportunity to present the specificities of our projects to the colleagues of the Faculty, but also to the Dean and the Director of the Science-City program. We explained how far we stand from the common ideas and representation about what is military history. We showed how our research questions intersect with urban history and cultural history matters (but also methods!). Of course, we are convinced of our plans and first achievements, the idea is to convince others! We are working to reach not only scientific communities, but also broader audience with our project of our travelling exhibition in 2021-2022. You will read about this project soon on our website and our blog

Learn more about the project Holenstein: Militärunternehmertum & Verflechtung

And note the call for paper for their upcoming 2020 international conference:

and learn more about our own project by visiting our website:

Martial Culture in Medieval Towns:

Review of the exhibition Faszination Schwert (13.10.2018-28.04.2019), Stuttgart

The #MartCult research team went to visit the temporary exhibition Faszination Schwert swords at the Landesmuseum Württemberg. This ambitious exhibition (3500 objects on 1000m2) takes place in the Altes Schloss, the re-built princely residence of the dukes of Baden-Württemberg. The aim of the exhibition is to display sword culture in Europe from 17th c. BC up until the Future, from the Bronze Age to the fictive world of Star Wars. The exhibition relies on the important collections of the Landesmuseum of antique and Celtic swords on the one hand, the remains of the once highly praised armoury of the counts (later dukes) of Württemberg. A small number of medieval pieces complement these two focuses of the presentation. Nonetheless the curators of the exhibition managed to please even medievalists and to provoke relevant reflections, which go beyond classical historical periodisation. Moreover, the exhibition’s discourses and installations are well structured and displayed in innovative ways through the different spaces, with a convincing scenography. It includes interactive installations, as well as audio-visual material, without casting shadow on the impressive number of significant objects.

View of room 3: The Sword as a Symbol
“Faszination Schwert” Special exhibition of the Landesmuseums Württemberg in Stuttgart 13.10.2018 – 28.4.2019.
© Landesmuseum Württemberg, Hendrik Zwietasch.

The first space concentrates on sword manufacture and includes a video of an archaeological experiment for casting a bronze sword. It also sports didactic displays about sword components and tools used for its production. Among the different displays, my favourite was the one about the ulfberht swords with a map showing their origins and the distribution of both “originals” and counterfeits with increasingly varied names.

The second space is about typology, with a clever installation allowing to understand the main sword types appearing through history with representative examples in individual cases, associated with iconographical representations. It includes the now must-have installation allowing the visitor to grab a sword replica (and guess at its weight) and a video about Historical European Martial Arts practitioners demonstrating late Medieval art of fighting (featuring the Gladiatores).

The third space is about the warriors and their swords. In the centre, one of the masterpieces of the exhibition is on display, the sword of duke Eberhard im Bart, with its beautifully decorated scabbard (achieved in 1495). The room also includes the oldest known representation of sword fighters or dancers (Hochdorf, 6th c. BC). Next to the display about chivalric orders, you can take your picture while being knighted by your friends – in the way the English Queen has been doing for more than six decades.

The sword and scabbard of duke Eberhard im Bart, 1495, private loan.
“Faszination Schwert” Special exhibition of the Landesmuseums Württemberg in Stuttgart 13.10.2018 – 28.4.2019.
© Landesmuseum Württemberg, Hendrik Zwietasch.

The fourth space is about devotional practices, sporting among others the enigmatic bronze and iron age river finds. Interesting pieces with inscriptions and other engravings allude to battle magic, and, of course, Christian rites. A challenging installation about Christian saints whose attributes are swords tested our expertise.

Statue of Holy Katharina, around 1450.
“Faszination Schwert” Special exhibition of the Landesmuseums Württemberg in Stuttgart 13.10.2018 – 28.4.2019.
© Landesmuseum Württemberg, Hendrik Zwietasch.

An interlude between spaces firmly reminds the visitors that swords inflict often deadly damage on the human body. Split skulls, representations of wounds, as well as voice-overs reading descriptions of the consequence of sword use from various sources underline this truth often forgotten when dealing with “fascinating” swords. It leads the visitor to the next space about the propagandistic uses of the sword. It presents, among other things, items representing the confessional propaganda of the Thirty Years war, the U.N. ‘s use of the image of the broken sword, Bismarck as unifier of Germany, and the impressive use of the figure of smith Wieland of the Nibelungen song by national socialist propaganda.

First World War Medal,
“Faszination Schwert” Special exhibition of the
Landesmuseums Württemberg in Stuttgart
13.10.2018 – 28.4.2019.
© Landesmuseum Württemberg, Bildarchiv.

The last two spaces deal with swords and heroes. First through historical narratives and legendary figures, then through movies and gaming cultures, and lastly through different modern activities re-enacting swordplay. A room allows you to step into a recent Czech game and to embody the hero through a device capturing your sword fighting movements while translating it on screen. The large screen in the middle displays fighting scenes from well known movies in front of different cases that display the swords of these movies (or their copies) and posters, including, of course, Star Wars’ iconic light sabre. A large case then displays several sword replicas used for modern sword fighting, including re-enactment, stage fencing and Historical European Martial Arts, supported by interviews and images allowing to learn different perspectives from practitioners. It ends with the allegedly most famous of all famous swords: Excalibur – who will pull it out of the stone and be the once and future king?

I have seen, or collaborated with many large international exhibitions about swords since 2011. This exhibition manages to reach a very high level with innovative and interactive spaces, encompassing a very broad and complete history of the multi-faceted sword cultures. Our research project about martial culture returns enlightened by the exhibition, with thought-provoking ideas for our own exhibition project in 2021-2022.

Daniel Jaquet


We thank Dr. Matthias Ohm, one of the curators of the exhibition, for having spent time for us and guided us through the exhibition. Interested readers could turn to the special issue 14 of the journal AiD (Archäologie in Deutschland), which plays the role of the accompanying exhibition catalogue, with 12 scientific contributions and several images from the exhibition itself.


Conference review “Stadt und Militär. Konfrontation und/oder Kooperation” (November 16-18, 2018)

The conference “Stadt und Militär. Konfrontation und/oder Kooperation” (City and Military. Confrontation and/or cooperation) took place on November 16-18, 2018, in Ingolstadt. The event was organized by the Südwestdeutscher Arbeitskreis für Stadtgeschichtsforschung (South-west study network for urban history research). The conference details can be found on the organization’s website. The flyer of the conference is available here.

The conference began with a guided tour of the city fortification (14th c.), lead by Dr. Tobias Schönauer. The city walls were quickly extended to enclose areas around the town. Because of the large amount of space available inside the city walls, the municipal authorities did not have to destroy the defences to allow urban extension until the mid-20th century. In fact, the town’s strategical location in south-east Germany played an important role in the maintaining and upkeep of its defences. The conference’s organization committee especially pointed out the various layers of modification of the defences in the course of history, either of the wall itself or of the military facilities, therefore allowing the attendance to understand the materiality of the remaining defensive structures, such as the castle, parts of the wall and the 19th c. military facilities (garrisons and arsenals). The tour host provided us also with interesting insights into the archaeological research which has been conducted inside the military buildings. The impact of the city’s military function on its citizens’ everyday life became thus evident.  

The introduction to the conference itself set the event’s key questions and perspectives. Its main aim was to discuss the relations between citizens and soldiers (for example the problem of sexuality or marriage), either in time of peace and at war. The main presentation, provided by Daniel Hohrath (Curator of the Bayerisches Armeemuseum, Ingolstadt), raised questions about the soldiers’ social status in the early modern period, as they can be seen not only as a population on their own, but also as being the objects of representations (soldiers as strangers in the city or as symbols of the state).

The next day started with the presentations of the panel « Development of the military cities ». Tobias Echt, from the celtic-roman museum of Manching, talked about the development of the Colonia Augusta Troadenisis in the West of Greece during the classical era. His analysis did not only emphasize the importance of a roman defensive colony in the Troas region (actual West Turkey), but also showed that the roman colonists shared their rights with the citizens living in Rome itself. One of the key element in Tobias Echt’s analysis, based on epigraphical and numismatical evidence, was the social mobility of roman veterans after the Augustean times, as they were given land in exchange for their military service; not only did the veterans gain a quick access to high political functions in the city, but they also formed a social elite.

The switch to the medieval and early modern periods was led by Dr. Christian Ottersbach (art historian and scientific collaborator in Esslingen) who presented a general view on city defences of actual Germany’s South-West from 1500 to 1620. He chose to show the development of city defences within the «Long Middle Ages » as some elements of the medieval defences are still used during the early modern period. The apparition of gunpowder did not induce the abandon of medieval military structures, especially city walls, but merely forced the municipal authorities to modify over time the already existing structures. Even if the historiography acknowledges the late apparition of the Trace italienne (star shaped citadels), some cities tried to develop their own architectural innovations, experimenting with the shape of the fortification. For example, even if their disposition remained in accordance to the medieval times, city walls received towers and reinforcements that were able to withstand heavy fire. The city walls’ development in South-West German cities can therefore be seen as a succession of layers, the medieval structures being used as foundations for modern improvements (so called bastonierung). However, military necessities were not the only parameters eventually determining the form of modern foritifications : city walls were also a symbol of power, either for the city or the state.

The third presentation, by Max Plassmann (Head of the old Köln state archives), aimed to establish the link between the martial skills of Köln’s citizens in the early modern period and their social mobility. Indeed, as Köln was surrounded by potentially rival states, it developed a strong city defence. Military skills became a foremost quality for citizens wanting to rise to high administrative and political functions. For example, it was not uncommon for the city Burgermeister to have a founded military experience. It raises the question of the specific military carrier of the urban elites in other imperial towns, and of the possible differences between each one of those.

In the following presentation, archaeologist Dr. Ruth Sandner (Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege) gave an overview of the archaeological research made during the last two decades in Ingolstadt. These archaeological projects concerned mainly defensive structures integrated in the city wall, from the Middle Ages to the 17th century bastions. During the research, the main problem was water infiltration (Ingolstadt is located near the Donau river), which, however, helped in the preservation of organic objects. The next presentation, a summary of Manfred Bauer’s current PhD work (University of Munich), was topically close to the former, as it focused on the materiality of the soldiers’ everyday life between the 17th and the 19th century. Manfred Bauer used both new and already studied archaeological material, divided in two categories: primary (weapons) and secondary (armour, uniform, tools, games, pipes,…). This distinction allowed him to observe two moments of the soldier’s life: combat and training situations on the one side, free time or waiting situations (such as guard duty), on the other side.

The second panel of the day gave an overview on different types of defences on the basis of several case studies. Dr. Brigitte Huber, from Munich’s state archives, showed the importance of Munich as a strategical location for the garrisons under the reign of Maximilian I. The population of soldiers, along with their families, was always significant in the city. This provided not only a good defence against the outside, but also to the inside as the soldiers’ presence helped to maintain order. Dr. Beatrix Schönewald (Bayerisches Armeemuseum) focused in her presentation on Daniel Speckle (1536-1589), a Master builder who was largely influenced by the theoretical debates and technical treatises on the best way to build a city fitted for defence. She presented the main technical books on the subject, such as the Codex Matopicus (1529), Architectur (1583) and Architectura von Vestungen (1589) ; all these treatises focusing on the construction of the most perfect (geometrical) defensive city, but also on structural strenghthening, explosives and ballistics. In another case study, Guido von Büren (Museum Zitadelle Jülich) presented the defensive city of Jülich, which was designed by the Italian military architect Pascualini as a citadel, the little town nearby being only necessary for housing the civilians. In fact, the citadel housed more soldiers than were civilians in the nearby town. The citadel was built to sustain long time sieges, being merely a stronghold aimed at stopping foreign armies to go further into the territory. As a city, Jülich therefore rests heavily on one end of the spectrum «Militär» and «Stadt». In a similar vein, Benedict Loew (Städtisches Museum Saarlouis) then talked about the Saarlouis citadel from the 18th to the 19th century, built ex nihilo for housing a garrison and integrating the mills, the market and the storehouses directly into the defensive infrastructure. In fact, the life of the civilians living inside the citadel was organized around the military activities, the troops having the priority over civilians in the access to food, creating an inequality of treatment. However, buildings such as mills were progressively taken out of the citadel. The last two presentations of the day focused on the 18th and 19th century. Klaus Roider showed the importance of nobility among Nürnberg’s military officers in the 18th century when the prestige of military service was reserved for an an elite. Dr. Thomas Tippach (University of Münster presented an overview of Koblenz’s military aspects in the 19th century.

Overall, the presentations gave a large chronological and topical picture. I also noticed, by discussing with other researchers, that social questions were at the core of actual military history research, especially when seeing the soldier or fighter as a member of a certain social group that comes sometimes in conflict with the town’s citizens. Even if it was not addressed directly, the topic “Konfrontation und/oder Kooperation” was indeed the underlying subject of reflexion during this event.

In view of our project on martial culture, attending this conference brought many new insights into the social repercussions of military matters. This addresses the importance of the global approach chosen in our project, as some aspects of the urban landscape and political life were not only driven by the necessity to build a sufficient military power, but also by the rulers political and military ambitions.

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