Drawing of a soldier from Fribourg’s state archives

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

Ink drawing of a warrior, Archives de l’État de Fribourg, Boulangers 3.1, 1433, fol. 1.

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.

Cite this article as: Mathijs Roelofsen, "Drawing of a soldier from Fribourg’s state archives," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 29/06/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/982.

[1] Archives de l’État de Fribourg, Boulangers 3.1, 1433, fol. 1.

[2] “Der Pfisternn geselschaft die fürenn zweii schusset”, Archives de l’État de Fribourg, Affaires Militaires IV, 7, fol. 61.

[3] 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.

[4] Hellmut Gutzwiller, “Die Zünfte in Freiburg I. Ue. 1460-1650”, Freiburger Geschichtsblätter, 41-42 (1949), p. 6.

[5] Archives de l’État de Fribourg, Stadtsachen A 265, 1464.

[6] Guillaume Mora-Dieu, “Les corporations et la défense d’une ville: l’exemple de Liège”, Médiévales, 73, 2 (2017), pp. 198-199.

[7] 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.

[8] Albert Büchi, “La particiation de Fribourg à la conquête de la Thurgovie (1460)”, Annales fribourgeoises, 18 (1930),pp. 21-33.