Thursday, March 12, 2009


The Black Horsemen – German Reiters

This article, by the scholar Walter J. Karcheski, Jr., was originally published years ago in Gorget & Sash, Vol. II:2. It is republished in serial form here, by kind permission of the editors of G&S. Dur Ecu has added his comments to the original text where it seems appropriate to add something to, or extend, the author’s text.


Renaissance battles, such as those of the Italian Wars (1494-1559), provided concrete evidence of the deadly effectiveness of hand-held firearms. The first mounted troops to make widespread use of these weapons were the German reiters. These horsemen, who were also called schwartzreiters (black riders), diables noirs (black devils), and barbouilles (bedaubed) for their preference for blackened armor and habit of staining face and hands to appear more ferocious, helped change forever the tactics of mounted warfare.

Reiter units were a form of medium cavalry, German in origin, recruited from the areas of Brunswick, Saxony, and the Rhineland-Palatinate. Men of little or no principle, they fought for whoever provided money. When pay was slow in coming, they were prone to go on strike, to mutiny, plunder friendly localities, or return to Germany en masse. In view of this independent mercenary spirit, even the native German princes, who were often in command, were hard-pressed to control them.

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