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A matter of uniformity

By smacdowall, Sep 30 2016 08:47PM

As my Battle of the Dunes project grows, I have become increasingly fascinated by the transition from civilian clothing to military uniforms in the mid to late 17th century. I had thought that Cromwell’s New Model Army was the first, but the more I delve into it I am coming to the realisation that the red coats of the New Model Army were more down to an oversupply of red cloth in London rather than a deliberate attempt to enforce uniformity. Probably most wargamers ECW armies are far more uniformed in appearance than the historical originals.



It seems to me that it was Louis XIV who first decided that his troops should be uniformed in the modern sense. The Gardes Français were perhaps the first to be issued uniform as we now understand it. Initially it was a grey coat, later the more familiar blue faced red. Louis had a thing about clothing. He insisted that his nobles were dressed in the latest fashion, loaning them money to buy the necessities to appear properly at court and then using their debt to further control them. It was not a great leap to extend this idea of ‘uniformity’ to the troops of his guards and then later the rank and file of the line units.


I find this contemporary painting of French troops at the 1667 siege of Tournai, now in the Swedish Army Museum, utterly fascinating. All the men are wearing the newly fashionable justacorps (long coat with turned back cuffs) but only the officer in blue coat with red lining seems to have anything that might be interpreted as a military coat. The men in their various shades of grey, brown and red all wear a similar style but they are far from being in uniform. The hats, too, show great variation. Some have black hats with white lace which would soon become standard issue but many others are still wearing civilian patterns and colours.


As it is with later English Civil War armies, many wargamers seem to assume an early assumption of uniform by the Swedes. The story told in the Swedish Army Museum is quite different. All their depictions of Swedish troops in the 30 years war are uninformed.


The museum has a unique display of 4 original justacorps from the late 1600s. Their exact origin is not definitely known but it is widely thought that these were sent by Louis XIV to the Swedish King to serve as models for a new Swedish uniform at the time the French were courting a Swedish alliance and when the French were busily setting the fashion for military uniforms.


Despite the fact that many wargamers paint their 30 Years War Swedes in blue coats with yellow facings, It would seem that this configuration only came into existence many years later, probably not before the turn of the 17th century. Even then many regiments still wore other colours.



This wonderful diorama shows Swedish cavalry at the time of the Great Northern War in the blue and yellow colours that we have come to associate with the Swedes. They are depicted charging à l’outrance with cold steel rather than using their pistols. This tactic came to be adopted by Marlborough’s Dutch and English troopers to great effect in the War of Spanish Succession














3 comments
Sep 30 2016 09:52PM by Carlo

Very interesting post Simon and your point about uniformity of dress in the ECW is one I had never heard before. What a superb array of items from the 17th century in that museum. Every wargamers dream methinks.

Oct 1 2016 08:24AM by smacdowall

It is indeed a superb musuem and it is free entry as well

Oct 10 2016 02:30PM by Martin Lysén

People really paint their 30YW Swedes with blue uniforms and yellow facings? As a native Swede, I can't really begin to state how wrong that is. There was no army uniform at the time. And the blue/yellow uniform associated with the Great Northern War and the late 17th century was never used by all regiments even though it was the most common type. Despite increasing uniformity some units had different coloured facings and some had grey or even green coats.

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