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Footwear of the Thirty Years' War

            Footwear is one of the most important parts of a costume. It is necessary to pay attention to the topic, especially for reconstructing a soldier's uniform (presuming we can call contemporary army clothing and footwear as such), as 17th century soldiers spent a lot of time marching. What did the footwear look like then?

<-- An original of a 17th-century shoe. A lace or a ribbon was used for lacing. The shoe was found in Stockbridge, Hampshire, UK.

            In case of the 17th century Europe, two basic types of footwear must be considered. Low shoes for regular wearing and high boots for riding a horse. Certainly, many more can be found. Clothing and footwear of contemporary Poles and Hungarians was very different, mostly due to Ottoman influences from the east. Lace-up shoes could also be found but were not as preferred kind of footwear. They were the simplest footwear worn since the Neolithic age until  the 19th century (even later in certain places). Lace-up shoes were made of leather that was easily put around the foot and laced around ankle. They were found mostly in mountainous areas of Central and Eastern Europe, i.e. the Balkans, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, but also in today's Czech Republic, and were the shoes of the poorest. Nonetheless, we would find them among soldiers of several armies. During campaigns, soldiers were often in need of footwear and would not throw away even regular shoes.

            Elements which were typical for the shoes of the Thirty Years' War originated at the end of the Middle Ages. Simple low boots were becoming more and more popular in the course of the 16th century. Some were oven open on the top which made then quite impractical for  walking in a more difficult terrain and such types died out by the 17th century. One important element survived however - wide rectangular toe cap. Gothic shoes with unnecessarily long toe cap gradually evolved into rectangular-tipped type which was much more practical for long marches. It is thus not very surprising that shoes with even overly wide rectangular tip could be found on landsknechts of the 16th century. Although, rectangular tips were very common in the 17th century, they were not necessarily a rule. Simple low shoes with a round tip existed as well.

            The basic footwear of the 17th century were low shoes with heels. Heels originated in the 16th century with the purpose of easier putting of the feet into stirrups but became fashionable and in the 17th century, they were a standard element. Heels can be found on almost any shoes used during the Thirty Years' War.  

            Certainly, there were more types of low shoes that can be considered basic. Some were open on the sides as far as the sole to provide better fastening on the feet. The most usual types did not have such long openings. The shoes were tied on the vamp with a lace. In case of wealthier individuals, shoes could be decorated and tied with a ribbon. Low shoes could also be made of finer leather or decorated with luxurious fabric which only the wealthiest could afford.  Regular shoes were made of thicker leather. For practical reasons, there was no standardised kind or thickness of leather for shoe-making. Cow or pig leather were usually used.

            In the course of the 17th century, lacing is gradually replaced with buckles which became a standard in the last quarter of the century. A tongue was an important element too. It served as a cover for the opening in the place of lacing or buckle. Some low shoes had the tongue longer and folded over the top to cover the lacing. This was only the of ordinary shoes. More luxurious variations did not have long tongues. The buckling or lacing was decorated as well and it was not desirable to cover it. Owners of such shoes wanted to show off what they could afford. Low shoes were the most worn shoes ranging from the poorest (if they had any) to the richest.

            A rather distinctive kind of footwear were high boots. They were worn by horse-riders only and were made of very thick leather (sometimes with several layers). The footwear was not meant for walking but riding a horse. Horse-riders were risking getting their legs injured not only in battle but also while riding in a difficult terrain.  Boots reaching over knees became a necessary piece of equipment of every 16th-century horse-rider. Knees required a kind of protection due to their vulnerability. As these boots were also a protection, it would have been difficult to walk in them and that is why they could not be found among infantry. Even dragoons wore low shoes as although they were usually transporting on horseback, they fought as infantry. The boots were provided with spurs as well as additional pieces of leather of various shapes which were supposed to protect the boot-vamps from scraping against the stirrups.

            Aristocrats wearing high boots can be found on many 17th-century portraits. This fashion started in the first half of the 17th century - only for the wealthiest however. It would have been impossible to wear such boots unless they were made to measure and of very fine leather. As it was a very luxurious matter, aristocrats were willing to show off their wealth in the paintings. Certainly, wearing this boots was uncomfortable, nonetheless it was symbolical - by wearing footwear not suited for longer walking, individuals showed they did not need to walk and was therefore of higher social status. The aristocratic fashion of the second half of the 17th century preferred practicality over symbolism and high boots became the footwear of horsemen only again.

            The basic footwear of the Thirty Years' War were low shoes which differed in various details. High boots were worn only by individuals that could afford to not walk very much. As contemporary trousers went down just under the knees, hoses made of strong fabric or leather covered the rest of the legs.

Works Used:

Lawlor, Laurie. Where Will This Shoe Take You? A Walk Through the History of Footwear. New York: Walker and Company, 1996.

Kybalová, Ludmila. Barok a rokoko. Praha: NLN, 2009.

Kutílková, Dagmar. Vojenské odívání. Praha: NLN, 2008.

Štýbrová Miroslava. Boty, botky, botičky. Praha: NLN, 2009.