Tuesday, April 14, 2009


...as a wargamer your mind goes off in the strangest of directions as a result of something you've read or seen. Take this lunchtime for example, where I was absolutely fascinated by the recent posting by Sir William the Aged on the Wars of Louis Quatorze [click here] blog, about the Polish Winged Hussars....

An elite unit without a doubt, but of course my mind wanted to know why they would they carry those wings - what was the purpose, or reason for carrying those massive contraptions around on their backs....??

Armed with purpose, I headed off to waste yet another lunch time researching, when perhaps I should be doing more constructive!

First stop of course was Wikipedia which tells me that the Polish Winged Hussars were not really "Hussars" at all - by the time in question they were wearing armour, helmets and carried the lance so were more properly lancers, or heavy cavalry... OK, so that's a good start but I still don't know, why the wings???

The first proposal then is that in the 16th century wings or winged claws began to appear painted on cavalry shields. Later actual wings were attached to the saddle, and later still were attached to the riders back. "In 1645, Col. Szczodrowski was said to have used ostrich wings". Wiki says that the painted wings & winged claws were "characteristic" so I'm assuming there is a Polish historical or heraldic link here - perhaps to do with the Polish winged eagle?

Second proposal - again from Wiki and also here [click here] and a number of other sites - is that they were designed to foil attacks by Tatar (or more incorrectly Tartar) lassos...

Third proposal - from Wiki, also here [click here] and also here [click here] is that they were in effect a form of Renaissance "stuka" in that the vibrating of the feathers attached to the wings during the charge made a strange sound that supposedly would upset the enemy's horses and troops....

For the fourth proposal, Tim Newark in ‘The Hussars’ (Brassey’s Book of Uniforms) thinks that the "wearing of these wings seems to point back to the feathers worn by hunter-bandits in the Balkans, especially those known as Delis [this also confirmed at this excellent website {click here}] who fought as scouts and raiders for both sides in the wars against Ottoman Turkey, and adorned their helmets, shields, and clothes with the feathers of birds they had killed". (He further further posits the argument that this in turn goes back to the earlier Slavic races or horse people rewarding bravery with feathers etc. This strikes me as being very similar to native American practice??)

Ultimately however, I think he's right when he puts forward the final theory which is simply the sheer physical presence they would have given - much like the bearskin for the guards, the size and psychological impact must have been immense. Add to that the brightly coloured, oriental style cloth worn over and about the armour, the lance, the exotic animal skins festooned around the horses and they must have been a truly frightening sight..

Last quote to Newark:

"Bernard Connor, an Irishman in Poland in the employ of Polish King, Jan III Sobieski, in the 17th century, described the appearance of the Hussars as frightful: ‘being stuck all over with wings of Storks, Cranes, Turkey-cocks and cloatted over their Armour with the skins of Leopards, Tygers, Bears, Lions, etc., all of which they do to make themselves more terrible to the enemy.’"

There you go - one little post and I learnt a huge amount about a period of history that I knew little about...


  1. Steve,

    You humble and flatter me with this post. One never knows what effect a post will have on its intended audience, but if at least one person is moved to further study and a small spark of interest is kindled, then that is surely the best reward.

    The history of the Husaria is amazing, at least in my opinion. There's little doubt that by Vienna in 1683, they were an anachronism in Western European warfare. But what a magnificent anachronism (to borrow a line from the movie "Patton"). How did you like that film trailer from "The Deluge"? I loved the depiction of the Swedish infantry receiving the charge. Can you imagine a movie like this being made in Hollywood, at least without CGI?

    To me, as a diehard ex-Ancients, Medieval and Renaissance gamer, this presents the perfect opportunity to use my LoA mob, perhaps with some new standards, and "justify" adding a magnificent Polish contingent. Especially with Old Glory's new late 17th century Poles available. I realize that there are other ranges out there, but this is one time where their variety and mixed bags really win out in my opinion. Ah, but I ramble... Suffice to say I'm glad the post inspired at least one person to "waste" a lunch hour ;-)


  2. A v interesting post. This period in history has long facinated me and I have resisted for ages although I was v seriously tempted by the recently released plastic Zvesda set. Just a small unit mind....


  3. I always wonder me these feather wings were carried out in Poland and Northern Europe... These countries have very rainy weather...

  4. Rafa,

    I can't speak with complete authority obviously, but there are two factors to consider:

    1) The feathers themselves are somewhat water repellant, study almost any species of birds, but especially birds of prey and waterfowl and their feathers actually shed water pretty well;

    2) Very few engagements were fought in inclement weather if it could be avoided, bad for eastern bowstrings and all coarse black powder, not to mention matchlocks. The matchlock does not have the little bit of protection for the priming pan that the spring-loaded frizzen offers on a flintlock, plus the match itself would be a problem.