Imperialist Painting Guide for the Thirty Years War

Since I’ve published Tilly’s Very Bad Day I figure I should update my painting guide for the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). This is the guide for the Imperialists throughout the war.

30YW-856 Who is this guy
30YW-856 Who is this guy

General Guidelines on Imperialists

The Imperialists, like their Spanish relatives, favoured individuality over uniformity, although some Imperialist Imhaber provided their regiments with uniforms. Following Brnardic (2009) Imperialists should be painted like this:

Item Colour
Hats (if worn) Various shades of brown or grey; white plumes
Hair (their own) Various
Tunic, cloaks, cape Variety of shades of white, black, brown, red-brown, orange, green, grey and/or blue. Whitish-grey (‘pearl grey’) was cheapest and may have predominated at the end of the war.
Breeches The same variety of colours at tunic but often a different colour. Breaches were tied at the knee by a ribbon in a matching or contrasting colour
Shirt White
Stockings White, grey, unbleached, or red.
Leather (Boots + straps + belt, etc) Brown or black.
Plate armour and helmets Blackening and burnishing were used to prevent rusting. Germans favoured blackening.
Buffcoat Buff (often worn over plate armour)
Sash, scarves Pretty much white until May 1632 then red.

Imperialist Generals

All the normal Imperialist rules apply to their generals. They are, effectively, rich cavalry.

30YW-855 Spanish and Imperialist Generals
30YW-855 Spanish and Imperialist Generals

Imperialist Cavalry

On occasion cavalry regiments or companies were issued coats of a uniform colour, but during this period cavalrymen usually wore whatever they liked (Brzezinski, 1993).

Broadly speaking there were three types of cavalry in the Thirty Years War (Brzezinski, 1993). The type affected how the men behaved, or more importantly for a painting guide, how they looked.

  • Arquebusier (Harquebusier, Bandelier Reuter, Carbine): men armed with an arquebus. The better equipped would have a back and breast and/or a helmet.
  • Horsemen (Reiters, Lätta ryttare): men armed with pistols. They might have back and breast and a helmet, or a hat and no armour at all. For example, native Swedish cavalry.
  • Cuirassier (Kürisser, Kürassirer, corazzen): men in 3/4 armour and helmet, armed with pistols. Over time their equipment lightened and they essentially morphed into Horsemen.


The Germans were famous for their heavily armoured cuirassiers.

30YW-843 Cuirassier
30YW-843 Cuirassier
30YW-846 Cuirassier
30YW-846 Cuirassier
30YW-847 Cuirassier
30YW-847 Cuirassier
30YW-844 Cuirassier
30YW-844 Cuirassier


Over time cuirassier equipment lightened and they essentially morphed into horsemen.

30YW-849 Horsemen
30YW-849 Horsemen
30YW-850 Horsemen
30YW-850 Horsemen

Arquebusier (Harquebusier, Bandelier Reuter, Carbine)

The German mounted arquebusiers were called “bandelier reuter” or “bandellier reiter” depending on which source you believe.

30YW-769 - Generic - Harquebusiers
30YW-769 – Generic – Harquebusiers

My mounted arquebusiers are a little too brightly coloured as many of them started life as part of uniformed Dutch units. That was before I realised cavalry uniforms weren’t really a 30 Years War thing. So I rebased and mixed them up. If I did this again I’d tone them down a fair bit. More blacks and browns with splashes of colour.

30YW-770 - Generic - Harquebusiers
30YW-770 – Generic – Harquebusiers
30YW-771 - Generic - Harquebusiers
30YW-771 – Generic – Harquebusiers

Imperialist Infantry

When the ‘Inhaber’ was inclined, and could afford it, some regiments were issued uniforms in the colours of the Inaber’s coat-of-arms (Brnardic, 2009). This was probably the exception and usually the troops would have worn an assortment of colours and styles.

30YW-824 - Catholic - Pike and Shot
30YW-824 – Catholic – Pike and Shot
30YW-826 - Catholic - Pike and Shot
30YW-826 – Catholic – Pike and Shot
30YW-829 - Catholic - Pike and Shot
30YW-829 – Catholic – Pike and Shot

Colours were a variety of shades of white, black, brown, red-brown, orange, green, grey and/or blue. Later in the 17th Century whitish-grey (‘pearl grey’) was generally adopted for economy reasons and this may have been true in the latter part of the 30 Years’ War.

30YW-805 - Catholic - Shot
30YW-805 – Catholic – Shot
30YW-803 - Catholic - Shot
30YW-803 – Catholic – Shot

Officers wore more expensive cloths including a wide lace collar (Brnardic, 2009). Officer sashes were pretty much white until May 1632 then red

Armour was usually blackened in this period. The Germans were famous for it. But some men may have gone for the bright look via burnishing.

Imperialist Dragoons

All the usual rules for Imperialist infantry apply to dragoons. The difference is they rode a horse and wore boots.

30YW-801 - Catholic - Dragoons
30YW-801 – Catholic – Dragoons
30YW-799 - Catholic - Dragoons
30YW-799 – Catholic – Dragoons

Imperialist Artillery

German artillery in the 16th century always had a black carriage with red metal fittings (Miller, 1976), and this may have continued into the 17th century. The wheels were left their natural colour. Barrels were bronze.

30YW-865 Artillery
30YW-865 Artillery

Imperialist Field Signs

Imperial and Bavarian troops at the battle of the White Mountain used white symbols, particularly sashes and scarves. The enemy wore sky-blue.

Catholic League soldiers in the 1631 campaign wore a white stripe or ribbon around the arm or, alternatively, green oak leaves or straw.

In May 1632 Wallenstein ordered red symbols in his army, usually neck scarves or sashes (Brzezinski, 1993). All other colours were forbidden on pain of death.

Imperialist Flags

The Imperialist Flags featured the Doppeladler (double-headed eagle), the Burgundian ragged-cross, and the Emperor’s cipher (FII or FIII) (Brnardic, 2009). The Doppeladler was on the obverse of the flag. It was usually shown with the Imperial crown with gold haloes, held a sceptre and sword of state, and had the Habsburg coat-of-arms on its breast. The latter was a horizontal silver bar on a field of red, sometimes surrounded by the chain of he Order of the Golden Fleece. From 1620 the Imperial flags featured an image of the Virgin Mary on the reverse. At some point during the war Regimental Flags adopted the Virgin Mary as well. These ‘Sun Colours’ became universal and usually featured the Madonna standing on a crescent moon, surrounded by sun rays and sometimes holding the infant Jesus, against a white circular background framed in gold. The background colours were up to the Inhaber, usually based on their coat-of-arms. There was no regulation for the edging. Company flags carried a part of the regimental emblem but varying the background. Symbols representing Fortuna, Virtue, Vigilance, War and Peache, Lif and Death, animals, and saints all appears. Wallensteins’s troops carried flags with images of Mars and Venus. Flags of the Reich’s princes had the Doppeladler on the obverse and the prince’s arms on the reverse, the background and edge were in the state colours. Mottoes were in Latin, German, Italian or French. Mottoes were most common on cavalry standards.

And if you are looking for further inspiration:

Croats, Hungarians and Polish

Croats, Hungarians and Polish all had distinctly oriental costume. I’ve lumped them together because, although the national costumes differed, the colours were pretty similar. Both Croats and Polish cossacks wore a fur trimmed cap with bag; think a low busby or colpack. Generally infantry variants will have more brown and grey than their cavalry compatriots.

Note: Grenzers were light infantry troops from the Croatian and Transylvanian Military Frontier in the Habsburg Monarchy, so could be either Croatians or Hungarian. However, the Hungarians (and their Balkan neighbours) also had hajduk, a type of peasant irregular infantry. So I’ll reserve the term grenzer for the Croatians.

Item Colour
Hats Croat fur trimmed cap with bag: fur trim either natural (tan), white, or black; bag red, black and perhaps other colours
Polish fur trimmed cap with bag: fur trim maybe restricted to black and perhaps other colours; bag red, black and perhaps other colours
Hungarian felt cap: Black
Tunic red (preferred by Croats), green, blue, yellow
Trousers red (preferred by Croats), green, blue, grey, white
Clock (if worn) red (preferred by Croats) or anything else they fancied
Shirt White
Leather (Boots + straps + belt, etc) Brown or black.
Except some Hungarians has low yellow boots in the Turkish style
Croat Waist Sash red, green, blue, yellow
Croat Cravat white, blue and probably other colours


Croatian cavalry is universally referred to as “Croats” however Croatian also provided infantry (grenzer). Both were irregulars recruited from the frontier with the Turks. I’ll refer to both as Croats unless it matters.

Croats wore a tunic, trousers and wait sash of red (preferred), green or blue (Brnardic, 2010). Judging from the illustrations in grey or white trousers were also possible, and perhaps probable for infantry. Yellow tunics and waist sashes also appear. The bag at the top of the hat was also usually red although the illustrations also show black and I guess other colours were possible; the hats had a fur trim, either natural (tan), white, or black. Croats also fancied a long red clock with a hood; kind of a red riding hood thing. The cravat necktie was a distinctive feature of Croat dress; illustrations show white and blue. Most of these garments might have a fur trim.

30YW-797 - Catholic - Croat
30YW-797 – Catholic – Croat

I think my Croats are quite a good match to the description. The hats aren’t quite right. They have the fur trim but the bag in the top centre is the same as the fur trim. Typically the the hat bags would be red although black and other colours are possible.

30YW-796 - Catholic - Croat
30YW-796 – Catholic – Croat


Hungarian hussars (cavalry) and Hayduk (infantry) featured in Imperial armies. Croat colours work for the Hungarians except the hats were black, with no fur (Brnardic, 2009, 2010).


You can use the Croat colours for Polish cossacks (kozaks). Hussars could sport the the red bag on the fur cap, like the Croats. The only illustration I have has black fur trim (Brnardic, 2010), but I’m not sure if that is a general rule.

Where to get Tilly’s Very Bad Day

Tilly’s Very Bad Day is available for Download (PDF).


Roland Davis painted the vast bulk of my Thirty Years War armies. The cuirassiers, mounted arquebusiers, dragoons, and most of the generals, artillery and horsemen are his.

Ian Galley painted the shot, croats, and one of the cannon stands.

John Mclennan painted the mystery general. Or he got it from ebay.

Ebay provide some of the horsemen in the back of the pictures.

My only contribution is to put them all on Big Bases.


Brnardic, V. (2009). The Imperial Armies of the Thirty Years’ War (1): Infantry and Artillery [MAA 457]. Osprey.

Brnardic, V. (2010). The Imperial Armies of the Thirty Years’ War (2): Cavalry [MAA 462]. Osprey.

Brzezinski, R. (1993). The Army of Gustavus Adolphus (2): Cavalry [MAA 262]. Osprey.

Miller, D. (1976). The Landsknechts [Men-At-Arms 58]. Osprey.

1 thought on “Imperialist Painting Guide for the Thirty Years War”

  1. Lovely work. I really like the carbineers, even if you say they are a little too colourful.


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