Painting Guide for the Thirty Years War

The 80 Years War (1568-1648) overlapped the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). See the Painting Guide for the Eighty Years War for Spanish, Italians, Walloons, and Dutch. Other nations (Swedes, French, Imperialist, etc) are covered here.


In this section I outline some common features of uniforms during the Thirty Years War. The individual nationalities are covered below.


Armour was usually blackened in this period.


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: men with back and breast and helmet, armed with an arquebus.
  • Horsemen (Reiters): 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: men in 3/4 armour and helmet, armed with pistols. Over time their equipment lightened and they essentially morphed into Horsemen.

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).

Coloured Infantry Regiments

The Protestants were fond of regiments with colour names (Brzezinski, 1991). The names were more about the colour of the flag rather than the coat colour, but some did have matching uniforms. Examples of units, most of which were mercenary, with the date they were raised/named:

  • 1620-21 Mansfeld formed the Red, Blue, Yellow and Green regiments.
  • 1625-26 the Danes formed the Red, Blue, Yellow and Green regiments. Of these the Red and Blue regiments definitely had uniforms of a matching colour in 1626, light blue in the case of the Blue regiment.
  • 1625-27 the first Swedish coloured regiments acquired their names, although the units already existed:
    • Yellow. Raised 1624 and named “Yellow” from 1626, and had a yellow coat.
    • Blue. Raised 1624; renamed “Old Blue” from 1634; had a blue coat.
    • Red. Raised 1624-25; had a red coat.
    • Green (raised 1627; unclear if had a green coat but some units were clothed in green).
  • 1628 “New Blue Swedish Regiment” (as distinct from the “Old Blue” mercenary unit).
  • 1629-30 the Swedes raised new coloured regiments: Three Black (1629), a fourth Black (1630), Orange (1630), Brown (1630), White (1630)

Coloured Infantry Brigades

The colour of a brigade had nothing to do with the colour of the uniforms (Brzezinski, 1991).


English troops serving in the Netherlands wore uniforms (Heath, 1997). Most often with red or blue cassocks. Yellow and red facings are also mentioned – as it happens on a blue cassock.

German (Imperialist and Protestant)

Some infantry regiments adopted a uniform colour (e.g. “yellow coats” and “red coats”) from at least 1600 (Brzezinski, 1991).

On occasion cavalry regiments or companies were issued coats of a uniform colour, and this may have been common amongst the Imperialists, but in general during this period cavalrymen usually wore whatever they liked (Brzezinski, 1993).

Wallenstein’s army used red officers sashes from 1632 (Brzezinski, 1993).

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.


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.

Officers wore more expensive cloths including a wide lace colour (Brnardic, 2009).

According to Brnardic (2009):

Item Colour
Hair (their own) Various
Tunic, breeches, cloaks, cape 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.

Breaches were tied at the knee by a ribbon in a matching or contrasting

Shirt White
Hats (if worn) Various shades of brown or grey
Stockings White, grey, unbleached, or red.
Leather (Boots + straps + belt, etc) Brown or black.
Sash, scarves Pretty much white until May 1632 then red.
Plate armour and helmets Blackening and burnishing were used to prevent rusting.
Buffcoat Buff
Horse Harness


Bohemian 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. Wellensteins’s troops carried flags with images of Mars and Venus. Flas 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.

Has Imperialist flags of an earlier period. Possibly useful for inspiration.

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. All other colours were forbidden on pain of death.


Buffcoat, either sleeveless or with sleeves, were expensive so only some officers in Swedish service could afford them (Brzezinski, 1991). When worn, sleeveless buffcoats were more common.

Based on plates in Brzezinski (1991, 1993) troops in Swedish service wore:

  • blackened armour (back and breast, helmet)
  • grey or tan (perhaps “bone coloured”) brimmed hats.
  • brown fur hat.
  • light brown Monmouth cap
  • white stockings, shirts (hence collars), and officer’s lace
  • brown gaiters (look like gaiters to me anyway)
  • leather could be black or brown, but items were typically:
    • brown leather sword strap, sheath, pouch, officer or cavalry boots, horse harness;
    • black leather shoes and bandolier.
  • natural wood staves for the standards
  • buff buffcoat (surprise, surprise)
  • breeches in a colour to match the coat, or grey or brown.

Infantry in Swedish Service

Until about 1620 Swedish conscripts – infantry by definition – were issued woollen clothes of a natural greyish-white (Brzezinski, 1991). From 1620 regimental trim was added to the greyish-white.

From 1626 infantry regiments began to issue coats of a uniform colour – both Swedish and mercenary (Brzezinski, 1991). Some of the coloured regiments (at least Yellow, Blue/Old Blue, Red) adopted coats of a matching colour, and others may have done the same. Some non-coloured regiments also adopted uniform colours. Bear in mind, however, that references to “any-colour-at-hand cloth” are common, reflecting the fact that suppliers were not shy of providing a mixture of colours to a regiment if they couldn’t provide a single colour.

There is some evidence that Gustav was trying to standardise on blue uniforms for native Swedish troops (Brzezinski, 1991). Examples of native Swedes wearing blue are the “New Blue Swedish regiment” recorded in 1628, the two Swedish brigades at Breitenfeld, and the Swedish brigade at Lutzen.

There is some evidence that Scottish units at least partially wore undyed grey cloth, which could be either for coat or breeches (Brzezinski, 1991). Both Scots and Irish favoured blue bonnets, and might have worn checked trews until these were replaced by other cloth.

Swedish pikemen were meant to wear back and breast, gorget, tassets for thighs, and a helmet (Brzezinski, 1991). The musketeers were meant to wear a helmet. By 1635 the Swedes no longer tried to give their infantry armour as the men threw it away anyway.

During 1624-28 some Swedish musketeers were issued swinesfeathers in addition to their musket rests (Brzezinski, 1991).

After Gustav died the supply of clothing deteriorated and the Swedish armies of the late 1630s were ragamuffin in appearance (Brzezinski, 1991).

Dragoons in Swedish Service

Dragoons in Swedish service were issued cloth, and being considered infantry may have been given uniforms. The only documented example is black cloth issued after Gustav’s death (Brzezinski, 1991). In 1633 one company of the Yellow Regiment was reclassified as dragoons and probably kept their yellow uniforms.

Cavalry in Swedish Service

Although Gustav intended the cavalry have uniforms, there is little evidence that cavalry in Swedish service actually wore them (Brzezinski, 1993). In fact during this period cavalrymen usually wore whatever they liked. Few had buffcoats, with most men wearing a cloth coat.

The Swedes found it difficult to obtain armour and by 1632 there is little evidence of cavalry using armour (Brzezinski, 1993). The shortages meant that in late 1630 Gustav had ordered only the front rank of his mercenary regiments be issued armour. The native Swedish regiments may have been better equipped.

Swedish cavalry wore sashes of a variety of colours, but in 1632-35 they avoided the Imperialist red (Brzezinski, 1993). By 1645, i.e. very late in the war, blue sashes became more standard.

Officers in Swedish Service

Up to 1630 Swedish officers seemed fond of black (Brzezinski, 1993).

Swedish officers wore sashes of a variety of colours, but in 1632-35 they avoided the Imperialist red (Brzezinski, 1993). By 1645, i.e. very late in the war, blue sashes became more standard.

Swedish Artillery

Most artillerymen were native Swedish, although man power was bulked out with commanded musketeers (Brzezinski, 1991, 1993). The professional artillerymen probably wore black, or other dark colours.

Swedish Flags

These are very good wargaming flags. Further comments by Daniel S on the Slitherine FOGR forum:

The red, blue and yellow Swedish flags are to a large extent based on the Möhner paintings. However the maker has made his personal interpretation of the designs rather than copying the originals. (The fleur de lys, crowns and moon on the blue flags are diffrent for example). The use of the 3 crowns in the yellow flags is conjectural. The flag with a cross of St. Andrew, crown and ‘GARS’ is a nice piece of research since it come from the flags described by Hoppe who saw such flags in Elbing in Prussia 1626-29. These flags are of course those of the Yellow, Blue and Red regiments. The green flags are those of Thomas Sigmund von Schlammersdorf’s regiment while the top 3 blue flags are conjectural designs, good ones expet for the one with a ordinary cross. (Which the Swedes didn’t use on land)

Swedish Fieldsigns

Swedish fieldsigns varied over time (Brzezinski, 1993):

  • At Breitenfeld (17 Sep 1631) green branches in hat or helmet, and possibly green sashes.
  • From late 1630s: twisted bands of straw in hat and/or on left arm.
  • At Wittstock (4 Oct 1636) small green sashes around their arms


Aside from any flags mentioned above have a look here:


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

Brzezinski, R. (1991). The Army of Gustavus Adolphus (1): Infantry [MAA 235]. Osprey.

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

Gush, G. (1975). Renaissance Armies 1480-1650. Patrick Stephens.

Heath, I. (1997). Armies of the Sixteenth Century: The Armies of England, Ireland, the United Provinces, and the Spanish Netherlands 1487-1609. Foundry Books.

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

New York Public Library (NYPL): The Vinkhuijzen collection of military uniforms

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