An Etched State Glaive, or Kuse, carried by the Hof-Leibgarde-Arcièren of The Emperor Leopold I, dated 1666

4149 1
4149 2

Item ref: 4149

  • Southern Germany or Austria
  • Steel, gold, wood
  • 260 cm x 10 cm (width of blade)


Private collection, Europe

n 1518, the penultimate year of Maximilian I’s reign as Holy Roman Emperor, the Imperial Court Directory records two separate bodies of troops forming the emperor’s elite lifeguard, that part of the court establishment responsible for ensuring the security of the emperor’s person. The first of these, 77 strong, is referred to as “Ainspennige alt undjung”, and the other, formed of 57 men, the “Trabanten zu ross und fuess”. The former translates as “Mercenary soldiers appointed for life, old and young”, and it was this part of the imperial Leibgarden which subsequently came to be re-titled the Hof-Leibgarde-Arcièren, referred to in short as the Hartschieren-Leibgarde (Court Archer Lifeguard; ‘arciere’ being a Germanised word derived from the Italian for archer). A reasonable assumption is that the original mercenary contingent in the service of the Habsburg court was in fact a body of foreign archers.

The official transition of this guard from ‘ainspennige’ to ‘arcièren’ is found in the Court Directory of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria for 1527-8 (successor in 1556 to his brother The Emperor Charles V), in which these troops are referred to as being one and the same. It was prior to Ferdinand’s reign as Holy Roman Emperor that the fearsomely commanding medieval glaive (or kuse in German) became the identifying weapon of the Hartschieren-Leibgarde, distinct from the halberds carried by the foot element of the Habsburg Trabantenleibgarde; an example dated 1551, carried by Ferdinand’s archducal Archer Guard, is in The Wallace Collection, London (A938).

A further distinguishing feature separating the two units of the Habsburg Court Lifeguard was their recruitment. Whereas the Trabantenleibgarde was formed of soldiers of exemplary character and abilities, the Hartschieren were appointed exclusively from the ranks of the nobility throughout the empire.

Within Leopold’s reign (and prior to the introduction of a newly designed glaive in 1694) the Hartschieren-Leibgarde was commanded by a Hartschierenhauptmann, successively Leopold Wilhelm, Markgraf von Baden-Baden 1656-69; Franz August, Graf von Waldstein 1669-84; Franz Maximilian, Graf von Mansfeld 1684-90; and Ludwig, Graf von Colloredo-Waldsee 1690-94. In 1704, the final year of Leopold’s reign, the Archer Guard comprised 113 men.

A watercolour portrait entitled ‘Hartschier mit Kuse’ provides a fine vivid record of the sumptuous guard uniform in black, red and white, worn in 1578, following the accession of Ferdinand II as emperor. Painted by Lucas (I) van Valckenborch, this small-scale work is in the graphics collection of the Albertina Museum, Vienna (Inv. 13578). The work additionally records the Hartschier armed with both glaive (kuse) and rapier.

The date ‘1666’, included within the design etched on one side the present glaive, is the year in which Leopold I married the Infanta Margarita Teresa, his niece and the youngest daughter of King Philip IV of Spain. In keeping with his lifelong need to outdo his rival, Louis XIV of France, Leopold commanded that the court wedding ceremonial and its attendant festivities would have no parallel in their extravagance and expense; the re-arming of the Archer Guard to mark the occasion typified the increasingly elaborate nature of the Habsburg court under Leopold.


Another example from this series is in the Musée de l’Armée, Paris (K.136): see Mariaux, Le Musée de l’Armée, Armes & Armures Anciennes, vol.2, Paris 1927, pl. LXIII, fig. 3.