First combat of Gottfried “Götz” von Berlichingen – 1499

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    Hans Hellinger

    Gottfried “Götz” von Berlichingen is an interesting and justifiably famous figure from the later middle ages and Early Modern period. He’s an inspiration for Manga and Anime characters, subject of a running joke in Young Frankenstein, and is probably best known for his mechanical prosthetic ‘iron hand’, which he had made after his original hand and forearm was severed in battle in 1505. He was also known for briefly leading part of a peasant army in the great peasant war, for telling a besieging captain demanding his surrender from a castle to ‘lick my ass!’ (in an incident so famous that Mozart once wrote a song about it) and most of all, for his many successful feuds against other knights, cities, and princes throughout his turbulent life.

    If you want to read up on him a little, here is the Wiki

    This excerpt is from the autobiography of the self-same “Götz” von Berlichingen. This is from a 2017 translation published by a certain Dr. Dirk Rottgardt. I don’t know who this person is but based on his name and the erudition in the long (and quite necessary) introduction to the book, I suspect he is German or Austrian.

    When this book came out, I was looking for it for two years, finally found it, ordered a copy and promptly lost it in one of my bookshelves for another 3 years, and I just found it again last month. This is not quite as desperately dysfunctional as it sounds, yes I do have too many books and too many bookshelves, but this one has literally no writing on the spine. Word to the wise! If you get one like this, put a label on it.

    I don’t know if this is still in print but it looks like there are three of these left available on Abe Books for $25. If you are interested in the HRE, late medieval warfare, knights, or “Götz” himself, I’d snatch one up. This is the first detailed account of combat I found in the book but this is also page 11 of 73. I think there is going to be a lot more good stuff in here!

    So this tidbit appears to be the first combat encounter that Götz experienced, and it’s pretty intense. It took place when, according to Götz himself, he was “a young mann of 17 or 18 years”. He had been summoned to battle by his liege the Margrave of Brandbenburg (I think, the feudal obligations are a bit confusing) and ultimately by Emperor Maximilian himself, who was present. This action took place during the “Swabian War” between the forces of the HRE and the Swiss Confederation in 1499, ending with a (very narrow) Swiss victory at the Battle of Dornach later that same year.

    This engagement that young Götz participates in takes place in and around a village just outside of Schaffhausen, which was an Imperial City then in the process of joining forces with the Swiss Confederation. At this point I believe Götz was fighting as cavalry and he was a noble, but I don’t think he has been knighted yet. I’ll let Götz take it from here:

    “Shortly after that day, the administrators of Württemberg and the Magrave had also made an attempt on Schaffhausen, with their Reisigen [cavalry] and Fuss-Volk [infantry], so that we came in the night to a place that was named Taingen, which does not lie far from Schaffhausen, now had a number of Swiss come out of Schaffhausen and into the same church steeple, where they defended themselves and did not want to give themselves up as prisoners, but they wanted to die like pious Eidgenossen [Confederates, i.e. Swiss patriots], in total, blessed Sir Melchior Sulzel waited between Schaffhausen and Taingen, there drove him the Swiss away from his watch-post, and one of the Swiss threw a stone into his face, and those in the church defended themselves in such a way that they slew and shot dead many of noble and non-noble birth on horse and on foot. And after my horse, on which I attended to the Margrave, had died, I ran as a bad boy on foot together with the Knechten [‘war-servants’] in towards the church, grabbed and old Scheffelein [type of spear] and had my Degen [sword] also bound into the Baardt and cut off my trousers, there Master Jacob, a Büschenmeister, a small scrawny man, was shot as he stood beside me, and the shot went through and out of him, and hit a servant who belonged to the troops of Württemberg, who had just donned a blue garment, and who was left dead, but the Büschemneister was left living, and at last brought Sir Depold Spat and others powder and put it downstairs into the steeple of the church and lit it, those who were inside surely burned, but a Swiss fell out of the top, who had in his arms a young boy, and as he falls down, there ran the boy away from him, and had no harm, but the Swiss remained dead, and one of the riders of the Margrave took the little boy, I do not know what became of him and I have not seen him since.

    Now, many servants had tarried in the church, when the powder was lit, I could think that they wanted to filch something, and the powder also overtook them and they must pitiably suffer in the fire, I do not know if they were left living or dead, because they did not run out, and when we again came away from that church, our troops held in battle order on horse and on foot and thought that the Swiss would fall out on them, but when nobody came, we withdrew again”

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