Memoir of “Götz” von Berlichingen, Pt 3: A brawl with ‘The Ape’

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    Hans Hellinger

    This the third in a series of excerpts from the memoir of Gottfried “Götz” von Berlichingen. You can read a very brief synopsis about who this Imperial Knight was in part 1 here:

    First combat of Gottfried “Götz” von Berlichingen – 1499

    And you can read about another battle he fought in, in part 2 here:

    Memoir of “Götz” von Berlichingen, Pt 2: ‘Die Schlacht im Walde Anagoria’

    As a side note, in the narrative transcribed below I put a couple of comments in brackets [like this]. I also artificially broke this up into something like paragraphs, just to make it more readable, since Götz himself basically writes (narrates) everything as one continuous run-on sentence.

    This little battle which takes place on St Michael’s Day, [29 September] 1502, a few weeks after the battle against Nuremberg in part 2. This one is not a pitched battle or a war, but rather, a rather ludicrous brawl between Götz vs a squire* and some peasants in a little village called Ober Eschenbach. At an inn near the village, Götz has words with the squire, whose nickname is ‘die Affen’, ‘The Ape’. At this point Götz’s status is still that of a ‘junker’ and he apparently still hasn’t been knighted, though he is wearing armor and he does have battle experience.

    What follows is a somewhat ludicrous engagement, of a broad category I’d call a “paramilitary fight”, something I talk about in my lectures on the context of HEMA, as one of the types of engagement a fencer might experience. This is something in the zone between a formal or informal duel, and actual organized military activity like a raid or a skirmish. It is a brawl, basically, and in parts it reminds me a little of the scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail where John Cleese attacks a wedding, pointlessly killing all the guests. It starts where Götz, having had words with ‘the Ape’, is now following this man and his boss, the Junker, on a road in the woods. Though the situation is fairly ridiculous, Götz’ description of the fighting is very detailed and vivid, involving fighting with sword and crossbow and a variety of other weapons, and he uses amusing slang and terms of art of the warrior of his era, so it’s worth reading for a historical fencer or anyone interested in Götz or this period of history.

    I’ll let Götz take it from here:

    “…at that time, when we moved down from the Sottenberg, as told, I well thought that it would be him, and riding with his Juncker, etc., and I ran into the next large and high mountain, and brought up my crossbow [spanned his crossbow], next closing on them, but I still had it far from him, and his Juncker fled toward the village, so that I thought that he spread alarm among the bauern (peasants), but that servant, the Aff [the ‘Ape’], also had a crossbow, and he also fled in the same way as had his Juncker,

    and as I then came near him, here he had to enter a deep hollow way towards the village, and I was still far from the corner where the path entered, and I let him ride along the hollow way, and I shot over his back, and I would have brought up [spanned] the crossbow again, but I thought, he will not wait for you, because he also had an arrow on his crossbow, and I had nobody with me, and so I left the crossbow alone and ran after him into that hollow, and when he saw that I had not brought up the crossbow, he waited for me before the gate, and he shot me forwards on the Krebs [crab, this is a slang term for plate armor apparently] so that the arrow splintered, and the fragments sprang over my head, there I next threw my crossbow at his neck, because I had no arrow on it, and out with the sword,

    I ran him into the ground, so that his horse had his nose on the ground, but he came up again and all the time cried for the peasants to help him, and as I so ran with him around the village, there stood a peasant who had a crossbow already with an arrow on it, I next moved towards him before he could shoot, and struck down his arrow from the crossbow, and stopped so near him and thrust the sword again into it’s scabbard, and I told him that I belonged to [was a vassal of] Sir Neidharden von Thungen, and we also well belonged to Fulda [The Imperial Abbey],

    in that time, and entire horde of peasants arrived with boar spears, hand axes, throwing axes, wood axes and stones, and had me encircled, if you do not throw, then you do not have anything, if you do not hit, then it is worth nothing, so that the axes and stones cruised around my head, and it seemed that they touched me on the Pickel-Haube [spiked helmet] there ran in a peasant, who had a boar spear, against whom I ran, and as I drew again the sword, the peasant struck, and hit me on the arm, so that I thought he had fractured my arm, and as I jabbed for him, there he fell under my horse so that I had not enough room that I could have stooped down to strike him,

    in total I broke through, but another peasant advanced carrying a wood axe, I gave him a blow and he fell next to the fence, there my horse did not want to run any more because I had really exhausted him, and I feared, how I might again get out of the gate, and when I hurried towards it, there was all at once a peasant there, who wanted to clap it closed, but I came well out, before he closed it,

    and as I came a bit out of the gate, but the Aff [‘the Ape’] was already there, and he had again an arrow on his crossbow and four peasants beside him, and cried here, here, here, and again shot at me, so that I saw the arrow sliding along the ground, and advanced against them, with my sword out, and chased all 5 of them back into the village where the peasants started to sound the toscin [alarm?] for me, but I rode away, and as I moved again to Sir Neidhardt, who held far out on the field, and there we looked everywhere after the peasants, but none of them wanted to come near me, and when I went to Sir Neidhardt, there ran a peasant with a lough toward the tocsin, and I overhauled him and caught him that he must promise and swear that he would bring out my crossbow, because I had thrown it at the Aff, as Mentioned before, when he shot at me, there I had not so much leisure that I might have retrieved it, but I must leave it lying on the way.”

    * He’s actually not a squire, which is a rank of knighthood, he’s a Knecht, meaning a servant, in this case a fighting servant, of another young noble (Junker) named Endres von Gmund. The role of the Knecht in this case, is as a battle-ally and attendant to the knight, which is what most English speaking readers think of when they read the word squire, so it’s kind of a shorthand way to get the idea across, though it’s really not the right term.

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