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A Nobleman Lives for War, Plunder, and Adventure – Götz von Berlichingen (1480-1562)

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The peasants now moved on Würzburg and established camp at Höchberg. Here they again held an assembly, at which they wanted present neither prince, baron, or noble, so beforehand they gave me leave for eight days. And I have never been happier in my whole life, for during the eight days agreed upon I never lost courage. I’ve never been a hypocrite and wasn’t this time, as I told them nothing they found pleasant and did not approve when they acted unjustly.

When they came to Würzburg, it happened that they were let into the city, and they made camp at and around St. Burckhardt’s church and near the bridges, also some in the city, for it was a large force. And after we had spent some days at Würzburg, there came to me a good, honest, and loyal fellow (who perhaps saw that I meant well and did not speak soft words), who said that I was a good, free nobleman who spoke frankly and not to please his hearers. He advised me in confidence to leave off such speech and told me on pain of my life not to give any sign that he had alerted me. He warned that if I did not cease, it had been decided to take my head. This fellow was then a member of the Seven and the inner council of the peasants. Their decisions had to be accepted and their orders obeyed by the peasants. I took his words for true (noticing that he meant them well and in all loyalty) with great thanks, and I considered what I should do and how I should behave. My oath, that I would remain with them for a month, stood in my way. I decided that although I had leave for eight days, I would remain for the four weeks as I had sworn to do, so as not to give reason to say that I had not honored my oath and done my duty.

Be that as it may, I could not get free of them while encamped at Würzburg, for if God Himself had come from heaven to me, they would not have allowed Him to speak to me, for there were always ten or twelve of them standing near enough to overhear. I was concerned that if I left them, all the princes, counts, barons, knights, and squires would have to pay, because I had not honored my oath to stay with them for a month. This could be made into a reason to harm many innocent people, nobles and others.

At this time God granted the Swabian League victory and the good fortune to crush a rebel army in Swabia. I well noticed how it struck fear into the rebels, who soon left Würzburg and went to Lauda. At first they camped on the Tauber river, then at Krautheim and at Neuenstadt am Kocher, and then through Hohenlohe, and I stayed with them until Adolzfurt in Hohenlohe. They were camped there at the exact moment of the expiration of the four weeks to which I was obliged. I thought, “Now is the time for you to see what you can do.” I don’t think they knew what was up or that my time had expired. But I knew it very well, for each day I counted the days remaining. Thus Almighty God gave me good fortune, so I got free of those folk, wicked or honest, I should say.

Every honorable, rational person, whoever he may be, can easily learn from this, my written account, whether I behaved well or ill toward the peasants (14). And I commend this to every honest man, whoever he may be, even if he is partisan, who may hear it said that I behaved differently among such a tyrannical folk, to whom I was sworn, than I actually did. If I had been better informed, I would have acquitted myself better, and I am not conscious of having done other than to prevent, to the extent I was able, great and noteworthy harm to many electors and princes, spiritual and temporal, also counts, barons, knights, and squires of estates higher and lower. I also put my body and life in such peril that I never knew whether I was safe, or whether they would kill or behead me. No one whatsoever can accuse me of having taken or asked for even a pittance [ . . . ].

(14) The memoir’s conclusion is a vigorous, completely unabashed apology for the author’s life in general, but above all his actions in 1525 – trans.

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