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

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Now some of our fellows had not gotten out of the church before the powder was lighted, perhaps to grab some booty, but the powder burned too fast, and they died fearfully in the fire. I don’t know whether they were alive or dead, for they did not come out. And when we left the church, our little troop, on horse and foot, formed up in battle order, thinking the Swiss might ambush them. No one came, however, and we marched away. As I said, I was present at these events but took part in no other serious attack mounted during this war.

I have no other personal knowledge of the Swiss war, except that the Swiss destroyed many troops, whenever the army was not together. My lord margrave, however, was not present with any of these troops. Count Henry of Fürstenberg was surprised in his camp in the Sundgau during the night (6). His army was crushed, and he and his folk were killed, that is, all but two men who came to the margrave in his camp, so I heard how this event had occurred. I understand that it came about through negligence, contempt, and slipshod behavior, for I stood by as the gentlemen told the margrave. I was also present toward evening on the night when they came to him and, as mentioned, gave His Princely grace the bad news.

[Götz’s First Feud]

More than a year later I donned armor for the first time. It happened thusly. My late brother, Philip, and I rode to Heilbronn around the middle of Lent to visit the church of Our Lady. As we were on the road home and passed through Neuenstadt am Kocher, the mayor ran up – his name was Black Hans – and shouted at us. I was the first to notice and said to my brother: “He is running after us and shouting, and we should hear what he wants.” So we halted until he caught up with us. His charge was to tell us that a good companion wanted us to enter his service for a campaign. I, the youngest, said for myself: “If he is a good companion, he should come to us and speak to us himself, and we would give him a good answer.” And so we resumed our course.

Next time the same companion came to Jagsthausen. It was old Hans Thalacker von Massenbach [a famous robber-knight], who at the time lay in feud with the duke of Württemberg. I had never seen him before. He said that we should serve him with three horses each. My brother gave me an old nag, and I found two squires and entered his service. To be sure, he himself had no more than three riders, among them Henßlin Henßlinschwert [Thalacker’s bastard son], and then another companion, so that we were altogether six. We captured eleven rich peasants – Württemberg subjects – on the Kapfenhart. The weekly market at Heilbronn took place the same day, and Thalacker warned the peasants to appear at Castle Drachenfels [in the Palatinate] on St. George’s Day [April 23]. Then we rode on to Heilbronn, and we grabbed whatever belonged to Württemberg. We went into the city as far as the barrier, where we were met by armed gate-keepers. This was the first time I wore armor, for previously I had taken to war only as a boy. In this first attack with Thalacker I learned enough from his squires and riders that I rode with him for two years as an apprentice and belonged to his band. Later, however, this Thalacker became an enemy of the entire Swabian League (7).

[ . . . ]

During the spring the affair between the margrave and the Nurembergers began. [ . . . ]

Captain Paul von Absberg took me aside and said I should stick with him and ride at his side. Shortly thereafter it came to a tussle. We margrave’s men were told to start off in the night, which we did, and the margrave’s infantry had to do some hard marching, as we came the same night around one o’clock to Schwabach, where Sir Sigmund von Lentersheim and I were the first through the gate. Since the whole force was on the march, we went on for about half a mile [=3-4 English miles], until Christoph von Giech and some riders met us. They had been up and watching for us through the night. Now I knew he would take the hog by the ears, for he was a foe of Nuremberg, with which he had recently conducted feud. Since all the units were now in order, infantry and cavalry, I decided to ride on with Christoph von Giech. When my lord Paul von Absberg saw that I would go on – he recognized me by my arms – he cried two or three times, “Christoph! Christoph!” When Christoph von Giech asked what he wanted, Absberg replied, “Leave my Berlichinger with me and take my cousin, Hans Jörg von Absberg, with you!”

(6) He refers to the battle at Dornach, which lies in the canton of Solothurn, high on the face of the Jura south of Basel. This was the decisive battle that ended the Swiss (Swabian) War – trans.
(7) The Swabian League, founded in 1488 under the sponsorship of the emperor and King Maximilian, embraced at this time Imperial free cities and Imperial knights mainly in Swabia and Franconia – trans.

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