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

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My brother and other good friends of mine, also some other fellows, decided to meet in Heßbach woods near Bocksberg. I had great trouble reaching them, for the very Devil was loose. We deliberated about which nearby prince we should ride to. I said that I didn’t know of any prince who was mobilized, except My Most Gracious Lord, the [Elector and] Count Palatine, and the majority of us decided we should ride to him. I also said that I was waiting for an instruction [from Heidelberg] as to what I should do, and I wanted to find out, if possible, so I started out forthwith and reached my home, though with great difficulty. Before I even took off my armor, I asked my wife if a letter had come from Heidelberg, to which she said, “no.” I was truly shocked, for I didn’t know what I should do. Rumor had it that my lord, the Count Palatine, would treat with the peasants, so I didn’t know what to do. I never saw the letter, though I learned that my mother-in-law and my wife did receive it. When my wife read it to her mother, she told her mother to say absolutely nothing about it to me, for otherwise they would all be ruined and killed. That is why I never saw the letter, which caused all of my subsequent misfortune and trouble. When I later learned the truth, I did not want the mother-in-law to stay in my house, and she never came to us again (11).

When the peasants assembled at Gundelsheim, several of my kinsmen and other nobles were there, including Beringer von Berlichingen, a very old man, and my brother Wolff von Berlichingen. They didn’t know what to do, whether to join the peasants or not, for they all wanted peace. I was also there, and I made peace with the peasants, as did several other princes, counts, and nobles. But I bound myself to them by neither word nor deed. I stayed with them a while and then went back home. There I hoped for a letter from Heidelberg, such as I had discussed with Wilhelm von Habern, which he should send me. And to this day I have learned not a word of its contents. I pledge my life on that, so truly as God is in heaven, and on my health and salvation.

And when I was back home, the peasants at Gundelsheim mobilized, and their captains sent their marshal [Schultheiß] to me to say that I should join them, for they had something to discuss with me. I didn’t know what, how, or when, and I feared that they would also seize me and thereby endanger my wife and children and my people, for I really had no armed men in my house. The peasants were full of the Devil, and the servants, male and female, no longer obeyed. So I rode up with the marshal, dismounted at the inn, and made to enter. As I did, Marx Stumpff came down the steps from meeting with the peasants and asked, “Götz, is it you?” I said, “Yes, where do things stand? What should I do, and what do the captains want from me?” He replied, “You must become their commander!” “Oh, God, not me,” I said, “that is the Devil’s doing. Why don’t you do it? Do it instead of me!” And he replied, “They did choose me, but I said to them that if I could do it in [honorable] service, I would do it.” So I said again, “I won’t do that. I’d sooner go myself to the captains and see whether they could force or compel me to.” He replied, “Accept it for the sake of My Gracious Lord and other princes, also all of us nobles.” But I said, “I won’t do it!”

I went in to the captains and obtained from them a favorable decision, though with the proviso that I should go to the other captains, who were camped in the field in front of the gate, and report and put the same request to them. This I did and rode out and spoke to them, one troop after another, for all the troops were gathered together. I received favorable replies from those who were tenants and subjects of all princes, counts, and nobles in the army, except for those of [the counts of] Hohenlohe. These took my horse by the reins, circled me, and said that I should acknowledge myself captive, and that I must swear to join them the next day in their camp at Buchen. I would find them there, and I must not depart without permission.

(11) In keeping with the purpose of the entire memoir, this passage is an apology for Götz’s role as a commander of rebels in the Peasants’ War in Franconia, for which the victorious Swabian League later punished him – trans.

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