Note from Harold Covington: Now, just to show I'm even-handed, here's a forgotten
hero for you from Germany.
The famous Gotz von Berlichingen, who died on July 23, 1562, was a typical Raubritter,
a petty aristocrat making a living serving less petty aristocrats in wars and feuds,
and getting family finances in order by kidnapping and robbing merchants and burghers.
After losing his hand in combat in 1504 (a missile from a "field snake," or small
cannon, hit his sword hilt, which, along with his arm greaves, ripped his lower arm
to shreds) he had a mechanical hand made for him, which resulted in his cognomen
Von der Eiserne Hand—Gotz of the Iron Hand.
His memoir is aimed mainly at justifying his role during the Peasant Wars of 1525,
when, as he claims, he was coerced into leading a fraction of rebels. His brief stint
among the Bundschuh, and his subsequent incarceration as a sympathizer of the abortive
revolt made him somewhat of a folk hero ... a reputation cemented by Johann Wolfgang
Goethe's in his Sturm und Drang drama Gotz von Berlichingen.
A RIDE IN THE COUNTRY A.D. 1502
The action and battle for Nuremberg having taken place on the Sunday after Valentine's
Day, it happened soon afterwards, around Michaelmas, that I rode down from Sodenberg
with Neidhardt von Thringen, under whom I was serving at the time. As we moved along,
we became aware of two horsemen near a small patch of woods, in the vicinity of a
village called Ober-Eschenbach, and these men were Endris von Gemund, bailiff of
Solleck, and his servant, whom people called The Ape.
Now, preceding these events, when I had joined up with Lord Neidhardt, there had
been a meeting at Hammelburg, and Neidhardt was there with Count Wilhelm von Henneberg
and Count Michael von Wertheim, who had lots of strife because of an enemy who was
the aforementioned Count Michael's enemy whom they had called to that meeting. And
the proceedings were administered and arbitrated.
But as I went to join Lord Neidhardt at the inn and walked over to his servants—who
by now were drunk for the most part—the aforementioned Ape was so far gone and with
so much wind in his nose [i.e. garrulous] that he launched into much odd talk. And
he said to me: "So, Junker, are you come to join us?" and some such sarcastic nonsense
with which he intended to provoke me.
Peeved, I told him, "I can do without you calling me Junker, and without your derision
and your gluttony. Because once we happen to meet out in the field, we'll see who
is the Junker and who is the serving man."
When we were riding down from Sodenberg, I thought to myself that this must be him
riding with his Junker. And I drove my horse up a high, steep mountain, bringing
up my crossbow while moving. Next, I moved straight at them. But the Junker was fleeing
toward the village, so that I feared he would start inciting the peasants. The Ape
also was armed with a crossbow, and took to flight just like his master. As I closed
in with him, he was forced to enter a deep hollow path. I let him and shot at him
over his back. Now I wanted to draw the crossbow again, but thought it unlikely that
he would wait around for me, since he, too, had a bolt on his crossbow. And I had
no-one with me, thus didn't bother with my weapon.
I followed him into the hollow path, and since he saw that I did not reload, he waited
for me at the gate until I had closed in. Then he shot at me, and hit me right into
my breastplate so that the bolt burst into splinters that flew up all over my head.
I threw my crossbow at his neck (since I had no bolt on it anyway) and drew my sword.
I ran him to the ground so that his nag hit its nose into the dirt. But he came up
again, all the while yelling at the peasants they should come to his aid. And as
I was running around with him inside the village, there was a peasant holding a crossbow,
with a bolt already loaded. I charged at him before he could shoot and knocked the
bolt from the bow. And then, I remained with him, sheathing my sword, and identifying
myself, saying that I was serving under Neidhardt von Thurigen and thus was a staunch
member of the Bishop of Fulda's party.
Meanwhile, a whole gang of peasants had arrived and surrounded me, armed with boar
spears, hand axes, throwing axes, wood axes, and rocks. If you don't dare, you won't
win, if you don't hit, you won't score—so consequently the axes and rocks were flying
past my head that I thought they'd dent my helmet, when a peasant was running at
me with a boar spear. I launched myself at him, and as I was clearing my sword, the
peasant struck at me, hitting my arm so that I thought he had broken it. And as I
thrust at him, he fell under my horse, and I didn't have enough space to lean over
to get at him.
Finally, I broke through, but then a peasant was running after me who was wielding
a wood cutting ax. Him I gave a blow that he fell next to the stockade. At that moment
my horse gave out, since I had ridden him hard, and I became afraid that I might
not be able to make it out of the gate. And as I was rushing toward it, someone immediately
appeared who wanted to slam it shut. I made it out before he succeeded. A short distance
from the gate, I again ran into the Ape, and he had a bolt on his crossbow and four
peasants with him, yelling "Hither! Hither!" He shot at me so that I saw the bolt
reflect off the soil.
And again, I attacked them with my sword drawn and chased all five of them back into
the village when the peasants rang storm over me.
I, however, rode off toward Lord Neidhardt who kept himself far out in the field.
We looked back at the peasants, but nobody was about to follow me. As I came close
to Neidhardt, a peasant, alerted by his compatriots ringing storm, came running along
with his plow. I caught him and forced him to swear to bring my crossbow back out
to me, which I had thrown at the Ape and failed to pick up again.
From Pistorius, Wilhelm Friedrich. Lebens-Beschreibung Herrn Gozens von Berlichingen,
zugenannt mit der Eisern Hand, Eines zu Zeiten Kaysers Maximilian I und Caroli V
kuhnen und tapfern Reichs-Cavaliers, Nurnberg: Adam Jonathan FeBecker, 1731; p. 52f.,
in Leitzmann, Albert (ed.). Lebensbeschreibung Herrn Gotzens von Berlichingen, nach
der Ausgabe von 1731, Halle an der Saale: Verlag von Max Niemeyer, 1916.