Goetz of the Iron Hand

(Goetz von Berlichingen)


Goetz von Berlichingen, better known as Goetz of the Iron Hand, was a German Imperial Knight and mercenary during the early sixteenth century. Born into a noble family, he owned a castle near the Neckar River in present-day Baden-Württemberg. As a young man, he enlisted in the army of Maximilian I, and he traveled to Lorraine and Burgundy before taking part in the Swabian War the following year. By 1500, Goetz had left the service of the king and obtained a new life as a mercenary, lending his skills to various members of the nobility. In 1504, he was employed by Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria, to take part in the siege of Landshut. During the battle, Goetz lost his right arm, and an iron prosthetic was made for him. Despite his injury, Berlichingen remained active in the military and was involved in various feuds throughout the years. In one instance, he raided a group of Nuremberg merchants, a crime that placed him under an Imperial ban for two years until he was able to pay for his freedom. He was later taken prisoner during a war with the Swabian League, when they violated the terms of Goetz’s surrender and held him until he paid a large ransom.

Following his return home, Goetz led a peasant revolt against the Holy Roman Empire, but when he found that he could not control the unruly rebels, he removed himself from the scene. After the rebellion was put down, he was called into trial for his actions but later acquitted. He also received a message from the Swabian league, asking that he meet them in Augsburg to be cleared of old charges, but when he arrived they captured him and held him until 1530, when he swore to remain near his castle and refrain from avenging himself against the league. He was finally released from this oath ten years later, and he went on to fight in the army of Charles V, battling against the Ottoman and French forces before retiring to his home, where he remained for eighteen years until his death.

Key events during the life of Goetz von Berlichington:

Fought in the army of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I
Became a mercenary
Lost his right arm during the seige of Landshut
Raided a party of merchants and was placed under an Imperial ban for two years
Captured during a battle and held prisoner for three years
Led rebels during the Peasants' War
Lured to Augsburg and held prisoner for two years
Released from his promise to remain at home
Fought under Charles V against the Ottoman Turks
Fought against the French

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Peasants and the Anabaptists  in  Historical Tales: German  by  Charles Morris

Short Biography
Maximilian I Romantic and chivalrous Emperor. Added Burgundian Lowlands to the Hapsburg Realm.
Martin Luther Leader of the Protestant Reformation. Excommunicated by Catholic Church.
Francis I of France King of France who was a patron of the arts, and was involved in the Italian Wars.
Solyman Most famous of the Ottoman Emperors. Extended the empire to the Balkans and North Africa.