Lyriman and Grymmenstein: One man and his accomplice go to war

One man against a city

In 1424 and early 1425 the city council of Basel conducted several witness hearings to investigate what an old enemy, a man called Konrad Lyriman, had been up to and what the recent ruckus surrounding him was about.[1]

What did Lyriman do to be considered an enemy to an entire city and how did the people of Basel perceive him? These question can be answered by looking at the aforementioned witness statements. But first, a brief introduction to Konrad Lyriman and his accomplice Grymmenstein.

Konrad Lyriman was born and lived in Bern, but by the time of the testimonies he had been banished from the confines of this town.[2] We know very little about Lyriman’s social and economic background. He was a commoner, but did not belong to the urban social or financial elite.[3] He might have been a merchant, but there is no direct proof to that.[4] What we know is that in 1415 he started a feud with Basel. How exactly this conflict started has been lost to history – it had something to do with an animosity between Lyriman and a merchant from Basel about money business.[5]

His accomplice was a man called Grymmenstein. We know even less about him, not even his first name. He certainly was also a commoner – even though there are two castles called Grimmenstein in today’s Switzerland – as seen in the lack of any formal address in the witness statements. He seems to have been a scribe and he may have been from the Habsburg ruled town of Waldshut (today Waldshut-Tiengen).[6] Looking at the testimonies, Grymmenstein was more than a mere sidekick but had an active part in designing Lyrimans vendetta against Basel.

Map with the places mentioned in the text. Made with geojson.io.

The efforts of Lyriman and Grymmenstein

The witness statements are recorded in a book called the liber diversarum rerum.[7] True to its name, the book contains a multitude of different sources stemming from the city council of Basel and collected between 1417 and 1463. A good deal of them concern security aspects of the town, including our witness testimonies. There were four witnesses giving their statements on three different dates, stretching from May 1424 to January 1425. The four witnesses were all men. Their relationships to Lyriman or Grymmenstein remain largely unclear, with the exception of a certain Klaus Holder. In early May 1424, Lyriman’s allies had kidnapped Holder, a carter and citizen of Kleinbasel (lesser Basel), in the vicinity of the towns Fribourg in what was clearly an attack against Basel.[8] This kidnapping transformed the long-standing but mostly uneventful animosities between Lyriman and Basel into an open conflict and was probably the reason that the Basel authorities summoned these witnesses and started questioning them later that month.

This is the record of Klaus Holder’s testimony, in which he recounts his abduction by Lyrimans cronies. It was conducted on 12 January 1425. StABS, Von Lyrimans wegen, Ratsbücher A 7, fol. 48r.

The witnesses spoke of a ‘war’ that Lyriman wanted to wage against Basel and how he and Grymmenstein had tried to win allies for this war. We learn that Lyriman had gone to the ‘welschen Landen’ (here meaning the French speaking part of today’s Switzerland), where he had hoped to find help for his feud against Basel. At the same time and with the same goal, Grymmenstein had gone east into the neighbouring Habsburg territory. Because of Basel’s constant conflict with Habsburg and their lieges, he probably had felt confident to find allies there. We also learn how Lyriman had prepared for his trip to the French speaking land by writing down his complaints against Basel and having them transcribed into Latin.

There are elements that point towards an organised action, but the results show that the situation was not favourable to Lyriman and his henchman. Nobody joined forces with them.

Grymmenstein had asked two noblemen, both of whom held their own ill will against Basel. Walter von Münchwiler had ultimately refused to join the feud after some initial consideration, even though his wife had already loaned Lyriman money. To Georg von Ende, Grymmenstein had promised to send saltpetre[9] ‘und anders’ [and more] for his castle, if he would become Lyriman’s ally. But Ende had declined upon hearing that it was Lyriman who was leading the feud. Grymmenstein had also tried to win over the people of the small Habsburg town of Waldshut for Lyrimans cause, but again he had found no support.

Lyriman and Grymmenstein had even tried to garner the support of the city council of Bern with the argument that Lyriman was a Bern citizen, but Bern had clearly refused to be in any way a part of the plan.

We are not able to determine what all this sought-after support would have actually entailed, but it is likely that the two culprits were looking for actual manpower and not just financial support. The witness statements paint a bleak picture for Lyriman, his accomplice Grymmenstein and their ‘war’ against Basel. None of the parties the had addressed wanted to help them their endeavor, and on his own Lyriman was not a serious threat to Basel. The members of the city council, who had conducted the hearings, were certainly glad to hear that.

Conclusion

In contrast to popular belief, feuds were by no means a prerogative of the nobility.[10] Lyriman’s feud was one of many cases where commoners fought (or attempted to do so) to defend their rights, when they felt that other ways had not served them justice. However, to go against an entire city was ambitious to say the least. His henchman Grymmenstein was right in seeking allies, even it is, to us, not surprising that they did not succeed in finding meaningful support. Who would risk their standing and security for someone without being able to expect social or financial benefits? Nevertheless, Basel did not treat the matter as a mere curiosity. On the contrary, Lyriman’s feud is an example of the various ways in which the security of a city was endangered, and even though serious harm was improbable, the city council had to stay alert.

After these last fruitless attempts, Lyriman seemed to have given up on his vendetta for good. Apart from having great financial difficulties, we do not know how he spent his life after that. He died sometime after 1439.[11]

Cite this article as: Elena Magli, "Lyriman and Grymmenstein: One man and his accomplice go to war," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 28/08/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1058.

[1] Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt, Ratsbücher A 7, Liber diversarum rerum, 1417–1463, Von Lyrimans wegen, fol. 45r–48r.

[2] Roth, Hansjörg, «Von Lyrimans wegen». Spuren einer Privatfehde gegen die Stadt Basel im frühen 15. Jahrhundert, Basel [Lizentiatsarbeit] 1992, p. 45.

[3] Roth, Lyrimans, pp. 23–24.

[4] Roth, Lyrimans, pp. 17–18.

[5] Roth, Lyrimans, pp. 32–33, p. 75.

[6] Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt, Ratsbücher A 7, Liber diversarum rerum, 1417–1463, Von Lyrimans wegen, fol. 45r–48r.; see also Roth, Lyrimans, p. 48, p. 103.

[7] Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt, Ratsbücher A 7, Liber diversarum rerum, 1417–1463.

[8] Roth, Lyrimans, pp. 59–61.

[9] For the production of gunpowder.

[10] For feuds outside of the nobility see Christine Reinle, Bauernfehden. Studien zur Fehdeführung Nichtadliger im spätmittelalterlichen römisch-deutschen Reich, besonders in den bayerischen Herzogtümern (Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, Beiheft 170), Stuttgart 2003.

[11] Roth, Lyrimans, p. 17, pp. 74–76.

To Stab the French!

Unrest on the River Banks of the Reuss

On 1 September 1512, a letter was written to the city council of Lucerne that described recent, rather unusual events that threatened to break the peace.

Staatsarchiv Luzern, AKT 13/3456, Projekt eines Attentates auf den französischen Agenten auf der Reuss bei Merenschwand, Kundschaft, 1. 9. 1512.

The letter, from an anonymous writer, describes what seems to be a plan by locals to attack a convoy of people from France who were travelling on the river Reuss. He shares the results of his inquiries into the planned attack by detailing to the city council what he had learned from different people he had interviewed. He himself was not involved with this proposed action. The letter was written in Merenschwand, a village under the rule of Lucerne and situated next to the river Reuss, which represented the border between the city states of Lucerne and Zurich. Both sides of the Reuss, and the river itself, feature heavily in the narrative (see Map1 and Map2).

Map 1: This detail of a map by Jos Murer from 1566 shows the concerned region, the villages mentioned in our source are highlighted. The dotted line on the river Reuss represents the border between the territories of Lucerne and Zurich.

Eigendtliche und grundtliche Verzeichnung aller Stetten, Graffschafften, Herrschafften, Landen, Gerichten und Gebieten so einer Statt Zürych zugehörig […] zu Zürych : by Christoffel Froschower, 1568.
Universitätsbibliothek Basel, Kartenslg Schw Ca 1.
Map 2: The two villages Merenschwand and Maschwanden and their location between the cities Lucerne and Zurich. In 1512, Merenschwand belonged to Lucerne and Maschwanden to Zurich.
GoogleMaps, 5. 9. 2019.

The first witness is Hans Wy of Merenschwand. He states that, as he was threshing grain in front of his home, five armed people came down the river Reuss, and that he recognised them as being from the Zurich side of the river. Curious at the sight of these armed men, Wy inquired after their business, but to no avail. He later heard from a boy that “sÿ wend die franntzosen stechen” (they want to stab the French). Our anonymous writer also managed to talk to this boy himself, who seemed to have confirmed the statement.

First paragraph of the letter.
Staatsarchiv Luzern, AKT 13/3456, Projekt eines Attentates auf den französischen Agenten auf der Reuss bei Merenschwand, Kundschaft, 1. 9. 1512.

The next witness is Hans Maler, also from Merenschwand, whose testimony provided more concrete details. He describes an event in Maschwanden, a village on the Zurich side of the Reuss (see Maps 1 and 2), where a group of armed men were also seen passing through. He stated that the local innkeeper, upon seeing the men, asked what they were doing and they told him that they were after some Frenchmen, who they wanted to capture. Here we learn, that the supposed French must have been travelling by boat on the Reuss. Upon hearing that the armed men wanted to “schuffen und stechen” (hit and stab) the French, the innkeeper went to get his harness and pike and joined them in their mission. He was not, however, alone: apparently the whole village solidarized with them and joined in.

Last paragraph of the letter.
Staatsarchiv Luzern, AKT 13/3456, Projekt eines Attentates auf den französischen Agenten auf der Reuss bei Merenschwand, Kundschaft, 1. 9. 1512.

Hans Maler further relates to our anonymous author that a local official instructed the people that, at his order, they should throw stones at the French if they refused to come ashore. Who exactly this local official was and where his authorities lay is unclear.

Another official, Felix Schwend, had a different stance on the matter. He was an important official from Zurich, as he represented the city’s jurisdiction in this region of the Zurich city state. Schwend told the people that he would not help them kill the French, but he would also not hinder them. Schwend, who had been a city councilman in Zurich and part of the “Constaffel” society, belonged to the ruling elite of Zurich.[1] With this in mind, it is not surprising that he would not support such an unlawful attack, but he was clearly also not a part of the pro-French faction either.

Finally, in the last segment of the letter, we learn a little more about this French convoy on the river Reuss. They were probably travelling from Lucerne, where they had secured a deal to hire mercenaries. We know this because, as Maler says, he was not willing to help kill the French, even for a 100 gulden: another replied, in turn, that he would do it for less, “wann sin herrn inn nitt gleitt geben hetten” (if his lords did not give them escort. Meaning mercenaries). Since we can assume that this person is also from Merenschwand, “sin herrn” would refer to the city council of Lucerne. This is further supported by the fact that the Frenchmen were travelling down the Reuss, as it flows down the region from Lucerne.

It is important to remember that this document has to be analysed in the context of the Italian Wars and the ongoing discussions and discontent regarding the “Pensionen”. This was a practice in which money was given, either to a Swiss political body or individual person, from a foreign ruling elite to gain political favour and access to Swiss mercenaries. The French kings were chief agents in this market. This led to a series of revolts by the rural populace in the Swiss Confederation, known as the “Pensionenunruhen”: they include the curiously named “onion war” (1513-1515) in Lucerne and “gingerbread war” (1515) in Zurich among others.[2] They exemplify the deep discontent held by the rural populace against the “Pensionenwesen”: our document gives us a fascinating glimpse into the growing dissatisfaction of the people in the rural areas of Lucerne and Zurich against the urban, pro-French elites. The authorities in Lucerne therefore had good reasons for wanting to know exactly what had happened in the region of Merenschwand, who was involved, and what they did. It is further noteworthy, that the anonymous author of the “Kundschaft” only mentioned people in the jurisdiction of Zurich actively participating in the planned attack, while the people of Merenschwand are all described as mere onlookers. This could well be a deliberate narrative to appease the city council of Lucerne.

Whether or not the attack was actually carried out has not been determined thus far. Further sources from Lucerne, such as the minutes of the city council, make no mention of this matter. It may, however, be possible to find additional information in the Zurich state archives.

Cite this article as: Elena Magli, "To Stab the French!," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 02/10/2019, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/360.

[1] Dütsch, Hans-Rudolf. Die Zürcher Landvögte von 1402-1798, Ein Versuch zur Bestimmung ihrer sozialen Herkunft und zur Würdigung ihres Amtes im Rahmen des zürcherischen Stadtstaates (Zürich, 1994), p. 228.

[2] About the pensionen and the Pensionenunruhen in depht: Rogger, Philippe. Geld, Krieg und Macht. Pensionsherren, Söldner und eigenössische Politik in den Mailänderkriegen 1494–1516 (Baden 2015).