Wrong place, wrong time – The inclusion of strangers into the urban armed forces

Sovereign cities in the Holy Roman Empire had their own military force. To a significant degree, this armed force was composed of the citizens of the town. Citizens therefore knew that if – or more accurately, when – the day came an urban army was needed, they had to take up arms and march to war themselves.[1]. However, in every town, at any given moment there were strangers[2] present. What happened to people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a city preparing to go to war?

This blog entry explores the relation of these strangers to the urban militia. I will do that based on a specific document in the state archive of Basel-Stadt dealing with the strangers in Basel as the town was preparing to enter into military conflict with Habsburg. (fig. 1)

Fig. 1: Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt, Ratsbücher J 1, Rufbuch I, 1417 – 1459, fol. 156r.

In early 1445, the town of Basel was in acute military danger as tensions between neighbouring Habsburg and Basel ran higher and higher.[3] Soon, the city council made the decision to raise the militia and subsequently called all the male inhabitants of Basel to arms. In contrast, and in addition to previous calls to arms, the government this time decided that strangers currently in town also had to be part of the urban military forces. This decision is recorded in the “Rufbuch”[4]. The “Rufbuch” (book of calls) was one of Basel’s many city books (liber civitatis). However, it represents a special category of city book since the Rufbuch was especially created to document what today would be called public service announcements. The “Rufbuch” consist of laws, admonitions and calls to order the city council had decided in the city hall that were then – literally – called out to the people. In order to do this, a town crier stood on the stairs of the town hall and read the entries of the Rufbuch out loud in the direction of the market square situated right in front of the town hall. (fig. 2) Accordingly, these texts were specifically created to be read out loud, and this influenced their appearance. For example, the text is written in noticeably bigger fond then records meant for reading only. Also, there are conspicuously numerous corrections done to the text, maybe indicating improvements made after previous rounds of reading.

Fig. 2: In the front: town hall with corn market. From here the new order was made public. Excerpt from the Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt, Merian, Matthäus: Gesamtansicht der Stadt aus der Vogelperspektive von Nordosten, 1615, Kupferstich, BILD 1_291.)

In 1445, the city crier would have cried out this new ruling concerning strangers ordered to join the armed forces to the people gathering in the market square. He announced that the city council had conferred and decided that since there was “vil frömdes volkes” (a lot of strangers) in town, these strangers should join the urban militia. The strangers had to show their willingness to do so by swearing that they would march under the city banner. Subsequently, the strangers were ordered to assign themselves to one of Basel’s 15 guilds. This presented a necessary step to become part of the urban forces, since the guilds made up the town’s basic organisational structure. How serious the government took this new practice is made clear in the declaration that everyone not complying to the order would be treated as an enemy of the town.

Basel was apparently especially in need of men with carts, since the townspeaker was pressed to emphasise that strangers in possession of carts and carriages had to have them in good condition and had to freely offer them up for use. This may be explained by the demands made by the course of this specific war, since Basel’s military forces did not only prepare for short excursions, but for longer expeditions which even included sieges. Such ventures required a certain amount of carts for all the needed goods out into the field and in front of the besieged places. Bounty also had to be ferried back somehow.[5]

The town crier also informed the public, that out in the field the strangers in Basel’s army had to wear a red cross on a white surface, signalling the side they were on. This was the standard of the Swiss Confederation – allies of Basel in this war. The sign was usually worn stitched onto a sleeve.[6]

Unfortunately, the city council does not elaborate who specifically they meant by “vil frömdes volk”. Even though it is somewhat obvious, here it bears emphasising that a town’s population did not only consist of its permanent inhabitants. Indeed, at any given moment in time, Basel would have had a wealth of strangers in town – newcomers from near and far who wanted to settle in as well as mere passer-throughs in form of merchants, travelling artisans, pilgrims etc.

Yet, the constant stream of newcomers and passer-throughs must have reached a remarkable dimension in 1445. The threat of war did not only mobilise armed citizens, but also people who fled from it, mostly rural residents from the wider region who sought the protection of the city walls. Basel therefore would have had more far more people inside its walls than usual. In this regard, there is an enlightening addition made in the Rufbuch fol. 156r, after the actual declaration. In it, the government points out that if people from neighbouring Habsburg land were to flee to Basel, they would be considered enemies and be imprisoned.

At the same time, Basel still hosted the members of the council of Basel including a papal court that was regularly joined by important guests. In 1445, for example, Margaret of Savoy visited her father the pope in Basel on her journey towards her wedding destination, bringing her own court with her.[7]

Clerics and diplomatic guests were not the ones addressed by the new order recorded in the Rufbuch though. We can safely guess that the order rather addressed the men who had arrived fleeing from the countryside and from smaller, more vulnerable towns into the relative safety of the city walls. In times of acute military danger, the municipal government of Basel decided to include these strangers currently residing in Basel into the town’s armed forces. With this move, they increased their fighting power and also, maybe more importantly, they attempted to defuse the perceived threat of the unknown the unusual amount of strangers presented. For the government, the order created an avenue of access and control by constructing a situation where either the strangers let themselves be incorporated into the town’s war efforts or the government could remove them for not subjecting themselves to local law.

[1] For the characteristics and composition urban Swiss medieval armies see Regula Schmid, “Bezahlte Bürger – Gratissöldner: Die Zusammensetzung Städtischer Heere Im Spätmittelalter,” in Miliz oder Söldner? Wehrpflicht und Solddienst in Stadt, Republik und Fürstenstaat 13.-18. Jahrhundert, ed. Regula Schmid and Philippe Rogger, 91–114, Krieg in der Geschichte 111 (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2019).

[2] In the following, the term “stranger” is understood as either a newcomer from villages or other towns or a passer-through. “Strangers” who did not come from outside, yet who had a sense of “strangerhood” attached to themselves, as for example Jews in central Europe or, to a degree, women, are not part of the following. However their relation to the urban martial community will be a focus point of my dissertation. For the use and meaning of the term “stranger” see Miri Rubin, Cities of Strangers, Making Lives in Medieval Europe, (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

[3] There was a series of military conflict between members of the Swiss Confederation and also Habsburg between 1436 – 1450, called the “Alter Zürichkrieg”. See Martin Illi, “Alter Zürichkrieg” in: Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (HLS), version dating 04.05.2015, https://hls-dhs-dss.ch/de/articles/008877/2015-05-04/.

[4] Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt, Ratsbücher J 1, Rufbuch I, 1417 – 1459, fol. 156r.

[5] August Bernoulli, “Basels Kriegführung im Mittelalter,” Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde 19 (1921), p. 110.

[6] August Bernoulli, “Die Organisation von Basels Kriegswesen im Mittelalter,” Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde 17 (1918), p. 155.

[7] Peter Rückert, “Margarethe von Savoyen in Basel 1445: Herrschaftsrepräsentation und ihre Medien im städtischen Kontext,” in Raum und Medium: Literatur und Kultur in Basel in Spätmittelalter und Früher Neuzeit, ed. Johanna Thali and Nigel F. Palmer, 201-218 (De Gruyter, 2020).

The Feud Book of Medieval Nuremberg

The Free Imperial City of Nuremberg (Freie Reichsstadt Nürnberg)was one of the more important settlements in Central Europe. Depending on precisely when and how you measure urban populations, during the late medieval period it was one of the top five to ten in terms of size, with a population of roughly 22,000 denizens in 1431, of whom 7,146 were full or partial citizens qualified to bear arms, with 381 priests, and 744 Jews and foreigners[i]. Comparable towns included Cologne, Prague, Wroclaw, Strasbourg, Frankfurt am Main, Gdansk, Augsburg, and Hamburg. In terms of diplomatic and economic power, Nuremberg was also formidable, with strong trade links along the north-south Via Imperii trade route (linking the Baltic to Italy), and a well-developed manufacturing sector including a renowned metalworking and armaments industry. Nuremberg was also the first and most frequent location where the Reichstag, the Imperial diet or proto-parliament of the Holy Roman Empire, would meet.

Many of the larger Free Cities in Central Europe were located in clusters of dozens of small and medium sized towns. These shared complimentary economic and cultural links which, during times of crisis, were often the basis of mutual military support. Their collective strength also helped to make diplomacy with regional nobles and princes more harmonious. The most notable urbanized zones include Swabia, the Rhineland, the Low Countries (today Belgium and the Netherlands), and the towns of the Hanseatic League mainly along the Southern Shore of the Baltic.

Nuremberg was a bit different in that it was located in more rural Franconia, and didn’t have so many walled cities for neighbors. Instead, their neighbors included the (from 1420s) semi-pariah heretic Kingdom of Bohemia, and the mighty princely domains of Bavaria and Brandenburg. Closer to the town, the regional petty nobility were often involved in feuds which impinged on the freedom of travel and personal safety of Nuremberg’s citizens, including some of her most prominent merchants.

Part of the problem was exacerbated by the great princely houses, and one in particular. Nuremberg, like most free cities, was not fully autonomous all at once, but rather had to struggle to gain rights one step at a time. The last step, a big one, was the elimination of the position of Burgrave of the city, and the takeover of the castle of the Burgrave, which was within city limits. Tension between the town and the Margrave of Brandenburg, who held the position since 1411, increased and the town even built a special tower (the Luginsland ‘look into the land’ tower), just to spy on the Burgrave’s castle. There were numerous conflicts between the burghers and the princely forces, and legal disputes about the authority of the Burgrave.

Finally, in 1420, the Burgrave’s Castle was destroyed in a fire during a skirmish between the forces of the Margrave of Brandenburg and the Duke of Bavaria-Ingolstadt (instigated, rumor had it, by the town authorities). The city purchased the castle ruins and the forest around it in 1427. From that time the city effectively had full autonomy. The margrave of Brandenburg however, of the formidable Hohenzollern family, did not consider the matter settled and continued to apply considerable legal, diplomatic and military pressure toward Nuremberg. One way they did this was to encourage barons and ministerial knights to enter into feuds with the town.

Like most Free Cities, Nuremberg had the legal right to defend her citizens and property by force of arms. The city was granted an imperial privilege in 1320 which allowed town militia to capture ‘harmful people’ (schädliche leute) beyond the town walls[ii], and punish them according to their own laws. Emperor Sigismund confirmed this right at his coronation in Rome in 1433, and Frederick III did the same in 1440.  The result of all this was that Nuremberg was free to punish anyone who had harmed its citizens according to the judgement of her own magistrates (schöffe). So long as the town forces could catch them.

They didn’t catch them all, but they caught quite a few. Sometimes these knights were ransomed back to their families, and some kind of Rezeß was negotiated to end further hostilities. But in some of the more egregious cases, these nobles were hanged as common thieves and murderers (which a few of them essentially were). And in very severe cases the town militia would mobilize and go out with cannon and destroy the castles of these knights, which spelled catastrophe not only for the individual baron but for his whole family and lineage.

Needless to say, the regional nobility did not appreciate commoners taking the law into their own hands in this manner, even if they had permission from the emperor. Though there were both formal laws (based on the 1356 Golden Bull of Charles IV[iii]) and informal rules, all of which tended to moderate the violence and prevent escalation on both sides during feuds, fighting between regional nobles and town forces could get quite nasty, especially when certain barons passed the threshold from feuding aristocrat to full-fledged raubritter

Nuremberg required the roads to be clear and free of tolls and robbers, or commerce would collapse and the city itself would die. Harsh measures were taken when raubritter took their feuds too far, resulting in some legendary rivalries. One of the first well known incidents took place during a feud between Nuremberg and the baron Eppelein von Gailingen, born in Illesheim in 1315. In the 1360s von Gailingen got into the habit of robbing and kidnapping merchants from Nuremberg along the imperial road, and became enough of a menace that the town indicted him in 1369 and sent an expedition to burn his castle in 1372, capturing him shortly afterward.

According to the legend, the raubritter was about to be hanged by the burghers, when he asked to sit on his horse one last time before dying. Cracking a joke about how he seemed to have no interest in seeing his wife and kids, the townsfolk brought him his horse. Despite his hands being bound, Eppelein spurred the horse and leapt over the walls and moat and escaped. It’s not clear how close to the truth this story was, but the legend took on a life of its own. The tale was so popular that murals of Eppelein leaping over the wall began to appear all over Germany, even in Nuremberg. The town’s forces captured him regardless in 1381, and had him broken on the wheel. But the legend lived on.

The Feud Book

Eppelein is also the first figure to appear in the manuscript Hs 22547. This is the ‘Feud Book’ (Fehdebuch) of the Imperial City of Nuremberg[iv], covering the period 1381-1513. Eppelein appears on the first page, in an entry for the date 1381. Perhaps the gruesome nature of his execution compelled the town authorities to document the incident in a bureaucratic manner.

The book has 121 pages with names on 115 pages and 92 coats of arms on 70 pages. Not all entries show the coat of arms. Most pages include one or two entries, many just show a name, while a few have a few lines of text listing out the misdeeds of the individual or family named. The book covers activity over 132 years, during which at least one feud was active at almost all times. Some of these are variations on the same family coat of arms (different branches for example) and some coats of arms appear more than once (trouble with the same family over time).

The entry in the Nuremberg Feud book for Eppelein von Gailingen. Image public domain, from Hs 22547, held by the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

The first coat of arms in the book is the infamous Eppeilen von Gailigen on page 3 (1r). Other notable figures include Konrad Schott von Schottenstein (41v and 49r) and Christoff von Geich (49r) -more about them in a moment-, and the famous Götz von Berlichingen (folios 55r, 55v, 56r). It’s also worth noting that some family’s coats of arms appear over and over. Von Berlichingen’s coat of arms, a wheel on a black background, appears five times going back to the 14th Century (14r, 39v, 55r, 55v, 56r), possibly indicating that his family may have had disputes with the town for multiple generations.

Feuds among the nobility were most often directed toward each other[v], with the town typically being collateral damage. Under feudal law, each district and each stretch of road belonged to one noble or prince or another, so declaring a feud against say, the Bishop of Wurzburg might result in burghers being captured in his territory. Burghers had the additional advantage of often carrying very valuable cargo. On the other hand, burgher’s caravans were well defended, and even a successful capture could result in dire consequences.

Nobles were concerned about the possibility of their name ending up in Nuremberg’s feud book[vi]. The town sent out patrols of heavily armed horsemen to escort their caravans and sweep ahead to ensure the safety of the roads, while the nobles built block-houses, castles and earthen berms to establish observation and choke points where they could stage ambushes. Nuremberg routinely sent groups of between seven and eighteen men up to about 30-50 km from town[vii] for an average of four days from a total force of about 60-100 men who were permanently tasked with this job[viii].

Some of these horsemen were militia of the town, and some were nobles with whom the town had a military alliance[ix]. But one weapon which the town deployed that was the most hotly resented by the Franconian nobles in general was a corps of paramilitary horsemen whom the nobles contemptuously referred to as ‘staghounds’ (Hetzrüden). These men, who could be of a somewhat dubious background, patrolled the roads, arrested bandits and kept an eye on the more boisterous barons. One of these Hetzrüden was none other than the famous fencing master Hans Talhoffer, who was involved in the murder of the nobleman Wilhelm von Villenbach in 1434. Talhoffer was later captured by his brother, Hans, and was nearly executed, but was saved by the intervention of a nobleman and woman, and his willingness to write a letter blaming the murder on his six accomplices[x].

When the town decided a more serious situation was at hand, they would mobilize the militia, limber up some cannon and go out to destroy castles. They would also put up large bounties on some of their enemies, for example 2,000 Gulden for the brothers Hans and Fritz von Waldenfels (alive) or 1,000 Gulden (dead) in 1416[xi]. The Hetzrüden and the Feud Book seemed to inspire considerable fear on the part of the knights, and several wrote letters complaining of being chased, watched, or followed by horsemen from Nuremberg, and wrote letters to the Nuremberg council asking if their name had been put into the feud book[xii].

Relations between the estates of burgher and noble were complex. Although the regional nobility and urban patriciate did not intermarry much[xiii], many noble families had strong social and financial ties to the towns to whom they sold raw materials like food, firewood and charcoal (required in vast amounts by the town’s metal-working industries) and from whom they purchased many luxuries and necessities including arms and armor. Some nobles allowed putting out systems and infrastructure like mills tied to urban inudstries to be built in their villages, receiving rents in return. Bur there were also times when the town and Franconian nobility were sharply at odds, almost across the board. One early example of this was during the so called Margrave’s War or South German Town War of 1440-1449.

Without plunging into the full history of this event, which culminated in a failed siege of Nuremberg itself by the Margrave of Brandenburg Albrecht II “Achilles” and a host of Franconian knights, the feud resulted in some damage to Nuremberg’s economy, but overall a stalemate. Brandenburg remained an instigator of conflict between the estates however, and when hostilities once again flared up, one particular figure emerged as a major nemesis of the town. This was the knight Konrad Schott von Schottenstein. Allegedly he is the figure represented in Albrecht Dürer’s famous Knight, Death and the Devil. Schott, and his ally Christoph von Geich proved both adept in evading town authorities (in spite of a hefty bounty placed on his head) and ruthless in his hostility. Nuremberg was never able to catch him but his reputation suffered and the town later got even during the Landshut War of Succession when they took some of his land.

Although Emperor Maximillian I banned private feuds (in theory) in his Ewiger Landfriede “Everlasting Landfrieden” of 1495, this did not stop feuding or static between town and country nobility. While there were always some knights who could play the raubritter game well enough to evade capture, larger towns like Nuremberg were warlike too and very resourceful. They tended to have an edge in military technology such as firearms and cannon, (one notable example was the invention of the wheel-lock pistol in Nuremberg, which became an important cavalry weapon). The feud book too, as a representative of the institutional memory and organized security apparatus of the town, was a weapon in their arsenal.


The Swabian league – at the instigation of Nuremberg, burned 23 castles of Robber knights during the Franconian War in 1523 but even that didn’t end the pillaging by robber knights (and they were unable to catch their main target).

This is the castle of the infamous ‘hand cutter’ and raubritter, Thomas von Absberg, the forces on the bottom right are Nuremberg militia (red and white striped flag). This was during an expedition mounted by the Swabian League, largely at the instigation of Nuremberg, in 1523. Fortunately for posterity they brought along a ‘war correspondent’ painter who made portraits of every castle they burned. You can see the other 23 castles here:


For the original manuscript see also Digitalisat des Bamberger Burgenbuchs der Staatsbibliothek Bamberg


Finding Safety in Feuding. Nobles’ Responses to Nuremberg’s Rural Security Policy in the Mid-Fifteenth Century. / Pope, Benjamin. In: Virtus. Journal of Nobility Studies, Vol. 23, 31.12.2016, p. 11–31.

The Nuremberg Feud Book for 1381-1513:


Hillay Zmora The Feud in Early Modern Germany, (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Hillay Zmora State and Nobility in Early Modern Germany: The Knightly Feud in Franconia 1440-1567 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Reichsstadt Nürnberg

[i] Nuremberg, Catholic Encyclopedia, accessed 05/12/2022

[ii] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope), page 19

[iii] Among other stipulations, the person or entity declaring the feud was supposed to issue a formal warning, the A feud letter, or fehdebrief, is a special type of public notification that a feud has been declared. These would typically be posted in several places and in public meeting places such as the front doors of a church or the outer gate of a town.

[iv] http://dlib.gnm.de/item/Hs22547/html

[v] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope), page 18

[vi] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) pp 21-24

[vii] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) page 20

[viii] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) page 20

[ix] So called ‘paleburghers’, often granted a special form of citizenship to seal the alliance.

[x] Jens Peter Kleinau has an excellent and highly detailed blog on this incident here: https://talhoffer.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/1434-the-case-of-wilhelm-of-villach/

[xi] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) page 21

[xii] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) page 22

[xiii] Finding Safety in Feuding Article (Ben Pope) page 20

Thomas Magistros’ “On Imperial Office” on military preparations

Thomas Magistros, his city and his times

The fourteenth century was a period of turbulence for the Byzantine Empire, and Thessaloniki had a great share of these troubles. The continuous wars and the internal conflicts were affecting the lives and the works of contemporary people, and intellectuals could not have been an exception to that.

Thomas Magistros is believed to have been born around the year 1275 and he died sometime after 1347. The oldest work that we know that he produced dates back to 1301, and the last mention of him is dated to 1346. Between these two dates there is not much information available about his life.[1]

On the Imperial Office[2] is a Mirror for Princes that he wrote between 1324 and 1350, at a time when was a monk, and it was addressed to the emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos. Mirrors for Princes were advisory rhetorical works compiled for princes and young kings. Although their authors had been drawing their content from the same pool of thought, they chose to use different material, changing it from one period to another so that their work could reflect the imperial ideology and the political realities of their time. This rule also applies to their mentions of war preparations and military affairs in general.[3]

In the times of Magistros, warfare, sieges, and political and social turmoil were not rare. The Byzantine scholar was native to Thessalonike: he was born and died there and the only time, which we know of, that he left the city, was to deliver an oration in Constantinople, on behalf of the general Chandrenos, who had defended his city in the past.[4] Therefore, it is safe to assume that his attitude and thoughts were heavily influenced by what he was witnessing and what he knew of his city’s recent past. And the city of Thessaloniki, despite or as a consequence of its considerable growth during that period,[5] had had a troubled history just before the time the Mirror was written, and continued to have such for some time. In 1308 the Catalan Great Company tried to conquer the city only to be stopped by its walls. Stefan Uroš IV Dušan, who unsuccessfully besieged Thessaloniki in 1334 and returned again in 1341, had the same (bad) luck. And the dangers did not only belong to the past, as the attack of the Ottomans in 1383 can attest. The city fell at their hands in 1387 as a result of this attack, only a few decades after On the Imperial Office was written.

But Thessaloniki had also had troubles coming from within the empire and even the city itself. Andronikos II and Andronikos III tried to claim it as their own from 1320 onwards, and in 1340 the city fell temporarily in the hands of the zealots.[6]

It therefore comes as no surprise that Magistros chose to include in his work advice on military affairs, not omitting, at the same time, to express his thoughts about the preparations of a city so it could withstand an enemy’s siege.

Military affairs in On the Imperial Office

In On the Imperial Office Magistros refers to military affairs several times. First, he states that he wished weapons were never invented and that the emperor should not go to a war led by his greed. On the contrary, he must do anything in his power so that the war is avoided (ζ΄, 457). However, if he wants to secure peace he must always be prepared for war. The scholar justifies his claim noting that weakness is creating enemies and if you only pursue peaceful resolution to conflicts you might draw the enemies upon you. On the contrary, however, if you are prepared and strong nobody will want to wage war on you and this way you can enjoy peace (η΄, 457). Moreover, he advises that the emperor should always be ready in both body and soul and the way to do that is to exercise for the possibility of war. He should not only keep himself prepared, but he should also have his whole army prepared and exercised (drilled) as well (η΄, 457-458). He should also maintain a strong army and navy but he should not rely on mercenaries because they are far from trustworthy. After all, quality is better than quantity, he notes, and the mercenaries are only good to add to the numbers of an army (θ΄, 460-461).

In an excerpt that speaks about justice Magistros also finds the opportunity to mention several factors which he believes that are essential for a city to be safe.  Having been built in a natural feature of the land that helps defense and being protected by walls and fortifications are prerequisites if the city is to be saved from an enemy siege. The human factor, according to the rhetor (Magistros), is equally important towards that end (στ΄, 456). He states that the soldiers should always be kept content and be offered presents because this way they will be kept motivated to train themselves in times of peace and to not lose respect in the face of the emperor. In times of war, this could prevent them from abandoning the battle even if they were injured. They should always be assured that if they lose their possessions in times of war, these will be replaced by the emperor. On top of these, what is of great importance is that they need to know that their children will be taken care of in case they fall in battle. Like the ancient Athenians before them, advises Magistros, the Byzantines must also always take of the children of those who died fighting, until they reach adulthood (ι΄, 461-463).

But strong walls and capable fighters are not enough to ensure that a city will not fall during an enemy siege, Magistros claims. Provisions should be made prior to the attack. The storages should always be kept filled in full with grain and all the other essentials, which should not be available for trade. To that end the emperor must spare no expenses, because money spent for that reason is well spent. These preparations could be life-saving for the people and they bring honour to the king. Because regardless of the cities’ moats and walls, if there are not enough supplies available to feed its population, this city will not be able to withstand a long siege. The rhetor concludes that the storage of food is as important as a strong fortification (κγ΄, 484). It is worth mentioning that this kind of advice is found very rarely in Mirrors. Apart from On the Imperial Office there is perhaps one more similar mention in a work of this genre, in Kekaumenos’ Strategikon (85. 265), something that does not come as a surprise, considering that the author of that work was probably a soldier and thus he took extra care to make long mentions of everything that was war related.


On the Imperial Office is a workthat can provide us with an insight into what an intellectual living in fourteenth-century Thessaloniki was thinking in regards to state affairs. The conflicts of his time, internal and external, and the sieges his city had to withstand had led him to make special mentions of military affairs.

First of all, he advises that a city should have strong walls. And indeed the land walls of his hometown are described as being strong. However, the sea walls failed to provide the same safety to the city.[7] The last attested repairs before the time of Magistros date to the twelfth century, and the same action was repeated a few decades after his death.[8]

The scholar also provides advice and insights regarding soldiers. He states that the emperor should take steps to ensure that they always remain loyal and they do not lose respect for him. The importance of this advice lies in the conflict between Andronikos II and Andronikos III as none of them could afford to see his soldiers joining the enemy.

Magistros also urges the emperor to take measures for the children of the soldiers that were becoming orphans as a result of the continuous wars of the period, even if his real concern is to ensure their parents that a good fate awaits their offspring if they die in battle, and therefore making them fight with more braveness. This mention is a clear indicator of a real problem that might have occurred inside the cities of the empire because of the numerous conflicts.

Last but not least, the rhetor notes that the cities’ storages should always be full of grain, to help the city in case of an enemy’s siege, which was, in his time, a recurring threat to the well-being of Thessaloniki’s citizens.

[1] Nigel Guy Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium, (London, Cambridge, Mass.: General Duckworth & Co. ltd. And The Medieval Academy of America, 1983), p. 247.

[2] Jacque Paul Migne, Nicephorus Callistus, Theodulos Monachus, Matthaeus Blastares [Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Graeca], Tomus 145, (Paris, 1904), pp. 447-496.

[3] For this notion see Konstantinos Karatolios, ‘From peacemaker to warrior. Changes in the imperial education as illustrated in the eleventh-century Mirrors of Princes’, in Warfare in 11th century Byzantium, ed. by Georgios Theotokis and Marek Meško (London and New York: Routledge, 2021), pp. 98-108 (pp. 98-108).

[4] Alexander Kazhdan and Alice-Mary Talbot, ‘Thomas Magistros’, in Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, volume 3, ed. by Alexander Kazhdan (New York-Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 2076-2077 (p. 2076).

[5] Angeliki E. Laiou, Cécile Morrisson, The Byzantine Economy, (New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 198.

[6] For these incidents see, among others, Vassiliki Nerantzi-Varmazi, ‘Η Θεσσαλονίκη εστία Κοινωνικών Αναταραχών το 14ο αιώνα’, Θεσσαλονικέων Πόλις, 2 (1997), pp. 74-81 (pp. 74-81).

[7] On the sea walls of Thessalonike, see among others Michael Vickers, ‘The Byzantine Sea Walls of Thessaloniki’, Balkan Studies, 11 (1970), pp. 261-280.

[8] Timothy E. Gregory, ‘Thessalonike’, in Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, volume 3, ed. by Alexander Kazhdan (New York-Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 2072-2074 (pp. 2072-2073).

The Duke of Gloucester’s Agincourt Retinue: The Regional Heritage of Select Sub-Captains from East Anglia and Kent


Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, raised the second largest retinue for Henry V’s great 1415 army, which famously captured the town of Harfleur, before fighting at Agincourt on 25 October 1415. Before embarking for Normandy, Gloucester’s retinue mustered near Southampton on 16 July. We know the names of all those present at the muster because the muster roll survives in its entirety.[1] It records the names of 751 men: 1 duke, 6 knights, 180 esquires and 564 archers. These men were not all recruited by the duke directly but, as was the custom for the time, by a multiplicity of sub-retinue captains.[2] Gloucester’s retinue was originally intended to comprise 56 sub-retinues, plus the duke’s personal company. However, five sub-captains, according to the muster roll, failed to recruit men, so were probably absorbed into the duke’s personal company. That Gloucester succeeded in raising a retinue of this size was a notable achievement because, unlike his very militarily experienced elder brother, Thomas, duke of Clarence, this was the first time Gloucester had ever led men to war.

The Sub-Captains from East Anglia and Kent

The aim of this short essay then, is to detail the regional heritage of some of these sub-captains, specifically those from East Anglia and Kent, in order to provide a brief glimpse into the mechanics behind Gloucester’s recruitment process and show the workings of the ‘Dynamics of Recruitment’ in the early fifteenth-century.[3] Andrew Ayton has written that, when raising retinues in this period captains would have looked ‘first to the manpower of their estates’, before drawing on other avenues of recruitment.[4] Gloucester possessed estates and properties in numerous counties throughout England and southern Wales, including Essex, Suffolk, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent and Pembrokeshire.[5] In Essex, for example, he held Hadleigh Castle and the nearby manors of Thundersley and Eastwood, while in Kent he held the manor of Milton, near Gravesend, and Marden in the Kentish heartland. It is unsurprising to see that the majority of his sub-captains, for whom we have geographic data, hailed from these regions.

Fig. 1: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Les Vigiles de Charles VII, Manuscrit Français 5054, fol. 24v.

One of the duke’s Suffolk manors was Great Wratting. Roughly 25 miles east of Great Wratting lived his sub-captain Thomas Deschalers.[6] An individual who dwelled even closer was William Creessoner. He was a young man at only 23 when he mustered under Gloucester in 1415. As a child, he resided at a manor in Hawkedon, less than 10 miles from Great Wratting.[7]  Having proved his age in 1414, Cressoner inherited his father’s other properties in Suffolk, Huntingdonshire and Essex. One of the Essex manors which he inherited was Ferrers, today known as South Woodham Ferrers. This property was only 12 miles from Gloucester’s castle at Hadleigh, and 10 miles from his estates in Thundersly. One of Cressoner’s immediate neighbours was John Tyrell, who held the close-by manor of Rawreth.[8] Tyrell, in fact, possessed a number of estates throughout Essex, for example at Ramsden Crays, Hockley and Heron. In 1412 he was residing at Heron, near Brentwood.

A neighbour to both Cressoner and Tyrell was Thomas Berwick. He lived at Stanford Rivers and had been a retainer of Gaunt’s from 1388 until the duke’s death in 1399.[9] This evident ‘regional comradeship group’ also included Sir Thomas Morley (grandson of Thomas, fourth Lord Morley, d.1416), whose family possessed estates in Great Hallingbury, less than 15 miles from Stanford Rivers. Returning to John Tyrell, he was also closely bound to the Kentish sub-captain Sir Nicholas Haute.[10] Following the death of his first wife, Alice, in March 1400, Sir Nicholas married Eleanor, who was the widow of William Tyrell and mother of John.[11] By this marriage, Sir Nicholas Haute became John Tyrell’s step-father. Haute was a military veteran, having served Gaunt on a number of occasions. Sir Nicholas was also associated with Sir Thomas Clinton. In addition to having served alongside one another during the 1386 campaign, they were also neighbours. Haute’s estates at Waltham were near to Clinton’s at Bensted.[12] The two had also served together on a Commission of Array in Kent in January 1400 and both acted as witnesses to a Charter of Warranty in November 1408.[13] The 1415 campaign was the final time the two friends served together, as they both died either during the campaign, or shortly afterwards.


That regional comradeship groups evidently existed among the sub-captains from Suffolk, Essex and Kent demonstrates that these, villages, towns and cities were good places for a captain to recruit. Indeed, as the work of Craig Lambert and Ayton has revealed, the estuarine communities of East Anglia, and of Essex in particular, had been ‘making a disproportionately heavy contribution to the war effort’, for both naval and land-based campaigns, during the late fourteenth century. [14] This high level of militarisation from the late fourteenth century was evidently still present in the early fifteenth. The urban centres of East Anglia were fertile lands for captains to recruit soldiers from. These bonds of shared regional heritage would have given the retinue a degree of stability and cohesion. This would have negated, to some extent, the almost complete lack of shared military service ties between members of Gloucester’s retinue. Moreover, that similar regional groups have been identified in the fourteenth-century indicates that, at least in this respect, a degree of continuity within the mechanics of the recruitment process existed in the early fifteenth-century. If there was space to open the lens of this investigation wider, many more such cases as provided here could be given.[15] So, while previous military service ties in Gloucester’s retinue were generally absent, other ties existed which gave it a degree of stability and cohesion, and assisted it to function effectively, endure the hardships of the siege of Harfleur, and stand stalwart at the Battle of Agincourt.

[1] E 101/45/13 (Gloucester).

[2] On sub-retinues, sub-contracts and the English military community, A. Ayton, ‘Military Service and the Dynamics of Recruitment in Fourteenth Century England’, The Soldier Experience in the Fourteenth Century, ed. A. R. Bell and A. Curry (Woodbridge, 2011).  

[3] On the ‘Dynamics of Recruitment’., ibid.

[4] Ibid, p. 12.

[5] CIPM, 20, p. 7; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 143; CPR, 1401-1405, pp. 121, 160, 256, 468; CPR, 1405-1408, p. 191; CPR, 1408-1413, p. 303; CPR, 1413-1416, pp. 170, 387, 397.

[6] L. S. Woodger, ‘Deschalers, Thomas’, History of Parliament (online).

[7] CIPM, 19, pp. 300-301; CCR, 1413-1419, p. 137; CPR, 1408-1413, p. 278; C 138/10/49.

[8] J. S. Roskell and L. S. Woodger, ‘Tyrell, John’, History of Parliament (online); R. Horrox, ‘Tyrell family (per. c.1304–c.1510)’, ODNB; J. S. Roskell, Parliament and Politics in Late Medieval England, 3 vols (London, 1983), 3, pp. 277-315.

[9] C 76/56, m.31; S. Walker, The Lancastrian Affinity (Oxford, 1990), p. 264.

[10] L. S. Woodger, ‘Haute, Sir Nicholas’, History of Parliament (online); P. Fleming, ‘Haute family (per. c. 1350–1530)’, ODNB.

[11] CIPM, 18, p. 5.

[12] Ibid; L. S. Woodger, ‘Clinton, Sir Thomas’, History of Parliament (online).

[13] CPR, 1399-1401, p. 211; CCR, 1405-1409, p. 468.

[14] A. Ayton and C. L. Lambert, ‘Shipping Troops and Fighting at Sea: Essex Ports and Mariners in England’s Wars, 1337-1389’, The Fighting Essex Soldier, ed. C. Thornton, J. Ward and N. Wiffen (Essex, 2017), pp. 98-143 (p. 132). See also, S. Gibbs, ‘The Fighting Men of Essex: Service Relationship and the Poll Tax’, Ibid, pp. 78-98.

[15] These will be presented in my forthcoming monograph, to be published by Boydell.

Ritterspiele und Adelkultur am Beispiel des Turniers von Schaffhausen 1436

An Fasnacht 1436 erlebte Schaffhausen den Ausnahmezustand: Rund 200 adlige Turnierkämpfer drängten sich in Begleitung von Knechten und Damen in der eher kleinen Stadt. Allein die Unterkunft und Versorgung dieser Personen und Pferden dürften eine grössere logistische Herausforderung dargestellt haben. Das Turnier von Schaffhausen stellt aber auch in anderer Beziehung ein ungewöhnliches Ereignis dar. Wohl kein anderes Ritterspiel des Mittelalters ist so gut bekannt und beschrieben wie jenes von 1436. Zwar prägen Ritterturniere bis in die Gegenwart die Wahrnehmung der mittelalterlichen Gesellschaft und stehen die zahlreichen nachgestellten Turnierkämpfe der Neuzeit für die anhaltende Faszination solcher Wettbewerbe. Unser bescheidenes Wissen über Turniere steht aber in keinem Verhältnis zu dieser Wahrnehmung. Die Überlieferung ist ausgesprochen disparat und lückenhaft; erst die (kurzlebige) Blütezeit um 1480 im Zeichen der Vier-Lande-Turniere erlaubt einen genaueren Einblick in Ablauf und Organisation von Turnieren. Umso ungewöhnlicher 1436: Ein spanischer Beobachter schilderte detailliert die Vorgänge in Schaffhausen und ging besonders auf ihm wenig vertraute Aspekte ein, die er anschaulich beschrieb, erklärte und so einordnete. Kein Wunder, gehört dieser Turnierbericht zu den am meisten zitierten Quellen in Sachen Ritterspielen.

Fig. 1: Grünenberg Turnier mit stumpfen Waffen aus Faksimile.

Der einzige «Schönheitsfehler»: Abgesehen von diesem Bericht und einer ergänzenden Beschreibung in der Konstanzer Stadtchronik fehlen weitere Hinweise zu diesem Turnier, so enthalten die Stadtrechnungen keine entsprechenden Einträge. Es fehlen aber auch Aufschlüsse auf eine Trägerschaft. Der spanische Gesandte, der auf dem Konzil in Basel weilte und den Abstecher nach Schaffhausen unternahm, ging pauschal auf die Trägerschaft des Turniers ein, ohne Namen oder Institutionen zu nennen. So dienten die Ritterspiele ihm zufolge nicht zuletzt dazu, die isoliert auf ihren Burgen lebenden Adligen zusammenzubringen. Dabei gehe es nicht allein um Kampfspiele, sondern auch um das Knüpfen von Freundschaften, die Schlichtung von Streitigkeiten, das Anbahnen von Heiraten oder die Vertretung gemeinsamer Interessen. Wer aber 1436 zum Turnier in Schaffhausen aufgerufen hat, entzieht sich ebenso unseren Kenntnissen wie die Namen der Teilnehmer. Immerhin informierte die Konstanzer Chronik über die Anwesenheit eines Hans von Hewen, der Brüder Jakob, Eberhard und Jörg Truchsess von Waldburg, der Grafen von Werdenberg, von Basler Adligen sowie von rund 20 Gesellen der Konstanzer Gesellschaft zur Katze. Die Teilnehmer des Schaffhauser Turniers stammten offensichtlich aus einem weiteren Einzugsgebiet, das durch den Bodenseeraum, den Hochrhein und die nördlich und südlich angrenzende Landschaft zwischen Donau und Aare definiert wurde.

Tatsächlich fanden in Basel, Schaffhausen oder Konstanz im 14. und 15. Jahrhundert wiederholt Turniere statt, ohne dass wir jedoch über die Abläufe und Organisatoren allzu viel wissen. Trotz dieser eigentlich enttäuschenden Überlieferung wird die enorme Bedeutung solcher Ritterspiele für den Adel deutlich: Wettkampf, Geselligkeit, Kultur und ständische Politik gehen Hand in Hand. Kein Wunder, nehmen Turniere innerhalb der mittelalterlichen Adelskultur einen zentralen Platz ein. Einen Schlüssel zum besseren Verständnis dieser Turniere bieten dabei Adelsgesellschaften. Die Blütezeit der Turniere, das haben die Forschungen vor allem von Andreas Ranft betont, entspricht einer Blütezeit von adeligen Gesellschaften, die sich im späten Mittelalter zu genossenschaftlichen Gruppierungen zusammenschlossen, die je nach Betonung mehr das Turnierwesen oder eher ständische Interessen im Auge hatten. Die Grenzen zwischen Adels- und Turniergesellschaften verliefen in der Regel fliessend; hinzu kamen auch Adelsgesellschaften, die auf Landesfürsten ausgerichtet waren. Innerhalb des südwestdeutschen Raumes spielten diese Organisationen eine wichtige, lange unterschätzte Rolle und waren Vorgänger der späteren Ritterschaften und Ritterkantone, die ein charakteristisches Element des herrschaftspolitischen «Flickenteppichs» bildeten und erst im Zuge der napoleonischen Neuordnung Europas um 1800 verschwanden. Es lohnt sich deshalb mit Blick gerade auf die Staatlichkeit, diesen Adelsgesellschaften grössere Aufmerksamkeit zu schenken. Turnieren sind die eine Seite einer Adelskultur, die in anderer Hinsicht über genossenschaftliche Organisationen in Oberschwaben, am Bodensee, Hoch- und Oberrhein längerfristig Bestand hatte und im übrigen auch den Adel auf dem Gebiet der heutigen Schweiz einband.

Turniere und Turnierkultur

Das Schaffhauser Turnier von 1436 ist nicht der einzige Wettkampf, der in der Überlieferung deutlichere Spuren hinterlassen hat. Bekannt sind beispielsweise die «böse Fasnacht» 1376 oder der Schaukampf des spanischen Ritters Juan de Merlo 1428 in Basel. 1361 soll anlässlich des habsburgischen Lehenstages in Zofingen ein grosses Turnier stattgefunden haben, während 1368 zahlreiche Adlige und städtische Patrizier zu einem Ritterspiel nach Zürich kamen. Besonders häufig dokumentiert sind Wettkämpfe während des Konstanzer Konzils. Der Chronist Richental schildert etwa das bekannte Stechen zwischen Herzog Friedrich von Österreich und dem Grafen Friedrich von Cilli vom 20. März 1415, das von der Flucht von Papst Johannes XXIII. ablenkte. Er geht aber auch auf «Gestech» ein, die um Weihnachten 1415 für einen Ring als Auszeichnung veranstaltet wurden. Anfang März 1416 organisierte Pfalzgrafen Ludwig ein Stechen, an welchem drei Herzöge, sechs Grafen und viele Ritter und Knechte wie auch Konstanzer Patrizier teilnahmen, insgesamt 38 Helme. Anfang Dezember 1417 hielten verschiedene Herren auf dem Fischmarkt ein Stechen ab, und an Fasnacht 1418 beteiligte sich auch König Sigismund von Luxemburg «mit verbundenem Helm und mit kainem Wappen», also inkognito, erfolgreich an einem Turnier.

Fig. 2: Grünenberg Helmschau aus Faksimile.

Die von Richental jeweils knapp geschilderten Wettkämpfe waren wohl nur die Spitze des Eisbergs. Papst Johannes XXIII. rechtfertigte seine Flucht ausdrücklich mit der Belästigung durch Turniere, die mit «grossem Lärm und Trompetenschall» auf der Pfalz, vor den päpstlichen Gemächern stattfanden. Angeblich hatte König Sigismund diese Ritterspiele absichtlich dort veranstalten lassen, um den geistlichen Vater zu stören und zu schmähen. Dass der König ein begeisterter Turnierreiter war, steht ausser Zweifel, und die Anwesenheit zahlreicher Adliger begünstigte das Abhalten von Turnieren zum Zeitvertreib, auch wenn am 12. Februar 1415 ein an das Münster angebautes Haus einstürzte, weil sich allzu viele Leute darin aufhielten, um einem Stechen zuzuschauen.

Das Konstanzer Konzil bot dank der Anwesenheit verschiedener Fürsten den idealen Rahmen für solche spielerischen Wettkämpfe. Auch landesherrliche Hoftage beispielsweise der Habsburger, Wittelsbacher oder Württemberger brachten im Spätmittelalter die Gelegenheit zu einem sportlich-festlichen Zeitvertreib, wo das Turnier, eine Art Massenschlägerei, oder das Stechen zu Pferd von Tanz und Musik begleitet waren. Charakteristisch ist aber auch die städtische Bühne. Einzig das städtische Umfeld bot eine passende Infrastruktur für adlige Veranstaltungen, die eine mehrhundertköpfige Schar anziehen konnte und enorme logistische Bemühungen erforderlich machte. Für Städte bedeuteten solche Turniere eine besondere Attraktion, aber auch eine Gratwanderung zwischen Fest und Ausschweifung, geregeltem Kräftemessen und chaotischer Gewalt. Verhaltensregeln und bewaffnete Wächter suchten hier vorbeugend regulierend einzugreifen, konnten aber nicht verhindern, dass Tribünen oder gar Häuser einstürzten sowie Verletzte und Tote zu beklagen waren. Ritterspiele waren gefährliche Vergnügungen, die jedoch bis ans Ende des Mittelalters wesentlicher Bestandteil adliger und patrizischer Kultur blieben. Die fürstlichen Veranstaltungen stehen Seite an Seite mit genossenschaftlichen Turnieren, wo eine Adelsgesellschaft als Organisatorin auftrat und wo die Veranstaltung nicht auf einen Fürsten ausgerichtet war. Nach der spätmittelalterlichen Blütezeit dieser Gesellschaftsturnieren gehörte den fürstlichen Turnierfestlichkeiten die Zukunft.

Das genossenschaftliche Turnier von Schaffhausen

Wie ein solches genossenschaftliches Turnier ablief, erläutert anschaulich der spanische Bericht zum Turnier von 1436 in Schaffhausen: Nach dem Eintreffen der Kämpfer wurden am Sonntag deren Helme und Wappen öffentlich zur Schau gestellt. Am gleichen Tag kamen die Damen in Schaffhausen an und wurden von den Adligen in Begleitung von Musikern begrüsst. Am Abend spazierten die Adligen zuerst in Gruppen durch die Stadt, besichtigten den Turnierplatz und fanden sich später in einem repräsentativen Saal, wohl der Rathauslaube, zu einem grossen Fest zusammen. Der Montag war dem Probestechen gewidmet; anschliessend prüften die Damen an der Helmschau die Kämpfer. Wer der Teilnehmerschaft für nicht würdig befunden wurde, dessen Helm wurde entfernt oder gar auf den Boden gestossen. Danach erfolgte die Einteilung in zwei Gruppen. Ein erneuter, aber bescheidenerer und kürzerer Festabend beschloss diesen Tag. Am Dienstag fand dann das Turnier statt; dabei wurden Adlige wegen des Verstosses gegen den Verhaltenskodex gezüchtigt, allenfalls sogar auf die Schranke gesetzt. Der ein bis zwei Stunden dauernde Kampf fand mit einem Stechen eine Abschluss. Am Abend erfolgte im Rahmen eines Festes die Preisverleihung sowie die Ankündigung des kommenden Turnieres. Am Mittwoch ging die Schar wieder auseinander.

Der spanische Beobachter interessierte sich auffallend intensiv für ihm fremd erscheinende Aspekte wie die Kleidung der Damen oder die Art des Kampfes, insbesondere aber für die gesellschaftlich-disziplinierende Funktion eines Turnieres wie die Helmschau oder die Züchtigung am Turnier selbst. Wer unter dem Stand heiratete, wer sich «unadelig» verhielt oder die Interessen seiner Standesgenossen missachtete, wurde bestraft und mit Prügeln aus der Gemeinschaft ausgeschlossen. In Kastilien würden die Tapfersten gekürt, merkte der spanische Beobachter an, in Schaffhausen hingegen würden die Schlechtesten auf zweckmässige Art und Weise ihre Strafe empfangen. Damit spricht er eine Eigenheit an, die charakteristisch ist für die genossenschaftlichen Turniere. Der militärische Wettstreit verband sich mit Geselligkeit, wobei der Frage der Zugehörigkeit grosses Gewicht beigemessen wurde. Solche Turniere dienten nicht zuletzt der Definition von adliger Identität. Nicht ein fürstlicher Landesherr, sondern ein genossenschaftliches Kollektiv von mehr oder weniger gleichgestellten Adligen bestimmte über die Zulassung zu einem Turnier und damit über die Zugehörigkeit zu ihrer Gruppe. Der Rang allein spielte nur eine beschränkte Rolle. So wurde gemäss dem spanischen Berichterstatter gerade der Ranghöchste, wohl der Markgraf Wilhelm von Baden-Hochberg, abgestraft, weil er nicht mit seiner Frau zusammenlebte.

Turniere nahmen im adligen Selbstverständnis eine wichtige Stellung ein und boten Adelsgesellschaften eine ideale Bühne, sich und seinen Stand vor einem städtischen Publikum in Szene zu setzen. Die Definition eigener Werte und die Abgrenzung gegenüber «unadeligem» Verhalten gingen dabei Hand in Hand.

Die Ritterschaft zum St. Jörgenschild

Der Bericht von Schaffhausen geht zwar ausführlich auf das Turnier ein, verliert jedoch eigenartigerweise kein Wort über die Träger dieser Grossveranstaltung. Auf die Begeisterung von Sigismund für Ritterspiele wurde bereits hingewiesen, und tatsächlich lud der König 1433 zu einem Turnierhof in Schaffhausen ein, der möglicherweise nie stattfand. Weit wahrscheinlicher als eine nicht weiter belegbare königliche Initiative ist die Beteiligung einer regionalen Adelsgesellschaft, die dank königlicher Unterstützung in den 1420-/30er-Jahre eine erstaunliche Blütezeit erlebte – die Gesellschaft zum St. Jörgen- oder Georgenschild. Diese entstand 1406 in Zusammenhang mit den Appenzellerkriegen und bedeutete den Versuch, den Adel am Bodensee und in Schwaben zu einem politischen wie militärischen Bündnis zusammenzuschliessen. Gegen aussen vertrat die Gesellschaft die Interessen ihrer Mitglieder, gegen innen suchte sie allfällige Konflikte gütlich zu regeln.

Die Wahrung des Friedens im breitesten Sinn stand im Zentrum der Aktivitäten, die mit dem Zusammenbruch der habsburgischen Herrschaft 1415 akut wurden. Unter den führenden Vertretern des Jörgenschildes finden sich nach 1415 auffallend viele Adlige, die – durchaus mit Blick auf eigene Interessen – den König in seinem Kampf gegen Herzog Friedrich IV. von Österreich unterstützten. Dazu zählten beispielsweise Hans von Lupfen, Frischhans von Bodman, Johann von Tengen, die Truchsessen von Waldburg oder Hans von Homburg. Für sie bot die habsburgische Landesherrschaft zwar Karriere- und Bereichungsmöglichkeiten, aber auch die Gefahr einer allzu grossen Abhängigkeit. Umgekehrt setzte Sigismund von Luxemburg gerade auf solche ehrgeizigen Adligen, um den habsburgischen Rivalen auszumanövrieren, und förderte später diese Adligen als eine Art Reichsadel, indem er die genossenschaftlichen Bündnisse 1422 ausdrücklich anerkannte und den Adel 1431 in einem Erlass gegen die städtische Einbürgerungspolitik schützte. Der König und der schwäbische Adel standen sich in dieser Zeit inhaltlich wie personell so nahe wie nie mehr in der Geschichte; beide verfolgten dabei aber sehr wohl eigene Anliegen.

Fig. 3: 1549 Breitenlandenberg Stammheim, Trinkstube, Foto Peter Niederhäuserjpg.

Die Ritterschaft zum St. Jörgenschild, die sich in mehrere Teilgesellschaften im Raum zwischen dem Hegau und der Oberpfalz gliederte, war ein lockerer Zusammenschluss und blieb in ihrer Politik ausgesprochen flexibel. Die Wahrung des Landfriedens und der adligen wie wirtschaftlichen Interessen führte zu einer Annäherung an Städte. So bestanden nach 1422 Bündnisse mit Schaffhausen, Konstanz, Überlingen, Lindau, Wangen, Buchorn, Radolfzell oder Diessenhofen, und noch im ausgehenden 15. Jahrhundert wurden Kontakte zu den Reichsstädten nördlich des Bodensees gepflegt.

Fig. 4: Portal Radolfzell Ritterschaft Foto Peter Niederhäuser.

Wie weit sich Anspruch und Realität deckten, ist unklar. Die Adelsgesellschaft zum St. Jörgenschild blieb ein Zusammenschluss des nichtfürstlichen Adels, der immer nur auf Zeit bestand, nie eine Mehrheit des Adels einbeziehen konnte und auch nie straffere Strukturen auszubilden vermochte. Er profitierte nicht zuletzt vom Fehlen eines mächtigeren Landesherrn, der seine Macht auf Kosten des Adels durchgesetzt hätte, wie das Habsburg im Tirol gelang. Unbestritten ist jedoch die ständische Bedeutung solcher Organisationen: Auch wenn wir über Geselligkeit und Kultur so gut wie nichts wissen, waren die gemeinsamen Ziele wie auch die mit dem Georgenschild-Zeichen sichtbar gemachte Zugehörigkeit zu einer Gruppierung mit gemeinsamen Werten verknüpft. Regelmässige Zusammenkünfte, die Wahl von Hauptleuten oder auch häufige Schiedstage boten die Gelegenheit zu einer Stärkung dieser Identität. Diesem Zweck könnten auch Turniere und andere Festlichkeiten gedient haben. Gut möglich, dass der Jörgenschild an der Organisation der für Schaffhausen mehrfach belegten Turniere beteiligt, wenn nicht verantwortlich war.

Adel und Turnierwesen – von der Adelsgesellschaft zur Reichsritterschaft

Die Mitgliedschaft beim St. Jörgenschild war weder selbstverständlich noch exklusiv. Viele Angehörige der Ritterschaft gehörten auch anderen adeligen Vereinigungen im südwestdeutschen Raum an, so den Gesellschaften zum Leitbracken oder vom Fisch und Falken. Diese ebenfalls genossenschaftlich organisierten Gruppierungen widmeten sich hauptsächlich dem Turnierwesen und trugen ihrerseits zum adligen Selbstverständnis bei. Adelsgesellschaften kümmerten sich nämlich nicht allein um adelige Interessen, wie die Politik des St. Jörgenschildes deutlich machte, sondern bestimmten gleichzeitig adelige Identität. Die Blütezeit dieser Organisationen entsprach einer Blütezeit der Ritterspiele und einer Adelskultur, die erhöhte Ansprüche an den einzelnen Adligen stellte. Die Sanktionen gegen adlige «Abweichler» am Turnier von Schaffhausen 1436 sind kein Einzelfall, sondern finden sich regelmässig in den Quellen. Turniere nehmen damit über die militärische Ertüchtigung hinaus einen wichtigen Platz für das adlige Selbstverständnis ein. Es fällt nämlich auf, dass im ausgehenden Mittelalter der Zugang zu Turnieren zunehmend von Ahnenproben und der früheren Teilnahme von Familienangehörigen abhängig gemacht wurde. Wie weit das dynastische Bewusstsein solche Anforderungen überhaupt abdecken konnte, bleibt noch zu erforschen. Deutlich wird aber die Bedeutung von Turnierbüchern wie dem berühmten Werk von Georg Rüxner von 1530, der nicht nur Wettkämpfe bis ins 10. Jahrhundert zurückverfolgte, sondern auch gleich die Teilnehmer auflistete. Was aus historischer Sicht eine plumpe Fälschung ist, entsprach der Nachfrage eines Adels, der seinen Rang über solche Werke legitimierte und sich auf diese Weise eine passende Vergangenheit schuf.

Fig. 5: Stammbaum Hinwil Hohenlandenberg 1541 Ausschnitt, ZB Zürich.

Ritterturniere stehen damit für ganz unterschiedliche Bedeutungen: Wettkampf, Geselligkeit, aber auch Selbstvergewisserung eines Adels, der seinen Stellung sowohl von Seiten der Fürsten wie der Städte beziehungsweise städtischer Aufsteiger bedroht sah. Mit der genossenschaftlichen Organisation schuf sich der Adel eine autonome Institution, mit der Kontrolle über das Turnierwesens definierte er gleichzeitig Identität und Zugehörigkeit. Die Region an Bodensee und Hochrhein bot dank der Fragmentierung der Herrschaft gute Voraussetzungen für eine solche Adelskultur, die eine eigene Politik zwischen Städten und Fürsten verfolgte und letztlich auch behauptete. Auch wenn Habsburg nach der Katastrophe von 1415 seine Stellung wieder stärken konnte, blieben die Herrschaftsverhältnisse in Schwaben offen. Die Gesellschaft vom St. Jörgenschild und andere Adelsgesellschaften verloren zwar an Bedeutung, bestanden jedoch fort und gingen im 16. Jahrhundert in die Reichsritterschaft mit Ritterkreisen in Schwaben, Franken, am Rhein und im Elsass auf. Der Ritterkanton mit Sitz in Radolfzell setzte die genossenschaftliche Tradition fort, aber ohne entsprechende Turnierkultur. Die Erinnerung an adlige Vergangenheit und Ritterspiele blieb präsent, der finanzielle Aufwand für solche opulenten Inszenierungen dürfte allerdings das Festhalten an diesen exklusiven Veranstaltungen zunehmend verunmöglicht haben. Anders die Fürstenhöfe, die Turniere als Teil von reich ausgestalteten Hoffestlichkeiten pflegten. Nicht gemeinsame adlige Identität, sondern der fürstliche Glanz stand fortan im Zentrum einer Renaissancekultur, die dem kleinen Adligen bestenfalls eine Nebenrolle zugestand. «Adel» blieb zwar durchaus ein Leitbild, nach 1500 verschwinden aber Hinweise auf Turniere in den Städten am Hochrhein. Die sportlich-geselligen Wettkämpfe, die im 15. Jahrhundert ihre Blütezeit erlebten, gehörten rasch der Geschichte an, bestimmen jedoch bis heute die Wahrnehmung von Adel und Adelskultur.

Literatur und Quellen:

Der Beitrag stützt sich auf das Begleitbuch zur Schaffhauser Ausstellung: Ritterturnier. Geschichte einer Festkultur, hrsg. von Peter Jezler, Peter Niederhäuser und Elke Jezler, Quaternio Verlag Luzern 2014.

Weiterführende Literatur:

• Das ritterliche Turnier im Mittelalter. Beiträge zu einer vergleichenden Formen- und Verhaltensgeschichte des Rittertums, hrsg. von Josef Fleckenstein (Veröffentlichungen des Max-Planck-Instituts für Geschichte 80), Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Göttingen 1985;

• Andreas Ranft: Adelsgesellschaften. Gruppenbildung und Genossenschaft im spätmittelalterlichen Reich (Kieler Historische Studien Band 38), Jan Thorbecke Verlag Sigmaringen 1994;

• Werner Paravicini: Die ritterlich-höfische Kultur des Mittelalters (Enzyklopädie deutscher Geschichte Band 32), R. Oldenbourg Verlag München 1994.


Ritterturnier mit stumpfen Waffen


Helmschau: Knappen bringen die Helme in einen Raum, wo Damen und Herolde die Teilnehmer eines Turniers kritisch überprüfen. Rechts wird ein Helm

Wappenbuch des Konrad Grünenberg

Im Zeichen der beiden Gesellschaften vom St. Jörgenschild und vom Fisch und Falken: Wappenscheibe des Jakob von Breitenlandenberg, 1549, Gemeindehaus Unterstammheim (Kanton Zürich).

Foto Peter Niederhäuser

Ahnenprobe des Hans von Hinwil, 1541. Adelsfamilie mit Standbeinen in der Ostschweiz und in Oberschwaben.

Zentralbibliothek Zürich, Graphische Sammlung

Haus der Reichsritterschaft zum Jörgenschild in Radolfzell, frühes 17. Jh. (Foto Peter Niederhäuser, 2015)

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