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.

Holy gunpowder™ purchased from the Pope for the Solothurner master gunner in 1444

Buried in the lines of the accounting books of the City of Solothurn lies a mention of the purchase of saltpetre from the pope himself in 1444 (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Item dem fürmann der den salpeter von unsern heiligen vatter dem bapst bracht 2 gulden (For the wagoner which brought the saltpetre from our holy father the pope. 2 gulden). Solothurn, Staatsarchiv, BB25, vol. 4 (1444), p. 105. Transcribed and photographed by the author.

The Pope in Basel… dealing saltpetre?

Pope Eugene IV (1383-1447, see fig. 2) was indeed present in Basel, several times during the longest Ecumenical Council (1431-1449) in history.[1] This council assisted in the city’s great economic expansion and cultural development. Even the Medici opened a banking agency there between 1433 and 1444. Emperor Sigismund was responsible for the safety of the council and expected the Swiss Confederates (with the assistance of the allied towns of Fribourg and Solothurn) to ensure peace during the assemblies. This explains why the city of Solothurn was heavily involved in discussions about matters regarding defences – especially about artillery – between Basel, Bern and Fribourg. It does not explain, however, why the Pope would deal in saltpetre.

Fig. 2: Portrait of Pope Eugenius IV after Jean Fouquet (in the miscellany of Onofrio Panvinio, Rome, 1568). Wikimedia Commons.

 Saltpetre in the recipe… with vinegar or urine?

Gunpowder was used in Europe from the fourteenth century onwards. Its basic components are: saltpetre (potassium nitrate), sulphur and coal, but a lot of additional elements found their way into the early recipes, such as wood shavings, urine, wine, vinegar, a variety of salts, camphor or salammoniac. The anonymous author or compiler of the Firework book (Feuerwerksbuch) of ca. 1420 explains how to corn gunpowder into “lumps” (Knollen) to deal with the problem of dampness:

Moisten a mixture of saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal with “good wine vinegar. And grind the mixture together with a wooden mortar and make it so moist with the vinegar that it will clump together, and then roll the lumps as large as you want them to be. Then take a glazed round deep saucepan or a pot or a copper bowl and press the lumps in wet just as you would force a cheese into a pot; then knock it out onto a board – it will come out easily.”.[2]

This process is illustrated in another Firework book kept in Zürich (Fig. 3) where one can see the air-drying process in the sun. These Knollen are then prepared by the master gunner to ready the gunpowder to fire. The process of producing gunpowder in Europe is not well documented before the second part of the fifteenth century, and remains somehow obscure or even ‘magical’, mostly because its production remained to a large extent experimental.

Fig. 3: Making of Knollen (corning gunpowder) illustrated in anonymous, s.t. [War Technology], Upper Rhine, around 1420-40 (Zürich, Zentralbibliothek,
Ms. Rh. Hist. 33b, fol. 36v). E-codices,
https://www.e-codices.ch/en/list/one/zbz/Ms-Rh-hist0033b.

The least stable element in the mixture is the saltpetre because the potassium nitrate is obtained through a process that involves bacterial action (discovered, in the 19th century, by the microbiologist Serge Winogradsky). Saltpetre was indeed produced in Europe, for example in Frankfurt.[3] However, better-quality saltpetre arrived at the time from the Orient, [4] with northern Italy being one of its most important commercial gateway int Europe. In the same year saltpetre was purchased from the pope, the Solothurn accounting book also registers a greater amount of saltpetre bought at the fairs in Geneva, without, however, giving an indication of its original provenance.[5]

Guns on the wall and master gunners at service

Already in the last quarter of the fourteenth century, several master gunners were hired by towns or princes for their well-needed services.[6] In Solothurn, the first documented master gunner appears in the sources in 1442.[7] By 1444, the accounting books mention at least two master gunners: Master Berchtold and Master Heinrich.[8] Several lines in the accounting books of these years show these masters traveling to Bern and Basel and buying gunpowder, portable firearms and cannons to equip the town’s defences and fighting forces. Portable guns were also produced locally by the skilled metalworkers (here by the armour maker in 1444)[9]. The security of the Council of Basel was not the only concern of Solothurn. East of the town, war was waging in fits and starts (the so-called Old Zürich War of 1436-1450), and in the West, conflict arose with the “Armagnacs”, French mercenaries under the command of the daupin, the future Louis XI (Battle of Saint-Jacques sur la Birse, 1444, see fig. 4). The city of Fribourg, and old ally of Solothurn, follows the same timeline, with the first master gunners in service of the town in 1443/4. But just like in Solothurn, firearms were already in use earlier.[10]

Fig. 4: Battle between Armagnacs and Swiss forces in front of Basel (Saint-Jacques sur la Birse, 1444), illustrated in Benedikt Tschachtlan Bern chronicle, 1470 (Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, Ms A120, p. 861). E-manuscripta, Zentralbibliothek Zürich, https://doi.org/10.7891/e-manuscripta-85723

 Papal gunners and holy gunpowder

The use of gunpowder advanced in the fifteenth century, and so did the manufacturing technology of guns and canons, gunpowder circulation and the master gunner’s trade. However, it remained unpopular in discourses and depictions, where gunners are easily associated with diabolic figures. The first printed edition of Saint Augustinus’ De Civitate Dei (printed in Basel by Johann Amerbach in 1489) for example depicts a devil shooting a gun (fig. 5). Despite this widespread association, the papacy had fully embraced the progress of the artillery since early on.[11] Pius II (1458-1464), the third Pope in succession to Eugene VI, owned 13 guns, which he named after the 12 apostles and his mother, Vitoria[12].

Fig. 5: Devil shooting a gun, details, illustrated in the De Civitate Dei of Aurelius Augustinus (woodcut from Meister des Haintz Narr), printed by Johann Amerbach (Basel, 1489), detail. Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum (BSB – Ink A-863 – GW 2888) urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb00025317-8

The papacy hired a master gunner in 1450, Jörg of Nuremberg. He was captured by the Turks when casting guns in Bosnia for the Duke Stephen the Great of Moldavia in 1456. He then served the Turks until 1480 when he was sent to Alexandria from where he escaped and returned to papal services.[13]

But what about the pope as dealer of saltpetre in 1444? It remains unclear if this was a regular papal side-business or if some cunning sellers of gunpowder benefited from the presence and fame of the pope in Basel to sell their product to the Solothurn master gunner. With Basel being at the centre of widespread trade at the time, and in view of the fact that a good-quality product from the Orient might have easily found its way to the upper Rhine region, one call well imagine how a “trademark” of holy gunpowder could have impressed a town involved in war at the time.

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "Holy gunpowder™ purchased from the Pope for the Solothurner master gunner in 1444," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 08/06/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/961.

Credit for the main image:  Frontpiece of the De Civitate Dei of Aurelius Augustinus (woodcut from Meister des Haintz Narr), printed by Johann Amerbach (Basel, 1489), detail. Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum (BSB – Ink A-863 – GW 2888) urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb00025317-8

[1] The 17th Council had 25 sessions in Basel, Florence and Ferrara between the year 1431 and 1449.

[2] Translation of Bert S. Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe (Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 71. The digitized manuscript and bibliographical information about it are available at the University Library of Heidelberg (online: https://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg585, accessed 20.05.2020).

[3] Bert S. Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe (Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 58.

[4] Wilfried Tittmann, ‘China, Europa und die Entwicklung der Feuerwaffen’ in Europaïsche Technick im Mittelalter: 800-1400. Tradition und Innovation, edited by Uta Lindgreen (Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1996), pp. 317-32.

[5] Item fazin hatt bracht von Ienf Salpetter und zentner 18lib Ienf gewicht tut an Solott’ gewicht 10 zentner 61lib da hort ein zentner nach Ienfer 12 guld und 12gross. tut in einer / summa 29 gulden und 1gross SS. Solothurn, Staatsarchiv, BB25, vol. 4 (1444), p. 82. Transcribed by the author.

[6] Leng, Rainer, ‘Zum Verhältnis von Kunst und Krieg in den illustrierten Kriegslehren des 15. und 16. Jahrunderts’, in ‘Mars und die Musen’: das Wechselspiel von Militär, Krieg und Kunst in der Frühen Neuzeit, ed. by Jutta Nowosadtko and Matthias Rogg, Herrschaft und soziale Systeme in der frühen Neuzeit, 5 (Berlin: Lit-Verl, 2008), pp. 33–58, here p. 40.

[7] Item ein Büchsenmeister der die büchsen beschiessen sollte verzart an Clewin lopsinger 10SS. Staatsarchiv, BB25, vol. 2 (1442). Transcribed by the author.

[8] Louis Jäggi (500 Jahre Schützengesellschaft Der Stadt Solothurn, 1462-1962 : Die Entwicklung Des Schützenwesens Der Stadt Solothurn von Ihren Anfängen Bis Zur Gegenwart (Solothurn: Union Druck, 1962)) mentions the two masters in 1444, but ommitted the master mentioned in 1442.

[9] Item dem Harnascher im Hensli peters hus vmb siben handbüchsen 7guldn. Staatsarchiv, BB25, vol. 4 (1444). Transcribed by the author.

[10] In a document of 1431, large and medium cannons equiped already the fortification walls. For references and details about the master gunner, see Willy Schulze, ‘Freiburgs Krieg Gegen Savoyen 1447-1448 : Kann Sich Eine Mittelalterliche Stadt Überhaupt Noch Einen Krieg Leisten?’, Freiburger Geschichtsblätter, 79 (2002), 7–54 <https://doi.org/10.5169/SEALS-391870>.

[11] Bernard Rathgen, ‘Feuer- und fernwaffen beim päpstlichen Heere im 14. Jahrhundert’, Zeitschrift für historisches Waffenkunde 7 (1915-17), 1-15.

[12] According to the writings of Enea Silvio Piccolomini (1405-1464). I would like to thank Kelly DeVries for this reference.

[13] Based on the master gunner own account (printed in the 1480s), see A. Vasiliev, ‘Jörg of Nurember: a writer contemporary with the fall of Constantinople’, Byzantion, 10 (1935), 205-9, quoted and commented in Peter Purton, The Medieval Military Engineer (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2018), p. 260.

A monk hired for his magical and martial skills – Basel, 1469

Lost in a box with administrative documents lies a contract between the city of Basel and a monk of the minor order in 1469. The document is written on paper in two versions. The counterpart (the signed copy) is given to the monk and is cut in saw-tooth profile. The latter is not preserved in the archive. Only the original would then fit the pattern with the drawings, so that there can be little chances in faking such a document. This “official” document is evasive when it comes to describing what is expected in return for the money. For fifty rinscher guldin, half of which is due in cash, the monk will serve the town by “breaking the canons in half” and “giving council to the best of his knowledge” during half a year.

Contract, 1469.
Basel, Staatsarchive, Militär Akten A1. © Marcult 2019
With kind permission of the Staatsarchiv Basel.

The real marvel found in the archive is actually another sheet of paper kept with the contract, where the monk’s different skills are listed. We do not know the origin of this additional document. It might be cut off or copied from a promotional letter of the monk himself sent to the city council, referred to in the contract as the rödel.

Sheet attached to the contract, 1469. B
asel, Staatsarchive, Militär Akten A1. © Marcult 2019
With kind permission of the Staatsarchiv Basel.

It lists the different skills which the monk can offer. It includes:

  • How to bring harm to the ennemies in the city or in the field
  • Where to best set up a camp
  • How to protect the city (walls) and supply for damaged parts
  • How to best use caltrops (devices with spikes laid on the ground to harm ennemies)
  • How to best use striking weapons and banners
  • How to show the truth to the important people about military matters in the city and on the walls

Of course, he adds that he could do more upon request. He also details in the end that he could produce an artifact made to preserve life against shooters. Such documents are rare, but show how magical skills are intertwined with martial culture at the end of the Middle Ages.

An edition of the document is to be found in: Urkundenbuch der Stadt Basel, ed. by Rudolf Thommen and Rudolf Wackernagel, 11 vols (Basel: 1901), Vol. 8, Nr. 334, pp. 262-263.

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "A monk hired for his magical and martial skills – Basel, 1469," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 25/04/2019, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/227.