Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

Anecdotes Of Mediaeval Germany
by [?]


In the year of grace 1140 a German army, under Conrad III., emperor, laid siege to the small town of Weinsberg, the garrison of which resisted with a most truculent and disloyal obstinacy. Germany, which for centuries before and after was broken into warring factions, to such extent that its emperors could truly say, “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” was then divided between the two strong parties of the Welfs and the Waiblingers,–or the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, as pronounced by the Italians and better known to us. The Welfs were a noble family whose ancestry could be traced back to the days of Charlemagne. The Waiblingers derived their name from the town of Waiblingen, which belonged to the Hohenstaufen family, of which the Emperor Conrad was a representative.

And now, as often before and after, the Guelphs, and Ghibellines were at war, Duke Welf holding Weinsberg vigorously against his foes of the imperial party, while his relative, Count Welf of Altorf, marched to his relief. A battle ensued between emperor and count, which ended in the triumph of the emperor and the flight of the count. And this battle is worthy of mention, as distinguished from the hundreds of battles which are unworthy of mention, from the fact that in it was first heard a war-cry which continued famous for centuries afterwards. The German war-cry preceding this period had been “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord, have mercy upon us!” a pious invocation hardly in place with men who had little mercy upon their enemies). But now the cry of the warring factions became “Hie Weif,” “Hie Waiblinger,” softened in Italy into “The Guelph,” “The Ghibelline,” battle-shouts which were long afterwards heard on the field of German war, and on that of Italy as well, for the factions of Germany became also the factions of this southern realm.

So much for the origin of Guelph and Ghibelline, of which we may further say that a royal representative of the former party still exists, in King Edward VII. of England, who traces his descent from the German Welfs. And now to return to the siege of Weinsberg, to which Conrad returned after having disposed of the army of relief. The garrison still were far from being in a submissive mood, their defence being so obstinate, and the siege so protracted, that the emperor, incensed by their stubborn resistance, vowed that he would make their city a frightful example to all his foes, by subjecting its buildings to the brand and its inhabitants to the sword. Fire and steel, he said, should sweep it from the face of the earth.

Weinsberg at length was compelled to yield, and Conrad, hot with anger, determined that his cruel resolution should be carried out to the letter, the men being put to the sword, the city given to the flames. This harsh decision filled the citizens with terror and despair. A deputation was sent to the angry emperor, humbly praying for pardon, but he continued inflexible, the utmost concession he would make being that the women might withdraw, as he did not war with them. As for the men, they had offended him beyond forgiveness, and the sword should be their lot. On further solicitation, he added to the concession a proviso that the women might take away with them all that they could carry of their most precious possessions, since he did not wish to throw them destitute upon the world.

The obdurate emperor was to experience an unexampled surprise. When the time fixed for the departure of the women arrived, and the city gates were thrown open for their exit, to the astonishment of Conrad, and the admiration of the whole army, the first to appear was the duchess, who, trembling under the weight, bore upon her shoulders Duke Welf, her husband. After her came a long line of other women, each bending beneath the heavy burden of her husband, or some dear relative among the condemned citizens.