While for some individuals, the period of Medieval Europe draws up images of armor-clad knights sitting around round tables, fighting and dying by codes of honor, much of the typical military service at the time was rather far removed from any conventional notion of “honor.” The feudal system that dominated Europe meant that social standing was often used as a basis to draft common men into military service for their feudal lords, with mercenary armies also hired, depending on resources available. The popular image of the armored knight was typically a solider with connections to nobility and royalty that allowed the use of the much more expensive armor, horses, and weapons typical of this era.
And then, of course, there is the topic of siege warfare. The reality of such a besiegement is far from glamorous: these battles of attrition would oftentimes devolve into a defending army being starved out as resources such as food and water gradually declined until surrender or complete destruction ensued. The concept of knights dueling in fair fights to determine their honor does not exactly hold up to armies literally forcing one another to starve to death in their own self-made prisons.
However, this is not to say that the Medieval period was one of complete lawlessness and disregard for one’s fellow human being. In this installment of Hidden History, we turn our attention to the 1140 Siege of Weinsberg, located in the modern German state of Baden-Wurttemburg. At the time a part of the Holy Roman Empire, the siege pitted the House of Welf against the House of Hohenstaufen in what would have been a typical case of siege warfare leading to the eventual destruction and pillage of one party involved, if not for a clever loophole.
The death of Holy Roman Emperor Lothair II in 1137 saw Welf heir Henry the Proud lose the crown as the princes of the empire instead chose to support Hohenstaufen Conrad II in 1138. With a war begun between the two houses, Conrad II set his sights on destroying Weinsberg. The “Royal Chronicle of Cologne” gives the following account of the ensuing battle:
“In the year of the Lord 1140, the King laid siege to a city of Duke Welf of Bavaria, which was called Weinsberg, and accepted their surrender, whereas he allowed, out of his royal generosity, the wives and other women who were present to take with them whatever they could carry on their shoulders. Considering the loyalty to their husbands as well as the wellbeing of the others, they [the wives and other women] abandoned their household goods and descended, carrying the men on their shoulders. When Duke Friedrich protested that they should not be doing this, the King said, benevolent towards the deceit of the women, that it would not be appropriate to change the word of a King.”
As a result of this loophole, all male defenders of Weinsberg escaped with their lives, quite literally carried on the shoulders of their loyal and supportive wives. The “Loyal Wives of Weinsberg” remains a popular story and the castle ruins at the site are referred to as “Weibertreu” ("wifely loyalty") in commemoration of the event.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons