|Goetz von Berlichingen: Götz of the Iron Hand
|Gottfried von Berlichingen, German knight, was born to a noble family around 1480 at Jagsthausen
castle in Württenberg. In 1497, at the age of seventeen, he entered into the service of Margrave
Friedrich IV of Brandenburg-Ansbach and was sent to Burgundy, Lorraine, Brabant and then
Switzerland for Emperor Maximilian I. He then became a mercenary soldier and raised his own
company of freelances around 1500, and took part in various small wars.
At the siege of Landshut in 1505, while in the servicee of Duke Albert IV.of Bavaria, he lost his right
hand. Now fighting despair, he remembered a battle where he had witnessed a one-armed servant
fighting. Inspired, and while still in recovery, he hired a blacksmith / saddle maker to craft him a
simple mitt to replace his missing hand. But it was not efficient enough to do anything, and he
decided he needed a prosthetic device which would allow him to hold the reins of a horse and a
lance, so he had a new hand fashioned of iron which was unlike any others previously made.
In spite of the iron hand, his occupation continued, but now he fought in various feuds and mainly
for booty and ransom. In 1512, he assaulted some merchants returning from the Leipzig fair and he
was put under the ban of the empire by Maximilian until 1514 when he paid a 14,000 gulden fine. In
a feud with the Principality of Mainz in 1516, he raided Hesse and captured the Count of Waldeck,
Philip IV. upon whom he forced a 8400 gold gulden ransom, resulting in another ban in 1518.
When the Duke of Württenberg, Ulrich I., was attacked by the Swabian League in 1519, von
Berlichingen signed up for his service to defend Möckmühl, but a lack of ammunition and provisions
forced to surrender the town whereupon he was taken prisoner and handed over to the citizens of
Heilbronn, a town he had raided several times, until released in 1522 when he paid a 2000 gulden
fine and swore an oath not to take vengeance on the League.
During the Peasants' War of 1525, rebels in the Odenwald district chose Goetz as their leader, but he
accepted only reluctantly and within a month took the first opportunity to escape to his castle. For his
part in the revolt, he was called before the diet of Speier, but acquitted. The Swabian League had not
forgotten him, however, and they lured him to Augsburg to ostensibly clear himself of the charges
made against him on the League's behalf. Despite their promise of safe conduct, on November 28,
1528, they had him seized and imprisoned for two years. After repeating the oath he took in 1522, he
was let go in 1530 on the condition he would not leave the immediate vicinity of his castle, Hornberg
on the Neckar. For ten years he stayed there peacefully until Emperor Karl V released him from the
oath in 1540.
He was then sent to fight against the Turks in Hungary in 1542, and in 1544 he accompanied Karl V
in an invasion of France, after which he finally returned home. He lived out the remainder of his life
at Horneck castle until his death on July 23, 1562. Hornberg on the Neckar was built in 1420 and
was given to the Teutonic Order by Konrad von Horneck in 1438 and became the seat of the
"Deutschmeister" until it burned during the Peasants' War in 1525. Despite its reconstruction
afterward, Mergentheim became the new headquarters for the Teutonic Order in that region in 1527.
Goetz married twice and lived there with his family of three daughters and seven sons.
Goetz's original iron arm is still in existence at his former castle. This sophisticated device allowed
him to hold a feather pen, a sword and even playing cards. Over 400 years later, it inspired similar
models to be designed by Berlin orthopedic surgeon Ernst Ferdinand Sauerbruch for use in World
War One. This artificial hand was the first satisfactory arm and hand prosthesis in modern times.
Goetz von Berlichingen left a lasting mark, and his life was the subject of numerous stories, including
a famous play written by Goethe, "Goetz von Berlichingen", which was published in 1773. Goetz is
also the father of an irreverent expression. In a reply to the Bishop of Bamberg's demand for his
surrender, he said: "Er aber, sags ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken!" ("tell him that he can lick me
inside my ass!") which is commonly quoted as "Leck mich am Arsch" ("Lick me on my ass") and
often either preceded or followed by, "...in the words of Götz von Berlichingen"