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Thread: Towns and Defence in Later Medieval Germany

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    Towns and Defence in Later Medieval Germany

    David Eltis
    Nottingham Medieval Studies: v.33 (1989)

    The future pope Pius II was astonished to discover how militarised a society urban Germany was. As he observed in 1444, ‘not only every noble, but even every burgher in the guilds has an armoury in his house so as to appear equipped at every alarm. The skill of the citizens in the use of weapons is extraordinary’. Molinet was equally struck by the military skill of the citizens of one of the smaller towns of the Empire, Neuss, which nonetheless defeated Charles the Bold’s siege in 1475.[1]

    Even in peacetime military expenditure accounted for 82 percent of Cologne’s civic spending in 1379, and between 76 and 80 percent of Rostock’s in 1437.[2] Such figures ought to give the urban historian pause for thought. However since 1945 German historians have tended to shy away from military history.[3] The military dimension of the urban societies of late medieval Germany cannot safely be ignored by students of their internal divisions, politics and society. War and preparation for war permeated much of civic life.

    Military self-sufficiency was pursued with vigour. Each town housed a huge quantity of equipment, which in its turn required specialists to maintain and repair it. Johannes Cochlaeus paused in his description of Germany of 1512 to wonder at Nuremberg’s many towers, each a miniature arsenal.[4] To meet their own needs the towns employed fletchers, smiths, stable-hands, crossbow-makers and even cannon-founders. Nuremberg supplied its own needs as well as those of Europe with a highly developed armaments industry.[5]

    Regulations laid down each citizen’s equipment in a descending scale according to wealth. Only a small number could afford to equip themselves entirely. Forty-six percent of the population of late medieval Frankfurt owned property worth twenty florins or less. To cater for the poor state armouries often in purpose-built buildings stored equipment of all kinds.
    The wealthy were required to possess armour and often horses. Inspections were carried out annually in Ulm and Strassburg. Care was taken that each citizen swear the arms he presented the inspectors were his and not just borrowed to pass muster.[6]
    It was not unknown for cities to insist that citizen’s armour never be sold to a foreigner, or passed to any individual such as a Jew or a woman who would not be available for military service.

    Even small towns possessed large numbers of cannon by the early fifteenth century and the means to manufacture more. Brunswick took its military self-sufficiency to the point of manufacturing its own gunpowder in 1430.[7] Cities were concerned with their own safety when they encouraged weapon manufacturers to settle within their walls. Strassburg insisted that its gunfounder accept outside contracts only when he had first exhausted his orders within the city. Indeed so jealous were the cities of their technicians that Rostock and its Hanseatic neighbours could even rule in 1385 that ‘in no town should guns be cast for those who are resident outside the towns.’[8]

    In the later Middle Ages the towns could no longer mark time, content to keep their high-medieval walls and equipment in good condition. Rapid changes in military technology made major alterations essential to security. Especially significant were the problems posed by the development of artillery. Existing town walls had been built as high as possible.
    That had been rational in the earlier period when, if a besieger risked an assault at all, he generally attempted to scale the walls or to seize a gateway; the higher the walls, the harder to scale. If they were high enough they also offered some obstacle to the flight of incendiary arrows, a frequently used expedient to smoke a defender out.
    Wooden galleries projected from the top of the walls. The floors of the galleries were holed to enable the defender to harry enemy mining parties working otherwise secure from view in the dead ground at the foot of the walls. Barbicans or massive outworks protected the critical ground before the gates, while frequent towers further enhanced the defender’s ability to sweep every yard of the ground before the walls with arrows.

    All this was obsolete in the new age of artillery. Walls which had sufficed to deter attackers armed only with mangonels and trebuchets proved increasing inadequate.
    In the early fourteenth century artillery was not yet powerful; bombards could take only modest charges of powder for fear of the piece exploding. The stone shot used frequently shattered on impact. Iron projectiles and cannon cast in a single piece, able to take much greater charges of powder without bursting, greatly increased the penetrative power of artillery in the fifteenth century.
    In 1450 Charles VII of France captured sixty towns in a year assisted by the fear the new developments inspired. A breach one hundred and twenty feet wide could be made in under twenty-four hours with a good artillery train.[9]
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    There is also the Schuetzengilde up to these days electing every year a schuetzenkoenig, the best shooter.

    In the town Lingen, Emsland, there is still a group active which calls itself Kivelinge. They keep the old historic military buildings in tact, making parades and keep the history alive.

    Founded in 1372 they still keep the tradition

    https://www.lingen.de/en/living_and_...kivelinge.html

    The Schuetzengilde Korbach was founded in 1377 and is still alive and kicking. Here some photos.
    http://www.schützengilde-korbach.de/

    The Schuetzengilde in Harburg is for ex from 1528, since then celebrate every year the crowning of a new tilde king
    weel nich will dieken dej mot wieken

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