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Gotz von Berlichingen
09.28.2018 232484014284

"But he, tell him, he can lick my arse"

Gotz Von Berlichengen, better known as "Gotz of the Iron Hand," was an ultra-omega Teutonic Knight whose actual, real-life story sounds like some kind of bizarre steampunk version of Ash from Army of Darkness, all the way down to the witty sayings – like the time he was asked to surrender during a siege in 1520 and he responded by being the first person in history to be quoted as using the phrase "kiss my ass."  Though, technically , in the original German, it translates more toe "lick my ass", which is also fairly dope even though it's slightly less well-traveled of a phrase, and even though he was kind of a bastard for most of his life he's lovingly remembered as a Robin Hood style figure among Germans even to this day.  He had a 47 year military career at a time in human history when most people were lucky to be alive for 47 years, and he lived the badass life of a 16th century German Teutonic Knight, fighting civil wars all across Central Europe, both with and against the Holy Roman Empire, and most of it involved going into combat with a prosthetic iron hand that was like a cross between Jaime Lannister and a Cyberdyne Systems model T-800. 

Also, I don't know German very well, but I imagine that the only two possible ways you can pronounce this guy's name are "Guts" or "Goats", and I could make a pretty convincing argument for either one of those being obscenely badass.



Born in 1480 in Jagsthausen Castle, Wurttemberg, Gotz enlisted in the army at sixteen years old.  Being from a notable family, Von Berlichengen was an Imperial Knight, which is probably just about as badass as it sounds, and he fought with the Holy Roman Empire during the Swabian War, storming castles, attacking towns, and slicing and dicing peasants and footsoldiers into bratwurst from the back of his mighty war horse.

At twenty years old, Gotz left the service of the Empire and went into business as a hardcore 16th-century Private Military Contractor, building a Mercenary Company that leased out it's swords to the highest bidder.  He immediately found work with the Duke of Bavaria, who sent Gotz into battle at the Battle of Landshut in 1504.  Gotz was defending a heavily-fortified castle, and when the besieging army sent an emissary demanding the Bavarians' surrender, Gotz famously responded with what is now known in Germany as the "Swabian Salute" – he said "Leck mich am Arsch", which loosely translates to "kiss my ass".  It's the first time this phrase appears in history, and the fact that this dude made it up can only be described as super omega dope to the max.  It is also, however, not in the top ten things that make Gotz Von Berlichengen one of the most badass warriors of the middle ages.



Not long after coining the now-iconic phrase, Gotz was seriously wounded during the Battle of Landshut when a cannonball blew off a huge chunk of the Imperial Knight's hand, sending shrapnel from his sword, armor, and ulna shotgunning unto his upper arm, shredding his bicep and arm. 

For most Medieval knights, having your sword arm blown off by a cannonball was the end of your career… if you were even lucky enough to survive the wound, avoid infection, and miraculously find a doctor who was competent enough to treat you.

For Gotz Von Berlichen, it's just the beginning of his story.



In 1504, Gotz Von Berlichengen, a Medieval German knight, had an insane-looking prosthetic iron forearm crafted by master blacksmiths and engineers and subsequently grafted to his arm.  Using a system of levers and springs (unfortunately the name of the cyber-genius who created this thing has been lost to time), Gotz could manipulate the individual fingers of the contraption almost at will, and it could do everything from wield a sword in combat to ride a horse and play cards.  Hell, the dude could sign his name while holding a quill pen with the fingers of his cybernetic prosthetic steampunk arm.  This is some serious Iron Man meets Army of Darkness stuff.

Charging headlong into battle with an Iron Fist and a gigantic set of Brass Balls, Gotz Von Berlichengen somehow continued to lead his badass Mercenary Army through the battles of Medieval Germany, serving almost as a kind of Teutonic Robin Hood at a time when most nobles were a bunch of money-grabbing assholes.  In 1512 he got in trouble for plundering the goods of a wealthy nobleman, a fine that got Gotz stripped of his noble rank for a few years.  A few years later he got banned again, this time for kidnapping the Count of Waldeck and ransoming him back to his family for cash.  Gotz, who now had a reputation for pissing off the snooty nobility, then went on to lead rebel forces in the Peasants War of 1525, when a bunch of low-born peasants got pissed off at the nobility and rose up in rebellion.  Gotz was at the forefront of the fighting, cleaving enemies apart left and right, but when the war ended in a ridiculously over-the-top massacre of the peasantry the Emperor respected Gotz's noble standing and gave him a chance to explain himself.



He somehow convinced the Emperor that "they made me do it," and got off with a fine.

Gotz Von Berlichengen, the veteran of 30 years of battle, retired to his home after the Peasants War, but clearly a life of peace and quiet on a little manor in the German countryside didn't have nearly enough excitedment, danger, and horrific mutilation for Gotz Von Berlichengen, and in 1542 the 62-year-old warrior came out of retirement to travel into Hungary and go toe-to-toe in hand-to-hand combat against the Turkish Invasion of Europe.  He was part of the war the threw the Turks out of Hungary, and then, two years later, he re-joined the Imperial Army in a war against the French.



After a nearly fifty-year career fighting Bavarians, Swabians, Turks, French, and pretty much half the nobility of Germany, Gotz Von Berlichengen finally retired for good.  He wrote his autobiography, which was massively popular, and eventually died in 1560 at the age of 80 – no small feat for a one-armed lifelong-soldier who had served in dozens of wars across Medieval Europe.  Goethe wrote a play about him in 1773 that is still in production today, Mozart referenced the "kiss my ass" thing in a canon he wrote in the 1780s, and in World War Two Gotz served as the namesake of two German U-Boats and the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division.  More recently than that, the Japanese anime Berserk is based on his life, and that is definitely worth a watch on Netflix if you haven't seen it yet.

Gotz's iron hand and suit of army are still on display at Jagsthausen Castle today.





Encyclopedia Britannica






Suggested Reading:

Copelof, Maureen.  Discovering Germany.  New York: Xlibris Corp, 2002.

Coulton, G.G.  Life in the Middle Ages.  London: Cambridge University Press, 1967.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von.  Gotz von Berlichengen.  Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1837.

Menhennett, Alan.  The Historical Experience in German Drama.  Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2003.

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Tags: 16th century | Adventurer | Battle Rage / Berserker | Germany | Knight | Medieval | Mercenary | Military Commander | Outlaw | Soldier | Survivalist | Warrior

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