Posts Tagged ‘Corun’

Gotz von Berlichingen’s Account of How He Got His Iron Hand

November 16, 2020

One of the landmarks in the history of artificial limbs was the iron hand specially made for the German knight, Gotz von Berlichingen after his own was shot off by the Nuremberg forces at a battle at Landshut in Germany. Berlichingen was in born in 1480 in Wurttemberg, where his family were knights. G.G. Coulton includes his description of how got had his real hand shot off and an iron one made so that he could continue his military career, in his collection of medieval texts, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967), vol. 2: 135-7 along with a number of other stories from the old soldier’s memoirs. Coulton states that Berlingen has been described as the last of the robber barons. From 1541 onwards he fought for the German emperor Charles V in a series of wars, first against the invading Turks, and then against the French. The great German poet and playwright Goethe wrote a play based on his life, and Coulton claim that the romanticism of his memoirs influenced Sir Walter Scott. Von Berlichingen’s account of the loss of his hand is as follows:

I will now tell how I came by my wound. You must know that on Sunday, as I have related above, while we were skirmishing again under the walls of Landshut, the Nurnbergers turned their cannon upon friend and foe alike. The enemy had taken up a strong position on a dyke, and I would fain have broken a spear with one of them. But as I held myself still and watched for an occasion, suddenly the Nurnbergers turned their cannon upon us; and one of them, with a field-culverin, shot in two my sword-hilt, so that the one half entered right into my arm, and three armplates therewithall; the sword-hilt lay so deep in the armplates that it could not be seen. I marvel even now that I was not thrown from my horse; the armplates were still whole; only the corners, which had been bent by the blow, stood forth a little. The other half of the sword-hilt and the blade were bent, but not severed; and these, I believe, tore off my hand betwixt the gauntlet and the arm-piece: my arm was shattered behind and before. When I marked now that my hand hung loose by the skin, and that my spear lay under my horse’s feet, I made as though nothing had befallen me, turned my horse softly round, and, in spite of all, came back to my own folk without let or hindrance from the enemy. Just then there came up an old spearman, who would have ridden into the thick of the fray: him I called to me, and besought that he would stay at my side, since he must see how matters stood with me. So he tarried with me at my prayer, and then he must needs fetch me the leech. When I came to Landshut, my old comrades told me who had fought in the battle against me, and in what wise I had been shot, and that a nobleman, Fabian von Wallsdorf, a Voiglander, and been struck and slain by the same shot, not withstanding that it had struck me first; so that in this wise both friend and foe took harm alike. This nobleman was a fair and goodly gentleman, such that among many thousands you would scarce find any goodlier to behold…

From that time forth, from the Sunday after St. Vitus’ day until Ash Wednesday, I lay in Landshut; and what pain at that time I suffered, each may well imagine for himself. It was my prayer to God that, if I stood indeed in His divine grace, then in His own name He might bear me away to Himself, since I was spoiled now for a fighting man. Yet then I bethought me of a man at arms of whom I had heard my father and old old troopers tell, whose name was Kochli, and who also had but one hand, notwithstanding which he could do his devoir against his foe in the field as well as any other man. Then I prayed to God, and considered within myself that, had I even twelve hands, and His grace and help stood not by me, then were all in vain. Therefore, thought I, might I but get me some little help by means of an iron hand, then I would prove myself as doughty in the field, in spite of all, as any other maimed man. I have ridden since then with Kochli’s sons, who were trusty horsemen and well renowned. And in all truth I can think and say nought else, – now that for wellnigh sixty years I have waged wars, feuds and quarrels with but one fist,-but that God Almighty, Everlasting and Merciful, hath stood wondrously and most graciously by me and at my side in all my wars, feuds, perils

Coulton’s book also has an illustration of the iron hand, based on a engraving preserved by the family.

As you can see, it seems to be an adaptation of the gauntlet and armour for the arm. I think the great 16th century French doctor and surgeon, Pare, created similar artificial limbs, and it shows that medieval science and medicine were rather more advanced than the usual received view of superstitious ignorance. Berlichingen and his hand seem to me to be a great model for a Fantasy or SF character, and I do wonder if Michael Moorcock used him as the basis for the artificial hand wielded by his hero, Corum, who is, like far more famous Elric of Melnibone, another incarnation of his Eternal Champion.