Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Landsknecht Origin & Occupation - Part 2 and People in General

I want to extend a very warm thank you to Alena for sending me an article by Robert W Scribner entitled "Mobility: Voluntary or Enforced? Vagrants in Württemberg in the Sixteenth Century".  It has been so informative and has helped me to answer, at least in part, some of my previous questions. [An excerpt from Mr. Scribner's obituary follows the end of this post.]

The original questions that brought these posts to fruition were the origin and previous occupations of the Landsknecht.  I hope with passages from Scribner's article, I can answer some of these mysteries at least to my own personal satisfaction.

Scribner was able to study and peruse over 7000 Urfehden (Oaths of Peace) held in the Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart, which were backed up by extant Malefizakten (criminal records).  His main point in his article, as the title suggests, was his concern with vagrancy during the German Reformation in Württemberg.  This perhaps by itself would not answer my questions, but there are a few passages that relate directly to the Landsknecht and Gartknecht (discharged soldiers) that provide much needed insight.  From his article, he defines the Urfehden in the following way: 
...the Urfehden was a complex legal, political and social instrument adapted to the needs of the emerging territorial state.  However, in its simplest and most common form, it was a sworn undertaking given by an arrested person that he (or she) would accept the treatment accorded him while under arrest, that he accepted any imposed punishment or conditions of release, and that he would not seek to take revenge on the Württemberg authorities or any of their subjects.
From this I derive that the people had very little say in what happened to them after they were arrested, whether they were arrested in good faith or falsely, but that is beside the point and I digress.

Something that I find interesting about this article was Scribner's claim that the majority of the vagrants that were charged were Landsknecht or Gartknecht.
Of all the identifiable types of vagrants, wandering soldiers seeking employment as mercenaries, the 'Landsknechte' or 'Gartknechte', made up by far the largest single group.  Throughout the sixteenth century, they were held to be one of the greatest threats to law and order, even where they travelled singly, usually with their 'Kebs', or concubine.
If the first argument (previous post) for the occupations of Landsknecht prior to their service was in fact farmers needing money for their farms, why would they not have simply gone home after their stint as a soldier?  Why should they be seen as vagrants at all if they had prior professions with which to occupy themselves?

I found Scribner's description of the Landsknecht to be very enlightening:
...they often carried a firearm and could be obstreperous, even without provocation.  Most frequently they travelled in groups, such as the band of 15 persons who halted at an inn in Denkendorf in the district of Stuttgart in 1531; seven men and eight women, four of them married couples, and from places as scattered as Munich, Nuremberg, Augsburg, Ulm, Pforzheim and four other places which are no longer traceable, possibly villages outside Württemberg.  This group claimed that they were travelling to seek service under the Emperor, but they fell into a brawl with some carriers in the inn.  Local farmers tried to intervene to keep the peace, and became involved in the fighting.  One of the farmers was felled, another was wounded, and one of the 'Landsknechte' threatened to harm the village in revenge.  This was common behaviour as it appears in the criminal records - they quarrelled, brawled, disputed the bill, threatened farmers and innkeepers , and were not averse to a bit of extortion, even forming into robber bands engaged in 'Plackerei' or highway robbery.
Long and the short of it, they were thugs.  Period gangs, if you will.  That's not to say that all Landsknecht exhibited this type of behavior, but a mercenary without a war to fight is a bad thing for any society.

Scribner does touch on some of their prior occupations or lack thereof.  He claimed that many of the Gartknecht were driven to the mercenary lifestyle "by poverty or by the inability to settle into a sedentary occupation; sometimes they were mere boys just seeking adventure."  This falls in more aptly with the second argument for their occupations (previous post).

His article continues on listing many of the offenses that befell the Landsknecht and other citizenry from abandonment of wife and family (some of which were to avoid the very difficult divorce procedures of the time), gambling, theft, adultery, high debts, false marriages (a convenient way to have your way with a woman and have no responsibility), murder, abuse, infanticide (in the case of women), etc.  The list feels almost endless, but then crime usually is.

In any case, returning to the occupations of the Landsknecht prior to their original service as a soldier, I tend more toward the second argument (previous post) as being accurate, which Scribner's article appears to support.

And now for something completely different...

What I found most interesting about this article was a complete side trip to the rest of this post (like that never happens to anyone else), which had little to do with Landsknecht in particular and plenty to do with the illusion of the past.  That's not to say that the following opinion hadn't already been explored to a certain degree between my husband and myself quite recently, but the fact that Scribner's article confirmed much of it for me brought it to mind.

People are people, whether from the past or the present.  The main concern of almost every individual on this planet is themselves.  That is not to say that they don't think of others, but generally, when a difficult decision is needed, the first thought is the primary individual, even if their actions afterward don't reflect that.  We can pontificate about how wonderful things were 'back in the day' or claim 'behaviors which existed at one time and no longer do' or how there were times in history that were better than others.  When you boil down as much information as you can acquire about any given time in history and do your best not to gloss over all the ugly stuff, you realize that people now aren't all that different from people then.  Yes, what we have in our possessions or the comforts we're able to enjoy are different, but the people themselves aren't.  Yes, the culture from which they derive may make some behaviors more acceptable than what they would be in an opposing culture, but they are still people driven by many if not all of the same desires, even if they are couched in different terms.  One culture may be 'workaholics', while others need 'respect' or 'honor', another culture may need a certain level of 'hierarchy' to show their status, but in any of these cases they concern the primary individual first and foremost, before there is any reflection on others.

People are people.

An excerpt from Robert W Scribner's obituary:

BOB SCRIBNER was the leading scholar of his generation in the English-speaking world in the field of German Reformation history. His research transformed our understanding of how the reformers' message was able to win over layfolk who were deeply wedded to the practices and rituals of the Catholic faith, however much they criticised the Church as an institution and the behaviour of individual priests.
Scribner argued consistently that the Reformation was not an event, but a process, beset by contradictions and reversals, in which the responses of layfolk played as creative a role as the reformers' theology itself.
These insights were first developed in his major study For the Sake of Simple Folk: popular propaganda for the German Reformation (1981), in which he discussed the importance of visual and oral communication alongside print (for too long regarded as holding the key to the Reformation's dissemination and impact). But he also insisted on the complexity of such media: visual propaganda works at several levels; it needs to be read as a system of signs; its semiotics require careful decoding.
None of these findings would have been possible if Scribner had not been so well grounded in cultural theory and anthropology. He subsequently elaborated the ideas in a vast outpouring of research: at his death he had published nigh on 90 articles, as well as editing numerous collections of essays.

1 comment:

Alena said...

I'm glad you found it useful! When I was reading it I thought it was hilarious as well as informative, what a crazy life we're portraying.