Even though the historian George Chastellain praised Peter Hagenbach as honest and cultivated,10 his life ended in disrepute, and according to folk legends, his spirit still haunts the woods around Hagenbach.
Peter von Hagenbach was a Burgundian knight from Hagenbach in Alsace.11 He was appointed by Duke Charles the Bold (d. 1477) as baillif, and his tyrannical demeanour ended in the rebellion of Bern, Fribourg, and the Upper Rhine towns. It was followed by his trial and conviction by a tribunal of the Holy Roman Empire, and his death sentence.
Since Charles the Bold’s father, Philip the Good of Burgundy, had appointed him for the artillery in 1458, Hagenbach served there as a lieutenant and was knighted by Charles the Bold. When Charles gained reign over Alsace, he appointed Hagenbach as baillif. Hagenbach was in charge of the opening negotiations with the Hapsburgs to arrange the marriage between Maximilian and Mary of Burgundy and also involved as interpreter in the efforts to make Charles the Bold king of Burgundy.
Although Hagenbach apparently had first sought negotiations and dialogue, he soon exerted tough measures and increasingly resorted to intimidation and violence, harassing merchants, city governors, and guilds and curbing their rights, as had happened before in Flanders and Brabant. He installed new custom regulations at the borders of Basel and Zürich, prevented merchants from visiting fairs, stopped shipments to Basel, and threatened the independence of Mulhouse and Breisach. To finance the war with France, he introduced and forcefully implemented extra taxes.
His outrageous behaviour is confirmed by the Basel Chronicles, in a account retelling how Hagenbach took Marquard of Baldeck, the Basler merchant and banker with whom he had dined the previous evening, hostage. He abducted him with the intention to extort a ransom – in which he failed, as Duke Philip immediately ordered Marquard’s release.
In 1474, representatives of the Upper Rhine towns gathered to investigate ‘the Hagenbach case’. He was accused on five severe charges, among which numbered murder, and was found guilty on all and sentenced to death. He was then symbollically ‘de-knighted’ and beheaded by the executioner of Colmar. Six thousand spectators supposedly came to the execution.
Hagenbach’s execution is depicted in this book’s first woodcut. His hangman leads him from the left through the hills. The town of Breisach is shown in the centre background and, indeed, the Eckartsberg with the Stephansmünster is recognisable. In a second scene to the right, Hagenbach kneels and the executioner wields his sword while a crowd watches the gruesome spectacle.
The second illustration shows the city of Neuss sieged and visibly damaged by Charles the Bold and his troops. The Duke, unable to come to Hagenbach’s defence due to his engagement in Neuss, sent to the Sundgau and Jura mercenaries, who systematically ravaged the southern Alsace. More than thirty villages were devastated or destroyed. This act of vengeance was the initial spark of the Burgundian Wars.
The following woodcuts show the crucial battles of Héricourt (3), Granson (5), Murten (6), and where the Duke – who had been initially triumphant (4) – was defeated and eventually killed in Nancy (7). The last woodcut (8) shows a procession of many relics around the Strasbourg Münster – presumably the oldest printed illustration of this famous church and preceding Schedel’s engraving by some fifteen years. This last woodcut is the only one of the set which was not (re)used for Hans Erhard Tüsch’s Burgundische Historie, printed in the same year. The chronology of the two editions still remains uncertain.
The woodcut is signed B, and thus attributed to the Strasbourg Monogrammist B, who could have been trained in the workshop of Diebold Lauber at Hagenau. These woodcuts belong to one of the earliest illustration sets made in Strasbourg. The monogram .b. or .B. also occurs in some other books from Knoblochtzer’s press, but has as not yet been identified with an artist’s personality. The scholar Fischel describes his style and also attributes to him the illumination of some manuscripts. In our cuts, the outlines are bold, whereas hatching is sparse. These images were thus most likely intended to be coloured, but the only preserved coloured copy is the one at hand.
Author and Text
The author of these 423 rhymed verses makes himself known by way of the acrostic in the first eighteen lines as Conradus Pfedteshem. He was a Strasbourg priest, perhaps from Pfeddersheim near Worms, who studied in Erfurt and was chaplain, preacher, and confessor to several churches in Strasbourg. Our poem is quite similar to the above mentioned Burgundische Historie. It was one of three local, literary productions created in the wake of the death of Duke Charles the Bold in Nancy on 5 January 1477, which was a relief to many of the citizens in this war-stricken region. Of the three extant poems, this is by far the most important, as the others have neither the same eloquence, nor the powerful imagery of language.
The present epic poem is about Charles the Bold, his attempt to turn the duchy of Burgundy into an independent kingdom after he came to reign over the territories in 1467, and the violent events that followed in 1473, after Emperor Frederick III denied him the title. His hefty reaction to this refusal is illustrated in eight full-page woodcuts. Charles intervened in the city of Cologne’s power struggles and laid siege to nearby Neuss on the Rhine. The local Upper Rhinish combatents took advantage of his absence in Alsace to capture and convict his governor, the haughty and brutish Peter Hagenbach. As Hagenbach’s victims included Swiss merchants, the Confederation declared war on Charles the Bold. A coalition of the Swiss, Sigismund of Austria, the towns of the Upper Rhine, together with René of Lorraine threatened Charles’ southern provinces. The Duke hurried to Lorraine, won the battle of Ellekurt/Héricourt and with this conquest regained his power. Although in Alsace-Lorraine he was esteemed to be the incarnation of evil, he thought of himself as ‘the New Alexander’, to which – sarcastically – the woodcut with the enthroned Charles refers. In March 1476, he suffered a humiliating defeat in Grandson, after which he turned to Murten, west of Bern, and besieged it. But, he again lost the memorable battle, for the heavily armed Burgundian knights were slaughtered by the compact formations of mobile Swiss lancers. In October, Charles advanced towards Lorraine and besieged Nancy, where he was killed on 5 January 1477, possibly during his attempt to escape. His badly mutilated body was discovered and identified some days later.
The Burgundian territory then came under French rule, but when the heiress, Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482), married the Austrian Archduke Maximilian, later Holy Roman Emperor, on 19 August 1477, the Hapsburgs held rightful claims to all Burgundian titles.
Heinrich Knoblochtzer, who seemingly never became a Strasbourg citizen, printed some fifty books – mostly anonymous – in the period of 1477 to 1484. The majority consisted of elegantly illustrated Volksbücher in German, which made Strasbourg a centre of illustrated editions in German vernacular. The three poems on the Burgundian wars are counted among Knoblochtzer’s earliest works. Forced by a settlement to repay his debt to a Michel Tischmacher in Basel, Knoblochtzer supposedly left Strasbourg in 1483 to escape his creditor(s). On 9 April 1486, he matriculated in Heidelberg, where he opened his second printing shop in 1489.