Georg Von Frundsberg

While commanding the Landsknecht mercenaries, Frundsberg fought as a man of honour in the service of his emperor.


BORN 24 September 1473

DIED 20 August 1528

Georg von Frundsberg was a South German knight and Landsknecht leader in the service of the Imperial Habsburg dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire.

Frundsberg was born to Ulrich von Frundsberg and his wife Barbara von Rechberg at Mindelheim, into an old line of Tyrolean knights who had settled in Upper Swabia. He fought for the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I against the Swiss in the Swabian War of 1499, and in the same year was among the Imperial troops sent to assist Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, against the French. Still serving Maximilian, he took part in 1504 in the war over the succession to the duchy of Bavaria-Landshut, fighting against the Pfalz-Counts Philipp and Ruprecht. He distinguished himself during the Battle of Regensburg. Maximilian I personally bestowed knighthood on him. Later, he also fought in the Netherlands.

Convinced of the necessity of a native body of trained infantry, Frundsberg assisted Maximilian in the organization of the Landsknechts. One year later, he became the commander of the Landsknechts in the low countries. Thereafter, Frundsberg lived an uninterrupted life of war, campaigning for the Empire and the Habsburgs. In 1509, Frundsberg became the “Highest Field Captain” of the Landsknecht Regiment (occupation force) and participated in the war against Venice, winning fame for himself and his men after defending the city of Verona against numerous attacks. In 1512 he was, together with Jakob von Ems, leading the Imperial contingent sent to aid Gaston de Foix to retake Brescia. After a short visit to Germany, he returned to the Italian peninsula, where between 1513 and 1514 he gained fresh laurels by his enterprises against the Venetians and the French. He was heading the Landsknechts at the side of Fernando d’Avalos at the Battle of La Motta. Peace being made, he returned to Germany, and at the head of the infantry of the Swabian League assisted in driving Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg, from his duchy in 1519. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, he spoke words of encouragement to Martin Luther, and during the Italian War of 1521–1526, Frundsberg helped lead the Imperial Army into Picardy. When King Francis I of France appeared on the battlefield with a force of approximately 40,000 men, the clever withdrawal of Emperor Charles V’s army saved its existence. Frundsberg considered the withdrawal on Valenciennes as “the greatest luck and most appropriate measure during war.”

After the French campaign in 1522 ended and Frundsberg resigned from the leadership of the Landesknechts, he returned to lead the march of 6,000 men on upper Italy. A difficult alpine crossing through deep snow led to the Battle of Bicocca near Milan in April. Swiss nationals on foot fought alongside Frundsberg, who led and fought from the front. The emperor’s victory at Bicocca allowed the return of the old Kingdom’s Parliamentary Cabinet Lands of Genoa and Milan and brought the greater part of Lombardy under the influence of Charles V.

In 1525, after a brief stop in Mindelheim as the “Highest Field Captain” of the entire German Nation (with a force consisting of 12,000 men and twenty-nine flag bearers), Frundsberg moved again towards upper Italy to relieve Pavia and to save the Empire’s Duchy of Milan. Despite an additional 6,000 men, of whom some were Spanish, in battle against an enemy that was twice as strong, Frundsberg won his most famous victory at Pavia, with the capture of the French king. Only one year later, when the war in Italy was renewed in 1526, Frundsberg received a call for help from the Emperor’s Army in Lombardy, to help decide the war. Albeit an insufficient amount, he obtained 36,000 German Thaler to organize the new army. During his occupation of Mindelheim, Frundsberg borrowed money and sold off his silver table settings and his wife’s jewelry, in order to acquire the remaining funds to raise the army. In less than three weeks, Frundsberg organized over 12,000 men and crossed the Alps during the middle of November. He joined the Constable de Bourbon near Piacenza and marched towards Rome. However, order and discipline broke down near Modena on 13 March 1527, when no decisive battle developed after months of campaigning in Italy. Payment for the mercenaries remained overdue and, in the end, even Frundsberg was unable to rally the Landsknechts and restore order. The matter shook the old commander to such an extent that he suffered a stroke. Unable to regain his physical strength, Frundsberg was moved to Germany after a long struggle in Italian hospitals. Tormented by great anxiety over the situation with his mercenaries or “beloved sons”, the loss of his personal estate and death of one of his sons, Frundsberg died in his castle in Mindelheim. He was considered a capable and chivalrous soldier, and a devoted servant of the Habsburgs. His son Caspar (1500–1536) and his grandson Georg (died 1586) were both soldiers of some distinction. With the latter’s death, the family became extinct.

The Landsknechte

The armies of Maximilian’s father-in-law, Charles the Bold, had been extremely well organised, with a strict military hierarchy and an excellent logistics system, perfect for maintaining a semi-permanent standing army. They had failed because they lacked the decisive weapon of their Confederate enemies – a highly motivated massed foot formation. Having understood this lesson, Maximilian set about creating his new military order, recruiting an elite based on fighting prowess rather than birth and origin, and was responsible for introducing ritualised foot combat into the tournament for his knights. He himself always set the example, wearing the armour and weaponry of the foot soldier and taking his place in the ranks. On important occasions he would march with shouldered pike in the front rank of the Gewalthaufen, for example during the triumphant entry into Ghent

(7 July 1485) or in front of Milan in 1516. Similarly, in 1505, Pfalzgraf Friedrich led a worthy group of princes and noblemen to the aid of his childhood friend, Archduke Philipp, the Emperor’s son, at Arnhem. His whole group, armed in Landsknecht fashion with pikes and short sword, having arrived in Emmerich by ship and hearing that Philipp had given up his attack against the Count of Gelderland, shouldered their pikes and returned home on foot. Arriving in Xanten, they received the news that the Emperor would arrive there shortly. Embarrassed to be seen in such unbecoming attire, they swiftly handed their pikes to their servants. No sooner had the Emperor heard of this than he sent a message begging them to continue on their way without shame. He arrived in their midst ten days later and joined the march. The sight of Maximilian, arriving triumphantly in Cologne, marching pike-on-shoulder at the head of 900 lords and gentlemen, including two Rhine counts Palatine (Pfalzgrafen), two Saxon dukes, both Brandenburg Margraves (Markgrafen), the Dukes of Mecklenburg, Braunschweig and Wurtemburg, and the nobleman Georg von Frundsberg, must have convinced much of the nobility to climb down off their high horses and train in the use of pike, halbard and short sword, thereby creating an invaluable pool of future officers for his Landsknecht units or doppelsoldner for his front ranks. With those of high birth standing shoulder to shoulder with those of more lowly origins, Maximilian was thus able to engender that elusive esprit de corps characteristic of the Confederate armies, where shared experiences and hardships made brothers-in-arms of otherwise quite disparate men.