Andreas Hofer

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Posthumous painting of Andreas Hofer
The house of Hofer in St. Leonhard where he was born and lived

Andreas Hofer (November 22, 1767 – February 20, 1810) was a Tirolean innkeeper and patriot. He was the leader of a rebellion against Napoleon's forces.

He was an innkeeper turned politician who fought for Austria against the French during the War of the Third Coalition. In 1809, he became the leader of a rebellion against Franco-Bavarian forces that sparked the War of the Fifth Coalition. He was subsequently captured and executed.

Early life[edit]

Andreas Hofer was born 1767 in St. Leonhard in Passeier, County of Tyrol. His father was an innkeeper of the Sandhof inn and Andreas followed in his footsteps when he inherited the establishment. He also traded wine and horses in northern Italy and learned the language. He married Anna Ladurner. In 1791 he was elected into the Tyrolean Landtag. In dialectical German he was known as a "wirt" (innkeeper) and thus ever after "The Sandwirt."

In the war of the Third Coalition against the French he became a sharpshooter and later a militia captain. When Tyrol was transferred from Austria to Bavaria (France's ally) in the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805, Hofer became a leader of the anti-Bavarian movement. In January 1809, he was part of a delegation to Vienna to ask Emperor Francis II of Austria for support for a possible uprising. The Emperor gave his assurances and the delegation returned home.

Hofer begun to secretly organize insurrection, visiting villagers and holding councils of war in local inns. Reputedly he was so much on the move that he signed his messages "Andreas Hofer, from where I am" and letters to him were addressed to "wherever he may be". At the same time other leaders organized their own forces elsewhere in the Alps. Hofer became a leader of a militia contingent in Passeier Valley.

Armed rebellion begins[edit]

Button portraying Hofer

The Tyrolean rebellion began on April 9, 1809. The previous night organizers dumped sacks of sawdust into the River Inn as a sign to start the rebellion. When the sawdust floated through Innsbruck and to the Inntal, it alerted the rebels. Village bells summoned men to fight with muskets and farmyard implements. They soon overran smaller Bavarian garrisons and surprised a column of French infantry that was passing through the area.

On April 11 Tyrolean militia defeated a Bavarian force in Sterzing which led to the occupation of Innsbruck before noon. When the French and Bavarians counterattacked the next night, the Tyroleans fought them in the city until the Tyroleans won on the morning of the 13th. Hofer and his allies advanced south, taking Bozen and Trent.

Hopes of a successful rebellion waned when Napoleon defeated the Austrian forces of Archduke Charles of Austria. Austrian troops withdrew from Tyrol and Hofer pulled back to the mountains. The Bavarians reoccupied Innsbruck on May 19, but when Napoleon's troops left, the rebellion flared again.

Hofer takes command[edit]

Painting depicting Hofer and his troops liberating his people from foreign occupation

Hofer became the effective commander-in-chief of the Tyrolean rebels, with the support of other leaders like Josef Speckbacher and Father Joachim Haspinger. He commanded a force of Tyroleans approximately 20,000 strong, together with a couple of hundred Austrian soldiers who had joined them after the retreat of the Austrian army.

In the first and second Battles of Bergisel on May 25 and May 29 Hofer's troops again defeated the Bavarians and drove them out of the country. Hofer's troops retook Innsbruck on May 30.

On May 29 Hofer received a letter from Emperor Francis in which he promised not to sign any peace treaty that would include giving up Tyrol. An Austrian intendant came to rule Tyrol and Hofer returned to his home.

Napoleon defeated Austrian troops in the Battle of Wagram on July 6. On July 12 the Armistice of Znaim ceded Tyrol to Bavaria again. Napoleon sent 40,000 French and Bavarian troops to take over Tyrol and they reoccupied Innsbruck.

After little hesitation, Hofer joined battle again. The French offered a reward for his head. On August 13–14, his Tyroleans defeated the French troops of Marshal François Joseph Lefebvre, in the third of the Battles of Bergisel, in a 12-hour battle after a downhill charge. The Tyroleans retook Innsbruck.

Hofer declared himself Imperial Commandant of the Tyrol in the absence of the ruler and for two months ruled the land from Hofburg in the name of the Emperor of Austria. He announced new laws and taxes and minted his own coins. He also sent two men to Britain to ask for assistance. On September 29 he received a medal from the emperor and another promise that Austria would not abandon Tyrol.

Hofer's hopes were dashed on October 14 when the Treaty of Schönbrunn again ceded Tyrol to Bavaria. French and Bavarian troops advanced and Hofer retreated to the mountains. Promised amnesty, Hofer and his followers laid down their weapons November 8. Hofer retreated to his home valley.

Final attempt and capture[edit]

On November 12, Hofer received false reports of Austrian victories and tried to summon his troops on November 15. This time he had little following and French troops defeated his forces. His subordinate commanders surrendered and asked him to escape over the mountains.

Hofer hid in a hut in the mountains in the Passeiertal and the French announced a reward of 1500 guilders for his head. His neighbor Franz Raffl betrayed him and revealed his hiding place to the authorities; Hofer was captured by Italian troops on January 19, 1810. He was sent to Mantua in chains to face a court martial. Raffl died impoverished in Bavaria 20 years later.

Hofer's execution in Mantua

Court martial and execution[edit]

Officers holding the court martial disagreed on the exact sentence until they received a message from Milan. It was supposedly from the Viceroy, transmitting Napoleon's order to "give him a fair trial and then shoot him." Later Napoleon claimed to Prince Metternich that Hofer was executed against his wishes.

Andreas Hofer was executed by a firing squad on February 20, 1810. He refused a blindfold and gave money to a corporal in charge, telling him to "shoot straight". Hofer became a martyr in Germany and Austria and a rallying point against the power of Napoleon.

Legacy and monuments[edit]

Andreas Hofer monument at Bergisel near Innsbruck

In 1818, his family was given a patent of nobility by the emperor of Austria (he and Anna had 17 children, at least two of whom emigrated to America). In 1823, Hofer's remains were moved from Mantua to Innsbruck, and in 1834, his tomb was decorated with a marble statue. In 1893, a bronze statue of Hofer was erected in Bergisel (Innsbruck). There is a large painting depicting his arrest which hangs in the Palace of Maria Theresa in Innsbruck. There is an annual open-air play in Meran based on his life.

The song Zu Mantua in Banden (today the anthem of the State of Tyrol) tells the story of his tragic fate and execution. His most famous quote: I will not trade my life for a lie

The 1929 German silent film Andreas Hofer is a biopic of his life. Hofer was played by Fritz Greiner.

Literature[edit]

Sources[edit]

  • Tom Pocock - Stopping Napoleon (2004)

External links[edit]

Media related to Andreas Hofer at Wikimedia Commons