Battle of Frankenhausen

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Coordinates: 51°21′21″N 11°6′4″E / 51.35583°N 11.10111°E / 51.35583; 11.10111

Battle of Frankenhausen
Part of the German Peasants' War
Date 15 May 1525
Location near Bad Frankenhausen in the present-day German state of Thuringia
Result Decisive Princely victory
Belligerents
Coat of arms of Hesse.svg Landgraviate of Hesse
Brunswick-Lüneburg Arms.svg Duchy of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Coat of arms of Saxony.svg Duchy of Saxony
Peasants' army
Commanders and leaders
Philip I of Hesse
George of Wettin
Thomas Müntzer
Strength
c. 6,000 mercenaries c. 8,000
Casualties and losses
00 (?)

The Battle of Frankenhausen was fought on 15 May 1525. It was the final act of the German Peasants' War: joint troops of Landgrave Philip I of Hesse and Duke George of Saxony defeated the peasants under their leader Thomas Müntzer near Frankenhausen in the County of Schwarzburg.

On April 29, 1525, the struggles in and around Frankenhausen had culminated into an open revolt. Large parts of the citizenry joined the uprising, occupied the town hall and stormed the castle of the Counts of Schwarzburg. In the following days, a rising number of insurgents gathered around the town, and when Müntzer arrived with 300 fighters from Mühlhausen on May 11 several thousand peasants of the surrounding Thuringian and Saxon estates camped in the fields and pastures. However Philip of Hesse and his father-in-law George of Saxony were on Müntzer's trail and directed their Landsknecht troops toward Frankenhausen.

The Princes' troops were mostly mercenaries. As such they were well-equipped, were well-trained, and had good morale. The peasants, in contrast, were badly equipped with scythes and flails, had no training whatsoever, and furthermore were in disagreement whether to fight against or to negotiate with the enemy. Nevertheless on May 14 they had been able to ward off some smaller attacks of the Hesse and Brunswick troopers, though they failed to reap the benefits of their victory. Instead the insurgents arranged a ceasefire and withdrew into a wagon fort to co-ordinate their further course of action, while the Saxon forces approached.

The next day Philip's troops united with the Saxon army of Duke George and immediately broke the truce, starting a heavy combined infantry, cavalry and artillery attack. The peasants were caught off guard and fled in panic to the town, followed and continuously attacked by the mercenaries. Most of the insurgents were slain in what turned out to be a massacre. Casualty figures are unreliable but peasant losses have been estimated at 3-10,000 and the Landsknecht casualties estimated as low as six (two of whom were only wounded). Müntzer himself was captured, tortured and finally executed at Mühlhausen on May 27, 1525.

Aftermath[edit]

At Frankenhausen, the battle is depicted, along with many other scenes of that age, on the world's largest oil painting, Werner Tübke's Frühbürgerliche Revolution in Deutschland ("Early Bourgeois Revolution in Germany"), which is 400 feet (120 m) long, 45 feet (14 m) high, and housed in its own specially built museum. The painting was ordered by the socialist leadership of East Germany, who regarded Müntzer as a revolutionary and thus as one of their forebears; work on it went on between 1975 and 1987. However Tübke did not produce a heroic painting, contrary to the state's wishes, but depicted the events at Frankenhausen as a colossal failure for all parties involved.

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