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Andreas Hofer

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Andreas Hofer
Posthumous painting of Andreas Hofer
Born(1767-11-22)November 22, 1767
DiedFebruary 20, 1810(1810-02-20) (aged 42)
Known forTyrolean Rebellion
Criminal chargesInsurrection
Criminal penaltyExecution by a firing squad

Andreas Hofer (22 November 1767 – 20 February 1810) was a Tyrolean innkeeper and drover, who in 1809 became the leader of the Tyrolean Rebellion against the Napoleonic and Bavarian invasion, and against compulsory smallpox vaccination, during the War of the Fifth Coalition. He was subsequently captured and executed.

Hofer is still today venerated as a folk hero, freedom fighter and Austrian patriot. His great-grandson Andreas Hofer was a member of the very important resistance group against Nazi Germany around the priest Heinrich Maier.[1]


Sandhof in St. Leonhard where Hofer was born and lived

Andreas Hofer was born 1767 in St. Leonhard in Passeier, in the Habsburg crown land 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 adjacent Northern Italy and learned the Italian language. He married Anna Ladurner. In 1791 he was elected to the Tyrolean Landtag assembly. In German he was known as a Wirt (innkeeper) and thus ever after Sandwirt.

In the War of the Third Coalition against the French he became a sharpshooter and later a militia captain in the Austrian Imperial and Royal Army. After the Austrian defeat, Tyrol was transferred to the Kingdom of Bavaria (France's ally) according to the 1805 Treaty of Pressburg. During the stern measures of Minister Maximilian von Montgelas and the forced recruitment into the Bavarian Army, Hofer became a leader of the anti-Bavarian movement. In January 1809, he was part of a delegation to Vienna to ask Emperor Francis I 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 the Passeier Valley.

Armed rebellion begins

On the eve of the Battle of Bergisel, 1900 painting by Franz Defregger

The Tyrolean Rebellion began on 9 April 1809 in Innsbruck. The previous night, organizers dumped sacks of sawdust into the River Inn as a sign to start the rebellion; floating through the town and down the Inn Valley, it alerted the rebels. Church 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 11 April Tyrolean militia defeated a Bavarian force in Sterzing which led to the occupation of Innsbruck before noon. Though French forces came across the Brenner Pass as a relief and a united French-Bavarian contingent counterattacked the next night, the Tyroleans fought them in the First Battle of Bergisel until Hofer and his allies won on the morning of the 13th. While Austrian forces under General Johann Gabriel Chasteler de Courcelles moved into the Tyrolean capital and installed a provisional government led by Joseph Hormayr, Hofer advanced south, taking Bozen and Trent.

Hopes of a successful rebellion waned when Napoleon defeated the Austrian forces of Archduke Charles of Austria in a series of battles of Teugen-Hausen, Abensberg, Eckmühl, and Ratisbon, whereafter the Austrian troops withdrew from Tyrol and Hofer had to pull back to the mountains. The French Marshal François Joseph Lefebvre took charge of the Tyrolean theatre, and Bavarian and Saxon forces under the command of Karl Philipp von Wrede on 13 May defeated the Austrians in a bloody skirmish at Wörgl. The Bavarians re-occupied Innsbruck on 19 May. However, when their French allies left, the rebellion flared up again.

Hofer takes command

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 such as 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 second Battle of Bergisel, from 25 to 29 May 1809, Hofer's troops again defeated the Bavarians, driving them out of the country and retaking Innsbruck on 30 May. On 29 May 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. However, Napoleon again defeated Austrian troops in the Battle of Wagram on 6 July. The Armistice of Znaim ceded Tyrol to Bavaria again. Napoleon sent 40,000 French and Bavarian troops to take over Tyrol and they re-occupied Innsbruck.

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

Tyroleans defeated the Bavarian troops at Battle of Sterzing

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 29 September he received a medal from the emperor and another promise that Austria would not abandon Tyrol.

Hofer's hopes were dashed on 14 October, 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 on 8 November. Hofer retired to his home valley.

Final attempt and capture

Franz Raffl reveals the hideout of Andreas Hofer

On 12 November Hofer received false reports of Austrian victories and tried to summon his troops on 15 November. This time he had little following and French troops defeated his forces. His subordinate commanders surrendered and urged 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 28 January 1810 and was sent to Mantua in chains to face a court-martial. Raffl died impoverished in Bavaria twenty years later.

Hofer's execution in Mantua

Court martial and execution


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 20 February 1810. He refused a blindfold or to kneel, and gave money to a corporal in charge, telling him to "shoot straight". He gave the order to fire himself.[2] Hofer became a martyr in Germany and Austria and a rallying symbol against the power of Napoleon.

Legacy and monuments

Andreas Hofer monument at Bergisel near Innsbruck

In 1809 William Wordsworth wrote some sonnets to Andreas Hofer which contributed to the romanticisation of his image and the legend surrounding the insurrection.[3]

In 1818, his family was given a patent of nobility by the emperor of Austria (he and Anna had 7 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). A large painting depicting his arrest hangs in the Palace of Maria Theresa in Innsbruck, and there is an annual open-air play in Meran based on his life. In Meran there is also a monumental statue of him opposite the train station at the beginning of the Via Andreas Hofer, which was erected by Tyrolean nationalists in 1915. In New Glarus, Wisconsin there is a large mural of Hofer inside Puempel's Olde Tavern.[4]

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.






  • Tom Pocock - Stopping Napoleon (2004)


  1. ^ Horst Schreiber, Christopher Grüner: "Den für die Freiheit Österreichs gestorbenen: Das Befreiungsdenkmal in Innsbruck. Prozesse des Erinnerns.", Innsbruck (2016), p 72.
  2. ^ Tom Pocock. Stopping Napoleon: War and Intrigue in the Mediterranean (Kindle Locations 2357-2359). Thistle Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. ^ "Napoleonic literature Directory / 1st Empire". Napoleon.Org. The Foundation Napoleon. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  4. ^ "Correction".

Media related to Andreas Hofer at Wikimedia Commons