Battle of Frankenhausen
|Battle of Frankenhausen|
|Part of the German Peasants' War|
Landgraviate of Hesse|
Duchy of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
George of Saxony
|Commanders and leaders|
Philip I of Hesse|
George of Wettin
Henry of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Thomas Müntzer (captured)
|c. 2,800 horse, 4,000 foot||c. 8,000|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Frankenhausen was fought on 14 and 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 spiritual 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. Philip of Hesse and his father-in-law George of Saxony had originally targeted Mühlhausen as their strategic objective but, when news arrived that Müntzer left with a troop for Frankenhausen, they changed their march route and directed their Landsknecht troops toward Frankenhausen.
The Princes had great difficulties in recruiting Landsknecht mercenaries. Generally they would have been better equipped than the insurgents although morale and discipline were always dependent on the size of the war chest. The peasants were less well armed with a mix of improvised weapons from farming tools and polearms, breastplates and handguns which many would have had by dint of their service in local militia bands (Landwehr). Indeed, on May 14 they successfully repulsed a scouting party and its reinforcements but remained in position on the outskirts of the town having taken the decision not to pursue the Princes' "forlorn hope". The main column of Hessian and Brunswick troops were still in the process of arriving after a night's march and needed to rest up. Late that day a decision was taken  by the rebels to withdraw into a wagon fort on the hill overlooking the town. It is unclear who initiated a truce to enable some negotiation. This gave the princes time to meet up with George of Saxony's army approaching from the East and to encircle the wagon fort rather than lay siege on the town.
The Day of Battle
It is suggested that the truce was broken around midday when it had become clear that Müntzer was not going to be delivered up to the Princes. Starting with an artillery barrage followed by waves of horse and footsoldiers, the princes caught the peasants off guard and they fled in panic into 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 more than 7,000 while the Landsknecht casualties were estimated to be as low as six. Müntzer himself was captured in the town, tortured and finally executed at Mühlhausen on May 27, 1525.
At Frankenhausen, the battle is depicted, along with many other scenes of that age, on the world's largest oil painting, Werner Tübke's Early Bourgeois Revolution in Germany (Frühbürgerliche Revolution in Deutschland), which is 400 feet (120m) long, 45 feet (14m) 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 solely focus on the battle, contrary to the state's wishes, but placed the events at Frankenhausen in a much wider social, political and cultural context prevalent in Reformation Germany at the time.
- Werner Tübke, Monumentalbild Frankenhausen
- Frankenhausen Notgeld (emergency banknotes) depicting the Battle of Frankenhausen in woodcut. webgerman.com/Notgeld/Directory/F/Frankenhausen.htm
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- Marvin Mädel (2010). Historisch-archäologische Untersuchungen zur „Bauernschlacht“ Bad Frankenhausen am 15. Mai 1525. (As-yet-unpublished lecture)
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- Günter Vogler (2008). Bauernkrieg zwischen Harz und Thüringer Wald (Historische Mitteilungen Im Auftrage Der Ranke-Gesellschaft). Stuttgart. ISBN 978-3-5150917-5-6.
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