Contemporary engraving of Georg Von Frundsberg by Christopher Amberger



Georg Von Frundsberg [1473-1528] was the archetypal imperial knight and renaissance mercenary captain. Born into a noble family of Tyrolean knights, Frundsberg's father Ulrich had served in the armies of The Holy Roman Emperor's Swabian League and his son had been trained in the military arts since he was a boy.

In 1499, the young Frundsberg joined the Emperor Maximilian's expedition to crush the rebellious Swiss and witnessed at first hand how massed ranks of pikemen, halberdiers and crossbowmen were more than a match for fully armoured mounted knights. Later that year, Frundsberg fought with the imperial army trying to drive the French invaders out of Milan (then an imperial city).

The Milan campaign achieved little against the veteran Swiss mercenaries employed by the French so Maximilian ordered Frundsberg to raise a new army and train them to fight in the Swiss manner. These new regiments were dubbed landsknechts (servants of the country after the oath of loyalty they took to the emperor) and though the term had been applied to imperial troops since the 1470s it would be under Frundsberg that the landsknechts became Europe's most feared mercenaries.

The new landsknechts were bloodied in the Italian Wars with the French and in the Low Countries where they crushed a long running rebellion with particular savagery. In 1504 Frundsberg was knighted by the emperor, in 1509 he was appointed Highest Field Captain of the Landsknechts and henceforth he spent the rest of his life fighting the emperor's enemies at home and abroad.

In the continuing struggle to wrest control of Milan and Northern Italy from the French, Frundsberg's landsknechts won spectacular victories at Marignano [1515], Bicocca [1522] and Pavia [1525] but in 1527 a dispute over pay led to 'the father of landsknechts' losing control over his own men. Even though their captain had sold his ancestral estates to settle some of the debt, the mutinous, half starving landsknechts marched on Rome in search of loot and sacked the eternal city in a week long orgy of rape and pillage. The Sack of Rome outraged the whole of Western Christendom and Frundsberg was so appalled by the behaviour of his 'beloved sons' he had a stroke. Though he was taken back to Germany, he never recovered from the loss of his honour and he died broken-hearted the following year.

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