Archive for April 29th, 2019

Reenactor shot with medieval cannon

Monday, April 29th, 2019

A woman was hit by a cannon ball during rehearsals for a historical battle reenactment commemorating the 500th anniversary of the death of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in Mindelheim, Swabia, southern Germany. The 23-year-old woman was loading a medieval cannon when the weapon fired unexpectedly, hitting her directly on the arm.

Police have confirmed that the woman had the necessary licence for handling cannons. They also have indicated that they do not believe the injuries were the result of deliberate action on the part of another individual.

The injury was severe. She had to be flown by helicopter to a hospital in Munich where surgeons immediately operated to save her arm from amputation. It appears they were successful, although some news accounts report she lost a finger.

She was one of 350 reenactors from the Confederation of Upper Swabian Landsknechts (named after a famed corps of mercenaries ) engaged in the group’s yearly “Spring Drill Weekend.” I’m not sure why an event commemorating the death of Maximilian I on January 2nd, 1519, would require a battle reenactment completely with medieval cannon fire beyond the fact that people just dig firing cannons. Maximilian didn’t die on the battlefield or of a wartime injury or illness. He was traveling from the royal palace in Innsbruck to attend parliament in Linz, a long, arduous journey for a man who had already been sick for a long time at this point. From the description of his symptoms, it was probably colon cancer that claimed his life. He was 60 years old.

In his younger days he had name for himself as an outstanding jouster and military leader, however. His nickname was “the Last Knight,” because he embraced the idealized virtues of chivalry and was an avid student of the “seven knightly responsibilities” (riding, climbing, shooting, swimming, wrestling, dancing & courting, jousting). At the same time, influenced by humanist philosophy, Maximilian was a great patron of the arts, spoke and read multiple languages and introduced modern concepts and technologies to the field of battle.

One example of of his novel approach was his founding of the first Landsknecht army in 1488. He wanted a reliable, well-trained, organized force that could be called up whenever necessary instead of a mishmash of feudal lords with troops loyal to them, assorted mercenaries and infantry that had to be levied and dissolved before and after every conflict. The Landsknechts were highly successful, developing a reputation for skill that saw them fight all over Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Maximilian’s successor as Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, sent them to fight the French in Italy in 1527. When they didn’t get paid in a timely fashion, they mutinied. The 14,000 Landsknecht soldiers formed the majority of the troops who decided to get paid via pillage and infamously sacked Rome. Some of them made themselves at home in very grand style indeed. In the Hall of Perspectives in the Villa Farnesina, the room where Agostino Chigi had held his lavish wedding banquet just nine years earlier, restorers found this written on the wall close to the marital bedroom: “1528 –  “Why should I who write not laugh – the Landsknechts have set the Pope on the run.”

I almost wrote about that episode in the post on the restoration of The Wedding of Alexander and Roxanne, but decided it was a bit too tangential. It goes to show just how extra of a nerd I am that I was pleased to have a pretext to bring it up now courtesy of the reenactment group even though the news story it pivots off of is so grim.

Maximilian has made his presence felt on this here long blog before now, btw.  The Triumphal Procession, a gouache 117 feet long painted by Albrecht Altdorfer in praise of the Emperor’s military accomplishments, ancestors mythical and real, pagentry and wealth, went on display for the first time since 1959 in 2012 at the Albertina Museum in Vienna. A complete print of another of the works in that series, The Arch of Honour of Maximilian I, a monumental woodcut engraved by Albrecht Dürer, was displayed in 2015 after an incredible restoration by conservators at the National Gallery of Denmark’s Statens Museum for Kunst. The British Museum’s print was conserved around the same time and the process was so excellently documented I had to post about it to share the videos and images. Last but certainly not least, Maximilian was the first husband of adolescent duchess and all-around hardass Anne of Brittany.

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