1432 A judicial duel with the big “Talhoffer” shields at Konstanz

Es was ain schwanger frow geseßen zum Paradis, die gelust zue zu sehen, und was ir in sunderhait verboten. Die ging haimlich uf das Geltinger tor und lueget zue, also groß was ir begird und anfechtung. Da die genas, gebar si ain kindle, das hett nur ainen arm.

In 1432 the Paradies (paradise) is a small village like suburb of the city of Konstanz on the Lake Constance. A young girl gave birth to a child, which had only one arm. This was due her sin secretly watching during her pregnancy from the outer Göltinger Gate the duel between Hans Riem and Hans Roth called the Ratenberger. A duel in the field calles Brüel, where Jan Hus was burned 7 years before. A report of the duel is found in the chronicle of Christoph Schulthaiß, a member or the council of the city. The chronicle was written in 1574,  long after the event has taken place, but it is assumed that the writing was based on files and chronicles from the 15th century. The chronicle is relatively reliable and detailed. The narration is hardened by other sources, depicting similar or the same events.

In the woodcut map of 1553 the field Brüel is marked red as the building of the outer Geltinger Gate. It is to note, that the gate in the map is the reinforced version of the building from 1444. The gate was equipped with a removable bridge why it is called “Fallenthor” (falling gate) in some manuscripts. The place outside the city walls was used for disposing dead animals and execution. It was stinking heavily in summer so that the the chronist Ulrich von Richental reports of that stench:

Und stank vast übel, wan der Cardinal hett ain roßmul, das starb vor älti. Das ward da vor da hin an die stat vergraben; und von der hiz tet sich das ertrich uf, das der boes schmak her uß kam.

On July 31st, 1432 the barriers for a judicial duel were erected on the Brüel, a field outside the city walls of Konstanz. A city on the Lake Constance that has become famous for the Council of Constance from 5th November 1414 until 22th April 1418 ending the Western Schism. During this council Jan Hus was condemned and burned on the very same field, despite having a letter of indemnity.

1432 konstanz 1Hans Roth called Hans Ratenberger has accused Hans Riem to be a dangerous sorcerer, poisoner and ill-weather-maker (“Hagelsieder, Galsterer”) and also that he had poisoned his brother (or brother-in-law according to other books). Thereupon Hans Riem followed the advice of Konstanz Imperial Vogt named Count Bruno Tettighofen to take the case to the local district court claiming Hans Roth to be a liar. Both were from Thurgau, a destrict belonging to Konstanz in these times, now a swiss canton.

1432 konstanz 2But Hans Roth appeared on the court bringing testimonies with him witnessing that Riem committed witchcraft, and he offered to prove the poisoning story concerning his brother in a duel. Some of the witnesses were found unbelievable and it was agreed to bring the case before God in form of an ordeal of a duel. And so both players were brought by the district court in prison custody. The 31st July 1432 was the date on which should be decided by the judicial duel. At the same time was issued by command, that neither women nor children under twelve years may go to the arena and watch. Nobody armed was allowed to watch the duel.

Und ward der kraiß gemacht uf dem ußer veld, vor dem alten test gar nach, uf der mitte zwüschen dem Paradis und dem test, wie jez imgefährlich sant Lienharts capell stat. Und ward geschrenket mit gueten ziegelraven, als weit er solt sein. Der ring was sinwal und was 120 schreit weit und breit. Und es wurden uß dem ringe genommen die schollen und mit segmel gefüllt.

1432 konstanz 3Other sources define the barriers 20feet long and 20 feet wide. On the four corners the judges (Grieswarten) and the opponents were standing.(4)

A sawdust circle with barriers with an extent of 120 steps was build. A stand with seats, on which the Landgrave, the judges, the nobles took place. It is noted that the room for the audience was flocked with people (about 20,000, which is certainly largely exaggerated). The two opponents were then dressed in a new special coat in grey. The tailer had given an oath to bring nothing but good sacred things in his work. They had their hair clipped short, so that nothing could be hidden there. And each had a equal sword and a dagger forged by a master who had sworn the same oath as the tailor. And they were given big shields larger than a man. The equipment for the fight were given to them by lot, letting God and fortune choose their dress, shield and sword.

They were escorted to the field by armed men, their eyes covered. Each had received a second; Hans Roth was supported by a man called Trommer von Tugen, and Hans Riem was helped by Molle Truchseß von Dießenhofen.

Junker Schilter , first councilor and county judge of Konstanz, gave a proclamation throughout the city servants, that no one on pain of death should speak a word to the end of the fight, or make a noise or exceed the limits.

And when silence prevailed among the people, said Ulrich Schilter: “Arise in the name of God. For the first, second, the third time! Beginnet your fight! “At this words both fighters were released of their eye-covers, and walked to the other, stabbed, striked, cut  and chased each other a good time around the circle. Finally Riem striked at Roth over the half of the shield with the sword in the bare shoulder. He hit so hard that the sword arm was barely hanging only on the skin and the shield was dropped. Riem thinking he had made the final blow, jumped back at once, but stumbled and fell on his back. Roth however despite his severe wounds threw himself on his enemy in order to stab him with the dagger. But the strength in him had disappeared through the great loss of blood, so that Riem succeeded to squirm the dagger from his hand. He turned the weapon and stabbed it under the left armpit to the chest. He pulled himself up again and knelt on the unconscious Roth. Not noticing his loss of consciousness, he called to him : “Yield thee, and thou wilt thou now confess that I am innocent” – Roth, however, probably already dead, did not answer, what made Riem in a blind rage drive his blade through the heart, and cut the throat afterwards. Then he knelt down and thanked God for the victory. His innocence was established and now publicly acknowledged. The bloody corpse of Roth was buried in the same place.

The Codex Sangalensis 646

Codex Sangalensis 646In the Codex Sangalensis 646, the “Konstanzer Chronik” Gebhart Dachers, is referring probably to the same event in the year 1433. The chronicle is telling the bishops of Constance history.

Item in dem genannten jy uff dernstag nach sant jacobi tag do kampften zwey uf dem thurgow und zech der ain den andern er hat unholden leben getriben und kampfften uff dem indern veld daman schuffet und lag ob der

The entry in the chronicle is a fragment, telling us that there had been a fight of two men in the “inner field”, a place matching the description. The fight was about the “unholy life” what includes the accusitions made above.

Used books in this article:
(1) Constanz 1733 bei Conrad Weibel. S. 297 ff.
(2) Was ist Volkskunde und wie studiert man dieselbe?, Karl Knortz, H.W. Schmidts Verlagsbuchhandlung, G. Tauscher, 1906
(3) Begründeter aufweis des plazes bei der stadt Constanz: auf welchem Johann Hus und Hieronymus von Prag in der jahren 1415 und 1416 verbrannt worden
Aus alten urkunden und handschrift des stadtarchives zu Constanz erhoben und verfasst, Josua Eiselein, 1847
(4) Sammlung von liedern, sagen und geschichten des Bodensees und seiner umgebung, Ottmar Friedrich Heinrich Schönhuth, 1853
(5) Constantini M. Triarcus Triumphalis, Typus Ter Insignis Acronianae Metropolis Constantiae, Johann Friedrich Speth, 1733

4 thoughts on “1432 A judicial duel with the big “Talhoffer” shields at Konstanz

  1. I’m curious about where the church stood on all this, or even if it spoke with one voice on the matter. Surely there must be sermons or letters mentioning judicial duels somewhere.

    1. The church was against it. In the chronicle of Gebhard Dacher the judicial duel in 1437 arranged in the field by the city council was stopped by the bishop Heinrich von Hewen and his men.

  2. Hello. Excuse-me that I shall ask here, but I couldn’t find an email or contact form in the site.

    I am interested in the recreation of a judicial duel such as the ones Talhoffer taught to fight in. Would you have any hints as to where should I begin reading? I am mainly interested in the proccedures of the duel — how big was the arena, how was people arranged, what did the combatants do before combat and how they behave through it, and after, etc.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. There are not many readings about the 15th century duels of more or less reliable sources. This blog has three listed and is therefore to count as a “valuable source” on this. I will surely try to add some more information.

      The problem with the Talhoffer duels is: there are highly questionable. From my personal researches I would say, that the Königsegg Duel is fiction. So we are happy to find this report above about a duel with those shields.

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