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Truchsess Johann Waldburg DuellIn the parish church (the former abbey church) St. Katharina, in Wolfegg in Bavaria (Germany) is a ceiling fresco in the  main aisle made by Franz Joseph Spiegler in 1735 and finished by his student Franz Anton Erler. It shows a duel which happy ending for the the young Johann von Waldburg-Sonnenberg (later senechal – Truchsess) led to the donation of the Augustinian monastery of Wolfegg in 1487. In the year 1511 there was a plaque created with a small poem, remembering this event (6). This plaque reminds that the painting on the ceiling is based on an older one.

Zu einer Underrichtung hie
diser Figur, so merckht wie
alß mann zelt Vierzehen hundert Jahr
und Siben und achzig offenbahr
da bereitten fich die Teutschen zum Streitt
ins Feld nahendt bey Rosereit
wider der Weltschen Übermueth
ein groß Hör heiten fie mit huett
Ein Wunder-Kichnen Man darinn
der entpatt den Teutfchen mit stolzem Sinn
ob Sie nit hetten einen Mann
den Ihr Anthoni Maria wolte b’stan
mit Kampf umb Leib vnd auch vmb Gueth
Graff Hannß auß Mannlichem Mueth
von Sonnenberg so wohl gebohren
Er sprach ich bin der Mann erkhoren
mit Ihm kämpff ich und das ist geschehen
wie das hie gemahlt thuend sehen
von stuckh zu stuckh doch hinden nach
verlohr der Weltsch den Kampff mit schmarh
der Graff da Gott Danckh sagt
da er den Teutfchen die Ehr erjagt
Sanckt Catharina ihm den Sieg erwarb
Er Ehret Sie jez, daß er stiarb

Cavaliere Antonio Maria d’ Aragonia di San Severino

The Condottiere Roberto di San Severino was extraordinary successful. He fought in duty of duke Francesco Sforza for king Ferrante (Ferdinand I.) of Neapel in 1460/61 and earned the countship of Caiazzo (Caserta, Campania in Italy) He married three times and fathered 12 children. His son Antonio Maria da San Severino (later Signore di Bassignana, Cittadella e Montorio Veronese) appeared in documented history first in November 1481 hunting wild boars with his brother Gaspar. His first military note is found in the siege of Ficarolo in the same year in the war of Ferrara. The strong fortified city of Ficarolo hold out over a month against the army of the Condottiere Roberto di San Severino. His army was supported by a Venetian fleet of 400 ships on the river Po bombarding the city with cannons. Antonio Maria da San Severino entered the Po Delta with his brother Gaspar and the superintendent Piero Marcello and took possession of the bastion of Canda, of Castelguglielmo (perhaps for money delivered to them by Angelo Saltarelli and John Cable), the fortress of Arquà Polesine, and the tower of San Donato. Thus became renown as a military leader. So he was given temporary command of the troops when his father fell ill with plague in September of 1482. In the next years more military successes followed in the line.

In February 1485 Antonio Maria participated together with his brothers Gaspar and Galeazzo in large tournament held in Venice in Piazza San Marco. He fought several bouts, one reported against Astorre Baglioni. Antonio Maria and his brother Gaspar won the first prize: 20 yards of cloth of gold worth 12 ducats and 25 ducats of gold), the other brother Galeazzo won the second prize. In the following years he joined his father Roberto on several occasions on military ventures. In 1486 he took part in the Battle of Montorio Onofrio Rufaldo and Giampaolo Manfrone and was of great value.

The war of Rovereto

In June 1487 Antonio Maria di San Severino was in his father’s duty again in a battle in the Trentino region of Italy. But the opponents of this war were not another Italian county or city but it was the army of Duke Sigismund of Tyrol and Austria. The war against the Venetian city Rovereto in the valley of the river Adige in the Trentino region of Italy was part of the “Guerra Retica” and started with the imprisonment of Venetian merchants and their goods in Bozen, Tyrol in April 1487. The Austrian military commander was Gaudenz von Matsch, who was in high favor or Sigmund of Tyrol until he identified in August 1487 as one of the “evil councilors” as part of a plot pledging land and castles to the dukes of Bavaria. But in our story we are in June 1487 and we are near the river Adige at the Castel Pradaglia. On the side of the Austrian troops we find a lot of soldiers of fortune and mercenaries from Germany, mostly from Swabia, of all classes, nobles and free men, and infantry from Swiss. Only few infantry men from Tyrol, like those from Landeck are with the army.

The troops of Sigmund came down from the city of Rovereto. Earlier at the 30th May 1487 the city had been taken by Gaudenz von Matsch after a long bombardment by grenades and artillery. It was the sack of this city that alarmed the Venetians and the send out their best man Roberto di San Severino. He was already of high age so he took his son Antonio Maria with him. Both troops made camp near the castle of Pradaglia for some days. And during that occasion the experienced fighter Antonio Maria di San Severino called out for a knightly duel in the tradition of the πρόμον – the Greek heroes, who fought in front of the army. The one ready for that bout was the Swabian Johann von Sonnenberg, born Truchsess of Waldburg.

Johann von Sonnenberg, Truchsess of Waldburg.

Truchsess Johann Waldburg

According to some sources Johann von Sonnenberg zu Wolfegg was born 1470 other genealogy databses date his birth in 1437. He was the son of Eberhard I Truchsess von Waldburg, Graf von Sonnenberg, of Waldburg (died 22 Sep 1479) and his Mother was Kunigunde von Montfort, (died after 1463). Johann II became count of the empire in 1483. He married countess Johanna von Salm in 1488 and was father of five daughters (at least three (6)). His first documented appearance is in June 1473 in the Regesta chronologico-diplomatica regarding a letter of cession (5). So the earlier date of birth is more likely.

He was part of a Swabian group of nobles following the tradition of Swabian soldiers of fortune and intensified the bounds to the Austrian sovereigns in the name of King Maximilian. Is is to note that most of the named noble families appeared in the Georgenschild.

Documentation of the Duel

The account of this duel is reported in several sources with various degrees of details (like the Zimmersche Chronik “Er ist sonst ain theurer, unverzagter graf gewest, das hat sich beschaint in dem kampf zu Pradaia, nit fer von Rosereidt, im jar 1487, den er wider den signior Antonio Maria, der Venediger veldobersten son, signior Robert von Aragon von S. Severino, bestanden und gewonnen und damit nit wenig lobs erlangt.”). Matthäus von Pappenheim is citing several quotes of that event in his 1713 chronicle like the Venetian Marco Antonio Coccio (8) of the 16th century and the late 15th century chronicle of that war by Konrad Wenger (9) not long ago after the event. Another note is found in the chronicle of Cardinal Pietro Bembo in his Historia Venetia (printed 1551 written between 1530 and 1547). Interesting to note, that the Venetian historians name a Georg Sonnenberg as the combatant. There is a Georg in the Waldburg family tree, but he is not part of the Sonnenberg line. It may be the case that the Italian Giovanni for Johann became Georgius in the process of copying.

The date, place and outcome is probably correct. The course itself could be fantasy created by the authors. One of the most interesting notes is in the work of Christian August Vulpius the book series of 1811-1820 titled “Kuriositäten der physisch-litterarisch-artistisch-historischen Vor- und Mittelwelt”. In 10 volumes he wrote about interesting stories in the European history. In the volume of 1812 is the account of the said duel.

For the detailed description of the duel I use the work of Matthaus von PappenheimChronik der Truchsessen von Waldburg – Cod.Don.590 from page 209 (image 221), created betwen 1530 and 1540 (11) partially in the trancription of the Mayer Edition of 1777 (6). The description of Pappenheim seems to be very accurate in comparison to the other sources. This is proven by the analysis of the named persons, which had been written in unpredictable spelling but are more or less identifiable. There is still space for research on the persons. For the proof of credibility the analysis done is enough.

Dramati Personae

The rules of duels needed some attention and functions fulfilled by persons. First there had to be the overlords who observe and allow the duel. This was Roberto d’ Aragonia di San Severino and Gaudenz von Matsch. Then we need the combatants’ which we know already as named Antonio Maria d’ Aragonia di San Severino and Johann von Sonnenberg-Waldburg. If the duel was not under the same overlord and especially within enemies there was a exchange of Hostages. Those had to guarantee with their life (in fact a ransom) and goods that the combatants would appear at the date and place of the fight. There had to be the persons responsible for the place and equipment, making sure that everything is in the condition as it should be (like that no one is favored by the sunlight and that no accident will spoil the event), the Place Inspectors. A high responsibility was with the seconds and judges, the “Grieswart” as they were called. This German word means literally “keeper of the sand”. And there were the nameless crowd of persons building the place. Furthermore there are the Escorts, the defined group of men that are allowed to accompany the combatants to the place of fight.

In the following lists I use the spelling of the main source and added the “real” name of the persons identified.

On the side of the Venetians are

  • Franciscus di Tollentino (Gian Franceso da Tolentino della Stacciola, Conte di Valdoppio e Civitella, born 1448, died in this war in 1487), Place Inspector, Escort
  • Johann Franz von Tollentino, Grieswart
  • Luzcio Tiprito (Ciprito),  Place Inspector
  • Julio and Lucio Malneza (Lucio Cornelio Malvezzi di Bologna and his Brother Giulio, two of four sons of Battista Malvezzi), both Place Inspector, Julio was also a Hostage
  • Ottaviano di San Severino (a natural son of Roberto), Hostage
  • Lucas Pisani (proveditor as he did already in the war of Ferrara)
  • Petrus/Peter Diedo (Petro Diedo, proveditor, Venetian senator and prefecto, son of)
  • Franz Diedo (Francesco Diedo, Pretore), Escort
  • Hieronimus Marcello, (Hieronimo Marcello, proveditor as he did already in 1478)
  • Andreas Marcello (Andrea Marcello, captain of Durazzo 1479 – 1482)
  • Count Johann Franz von Parni/Parm, Escort, Grieswart
  • Servant of count Johann Franz, Escort
  • Tullio von Constantia, Escort
  • Tullo N., Escort
  • Rütz von Tamp, Escort
  • Peter Qualnan (Pietro Quirini), Escort
  • Two servants of Matoro, Escort
  • Lienelus, Escort
  • Brandelius, Escort
  • Julian von Codignola, Master of arms, Escort
  • Simon Dolmetscher, Translator, Escort
  • Milis. Anton von Bangäu, Escort
  • Bilgrim Credenzer, Escort
  • Ragon Marschalk, Escort
  • Luzio Malnerio (Malipiero?), Escort
  • Julio Malnertio (Malipiero?), Grieswart
  • Peter Salern, Grieswart
  • and 8 mercenaries, 4 trumpeter and 4 muleteer

On the Austrian/Swabian side

  • Burkhard von Knöringen (Swabian noble, named in the Regesta in 1465 – Reg Fr.III.: 15-193), Place Inspector, Escort
  • Friedrich Zerin (unknown), Place Inspector
  • Friedrich Capler (captain Friedrick Kappler, Friedrich von Cappel), Place Inspector, Grieswart, Escort
  • Walter von Stadion (Swabian noble and imperial councilor), Place Inspector, Grieswart
  • Georg von Stadion, Escort
  • Bero von Rechberg (Swabian noble family), Hostage
  • Ludwig von Rechberg, Escort
  • Veit von Rechberg, Escort
  • Hieronymus von Heimenhofen (Hieronymus von Heimenhofen zu Hohentann died 1498), Hostage,
  • Wolf von Asch (Swabian noble named in the 1488 St. Georgenschild), Hostage
  • Johann von Königsegg, (Swabian noble, named in various documents), Hostage
  • Graf Ulrich von Montfort, Escort
  • Graf Johann von Sarwerden, Escort
  • Graf Jakop von Tengen, Escort
  • Freiherr Ulrich von Sachs, Escort
  • Johann Truchseß von Waldburg, the younger, Escort
  • Johann Penzenauer, Begleiter
  • Friedrich zu Rhine, Escort
  • Sigmund von Welsberg (later became highes ranked captain of Austria), Escort, Grieswart

    Sigmund von Welsberg

    Sigmund von Welsberg

  • Johann Caspar von Laubenberg, Escort, Grieswart
  • Michael von Freyberg, Escort
  • Georg von Freyberg, Escort
  • Johann von Freyberg, Escort
  • Wendel von Homburg, Escort
  • Urs von Kudringen, Escort
  • Wilhelm von Kndringen (Wilhelm von Kudringen), Escort
  • Diepold Spät, Escort
  • Caspar von Wallenfels, Escort
  • Caspar Dorer, Escort
  • Johann von Wellwart, Escort
  • Wilhelm Auer, Escort
  • Luz von Habsburg, Escort
  • Simon von Vürdt, Escort
  • Michael Ruß von Russenstein, Escort
  • Veit Melosreiner, Escort
  • Degenhardt von Offenstätten,  Escort
  • Johann Berthold von Reinach,  Escort
  • Leonhard Vetter, Escort
  • Wilhelm Deutsch, master of arms, Escort
  • Johann Montfort’s personal servant with 4 trumpeteers and a drummer

The duel in the Chronik der Truchsessen von Waldburg

Chronik der Truchsessen von Waldburg - Cod.Don.590In the year, that was counted since the birth of Christ thousand four hundred eighty and seven, duke Sigmund of Austria campaigned – with support and assistance of his overlords and friends, the count electors and counts of High-Germany, in high numbers – against the nation of Venice. His army camped near the city of Roverto and the river Adige.

But the Venetians did know how to fight back and camped too with an army in front of them. And after both had camped for quite a few days, an Italian (named Antonio Maria, one of the sons of Signore Roberto, who had been the Venetian captain condottieri – both, father and son were hold in highest esteem) wrote a letter from the Venetian army into the Austrian camp: if there would be no of the Germans who would fight with him. He would stand against him. Thus the count Hans von Sonnenberg, a born Truchseß zu Waldburg, regarding the Germans, agreed to fight with him mounted with the wager of thousand Guilder, and horse, and harness.

Chronik der Truchsessen von Waldburg - Cod.Don.590The fight was agreed und the terms that it would take place on the other side of the river Adige between both armies and camps. It was forbidden by the sentence of execution that beside the seconds [Grieswarten] (of which each side had four) no word should be spoken; and who of them both should shout out “Katharina” shall lose the fight and the money. If the Italian should shout out, his seconds shall run to him and if the German should shout, his seconds should run and part the fighters.

At the time the two counts, Johann and Antonio Maria went into the barriers, each of them took the lance to ride against each other. The count or Truchseß missed the Italian. The Italian scored on the breast of von Sonnenberg, but did not bring him down because the iron broke on the horse of the Italian. It run off, fell with him over the barrier, thus he came off the horse. But he managed to get up on his own and stepped into the barriers again. Von Sonnenberg drew his sword (a “Bratspieß” [skewer] with a long hilt) and drove his horse against him. The Italian stepped brave to confront him. At the moment the German reached the Italian the count’s horse pranced (as it did not want to go against the Italian). The Italian stepped forward and wrestled the sword (the Bratspieß) out of the count’s hand. As fast as possible the count turned away from the Italian, dismounted and stood on his feet with no more weapons then a dagger [Dolch] (or a short dagger [Tegen] sharp on two edges), and a mace of German type. He threw away that mace, what startled the Germans, because they feared, that he was going to surrender. Meanwhile Antonio Maria had the two swords bend and tested, which would be stronger and better one. He found that the count’s sword was better than his own. He kept it (dropped the other), run against the count, and thrusted at him. Von Sonnenberg had only the dagger, he made the sign of the cross, jumped out of the Italian’s thrust, and run hurryingly into him [fencing term: Einlaufen]. So the wrestling [Ringen] started. The Italian wanted to throw von Sonnenberg over the hip, but he could not accomplish it because of the count’s dexterity. So both fell to the ground. The Italian had the head of von Sonnenberg under his right arm, and von Sonnenberg was laying with his right hip on him. As they got tired of wrestling, and caught breath, von Sonnenberg felt with his left hand that the Italian had an apron [Schurz; part of the armor], that he could lift and therefore expose him (to attack him there), and what he did (soon). He changed dagger to the left hand, but had to grap it at the blade. He screwed the blade with his left under the apron, cutted his hand open and started thrusting at the leg and body two, three, and six times until finally he was able to wound him severely. The Venetian cryed out “Santa Katharina” and instantly bot seconds jumped in and stopped the fight. Count Johann raised as the winner, but felt on his knees again and thanked God.

The documents of the secret archive

According to Matthaus von Pappenheim there are several documents in the “Reichs-Erbtruchseßischen Hause” to which he had access. He transcribed some of them in fragments in his book of 1777. Most of the list of names are from those transcribed documents and they match third party descriptions of the event or the following events of the war. That does not prove that the documents or his transcription are true to the event. But it gives us the impression that not everything is made up. At least some things we may take as facts.

There had been several letters of challenge to create an understanding of the rules. First the Venetian knight sent a trumpeter in the camp of the Swabians calling out the challenge. With the permission of the count Gaudenz von Matsch the knight Johann von Sonnenberg wrote a letter and told the Venetian, “that he was ready to brake a lance with him, and furthermore to use other arms, putting for the wager a knightly hostage, or a sum of money may (it be 3, 4 or 20 thousand Florin), or horse and harness, or a life and limb. He himself would favor a wager of a knightly hostage, of which the hostage could by himself free by a ransom of 1.000 Ducats. A sum he can carry with him on the pommel of his saddle. For the procedure he asks for safe conduct for two knights, and two nobles to enter the Venetian camp for the negations of the place and time of the duel.

On this letter the father Roberto di Santo Severino answered in a letter that “he would accept the provided terms, while there were further details to clarify. He offered safe conduct for the Swabian knights, and give his other son, the brother of Antonio Maria, in the Swabian camp as a hostage.

Count Johann wrote back on the details of arms that “each shall enter the place with a lance, a sword, a dagger, and a mace; and that the Rennen will be done with the lance alone, and after that each may use the weapon most suiting him. He will be sending two knights and two nobles as hostages and expects the same from the side of his opponent.” He added that “each side shall send 4 nobles and 4 squires to the plainse below the broken castle of Pradaglia to find a good place for the duel.

The castle of Pradaglia – Isera (45.879146,11.0143) built in the 12th century on a small hill from basalt rocks was in ruins already for more than 150 years and completely destroyed in 1508 by emperor Maximilan.

After they negotiated the safe conducts for several nobles and their squires and servants they decided which place shall it be and they clarified further terms of the fight as there were that  “nobody is allowed to help the combatants, whether with words, objects, gestures, or signs by the sentence of hanging”. There would be a gallows next to the place erected, to remind them. “The trumpeters shall signal the start, and as fast as possible signal when it comes to the end. Furthermore shall none stab the others horse by a sentence of 400 ducats, and shall not cut the horse by a sentence of 200 ducats. The one who wins shall lead the other for ransom in his camp, and shall not give him free until 1.000 ducats have been paid. But the winner shall not receive any money if he kills the other. Only the horse and the harness shall be kept in such case.”.

The course of the war

Sanseverino ArmorThe accounts of the death of  Cavaliere Antonio Maria d’ Aragonia di San Severino in sources like Wikipedia in 1487 are wrong. He recovered from his wounds, was taken prisoner of war in July freed in September in the same year. He fought several battles until he died old in 1509 in Milan.  Johann von Sonnenberg died one year later in Wolfegg 24 June 1510).

The war of Rovereto took an interesting turn in summer 1487 because Gaudenz von Matsch, realizing he may fall out of favor soon and that there is no money to win in this war, returned from the battlefield with his troops to secure his own land in Graubünden, the well-known Churburg. Sigmund of Austria called out for help and found the captain of the city of Trient, Friedrich von Cappel. This experienced man who had fought 1476 in the battle of Granson and Murten was well aware of the capabilities of the German Landsknecht with their modern artillery and of the Swiss infantry men. He filled the rows with the citizens and free men of Trient (what later became part of the 1511 act “Landlibell”). Roberto di Sanseverino was iritated by departure of Gaudenz von Matsch, assuming a strategy and trick he led his troops very slowly into the empty space. The two castles guarding the valley at this region on the way to Trient were the Castello di Nomi and the Castel Pietra (Stone) at Calliano. The rest of the troops of Nomi capitulated seeing the masses of the Venetian army. But the Castel Pietra did not give up. To take siege to the castle and take it as fast as possible Roberto needed to place the mass of his troops at the North side of the castle between the mountain and the river Adige.  Friedrich von Cappel realized that this position left not much space to move the troop. He convinced Georg of Pietrapiana to summon the free men and troops in his castle Beseno, and to take position in the mountains above the Castel Pietra. Thus the Venetian army was surrounded. And even the numbers were in favor of the Venetians, the impossibility to move into an appropriate position to answer the concentrated attack created disorder and finally panic. Searching the only escape from the surrounding and the bombardment of the artillery the army turned to the river and the only bridge that became soon jammed. Hundreds tried to cross the river by swimming and drowned like Roberto di San Severino who was at the age of 69 on this day. His body was found in the river, and the armor was recovered and is still to see in Vienna, KHM.

But even as the Venetian lost this war, they won in the end. The German and Tyrol merchants needed the income from the blocked Brenner route and urged Sigmund to a peace treaty that favored the Venetian interests.

Books used in this article:
(1) Curiositäten der physisch-literarisch-artistisch- historischen Vor- und Mitwelt, C.A. Vulpius, 1813
(2) Herrschaftsbildung und Herrschaftskräfte auf dem Gebiet des Altlandkreises Illertissen, Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung des Doktorgrades der Philosophischen Fakultäten der Universität Augsburg vorgelegt von Thomas Reich M.A. aus Taufkirchen, Juni 2000
(3) Condottieri di Ventura
(4) Zeitschrift des Ferdinandeums für Tirol und Vorarlberg, Herausgegeben von dem verwaltungs-ausschusse desselben, Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, 1871
(5) Regesta chronologico-diplomatica in quibus recensentur omnis generis monumenta et documenta publica vti sunt Tabulae conuentionum, Foederum,… nec non Capitulationes, Concordata,… Litterae item Feudales, Clientelares,… et quae sunt alia publico nomin, Peter Georgisch, 1742
(6) Chronik der Truchsessen von Waldburg: Von ihrem Ursprunge bis auf die Zeiten Kaisers Maximilian II. durch Anmerkungen, Zusäze, Abhandlungen, und genealogische Tabellen erläutert, Matthaus von Pappenheim, Mayer, 1777
(7) Des Heiligen Römischen Reichs Teutscher Nation Reichs Tags Theatrum, wie selbiges unter Keyser Friedrichs V. allerhöchsten Regierung von anno 1440 bis 1493 gestanden und was auf selbigem in Geist und weltlichen Reichs-Händeln berahtschlaget, tractiret und geschlossen worden, Johann Joachim Müller, Jena, 1713
(8) M. Antonij Coccij Sabellici Opera omnia, ab infinitis quibus scatebant mendis repurgata & castigata, cum supplemento Rapsodiae historiarum ab orbe condito, ad haec usque tempora, pulcherrimo ac diligentissimo, in tomos quatuor digesta qui, quid contineant, aduersa pagina indicabit atq[ue] haec omnia per caelium secundum curionem, non sine magno labore iudicioq[ue] confecta ; autores, quorum e monumentis haec sumpta sunt, statim a praefatione ordine dispositi, leguntur ; item, index operum omnium copiosissimus, quem statim argumenta singulorum primi tomi librorum sequuntur reliqua uero suis locis disposita sunt, Marco Antonio Coccio Sabellico, Curione, Collège du Plessis-Sorbonne, per Ioannem Heruagium, 1560
(9) De Bello inter Venetos et Sigismundum, Austriae archiducem, commentarius, Conradus Wenger, 1544 (written before 1501)
(10) : Historia Veneta, Pietro Bembo, Venezia, 1551.
(11) Chronik der Truchsessen von Waldburg – Cod.Don.590, created betwen 1530 and 1540.

Note: This is a proofread, corrected version. If you have any recommendations, corrections, or annotations that will improve the content on this page, please help me by commenting. Thanks to Olivier Dupuis for proofreading and correcting it.

Transcription Rules

The transcription is created to make the text readable. So the abbreviations and errors are resolved and marked:

[ ] Square Brackets: resolved abbreviation,
{ } Curved Brackets: added missing or corrected words or letters,
( ) Normal Brackets: alternative readings of the same word.
“w” was resolved to “u” if the writing did not change in the text (like “zw” to “zu”).

See the Glossary of translated terms for more information.

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