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The Deeds of Wiprecht

Italian Campaign


Hurrying more and more—and surpassing the rest of the army on the road—they were the first to cross over the summits of the Alps. Testing their strength, they devastated Lombardy in their barbaric manner; destroyed cities and castles by plunder, slaughter, and fire; and violently subjected to their servitude all the strong men they captured. They threatened death to those with local knowledge, if they did not reveal the places that were filled with riches. They forced many fortifications to surrender. Soon they had increased their army to a thousand armed men. When the emperor crossed the Alps after them, he rejoiced with not a little happiness at the things boldly discovered and accomplished by those who had preceded him. After the multitude of the whole army had come together into one and been duly arranged, from there Henry came to Milan and was received both peacefully and honourably by the consuls and leaders of the town. With additional help from them, and also from those whom the emperor had joined to himself from diverse provinces, he finally forced to surrender all the other cities, towns and castles situated roundabout—namely Cremona, Pavia and Lodi, Mantua and Crema, and other fortifications as well (except Verona)—by a four-year campaign and much labour, and not without the loss of his own men.
After he had accomplished these things and commenced along the road, he approached the regions of Italy. And since high things come crashing down on themselves, for such is the limit of growth in human affairs ordained by heaven —turbulent Rome, which always either stood open to bad men or bore the attacks of the depraved, was not yet sorry that it had now brought the emperor's displeasure upon itself too.
The emperor, trusting in the size of his Italian and German army, encircled Rome with a tight siege and held out in the same position for about three years. While this was unfolding, because the farmers were absent from their fields, food ran out for the king’s army and it suffered savage famine, just as if it were encircled by a great siege. Still there were frequent clashes between the two sides; because an uncertain fate enveloped both sides of the war to their equal detriment, neither side ceased from boldness. Therefore, scouts were sent out to discover whether there might be anywhere where they might be able to recover from their lack of food. It was announced secretly to Wiprecht by his scouts that in the mountains nearby there were provisions, concealed by some people, as well as an abundance of cattle and a flock of sheep. Since Wiprecht was energetic, unconquerable, and shrewd, he quickly flew to that place with the men attached to him, both the king’s milites and the Czechs, and found, as had been reported, that this would help even a large army for some time thereafter. Wiprecht was told, while hastily returning, that the Romans had burst forth [from the city] and challenged the king to a fight. But at that time the Feast of the Ascension was imminent. When the news was reported to Wiprecht, who was already nearby, he immediately seized the war banners. This energetic man flew into battle not sluggishly with all those likewise prepared. In a barbarian manner, three times approaching and retreating from the battle-line of Romans, bursting in to meet them as if cutting the webs of spiders, they raged without control against their adversaries in an excessive slaughter. Wiprecht saw where the king was hedged about by enemies in a narrow place. With his men, he brought himself toward the king and terrified the Romans so much with his assault that he drove them all the way to the city’s gate. The king, likewise pressing upon them manfully, dismounted after his sword was wrested away, and his right hand almost became stiff from the repeated blows. Called by the king, Wiprecht stood by; he handed over his own sword to the complaining man. And because nothing is more warlike than courage in the midst of great need, with the point of his own shield raised up, unarmed against armed men, Wiprecht savagely raved with so strong an attack that they were driven below the circuit of the wall. Thus the victors wished the fight to come to an end. And because on both sides many had been wounded, the emperor kept himself inside his camp for seven days. Meanwhile, after Wiprecht had given his limbs a rest for a time—although he had not set his mind free from the present business—he summoned one of his men by the name of Raz, who was quite industrious. Wiprecht suggested that, while traversing the circuit of the walls, Raz investigate carefully whether he could discover anywhere an access point for penetrating the walls, so that, having reconnoitred the idling of the watchmen, they might be able to ascend secretly. Raz obeyed, applying his attentiveness shrewdly, and by listening deduced that the walls were without guards. He carefully ascended. After he perceived that no one was present, he returned and secretly informed his lord. He explained that the Romans could be caught by a simple scheme, if he did not disregard it. Reckoning that nothing was to be disregarded—delay is the bane of preparedness —Wiprecht took up arms with all of his own men and a few of the Czechs. With two ladders and his miles Raz leading the way, Wiprecht ascended the walls second after him. Meanwhile, he sent a messenger to the king, [telling him] to hasten to take the gatehouse as soon as possible. Then, fourteen of his milites ascended the walls, with the rest also hurrying. The king and a multitude of men also rushed to the gates and cut down the doors with axes. Suddenly, the Romans called out to each other and attacked those who had ascended the walls with a barrage of stones and spears. Finally the king, having taken control of the urbs, punished those Romans stoutly charging him with much carnage. Some of his own quite noble and vigorous men also died courageously in this great battle. Nevertheless, they worked a greater slaughter of their enemies.
The pope therefore took flight with his uncle, Peter Leo. They were trying to get to the House of Theodoric through the mother church, but their adversaries anticipated their attempt and intercepted them. Thus, they were confined within the church, where they remained together for three days. After they had repeatedly attempted to break out through the church’s doors and to challenge those outside by some kind of a sudden assault, Wiprecht agreed with his standard-bearer that when the doors were thrown open, they two would shove in a timber of astonishing bulk, in order that those inside might not shut the doors so quickly, as they had done before, and retreat back inside. And so, when those men tried to carry out their daring in a similar attempt, Wiprecht and his standard-bearer threw the beam forward and created a gap between the adjoining doors. The Romans were now zealously defending the open doors. First among his men, Wiprecht attempted to rush the doors, in order to strike at those resisting for such a long time there. At length, they drove them inside. Wiprecht followed—although, not protected by a shield, he was actually being cut to pieces, little by little, by the enemies’ swords. Seizing a swordpoint in each hand, by both voice and example, he encouraged the multitude breaking in after him.
With them thus committing sin—oh the pain!—they engaged in a most violent battle in that same church, and much human blood was shed. To behold it was a frightful mockery of the Christian name, the ruin of a place of the most holy and apostolic honour and authority. Who, reading or hearing about it, does not shudder at so great a sacrilege: that human blood flowed like the Tiber within the sacred confines of the apostles?
Meanwhile, the pope had withdrawn into the sanctuary with Peter Leo. Apprehended there, along with those more distinguished by birth, they were handed over into Wiprecht’s custody at the king’s order. Afterwards, having considered saner counsel on both sides and after many opinions had been offered on the dispute—as to whether it was an occasion for their release or indictment—the pope was reconciled to the king. The king ordered and carried this out: after three days’ labour, the church, venerable to the whole world, was with difficulty finally cleansed of the filth of bloodshed and consecrated anew in his presence; the king was raised up through imperial consecration; and all their captives were released to the pope for free. The slaughter seemed to come to an end and a new life to begin.
At length, the emperor received the most fortified House of Theodoric into his control and stationed in it a garrison of his own supporters. Of the twenty of Wiprecht’s milites posted there, eleven died, having consumed poison, a trick executed by the Romans’ working girls. With Wiprecht announcing it, their deceit immediately became known to the emperor.
Yet everyone should take note of the active resolve and industrious effort of this man in respect to the king's service. After a period of seven years' time had been completed, only five milites from his own sixty and merely nine of the three hundred Czechs who had obeyed his will were left to him. With spirits unshaken and fully prepared for whatever danger might approach, they went headlong into death in their barbaric manner.
The emperor, therefore, lest he leave anything unfinished behind their backs, directed his army against the Veronese. At the same time, Peter Leo had confirmed by oath that he himself was ready to come to his aid, having given hostages in the meantime, as well as copious silver as payment to all the troops. While the emperor remained at the House of Theodoric [in Rome], they set their camps against Verona. The duke of Verona observed (although too late) that he did not have the strength to resist the royal majesty. Sending envoys, he sued for peace. Providing in every way reparations for everything, he deserved to be reconciled by some kind of agreement. He promised that he would show his obedience with gifts and services, so that he might at least be consulted about his power and his city. Wiprecht was therefore directed to Verona on account of the agreement concerning these reparations. The emperor awaited Wiprecht’s return at the House of Theodoric.
Then, having received hostages from the duke of Verona, along with the silver he had demanded —namely five hundred shallow bowls, just as many silver and gold dishes, and 4,000 marks—the emperor finally obtained the desired peace. The emperor sought Wiprecht’s advice as to how to send off the Czech as befits imperial honour. Wiprecht said: 'In this, it will seem enough if you offer sufficient silver for his and his men’s expenses, along with two bowls and as many dishes. Also, you should bestow two dishes on each of his milites, together with two sets of clothes, as is fitting the royal munificence. In addition, by letters you should make known to his father every act of strength they accomplished in your company.' Approving his advice, the emperor inquired once more:

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