You are here

The Deeds of Wiprecht

Italy 1081-84


After some time, just as he was becoming known to everyone—who he was and how great—so also, by contrast with others, he more frequently drew attention to all those things he was wisely considering. Among other conversations with the duke, he said, 'I confess that I cannot wonder enough that you—such a great man, of such great title and power—bear with equanimity the loss and rejection of the royal title and authority. What is apparent enough is this: that counts and magnates, endowed with great power and honour, keeping faith and homage to your predecessors under oath, refuse to be subjected to your rule. I will demonstrate how unbecoming and unsuitable this should seem. I remember that a certain one of your predecessors was called "Buogo." I would not say counts or others powerful by virtue of nobility and wealth, but rather dukes and margraves, were fighting for his principate. He, having attained the rule and royal title, extended his empire into the province of the Seringi. Thus he shone forth more famous and more excellent than other princes who were equally powerful. Wherefore, if you should desire to restore the royal title’s loss, consider now to be the opportune time. The disordered res publica will provide a useful and effective opportunity. To the extent I will be able, I too am ready with both aid and counsel.' Having followed up on these things and others, the duke made it known that he judged them advantageous and promised Wiprecht that he was ready to comply in everything.
At that time, war and the greatest dissension arose between King Henry [IV], the son of the aforesaid Emperor Henry [III], and the Saxons, such that people despaired it could not be settled without bloodshed (perish the thought!). The emperor had in mind to make an expedition into Lombardy and Italy—and to avoid the turbulent faction of Saxons at the same time. Wiprecht therefore judged this to be a convenient time to complete the business that he had in mind. He went to the emperor, taking with him a few of his own men. Wiprecht promised that he was ready to set out with him for revenge against the enemies of the res publica with sixty of his own milites and their military equipment—even fighting at their own expense—on this condition, however: if the royal magnificence and the other leading men should judge him indispensable to the res publica, the emperor by his munificence would restore to Wiprecht every loss recently incurred by him in the Eastern region and would reward his allegiance. The princes and the emperor himself joyfully accepted these things. At this, after Wiprecht had obtained everyone’s goodwill, he judged the time favourable for him to disclose the reason why he had come. He declared himself ready to do not only these things for the benefit of the res publica, but even better things if the emperor and the princes would assent to his advice. Without delay, the emperor declared himself ready to offer his assent. Wiprecht suggested to him that it would do utterly no harm to the imperial dignity, but rather benefit it, if he would allow Duke Vratislav of Bohemia [to be made] into a king and would order him crowned. The duke would also weigh out four thousand talents for the royal treasury, and moreover would send his son with three hundred armed men on the expedition to Italy with the emperor. But the emperor, because his mind was already wavering about the disorder of the state of the res publica, was debating whether to refuse these men and demand those. After Wiprecht gave an oath that he would carry out the expedition with sixty milites, all the princes stood forth as sureties of the royal promise: if Wiprecht should match his deeds to his words, he would obtain from the emperor recompense, in dignities and benefices, worthy of him in every way and as might befit imperial magnificence—both for what great labour he might do in his service (voluntarily and beyond what was owed to him) and as a reward for the loyalty he was extending verbally. Dismissed by the king and the princes with this promise and a formal farewell, Wiprecht then returned to Vratislav in Bohemia. He made known what things the duke should carry out for the recovery of his dignity and his title: that he should dispatch four thousand marks of silver to the emperor and thirty pounds to the empress, and also that he should send his son Bořivoj with three hundred milites to Italy. Wiprecht persuaded him with splendid reasoning. So Wiprecht came to the court at Würzburg. At this court, after the princes had solemnly come together from everywhere (except the Saxons), the duke of Bohemia arrived, surrounded by magnates, the most excellent he had; Wiprecht led the way with the indicated quantity of treasure. Then, with the emperor granting it and the princes' judgment agreeing, Vratislav was raised up through royal consecration by the archbishop of Mainz and the bishops of Constance and Würzburg. After that, he swore an oath that he would send three hundred milites on the expedition, as had been agreed upon. Then the duke turned to Wiprecht and vigorously begged that he travel with his son. Wiprecht responded that this was not at all new to his solemn promise, since, for his own part, he had also sworn it to the emperor. Nevertheless, Vratislav brought it about that, with the king deciding it, Wiprecht would be permitted to always be next to his son’s tents. Thus, for certain, Wiprecht would be Bořivoj’s inseparable companion and partner. The duke sought this from the king, and it was decided. Then, he obtained permission from the king to return home, not forgetting his promise after the recovery of his honour. Back home, before everyone, Vratislav summoned Wiprecht, a man loyal and familiar to him, and entrusted his son to Wiprecht’s loyalty along with three hundred milites, generously and suitably readied with all their military equipment, together with money for expenses. He sent Wiprecht with them to augment the royal army. They met up with the army at Ulm, a city in Swabia.
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.
[Here follows the entirety of the Lion Section]
Standing around the emperor then were the archbishops of Mainz and Cologne, the bishops of Halberstadt and Münster, the abbots of Fulda and Hersfeld, and the other princes, along with the Czech youth. Meanwhile, men gave a speech about Wiprecht, declaring that he was a man of most extraordinary honesty, and that this had become obvious to everyone on this expedition through sure tests. Then the emperor said that he himself wanted to test this more surely. He ordered him to be recalled with speed, as if he had incompletely indicated the reasoning for his decision [i.e., to send him to Verona]. There was a lion shut up in a certain house there. To test Wiprecht’s steadfastness, the emperor ordered it let out. Released, the lion roared. The whole crowd of people present fled to safer places. Wiprecht entered, unaware of what was happening. When the lion was set loose against him, he was warned only by the Czech youth, who put him on guard. Wiprecht, seeing it rushing toward him unexpectedly, strove to take his sword quickly from his sword-bearer. But when Wiprecht seized him by the hand, he threw himself steadfastly toward the lion for the sake of his unarmed lord. However, Wiprecht bore this act indignantly. Trusting more in his own strength than that of another, he restrained the miles and-—wondrous to say!—approached the lion with his fist. The lion, his mane disordered, soon turned away from him.
In this event, I think, we can discern nothing other than divine providence, which has a care for all. Thus Wiprecht, to whom God’s mercy provided such great things in the future, was miraculously snatched away from the present danger. Next, Wiprecht approached the emperor and inquired why he had been recalled. 'For the sake of your salvation,' he said, 'since we just proved by this test that you are blessed.'
But after Wiprecht interrogated him more diligently, the emperor finally revealed to him that he had been recalled to prove his fortitude and steadfastness. Then Wiprecht also sought the truth of the matter from the bishops and the rest of the princes. When they had related the same, he immediately requested permission to return home with his men. But the emperor deferred granting this. When the emperor, more stubbornly, would not be persuaded by his request, Wiprecht resolved now to part ways from them. 'I judge,' he said, 'that for my labours and my injuries I have merited good compensation from you'—speaking to the king—'for whom I have endured great dangers. Lo, what sorts of benefices do I receive, I who—for the advantage of the whole kingdom—ran into costs in all my affairs, and especially risks to my own life and my men? I call all these princes to witness that I crossed the summit of the Alps first before everyone; that I stood out among your leading men as a champion in securing the well-being and victory of you and your men; and that I—with my men—am the principal author of everything that you accomplished successfully on this Italian expedition. If it is lawful to be said: I stood out as the one who set the tune. I think it’s enough that I uselessly squandered great labour and great expense, and have even lost milites. Therefore I will return, ready to serve others now, not you. For them it will be seen as enough to test my steadfastness in their time of need, not to expose my life to the mockery of wild animals. Indeed I was thinking it sufficient that I offered you an acceptable spectacle, when I raged with my arms and strength in the slaughter of your enemies. But it seemed more spectacular that I be demolished by the teeth of beasts!' With these and similar words, Wiprecht raved without control against the emperor, since he was energetic, passionate, unconquerable, spirited, and proud in arms. Then Wiprecht departed from him, causing fear even in the emperor on account of his high spirits. Since the emperor hoped to be able to draw Wiprecht back to him without any blandishments or promises of benefices, he judged it a better idea to appease him and soften his inflexibility of mind through other people, to whose words he might be better disposed. Therefore, the emperor exhorted the archbishop of Mainz, together with the rest of the aforesaid bishops and abbots, and other princes to go to him wisely. He entreated them earnestly that, in his stead, they each—inspired by the king’s devotion to them and with a view to a twofold reward—bestow on Wiprecht some kind of benefice out of the incomes of their churches and offices, as they might see fit. Moreover, they should not doubt him to be entirely prepared to make up, as soon as it should be convenient, whatever amount they themselves should deem worthy. They therefore followed Wiprecht and spoke with persuasive words. Although he was reluctant for a long time, they finally bent the high-spirited man—with, however, this promise introduced: that they would all return home with him, if the emperor should do other than he had promised.
In the emperor's presence, they all carried out solemnly this handing over of benefices. The archbishop of Mainz conceded to Wiprecht a benefice of 1,300 talents, the archbishop of Cologne the whole district called Orla, the bishops of Halberstadt and Münster 50 talents each, and the abbots of Fulda and Hersfeld 300 each. Finally, the emperor advanced to meet Wiprecht on his return and confessed that he had carelessly done wrong against a man so useful and most loyal to him and to the whole kingdom. Accordingly, he granted into his full possession the castle named Leisnig with its many appurtenances. Afterwards, at a gathering of the court in Allstedt, he granted him a benefice of 300 talents and Dornburg with its appurtenances. Later, he assigned him 300 talents at a court gathering held in Merseburg.
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. Wiprecht, together with the king of Bohemia's son, named Bořivoj, approached him and asked for permission to leave. 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: What recompense might Wiprecht himself request as gifts out of the royal offerings? Wiprecht indicated he was ready to request nothing now, but later when it might be convenient. Nevertheless, he indicated this desire: that, with the Czech king's son mediating and interceding wisely on his behalf (as he had confidence), he be commended to Bořivoj’s father for remuneration. Thus, he might be recompensed for serving not the emperor but the Czech king, who was not unmindful of his own honour and title, recently regained by Wiprecht's faithful and wise guidance. And so indeed, what Wiprecht had prudently recommended, the emperor ordered done. Having dismissed them, he said farewell. Thereafter, departing from the king with Wiprecht, the Czech king's son saw his birthplace again. There, with a crowd of magnates gathered together and permission given to speak, they set forth the success of all of their affairs. They also displayed the emperor’s letters and the rewards they had received from him. Afterwards, Bořivoj grasped Wiprecht’s hand and said, 'Father, the lord emperor committed this man to your diligence for the attainment of this request: that you might reward with a worthy recompense his most devoted service, which he has thus far most vigorously shown to the whole kingdom, with me as a witness.' The Czech king therefore ordered that a shield of the most exquisite workmanship be brought out, perfectly decorated with gold and silver engravings, and also a bow with a quiver, which the king of Hungary had recently sent—and that they be offered to Wiprecht with a great abundance of gold and silver. But he wanted to take none of these things except the bow and quiver, saying that he could acquire much gold and silver by the hard work of his own strength. Judging therefore that Wiprecht wanted more and better things, the king had another shield again brought out, one more decorated and laden with better gifts, together with a chess board edged in gold with pieces skilfully carved of ivory and crystal. But Wiprecht did not want to take any of these things except the board and pieces. A third time the king ordered a shield to be laden with similar things, with an ivory horn placed on top; in addition, he offered twenty horses outfitted with saddles ingeniously made. But from these Wiprecht took nothing except the horn. Therefore the king’s mind began to waver: what was there of great enough value, that, having been offered, Wiprecht would not refuse to accept? The son, more privy than the father to Wiprecht’s desire, drew his father out privately and advised that he marry his daughter, now grown-up, to him. Bořivoj asserted that this would be more to his advantage for the defence of his territory than if he were to marry her to the king of the Russians or Hungarians. The joyful king assented, and had her come forth. Named Judith, she was elegant in appearance and adorned with garments woven with gold and with various jewelled ornaments . Then, calling Wiprecht forward, he handed her over to his safe-keeping. Wiprecht accepted her with not a little thanks and, with the king nodding approval, commended all those ornaments to his chamberlains to be saved, thus providing himself future advantages. But Wiprecht refused to accept the part of that province [i.e., Bohemia] which the king had assigned to his daughter for her dowry; instead, he demanded and procured in exchange two districts outside it, namely Nisen and Bautzen. Having accepted these, he built a castle by the name of Schwerzau, which would be a safe fortress for his wife.

Analysis