Franz von Sickingen

Franz von Sickingen was one of the most important knights of the German reformation and led together with Ulrich von Hutten the knights revolt, as well as becoming famous for his ideals. He was born near Bad Kreuznach and earned renown in emperor Maximilian’s I campaign against Venice in 1508. It was this campaign that allowed him to increase his wealth and he eventually inherited large holdings along the Rhine river, making him an important lord of the region. Franz von Sickingen was famous for siding with the oppressed and he took the city of Worms and destroyed the surrounding area despite an imperial ban, after a citizen had been driven out of the city and reported to him. Over the next years, he waged war against a number of holdings, usually siding with the citizens against their local lords and the governing oligarchs. In 1518 he was released from his ban and supported a campaign by the Swabian League against the Duke of Württemberg. 

AnonymousUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Franz von Sickingen was a practiced and clever politician. He accepted bribes from Francis I of France in his bid to become emperor after Maximilian’s death, only to secure the election for Charles V, who made him imperial chamberlain and councillor. 

Franz von Sickingen protected scholars and scientists. His contemporaries describe his castles as a refuge for the righteous and several reformers sheltered with him, including Martin Luther.  Together with Ulrich von Hutten, whom he had become close to around 1517, he schemed to overthrow spiritual princes and to establish an order of knighthood, the Knights’ Revolt. The movement was popular with peasants and nobles from the Upper Rhineland and Franz von Sickingen was named commander of the force in 1522, before declaring war on the archbishop of Trier and marching towards the city. As Trier was re-enforced, he had to withdraw to his castle, Castle Nanstein, at Landstuhl. The council of regency tried to place him under a ban following the attack which he ignored, plundering Kaiserslautern in 1523. An alliance of archbishops united to march against him and besieged Castle Nanstein. Franz von Sickingen was injured after refusing to negotiate. The siege marked one of the first occasions of artillery was used in Germany. Franz von Sickingen capitulated in 1523 and died the day after. 

Franz von Sickingen is still celebrated as a noble who stood up for the oppressed and who supported progressive ideas. His decedents are alive today, residing in Austria and parts of the USA. 

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