18 April 1567 – Wilhelm von Grumbach

Grumbach, what a great name… So it’s a shame he was dismembered on this day in 1567.

As personalities go, Wilhelm von Grumbach was pretty special. A knight and an adventurer by trade, he was to become a hapless pawn in the power struggle between the Church and the ruling classes in Germany. It kicked off when a bishop reneged on his promised to pay him 10,000 guilders in return for a sterling effort in mediating between two warring factions.

When the money was not forthcoming, Grumbach was offered the sweetener of six villages, but these never materialised either so he started getting a bit narked. The time for negotiation was over. He even grumbled about it to the courts and was so incensed by the whole fiasco that he threatened to beat the priest up. Rightly worried the bishop took out an injunction against him and so they went head to head. Naturally the Kaiser sided with the bishop, but Grumbach wasn’t to be left out in the cold. He had friends too.

Power struggles

According to some German sources, Grumbach’s personal battles with the bishop from hell began morphing into something much bigger – an unholy power struggle between denominations. After all, we’re talking the grip of the Reformation here. Lutherans were the young upstarts emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the ecclesiastical world. And in the blue-blooded corner there was the Catholic Church – the established norm with the all-powerful backing from Rome.

But other sources merely put Grumbach’s struggles down to a battle to end the stranglehold that the all-powerful princes had over the land.

For Grumbach however, this was personal. He served under Albert Alcibiades, Prince of Bayreuth, and under his patronage, Grumbach was able to exact his revenge against the bishop. He ordered that the man of the cloth be slain and that’s precisely what happened.

Prime suspect

Of course, Grumbach maintained his innocence, but no-one believed him. After all, he’d devoted years to the feud. It was no secret that they had had a mutual dislike of each other. So, as a prime suspect, Grumbach had no choice but to scarper to France.

A year later in 1559, he slunk reluctant back to Germany and pleaded his innocence – as if opinions had changed in such a short time. It goes without saying that no-one believed him. But he’d miraculously managed to wheedle his way in to the affections of another patron – John Frederick, the Duke of Saxony.

The duke took Grumbach under his wing and as long as they were in cahoots, Grumbach was to enjoy relative safety. And in return, he promised to help the duke claw back his rightful heritage, which he’d been forced to give up to the Church.

Bach to basics

True to his word, Grumbach steamed on in to Wurzburg and demanded that the Church restore the lands to the duke. And while the little people were battling, the grown-ups were staging a parallel set-to.

Maximillian II was impressively the King of Bohemia, Hungary and emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and he turned his attention to John Frederick asking him to withdraw his support for the maverick Grumbach. As if the duke was going to do that, when Grumbach was doing all his dirty work.

Eventually even the duke was condemned and that meant that Grumbach was no longer safe. He was captured in Gotha and promptly handed over to his adversaries. They went to town on him and a fellow ally and there are reports of how the two men were tortured. Apparently their captors cut open their chests and ripped out their still-beating hearts and thrust them in front of the two perpertrators with the words ‘Look Grumbach, your bad heart’.

The 63-year-old was then quartered by way of a sword and to this day the place where he was executed in Gotha is marked.

Also on this day

18 April 1985 – James ‘JB’ Briley
18 April 1930 – Henry Colin Campbell

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2 Responses to “18 April 1567 – Wilhelm von Grumbach”

  1. Kessler Says:

    Duke John Frederick (Johann Friedrich II.) wasn´t forced to give up his heritage (the rank of Prince-elector plus some territories) to the church, but to is rival and relative August von Sachsen.

  2. Alexander Gronbach Says:

    Because of Wilhelm von Grumbach and Argula von Grumbach we had to change our name to Gronbach.
    All walls of our fortresses demolished, all land and goods sacked by the ruling church. 17 members of the Von Grumbach family murdered by the Rulers. It is the only case in history that a noble family (742 – 1569) of Franconia such as Von Grumbach ordered to change the name.
    Today the church washing their dirty hands in inocence…….
    I’am proud of Wilhelm von Grumbach as they might had the power to murder the voice and head of the Scaras (Kinghts) and made us change our name but never our spirits.

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