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A relief of Götz von Berlichingen in Germany with the famous words: "But tell him he can lick my ass."

Gottfried "Götz" von Berlichingen (c. 1480 – 23 July 1562), sometimes recorded Berlingen and also known as Götz of the Iron Hand, was a German Imperial Knight (Reichsritter), and mercenary. He was born around 1480 at Berlichingen in Württemberg to a noble family. He owned the castle Hornberg located near the Neckar River in what is now Baden-Württemberg. His name became famous as a euphemism for a common expression attributed to him by writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) who wrote a play based on his life.



In 1497, Berlichingen entered the service of Frederick I, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. In 1498, he fought in the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, seeing action in Burgundy, Lorraine and the Brabant, and in the Swabian War the following year. By 1500, Berlichingen had left the service of Frederick, and formed a company of mercenaries, selling his services to various Dukes, Margraves and Barons.

In 1504, Berlichingen and his company fought for Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria. During the siege of the city of Landshut, he lost his right arm when enemy cannon fire forced his sword against him. He had a mechanical prosthetic iron replacement made, which is today on display at the Jagsthausen Castle. In spite of this injury, Berlichingen continued his military activities. In the subsequent years he was involved in numerous feuds, both of his own and in support of friends and employers.

The iron prosthetic hand worn by Götz von Berlichingen.

In 1512, near the town of Forchheim, due to a long running and bitter feud with Nuremberg he raided a group of Nuremberg merchants returning from the great fair at Leipzig. On hearing this, Emperor Maximilian placed Berlichingen under an Imperial ban. He was only released from this in 1514, when he paid the large sum of 14,000 gulden. In 1516, in a feud with the Principality of Mainz and its Prince-Archbishop, Berlichingen and his company mounted a raid into Hesse, capturing Phillip IV, Count of Waldeck in the process. A ransom of 8,400 gulden was paid for the safe return of the count. For this action, he was again placed under the ban in 1518.

In 1519, he signed up in the service of Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg, who was at war with the Swabian League. He fought in the defence of Möckmühl, but eventually was forced to surrender the town, owing to a lack of food and ammunition. In violation of the terms of surrender, he was held prisoner and handed over to the citizens of Heilbronn, a town he had raided several times. His fellow knights Georg von Frundsberg and Franz von Sickingen successfully argued for his release in 1522, but only after he paid a ransom of 2,000 gulden and swore not to take vengeance on the League.

In 1525, with the outbreak of the Peasants' War, Berlichingen led the rebels in the district of Odenwald against the Ecclesiastical Princes of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite this, he was (according to his own account) not a fervent supporter of their cause. He agreed to lead the rebels partly because he had no other option, and partly in an effort to curb the excesses of the rebellion. Despite his wishes to stop wanton violence, Berlichingen found himself powerless to control the rebels and after a month of nominal leadership he deserted his command and returned to the Schloss Jagsthausen to sit out the rest of the rebellion.

After the Imperial victory, he was called before the diet of Speyer to account for his actions. On 17 October 1526, he was acquitted by the Imperial chamber. Despite this, in November 1528 he was lured to Augsburg by the Swabian League, who were eager to settle old scores. After reaching Augsburg under promise of safe conduct, and while preparing to clear himself of the old charges against him made by the league, he was seized and made prisoner until 1530 when he was liberated, but only after repeating his oath of 1522 and agreeing to return to his Burg Hornberg and remain in that area.

Berlichingen agreed to this, and remained near the Hornberg until Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor released him from his oath in 1540. He served under Charles in the 1542 campaign against the Ottoman Empire of Suleiman the Magnificent in Hungary, and in 1544 in the Imperial invasion of France under Francis I of France.

After the French campaign, Berlichingen returned to the Hornberg and lived out the rest of his life in relative peace. He died on 23 July 1562 in Horneck Castle. During his long life, Berlichingen had married twice and left three daughters and seven sons to carry on his family name.

Goethe and the famous quote

In act III of the 1773 drama by Goethe titled Götz von Berlichingen, the title character speaks the famous line "Er aber, sags ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken!" in reply to the Bishop of Bamberg's demand for his surrender. This is the first recorded instance of a phrase now in common use as "Leck mich am Arsch" (literally "lick me on my arse", i. e. "kiss my arse") and euphemistically called the Götz quote. Mozart wrote two canons in 1782, Leck mich im Arsch and Leck mir den Arsch fein recht schön sauber.

Historical and cultural references


  • Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von - Götz von Berlichingen (1773).
  • R. Pallmann - Der historische Götz von Berlichingen (Berlin, 1894).
  • F. W. G. Graf von Berlichingen-Rossach - Geschichte des Ritters Götz von Berlichingen und seiner Familie (Leipzig, 1861).
  • Lebens-Beschreibung des Herrn Gözens von Berlichingen -Götz's Autobiography, published Nürnberg 1731 (reprint Halle 1886).

External links



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