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The last great knight battle without firearms

In the Middle Ages, church princes were primarily politicians.

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The last great knight battle without firearms

In the Middle Ages, church princes were primarily politicians. Baldwin of Lorraine offers an example. As the bustling Archbishop of Trier, he was not just one of the electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Rather, he did everything to discipline the worldly lords in his domain. To do this, he was the first to use an innovation that probably came to Europe from China: firearms. Their first use in the form of so-called arrow guns is documented in the siege of Eltz Castle in 1331.

However, Balduin also had a hand in a conflict decided by the last great chivalric battle on German soil in which firearms were not yet used: the Battle of Mühldorf on September 28, 1322. It decided the power struggle between Frederick the Handsome and Ludwig the Bavarian in favor of the latter. This was the first time a Wittelsbacher had won the Roman-German royal and imperial crown.

When the confrontation arose, Balduin did not remain inactive. When a new king was to be elected after the death of Henry VII, the Habsburgs and Wittelsbachs made claims. Friedrich ran for the former and Ludwig for the latter, although he alienated his brother Rudolf, who had received the Palatinate when the inheritance was divided.

In October 1314, both candidates met in Frankfurt am Main, the traditional place of elections. In Sachsenhausen south of the Main, Frederick was able to unite the votes of the electors of Cologne, the Palatinate, Saxony-Wittenberg and Bohemia (Heinrich). In the city itself, Mainz, Brandenburg, Bohemia (Johann), Saxe-Lauenburg and Baldwin's Trier voted for Ludwig. The fact that Bohemia and Saxony were represented in both bodies can be explained by double elections, which in turn provoked considerable feuds.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that Ludwig was crowned in the right place in Aachen, but by the Archbishop of Mainz and not by the Archbishop of Cologne, who actually had this right. He put the crown on Friedrich in Bonn, in the wrong place. In order to strengthen his influence over the empire, the pope withheld his consent from both kings.

In the first few years, the dual election had only minor consequences. At that time, the Roman-German king acted more as a kind of primus inter pares; the great imperial princes respected their rights and pursued (like Baldwin) independent politics. In addition, both ruling houses were struggling with internal problems. Ludwig continued to be at odds with his brother Rudolf. The attempt by the Habsburgs to bring the Swiss Confederates - supported by Ludwig - to their senses in their possessions on the High Rhine ended in defeat at Morgarten.

After the first Habsburg advance on Regensburg failed in 1319, Friedrich and his brother Leopold, who governed the Austrian foreland, planned a pincer attack on Bavaria in 1322. While the king wanted to advance from the east, Leopold was to advance from the west. Ludwig marched towards them from Regensburg.

On September 27, both elected kings met near Mühldorf, a Salzburg exclave. The Wittelsbacher commanded over 1,800 heavily armored knights and perhaps 5,000 light foot soldiers. The Habsburgs had only 1,400 knights and foot soldiers with them. There were also several thousand lightly armed horsemen, Hungarians and Cumans. Leopold was still a few days' march behind with about 1,200 knights.

The armies took up positions near Erharting, with Ludwig's troops encamped on a hill north of the battlefield, while Friedrich took up his starting positions south of it. The contradictory tradition does not explain why the Habsburg accepted the call to battle, even though his brother's army had not yet arrived. Maybe he was committed to his knightly warrior ethos, maybe he had supply problems.

Another detail shows that Frederick was not necessarily a gifted general: he was unable to use his light cavalry effectively. Ludwig, on the other hand, had done his homework. He kept a strong contingent of 500 armored riders in reserve and urged his first wave knights to dismount and fight on foot after clashing with the enemy. The historian Martin W. Hofbauer argues that they attacked the horses of the Habsburg fighters with the foot troops and at the same time were able to protect the lightly armed soldiers from attack.

After the battle had raged for a few hours, the deployment of the Wittelsbach reserve under the command of the Burgrave of Nuremberg brought the decision. Frederick's army was scattered, and he himself was taken prisoner. With that the conflict was decided. In 1328 Ludwig also won the imperial crown. That he was in 1346 by Pope Clemens VI. being banned is another story.

The meeting of Mühldorf went down in history as one of the last great knight battles. The Swiss victory at Morgarten had already shown that mobile and disciplined foot soldiers could compete with armored riders. Already in the Hundred Years' War between England and France, which broke out in 1337, whole armies of knights fell victim to the English longbowmen. At the same time, with the rapid development of firearms, the infantry lost the aura of being just an auxiliary force to the cavalry.

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