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Mar 23, 2008
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So, here's my entry. I hope you have some fun reading this. ;)

Siege of the Godesburg

It's the year 2014. In Bonn, the capital of the German-Roman Republic a class of students visit the museum in Godesburg Castle, a precious and big fortress watching over the southern suburbs of the city. It's a longtime tradition that students come here with their teachers, as it's a location of great importance for the whole country. It's also a longtime tradition though that students aren't really interested in history and so most of the current class is just scuffling through the big halls and barely pay attention to what their guide is telling them. When they pass through a smaller corridor, the guide suddenly stops right in front of a small opening in the wall. She opens a door and the students all see a wooden cabinet with what seems to be a massive chair with a big round opening in the middle. When some of them approach the opening, they can see right down along the outside wall. „Did they throw rocks through this?“, one of them asks. The guide smiles. „No. It's a privy.“, she answers. „A toilet!“, another student notes. The guide nods. „And do you know what makes it so special?“. Waiting out the silence, she continues: „This specific toilet has decided the fate of our whole nation. Yes, it's true!“. „How can a toilet decide the fate of a whole nation?“, many of the students ask. The guide happily watches the group standing before her, and having now gained the attention of all of them, she begins to relate: „It all started back in 1582 when the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne proclaimed that he converted to Calvinism...“

And in the students minds, an interesting story begins to take shape:

„He did what?“, Ernest of Bavaria yelled at the servant who shrugged from that sudden outburst of his lord. „Archbishop-Elector Gebhard Truchsess of Waldburg converted to...“, the servant repeated, but he was cut off by another shout of the Bishop of Liège. „To calvinism! Outrageous! It's all the fault of that witch Agnes! I knew it! I told them! And still they voted for him!“. „Yes, mylord.“ the frightened servant stuttered helplessly and cautiously continued, „and he also plans to keep his holdings in...“. „Cologne? Is he mad?“, the furious Ernest, his face now deep red with anger, completed the sentence while he stomped up and down through the room, not knowing where to put all his anger. „He can't convert his holdings, it's against the 'reservatum ecclesiasticum', the pope will object, EVERYONE will object! What is he thinking? That we'll come to his wedding and applaud him?“. When the last words left his mouth he couldn't hold it any longer and with a swipe of his arm he cleared the table before him, sending all the dishes and fruits to the floor. The servant jumped aside right in time to evade most of the shards, and as Ernest seemed to have calmed down a bit by this act of destruction, he looked at the frightened boy and added: „This means war!“

A day later, despite the time of year being late december and the land being covered ankle-deep with snow, messengers left the Archiepiscopal Palace of Liège. Leaving the city, they spread out in all directions and rushed through the wintery landscape towards their near and far-away destinations. It would not become a restful christmas for lots of important people this year. Arrangements had to be made, preparations had to be done.

Over a month later in early february 1583 in Cologne, Gebhard Truchsess of Waldburg and Agnes of Mansfeld-Eisleben had their marriage celebrations. It was a great event with lots of music and dancing and in combination with the fact that the winter seemed to leave early that year, everyone in the whole city was light-hearted and in a good mood. Or so it seemed. Behind the happy facade of the celebrations, people began to worry, as news spread among the citizens that the conversion of their liege, and especially his plans to keep his titles and holdings and thus ignoring the 'reservatum ecclesiasticum', hadn't been too well-received in the catholic world. Rumors had spread that an alliance had been forged to secure the superiority in numbers of catholic electors in the empire. The Archbishop himself did seem confident that everything was alright, but the truth was that indeed all the noble guests in Cologne were protestants.

In the evening after the feast, one by one, the highest of guests secretly gathered in a smaller-sized room, among them the counts of Limburg, Nassau and Solms, as well as the counts palatine of Zweibrücken and of Simmern. „So far, everything has turned out exactly as we had expected.“, Gebhard started, „Just two hours ago a scout brought news that Ernests armies have been spotted in the southern parts of the electorate. My dear friend Adolf of Neuenahr, Count of Limburg, here was right in that they would strike today.“ The other men nodded in agreement and of Simmern quickly assured that his brother and his men would stand ready to engage the enemy in the south. Then, the other counts chimed in and debated over where they should await or engage the catholic troops. Until late after midnight and not without lots of cautionary advise from Adolf of Neuenahr they all sat there and planned. Then they went to bed, only to be woken up early when on the next day alarm bells rang all over Cologne. Another army from the west approached the city, so they all made a quick departure. Most of them rode home or towards the camps of their armies, but Adolf advised Gebhard and his wife to fall back to their castle in Bonn so they would be safe. After all, losing Gebhard would mean losing Cologne to the catholics again, which included losing a protestant vote in the elections. Also his supporters, along with all of protestantism as a whole, would be heavily weakened by an early defeat in this war. So Gebhard did as his friend asked him and rushed to Godesburg Castle.

The siege of Cologne lasted only a few days. Adolf, more or less the supreme leader of the protestant forces, left behind only a small brigade to man the city walls because he knew that by the first sign of weakness of his forces, the catholic majority of the citys population would rise up and open the gates for the attackers. The troops left behind were ordered to flee through a secret tunnel on the first sign of danger. All they had to do was buy the protestants some time by delaying the siege for as long as possible. And so they did. On the fifth day of the siege, rumors emerged about the lack of troops in Cologne and as unrest grew stronger, the guards slipped away at dusk, leaving the city defenseless.

The next morning on Godesburg castle, Gebhard and Adolf stood on top of the gate and watched the cologne guards march into the courtyard. „I hope it was long enough.“, Gebhard mumbled while he kept looking at the marching soldiers entering the keep. „It was.“, Adolf assured him. „The battles in the south went very well. Ernests scattered forces are retreating back to Coblenz to regroup. Simmerns brother and Zweibrücken will pursue them with their forces and have sent word that they are extremely confident of ultimately routing the southern army. Things are going very well.“. „What about the rumors?“. Adolf noticed the worry lines in Gebhards face when his old friend finally turned his face away from the scene beneath them.
„The excommunication?“
„No, that had to be expected.“
„What then?“
„Spain... and Parma...“
„Are both far away.“, Adolf tried to sound convincing but only partially succeeded. Indeed there were rumors that Spain would intervene by sending their northern italian forces under command of duke Farnese of Parma. They both knew they needed more allies to withstand such a foreign force, or even better, a quick and decisive victory, so tensions would decrease before this little war would get too big for them to manage. Minutes of silence passed, both men preoccupied with their own thoughts, until Adolf straightened and tapped Gebhard hard on the shoulder. „We will crush them in the south within days and then unite all our men and march northward to send Ernest back to Liège or Bavaria or whereever he may find a fitting hole for him to hide“, he assured his friend, seemingly having found his confidence again. „After that, Spain and Parma will think twice before becoming involved in this little affair of ours. The 'reservatum ecclesiasticum' has been ignored a hundred times before and once the tides of war have calmed down, even the emperor would have a hard time explaining our brothers in the faith inside and outside the realm why this time it's different. He would have to admit that he fears to lose the crown and this alone would severly harm the imperial authority. Don't worry my friend, things will turn out alright.“. Then Adolf returned to his chambers, leaving Gebhard back alone atop the gate, who looked up north to where Cologne lay somewhere behind the morning mist. He thought about the last two months since his conversion, about his wife and if in the end everything he had done would have been worth it. Of course, he did not find an answer to this yet.

„It is imperative that they finish this as quickly as possible. We may get into some trouble up here sooner or later if those skirmishes in the south continue for too long. Tell them to press their forces forward. Time is of the essence here! They're marching towards us, do you understand? Now leave, and hurry!“, a stressed out Adolf of Neuenahr instructed a messenger two days later, who immediately turned around and was on his way to the protestant camp near Coblenz. Since their conversation atop the gate the situation for Gebhard and Adolf had worsened dramatically. „Winning“ the siege of Cologne didn't slow the northern army down in any way, instead they more or less ignored the city and left it to some catholic governors. Also they did not move to pillage and plunder the surroundings and instead turned streight south to hunt down Gebhard in Bonn. Ernest, just as Adolf, wanted to solve this issue clean and quickly. And to make matters for Adolf and his good friend worse, their allies in the south also had unexpected problems with hunting down the remnant forces of the scattered catholic army. While still having the upper hand, small skirmishes instead of the one big final battle slowed the counts palatines forces down and hindered them from orderly marching back north as well.

That night, a few kilometers downstream the Rhine, Ernest himself rode ahead of his men, leading them south. His two most experienced advisors flanked him while they discussed whether or not they should lay siege to Bonn. The advisor riding on his right side argued intensely that it was unwise to ignore the city because even though their forces were superior in numbers, things could get difficult if the city had too many troops garrisoned there. Should they now besiege Godesburg castle alone and the city's garrison attacked them from behind, they would be surrounded and had to split their forces. Also, even though it was highly unlikely, should they need to retreat, they wouldn't be able to do it when Bonns garrison blocked their path. The left-hand advisor seconded that notion, but Ernest just waved off their complaints. He kept looking straight ahead with a grim expression on his face as if he hoped to spot Gebhard somewhere in the distance, so he could pull his sword and chop his head off instantly. He wanted revenge for losing that election for the archbishopric of Cologne six years ago, he wanted prestige for putting this law-infringing convert into the dungeon where he belonged, and he wanted it done as soon as possible and before any reinforcements could slow things down. „We will detach a small force to blockade the city, the rest of our men will lay siege to the castle to catch that pig. Send word that we will need additional powder in a few days. I will not tolerate any delays.“, he commanded. The two advisors nodded, turned around and sped away on their horses to make preparations.

Next morning was a terrifying awakening for everyone on the Godesburg. Thousands of catholic troops had encircled them. They had already built tents and many were now digging trenches, carefully staying outside the shooting range of the castle guards. The situation was bad, but not the worst one could imagine, as the Godesburg throned atop a small but very steep and stony hill which would prevent the attackers from digging themselves up close to the castle walls or even approaching the walls without being shot at from above. Only on one side of the hill, a small forest gave a little cover for an approach, but even those few trees wouldn't allow for a safe climb-up, especially not for a large force.

„What's the last we've heard from the south?“, Gebhard asked Adolf later that day when they both patrolled the walls, inspecting the ongoings far below them. „That things got delayed. No signs of doubt about a victory though, so I'm getting my hopes up that they will come to our aid if we can just hold out long enough. So far I cannot imagine how Ernest plans to chase you out of here in time. Don't worry, my friend.“, was the answer. Gebhard nodded and when they passed the northern part of the wall, he gazed off into the distance and mumbled, more to himself than towards his friend: „I strongly hope that at least Bonn got a messenger out in time. If Zweibrücken and Simmern get word of what's happening here, maybe they'll manage to regroup and march against Ernest faster. I just can't believe that our enemy has come for us without a solid plan.“. He then turned around again, just to notice that his friend was on his way back into the guards quarters already while issuing orders to a small group of men carrying powder and other supplies to the walls. The determination of Adolf truly was inspiring to those who followed him and even to Gebhard himself, he thought. But when he glanced a last time over the busy siege camp around the hill, he wasn't all that sure anymore if his determination wasn't only naive optimism for a lost cause.

Gebhard could hardly fall asleep the following evening, and shortly after midnight, when he had finally managed to find some rest, a sudden blast of an explosion awaked him again. Musket shots and alarm calls were to be heard all over the western part of the Godesburg, where the gate was. „They're trying to get powder kegs up here...“, one of the gate wardens yelled, „...shoot them before they reach the walls!“. Only dressed in his prestigious jacket and cape, still wearing his nights-dress pantaloons, Gebhard sprinted out to where the calls were coming from. The gate wardens and the reinforcing troops who rushed to their aid were in a heavy firefight with the attackers down below. Gebhard crouched towards the wall and cowered behind the thick stone. He approached one of the wardens who was reloading his musket and asked him about the damage done. „No mylord, they didn't reach the walls, we hit their powderkeg before they managed to get up here. It exploded in their own hands!“, the warden explained, much to Gebhards relief. Through a small opening in the floor, in earlier centuries used to pour pitch onto enemies, he took a glimpse of the scene below. And even though Ernests troops seemed to try to get some more kegs of powder up the hill, he was pretty confident that with the first keg fended off and the castles entire troops already alert, the attack wouldn't pose a real threat anymore. Crouching away from the wall he looked out for Adolf, but he was nowhere to be found.

He finally ran into him along the north wall, after the attack died down, where he wanted to use the privy near his quarters before returning to bed. „You better go and do your business elsewhere, my friend.“, Adolf warned in a rather harsh tone. Gebhard raised a brow and suspiciously responded: „Where have you been when they attacked us? I haven't seen you at the gate earlier.“. Adolf seemed only then to notice his own tone and apologised immediately. He then led his friend to the privy, lifted the wooden cover plate atop the hole and motioned him to look down there. Again slightly suspicious, Gebhard slowly leaned over the hole. „Do you see it?“, Adolf asked. Gebhard shrugged.
„The little bush near the wall.“
„What's wrong with it?“
„There's something in there. Look closely!“
„I don't see a th... oh wait. You're right.“
Indeed, there was something down there. Something shiny and something that looked like a big snake from up there.
„Some kind of crossbow and a rope, along with some other stuff.“, Adolf explained. „I saw them when I rushed for the gate. A small group came out of the trees and placed it there.“
Gebhard, obviously very tired and still stressed from the attack and the whole situation, just stared at Adolf questioningly. The Count of Neuenahr sighed and assured his friend that he didn't need to worry. „I think I now understand Ernests plan. But I also think I've got a much better one.“, he smiled. Then they both went their way, Gebhard back to bed, and Ernest to the guards quarters.

The rest of the night was very quiet and the next day nothing unusual happened either. Gebhard noticed that Adolf was sleeping a lot and that two of their men stood guard beside the privy door, but because he had other important things to manage he didn't care that much. Late in the evening, gunfire and explosions awaked the whole castle again, but the attack was as easily fended off as the previous one. At midnight, everyone not on guard duty was back in bed. Gebhard had almost forgotten about the conversation he has had with Adolf and because he was at least as tired as the rest of his men, he fell asleep fast.

Two hours after midnight, in the small forest along the north side of the hill, a group of twenty men were sneaking towards Godesburg castle. They were armed with a pistol and a small sword each and dressed in tight leather armor. When he reached the end of the thicker vegetation, their leader stopped and signalled the other men to stay hidden behind him. Carefully he scanned the castle wall for enemies, searched for movement atop the wall or behind the windows. When he felt safe enough that nobody was watching them, he gave a signal to his men and sprinted out into the open towards the wall. When he reached it, he looked up again and waited. A minute passed without anything else to be heard but the leaves in the wind and the chirps of the crickets. The man made a sigh of relief and then waved back at his companions. One after the other they followed him to the wall, a pause after each one of them to be sure they hadn't been discovered. When they were all together again, their leader took a last cautious look up the wall and then went for the small bush where they had deployed their tools the night before. Some of the other men came to his aid and helped him with the preparations. Only a silent clattering could be heard when he then finally readied the special crossbow. A small click and a whistling sound and a bolt shot upwards into the privy hole above them. The men winced a bit when the bolt threw aside the wooden cover plate, but as nothing else was to be heard from above, they hurried to arm the crossbow once more, this time with a special, much broader bolt with a barbed tip, and with a long rope attached to it. Another click and a thudding impact noise later, the leader quickly began to climb up the wall. Right under the privy he stopped, listened once again for enemies and then, with the help of his sword, levered the whole board aside, breaking it in the process and threw it down. He then quickly climbed through the much bigger opening and peeked through the door along the corridor. Reassuring himself that the bolt was still deeply stuck into the privy ceiling, he signalled the others to follow him up the wall. When the fourth man climbed through the opening, the privy got too small and they had to enter the corridor, but still no one was to be seen. They barricaded the more distant door to the right and guarded the other, while they waited for everyone to arrive. Positioned single file behind each other, their leader slowly opened the door which led to a larger room with multiple doors. They all were relieved when they entered that room because it confirmed that the plans which their Lord Ernest had bought from a protestant traitor were correct. Still, when they began to form smaller groups as they had planned before, it came to their leader's mind that something was wrong with that room. He couldn't quite name it and nervously looked around, telling his men to wait some more instants. Just after he spoke those words, they all heard some muffled voices behind the doors. And in this moment, the leader knew what was wrong and his eyes widened in panic. There wasn't any furniture in this room. Not even a carpet on the floor or a picture on the wall. Someone had emptied the whole room. Why would someone empty a room in a besieged castle when he wouldn't expect... He didn't get to finish this thought, as suddenly all the other doors blasted open and in came Adolf and his men, firing their muskets first and then rushing in to encircle the shocked survivors. Back from the corridor another blast, followed by footsteps, was heard when more troops came and secured the privy. „Get them out of their clothes and throw them into the dungeon. And be quiet! Let the guards on the walls behave as usual. Nothing has happened here.“, Adolf ordered his men, „We have to be quick!“.

They waited an hour or so to not raise any suspicion, then they climbed down the rope. Several guards stayed back up in the privy and hauled it up behind them. The disguised Adolf himself took the lead, now dressed in the leather armor of the attackers, just as the men who followed him. Only one man wasn't disguised but instead had a huge linen sack put over his whole upper body and his hands tied together. The only thing one could see of him were his fancy night-dress pantaloons. Acting as professional as they could, they sneaked away from the castle and into the small forest. A few meters into the dark vegetation, a voice from the side commanded them to stop and asked them for a password. „Forget the password, we've got him, we've got to make some distance before the guards take notice!“, Adolf replied in a pretty harsh tone while he looked around and tried to spot how many of Ernests men were watching them. „Who did you get? You were supposed to unlock the gates and signal us for the attack!“, he got the angry answer from the voice in the dark. Pretending to cough and taking a deep breath, Adolf bought himself some time to improvise and adapt his plan to the new situation. The truth was, he hadn't thought about a possible full-scale attack and presumed that such a covert operation, especially through the privy closest to Gebhards quarters, could only be destined to abduct him, which would most likely lead to the immediate end of the war. But obviously Ernest didn't think in such subtle ways. „Of course we've unlocked the gates, so send your fastest runner for he shall tell them to launch the attack immediately!“, he replied, sounding as little overtaken as he could manage, „But we found the Archbishop-Elector and thought our Lord Ernest would be pleased if we bring him along, just in case the attack fails. Maybe you should also tell him we will deliver our 'gift' to his tent immediately“. The man who stopped them had in the meantime stepped out of the shadows, and with him four other men, all with loaded crossbows in their hands. The first man gave two of them a short nod and they turned around and ran off. Some of Adolfs men jerked when this happened, assuming their disguise had been lifted. The leader of the remaining three catholics did seem to notice this detail and suspiciously looked Adolf right into the eyes. „If you stayed up there, the attack wouldn't fail!“, he shouted quite angrily. „Now show me this prisoner and tell me the password or I will call back those two men and arrest you!“. „I will show you the prisoner at once. Untie him.“, Adolf calmly replied while he turned around to face his men. He waved for the prisoner to be brought to him, but also silently formed a sentence with his lips, unseen from their enemies. Before turning around again, he signaled at his men and started to very slowly lift the linen sack, buying time and distance between their group and the messengers. The catholic's leader noticeably became nervous. „Speak the password!“, he yelled. But in that very moment, Adolf threw the sack right into the face of the surprised man. He threw himself and the 'prisoner' to the ground and heard two clicks and a sizzling noise when the crossbow bolts of the other two narrowly flew over his back and into the woods. But even before the bolts knocked hard into some tree, several small knifes came flying from the ranks of Adolfs men, sending all three enemies to the ground.

When the group left the small forest shortly thereafter at the foot of the hill, they could see that most of the camp was on its way to attack the Godesburg. Hundreds of torches moved in the dark, featuring a pretty impressive sight. Alarm calls were heard from back up the hill, so Adolf pushed them all forward and told them to hurry. Their goal was the large tent on the backside of the siege camp, so they had some distance to overcome, but because the messengers had obediently done what they were told to do, no one stopped them or otherwise got suspicious. Quite the opposite, everyone seemed to be cheerful and confident that victory was near. When Adolfs men reached their destination, they found that only a handful of Ernests elite guards were protecting his tent. Maybe because of the good mood everyone was in, none of them had drawn weapons and without any further checks, the whole group was waved into the tent. From there on, it was just too easy. After a short chatter with Ernest, Adolf gave the signal to his twenty men to silently overwhelm the enemy leader and his two bodyguards, the only ones who entered the tent with them. They gagged Ernest and put him back into the sack, stabbed the outside guards without problems, pulled them all inside the tent and then quickly, but cautiously enough to not raise suspicion, made their way back towards the hill and the castle. When they were back in the small forest, they noticed the heavy gunfire near the gate. Because the attackers thought to find the gate open, they were slightly unsettled when things weren't as they had expected, and while they waited for new orders from the camp, they had pulled back a short distance and contented themselves with besieging the gate. Luckily, Adolfs left-behind guards in and near the privy hadn't let themselves become distracted from the attack and responded quickly when Adolf lit two torches in predefinded spots at the forest edge. They let down the rope and pulled up their prisoner and after him they helped their own men to climb back into safety.

When the morning sun rose in the east, after a long 'meeting' in the castles main hall between Gebhard, Adolf and Ernest, those three appeared atop the gate of the Godesburg. The hopes of Ernests troops for a victory were shattered immediately when they saw their Lord tied up in their enemies castle. Adolf then boldly recited the treaty that had been signed between Gebhard and Ernest, in which Ernest accepted the conversion of Gebhard to calvinism and also assured that Gebhard could keep all his possessions as well as his Electorship. The 'reservatum ecclesiasticum' was not to be applied here. The war was ended.

Slowly the imagination of the students fades and they find themselves back again in the present time.

„And because of this tremendous victory, the superiority of the catholics slowly began to fade.“, the guide concluded. But upon the still questioning looks in the students faces, she further explained: „In the following years, power shifted more and more to the more progressive protestant forces in the empire, who started to dissociate themselves from the old, strict and fanciful ways of the past. They passed decent reforms and dropped the highly disputed electorship in favor of a more democratic council of representatives from all the realms counties. Their way was so successful and way ahead of its time back then that many outside rulers converted to protestantism and joined their confederation. And because of the expansion until then, reaching all the way south into Italy, when all the counts and dukes reformed their league into a united country, it was called the German-Roman Republic. Still a great country today, whose founding was only possible because of this privy here.“

As the students burst out into laughter, the guide smiles, confident that at least some of them will have become a bit more interested in history after this.


Historical Info:
In reality, the 'Cologne War' lasted from 1583 until 1588 with the siege of Godesburg castle taking place pretty much in the beginning of the war. It started because, like in the story, the archbishop-elector of Cologne converted to calvinism and thus violated the 'reservatum ecclesiasticum' law from 1555, which forbade the counts of the Empire to keep their titles (and their electorship) upon conversion. Ernest of Bavaria, who had previously lost the election for the archbishopric of Cologne against Gebhard, used these circumstances to finally claim the title for himself and attacked the Rhineland with his troops. During the siege, after they had unsuccessfully tried to blow up the walls of the Godesburg, the attackers finally managed to enter the castle through a „secret passage“, presumably a privy. Other than in my story, they succeeded with their approach and won the siege, forcing Gebhard to flee. The war then waged on for many more years until Gebhard had to admit his defeat when foreign catholic forces (such as Spain) joined the war. Winning that war greatly strengthened the catholic supremacy in the Holy Roman Empire, especially in the north-western parts of it.