The Battle of Worringen, 1288.

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The Battle of Worringen, 1288.

Post by WEISWEILER » 16 Jan 2008 10:18

The Battle of Worringen

The 5th of June 1288 the duke of Brabant, Jan I, and his allies challenged Siegfried, the Archbishop of Cologne, and his armies near Worringen, Germany, on the westbank of the River Rhine. The battle that followed lasted untill darkness fell, and is known in history as one of the fiercest wars of the Middle-Ages.

From Jan Mahler's The Battle of Worringen, 1288. The History and Mythology of a Notable Event, Edmonton - Alberta 1993. (

The following events can only be reconstructed with
some degree of probability from the one surviving
eyewitness report, that of Jan van Heelu, whose credibility
will have to be examined later, as well as some
more remote, far less detailed, and occasionally contradictory
chronicles, supplemented by testimony given before
a papal inquiry in 1290.
Confidently, Archbishop Siegfried conducted mass on
the morning 5 June 1288 in the Abbey of Brauweiler, 10
kilometres south of Worringen, and absolved his troops of
all the sins they were about to commit. After a moving
address to his men 286, he marched his army onto an open
field about 5 kilometres north-west of Cologne and 1
kilometre south east of Worringen, on the left bank of the
Rhine, where he intended to meet his enemies while cutting
off their escape route to Cologne 287.
Meanwhile the Duke Jan of Brabant and his allies left
their camp around Worringen and proceeded south along the
course of the Rhine, which in those days sent a huge
meander deep into the countryside west of its present
course 288. Passing the Bergerhof farm, which the counts of
Berg claimed as their ancestral home 289, the army crossed a
brook flowing into the river and took up position in the
open field just south of the Rhine River, facing the
Archbishop's army positioned between them and Cologne.
Unfortunately, Jan van Heelu is unclear about the
arrangement of the battle-lines. Instead we have to rely
on conjecture based on who was likely to have fought whom
over which issues. The mounted knights, about 3000 on the
side of Siegfried of Westerburg and about 2500 on that of
his opponents, arranged themselves on a wide front running
east to west across the open field 290. The forces from the
City of Cologne, Jülich, and Berg would have faced their
principal enemy, the Archbishop. Jan of Brabant with
Everhard of Mark and William of Jülich, Provost of Aachen,
would have faced Heinrich of Luxembourg and Reinald of
Guelder, the Duke's challengers for the Limburg
Surveying the field from the higher ground which was
formed by a slight incline south of the river bend before
Worringen, the Duke of Brabant, the Count of Mark, and the
Provost of Aachen chose a stationary defensive position
across a dried-up arm of the Rhine running parallel to the
battle formations, across which they presumably intended
to retreat in case of difficulties. The patricians and
guild militia from Cologne, joined by the Count of Berg
and his knights, continued the front towards the lower
ground next to the river. Though fully prepared for
battle, both sides then halted their advance for close to
an hour during which two brothers of the Order of Teutonic
Knights tried unsuccessfully to arrange a last-minute
Archbishop Siegfried and his allies finally took
action and initiated the first cavalry charge, followed
almost immediately by an offensive of their entire front
line 291. Having to charge across drainage ditches, the
Archbishop's contingent began to lose some of its
coherence 292. Nevertheless this first assault succeeded in
collapsing the Cologne-Berg lines on Brabant's left wing.
Seemingly so soon in the welcome position of having
eliminated his personal opposition, Siegfried felt free to
turn west to take part in the attack which the forces of
Guelder and Luxembourg had commenced against his political
enemy, Duke Jan I of Brabant, and his remaining allies.
Dispensing with any further tactical manoeuvring at close
quarters, the combatants carried on with general hand to
hand combat, while the battle began to take on the
character of a rather large brawl, interspersed with
numerous individual contests between noble opponents 293.
Owing to their superior numbers and the sufficient space
for movement likely available to all the combatants, the
allies of the Archbishop were beginning to gain the upper
hand in the fighting by about midday, and were forcing the
Duke's army back across the dry river bed 294, when
suddenly, in a move that seems to have been a well planned
strategic manoeuvre, the Count of Berg with an infantry
militia made up of peasants from Berg, accompanied by the
remaining Cologne patricians on foot, decided the battle
by attacking the Archbishop and his allies from the rear
and left flank 295.
However despicable the use of peasants in medieval
military terms was, one needs to realize the impact which
determinedly-led armed civilians could have against a
supposedly superior knightly army, as was demonstrated
convincingly at Courtrai in 1302, 296. The fact that
military service of peasants in Berg was described by
chronicler Jan van Heelu as a matter of custom furthermore
suggests that they were not only organized but also
possibly trained in some way 297. Their weapons, "clubs
spiked with long nails", clearly identifiable with the
"goedendags" of the Flemish craftsmen at Courtrai, had an
undeniably destructive impact on the armour of medieval
knights. Another equally unchivalrous but effective
weapon against medieval armor was the crossbow298, often
employed as the favourite weapon of town militias in this
period. It seems quite likely that Cologne, as a centre
of weapons manufacturing 299, would have been able to supply
its citizenry and its allies with this weapon. Although
it was not specifically mentioned, the use of crossbows in
a battle where winning was clearly more important to some
of the combatants than just being chivalrous is quite
likely. In addition, quite a number of simple farm
implements could be used rather effectively in combat.
Armed in the fashion described, peasants and
townsfolk indiscriminately killed anyone in sight, and
only after some time could they be directed against their
proper target 300. In addition to the anger created by the
Archbishop's raids on Berg territory earlier in the war,
they may possibly have been moved by some religious
animosity. Certainly the interdict which Siegfried had
placed over his enemies shortly before the battle could
have aroused the population against him. The Archbishop
had sufficient reason to fear for his life from the enraged
populations of Berg and Cologne, who were demonstrating
little intention of taking anyone prisoner;
therefore, as was the knightly custom of the day, he gave
himself up to the nearest noble opponent. Presumably for
his own protection he was taken off the field by Adolf of
Berg, and imprisoned in the Count's castle above the river
Wupper 301.
Despite this significant capitulation, the fighting
among the remaining combatants continued until late into
the evening. Again and again the Archbishop's troops regrouped
and fought on, as his standard, held by Count
Adolph of Nassau, his brother-in-law, remained on the
field some time after Siegfried had been captured. Count
Reinald of Guelder, already injured, was also forced to
continue the fight for some time against the peasant
forces of Cologne and Berg, as he was unable to find a
noble opponent who would spare his life 302.
The battle also gave some of its participants the
opportunity to settle feuds that had no direct relation to
the principal issues at stake. Heelu records the encounter
between the feuding Mulrepas clan, loyal to the
Duke of Brabant, and the Scaevedrieves, a noble family
from the Duchy of Limburg, who continued to fight until
one party, in this case the Scaevedrieves, were completely
wiped out 303.
Even before the battle was finally concluded by the
onset of darkness, however, the plundering of the dead and
the taking of the wounded as prisoners for the purpose of
ransom had already begun. As they observed victorious
knights looking out for their own financial welfare in
this manner 304, the townsfolk and peasants also realized
that there was some money to be made by not killing every
nobleman. Nevertheless, the armed peasants of Berg had
turned what had started as a chivalrous battle between
equals into a slaughter of the nobility. To the horror of
the chronicler, the carnage among the knights of the Lower
Rhine was considerable, over a thousand mounted knights
had been killed on the Archbishop's side alone 305. It
would almost seem that the population of the surrounding
countryside in one single afternoon had taken revenge for
generations of oppression as much as for the most recent
war and destruction visited upon them by their noblemen.
Count Heinrich of Luxembourg and his two sons, as well as
Siegfried's own brother and numerous other noble knights,
did not leave the field alive. Jan van Heelu also lamented
the death of more than 4000 horses, representing the
waste of a considerable fortune, which like many of their
riders fell victim to the crude weaponry of peasants 306.


285 "Want si van Limborch sijn geboren,
Van Lutzenborch die grave...."
Heelu, Rymkronyk, lines 1200-1201.
286 "Ende voer te Bruenwilre ter kerken:
Daer sanc hi den heeren messe
Ende na predecte hi ene lesse
Van goeden troeste ende van rade....
Heelu, Rymkronyk, lines 4270-4273. After conducting mass
the Archbishop adressed his troops, telling them of how a
huge whale was about to be stranded far into enemy
territory and that a fortune was about to be made by those
joining the Archbishop of Cologne to confront the Duke of
Brabant on this day. Finally:
"Hier met gaf hi sijn pardoen,
Ende dede hen allen aflaet
Soe groot, van hare mesdaet,
Ochte daer yeman bleve doot
Dat hi voere in Abrahams scoot."
Ibid., lines 4314-4318.
287 See Map 5.
288 See Map 4.
289 Andernach, Norbert: "Entwicklung der Grafschaft
Berg", in Land im Mittelpunkt der Mächte (Kleve,
Düsseldorf, 1984), p. 64.
290 Knipping, Regesten, vol. 3, no. 3193.
291 There is some evidence to suggest that although
sharing one common battleline, each commander (i.e. Duke,
Count, or Archbishop) only controlled his individual
contingent and at the beginning of the action led it into
battle only against an equally individual enemy
contingent. This would explain the initial success of
Siegfried against Berg and Cologne, seemingly detached
from the action between his remaining allies and enemies.
292 "Doen die Brabantre vernamen
Datsi hare drie scaren braken,
Doen riep lude, met hoge spraken,
Die bastaert van Wesemale:
<< Ghi heeren, nu sie ic wale
Datsi des strijts niet en connen:
Sla wi te hen, si sijn verwonnen!>>"
Heelu, Rymkronyk, lines 4906-4912.
293 Heelu spends much time describing many of them
without any further reference to tactical movements.
294 "Drongen si, met sterker vaert,
Die Brabantre achterwert:
Maer dat en was geen wonder:
In hare bataelge waren (sonder
Die ghene die te voet streden,
Ende die mate waren gereden,
Die men daer toe niet en telde nochtan,)
Met helmen meer dan MC man.
Dat die scaren alle drie
Hadden in tsertoghen partye."
Heelu, Rymkronyk, lines 5225-5234.
295 "Maer ic sal nu voere vertellen
Hoe dat, met haren prikellen,
Toe Quamen ende voort voeren
Van den Berge die coene geboeren,
die, na die tale van Brabant,
Dorpliede sijn te rechte ghenant.
Dese quamen alle wel ten stride bereet,
Na die gewoente, die daer steet.
Diere hadden een groot deel
Beide wambeys ende beckeneel,
Ende een deel haddeter platen;
Maer diere swert met scarpen waten
En wouden si hen niet onderwinden;
Maer clupple haddens alle, tinden
Met grooten hoefden geprikelt."
Heelu, Rymkronyk, lines 6241-6255. One can presume that
Cologne's merchants were quite able to provide the
necessary transportation across the river, which later
must also have been used to remove the Archbishop from the
296 A fact that continues to be played down by some
who insist on the absolute superiority of the mounted manat-
arms. For example, Lehnart, Ulrich: "Kampfweise und
Bewaffnung zur Zeit der Schlacht von Worringen" in Der
Name der Freiheit, pp. 155-162.
297 See above note: line 6248.
298 Verbrüggen, J.F.: The Art of Warfare in Western
Europe during the Middle Ages (from the Eighth Century to
1340) (Amsterdam-New York, 1977).
299 Lehnart, "Kampfweise und Bewaffnung", p. 160.
300 "Die geburen, die daer bleven,
Na, ten stride, die gingen staen
Op en Grachte ter neder slaen
Vriende ende viande, sonder sparen;
Daer haddense geene kinesse af."
Heelu, Rymkronyk, lines 6302-6306.
301 See Appendix II.
302 "Doen bleef die grave in selker noot
doen hi arderwerf sach sinken
Die baniere dat hi dinken
En wiste siat, noch ane gaen
Gherne ware hi in hant gegaen
Maer hine dachte om geen vlien
Wat daer sijns soude gescien"
Heelu, Rymkronyk, lines 6600-6606.
303 "Die van Witham, ende hare knecht
Her Mulrepas, ende sijn geslechte,
Daer ic vore af liet die tale
Die ic weder nu verhale
Si waren die viande
Daer die Scavedriesche haer ande
Gherne ane hadden gewroken...."
Heelu, Rymkronyk, lines 7185-7191.
"... Ende voeren hier en daer, ende sochten
Waer si in hant gaen mochten
Daer si dat lijf souden ontdragen
Doen men die Scavedriesche ginc jagen
Ende doot slaen, waer mense kinde
Daer met was des strijts een inde."
Ibid., lines 7289-7294.
304 "Doen dit die ghebueren sagen
Dat die heeren des plagen
Datsi die viande alle vingen
Ende om goet lieten verdinghen
Doen woudense met ane winnen
Ende gingen oec des selves beginnen
Daer bi lieten si hare slaen
Ende gingen dapperlike vaen,
Die ane hen ghenade sochten;
Maer diere ieghen vochten
Die sloegen si alle thant doot
Doen sachmen iammerlike, dor noot,
Die vroemste van al kersten lant
Armen gebueren gaen in hant."
Heelu, Rymkronyk, lines 7003-7014.
305 "... Daer bleven doot
Elf hondert manne, bi getale
Ende meer daer toe, die men wale
Ter waerheit weet, nochtan sonder
Die ghene die na storven...."
Heelu, Rymkronyk, lines 7314-7318
306 "Dat scade was ende iammer groot
Want daer en bleven doot
Niet vele gebueren noch knechte
Maer si waren van geslechte
ende ridderscape die men vant
Die beete van al Duytsche lant
Dat sceen wel aen hare striden
Want daer bleven van beiden siden
Doot op tfelt inde porsse
Meer dan MLC orsse
Die onder hen worden ghevelt
Sonder die daer gheqult
Ute quamen, ende gewont
Die strijt was vander onderstont
Lanc al tote der vespertijd
Men vernam nye strijt
In en geen lant soe lange dueren...."
Heelu, Rymkronyk, lines 7325-7341.
Last edited by WEISWEILER on 16 Jan 2008 20:27, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by WEISWEILER » 16 Jan 2008 10:28

Jan I of Brabant in the heat of the battle, from the Codex Manesse (
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Post by WEISWEILER » 16 Jan 2008 16:24

From Johann Koelhoff der Jüngere: Die Cronica van der hilliger stat van Coellen, Köln 1499.

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Post by WEISWEILER » 16 Jan 2008 16:26

A map representing the orders of battle: positions in the early morning of June the 5th, 1288 (
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Post by WEISWEILER » 16 Jan 2008 17:01

A drawing by the Flemish 19th Century painter Nicaise De Keyser (1813-1887) in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, representing the battle. It's a study for his monumental painting De Slag bij Woeringen, in the Groeninge Museum in Kortrijk, Flanders. (
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Post by WEISWEILER » 16 Jan 2008 17:09

Another study from De Keyser for the same painting.

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Post by WEISWEILER » 16 Jan 2008 17:11

Walther Doode und die bergischen Bauern in der Schlacht bei Worringen, painted by Peter Janssen in 1893 (Rathaus Düsseldorf, Jan-Wellem-Saal,
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