Georg von Frundsberg was a German knight and leader of the Landsknechte, fighting for the Holy Roman Empire and particularly the Habsburg House. During his time, he was known for his outstanding strategic capabilities.
Georg von Frundsberg was born in 1473 to Ulrich von Frundsberg, who was a captain of the Swabian League forces. His mother was part of a line of Tyrolean knights. Georg was due to get his first test of military campaigning in 1492, when he supported his father in service of House Hohenzollern against Duke Albert IV of Bavaria, but after Albert’s surrender, the campaign was cancelled. However, Georg stayed in the employ of the Habsburg family and fought in 1499 in the Swabian War alongside Götz von Berlichingen and Franz von Sickingen, where he noted that warfare had significantly shifted away from heavily armoured knights.
Following this revelation, Georg von Frundsberg used pike square infantry against the armies of Louis XII of France to great effect. He fought in a number of wars during the following years and distinguished himself in particular leading the Landsknecht regiment into the battle of Wenzenbach, after which Maximilian I bestowed him with a knighthood. The Landsknecht regiment became one of the most formidable military units at the time under his leadership and was trained to be a standing army.
His military genius and the effectiveness of his troops lead to Georg von Frundsberg leading a life of war and he rarely enjoyed peace. From 1509 to 1513 he fought several battles in Italy and defended the city of Verona against multiple attacks. His personal motto became ‘Viel Feind, viel Ehr’ (many foes, much honour). In 1519 he returned to Germany to fight alongside the Swabian League against Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg. It is said that he met Martin Luther in 1521 and encouraged him on his path, although this story is disputed.
Frundsberg spend the next 5 years fighting the Italian War of 1521–26 on the side of emperor Charles V’s, although he resigned from the Landsknecht regiment in 1522 and marched 6000 fighting men to invade Upper Italy, crossing the Alps in through snow to fight the Battle of Bicocca near Milan in April, thus winning back huge parts of the country for the empire. In 1525 he was appointed as the ‘Highest Field Captain’ and the German Nation and led an army of 12.000 to save the Duchy of Milan and to his most famous victory, the so called victory at Pavia, where the French king was captured.
In 1526 he again marched an army across the Alps, after investing much of his own fortune to raise it. This campaign developed into a disaster and despite moving towards Rome, discipline broke down when payments were missing. Even the great general Georg von Frundsberg was unable to restore order, which had a profound impact on him. He suffered a stroke and had to be moved back to Germany to be treated. He died in his castle in Mindelheim in 1528 tormented by the loss of his own children and his mercenary army, which he referred to as his ‘beloved sons’.
Whilst Georg von Frundsberg never left the Catholic Church, there are numerous reports that he was sympathetic to Martin Luther’s message and the reformation. One of these stories suggests that he motivated his troops in 1527 when marching on Rome by the idea of hanging the pope with a golden rope.
The family line von Frundsberg died out in 1586, when his only remaining grand-son died. Having been a loyal knight o the Habsburg family, several monuments were build to honour Georg von Frundsberg and his bust was added to the Walhalla memorial. Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria added him to the Hall of Generals (Feldherrenhalle) of the Vienna Museum of Military History and an Austro-Hungarian corvette was named after him. During World War II, the Waffen SS gave the 10th Panzer Division the honorific title ‘Frundsberg’,
Georg von Frundsberg’s life was dedicated to war and military strategy. He was a major factor in the successes of the House Habsburg and an early adopter of modern tactics, which heralded the end of an era for heavily armoured knights, and his dedication to the training and leadership of his troops was an inspiration to many leaders after him.