Strange tales: the ‘treue Weiber’ of Weinsberg

The town of Weinsberg in Württemberg is famous for two things: wine (as its name implies) and the women who tricked the King of Germany.

The ruined castle of Weinsberg and its vineyards today. Credit: WikiCommons

Weinsberg has never been a large place, today more of a commuter town for nearby Heilbronn but it has a strong and important link to the German wine industry.

In the 12th century however, it was the scene of a siege that placed Conrad of Hohenstaufen on the throne of the Holy Roman Empire.

The conflict sprang out of who would become ‘King of the Romans’ (confusingly meaning the Germanic and Italian peoples governed under the Holy Roman Empire) following the death of Lothair III in 1138.

Conrad III of Hohenstaufen, the Duke of Swabia and Henry the Proud of Welf, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria both claimed the throne (with Henry’s claim taken up by his son Henry the Lion following his death in 1139) and so a civil war ensued which came to a head at the castle of Weinsberg in 1140.

The castle was located on the important trade route between Heilbronn and Schwäbisch Hall and was held by Welf forces.

After a long siege the castle capitulated on 21 December after Conrad decisively defeated a relieving army commanded by Welf VI, a younger brother of Henry the Proud. Conrad, annoyed by how long the small castle had held out, determined to execute the garrison but allowed the women to leave unmolested.

In his terms he said that the women could take with them anything they could carry at which the canny women took their children and menfolk on their backs and walked out of the castle.

Despite the spluttering of his nobility Conrad, impressed by the womens’ guile, laughed it off and said a king should keep his word.

The German civil war eventually migrated to Italy under Conrad’s grandson Frederick I ‘Barbarossa’ where it became known as the Guelph Ghibelline War. The various shifting loyalties of the nobilities and mercantile towns of during this conflict can be seen today in the heraldry of nearly every winemaking town and municipality across Asti, Tuscany, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna – if you know what you’re looking for.

The women, meanwhile, have gone down in legend as the ‘Treue Weiber von Weinsberg’ (The true or loyal wives of Weinsberg’) but, sadly, legend is all the story might be.

What is not legend though is the development of the wine industry around Weinsberg itself and its prominent place in winemaking along the Neckar.

Managed by a noble family installed by Conrad, a large permanent settlement began to coalesce around the castle mount in the year 1200 with the building of the Johanneskirche.

Although viticulture is not mentioned in Weinsberg until 1271, it seems unlikely that no vines were planted there before that time.

A sketch of the ruined castle and vineyards from 1578. The vines were probably only planted beneath the castle following its destruction at the hands of rampaging peasants in 1525.

There had been settlements and estates in the area dating back to Roman times and even if vineyards were not widespread before the 1270s the fact that the castle was known as Weinsberg (literally ‘Wine Mount’) before that date suggests that some viticulture perhaps for the supply of the castle garrison had been practiced for some time previously.

But the vineyards certainly spread as the town grew and began to creep up the prominent hillock on which the castle was positioned, most likely following the fortification’s destruction in 1525 during the German Peasants’ War.

A sketch of 1578 shows vines on the slope below the ruined castle and they have stayed there ever since and today the Weinsberger Schemelsberg is classified as a Grosse Lager farmed by the VDP member Staatsweingut Weinsberg.

The town is also now home to the Staatliche Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Wein- und Obstbau (State Education and Research Institute for Viticulture and Pomology) which is where the noted German grape breeder August Herold created varieties such as Dornfelder, Helfensteiner, Heroldrebe and Kerner during the inter-war years.

So should you visit or simply pass by Weinsberg today, spare a thought for the wily women who outfoxed a king.

One Response to “Strange tales: the ‘treue Weiber’ of Weinsberg”

  1. Rosenzweig says:

    While I appreciate you publishing this story, I don’t appreciate that you illustrated it with a photo taken by me without acknowledging me, the license the photo is published under (CC-BY-SA) and the URL where I published it (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Weinsberg_Burgberg_20060905.jpg). Please add this information to the article. Thanks.

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