Bavaria, Notes on German Culture

Eppelein von Gailingen was a robber baron in the Middle Ages, immortalized by folk song

This image features Eppelein von Gailingen (1310 to 1381), a famous German robber baron in the Middle Ages. Gailingen belonged to the class of original robber barons, who supplemented their income with unauthorized tolls and, sometimes, flat-out theft. 

The term “robber barons” is derived from a medieval term, in German “Raubritter”, describing men of noble birth living in a lawless age “by saddle and by sword; who sought gain by masterful spoliation, and strove for glory by despiteful deeds of arms”. The robber baron was often felt to be a kind of Robin Hood, and the earliest celebrations of Eppelein von Gailingen were largely in this vein… a knight’s knight, fighting against an out-of-control state that was disregarding its people.

He got away with his exploits until 1372, when the 62 year old knight was captured and imprisoned in Nuremberg (Nürnberg) castle. Gailingen was sentenced to death, but shortly before his hanging he was granted a last request to sit on his horse. Amazingly, he promptly rode the horse out the tower gates and hurdled the enclosing wall and castle moat.

Eppelein went on the run for six years, eventually making his way back near his home. It was there in 1381 that his minimal forces finally yielded to the Count of Nürnberg, who carried out a much more unpleasant version of the death sentence. This time he was strapped to “the wheel” and flogged and then beheaded. His accomplices were spared the torture and were simply beheaded.

Gailingen’s rise to prominence began in the 16th century, when he was immortalized by a folk song, a medium that continues to be kind to him. Locals still tell a variety of tales of his exploits, and a version of these classics is vaguely portrayed in the film “Ekkelins Knecht”.

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