A Story From: Germany
Read Time: 6 to 10 mins.
For Ages: 5 to 14yrs.
To punish the Duke, the King sent his royal army to surround the Duke’s castle. In those days, dukes and other powerful men lived in castles with their whole families, servants and followers. King Konrad III knew it was only a matter of time before the people trapped inside would run out of fresh food and water. Then they would have no choice but to surrender.
Meanwhile, inside the castle, the Duke of Welf, whose ancestors traced back to the noble family of Charlemagne, was ready for a long siege. He had already stored a fortune of gold and silver inside the castle, and they were well supplied with food and other provisions. At night, he planned to send scouts through secret tunnels to the city of Weinsberg to buy whatever they needed. The Duke hoped his friends in Weinsberg would send word of his plight to opponents of the King and they would muster a force of soldiers, come to his aid and rescue them all.
King Konrad III and his troops, after waiting impatiently for a few weeks, sent a messenger to the Duke demanding the surrender of everyone in the castle – all of the Duke’s men would have to die by the sword, but the women and children would be free to go. The Duke of Welf flatly refused these terms. Furious, the King ordered all roads and pathways surrounding the castle to be barricaded. He sent soldiers to search for tunnel entrances and when they were discovered, he filled them, blocked them, and stationed soldiers by each one.
Back inside the castle, food and other provisions were running out fast. The Duke had sent young spies at night to buy food and provisons, but they were unable to return because the tunnels were blocked and guarded. From the top of the castle the Duke could see that soldiers guarded all the pathways. A quick inventory revealed that the once-ample stores were nearly depleted. In fact, all that remained were two barrels of beans. The outlook was grim – the people inside the castle knew they faced starvation.
Furious that the Duke hadn’t already surrendered, King Konrad III sent another message. If everyone in the castle did not surrender that very day by nightfall, he would set the entire city of Weinsberg on fire and subject all its inhabitants to the sword. Now the people inside the castle were truly desperate. Not only was their own doom sealed, but innocent residents of Weinsberg would share the same horrendous fate.
No one knows who said what to whom in the hastily gathered meeting that took place next, or who it was who came up with a certain plan. It may have been the Duke of Welf or it may have been his clever wife, the Lady Uta. It may have been a sharp-minded servant or one of the servant’s wives. But before sundown, a messenger emerged from the castle with a letter addressed to King Konrad III. The letter read:
We, the women of the castle, humbly realize that our fate
is in your hands. We ask only that you allow us to leave
at sunrise tomorrow with our children and whatever we
can carry on our backs. For this we entreat you and submit
our lives to your mercy.
King Konrad III considered the proposal. After all, he had already said he’d let the women and children leave in peace. If they took a few pocketfuls of valuables, what was that to him? They could rebuild their lives and he’d be forever hailed as a wonderful and merciful king. Besides, the vast fortune of Duke Welf would be abandoned inside the castle and he’d add it to his own royal treasury. Plus the whole affair would be over. He sent the messenger back with his royal approval.
The next morning at sunrise, the castle gates creaked open. Out stepped the women with their children behind. But that’s not all that emerged from the castle. Carried on the backs of the women were their own husbands, while on the backs of unmarried women were their own brothers or fathers. Each woman staggered under the weight of her burden while the men, sputtering with embarrassment on the backs of their womenfolk, struggled to keep from slipping to the ground.
Astonished at the very sight, King Konrad III laughed. His soldiers, outraged at the gall of these women, demanded that all the traitors be executed at once. The King refused, declaring he had already given his royal word that they could take whatever they could carry on their backs, and “a king always keeps his word.” Thus the women of the castle were allowed safe passage and to rescue their beloved menfolk as well.
According to legend, the Duke and his men were so grateful that they renewed their loyalty to the King. King Konrad III renamed the castle “The Castle of the Faithful Wives,” the name by which the castle is still known today, should you ever visit the city of Weinsberg in Germany.
The above story is retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.
The day the women walked out of the castle carrying their husbands is believed to have been December 21, 1140.
The American town of Winesberg, Ohio, was originally named after the German city of Weinsberg in the early 19th century. The spelling was changed to "Winesberg" in 1833.