Freiburg's History for Pedestrians









Statue of Martin Malterer on Schwabentor Bridge




Archduke Albrecht VI



The Duchy of Burgundy


In 1361 the French King Jean le Bon (1350-1364) grants his youngest son Philippe le Hardi the territory of Burgundy - the wine land around the city of Dijon - in fee. This is the beginning of the Duchy of Burgundy. In later years nobody stops Philippe's heirs from expanding their territory as France is in the midst of the Hundred Years' War with England (1339-1453) while the Habsburgs battle the Swiss for their Austrian possessions in the Aargau.


Soon the citizens of Freiburg realize that there is no such a thing as a free meal, as their new rulers ask them for money and troops to fight in the Swiss wars. The battle of Sempach against the Confederates in 1386 marks the beginning of Swiss independence.


In that battle, not only is the Austrian Duke Leopold killed but the majority of Freiburg's nobility is also slain. One of them, the Duke's bodyguard Martin Malterer fights with all his might against the Swiss halberdiers while his master is bleeding to death at his feet. At least Freiburg's banner shall not fall in the hands of the enemy. In vain, the winners eventually capture the flag and still expose it in the Church of the Bare Footers in the city of Lucerne.



The Church Council of Constance (1414-1418)


The Church Council of Constance, at the beginning of the 15th century, has become notorious for burning the Bohemian rebel Jan Hus. The German King Sigismund (1410-1437) had not planned such an event but aimed to reestablish order in the Roman Church tormented by the Great Schism. At times three popes claim the highest office for themselves and find support from different rulers. Here Austrian Duke Frederick IV makes the wrong choice in helping the deposed Pope John XXIII in 1415 to escape from Basle to Freiburg. King Sigismund regarding this as an act of high treason, outlaws Frederick. His fief is confiscated, and Freiburg becomes Reichsstadt, a city directly depending on the German king.







Freiburg Gets its University in 1457


The Freiburg people, however, love their Habsburg rulers, and when in 1427 Frederick is eventually reestablished, he hails his city for its unprecedented loyalty. His nephew Archduke Albrecht VI remembered the dedication towards his uncle when in 1457, he generously founds Freiburg's University. The initial lectures take place without a proper building in the Dominican (Prediger) and Franciscan (Barfüßer) monasteries.


Lecturing in the Dominican monastery





Charles the Rash

The End of the Duchy of Burgundy


Charles the Rash (1433-1404) was the greediest of all the Dukes of Burgundy.  People called him the Occidental Turk, for his hunger for land was comparable with that of the Turks in the Orient i.e. on the Balkan. To stop Charles from expanding his territory the French King Louis XI manages an alliance between the Swiss and the Habsburgs against the Duke who then fights his last three battles: At first Charles loses his bonnet in the Battle of Grandson, later his booty in Morat and eventually his blood in Nancy.


The real trouble starts as a consequence of the Senlis Peace Treaty in 1493. The young Archduke Maximilian, married to Charles' sister Maria inherits most of the Duke's land while the French king only gets la Picardie and la Bourgogne. Judge for yourself by looking on the map supplied.



As the German King Maximilian later acquires the rule over Spain, Naples, Bohemia, and Hungary again not by war but according to the motto: Fortes bella gerant, tu felix Austria nube!*. The French king feels that the Habsburgs had outmaneuvered him. This is the beginning of more than 300 years of bitter enmity between the Houses of Valois, later Bourbon and Habsburg. It only ended in 1806 when, pressed by Napoleon I, the Habsburg Franz II abdicated as German Emperor but at the same time remounted the throne as the Austrian Emperor Franz I.

*May the strong wage wars, you lucky Austria marry!



Maximilians Statue at the Kaufhaus on Münsterplatz









The Reich's double eagle at the Altes Zollhaus in Colmar (France). One head represents the Emperor, the other the Estates.





Maximilian's relief at the House of the Whale on  Franziskanerstraße









































Gravamina kept in the Martin Luther Museum in Wittenberg.

Maximilian I, They Call Him the Last Knight


In 1473 the German Emperor Frederick III (1439-1493) takes his 14-years-old son Maximilian to Freiburg. When they visit one of the many gem-cutting factories, young Maximilian gets his pointed shoe into a polishing machine. His shoe is torn off, but luckily, his foot is saved.


Despite this event, Maximilian loves Freiburg and is generous to the city when he becomes German King in 1493. The Empire is not in a good state. Roads are not safe, and only fortified cities present sufficient protection against looting gangs and robber barons. Therefore in 1495, at the Imperial Diet in Worms, Maximilian proclaims a General Peace. As supporting measures, he establishes an Imperial Court and decrees the levy of a Common Cent (Gemeiner Pfennig), a tax to finance Imperial needs.


Medieval city wall riddled with toilets and an underground parking lot at Gerberau near Augustinerplatz.





The Imperial Diet Meets in Freiburg in 1498


Maximilian convenes the 1498 Imperial Diet in Freiburg. The city is bursting at the seams when the Emperor, his consort Bianca Maria Sforza, his son Philip the Handsome, and the Estates, i.e., Electors, Princes, Dukes, representatives of the Imperial Cities, and their entourage are all looking for lodging and food. The Diet meets in the relatively small Courthouse (Gerichtslaube), where the smell due, and according to the many participants, is unbearable.  Luckily more space for entertainment is available in the just finished building now called Kornhaus (Granary) at the Münster square.


The old Courthouse on Turmstraße is now used for the City's receptions.


On the agenda of the Diet is the Swiss refusal of both the Imperial Court and the Common Cent. For the participants of the Diet, this attitude causes severe headaches or are those instead due to the lousy wine served at the Kornhaus. Since no peace can be made with the Swiss, the Diet instead adopts the first German ordinance on the purity of wine that threatens heavy punishment to those guilty of adulteration. The famous German beer purity regulation only passed in 1516, i.e., 18 years later!



The Swabian War


In 1599 immediately following the Diet, Maximilian starts the so-called Swabian war on those stubborn Swiss. Again Freiburg has to send troops and furnish money, and as before, the Swiss inflict a crushing defeat, but this time on the Imperial Army at Dornach. In the following peace treaty of Basle, the Swiss have their will and de facto become independent of the Empire.



Those Golden Years


The defeat of the Imperial Army neither changes Maximilian's love nor that of his ministers for Freiburg. His Chancellor Konrad Stürtzel von Buchheim buys seven plots of land at the Große Gass and combines the existing houses to form a representative building, where from 1510 onwards, Maximilian frequently resides. Today the building is called Basler Hof for reasons explained later. Maximilian's Finance Minister Jakob Villinger von Schönenberg builds the House of the Whale that later becomes the home of the great Erasmus of Rotterdam. Talking about money: in 1507, Maximilian extends Freiburg's privilege for minting silver Rappens to gold coins.


The keystone of the original gate to the Freiburg Mint on Münzgasse.



As another highlight in those golden years, the Bishop of Constance arrives in Freiburg in 1513 to consecrate the nearly finished Münster choir. This addition, with its thirteen chapels donated by Freiburg's affluent families, represents a reflection of the city's wealth at that time. The Guilds of the various artisans offered the stained glass windows on both sides of the nave. Maximilian donated some windows, too, showing the Habsburgs' coat of arms and the Reich symböls that can still be admired, looking from the nave high up into the choir.


The Münster in all its splendor around 1520





Joß Fritz, Leader of a Peasants' Revolt


But there is trouble ahead caused by the miserable social situation of the peasants in those times. In the same year, when Freiburg celebrates the near completion of the Münster, the peasants living around in the countryside demand the abolishment of their serfdom and the hard forced labor imposed by their masters. In the name of God, these rebels demand free disposition of woods, meadows, and water, requesting hunting and fishing rights. They secretly meet with their leader Joß Fritz in the village of Lehen at the Mundenhof (nowadays  a zoo-like area, great for kids). The peasant's banner shows the Bundschuh (a shoe held together with strings) symbol of and giving the name to the rebellion. Eventually, Freiburg's nobles found out about the peasants’ hideout. In the middle of the night, they raid the Mundenhof. Peasants not killed immediately are later quartered, beheaded or mutilated by cutting off the fingers with which they had once taken the oath to their masters.


Many historians consider these peasants as precursors of the Reformation that officially only started in 1517 with, according to tradition, Martin Luther's nailing his 95 Theses onto the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg.



The Reformation





The Impotence of Emperor and Estates


 At the end of his life. Maximilian is only a shadow of his former self. The roads of the Reich are as insecure as at the beginning of his reign. While desperados like Franz von Sickingen devastate the country, the simple people groan and cry. A remedy is not even proposed. at the Imperial Diet held in Frankfurt in 1518. One year later, in Augsburg, the same assembly rather discusses another ongoing topic: the Gravamina of the German Nation against the Holy See in Rome. These complaints are directed against the financial burden the Roman Church is inflicting on the German nobility as well as on the common man by asking for money for the Curia, entitling clergymen to undeserved benefits, and selling indulgences to the people. Also, here necessary reforms are postponed.


When Emperor Maximilian dies in 1519, the Electors having been bribed with more than 850 000 ducats, chose his grandson Charles V as German Emperor, money that the rich trader house of the Fuggers in Augsburg had easily advanced.


This page was last updated on 22 June, 2022