The Public House and Military Culture in Germany, 1500–1648



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The Public House and Military Culture in Germany, 1500–1648



B. Ann Tlusty

According to local chronicles, when the mercenary captain Schertlin von Burtenbach entered the city of Augsburg during the Schmalkaldic War in 1546, he was accompanied by four thousand men, all of whom were quartered in the city and its environs.1 A year later, the victorious emperor Charles V entered the city ‘with great strength of troops.’2 What would this many soldiers, many of whom were accompanied by their wives and children, mean to a city with a population of between thirty and forty thousand? Where did they stay and how did they get on with the local populace?

Since Michael Roberts published his theory of an early modern ‘military revolution’ in 1956, historians have debated the extent to which this period represents a turning point in the development of the professional military corps that gradually replaced local defence systems.3 The establishment of a standing army was an important step in the process of centralization and in the develop­ment of national identity, both of which attended the rise of absolutism. Studies of this process, however, tend to concentrate primarily on institutional aspects such as military organization, competing jurisdictions, improvements in technology, recruitment and financing of troops, and so on, and to pay little at­tention to parallel socio-cultural factors that also affected defence decisions.

Recent work that targets the social history of war has begun to correct this imbalance, initially by focusing attention on the primacy of the human needs of the soldiers as a factor affecting military decisions. Frank Tallet for example sees logistics, or the provisioning of troops, as a more crucial problem than the dangers faced in battle. Military leaders since antiquity had known that troop efficiency was tied to sufficient provisions, and by the seventeenth century, this was a major impetus in the development of standing national armies backed by state-controlled financing.4

Food for the soldiers, however, was only part of the problem. Soldiers also needed shelter to survive, particularly in winter. The public inn or tavern pro­vided the obvious solution to both problems, for the provision of food, drink, and lodging in return for money was the basic form of economic exchange that defined the innkeeper’s trade.5 Paralleling other forms of hospitality, the func­tion of quartering soldiers was gradually taken away from private householders and assumed by inns over the course of the sixteenth century. Inns and taverns also furnished soldiers and military recruiters with space for both professional and social activities. Even the state financing of military operations was par­tially dependent on public houses, for they provided a significant amount of revenue in the form of taxes on alcohol sales.

This paper will explore the role of inns and taverns in defence systems and in the lives of soldiers in Germany from the sixteenth century through the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), primarily on the example of the imperial city of Augsburg and its environs. The importance of the inn to the highly mobile early modern soldier was related to its designation as a public form of house­hold. Civic leaders after the Reformation placed increasing emphasis on the household as the key to the social discipline of their subjects. Control of the household and responsibility for its peaceful and productive functioning lay in the hands of the family head, and the sanctity of the home was protected by the traditional right of household peace (Hausfrieden).6 An innkeeper, as master of his household, was also responsible for what went on within his house, and could be held partially responsible for fights and injuries, illegal gambling, blasphemies, or even the conversations that took place on his premises. Nonetheless, as ‘public’ (öffentliche) spaces, inns were more subject to control by the authorities than private households. With the late medieval shift from private to public hospitality, territorial and town officials slowly took over the role of controlling and protecting travellers, and in turn controlling the houses in which they stayed.7 Only in a public house could the city government regu­late the amounts and types of food and drink that could be served, the hours during which hospitality was available, and the sorts of facilities guests could expect. This aspect of control increased the suitability of inns for recruiting and military quartering.

Tensions between soldiers and local residents also played out in tavern set­tings. Inns and taverns had a role in the process of constructing the distinct soldier identities that would ultimately drive a cultural wedge between the military sector and the civilian populace. At the same time, segregation of sol­diers from civilians strained relations between urban and rural populations, as soldiers were increasingly expelled from the civic community and forced on the villages.
The relationship between public houses and soldiers in many cases began at the outset of the soldier’s military career, with his recruitment. The combination of public space and alcoholic drinks offered by the inn was particularly conven­ient for military recruiters. As was the case with many kinds of contracts, the fact that the recruitment occurred in a public place made witnesses easy to find. The innkeeper himself sometimes signed recruiting contracts as an official wit­ness.8 Persons wishing to enlist not only received an immediate cash payment (Laufgeld) from the recruiter, but also a drink afterwards to seal the contract. The offer of cash and drink was naturally irresistible to some tavern patrons, particularly those who were broke, unemployed, and already under the influ­ence of alcohol. Tavern visitors who contracted to enlist while in a drunken state could get out of the contract by returning the Laufgeld, for the actual enlistment, or swearing in, did not take place until the recruit appeared at the muster at a time and place designated by the recruiter.9 However, if the recruit had spent the money in the meantime and was unable to return it, then failure to appear for the muster could lead to arrest and possible punishment.10

The primary concern of local councils in military matters was of course local defence, and thus civic authorities in Augsburg did not tolerate recruitment of local citizens by foreign powers in their inns. The penalty for enlisting to a foreign power was loss of citizenship.11 Foreign recruiters, however, did operate in Augsburg inns along with local and imperial military representatives, for local citizens were not the only source of new recruits. Strangers from outside the city sometimes reported the intention to enlist as their reason for coming to town.12 Their activities would most likely have been welcomed by local innkeepers, who would be certain to profit from the combination of hosting travellers and providing drinks for recruits. In fact, some were not above allowing recruiters to advertise their presence by displaying military hardware outside the tavern door.13


Once the soldiers had been mustered, military leaders were immediately faced with the challenge of providing them with sufficient food and housing. For this, they depended primarily on local resources. Soldiers during the sixteenth and seventeenth century could rarely expect to be paid regularly, or at a rate suffi­cient to cover living expenses. Instead, they supported themselves by exacting food, shelter, and contributions from the local populace, or by resorting to plunder. Normally, the households in which soldiers were quartered had to pro­vide provisions, usually in the form of food and supplies, but sometimes also as cash contributions. Provisions ordinances that listed these requirements were designed both to ensure that soldiers were treated in accordance with their rank, and to limit exploitation of their hosts.14 Cooperation in these matters was often the best policy. Providing for the soldiers was expensive, but resistance usually meant that the soldiers would be given permission to plunder at will.

During most of the sixteenth century, soldiers in Augsburg were billeted in pairs or with their families in private homes. Some were also put up in inns, which also served as homes for the innkeeper and his family. Sharing living quarters with local families for as long as a year or more, these soldiers and their families were thus integrated into the daily life of the local residents. This is not to suggest that they formed happy multiple-family groups. Certainly friendly relations between the soldiers and their hosts were possible; but such relationships are difficult to evaluate, for peaceful families leave few records behind. To most local citizens, however, the soldiers with their mobile lifestyle, even if they were travelling with wives and children, must have carried a taint of suspicion and disorder from the outset. Households without houses, the vagabond-like soldier families were particularly threatening to the metaphor of the orderly household fostered by civic leaders during the post-Reformation period. Soldiers thus remained ‘outsiders’ and tended to be unwelcome guests under the best of circumstances. Unmarried soldiers especially, who were usu­ally quartered in pairs, were inclined towards rowdy and unruly behaviour.

In reading the statements of witnesses and defendants involved in alterca­tions with soldiers, it is possible to identify a pattern. Most householders in either defending their actions or discrediting those of their adversaries used a vocabulary that represented the soldiers as a threat to the household. During the so-called ‘armoured Imperial Diet’ of 1548, for example, Augsburg craftsman Simon Schwert became irritated when he came home drunk and found ‘several soldiers sitting about his oven none of whom had been presented to him’.15 Although the group had apparently been invited by a soldier quartered in his house, Schwert justified provoking them with insults by characterizing them as intruders at his hearth. Perhaps most typical was the household squabble that broke out between weaver Hans Heiss and his unwelcome guest Hainrich Imveld after Heiss tried to put out the fire upon which Imveld’s wife was cooking. According to Heiss, the soldier’s wife had too much wood on the fire.16 The accusation that the soldiers wasted wood and other household provisions was a common one, as were arguments over the control of keys and locked doors.17

At stake in these squabbles was dominion in the household. In formulating their arguments, householders drew on traditional notions of household peace and patriarchal control. The intrusion of these outsiders threatened to under­mine order in the household and corrupt the morals of its members.18 At stake, too, was the dominion of civic authorities; just as the presence of additional men in the household undermined the authority of the family patriarch, the presence of a separate locus of power and discipline in the city in the form of military authority threatened the power of local governors. Household domin­ion and civic power were related both on a practical and on a metaphorical level. Civic government especially after the Reformation was based on an im­age of patriarchal discipline and control, with the city council acting in the role of city fathers. They based their vision of a godly community on the model of an orderly household.19 The unruly soldiers threatened to destroy this ideal on both levels, for fights breaking out between soldiers and citizens represented a greater problem than the normal sorts of swordplay common in early modern city streets. What began as a household squabble could escalate to a confes­sional or political dispute, and a soldier being killed as a result might have political ramifications. The council’s sensitivity to this danger is evident in an ordinance issued in 1547, in which city fathers demanded ‘patience’ in putting up with the unwelcome visitors and warned sharply against any form of resis­tance. Provocative or rebellious behaviour on the part of the citizenry, they warned, would lead to the city’s ruin, and ‘drown [it] in blood’;20 elsewhere they cautioned that actions that encouraged ‘quarrelling and ill-will between citizens and the soldiers’ could easily lead to ‘havoc and pandemonium’.21

The disgruntled citizenry did not accept the burden of quartering without complaint. In fact, Augsburg’s townspeople flooded the city council with countless petitions, seeking every possible avenue of relief. Again, their arguments were shaped to appeal to concern for orderly households and productive crafts. Some invoked moral concerns, complaining that the men of the house often had to be out and the women were left alone with single sol­diers. Others complained of space problems, noting that they were sleeping three to a bed even before the soldiers arrived and the only space left was the shop room, leaving them unable to practice their crafts. Many complained about the costs of wasted provisions and damage for which they were not paid, suggesting that their household could end up in financial ruin and their families would be forced to seek poor relief from the city.22

As disruptive as soldiers could be in private homes, it appears that those billeted in pairs and small groups caused fewer problems for their hosts than larger groups stationed together in public houses. For Augsburg’s publicans, hospitality was a matter of ordinance; all those who wished to serve drinks at tables were required by law to provide beds and linen for overnight guests and stables for their horses. A list of quartering costs that has survived from the Imperial Diet of 1550–51 allows a statistical look at the difference between quartering in inns and private households. Based on a sample of half of the entries in the list, 1,399 soldiers and family members were quartered in 553 private homes, for an average of 2.5 per household. Twelve of these were listed as including children. An additional 130 soldiers and their families, three of which included children, were quartered in sixteen public inns, for an aver­age of eight per inn.

The concentration of soldiers in larger groups seems in turn to have increased the potential for disorder. Innkeepers were over ten times more likely to report both costs from damages and incidents of violence than private citi­zens.23 It is of course possible that this statistic is inflated by the innkeeper’s professional experience in keeping accounts. Innkeepers may well have been more savvy about reporting the costs of damage than private citizens, although the public inn had not by 1551 become so separate from the household as to account for a disparity this great. Unfortunately for the city’s innkeepers, how­ever, the threat posed by soldiers to the private household must have seemed more pervasive than the danger posed by rowdy tavern comportment. Over the course of the sixteenth century, soldiers were gradually moved out of the pri­vate households and into public institutions, including both permanent military quarters and inns. The result was to create a firmer boundary between the sol­diers and the local populace.

The process of isolating soldiers from the populace began in Augsburg with the construction during the 1580s of permanent military barracks. In 1582 the first wing of the so-called Zwinger (or barbican)24 was erected on the city wall. The Zwinger was expanded between 1585 and 1597 to a total of 274 apart­ments. The apartments were originally built as a residence for permanent members of the local guard, who had formerly been housed in mean huts along the wall, but it was later used to quarter soldiers from outside the city as well.25 The Zwinger even contained its own tap house, with wine available to the sol­diers at a reduced tax rate. Unlike other publicans in the city, the landlord in the Zwinger tap house was also allowed to extend credit to his customers. These measures may have been intended as an incentive for soldiers to stay away from the local taverns (and out of brawls with local citizens).26

The numbers of troops recruited in and around the city during the Thirty Years’ War, however, far exceeded the capacity of the city’s barracks. By this time, quartering in private homes was apparently no longer considered an op­tion except in extreme situations. This development was not unique to Augsburg, but paralleled billeting decisions elsewhere in Europe.27 Innkeepers, whose houses were considered public, were unable to raise effective objections to the forced billeting of soldiers in their homes. At the beginning of the war, the large numbers of newly recruited soldiers were quartered exclusively in public inns, nearly all of them outside the city walls in the surrounding villages. This remained the solution of choice for Augsburg’s authorities throughout the war – whenever possible, troops were quartered in public houses, preferably outside the city. In addition, new military apartments were added to the city walls in 1619, according one chronicler, ‘so that the citizenry would not be too burdened by the troops’.28 Thus the city was successful, for the time being, in keeping distance between professional soldiers and the local populace. During this phase of the war, quartering in the city was generally limited to high-ranking officers, who were put up either in the finer inns or the homes of the local elites.

Of course, the quartering of common troops in country villages also had its problems. Based on complaints by the innkeepers of Oberhausen (a village just outside Augsburg’s walls), soldiers billeted in village inns proved to be most unpleasant company. Innkeepers complained that they kept other guests out of the inns, either refusing to allow them in or frightening them off with their dis­orderly behaviour, and that they threatened the wives and families of their hosts as well. One publican insisted that he ‘could not be sure of life and limb’ as long as the soldiers were in his house; another, that a soldier had beaten his crippled daughter.29 Others told stories of soldiers wrecking inn property, injur­ing other customers, cursing, gambling, and committing all manner of ‘sins and blasphemies’. The introduction of tobacco in the seventeenth century led to an even greater threat – soldiers, the innkeepers complained, were smoking in the stables in a state of drunkenness, and were certain eventually to burn down their stables, inns, and yards.30 Chronicles and other accounts from throughout Germany suggest that this was hardly an isolated problem; in fact, some historians have suggested that during the Thirty Years’ War, more damage occurred as a result of quartering than from any other form of military action.31

To make matters worse, collecting payment for the expenses incurred by quartered soldiers proved extremely problematic for the innkeepers. Theoretically, publicans should have been paid for feeding and lodging soldiers from moneys collected as war contributions. War financing, however, was in a transitional phase during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Ordinances regulating provisions and payments for quarters were difficult to enforce, and the responsible parties were often far away. Many innkeepers complained that soldiers simply refused to pay, or paid only ‘as much as suits their pleasure’.32 One innkeeper petitioned to the War Commission in 1619 for reimbursement after soldiers left secretly during the night without paying their bill of five hundred gulden, leaving an additional four hundred gulden in damages, and stealing much of his silver, linens, and other property besides.33 Based on this and many other bills, the soldiers spared no expenses at their meals and drinking bouts. Officers in particular often chose expensive imported wine and drank vermouth or brandy with their breakfast. On many days they invited guests and held banquets, consuming amounts equal to five or six days’ ordinary board at one meal.34

Village innkeepers rarely seemed to receive satisfaction for unpaid bills. The War Commission found plenty of excuses to refuse bills, claiming they were submitted too late or included inflated charges.35 When the soldiers were imperial troops, their hosts often reported that they did not know to whom they could turn with their claims, and even when they applied to the appropriate authorities, the processing of the claim could take years.36 Some innkeepers went into debt themselves in order to keep the inn running, and ultimately were forced to close their doors permanently.37

For Augsburg and its surrounding villages, however, the most devastating phase of the war was yet to come. In March of 1632, between nine hundred and thirteen hundred Bavarian troops entered the city in a short-lived attempt to provide additional defence against the advancing army of King Gustavus Adolphus. They were routed and replaced a month later by several Swedish regiments with a total troop strength estimated at between two and four thou­sand men. The Swedish troops arrived under the command of the Swedish king himself, who was welcomed as an avenging angel by many of Augsburg’s Protestant citizens.38

Space limitations do not permit a detailed description of the complicated shifts in confessional politics that attended the fortunes of war during the years that followed; the primary point to be made is that beginning with Gustavus Adolphus’s entry into the city in 1632, using quartering as a form of confessional abuse be­came the rule. Initially, these abuses still tended to target public institutions, although the numbers of soldiers present in the city during the Swedish occu­pation soon exceeded the capacity of public houses and buildings. Thus Swedish troops began by taking over Catholic schools, the various buildings associated with the Cathedral, and the Catholic welfare settlement known as the Fuggerei, as well as the Zwinger quarters.39 But eventually they also moved into Catholic homes. The ruinous costs of maintaining these troops within the city, too, fell largely upon the unfortunate Catholic citizenry. Military finances by this time were becoming increasingly tied to the government bureaucracy, allowing a greater measure of control from the top. A large portion of the nearly 320,000 gulden spent on war costs in 1633, which made up nearly half of the total city budget, was collected from Catholic householders.40 When the city again fell into the hands of the Catholics in 1635, the situation quickly re­versed, with both the physical and the financial burdens of quartering now falling upon the Protestant members of the bi-confessional city.

Along with financial burdens, the city suffered physical abuse at the hands of both the Swedish and the imperial troops. The extravagant soldier banquets continued, according to one chronicler ‘beginning with brandy in the morning and continuing with wine and beer the entire day’. The drunken soldiers then engaged in malicious destruction of gardens and homes, carried off livestock, and left the city in filth and ruin.41 By 1635, the financial situation in the city was catastrophic. According to a desperate petition from local defence officials on the part of the citizenry, at least 100 households were already in ruin and the survival of the entire city was at risk.42



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