Gottfried “Götz” von Berlichingen was born around 1480 into the noble family of Berlichingen in modern-day Württemberg. In 1497, Gotz entered the service of Frederick I, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. In 1498, he fought in the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, seeing action in Burgundy, Lorraine, and the Brabant, and in the Swabian War the following year. By 1500, he had left the service of Frederick, and formed a company of mercenaries, selling his services to various Dukes, Margraves, and Barons. In 1504, Gotz and his mercenaries fought for Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria. During the siege of the city of Landshut, a cannonball hit the knight’s sword, moving it with such force that it sliced off his hand. Instead of retiring he had two mechanical prosthetic iron replacements made.
The first of these was a simple device that consisted of a glove with a thumb and fingers attached to it, and is said to have been made by a village blacksmith and saddle maker. The fingers could be brought inward, hence allowing Gotz to grip his sword. Some aesthetic attention was paid to the prosthetic during the creation, as certain life-like details where found on it. For instance, sculpted fingernails and wrinkles at the knuckles can be seen on it.
The second device extended to the end of the knight’s forearm, and was held in place with a leather strap. Gotz decided to have joints on its fingers, which offered him a better grip of his weapon. Furthermore, spring-loaded mechanisms were placed within the hand, which allowed the fingers to be locked into place. With this prosthesis he was able to hold the reins of his horse, and even pick up a quill to write.
In 1512, near the town of Forchheim, due to a long running and bitter feud with Nuremberg he raided a group of Nuremberg merchants returning from the great fair at Leipzig. Emperor Maximilian placed Gotz under an Imperial ban. He was only released from this in 1514, when he paid the large sum of 14,000 gulden. In 1516, in a feud with the Principality of Mainz and its Prince-Archbishop, he and his company mounted a raid into Hesse, capturing Philip IV, Count of Waldeck, in the process. A ransom of 8,400 gulden was paid for the safe return of the count. For this action, he was again placed under the ban in 1518.
In 1519, he signed up in the service of Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg, who was at war with the Swabian League. He fought in the defence of Möckmühl, but eventually was forced to surrender the town, due to a lack of food and ammunition. In violation of the terms of surrender, he was held prisoner and handed over to the citizens of Heilbronn, a town he had raided several times. His fellow knights Georg von Frundsberg and Franz von Sickingen successfully argued for his release in 1522, but only after he paid a ransom of 2,000 gulden and swore not to take vengeance on the League.
In 1525, with the outbreak of the German Peasants’ War, he led the rebels in the district of Odenwald against the Ecclesiastical Princes of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite this, he claimed he was not a fervent supporter of their cause. He agreed to lead the rebels partly because he had no other way out. Despite his wishes to stop wanton violence, Gotz found himself powerless to control the rebels and after a month of leadership he deserted his command and returned to the Schloss Jagsthausen to sit out the rest of the rebellion.
After the Imperial victory, he was called before the Diet of Speyer to account for his actions. On October 17, 1526, he was acquitted by the Imperial chamber. Despite this, in November 1528 he was lured to Augsburg by the Swabian League, who were eager to settle old scores. After reaching Augsburg under promise of safe conduct, and while preparing to clear himself of the old charges against him made by the league, he was seized and made prisoner until 1530 when he was liberated, but only after repeating his oath of 1522 and agreeing to return to his Burg Hornberg and remain in that area. Gotz agreed to this, and remained near the Hornberg until Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, released him from his oath in 1540. He served under Charles in the 1542 campaign against the Ottoman Empire of Suleyman the Magnificent in Hungary, and in 1544 in the Imperial invasion of France under Francis I of France.
After the French campaign, he returned to the Hornberg and lived out the rest of his life. He married twice and had three daughters and seven sons. He died on July 23, 1562 in Hornberg Castle. He prosthetic arm is on display at the Jagsthausen Castle.