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Werner Von Urslingen: A Swabian Condottiero in Italy

Italian CondottieriWerner Von Urslingen: A Swabian Condottiero in Italy

Werner von Urslingen is the founder of the german "Great Company" (Grande Compagnia) or "Company of the Crown" (Compagnia della Corona), bearing the motto "Duke Werner, Lord of the Great Company, enemy of God, of priests, and of mercy." He operates extensively, fighting and plundering primarily in Central Italy

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Last Updated on 2024/03/15

The Legacy of Werner von Urslingen: Founder of the German “Great Company”.

Werner von Urslingen (Italian: Guarnieri d’Urslingen, Duca Guarnieri) (born around 1308, died 1353), a member of the Swabian Urslingen family, was among the earliest and most notorious Condottieri in Italy. Rather than focusing on combat against other forces, he specialized in looting and ravaging the outskirts of cities, extorting money from them for his withdrawal. He frequently shifted allegiances, offering his troops’ services to various cities and rulers.

Of Islingen, an ancient village near Dietingen, in Swabia. Duke, descendant of the Dukes of Spoleto.

Born: 1308 circa
Death: 1354

Year, monthState, Comp. venturaOpponentConductActivity AreaActions taken and other salient facts
………….EmpireTuscanyServes in the employ of Emperor John of Bohemia (Giovanni di Boemia).
JuneFlorenceArezzoTuscanyHe is hired with 1,000 horsemen by the Florentines to fight the Tarlati. His operational base is Cortona, where the lord is Ranieri Casali.
1338VeniceVeronaVenetoFights against the militias of the Lord of Verona, Mastino della Scala.
Jan.Comp. venturaMilanVeneto, LombardyAt the end of the conflict with the Scaligeri, he joins the Company of St. George (Compagnia di San Giorgio), financed by the Scaligeri, along with Lodrisio Visconti, Malerba, and Konrad Von Landau (Count Lando). He departs from Vicenza with 2,500 horsemen and 1,000 infantry (of which 200 are crossbowmen), mostly Swiss; crosses the Adige River and advances into the regions of Brescia and Bergamo.
Feb.LombardyCrosses the Adda River and arrives in Monza: from this location, he follows Lodrisio Visconti to Castelseprio and fortifies himself in Legnano. Takes part in the sack of Parabiago; is defeated at Canegrate despite initial success favoring the mercenaries. In the battle, 4,000 horsemen and many more infantry are killed on both sides (500 horsemen and 3,000 infantry on the Milanese side).
………….PisaFlorence, PerugiaTuscanyConfronts the Florentines led by Malatesta Malatesta Guastafamiglia. Devastatingly sacks the territories controlled by the Perugians, particularly the districts of Anghiari, Monterchi, and Citerna.
Sept.Comp. venturaFlorence, SienaTuscany, UmbriaDismissed at the end of the war, he forms the Great Company or Company of the Crown (Grande Compagnia o Compagnia della Corona) with Ettore di Panigo and Mazarello da Cusano, boasting 4,000 horsemen. The company’s motto is “Duke Werner, Lord of the Great Company, enemy of God, priests, and mercy.” The Great Company (later, also called Societas Theotonicorum) is not composed solely of Germans but also includes Italians, Hungarians, and Catalans. They infest the territory of Volterra. Gualtieri di Brienne gives the mercenaries 8,000 florins at Fosso Armonico to keep them from advancing further. Werner Von Urslingen enters Sienese territory. Siena enacts a law prescribing the death penalty for anyone supporting the company. Despite being supplied with provisions, he burns Buonconvento, Bagno Vignoni, and other centers in the Val d’Arbia. He even approaches the gates of Siena, using his typical intimidating strategy. He receives from the municipality 2,852/4,000 or 12,000 florins according to different reports (including 300 florins to compensate for the loss of killed mounts). Only after the delivery of the money to Andrea da Medicina does he leave the territory, setting his sights on Monte San Savino. Repelled, he enters the region of Arezzo and from Castiglion Fiorentino moves into the territory of Cortona. The lord of the city seeks help from the Perugians. Werner Von Urslingen threatens Montepulciano; the Perugians send ambassadors Everardo da Montesperelli and Bindolo di Monaldo to meet him in Cortona. They unsuccessfully ask him to hire out 300 horsemen from his company for service to the municipality for six months.
Oct. – Nov.Comp. venturaPerugia, Città di Castello, Church, Bologna, RiminiTuscany, Umbria Marche, RomagnaThe Perugians elect Count of Soana Guido Orsini as their general captain to counter him. Upon hearing this, Werner Von Urslingen leaves Cortona and reaches Passignano sul Trasimeno via Borghetto, where he sets up camp. No damage is inflicted upon the territory. He then crosses the Val di Pierla and heads towards Città di Castello, closely followed by the Perugian militias that prevent any attempt at pillaging. He passes by Samaiano, Colle dei Ciechi, and the Saenna bridge; he intimidates Città di Castello. He moves to Romagna to aid Francesco Ordelaffi against the papal forces, sweeps through the Cesena region, and bursts into the Bologna area. Taddeo Pepoli is not caught off guard: he gathers over 3,000 horsemen with allies and Scaligeri forces, sending them along the Lamone River under the command of his son Giovanni and Giberto da Fogliano. Werner Von Urslingen then takes the route to Urbino and, with the aid of the Montefeltro, strikes against the Lord of Rimini, Malatesta Malatesta, for twenty-nine days.
Dec.RiminiMalatestaRomagna, MarcheHe comes to an agreement in Cervia with Malatesta Malatesta Guastafamiglia; in exchange for a large sum of money, he assists the Lord of Rimini against Ferrandino Malatesta, who has attacked in Verucchio. The German condottiero operates in the vicinity of Serrungarina. From here, he threatens Fossombrone and Fano, which had previously been taken from the Malatesta by Terentino da Carignano. After a week, on Christmas Day, he enters the latter location.
Jan.Comp. venturaFerraraRomagna, EmiliaWerner Von Urslingen concludes an agreement with opponents stationed in Faenza; reaches Cervia, travels to Bologna, and meets with the city’s lord, Taddeo Pepoli, thereby thwarting the hopes of exiles such as Ettore di Panigo and Mazarello da Cusano who serve in his company. The lords of Bologna, Ferrara, Verona, Imola, Faenza, Ravenna, and Rimini provide him with 60,000 pounds of bolognini and two months’ pay for his men. Taddeo Pepoli supplies him with provisions under the condition that he will not cause harm and will stick to designated routes; even the mounts of his men are branded for immediate recognition. He skirts Bologna and Borgo Panigale; aims for Modena. Azzo da Correggio employs him to fight against Obizzo d’Este; Werner Von Urslingen quickly switches allegiance at the invitation of Brandaligi da Marano. Led by Guidoriccio da Fogliano, he touches on Colombaro, Montale, Mugnano, Formigine, Casinalbo, Gorzano, and Baggiovara; approaches the gates of Modena and the Este family supplies provisions to the company. After seven days, he halts in the Reggio region. Within the Great Company, there are now 3,500 barbute soldiers; these troops are accompanied by a diverse “court of miracles” consisting of a thousand people, which includes men of all sorts, adventurers, merchants, gamblers, and prostitutes.
Feb.EmiliaHe crosses the Secchia River, attacks Correggio, and loots Campagnola Emilia and Novi di Modena; Ganaceto, Soliera, Carpi, Campogalliano, San Zenone di Lama, Cortile, San Martino, Camurana, and Solara also come under the scrutiny of his men.
Mar. – Apr.Comp. venturaMantova, PadovaLombardy, Emilia, Friuli, GermanyHe crosses the Po River and enters the Mantuan territory at Quistello; he is spotted at Quarantoli; he attempts to invade the Paduan area. He is dissuaded from doing so by the forces prepared by Ubertino da Carrara; he returns to Camurana, committing damages and acts of violence everywhere. With the end of a truce between the Scaligeri and Visconti, he is warned by the Marquis of Ferrara, Obizzo d’Este, to leave the district with all his men; he responds to the threats with threats of his own. In April, an agreement is reached that involves the Este family handing over forty hostages, among them Obizzo’s brother, Rinaldo, and a son, along with a payment of 10,000 florins. He leads his troops on the Po River to distance himself from the domains of the Este family and those of the Scaligeri. He divides the company into squads or banners: ten banners continue toward Tuscany with the goal of reaching Lucca (in Frignano they nonetheless suffer heavy losses due to attacks from the residents of the Apennines), eight aim for Carpi; the remaining cross the Po and return to Germany. Werner von Urslingen (Guarnieri di Urslingen) is captured in Ferrara and is only released after returning part of the money received earlier. He also returns to Germany via the Friulian Alps.
Aug. – Sept.HungaryNaples500 cavalryAbruzzo, CampaniaWerner Von Urslingen returns to Italy years later following the death in Naples of King Andrea of Hungary, who is killed by his wife, Joanna I of Naples (Giovanna d’Angiò). He is dispatched with 500 German cavalry to the aid of L’Aquila, which is besieged by the Angevins. He takes control of the city and the entire region; in L’Aquila, during a brawl, his men kill several Hungarians. He turns against Sulmona with 1,000 cavalry; sets up camp at Casalino with Ugolino da Fano amidst some country houses; unsuccessfully lays siege to the city. When money for the soldiers’ wages runs out, he returns to L’Aquila: Ugolino da Fano persuades the residents to contribute to his pay through an extraordinary loan.
Oct.Molise, CampaniaHe sets his sights on Naples; descends on Isernia through the Cinquemiglia plateau, occupies Venafro, and reaches Teano. Attacks Sessa Aurunca with Count Nicola Gaetani of Fondi but is repelled by Nicola di Toraldo; crosses the Volturno River and arrives at Ortella, near Aversa, where he is confronted by the troops of Louis of Taranto (Luigi di Taranto). The action concludes in eighty days with the Hungarian conquest of the Kingdom of Naples and the retreat of Louis of Taranto to Capua.
Jan.CampaniaVon Urslingen is accused by Ulrich Wolfhardt (Ulrico Lupo) of collusion with Joanna I of Naples (Giovanna d’Angiò) and her new husband Louis of Taranto (Luigi di Taranto), who have taken refuge in Provence. A brawl arises between the two captains; King Louis of Hungary (Ludovico d’Ungheria) intervenes to settle it through a duel. The duel, due to the intervention of mutual friends, does not take place. Initially, Werner Von Urslingen is imprisoned. Once released, he is dismissed along with his troops: contributing to the decision are not only the disputes with Ulrich and Conrad Wolf (Corrado Lupo), but also the devastations carried out by his men in the region of L’Aquila and at Benevento.
Feb. – Mar.FondiOrsiniLazioWerner Von Urslingen swears not to fight the troops of King Louis of Hungary (Ludovico d’Ungheria), nor those of Florence, Perugia, and Siena, nor to serve under the banner of the Papal States, the Angevins, or the Visconti. He gathers 3,000 barbute (a type of helmeted infantry) and enters the service of the Count of Fondi; he fights the Orsini at Supino. Three hundred and fifty of his men enter the castle and are all killed by the defenders. Werner Von Urslingen ravages the Roman countryside and destroys Anagni because its citizens have killed twelve of his ambassadors who had asked for a large tribute. According to one account, the sending of the ambassadors was requested by the inhabitants themselves, so that they might act as arbitrators to settle some internal disputes.
June – JulyComp. ventura, Chiurch, NaplesPerugiaLazio,  Umbria, CampaniaWerner Von Urslingen leaves the territory of Terracina and enters the district of Narni. He turns towards Tuscany; his path is blocked by the militias of Rome. At the same time, Perugia and other communes assemble an army of 3,000 cavalry and give the command to Alamanno degli Obizzi. Von Urslingen retreats, partly because his available forces have been reduced to 2,000 cavalry due to the plague. Subsequently, he takes up service under the Papal legate for two months; on behalf of the latter, he subdues some lands to the Papal States. In July, he enters Naples with Giovanni Pipino d’Altamura and 1,500 barbute.
Aug.NaplesHungaryCampaniaIn Naples, Werner Von Urslingen welcomes Joanna I of Naples (Giovanna d’Angiò) and her husband Louis of Taranto (Luigi di Taranto), who have returned from Provence. During the celebrations, he knights Louis of Taranto, who in turn bestows knighthood on 80 nobles of the kingdom. Niccolò Acciaiuoli gives Werner Von Urslingen two of his sons as hostages until the full payment for his troops is received.
Sept. – Oct.Campania, ApuliaForces the Count of Apice to surrender; lays siege to the fortress of Lucera with 1,200 cavalry. He sacks Foggia. Protests the delay in payment, repeatedly postponing operations for this reason. His behavior effectively aids Conrad Wolf (Corrado Lupo) in organizing his Hungarian troops, allowing him to move in to aid the location.
Nov.ApuliaAlong with Giovanni Pipino d’Altamura, he attempts to block Conrad Wolf’s (Corrado Lupo) advance at the Biferno bridge. The rival captain crosses the river further upstream and is able to reach Lucera. Werner Von Urslingen convinces Louis of Taranto (Luigi di Taranto) not to engage in open battle.
Jan.ApuliaLouis of Taranto (Luigi di Taranto) withdraws and leaves Werner Von Urslingen in Apulia as viceroy, leading 400 barbute.
………….HungaryNaplesApulia, CampaniaLouis of Taranto (Luigi di Taranto) also abandons Apulia to go to Naples. With Niccolò Acciaiuoli and Filippo di Sultz in the vanguard, he is ambushed by Voivode Stephen of Transylvania (Stefano di Transilvania) along the course of the Cervaro River between Monte Calvello and Monte Fedele. The attack splits the Neapolitan army into two sections. In the first section, 300 cavalry are either killed or wounded; the second column manages to retreat to Troia. Werner Von Urslingen, with the vanguard, leaves his banners to the adversaries. He is then transferred again from Naples to Apulia to guard Corneto in Capitanata, with 400 barbute. He is caught off guard in the camp (some reports suggest deliberately); upon capture, he is taken by the Voivode to Foggia. In agreement with Conrad Wolf (Corrado Lupo), a ransom of 30,000 florins is set, so that the King of Naples is not enticed to pay it. As expected, he returns to the service of the King of Hungary. Along with Wolf, he recaptures Capitanata; he stations himself in Foggia; and Andria, Bitonto, Giovinazzo, and Molfetta open their gates to the Hungarians.
MayApulia, CampaniaIn Bisceglie, along with Wolf (Corrado Lupo), Werner Von Urslingen saves the life of Giovanni Pipino d’Altamura, who, after a meeting with the Voivode, is imprisoned for his insolence and is about to be killed by the Hungarians. Still in coordination with Wolf, he assembles an army of 7,000 Hungarian, German, and Neapolitan cavalry, and 2,000 Lombard infantry. He reaches Corneto; he is blocked at the Arpaia pass by Giovanni di Asperg (500 cavalry); he overcomes the resistance, sacks Arpaia, Arienzo and Cancello, emerges onto the plain of Naples, occupies Acerra, enters Capua and Aversa, and lays siege to the castle of the latter location.
JuneCampaniaHe sets up camp in Melito di Napoli; to lure the enemy into battle, he feigns a quarrel in the camp between the Hungarians and the Germans. The Angevins are informed of this by the peasants; they attack the Hungarians, trusting in the element of surprise. Initially, the outcome is in their favor; however, Count Lando appears behind them. The Angevin army is completely routed, suffering the loss of a thousand men, both dead and wounded. Due to this victory, the Voivode of Transylvania is compelled to compensate his troops for their overdue wages for the months of June to August with the proceeds from the ransoms of prisoners (ranging from 100,000 to 200,000 florins). Stefano Laczfy becomes increasingly reluctant to satisfy the demands of the mercenaries. Werner Von Urslingen collaborates with Corrado Lupo (Wolf), Count Lando, and Fra Moriale in an attempt to kill him. He forces the Voivode to take refuge with the Hungarians in Manfredonia.
July – Dec.CampaniaHe remains in Aversa with Corrado Lupo until Christmas. He continues to ravage the Terra di Lavoro region and to starve Naples.
Jan.VicoChurchLazio, CampaniaHe allies with Giovanni di Vico to plunder the Patrimony, which is defended by Jacopo Gabrielli. He damages the castle of Valentano; around the same time, he strikes a deal with Luigi di Taranto, receiving 100,000 florins. An additional 100,000 florins are promised upon the surrender of Capua, Aversa, and other territories.
………….CampaniaDue to a lack of supplies, he is forced to leave Aversa; he cedes the location to Cardinal Legate Annibaldo da Ceccano, who is the Pope’s envoy. Corrado Lupo returns to the service of the Voivode; Werner von Urslingen heads north.
Apr.Comp. venturaSienaTuscany
MayFaenza, ForlìChurchRomagnaHe is back in the Forlì and Faenza areas with Count Lando and 500 German barbute. He fights in favor of Giovanni Manfredi and Francesco Ordelaffi against the papal legate Astorgio di Durafort.
JulyBolognaChurchEmiliaHe enters the service of Giacomo Pepoli, fighting against the Papal forces with 2,375 cavalry and 125 sergeants. To reach Bologna, he must cross the passes of the Apennines, which are controlled by the Florentines. He is able to cross them with the connivance of the priors of the republic. He stations his men in a district of Bologna; from this point, he plunders the entire city, both within its borders and in its surrounding area.
Oct.Church, VeronaMilanEmiliaGiacomo Pepoli sells Bologna to the Visconti for 200,000 florins, of which 8,500 are allocated for the unpaid wages of Urslingen’s men. With the arrival of 1,500 Visconti helmeted troops in the city, he leaves Bologna with his troops because he is banned by the Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Visconti. He is enlisted with 1,200 helmeted troops (1,150 cavalry and 400 infantry, according to other sources) by the Papal forces and Mastino della Scala; he besieges the Visconti forces in Bologna.
Nov.EmiliaHe attacks Bologna alongside Astorgio di Durafort. Galeazzo Visconti sends against them 1,000 armed men; the defenders attempt a sortie outside the walls but are forced to retreat with heavy losses. Guarnieri di Urslingen sets fire to a nearby village.
Jan. – Feb.EmiliaThe lack of funds causes the troops to remain inactive in Budrio from December to January. In February, he moves to Doccia with Count Lando; he spends this period in poverty.
Mar.VeronaHe is with Count Lando, under the employment of the Lord of Verona, Mastino della Scala, for three months.
………….GermanyHe makes an agreement with the Visconti and returns to Swabia.
Feb.GermanyPoisoned, he dies in Swabia at the beginning of the month. In Farra d’Isonzo in Friuli, the Guarnieri di Urslingen Armored Group is based, participating in the main medieval historical events of the region, including the Palio di San Donato and Medioevo a Valvasone.


-“Senza infamia e senza lode. Uomo che non ebbe né virtù né vizi..; nulla di meno il suo nome fissò, se non l’origine, la comparsa delle compagnie di ventura in Italia.” RICOTTI

-“Benché fosse preceduto qualche esempio di simili Compagnie d’assassini, pure questo Duca Guarnieri fu considerato in questi tempi come principal Autore, e promotor delle medesime.” MURATORI

-“Uomo avarissimo e di non sicura fede.” DI COSTANZO

-“Homo de gran postra…/ (Contrasto con gli ungheri) Demintri stette in Aquila,/ dico, lo duca Guarneri,/ Comensaro la briga/ quelli soi cavaleri;/ Nella placza d’Aquila/ fono alle fronderi,/ Occiseno uno delli Ongari/ delli boni deli osteri./ Lo conte de Ongaria/ volea vennetta fare;/ Lo duca et soy Todischi/ se corsero ad armare,/ Penzò lo conte occidere/ et poy correre l’Aquila/ et strugerla et desertare.” B. DI RANALLO

-“Vero masnadiere discendente dagli antichi usurpatori posti dagli imperatori nel ducato di Spoleto.” ARGIOLAS

-“Il quale era gran capitano e caporale delle strade.” MONUMENTA PISANA

-“Era costui un capitano Tedesco venuto in Italia per avidità di guadagno.” VIZANI

-“Che per merito e valore gli altri superava.” CAMERA

-“Uomo di molto animo.” ANTINORI 

-“(La sua compagnia) regroupait des milliers de combattants venus d’Allemagne, mais aussi de Hongrie, d’Italie et d’autres régions d’Europe, et s’avéra durablr.” BUTAUD

-“Aveva costruito un’immagine di sé adatta alle prestazioni che gli venivano richieste, tanto da essere ricordato spesso per la sua divisa: “Duca Guarnieri, signore della Grande Compagnia, nemico di Dio, di pietà e di misericordia.” TANZINI

-“La più nota, o famigerata, di queste unità fu la cosiddetta Grande Compagnia tedesca, nata nel 1342, quando il nobile Werner  d’Urslingen radunò attorno a sé parecchie centinaia di cavalieri teutonici e italiani. A questo nucleo di combattenti, variabile tra i 1500 e i 3000 militi, si affiancavano svariate migliaia di fanti, ausiliari, servitori, prostitute e concubine. In totale, si potevano raggiungere i 30000 componenti. Il gruppo principale dei membri della Grande Compagnia era composto da tedeschi, ma non mancavano italiani, ungheresi e altri avventurieri provenienti da tutta Europa. La Grande Compagnia, nelle sue diverse incarnazioni, operò a lungo, soprattutto nell’Italia centrale, guerreggiando, se assoldata, oppure saccheggiando, minacciando e ricattando al fine di ottenere denaro per allontanarsi. Politicamente, essa si distinse per la sua inaffidabilità, poiché si dava al migliore offerente e cambiava spesso bandiera, senza rispetatre i patti conclusi.” GRILLO-SETTIA

-“(La compagnia) operava nel centro Italia, e quando non era assoldata viveva di saccheggio e minacciava le città al fine di ottenere denaro, ed era famosa per la sua inaffidabilità, in quanto cambiava spesso committente senza rispettare i patti stabiliti.” BIONDINI-SANGIORGIO

Featured image: wikipedia2, 3

Topics: Werner von Urslingen life story, Guarnieri d’Urslingen military tactics, Condottieri in medieval Italy, Founder of the Great Company, Compagnia della Corona history, Extortion and plunder in medieval warfare, Swabian mercenaries in Italy, How Werner von Urslingen made allegiances

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Roberto Damiani
Roberto Damiani
Roberto Damiani è l'autore del sito Condottieri di ventura.