|Eppelein awaiting execution|
The Legend of Eppelein von Gailingen
After The Men lost their fervor for the Crusades and the power of the German Emperor faded, knighthood in Germany became irrelevant. The knights sat in their castles and lived on what they could take from their farmers. Slowly, this whole rank of men became impoverished. They needed to change professions. And they saw the cause of their poverty in the ever-increasing rich city dwellers and traders. This angered the old knights.
Since the Emperor did nothing more for them, they soon took to robbing the travelling merchants and thus became Raubritter or robber barons. Nuremberg suffered from this development. Many castles surrounded this rich medieval city. The robber barons lurked not only in the Fränkische Schweiz or Franconian Switzerland, but also in the west and south of the city. And the most notorious of these was Eppelein von Gailingen.
He was known to be the lord of the castles at Gunzenhausen and the one near Illesheim. His numerous attacks on trade wagons began in 1360. And still his name lives on in song and verse: in disguise he stole the golden bird house from the middle of the city of Nuremberg; another time he ambushed a rich patrician bride on her wedding day and kissed her. He was put under an imperial ban in 1369, losing all his rights and possessions.
An accomplished equestrian, he is most famous for the reckless escape right before his first scheduled execution by hanging. He made a daring leap with his horse over the trench around the castle of Nuremberg. Two hoof prints in the city wall still bear witness to this defying act.
Nevertheless, Eppelein von Gailingen paid for his crimes with his life: in 1381, he was finally caught in Neumarkt, broken on the wheel and beheaded.