Nuremberg’s Noble Servant: Werner von Parsberg (d. 1455) between Town and Nobility in Late Medieval Germany
By Ben Pope
German History, Vo.36:2 (2018)
Abstract: The nobleman Werner von Parsberg served the imperial town of Nuremberg between 1430 and his death in 1455 as a mounted retainer and (from 1442) as the town’s imperial chief magistrate. In 1450 he carried Nuremberg’s standard in battle during the Second South German Towns’ War. This long record of close engagement with Nuremberg contrasts with the tradition of reading ‘town’ and ‘nobility’ in Germany as mutually exclusive and inherently antagonistic.
In Parsberg’s time this was a position advocated by Nuremberg’s opponents amongst the territorial princes and rural nobility, and from the Enlightenment onwards a more rigid version of this dichotomy was projected back onto the late Middle Ages. This perceived opposition between ‘town’ and ‘nobility’ denied the possibility of meaningful cooperation between townspeople and rural nobles: all such relationships have consequently been described as the result of economic and political weakness on the part of the nobles concerned. Recent research, however, suggests that a re-examination of these relationships is necessary, and the case of Werner von Parsberg offers a model for such a reassessment.
This article shows that Parsberg’s service for Nuremberg was not a symptom of weakness, but part of an assertive strategy to advance the independence from princely authority of his family’s lordship in the Upper Palatinate. Through this appreciation of the factors supporting town–noble cooperation in the late Middle Ages we are better able to understand the formation and development of the dialectic of town and nobility as a way of understanding German society.