At one time the empire of Germany was divided into factions, which brought a great deal of unhappiness and strife. There were two noble families, one of them known as the Guelphs and the other known as the Ghibellines, both of whom had claimants for the imperial crown. The Guelphs came from Bavaria and the Ghibellines came from Swabia.
For a number of years war between the two factions continued. At last, Count Conrad, a Ghibelline, was elected emperor, and went in pursuit of his enemies, who were in the town of Weinsberg.
The Guelphs gave him an obstinate resistance. The governor was by no means in a submissive mood and the siege lasted a long time. Conrad was indignant at this protracted siege and sent word to the inhabitants as follows:
"Unless you surrender at once I shall demolish your city, burn your buildings and put all the inhabitants to the sword."
To this the inhabitants returned a defiant and indignant challenge. The siege continued for some time until at last Weinsberg was compelled to yield. Emperor Conrad now determined that his original threat should be carried out, and ordered all the men to be gathered together that they might be put to the sword, and told his men to prepare to destroy the city by flames. When this message came to the inhabitants of Weinsberg there were loud lamentations because they were filled with terror and despair.
A deputation of citizens went to Conrad's camp and said, "We men of Weinsberg are not afraid of your threat and are willing to submit to the fate of war. You may burn our buildings and destroy our towns if you will, but we beg of you to spare our women."
Conrad replied, "I have sworn an oath that your city shall be destroyed and your people shall be put to death, but it is not for me to make war on helpless women, therefore I shall spare their lives. Furthermore you may tell them that on the morrow each of them may carry away on her shoulders whatever precious possession she may deem worthy of preservation. I do not wish to leave them destitute upon the world."
With this decision the emperor turned away and the deputation of citizens went sadly back into Weinsberg.
When the women heard this declaration of the emperor they were sorely distressed and there was much weeping among them. Finally the duchess, wife of Duke Guelph, called all the women together in the market-place and told the men to go into a distant part of the city, as she did not wish them to hear what she had to say to her companions.
She whispered something to the woman near her and she passed it on to the next one and she to the next, until all the women knew what was in the duchess' mind. Then each one smiled and went her way.
The next morning the gates were opened and Conrad stood outside to see the women file by, each one with her precious possession. First came the duchess, and to the astonishment of the emperor and to the admiration of the whole army, the duchess was bearing upon her shoulders her husband, Duke Guelph, the very one that Conrad had sworn first to put to the sword. Following her came a long line of women, each one bending under the heavy burden of her husband or some dear relative.
As the duchess passed the emperor, she said, "We have your word, my lord, that we can bear safely away that which we consider to be most precious, and each of us has taken her soldier husband. You are welcome to what is left in the city."
The emperor's chagrin was quickly changed to admiration. The earnest faces of the women that were turned to him so appealingly at last changed his intention towards them and the city, and his heart relented. Turning to the women, who were struggling along with their husbands, he said to them, "You may rid yourselves of your heavy but precious freight. I shall harm none of you, for you deserve to keep the treasure you have borne."
There were indeed some angry knights around him who did not have much respect for heroic deeds and who reminded him of his first oath to put the men to death, but Conrad turned to them in anger and said, "An emperor keeps his last word more sacred than his first."
He then called the men and women to him and told them that he not only spared them, but the whole city, from its doom of sword and fire. Thus did the women of Weinsberg save their husbands and their town.