I was born in the city of Koblenz of the year 1463 as the second son of Grede of Degen and the bastard of Duke Manifred Tottenbaum, lord of the estates where the Mosel meets the Rhine in Germany. The lord Duke’s indiscretion assured I would never hold a high title by birth, but generous compensation with the mutual addition of my family’s holdings from the Hanseatic League provided me with the wealth befitting one of minor nobility. True to my class, and in tradition of my grandfather Ernst the Boar, it was decided for me that my future should be for the earning of a knighthood. Thus, at age six, I was sent from my mother to take residence at the manor of my uncle Sir Guntmar and his wife Lady Minna, there to begin as a page under their tutorage.
By my aunt I learned to both read and write. It was also she who instructed me in the customs of manners and social graces, while my uncle taught me the code of chivalry and the art of horsemanship. Later, at the age of eleven when I became his squire, my uncle expanded his lessons to include the use of the sword and the bow. They were skills that I excelled at early on, much to the pride of my teacher, and were diligently practiced on every day. As part of my education I additionally attended classes at the great and old University of Trier for the subjects of art, literature, and the new philosophy of Humanism.
Although I disliked interfering with my study of the martial arts, I couldn’t help but to find an appreciation in the knowledge and culture there taught. Today I believe that one actually complimented the other, not interfered, but at that time of youth I failed to realize this. In total I spent nine years as a squire, all the while learning the qualities that would someday make me suitable as a knight. Only merit yet remained to be earned, and that was something no teacher but experience could grant me.
Sir Guntmar Degen was a strong believer in the idea that the best education came from practical life, and so as his squire of seventeen he had me accompany him in battles against the southern invader from Hungary for the defense of Austrian lands and his Majesty Emperor Fredrick III. The Black Army of King Corvinus proved a hardy foe, pushing ever more into the Reichland territories and gaining victory after victory. Our losses were great, and for myself included the death of my brother Sir Arthur Degen in the mid of August 1482 at the second siege of Hainberg. A victim of the awful “Varga-Mortor”, Arthur’s death was both indiscriminant and sudden. His loss caused a wound within me that would take many years to heal, as my life was a debt owed to him by my rescue from the point of a lance at the skirmish enroute to the fort just weeks prior. The rage that I felt for my and the nation’s losses would, however, prove to be a valuable inspiration. Provoked out of my youth, I learned the harshness of war and manhood. My will against the enemy grew, and would someday prove to bring fortune and honor to the name of Degen.
By the start of 1484 attempts at peace had all failed and the Black Army besieged lower Austria from three directions. When in April of the same year the scoundrel King Mathias sent his minion Davidhazi to encircle Korneuburg, where I was scheduled to be stationed with my uncle as part of the relief force, fort Captain Burghard Keinberger’s only hope was to resist until our arrival. Learning of our advance to support the fort, Davidhazi forced a pre-emptive strike upon us in the vicinity of Stockerau with the hope of gaining a quick and decisive victory. His action at first proved hasty as our cavalry routed them all the way back to, and then from, their camp. We felt it to be a tremendous victory, but our sense of success was premature. Flanked by his heavy cavalry, he drove us back and out of the battle.
Davidhazi then arrogantly returned to his siege, but little did he suspect that others and I would not yet turn our heads from vengeance. In a bold and reckless maneuver, we approached Davidhazi’s camp from the rear under the cover of the faint light of dusk. Spotting him strutting about his camp as he usually did, shouting orders with that harpy’s screech of his, we dismounted and lay to the back of a small hill. Taking crude aim with my matchlock to the direction of Davidhazi, I fired my bullet with the remarkable luck of hitting the hapless commander squarely to the chest. We departed the scene quickly and under the pursuit of his guards, but from their surprise and the failing daylight they were luckless in their attempt. Davidhazi reportedly died shortly after, forcing King Mathias to personally take command over the siege. We had lost Leitzerdorf, Hainberg, and Korneuburg soon surrendered, but for my initiative and the prize of Davidhazi’s death I had finally achieved the merit that earned for me my knighthood. It was October of the year 1484.
The following six years were a continuance of the struggle against the Hungarian forces, and a good practice of my skills as a knight. There was the epic of Vienna, and then there was Retz, then Wiener Neustadt, and many more battles until the year 1490 came. 1490 is most notably marked in my memory for two reasons. It was the year that King Mathias Corvinus finally died, and it was then that began for me a bold new change that would come to define me as who I am today. It was then that I decided to claim independence as the captain of my own mercenary company. I had gained the skills of leadership and tactics, and had established a strong loyalty amongst many other mercenaries for my determination against the foe. This, combined with yet still sufficient though dwindling wealth, inspired me to believe that as a military contractor I could get both the funds and the reputation that I sought. Calling the company the Willensstark Fahnlein, consisting of fifty soldiers trained in artillery, I hastily procured employment from Spain for the Conquest of Granada against the Moors. Our reputation for success grew, averaging three times the casualties caused relative to those lost, and since our cause was a noble one I chose to adopt the phrase “do right and fear no man” for the company motto. “Strong-Willed Company” was rapidly emerging as a safe and competent military contractor for hire.
While in Spain, I had heard from the other commanders that, after Granada, there would be good employment in Sicily. The rumor was that King Ferdinand was already planning some sort of event that would require troops, and so I figured it would be practical to sign-on with the Spanish again. Once, however, I arrived in Sicily I soon discovered that the event that the King was planning was the expulsion of all Jews from the island. Having been raised in Koblenz, a city with a relatively high population of Jews with whom some were my friends and acquaintances, I simply could not in good conscience be a part of such a policy. Instead I hired the company as guards in Messina. I was still however a witness to this policy and for several months would daily observe the ships leaving port with families robbed of all they owned. The harsh and fervent imperial philosophies of Spain were beginning more and more to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Although working for the Spanish had proven profitable, I will remain to have reservations towards accepting further contracts from them without serious deliberation and due-full hesitation. Italy is and always has been a bastion of opportunity for the mercenary.
In 1494 I was in Naples with the company, working as city guards once again, when the Italian peninsula was invaded by France. A secession of lost battles due to poor Italian resistance and the ferocity of French attacks eventually surrounded my company and I near Parma after Naples fell. We were cut-off from any allies, short on supplies, and locked in a continuous struggle that would last four months and claim half of the company’s numbers. It was the most difficult situation I have ever faced as a commander.
Luckily an attack from the League of Venice from the south eventually provided enough distraction for us to evacuate north. The trek through Italy, until we reached peace in the Alps, was virtually a constant battle. Since that time I remain to keep reservations towards accepting further contracts from the Italians, whose abandonment of fighting spirit and submission to French controls I believe to be a disgrace. The experience also quite understandably reinforced my national dislike of France.
As of late I have found employment for my company by England’s King Henry VII for the defense of his small hold on the continent near Calais. His fear of the French has been proving most valuable, for to me the risk seems quite minimal while the pay is generous. This latest contract has also afforded me the opportunity to hire English mercenaries to fill-out the sadly diminished company numbers. Although arrogant and often boorish, I find they are competent fighters and well worth the investment. Regardless, it will be quite a temporary contract as word has reached me of imminent war in the far north and the need of Sweden for competent fighters.