Although the quote “I know my Pappenheimer” is mostly used negatively today, it was originally a sign of appreciation for the soldiers of the Pappenheim regiment.
Being a Pappenheimer was then synonymous with being a man of courage, honour and bravery.
I find the figure behind this proverb interesting.
Gottfried Heinrich zu Pappenheim (1594-1632) was one of the most famous generals of the Thirty Years’ War and was equally known for his personal bravery and loyalty as for his military unpredictability.
His ancestors had converted to the Protestant faith during the Reformation, but Gottfried Heinrich soon converted to Catholicism.
Because of his personal merits, Emperor Matthias appointed him a court councillor in 1617, but after a short time Pappenheim decided to end his career and try his luck as a soldier.
He wrote to his uncle: “So that in these difficult times I may not consume my youth in laziness, but seek further honour, I have now left the writing desk and taken the weapon to hand.“
In contrast to the majority of his peers, Pappenheim was a comprehensively educated man who had studied in Tübingen and Altendorf. But that did not make him a dry stay-at-home by any means, but he became one of the most daring cuirassiers of all time.
As a leader, he had all the qualities that were important to a general at that time: a strong personality, natural authority, originality, and daring courage.
Pappenheim was considered fearless and reliable as well as impulsive and daredevil even during his lifetime.
For example, he always rode into battle with his helmet visor open and wore numerous wounds on his face. Therefore his nicknames like “Schrammenheinrich” or “Schrammhans” come from. (Schramme, engl. scratch)
A song from that time describes Pappenheim in battle:
Hascha, there comes the nonsensical
Pappenheim ridden quite grimly,
Run over all fences and trenches,
That his hair will stand up on end.
Pretends he’s crazy,
No beating, no plugging.
Wants to hurt him,
And not our pointy pistons either.
No guns, no sword
Even the wound blessing,
He’s the tiresome devil himself;
See how hot-headed he is.
F. Schiller gave him a literary testament in his “Wallenstein”.
There he lets the commander Wallenstein say about the obvious loyalty of the Pappenheimer Regiment: “By this I recognize my Pappenheimer”.