Andreas Hofer

Andreas Hofer

[hoh-fer]
Hofer, Andreas, 1767-1810, Austrian patriot; son of a Tyrolean innkeeper. After its defeat by Napoleon I in 1805 Austria was forced to cede the Tyrol to France's ally Bavaria. In 1809, when Austria renewed war on France, Hofer led the Tyrolean peasants in rebellion against Bavaria and the French. After several military successes he was made governor of the Tyrol by the Austrians. In Oct., 1809, Austria was obliged by the Treaty of Schönbrunn to abandon the Tyrol, but Hofer continued to resist. He was betrayed to the French, court-martialed, and shot at Mantua.

Andreas Hofer (November 22, 1767February 20 1810) was a Tyrolean innkeeper and patriot. He was the leader of a rebellion against Napoleon's forces.

Andreas Hofer was born 1767 in St. Leonhard in Passeier, Tyrol (part of which is now Italy). His father was an innkeeper of Sandwirt inn and Andreas followed in his footsteps when he inherited the establishment. He also traded wine and horses in northern Italy and learned the language. He married Anna Ladurner. In 1791 he was elected into the Tyrolean Landtag.

In the war of the Third Coalition against the French he became a sharpshooter and later a militia captain. When Tyrol was transferred from Austria to Bavaria in the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805, Hofer became a leader of the anti-Bavarian movement. In January 1809, he was part of a delegation to Vienna to ask Emperor Francis II of Austria for support for a possible uprising. The Emperor gave his assurances and the delegation returned home.

Hofer begun to secretly organize insurrection, visiting villagers and holding councils of war in local inns. Reputedly he was so much on the move that he signed his messages "Andreas Hofer, from where I am" and letters to him were addressed to "wherever he may be". At the same time other leaders organized their own forces elsewhere in the Alps. Hofer became a leader of a militia contingent of his valley in Passeiertal.

Armed rebellion begins

The Tyrolean rebellion began on April 9, 1809. The previous night organizers dumped sacks of sawdust into the River Inn as a sign to start the rebellion. When the sawdust floated through Innsbruck and to the Inntal, it alerted the rebels. Village bells summoned men to fight with muskets and farmyard implements. They soon overran smaller Bavarian garrisons and surprised a column of French infantry that was passing through the area.

On April 11 Tyrolean militia defeated a Bavarian force in Sterzing which led to the occupation of Innsbruck before noon. When the French and Bavarians counterattacked the next night, the Tyroleans fought them in the city until they surrendered on the morning of the 13th. Hofer and his allies advanced south, taking Bozen and Trent.

Hopes of a successful rebellion waned when Napoleon defeated the Austrian forces of Archduke Charles of Austria. Austrian troops withdrew from Tyrol and Hofer pulled back to the mountains. The Bavarians reoccupied Innsbruck on May 19, but when Napoleon's troops left, the rebellion flared again.

Hofer takes command

Hofer became the effective commander-in-chief of the Tyrolean rebels, with the support of other leaders like Josef Speckbacher and Father Joachim Haspinger. He commanded a force of Tyroleans approximately 20,000 strong, together with a couple of hundred Austrian soldiers who had joined them after the retreat of the Austrian army.

In Iselberg on May 25 and May 29 Hofer's troops again defeated the Bavarians and drove them out of the country. Hofer's troops retook Innsbruck on May 30.

On May 29 Hofer received a letter from Emperor Francis in which he promised not to sign any peace treaty that would include giving up Tyrol. An Austrian intendant came to rule Tyrol and Hofer returned to his home.

Napoleon defeated Austrian troops in the Battle of Wagram on July 6. On July 12 the Armistice of Znaim ceded Tyrol to Bavaria again. Napoleon sent 40,000 French and Bavarian troops to take over Tyrol and they reoccupied Innsbruck.

After little hesitation, Hofer joined the battle again. The French promised a reward for his head. On August 13-14, his Tyroleans defeated the French troops of Marshal Lefebvre on Bergisel in a 12-hour battle after a downhill charge and again retook Innsbruck.

Hofer declared himself Imperial Commandant of the Tyrol in the absence of the ruler and for two months ruled the land from Hofburg in the name of the Emperor of Austria. He announced new laws and taxes and minted his own coins. He also sent two men to Britain to ask for assistance. On September 29 he received a medal from the emperor and another promise that Austria would not abandon Tyrol.

Hofer's hopes were dashed again on October 14 when the Treaty of Schönbrunn yet again ceded Tyrol to Bavaria. French and Bavarian troops advanced again and Hofer retreated to the mountains. Promised amnesty, Hofer and his followers laid down their weapons November 8. Hofer retreated to his home valley.

Final attempt and capture

On November 12, Hofer received false reports of Austrian victories and tried to summon his troops again on November 15. This time he had little following and French troops defeated his forces. His subordinate commanders surrendered and asked him to escape over the mountains.

Hofer hid in a hut in the mountains in the Passeiertal and the French announced a reward of 1500 guilders for his head. His neighbor Franz Raffl betrayed him and revealed his hiding place to the authorities, and Hofer was captured by Italian troops on January 19, 1810. He was sent to Mantua in chains to face a court martial. Raffl died impoverished in Bavaria 20 years later.

Court martial and execution

Officers holding the court martial disagreed on the exact sentence until they received a message from Milan. It was supposedly from the Viceroy, transmitting Napoleon's order to "give him a fair trial and then shoot him" (Later Napoleon claimed to Prince Metternich that Hofer was executed against his wishes).

Andreas Hofer was executed by a firing squad on February 20, 1810. He refused a blindfold and gave money to a corporal in charge, telling him to "shoot straight".

Hofer became a martyr in Germany and Austria and a rallying point against the power of Napoleon.

Legacy and monuments

In 1823, Hofer's remains were moved from Mantua to Innsbruck, and in 1834, his tomb was decorated with a marble statue. In 1818, his family was given a patent of nobility by the emperor of Austria. In 1893, his bronze statue was placed at Bergisel (Innsbruck), and there is a large painting depicting his arrest hanging in the Palace of Maria Theresa in Innsbruck. There is an annual open-air play in Merano based on his deeds.

Sources:

  • Tom Pocock - Stopping Napoleon (2004)

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