In A Nutshell
In the year 1140, King Conrad III was laying siege to Castle Weinsberg, located in Bavaria, and ultimately defeated Duke Welf VI. In an act of mercy, Conrad agreed to let the women of Weinsberg go free without harm. The women managed to convince him to allow them to take with them whatever they could carry, and he agreed. But rather than taking food or money, they managed to outwit Conrad and carried their husbands out on their shoulders, saving their lives in the process.
The Whole Bushel
In Bavaria, Germany in 1140, King Conrad III—the nephew of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V—was laying siege to the Castle Weinsberg, the home of Duke Welf VI. The castle was about to fall, and the people on the verge of being overrun and slaughtered by Conrad’s rapidly advancing army. Finally, Conrad took the castle and added another entity to his growing kingdom.
Conrad fully intended to kill or keep as prisoners the men of Weinsberg and burn every building to the ground since they had not yielded to his demands, instead electing to fight. He was a man of his word, after all, and every emperor or king has to carry out threats in order to maintain their power.
But after some of the male representatives of Weinsberg pleaded with him to allow their women to remain unharmed, Conard, in a moment of mercy and kindness, agreed to let them leave before he killed the men and completely laid waste to the city. After all, the women were not his enemies and not a threat.
In a further act of charity he allowed the women to take with them their most precious possession, proclaiming he was not about to make them go hungry out on the road after he sacked their homes. He gave them a deadline to gather their things and leave before he killed their husbands and burned their homes to the ground. What he could not possibly have anticipated is that these women would completely outwit him, turning this own act of mercy against him.
When the deadline came and the women gathered at the gates of the city, Conrad was stunned to see that the women were not carrying gold or food or clothing, but instead had their husbands, or sons, or other male family members slung over their backs. Again, Conrad was a man of his word, and the scene actually moved him to the point where he gladly allowed them to leave the city, saving both the men of the town and the town itself in the process.