The drama takes place in Germany in the twenties of the 16th century, when the country was fragmented into many independent feudal principalities that were in constant hostility with each other, nominally all of them were part of the so-called Holy Roman Empire. It was a time of stormy peasant unrest marking the beginning of the Reformation era.
Gaea von Berlichingen, a brave independent knight, does not get along with the bishop of Bamberg. In the tavern on the road, he arranged an ambush with his people and waits for Adelbert Weislingen, an approximate bishop, with whom he wants to pay for his squire keeping him in Bamberg. Having seized Adelbert, he travels to his family castle in Yaksthausen, where his wife Elizabeth, sister Maria and little son Carl are waiting for him.
In Yaksthausen, Berlichingen tries to attract Weislingen to his side, suggesting that he belittles himself to the level of a vassal at some “wayward and envious pope”. Adalbert seems to agree with the noble knight, this is fostered by his love for the gentle, pious sister of Getz Maria. Weislingen is engaged to her, and on his word of honor that he will not help his enemies, Berlichingen lets him go. Adelbert goes to his estates, to restore order to them, before introducing a young wife into the house.
At the court of the bishop of Bamberg, we are impatiently awaiting Weisslingen, who should have been back from the emperor’s residence in Augsburg for a long time, but Franz’s squire brings news that he is on his estate in Swabia and does not intend to appear in Bamberg. Knowing Weislingen’s indifference to the female sex, the bishop sends Liebreauthe to him
In the house of Berlichingen his ally Franz von Sickingen is visiting. He is in love with Mary and tries to persuade her, hard experiencing Adelbert’s betrayal, to marry him, after all, Sister Goetz agrees.
A punitive detachment, sent by the emperor, approaches Yaksthausen to take Gets. In Augsburg, a complaint was received from the Nuremberg merchants that the men who were returning from the Frankfurt Fair were robbed by the soldiers of Berlichingen and Hans von Selbitz. The emperor decided to call the knight to order. Sickingen proposes to Gets the assistance of his riders, but the master of Yaksthausen believes that it is wiser if he upholds neutrality until then, then he can redeem him in case of what from prison.
Soldiers of the emperor attack the castle, Gets with difficulty with his small detachment defends. He rescues unexpectedly arrived Hans von Selbitz, who is himself wounded during the battle. Reuters of the emperor, who lost many people, go behind reinforcements.
During the respite, Gets insists that Sickingen and Maria be married and leave Yaksthausen. As soon as the young couple leaves, Berlichingen orders to close the gate and fill them with stones and logs. The exhausting siege of the castle begins. A small detachment, the lack of stocks of weapons and food forces Goz to go to negotiations with the emperor’s riders. He sends his man to agree on the conditions for the surrender of the fortress. The parliamentarian brings the news that freedom is promised to people if they voluntarily lay down their arms and leave the castle. Gets agrees, but as soon as he and the detachment leave the gate, they grab him and take him to Gelbron, where he will appear before the imperial advisers.
In spite of everything, the noble knight continues to hold bravely. He refuses to sign a peace treaty with the emperor, proposed to him by his advisors, because he believes that in him he is unjustly called a violator of the laws of the empire. At this time, his son-in-law Sickingen approaches Heilbron, occupies the city and releases Goza. To prove to the emperor his honesty and devotion, Berlichingen himself sentenced himself to a knightly imprisonment, from now on he will remain in his castle forever.
In the country, peasant unrest begins. One of the detachments of the peasants forces Goetz to become the head of them, but he agrees only on certain conditions. Peasants should abandon senseless robberies and arsons and really fight for freedom and their violated rights. If within four weeks they break the contract, Berlichingen will leave them. Imperial troops, headed by Commissioner Weislingen, are pursuing Getz’s detachment. Some of the peasants still can not resist marauding, they attack the knight’s castle in Miltenberg, set fire to it. Berlichingen is already ready to leave, but late, he is wounded, remains alone and is taken prisoner.
Fate again crosses the roads of Weislingen and Goetz. In the hands of Adelbert, the life of Berlichingen. To him in the castle with the request to pardon the brother Maria is sent. She finds Weislingen on his deathbed. He was poisoned by the squire Franz. Adelgeid seduced him, promising his love, if he gives poison to his master. Franz himself, unable to bear the kind of suffering of Adalbert, is thrown out of the castle window in Maine. Weislingen tears up the death sentence of Getz before his eyes and dies. The judges of the secret trial sentenced Adelgeid to death for adultery and the murder of her husband,
In the dungeon of Heilbronn is Berlichingen. With him, his faithful wife, Elizabeth, Wounds of Goetz almost healed, but his soul is exhausted by the blows of fate that hit him. He lost all his faithful people, his young squire Georg also died. The good name of Berlichingen is tainted by ties with bandits and robbers, he is deprived of all his possessions.
Maria comes, she informs that the life of Getz is out of danger, but her husband is besieged in his castle and the princes overpower him. Losing force Berlichingen allowed to stroll through the garden in prison. The view of the sky, the sun, the trees pleases him. The last time he enjoys all this and with the thought of freedom dies. Elizabeth’s words: “Woe to offspring, if it does not appreciate you!” the drama of the ideal knight ends.