Book and film reviews

The adventurous life of Adam Dreyling


World history consists of an interplay of many forces, and it is not uncommon for apparent trivialities to be of paramount importance. This was also the case with the well-known naval battle between the great Spanish Armada and the English fleet in 1588.

The English victory prevented the invasion of the British Isles, thwarted their violent recatholicization and opened the way for England's later rise to become the most important sea power. A Spanish victory would also have been a victory for the Counter-Reformation, which might have ushered in the collapse of the entire Reformation.

The English recipe for success was fast, agile ships that could outmaneuver the large Spanish galleons, and long-range guns. The ships were designed by the ingenious master shipbuilder Matthew Baker and the cannons were poured by a Tyrolean whose adventurous résumé is described in an unusually exciting historical novel.

High-tech country Tyrol

In the 16th century, Tyrol was an important economic center of the Habsburg Empire. The mines near Schwaz produced copper and silver, and the best of all cone founders worked in Innsbruck, who produced bronze cannons of outstanding quality using a secret process. Exactly the cannons England needed for its fleet!

At that time, cannon casting was a mysterious art, the secrets of which every foundry master carefully guarded. Some of these subtleties have even been lost. For example, for a documentary film on our topic, ZDF had a bell foundry in Innsbruck refill a cannon based on models from the 16th century ... and this casting failed! (2).

Adam Dreyling

In 1574 there was a serious accident in the Schwaz mines, which triggered a small revolt. Adam Dreyling, the miners' spokesman, who represented their legitimate concerns, then had to leave Schwaz. He went to Innsbruck to learn the foundry trade from his uncle. In doing so he managed to discover the secrets of the world famous Löffler foundry to fathom. When his uncle refused him the master craftsman's certificate, Dreyling decided to leave Innsbruck. An adventurous escape took him to England, where he became the kingdom's first master caster and was able to cast the cannons just in time, without which the victory over the Armada would not have been possible.

After the great victory, Dreyling - like many others - was treated with ingratitude. He left England and went to Krakow to work for the King of Poland. Then he felt the common hatred of the Habsburgs, whose Spanish navy had been defeated with his help; the Englishman he had left; of the House of Fugger, which still had bad memories of its advocacy for the rights of miners; and his uncle, who could not forgive him for betraying his secrets ...

Adam Dreyling's extraordinary résumé is described in an unusually exciting historical novel (1), which, with its one thousand and one hundred pages, is highly recommended as a captivating holiday reading. The underlying facts of the novel are well documented, so that one can assume that all significant historical events are accurately reproduced.

Of particular interest are the gripping descriptions of mining, metal extraction, foundry, shipbuilding, and not least the social and political conditions that prevailed at the beginning of modern times in Tyrol, Venice, England and Poland.


(1) Soyener, Johannes K./Mondfeld, Wolfram on "The Master of the Seventh Seal", Bastei-Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 1994

(2) ZDF Expedition “The Empire Strikes Back”, film broadcast on July 26, 2002