#OTD, December 23rd, 1493 the German version of the Schedelsche Weltchronik (known as the Nuremberg Chronicle in English) was first published.

Similar to other medieval chronicles, the Weltchronik covers the entire history of the world since its creation to the then present day. Like medieval chronicles, it comprises not just political history but saint’s miracles, sensational gossip and geographic information about the cities and lands covered. The sixth book ends in 1492 and is followed by the 7th that talks about the coming of the antichrist and the final judgement.

The book was a massive tome, Each page is 325mm by 480mm, i.e., a bit larger than A3. The Latin version had 326 sheets, the German version 297. It contained 1804 illustrations, though many have been used multiple times.

The woodcuts were made by the workshops of Wilhelm Pleydenwurff and Michael Wohlgemut. For a while art historians contemplated an involvement of Albrecht Dürer in the creation of the Weltchronik, though this seems now largely debunked.

The greatest of these woodcuts is the two-page view of Nuremberg which I show here.

The project was the brainchild of two Nurnberg merchants looking to cash in on the book trade that had kicked off since Gutenberg published his first printed bible in 1455. The text was written by Hartmann Schedel a medical doctor, humanist and book collector. Schedel had studied in Padua and settled in Nuremberg.

If you have been following the History of the Germans Podcast you may have noticed that I often use the woodcuts from the Weltchronik to illustrate the location of events – because they are simply gorgeous.

If you want to leaf through a copy of the Weltchronik, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek has digitised one for us. see here

#OTD, December 22nd, 1530 negotiations to forma protestant league began in the town of Schmalkalden in Thuringia.

Led by Landgrave Phillip of Hesse and Elector John of Saxony several territories within the Holy Roman Empire agreed to support each other following the Diet of Augsburg in June 1530. At the Diet the emperor Charles V had rejected the Confessio Augustana, a summary of the key articles of the protestant faith written by Melanchthon and approved by Martin Luther. That opened up the possibility for the emperor to persecute the protestant states for breach of the peace, resulting in military action against them.

The Schmalkaldic League comprised several princes, the Landgrave of Hesse and the Elector of Saxony most prominent, but many signatories were cities like Bremen, Lubeck, Konstanz, Magdeburg, Strassburg, Ulm, Braunschweig, Gottingen, Goslar and others. They agreed to defend each other against any interference in matters of the faith by the emperor.

Charles V was initially unable to break the resistance of the Schmalkaldic League as he was preoccupied with concern about an invasion by the Turks. He also had to take into account that his archenemy, Francis I, King of France would ally with the league against him.

Therefore Charles had to sign the Nurnberg Peace in 1532 that was some sort of time-limited mutual recognition, effectively ending the persecution of protestants as heretics. That allowed the protestant faith to spread more easily across the German lands.

Charles V saw the need of substantial reform of the church and at the same time wanted to maintain religious unity across his lands. He tried to bring the parties together to thrash out their theological differences during the 1540s. These talks made some progress on issues of doctrine but could not resolve several core issues. Effectively the debate had moved on from theological differences to hard politics.

By 1546 Charles V had signed a peace agreement with France and an armistice with the Sultan, allowing him to go after the League. The league had grown in the meantime having added Württemberg, Pommern and a few more cities and princes. Nevertheless, they were not capable to withstand the might of the Habsburg empire that comprised not just Austria but also Spain and its American colonies.

Military actions were fought mostly by mercenaries and in many aspects foreshadowed the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) with its constant sieges and unpaid soldiers plundering the countryside. At the Battle of Mühlberg in May 1547 the Elector John of Saxony and his allies were comprehensively beaten, bringing the war to its de facto end.

Charles V held another Diet at Augsburg in 1548, the so-called “Geharnischte Reichstag” (=martial Diet). Charles wanted to force all German states to agree on a temporary religious compromise, the Augsburg Interim, that would last until a full settlement had been agreed by both sides. That proposal satisfied nobody, and even Charles’ Catholic allies rejected it, making it dead on arrival.

The protestants rebelled again in 1551, ending in the religious peace of Augsburg of 1555 whereby each local prince was free to determine the faith in his state “Cuius Regio, eius religio”. Charles resigned shortly after his dream of religious unity for the empire had collapsed.

Charles inability to enforce one common religion in his state contrasts with his contemporary Henry VIII, who enforced the Protestant faith in England and Francis I who was equally able to maintain religious unity in France during his reign. As a consequence, Germany remained for centuries one of the few countries split almost 50/50 between Protestants and Catholics, which aided political fragmentation.

Charles’ relative weakness within Germany dates back to the time of the Salian emperors, subject of Season 2 of the History of the Germans Podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Castbox, Podbean and wherever you get your podcasts from (check short link here: https://history-of-the-germans.captivate.fm/listen).

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#OTD, December 21st, 1140 the women of Weinsberg saved their HaBs (Husbands and Boyfriends) from certain death by cunningly misinterpreting a royal command.

Weinsberg was a possession of the immensely powerful House of Welf whose leader, Henry the Proud contested the election of Konrad III, of the House of Hohenstaufen as King of the Romans and future emperor. Konrad III reacted by putting Henry the Proud into the imperial ban and deposing him as duke of Bavaria and Saxony. This kicked off the long struggle between Welf and Staufer or Guelfs and Ghibellines as they were called in Italy.

In the ensuing civil war the Welf could hold on to Saxony but had a much harder time in Southern Germany. One of their key strongholds was the castle of Weinsberg near Heilbronn. In 1140, King Konrad III besieged the castle. When an attempt by Henry the Proud’s brother to relieve the siege failed the defenders were prepared to accept terms of surrender.

One of the concessions the king offered was for the women of Weinsberg to take as much of their personal possessions out of the castle they could carry on their shoulders before the place was to be sacked. The women, fearful for their partners’ lives decided to carry them down the hill to safety, leaving their worldly goods behind.

Konrad III saw the funny side of that and even though his brother suggested to stop them, let the women go ahead. The castle of Weinsberg has been called “Weibertreu” (~wifely loyalty) ever since.

Schloss Weinsberg was finally destroyed during the Peasants War of 1525. After 1819 a local group of women began collecting funds for the renovation of the castle that stabilised the existing structure.

In 1855 the architect of the famous Schloss Lichtenstein suggested the construction of a Pantheon of famous German Women. That failed due to opposition of the Wuerrtemberg authorities.

Joseph Goebbels picked up the idea and planned a great Walhalla of the German woman to be inaugurated in 1940. The outbreak of WWII prevented this.

The ruin of Weinsberg is still owned and managed by the Frauenverein (Women’s Association) founded in 1819.

Lovis Corinth Die Weiber von Weinsberg
19th century Postcard showing Weinsberg

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On this day, December 20, 1046, Emperor Henry III calls the Council of Sutri that removes a total of 3 popes. The next time this happens is in 1417 at the Council of Constance.

The run-up to the council is quite unremarkable. King Henry III had planned to cruise down to Rome, get crowned emperor during the now traditional winter months and be back across the Alps before the malaria season starts in spring. That is what his predecessors Konrad II and Henry II had done. Neither of these had had any interest in getting embroiled in Roman affairs. They all remembered Otto III and how that had ended.

In November 1046 Henry III meets the current pope, Gregory VI in Piacenza to hammer out the details of the upcoming coronation. Things are fine and both pope and emperor treat each other with the respect their offices afford.

Sometime after this meeting Henry III has concerns. The more he hears about the way Gregory VI has been elevated to the throne of St. Peter, the more he wonders whether his coronation would be valid. Since 1012 the papacy was in the hand of the counts of Tusculum. Other than their predecessors as rulers of Rome, the Crescenti, the Tusculani did not appoint pet churchmen to be popes, but decided to do the job themselves. Benedict IX was the first of these soldier-popes, followed by his brother, John XIX. He was followed by Benedict IX, his nephew.

Benedict IX was quite young, probably 18 or 20 when he became the leader of Christianity. There are some chroniclers who claim he was only 12 when he was elevated, indulged in rape and murder and displayed homosexual tendencies, though all that is likely imperial propaganda. But even 20 is not really an age when one should become pope. I guess his personal conduct fell somewhat short of the moral demands the office is usually associated with.

Things get complicated for Benedict IX in 1044. A “new aristocracy” in Rome is emerging that challenges the traditional mafia oligarchy that had ruled the city since the 9th century. The upstarts throw Benedict IX out and bring in a new pope, Sylvester III. By 1045 Benedict IX is back. For reasons that are somewhat unclear Benedict IX decides that the papacy is not really for him, and he sells it to a gentleman called John Gratian for cold hard cash. That sale is not propaganda, that actually happened.

John Gratian takes the title of Gregory VI and it is this pope our friend Henry III encounters in November 1046 in Piacenza.

News trickle through that Gregory VI has paid to become pope, which constitute the sin of Simony. That causes a serious problem for Henry III. If Gregory VI had indeed acquired the papacy in such a crass manner, then what is any of the sacraments worth he will be conducting? Could he, Henry III be taking part in a sinful act if he had himself crowned by a pope whose foul act condemns him to eternal hellfire?

He is on theologically thin ice. And to say it in German “Wenn ich nicht mehr weiter weiss, gruende ich einen Arbeitskreis” which loosely translates as “if I am at a loss, I will form a taskforce”. That task force was the Council of Sutri in December 1046.The assembled bishops easily dismissed antipope Sylvester III as uncanonical. When Gregory VI admitted having bought the papacy in order to bring an end to the travesty that was the reign of Benedict IX, that argument did not cut it and Gregory VI resigned. Benedict IX did not even show up and was deposed in absentia. Henry III in one fell swoop deposed all three popes.

He now needed a new one. And this time it had to be a proper churchman who cleans up the mess the papacy has become. Henry III knew a lot of proper churchmen, all of whom were members of the German Imperial church. He first asked Adalbert archbishop of Bremen/Hamburg and eternal scorn of the Saxons but he refused. Bishop Suitger of Bamberg was more amenable and is made Pope Clement II on the spot. Clement II crowns Henry III and sends him back on his way home to avoid the Malaria. Unfortunately for Clement II, he has to stay behind in Rome where he dies of the disease within 10 months.

The next “volunteer” was Poppo, bishop of Brixen, who as Damasus II lasts just 30 days before being taken down by the Malaria. In 1048 Henry appoints his cousin, Bruno, bishop of Toul to become pope as Leo IX.

Leo IX lasts almost 5 years. These five years are a crucial time for the papacy and ultimately European history. He brings the papacy’s reputation back from the brink, establishes the College of Cardinals staffed with competent administrators and theologians. All that sets in motion a series of events that Norman Cantor described as “the first of the three world revolutions”.

On this day, 18th of December 1916 the battle of Verdun ended after almost exactly 10 months.

The number of casualties are disputed but numbers go up to 300,000 deaths and maybe another 500,000 severely wounded. The German strategic plan to either break through or at least grind down the French army in an industrialised battle failed. At the end the frontline was largely unchanged with some positions having changed hands 4 times.

The battle of Verdun has a huge significance in France and Germany similar to the battle of the Somme in Great Britain.

In France it was seen as one of the great moments of resistance. The French general Robert Nivelle coined the phrase “Ils ne passeront pas” (they shall not pass). The term was not only picked up by Tolkien, but also by the Spanish in the civil war “No pasaran!” remains a key slogan of the left in Spain and elsewhere today.

In Germany Verdun became a symbol of the pointlessness and mechanised nature of the battle of materials in World War I. It was known as the “Bloodmill” or “Hell of Verdun”. Art lovers mourn the painter Franz Marc (1880-1916) whose vibrant pictures of horses were a million miles from the horror of the trenches.

On September 22, 1984 the two heads of state, Francois Mitterrand, President of France and Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany met at Verdun to commemorate the fallen. In a spontaneous gesture of reconciliation the two stood hand in hand before a monument to soldiers on both sides.

Fort Douamont which stood at the centre of the fighting
Soldiers in the trenches at Verdun (these ones are French)
Franz Marc Large Blue Horses

On this day, December 16th, 1740, King Frederick II (the Great) of Brandenburg-Prussia occupied Silesia, until then a possession of the House of Habsburg. Frederick claimed Silesia as compensation for accepting the “Pragmatic Sanction”.

The Pragmatic Sanction was a change in the rules of inheritance prevailing in the Habsburg lands. If the imperial family had died out in the male line, the eldest daughter of the last holder of the title should now inherit the lands. This insurance policy had to be called earlier than expected when Emperor Charles VI died in 1740 and left all to his daughter Maria Theresia.

As soon as Charles VI had passed, various pretenders contested the validity of the Pragmatic Sanction, including Bavaria, Saxony and Prussia. Frederick II stood out for having no claim on Silesia at all – he just wanted it. What he did have was a formidable standing army created by his father who he despised. That army he put to use in Silesia, which he occupied within days.

The invasion of Silesia kicks off a period of near continuous warfare between Austria and Prussia that involved France, Great Britain and several of the German states. It lasts until the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763. Prussia and Great Britain emerged as the winners in this, the first global conflict. Britain gains an empire in North America and India and Prussia leapfrogs Bavaria and Saxony to the #2 position in Germany behind Austria.

Prussia’s or more precisely Frederick II’s success was hard won and brought him more than once to the abyss.

The post 1763 power structure in Germany pitted Prussia against Austria for leadership in a future unified German national state. That conflict gets resolved 100 years later in the battle of Königgrätz/Hradic Kralove (1866) and the subsequent creation of the Deutsche Reich under Prussian leadership in 1871.

I am not a fan of the “great man” approach to history, but Frederick II, for good or ill, had been one of the rare individuals whose choices did change the course of history. Without his daring and persistence, Prussia would have remained a mid-ranking state within Germany. National unification would have come about in a very different fashion…

On this day, December 3rd, 1942 the great German meteorologist and balloonist Arthur Berson (1859-1942) died of a stroke. Berson is credited with the discovery of the Stratosphere. His work on the structure of the Troposphere as well as his Climatology research were major advances in his field. But he was most famous for his feats as a balloonist. He participated in over 100 scientific high-altitude ascents.

The great Bolloon rides

In 1894 he reached the level of 9,155m where temperature had dropped to -49° Celsius and breathing was only possible by using pure oxygen.

On July 31st, 1901 he and his colleague Reinhard Süring boarded the Balloon “Preussen” filled with 5,400 cubic metres of Hydrogen. After just 40 minutes they had reached a level of 5,000 m. After 4 hours they had reached 9,000m and the temperature had fallen to -32°. Though they were breathing pure oxygen, the reduced atmospheric pressure resulted in both men beginning to faint. Their last recorded measurements were made at 10,225m. After that Süring fell unconscious and Berson pulled the valve for the descent but became unconscious almost immediately afterwards. Both men were now unconscious and probably lost their oxygen masks. They only came to when the balloon had dropped to 6,000m. They were still extremely weak, and the balloon dropped very fast. Only by about 2,500m did the descent slow down and the two men could gain control of the situation. They landed after 7.5h flight in a field near Cottbus.

Their ascent remained the highest balloon flight until Auguste Piccard reached 15,000m in a fully sealed Balloon capsule in 1931.For more detail check this article (in German):


Expeditions to Africa

In 1908 Berson made an expedition to Tanzania (then a German Colony) to investigate the stratosphere around the equator. He did plan various other expeditions, namely to the Arctic as well as schemes to better understand the weather systems over the Atlantic. Most of those failed due to the lack of funding or the onset of World War 1. Despite these constraints, his work has been a milestone in the history of meteorology.

Private life

Berson had an international outlook and spoke 6 languages fluently. His first wife, the German-American Helen Feininger died after just five years of marriage. He had five children with his Swedish second wife, Ruth Bergstrand. their son, Arthur Felicjan Berson was part of a team of meteorologist that planned the allied landings in Normandy.

I could not figure out what happened to Berson senior during the second World War. Given his Jewish ancestry he would normally have been persecuted.

I find the more you look into German history the more interesting things pop up.

Having lured his father into a trap and then deposed, we now have a new king. Last week you heard the story from the father’s perspective, this time we look at it from Henry V’s perspective. Maybe he was not as much of a rotten apple as it looks?

For five years Henry can maintain the peace in Germany as well as with the papacy. But in 1110 he runs out of road. He needs to come to a lasting agreement with the intractable Pope Paschalis II. Paschalis himself is looking for a solution. And he comes up with a solution, so cunning, you can put a tail on it and call it a weasel..

In the meantime, the King of France transitions from sexually incontinent simoniac to papal pet. Something that will yield immense benefit to royal power in the long run. The King of France becoming the friend of the pope brings the King of England closer to the future emperor. Henry V marries the English king’s daughter, 8-year old Matilda. Matilda would later become famous as the Empress Matilda, adversary of King Stephen in the Anarchy, mother of King Henry II of England and founder of the Plantagenet dynasty..

A lot to get through but fun…check it out here

#Onthisday, September 6th, 1879, Karl Joseph Wirth, the youngest German Chancellor to date, was born in Freiburg i.B. He was on the left wing of the Zentrum (=Catholic) party.

When he became chancellor in May 1921, he pursued a policy of compliance with the demands for the allied reparations after World War I. The aim was to convince the allies that their demands were impossible to deliver. This policy led to rising government debt that was covered through the printing of currency, ultimately resulting in the 1923 hyperinflation.

In 1922 his foreign secretary Walther Rathenau negotiated the Treaty of Rapallo whereby the Soviet Union and Germany recognised each other as sovereign states, opened trade relations and Russia renounced any reparations.

Two months later Walther Rathenau was assassinated. Wirth blamed his death on right wing parties, accusing them of “pouring poison into the wounds of the nation”.

By November 1922 his policy of compliance had buckled under the opposition and -having failed to bring together another coalition- resigned as chancellor. He left the Zentrum when his party entered into a coalition with the right wing DNVP. He briefly returned to frontline politics as minister of the interior under the Bruning government in 1931.

When the Nazis brought the Enabling Act (Ermaechtigngsgesetz), he pushed back in a passionate speech but was required to vote for it. He emigrated to Switzerland immediately afterwards. Whilst there he tried to alert the Vatican of the Nazi’s anti-Semitic policies though with little success.After the war he returned to West Germany but failed to find a political home. He opposed Adenauer’s policy of integrating into the West, advocating closer ties with the Soviet Union. He visited Moscow and was given decorations by the Soviet Union and the GDR. The CIA claimed he was a Russian spy and he was refused a pension. He died in his hometown of Freiburg in 1956.