THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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196 posts categorized "History"

19 January 2018

Mapping the Christmas Flood of 1717

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This Christmas saw some pretty wet and windy weather, both in the UK and across the North Sea in the Netherlands, where I spent my Christmas holidays. Foul it may have been, but it was nothing compared to the storm that battered vast swathes of the Northern Netherlands, Northern Germany and Denmark for four days over Christmas in 1717. 

I must say, that I, like most of my fellow Dutchmen had never heard of this storm. Yet, it caused more casualties than the big flood of 1953. It was the biggest natural disaster in 400 years.  The Northern Maritime Museum,  located in two beautiful Medieval buildings in the centre of Groningen, is runnning an exhibition on this ‘Midwinterflood’, in collaboration with the Groninger Archieven. They are organising a conference about the flood on 20 January.

A prominent place in the exhibition is taken up by images of a map, which is by no means ‘only’ a topographical map, but tells the story of the flood in both cartographic and pictorial images and text. It is beautifully made, but that should not come as a surprise, since it was none other than the master cartographer Johann Baptist Homann who engraved it.

PHOTO1MapHomannMaps27095J.B. Homann, Geographische Vorstellung der jämerlichen Wasser-Flutt in Nieder-Teutschland, welche den 25 Dec. Aº 1717 ... einen grossen Theil derer Hertzogth Holstein und Bremen, die Grafsch. Oldenburg, Frislandt, Gröningen und Nort-Holland überschwemet hat. (Nuremberg, [1718?]) Maps * 27095.(6.)

Homann addresses us as ‘reader’ (‘Hochgeneigter Leser!’) instead of ‘viewer’, seemingly emphasising that the map is not just a topographical tool but a text to be read. 

PHOTO2MapHomannHochgLeser

 Detail from Homann’s map, with his address to the reader.

The most striking thing about the map is the green colouring which indicates the extent of the reach of the water. It immediately brings home the scale and seriousness of the disaster. At one point the water reached the gates of the city of Groningen, which lies 34 km inland from the coastal town Pieterburen. Estimates are that 14,000 people lost their lives across the whole of the northern Netherlands, Germany (10,000!) and Denmark. Homann gives a figure of 18,140 for casualties in Germany. Let’s hope that modern science is more accurate than he was.

PHOTO3MapHomanndetBericht

Homann’s account (above) and depiction (below) of the flood

PHOTO4MapHomannGronEmb 

The illustrations within the map, such as the water scoop, sluice and inundated village support the story. The putti holding up the banner with the quote from Ovid’s Metamorphoses are crying, as a sign of the scale of the human tragedy and may-be the feelings of Homann himself. 

PHOTO5MapHomannwaterscoops

Water-scoop and sluice (above) and weeping putti (below) from Homann’s map 

PHOTO7MapHomannPutti

My first thought when I saw this extraordinary map in the exhibition was: “Is there a copy in the British Library?” As soon as I could I went online to check our catalogue and indeed, I found it at the first attempt. I reserved it immediately to be ready for me to study it as soon as I was back at work. I almost could not wait. Fortunately I had the exhibition to keep me entertained. It gives a fascinating account of what happened, how it could happen, the human, material and financial costs and it also highlights the hero of the story Thomas van Seeratt, who had been appointed provincial commissioner only the year before. At first ridiculed when sounding the alarm on the sorry state of the dikes, he was tragically proven right on Christmas night 1717.

Soon after the event pamphlets such as that by Adriaan Spinneker started to appear, telling of horrible ordeals suffered by people trying to save their lives by clinging on to trees, or roof tops, barely clothed, without any drinking water or food, exposed to bitterly cold and wet weather for hours and sometimes days on end, all the while carrying loved ones on their backs or in their arms. In the end some became so exhausted and stiffened by cold that they had to let go of their children. 

Spinniker
Adriaan Spinneker, Gods Gerichten op den aarde vertoond in den ... storm en hoogen waterfloed ... in't 1717de Jaar voorgevallen, aandachtig beschouwd …(Groningen, 1718) 11557.bbb.64

Authorities did initiate a large programme of dike building, based on van Seeratt’s designs, which involved making dikes less steep, so they can absorb the shocks of the waves much better. These days Dutch national authorities and the 22 water boards are responsible for dike maintenance, rather than private landowners.  This is just as well, because without dikes to protect it, the Netherlands would look a bit more like this.  

Netherlands compared to sea level
The Netherlands compared to sea level. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)


Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.

Further reading

Gerhardus Outhof, Verhaal van alle hooge watervloeden in ... Europa, van Noachs tydt af, tot op den tegenwoordigen tydt toe ... Met eene breede beschryvinge van den zwaaren kersvloedt van 1717 ... (Embden, 1720) 1607/5565.

Johannes Velsen, De hand Gods uitgestrekt tot tugtinge over zommige provintien der vereenigde Nederlanden, bestaende in zes gedigten van de watervloed, in Kersnagt, van 't jaer 1717. (Groningen, 1718), in: Dutch pamphlets 1542-1853 : the Van Alphen collection (Groningen, 1999) Mic.F.977

 

11 January 2018

An Arthurian castle in Slovenia: the history, legends and future of Castle Borl

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“I rode at my best pace into the broad Gandine, after which your grandfather Gandin is named. The place lies where the Grajena flows into the Drau, a river that bears gold.”

Thus Parzifal/Sir Perceval learns of his family roots in the province of Styria, according to Wolfram von Eschenbach’s version of his story. The town identified as his father’s namesake is today named Hajdina, a suburb of the city of Ptuj in eastern Slovenia.

20 kilometres to the east, a castle stands on a headland overlooking the Drava/Drau river, commanding a sweeping view of the valley and of the wine-growing Haloze hills around. Its Slovenian name is Borl, derived from the Hungarian word for a river crossing, and it is also known in German as Ankenstein. Its heraldic crest is an inverted anchor, the symbol in the legend of Parzifal’s Grail family.

Borl_KolaricDarko1View of Grad Borl today (Photo by by Darko Kolarič)

Borl’s true origins are poorly documented, and the Grail legend is just one of the many evocative tales associated with it. It dates from at least the 11th century and probably occupies the site of an older settlement. Reflecting its situation close to the old border between the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary/Croatia, it changed hands many times before becoming an established part of the Habsburg Duchy of Styria, with a series of different aristocratic owners who lived well on the vineyards and farmlands surrounding it.

In 1681, Georg Matthäus Vischer (1628-1696) recorded Grad Borl in three images as part of his Topographia Ducatus Stiriae. Visher was one of the pre-eminent cartographers and engravers of his day. His work documenting the castles and towns of the core Habsburg lands is still widely used as a reference source, and has been reprinted frequently. It is the sole known source for the 17th-century appearance of many of the castles. For some of them, it is the only source we have at all. That Borl appeared in three illustrations marks it as one of the more important castles: less significant ones had a single image apiece.

Borl Vischer 1

Above and below: Views of Grad Borl (here called “Ankchenstein”) from  Georg Matthäus Vischer, Topographia Ducatus Stiriae (Graz, 1681) Maps C.22.a.17.

Borl Vischer 2

In 1918, Lower Styria and Borl became part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, subject to land reforms that proved controversial in the Habsburg successor states. Its disgruntled owner sold it to a local stock company. During the Second World War, the Nazis occupied the area, incorporating it into the Reich and issuing an arrest warrant for Borl’s Jewish owner, Zora Weiss, who fled, as did her co-owner, Vuk von Vuchetich. Borl became an internment camp for Slovenes who were being deported from Styria for resisting Germanization, and the occupiers looted any of the contents that were not nailed down.

This grim war-time story makes what happened next the more remarkable to me. In 1946, the new socialist government of Yugoslavia nationalised the castle, using it consecutively as a children’s convalescent home, a refugee centre for people fleeing the Soviet invasion of Hungary, and finally a successful hotel. During the latter period, it acquired a swimming pool high on the ledge above the river, and furnished many people with very happy memories.

Sadly, this happy phase did not last. The hotel closed down, and although the castle was still used for events some of the remaining treasures were stolen during the 1990s. Since 2010, for safety reasons, the gate has been locked and a poignant notice forbids entry without the permission of the Republic of Slovenia. On a recent visit, even the Prime Minister was obliged to respect this no-entry rule. But Borl still captures the imagination. There are re-enactments of events in its past and films of its history made every year. A voluntary society, the Društvo za oživitev gradu Borl, composed of local historians and other enthusiasts, campaigns to raise funds and awareness, and maintains the grounds during summer. Random hikers, cyclists and other explorers post their videos on Youtube. Miha Pogačnik, violinist, inspirational speaker and Slovenian cultural ambassador, has a protective interest in the Castle, where he held arts and business conferences for several years before 2010. Inspired by the Parzifal connection, he believes it could become a centre for the formation of a pan-European identity and European spiritual revival.

In 2018, work is due to take place to restore the main courtyard of the castle and shore up the hillside below it. What happens beyond that is sadly unclear, but it is not through shortage of ideas or enthusiasm about this beloved and dramatic building and a surrounding landscape full of cultural monuments.

BorlAshtonPhoto by Janet Ashton. 

 Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager (With particular thanks to Sonja Golc, Mira Petrovič and Branko Vnuk)

References/Further reading:

Ivan Stopar, Razvoj srednjevške grajske arhitekture na Slovenskem Štajerskem (Ljubljana, 1977) X.421/9913

Vnuk, Branko and two others. Grad Borl : gradbenozgodovinski oris in prispevek k zgodovini rodbine Sauer. (Ptuj, 2010). https://www.dlib.si/details/URN:NBN:SI:DOC-IHU7ORVJ/

Wolfram, von Eschenbach, Parzifal, translated by A.T. Hatto. (Harmondsworth, 1980) X.909/45081

 

08 January 2018

Two Murders, a Suicide and an Anglo-German Newspaperman

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In the course of my research on German printers and publishers in 19th-century London it can be hard to discover how long an individual was at a business address, let alone any more personal details of their lives and backgrounds. But searching for information about Johann Lachmann von Gamsenfels, sometime printer of the German-language Londoner Journal (1878-91), I discovered an unexpected and tragic story.

On 15 August 1889 Gamsenfels took lodgings in Stratford-on-Avon, accompanied by a woman and a four-year-old girl. They appeared a devoted and happy family, and enjoyed visiting the local sights, but on the following Monday morning the landlady heard gunshots from their room. The police were called and forced open the locked door to reveal the woman and child lying on the bed and Gamsenfels on the floor, all three shot through the left temple. Gamsenfels had apparently murdered his wife and daughter while they slept and then killed himself.

Gamsenfels Illustrated Police News
The discovery of the bodies as depicted in The Illustrated Police News 31 August 1889, via the British Newspaper Archive

Such a ghastly event was bound to arouse press interest and there was no shortage of lurid coverage, especially when it was found that the murdered woman was not Gamsenfels’s wife but his mistress. The couple had been living together for some years as if married, while Gamsenfels continued to support and occasionally visit his legal wife Rosanna and their son. Rosanna said at the inquest that she had found compromising letters to Gamsenfels from a woman five years previously and had confronted them both, but claimed to have had no knowledge of her husband’s continued infidelity and to have accepted his explanation of long absences from home as business related.

One thing that struck me in all this was that Gamsenfels was described in the newspaper reports as editor – and sometimes founder – of the Londoner Journal, although the issues of the paper which I have examined mention him only as its printer. Even in this capacity his name disappears after July 1884, as do large-scale advertisements for his printing business. This must have been around the time that Rosanna discovered his infidelity, and indeed when his mistress became pregnant with their daughter, and I can’t help speculating that his disappearance from the public face of the paper is related to these events.

Gamsenfels large ad Londoner JournaMasthead of the Londoner Journal (12 January 1884; NEWS14598) with an advertisement for Gamsenfels’s printing business

Did the Londoner Journal’s staff agree to turn a blind eye to Gamsenfels’s adultery if he withdrew his name from the enterprise? Were they perhaps sympathetic to his situation and willing to give him a nominal role as editor in order to help him support two households? I say ‘nominal’ because by the time of the murder he and his mistress were also touring with a stage act (as ‘Herr Mozart and Mme Lenormand’), which sits oddly with editing a newspaper full time. Yet if his colleagues were in any way complicit in Gamsenfels’s double life or allowing him to carry out less than a full-time role, they gave no hint of it in their report of his death. There he is described as ‘our editor for many years’ and ‘a diligent worker, jovial colleague and good friend’. The writer states that Gamsenfels and his wife were estranged – something Rosanna seems to have played down in her comments to the inquest – but implies no prior knowledge of the mistress and illegitimate child. So my speculations must remain just that. 

Lachmann LJ report
The opening of the Londoner Journal's report of Gamsenfels’s death (22 August 1889)

Gamsenfels’s motive for the murder-suicide was equally impossible to prove. At the inquest it was assumed that severe financial difficulties must have led him to such a desperate act and that his state of mind could not be ascertained, although the Londoner Journal claimed that ‘sufficient resources were always available to him,’ and describes the crime as being carried out  ‘apparently in a moment of mental disturbance.’ The inquest judge  (quoted in the Banbury Guardian of 5 September 1889) took a more moralising tone: ‘it was the natural result of an illicit and shameful connection … a vicious life ending in a disgraceful manner.’

But the saddest mystery in this strange case is the identity of the dead woman. Many reports identify her only by her stage name Mme Lenormand. Later she was tentatively identified as Caroline Monthey, the woman whose letters Rosanna Gamsenfels had discovered in 1884, but Rosanna herself said she could not be certain of this. Whoever she was, both she and the daughter she had with Gamsenfels, the victims of his crime, were buried anonymously, with no family or friends to mourn them.

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

02 January 2018

Polish mathematicians and cracking the Enigma

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For centuries all cryptosystems had a linguistic orientation. However after the First World War cryptography entered the era of mechanisation and as a result cipher machines were built with the set of rotors as a primary component. They were used for encrypting and decrypting secret messages. To break their ciphers mathematical knowledge was needed.

The Enigma, the most famous example of the cipher machine, was created by the Germans at the end of the First World War. It was used for commercial and military purposes, although the two versions differ significantly. In the late 1920s Germany had the most sophisticated communications in the world. The British, French and Americans tried to tackle the Enigma cipher but failed to break it. One country, however, desperate to monitor German secret messages, achieved considerable results. This was Poland.

Sandwiched between two powerful neighbours, Soviet Union to the east and Germany to the west, Poland, a newly-created state after the First World War, was in great need of finding a way to ensure her security. The success of the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1920 was due to intelligence activities in which Polish cryptographers played a crucial role. To continue the work on cryptology seemed to be an obvious choice.

Enigma Memorial
Memorial at Bletchley Park commemorating three Polish mathematicians. (Photo by Magda Szkuta)

Polish Intelligence was successful in cracking the German military ciphers until the German cryptograms began to change in 1926. The Poles quickly realized that they were machine-enciphered and identified the machine as the Enigma. A commercial model purchased by the Polish Cipher Bureau was however different from the German military Enigma. Unable to decipher military messages and to reconstruct the machine they decided to turn to a mathematical approach. In 1932 a team of young mathematicians from the University of Poznań was set up. Among them were the main code breakers Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski. It was Rejewski who first cracked the Enigma code, in only ten weeks. His excellent mathematical education, fluent command of German, exceptional intuition and completion of a course in cryptology, together with the intelligence information he received from the French Secret Service, led to his success. The first messages were deciphered as early as Christmas 1932.

Enigma Rejewski

Cover of Z.J. Kapera, Marian Rejewski: the man who defeated Enigma. (Krakow, 2013) YD.2014.a.1832

Rejewski was now joined by Różycki and Zygalski. Their contributions included the Różycki clock and the Zygalski sheets Subsequently the Poles were able to replicate the Enigma machine and design mechanical devices which allowed them to break the Enigma code. A crucial device which made it possible to reconstruct daily codes in two hours was the cyclometer. It was substantially developed by Alan Turing in the Second World War. In 1938 the German cryptographers increased Enigma’s security and the Poles’ techniques no longer worked. There were no resources to carry out further work either. By that time the Polish cryptographers had read about 75% of intercepted German Radio communications. This was kept strictly confidential.

Enigma Zygalski

Cover of Z.J. Kapera, The triumph of Zygalski’s sheets: the Polish Enigma in the early 1940. (Kraków, 2015). YD.2016.a.4085

In July 1939, with the German invasion of Poland imminent, the Poles invited French and British code breakers for a secret meeting near Warsaw. The Polish team disclosed their Enigma results and handed their allies-to-be copies of the Enigma machine. On 1 September the war broke out. The three genius mathematicians fled Poland and later joined the French cryptographers in France. The knowledge they had provided considerably contributed to the cracking of the more complicated wartime Enigma codes used by the Germans. This happened at Bletchley Park. The breaking of Enigma had a significant impact on the course of the Second World War. It is believed that it shortened the war by two years and saved countless lives.

An original Enigma machine is currently on display in the British Library outside the Alan Turing Institute.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

David Kahn, Seizing the Enigma (London, 2010). YC.2011.a.1687

Frank Carter, The first breaking of Enigma: some of the pioneering techniques developed by the Polish Cipher Bureau (Milton Keynes, 2008). YK.2010.a.35748

 Simon Singh, The Code Book (London, 1999). YC.1999.b.8756

Enigma Machine
The Enigma Machine on display in the Library (Photo by Clare Kendall)

 

20 December 2017

‘Mild measures are of no use’: The Danish Church Order (1537), Doctor Pomeranus, and Henry VIII

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Henry VIII was very well-read in theology and, according to J.P. Carley, ‘for a brief time he seemed sympathetic to Martin Luther’ (Carley, p. xxviii) before reacting against reformist theology in the famous Assertio septem sacramentorum aduersus M. Lutherum (1521). A copy of the latter (Rome, 1521; G.1210) can be seen in the current ‘Martin Luther’ exhibition in the Treasures Gallery. In the Assertio, the King defends the seven sacraments against Luther’s charges.

In the same period, Christian II, King of Denmark-Norway, also reflected on Luther’s incendiary ideas and, in conversation with Erasmus, is supposed to have expressed quite a different view to Henry VIII and to Erasmus himself: ‘Mild measures are of no use; the remedies that give the whole body a good shaking are the best and surest’. It was King Christian III who eventually went on to establish Lutheranism as the state religion of Denmark-Norway in 1537 and the church order that made that process official is part of the BL’s collections.

Portrait Christian III

Woodcut portrait of Christian III in Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ… (Copenhagen, 1537), C.45.a.10(2), accompanying his introductory statement.

 Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ et Norwegia et Ducatuum, Sleswicensis, Holtsatiæ etcet. (C.45.a.10(2)) was written by Johannes Bugenhagen, the Pomeranian reformer who was greatly responsible for bringing the Protestant Reformation to Northern Germany and Scandinavia, writing many a church order along the way. This church order appeared first in this Latin version and later in Danish (1539). The present copy was presented to Henry VIII with a manuscript note by “Doctor Pommeranus”, a name referring to Bugenhagen’s birth place. The note reads, ‘Inclyto regi Anglie etc. Hērico Octavo. doctor pommeranus.’

Ordinatio TitleTitle page of Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ … with manuscript note by Bugenhagen

This volume brings together the 1537 church order with the 1538 Instructio Visitationis Saxonicȩ, ad Ecclesiarum Pastores, de doctrina Christiana, also translated by Bugenhagen with an identical presentation note to Henry VIII.

Instructio
 Title page Instructio Visitationis Saxonicȩ… (Roskilde, 1538) C.45.a.10(1), with the manuscript note cut off at the bottom

So it can be said that Henry VIII had a ‘continued personal engagement with [the work of] Luther’ (Carley, xxx) and, of course, with the conviction that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was invalid, Henry VIII was increasingly open to anti-Roman Catholic ideas. Carley suggests that ‘the copy of Johannes Bugenhagen’s Pia et uere catholica et consentiens ueteri ecclesiae ordinatio given to Henry was probably used in turn by [Thomas] Cranmer’ (Carley, li). The Pia et euere catholica is embedded as a continuation of the above church order (from f. lxvii verso).

Pia et uere catholica

Title page of Johannes Bugenhagen, Pia et uere catholica et consentiens ueteri ecclesiae ordination, C.45.a.10(2)

From the Assertio on display in the Treasures Gallery, to the Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ …, we see represented in the early writing and the library of Henry VIII the whole transition from Catholicism to Protestantism, away from Rome to be more at home in the North (via Denmark perhaps!).

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

R. Nisbet Bain, Scandinavia: a political history of Denmark, Norway and Sweden from 1513 to 1900 (Cambridge, 1905/2013) YC.2016.a.2161

J. P. Carley, The Libraries of King Henry VIII (London, 2000), 2719.k.2879

Kirkeordinansen 1537/39 [Introduction and notes from Martin Schwarz Lausten] (Odense, 1989), YA.1991.a.96

12 December 2017

Christmas with the Luthers

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There is an enduring story that Martin Luther invented the Christmas tree. The usual version is something along the following lines: Luther was walking home close to Christmas and, inspired by the starry sky, brought a small fir tree into the house and decorated it with candles to remind his children of the stars shining over Bethlehem when Christ was born.

Luther's Christmas Tree
A 19th-century American Lutheran tract, T. Stork, Luther’s Christmas Tree (Philadelphia, 1855) 4887.aa.61

In fact it’s pretty certain that Luther had nothing to do with Christmas trees. There’s no mention of such a thing in his letters or Table Talk, or in biographical accounts by his contemporaries. The popular association seems to go back to an engraving of 1843 by Carl August Schwerdgeburth (below) showing the Luther family gathered round a tree. As described in an earlier post, 19th-century pictures of Luther’s family life often reflected their own times as much as his, and a tree was a definite fixture of a German Christmas by the 1840s – although not in the 16th century.

Luther Schwerdgeburth

Schwerdgeburth’s picture was widely reproduced and much imitated, and no doubt the growing visual association of Luther with an anachronistic Christmas tree led to the story that he invented the tradition.

Luther at Christmas 4885.f.14.
Another anachronistic Christmas Tree, picture by Gustav König from Heinrich Gelzer, Martin Luther, der deutsche Reformator (Hamburg, 1847-51) 4885.f.13. 

However, Luther did have a hand in another German Christmas tradition: the giving of gifts on Christmas Eve. Although there is some evidence that he and his family continued the established custom of giving small presents on the feast of St Nicholas (6 December), Luther wanted to make the nativity and the infant Jesus the focus of Christmas celebrations. Thus he encouraged making Christmas Eve the principal day for gift-giving and identified the Christkind (Christ-Child) as the gift bearer. Father Christmas (Der Weihnachtsmann) has taken over the role in some German households today, but in others the Christkind still brings the children their presents. (And German children still get gifts from St Nicholas on 6 December as well.)

Vom Hhimmel hoch 2
‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her’, from  Gesangbuch, darinn begriffen sind, die aller fürnemisten und besten Psalmen, Geistliche Lieder und Chorgeseng ... [A facsimile of the ‘Grosses Strassburger Gesangbuch’ of 1541] (Stuttgart, 1953). 3438.p.1.

It is said that Luther wrote his Christmas hymn, ‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her’ (‘From heaven above to earth I come’) for a family Christmas Eve celebration in 1535. The song reflects the angel’s message to the shepherds from the nativity story, and according to at least one 19th-century account, it was first performed to the family by a singer dressed as an angel. In the accompanying picture (below) Luther looks oddly fierce and the children rather frightened; I assume this is unintentional, as the text praises Luther as family man, poet and musician. Interestingly, there’s no tree in sight here.

Luther at Christmas 4887.g.3
‘Christmas Eve 1535 at Luther’s house’. Picture by Eduard Kaempffer from Franz Fauth, Dr. Martin Luthers Leben, dem deutschen Volke erzählt (Leipzig, 1897) 4887.g.3.

Unlike many German hymns and carols, ‘Vom Himmel hoch…’ has never really caught on in Britain, but Luther may have contributed to a German carol that is still popular here. The macaronic ‘In dulci jubilo’ dates back to the 14th century, but an additional verse about God’s grace to sinners was added in the 16th century and is often ascribed to Luther.

Christmas with the Luthers probably wasn’t quite as 19th-century artists and biographers liked to imagine it, but was clearly a happy time: one of Luther’s students once described him as being ‘very jocund’ on Christmas Eve. We hope that you all will be too, and throughout the season.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

04 December 2017

Martin Luther, family man

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In 1525 the Protestant reformer Martin Luther married a former nun, Katharina von Bora. The couple had six children, four of whom survived into adulthood. Their household was a hospitable one: they also took in the orphaned children of relatives,  and regularly offered a home to Luther’s friends, colleagues and students.

It became increasingly common, especially in the 19th century, to depict the Luthers and their family as an ideal of clerical marriage and the Christian home. Illustrations to popular biographies show Luther in the bosom of his family, often at the same time reflecting contemporary mores, as in the examples below. In the first, the furnishings of the house and the dress and attitudes of the figures owe as much to early 19th century ‘Biedermeier’ period as to the reality of the 15th century, while in the second, from an 1905 publication, a positively Dickensian Luther beams over his brood.

Luther paterfamilias 1372.k.5
Luther and his family. Above, from Christian Franz Gottlieb Stang, Martin Luther. Sein Leben und Wirken (Stuttgart, 1839) 1372.k.5; Below from M. Wartburger, Martin Luther: Lebensgeschichte des Reformators (Berlin, 1905) 4887.f.17.

Luther and family 4887.f.17

However idealised – or occasionally saccharine – such pictures might be, they do reflect a certain reality. Luther took much pleasure from family life and his letters show that he was an observant, affectionate and proud father. There are touching descriptions of his grief over the deaths of his daughters Elisabeth (in infancy) and Magdalena (aged 13). He was, of course, a man of his times, who believed in the necessity of firm discipline and corporal punishment in child-rearing, but he recognised that the kind of exaggerated beatings he had received as a child for small transgressions, both at home and at school, were counter-productive, and that punishment should be tempered with rewards.

A often-quoted example of Luther’s paternal affection is a letter that he wrote to his eldest son Hans (‘Hänschen’) in 1530 from Coburg. Hans had recently started lessons at home and Luther was pleased to hear that he was working hard. He goes on to describe:

… a pretty and cheerful garden, where there are many children. They wear little golden coats, and gather beautiful apples and pears, cherries and plums under the trees; they sing and run about and are happy. They have lovely ponies, with golden bridles and silver saddles. I asked the owner of the garden whose the children were. And he said, “They are the children who love to pray and to learn and are good.” Then I said, “My dear sir, I also have a son, called Hänschen Luther: could he come into the garden too …?” The man said, “If he loves to pray and to learn and is good, then he too may come into the garden, and Lippus and Jost ; and if they all come together, they can play on fifes, drums and lutes, and all kinds of instruments, and dance, and shoot with little crossbows.” He then showed me a beautiful lawn in the garden, prepared for dancing, where a great many golden fifes and drums and silver crossbows were hanging.

(You can read the original here. ‘Lippus and Jost’ were the sons of Luther’s fellow-reformers Philipp Melanchthon and Justus Jonas.)

The letter’s vision of a ‘children’s paradise’ shows that Luther had a good idea of what might appeal to a little boy, and that he wanted to encourage Hans with kindness rather threats. However, Hans was only four years old, and I can’t help thinking that he would have been too young to understand this delightful vision as a metaphor for the heavenly rewards of learning and piety and that Luther’s good intentions may have backfired. Did the little boy sit down to his lessons every day hoping for the actual reward of a visit to the enchanted garden described in the letter, only to be disappointed by the realities of early modern education and disillusioned by his father’s apparent deception?

Luther goes to school 4885.f.14
The realities of early modern education? This 19th-century picture by Gustav König imagines Martin Luther being taken to school for the first tine by his own father. The teacher holds a switch and a boy who has just been beaten sobs behind the chair. From Heinrich Gelzer and Gustav König, Dr Martin Luther der deutsche Reformator (Hamburg, 1847-51) 4885.f.13.

As Hans grew older he tended to show a lack of application in his studies and lapses in his behaviour that concerned and sometimes angered his father. I wouldn’t for a moment argue that this was all the result of childhood trauma caused by a lack of ponies and golden fifes but perhaps a little bit of iron had entered into his soul when he realised that these things were not literally going to come his way. (In fairness to Luther, however, I should point out that he did bring Hans the very real gift of sweetmeats back from Coburg, which may have made a greater impression than the letter.)

Hans made good in the end; he settled to his studies and went on to become a lawyer – appropriately enough the career that his paternal grandfather and namesake had originally intended for Luther himself. He never had a son of his own, so we don’t know how if he would have used his father’s method of encouraging a little boy to study, pray and be good.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Our free display, Martin Luther: 500 Years of Reformation, continues in the British Library Treasures Gallery until 4 February 2018.

27 November 2017

The Scythians of the North Pontic Area

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The Scythians (Σκύθες), currently the subject of an exhibition at the British Museum, were nomadic herdsmen who spoke an Iranian language and inhabited the steppes of modern Ukraine, Moldova and southwestern Russia (the Don River basin). The Scythians appeared in the territory of modern Ukraine in the 7th century BC, having come from the steppes of Inner Asia. After a while the bands of Scythian warriors crossed the Caucasus Range and attacked the states of the Middle East – Urartu, Assyria, Media, Babylonia. Scythian warriors are even mentioned in the Bible (Colossians 3:11). Almost 30 years the Scythians terrorized the Middle East, and then returned to the North Pontic steppes. Here the Greek city-colonies such as Tyras, Olbia, Chersonesus and Panticapaeum, the capital of the Bosporan kingdom, were their neighbors and trading partners.

ScythiansCernenkoMcBrideCover

 Cover (above) and map (below)  from E.V.Chernenko, The Scythians 700-300 BC, colour plates by Angus McBride (London, 1983), X.622/16001

ScythiansCernenkoMap

At the end of the 6th century BC the Scythians became well known throughout the civilized world, having defeated the Persian king Darius I. A century later the “Father of History”, the Greek scholar Herodotus, wrote about this war. He composed a detailed description of Scythia including its borders, which generally coincide with the borders of modern Ukraine, the names of neighboring tribes, the story of the campaign of Darius, the retreat of the Scythians and the further expulsion of the Persians, the description of Scythian life and the burial of Scythian kings in barrows.

ScythiansHerodotCover

 Cover of a Ukrainian translation of Herodotus Istoriï v devi’aty knyhakh (Kyiv, 1993) YA.1998.a.5482

The Scythians were known in the Hellenic world first of all as skilful mounted archers and brave warriors. Scythian mercenaries served in Athens as guardians of order; they were a kind of police. Weapons of Scythian types – short swords, bronze arrowheads, scale armour – have been found not only in Scythia but also in Central Europe, Iran, and Central Asia – wherever the Scythian warriors sent their horses.

Except for the work of Herodotus, the only source for the study of Scythian nomads is their archeological sites – the burial mounds known as kurgans. In the North Pontic Steppes stand thousands of these kurgans of varying heights – from 20-metre-high royal tombs to the low mounds of ordinary herdsmen which are hardly visible. In fact, the archeology of Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire, began with the excavation of Scythian royal burial mounds and Greek cities in the 18th century.

The first of these – Lyta Mohyla – was excavated in 1763 on the orders of General A.P. Melgunov near the modern city of Kropivnitsky. In this kurgan (known also as the Melgunov Kurgan), dated to the early 6th century BC, evidence of the Near Eastern campaigns of the Scythians – a sword, battle-axe and throne decorated with gold in the Assyrian-Urartian manner – was discovered. It is interesting that the first Scythian kurgan to be excavated was found to be the oldest.

ScythiansMelgunovBarrowDescription of  a golden sheath and fragment of sword hilt from Melgunov’s kurgan. From Ellis H.Minns, Scythians and Greeks. A survey of ancient history and archaeology on the north coast of the Euxine from the Danube to the Caucasus. (Cambridge, 1913). 7706.i.19.

In the 19th-early 20th century, such famous kurgans of 4th-century BC Scythian kings as Kul-Oba (1830), Chortomlyk (1862-1863), Solokha (1912) were excavated in the territory of modern Ukraine. It was in these barrows that masterpieces of jewellery with the images of Scythians were found: the golden cup from Kul-Oba, silver amphora and golden gorytus (Scythic bow-case and quiver in one)  from Chortomlyk, and a silver cup and golden comb from Solokha. These finds then went to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg where they are still kept.

ScythiansWikimediaImage3Gold comb with the image of a battle scene. 430-390 BC. From the Solokha kurgan, Zaporizhia Region. Found by N.I.Veselovsky in 1913 during excavations conducted by the Imperial Archaeological Committee (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg; photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The excavations of Scythian royal kurgans were continued in 1958 by the patriarch of Ukrainian Scythian studies, Professor Oleksiy Terenozhkin, who discovered the Melitopolsky Barrow. 

ScythiansMelitopolBarrow

 Cover of: A.I. Terenozhkin and B.N. Mozolevskiĭ, Melitopolʹskiĭ kurgan (Kyiv, 1988). YA.1992.a.8828

Next came the sensational finds from the Haymanova Mohyla near Zaporizhia (1969), Tovsta Mohyla near Nikopol (1971), Berdyansk Kurgan (1979), and Bratolubivka (1990). At the same time, hundreds of low mounds of ordinary Scythians were unearthed in the Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, Mykolayiv, and Odessa regions of Ukraine.

ScythiansWikimediaImage2Silver gilded bowl with relief images of Scythian warriors. 4th century BC. From the Haymanova Burial Mound, Zaporizhia Region. Excavated by V.I.Bidzilya, 1969-70. (Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, Kyiv.)

ScyhiansWikimediaImage1
Gold r
itual vessel with relief images of griffins, lions, horses and deer. 5
th century BC. From the Bratolyubivka Burial Mound, Kherson Region. Excavated by A.I.Kubyshev, 1990. (Institute of Archeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Kyiv.)

All these sites are dated to the 4th-5th centuries BC – the heyday of Scythia. And not without reason, the symbol of Ukrainian archeology became the famous golden pectoral found by Boris Mozolevsky in the Scythian royal barrow of the 4th century BC at Tovsta Mohyla  in 1971.

ScythiansMozolevskyiCoverCover of Borys Mykolaĭovych Mozolevsʹkyĭ, Tovsta Mohyla (Kyiv, 1979). X.421/20845

The end of the Scythian steppe culture came in the early 3rd century BC. Under the onslaughts of related but hostile newcomers from the east the Scythian entity, already being weakened by internal problems, disintegrated. The remnants of the Scythians migrated west to the Dniester and Lower Danube. Gradually the Scythians were assimilated by the Sarmatians  and Goths  and by the middle of the 3rd century AD they disappeared as a political and ethnic unit.

ScythiansPectoralBlackGold and enamel pectoral – a ceremonial adornment of a Scythian king. Mid-4th century BC. From the Tovsta Mohyla kurgan. Dnipropetrovsk  Region. Excavated by B.M.Mozolevsky, 1971.  (Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, Kyiv; photo from:  Wilfried Seipel, Gold aus Kiew. 170 Meisterwerke Aus Der Schatzkammer Der Ukraine. Eine Ausstellung Des Kunsthistorisches Museum. (Vienna, 1993)).

Dr Oleksandr Symonenko, Chief Research Fellow in the Institute of Archaeology of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv, Corresponding Member of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Berlin.

Further reading:

E. V. Chernenko, Skifskie luchniki (Kiev,1981).X.629/17920

E.V. Chernenko, Die Schutzwaffen der Skythen (Stuttgart, 2006).X.0415/55(3) [BD.2]

Gold der Steppe: Archäologie der Ukraine (Neumünster, 1991). Awaiting shelfmark

21 August 2017

A Tale of Two Countries

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As we mark 100 years since the Russian Revolution, we should also consider another centenary linked to it. In 2017, Finland has been celebrating 100 years of independence from Russia. Finnish independence was officially declared on 6 December 1917 by Pehr Evind Svinhufvid, the head of the majority in the Senate at the time. With Russian powers supposedly transferred back to Finland in the middle of 1917 thanks to laws enacted by the newly configured Finnish Senate and an election that returned a low number of Russian-supported socialists, Svinhufvid was able to proclaim sovereignty in December and this was formally recognised by the new Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, Vladimir Lenin. Independence did not however mean stability for a nation that continued to be influenced simultaneously by various Russian and German forces and the Finnish Civil War ensued in the first half of 1918.

Finland100 - Rodt eller Hvidt

Johannes Erwig, Rødt eller Hvidt? Sandheden om Finland (Copenhgen, 1918) 8095.ee.23. A pamphelt from the period of the Finnish Civil War.

With this tumultuous beginning in mind, Finland is proudly celebrating this century of independence with a host of programmes worldwide under the banner ‘Finland 100’. One project that has been developed for this year between the Finnish Institute in London, The National Archives of Finland, the National Library of Finland and the British Library, with the contribution of other archives, is a ‘Tale of Two Countries’. This is a digital gallery offering ‘carefully curated pieces of the shared history of Finland and Britain and their cultural, political and economic relations.’

The British Library has contributed images from its digitized collections, and has also completed new digitizations of some significant relevant materials, including the first English translation of the Finnish epic Kalevala

Finland100 - Kalevala hero

Ancient Finnish hero from The Kalevala, the epic poem of Finland, translated into English by J. M. Crawford (New York, 1888) 11557.d.8.

Another title to be newly digitized is M. Pearson Thomson’s 1909 travel guide to Finland, part of his series of guides Peeps at many Lands.

Finland100 - Peeps at many Lands cover Cover of M. Pearson Thomson, Peeps at many Lands: Finland, (London, 1909) W10-1152

The folks at the Tale of Two Countries website proudly show off a book that ‘gives us everything we need to spread the good word about Finland. He takes a quick look into history and tells us what the Finns are like.’

Finland100 - Peeps at many Lands woman

 Colour plate of a Finnish woman in traditional dress from Peeps at many Lands. Finland

In Winter sketches in Lapland, Sir Arthur de Capell Brooke travels through Lapland in a sledge describing for the reader the sights of the land and the customs of the people. The book’s 24 lithographs transport us to the winters of the Arctic!

Finland100 - Winter sketches Lapland

Above and below: Sleigh travel, from from Sir Arthur de Capell Brooke, Winter Sketches in Lapland, or Illustrations of a journey from Alten ... to Torneå ... (London, 1826) HS.74/1112 

Finland100 - Winter sketches Lapland 2

With a host of material from the various partner organisations, the cultural relationship between Finland and Britain is illuminated in a special way in this virtual gallery. Whether it’s a letter from Jean Sibelius to the British pianist Harriet Cohen, or an issue of the Finland Bulletin  (‘An English Journal devoted to the cause of the Finnish People’), the connected memory of two nations is preserved here.

A look at the website might even inspire your own peep at Finland… For those who have memories of Finland, there is even an option to share your memory through an uploaded image or a story. Have a peep!

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Studies

18 August 2017

Devil, Rascal, Love Machine? The Afterlives of Rasputin

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One of the exhibits in our current exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is a cartoon from the satirical magazine Novyi Satirikon. It shows the religious mystic Grigorii Rasputin sitting on a throne, gazing out with his trademark intense stare. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra crouch at Rasputin’s feet while the German Kaiser Wilhelm II stands behind the throne.

Rasputin Novyi Satirikon
Novyi Satirikon
,  No. 23,April 1917. RB.31.c.900

This reflects the popular view at the time that Rasputin had undue influence over the Russian royal family and that he and the German-born Alexandra plotted against Russian interests during the First World War. The same belief is reflected in a Japanese cartoon of the period, which shows the Tsarina, Kaiser and Rasputin (in the guise of a demon) sitting conspiratorially round a table.

Rasputin ORB 30 757
Cartoon from Itō Chūta, Ashurachō (Tokyo, 1920-21). ORB.30/757 

But one interesting point about the Novyi Satirikon cartoon is that it was actually published in April 1917, four months after Rasputin’s death (and two after Nicholas’s abdication). Such a caricature would of course have been hard to get past the censors while Rasputin was alive and enjoying the patronage of a still-intact monarchy. But it is striking that, even after his death and the fall of the monarchy, his image was a powerful enough symbol of corruption to make the front page of a satirical magazine.

This is an early example of Rasputin’s afterlife in propaganda, history, conspiracy theory and popular culture. Rumours and legends – such as his wartime plotting and the belief that he and Alexandra were lovers – had grown up before his death but afterwards they were given ever freer rein, with stories of a criminal youth, of wild parties and orgies in St Petersburg, of hypnotic powers, and of an almost supernatural resistance to his murderers’ poison and bullets.

Rasputin's Diary
‘Rasputin's Diary’, a White Russian propaganda leaflet published in Rostov-on-Don (private collection)

A look at some of the books about Rasputin in our catalogue give an idea of his reputation. Titles describe him as ‘Holy Devil’ (10790.pp.22.), ‘Prophet, Libertine and Plotter’ (010795.aaa.7.), one of ‘Twelve Monstrous Criminals’ (06055.ee.17.), an ‘All-powerful Peasant’ (010795.a.52.), ‘Satyr-monk and Criminal’ (10796.aa.37.) and ‘Rascal Monk’ (10796.a.28.). This last was by the thriller-writer and conspiracy theorist William Le Queux who, perhaps thinking that ‘Rascal’ might sound rather playful, followed it up with the more strongly titled The Minister of Evil.

Rasputin Le Queux
William Le Queux, The Minister of Evil (London, 1918) 010795.a.9. 

However lurid and fanciful some of their claims, these works were presented as factual – even George Sava’s bizarre Rasputin Speaks (London, 1941; 10795.p.27), supposedly Rasputin’s own story told to Sava through a Russian spirit medium. But of course Rasputin made his way into works defined as fiction too, beginning as early as 1923 with Ivan Nazhivin’s Rasputin (English translation New York, 1929; 010795.aa.66). Since then he has featured in everything from straightforward historical novels to elaborate conspiracy thrillers where he wields supernatural powers or works evil from beyond the grave. More recently Rasputin has appeared in graphic novels, usually in his more fantastical guise as in the Hellboy universe or Alex Grecian’s Rasputin series  (vol. 2, 2016 at YKL.2017.b.2935).

Rasputin in fiction
A selection of Rasputin-related fiction from the BL collections

Rasputin appeared on film even before he appeared in fiction, starting in 1917 with The Fall of the Romanoffs, featuring Rasputin’s former ally and later antagonist, the Monk Iliodor, as himself. The 1932 film Rasputin and the Empress led to a lawsuit from Prince Felix Yusupov, one of Rasputin’s assassins, and his wife Irina, angered in particular that a character believed to represent Irina was portrayed as Rasputin’s lover. A curious, if indirect, aspect of Rasputin’s legacy is that the lawsuit resulted in the introduction of the now-familiar disclaimer in film credits that the characters ‘bear no resemblance to living persons’.

Rasputin Yusopov trial
Some of the press coverage of the Yusupovs’ libel case, reproduced in Sir David Napley, Rasputin in Hollywood (London, 1989) YC.1990.b.3188.

Of course Rasputin is a gift for any actor with a powerful presence and intense gaze – step forward, among the Brits, Christopher Lee (Rasputin the Mad Monk, 1966), Tom Baker (Nicholas and Alexandra, 1971) and Alan Rickman (Rasputin, Dark Servant of Destiny, 1996). While the latter two are straight historical dramas, the first is at the lurid end of the scale. But perhaps the nadir of Rasputin’s film career is the 1997 animation Anastasia in which he returns from limbo (with a wisecracking bat sidekick) to pursue the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia.

In Anastasia, Rasputin gets to sing, as he also does in at least three operas: Rasputin’s End (1958; F.1256.q) by Nicolas Nabokov, and two works simply entitled Rasputin by Jay Reise (1988) and Einojuhani Rautavaara (2003). He has been sung about too, perhaps most famously in Boney M’s 1978 hit ‘Rasputin’ which immortalised him for a generation as ‘Russia’s greatest love machine’. But 45 years earlier Allie Wrubel and Joe Hoover had come up with a similar concept in ‘Rasputin, that Highfalutin’ Lovin’ Man’ (VOC/1933/WRUBEL).

Rasputin and women
Rasputin surrounded by women, reproduced in Rasputin goes to Hollywood.  His elite female admirers were fascinated more by Rasputin’s  mysticism than by any supposed sexual magnetism.

Reputable modern non-fiction tends to reject the more lurid stories about Rasputin or to engage seriously with their origins and likely veracity. However, as so few facts are known about parts of Rasputin’s life and so many things reported as facts cannot be proven or otherwise, we can never know the whole truth. Clearly he was not the evil mastermind depicted by many writers, nor was he the kindly and slandered saint recalled by his daughter Maria in her two books attempting to clear his name of any scandal or wrongdoing. But even for those who seek a balanced and scholarly view of the real Rasputin, there is much fascination in exploring his enduring afterlife in popular culture.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

The exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website