Crime and Culture in Early Modern Germany (Studies in Early Modern German History)

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These patriarchal values were, however, not exclusive to married Christian men who wanted to prove their status as heads of a household. In Frankfurt, where some of the most prominent weapon dealers were Jewish, access to arms was particularly easy for their coreligionists and there is evidence that armed street fights occasionally took place within the Jewish neighborhood. Handling weapons belonged, thus, to a culture and an ethical system that was shared by most social groups. According to Tlusty, there is evidence that even women sometimes participated in urban shooting festivities.

Students were one group that was particularly eager to defend its rights to carry swords, which can be interpreted as an attempt to imitate masculine behavior and to integrate into their later roles as respected citizens and community members. In many German towns, especially the smaller ones, remnants of the civic weapons culture remained undisputed far into the eighteenth century and in university towns they often merged with academic traditions. In late eighteenth century-novels of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or Karl Philipp Moritz, students are proud to carry their rapiers on their belts during festivities or when they visit their parents.

Early modern discourses on weapons were informed by arguments for both individual self-defense and the common interest.


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While many towns explicitly encouraged their citizens to purchase arms for the sake of communal safety, self-interest and the common good were regarded inseparable. In , Leonhard Fronsberger, Ulm burgher and author of several military treatises and handbooks, explicitly argued that self-interest was the foundation of the common good, even though it might not be regarded virtuous in itself.

The author describes his work as "a study that consciously tries to cut across conventional boundaries and reunite some of the subdisciplines into which history has been fragmented in recent years," and he ambitiously claims to incorporate elements of "social and intellectual history, anthropological and legal history, high political and low cultural history, national and local history, collective history and individual biography.

Unfortunately, limitations of space within this study prevent an adequate assessment of Evans's monumental work, but his treatment of executioners in early-modern Germany — a figure of historical significance about whom Evans "has a good deal to say" 61 — warrants an appraisal as it contributes enormously to the historical discourse on early modern executioners in Western Europe, and especially within German contexts.

In Parts I and II of Rituals and Retribution, Evans charts the development of public execution from the 16th century to its enclosure behind prison walls and eventual disappearance across Germany during the mids. Using the same Elias-based formula as Spierenburg, 59 Richard J.

Evans, Rituals of Retribution, xii. Evans asserts that with the Carolina of functioned as a doctrine of capital punishment and sought to concretize and homogenize the praxis of execution across the Holy Roman Empire. According to the legal code, infractions warranting death included murder, arson, counterfeiting, treason, blasphemy, witchcraft, rape, abortion, unnatural sex, forgery, robbery, and third conviction of petty theft.

From well into the 17th century, rising German states and city governments built from the foundation of the Carolina and increasingly took control over the spectacle of public execution as a means of displaying state authority and maintaining public order. But Evans's sources reveal that by the late s, public executions were waning in most areas and were thus increasingly absent in the daily lives of the general populace.

He ties this decline of capital punishment to the Thirty Years War and the German states' inabilities to both wage religious war and maintain a strong military presence within their cities. While there were increases in executions for witchcraft after the Peace of Westphalia in in places like Danzig and Nuremberg — fueled, Evans asserts, by a post-conflict rise in social-disciplining within both confessional spaces — the numbers of executions for criminal cases across German lands continued to fall into early 18th century.

The decreasing frequency of public executions did not, however, imply a corresponding drop in the meaning or significance of the spectacle for either the general populace or their ruling elites, but sparked just the opposite effect. It is within these shifts in the frequency and formality of public executions in 17 th and 18th century Germany that Evans posits his investigation of the German executioner. Like Spierenburg, Evans acknowledges the paradox of the early-modern headsman; a man whose touch could pollute one's social standing but whose profession brought him intimate knowledge of the human body and thus in many cases a lucrative on-the-side medical practice.

He patrolled the border between culture and nature. He was responsible for dealing with all the dirt that accumulated in the community. He acted as a conduit through which the excrement of the social body flowed into the world beyond. As discussed earlier, Spierenburg tied the headman's infamy to the popular scorn of an impotent populace who were projecting their displeasure over the state's monopolization of private vengeance onto the person of the executioner.

But Evans asserts that "it is not necessary to adduce elaborate psychological theories of transference" to explain this popular scorn in the German context, as the headsman's profession — his dual role as society's gong farmer and border-guard "between culture and nature" — provides the historical explanation for his social dishonor and ambivalent status.

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In a similar fashion as Evans and Spierenburg, Stuart situates her discussion of the executioner within the developments of sovereignty and lordship, or Herrscahft, in early modern Germany. By studying the executioner, Stuart aims "to understand what the existence of his stigma reveals about the nature of lordship and sovereignty, about the process of state-building, and about the common folk's responses to governments' attempts to 'discipline' them.

As his "employers'" increased their efforts to construct the "ideal Christian state" during the tumultuous 17 th century, an intensification of social boundaries occurred that made the general populace, and particularly the artisans, more sensitive to notions of dishonor and more vociferous in their demands for the executioner's social exclusion. But these demarcations, Stuart argues, were not absolute and although excluded from "virtually all sociability", the executioners and skinners, as we have seen in sources above, benefited economically, were exempt from taxes and rents, and often 66 Kathy Stuart, Defiled Trades and Social Outcasts: Honor and Ritual Pollution in Early Modern Germany Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, This paradox, Stuart argues, evinces that "dishonor was a form of secular pollution," a function of Herrschaft and social-disciplining, and had little to do with the economic or religious concerns of the populace.

Evans' Rituals of Retribution and Kathy Stuart's Defiled Trades and Social Outcasts are the most-extensive and most-recent English-language historical treatments of executioners in early modern Europe.

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Each investigates the executioner — his life, his profession, and his paradoxical socio-economic status — and connects his complex identity and ambivalent existence to an array of historical contexts. Neither the axe-wielding Ogre portrayed in neither Jean Kellaway's picture-book nor the all-powerful hand of history described by Geoffrey Abbott, the executioner is revealed in these works to be a complex figure significant both to the socio-political developments of his time, but even more so to our understanding of those times.

But as previously stated, there is to date no full-length, English-language monograph devoted to a proper historical investigation of the executioner of early-modern Europe. In France there is a thriving industry in reprinting editions of the Sanson memoirs but not since has a full-length treatment of the family appeared, and even it does little more than sensationalize the Messieurs de Paris and their connection to the Guillotine and role in the Revolutionary Terror.

And furthermore, is the study of this admittedly-ghoulish character in early modern history worth a professional historian's coveted time? To the first question, the simple answer is a book that brings the positive attributes of the abovementioned works together within one piece focused on the life and times of a particular executioner or line of executioners. Despite the aforementioned shortcomings of picture-books and macabre texts, it is nonetheless important to recognize the degree of violence systematized in the public executions of early modern Europe if one is to truly understand the general idiom of the times that gave those from our vantage gruesome, irrational actions a generally accepted logic and meaning for contemporaries.

Albrecht Keller and C. Calvert's legal investigation of Frantz Schmidt was one of the earliest attempts at this, but unfortunately because of its dry translation and narrow focus, much about the executioner's life outside of his connections to shifting legal structures remained neglected. In many ways, Levy's Legacy of Death contains the artistry that a historian should seek to employ if he or she wants to bring the past alive for their readers.

But in addition to artistry, the historian must also provide "objective" insight into the subject at hand and should also attempt to explain the subject's changes over time, two things Levy's poetic manipulation of the sources fails to accomplish. Richard J. Evans Ritual of Retribution, though not focused on the executioner, makes the case for both a macro-historical approach to historical investigation in the wake of the post-modern turn and for the inclusion of the executioner within that search for explanation.

Evans, Rituals of Retribution, xiii. A history of the early-modern executioner, particularly one that seeks to cross national boundaries, must employ a multi-disciplinary approach incorporating elements of biography, traditional political and intellectual history, social and cultural history, economic history, and certainly the sociological approach employed by Spierenburg as well as Stuart.

But this is much to ask of a profession that has done little to prepare the foundation for such an opus on the early modern executioner across the European continent. Perhaps we should aim a bit smaller and attempt to write the histories of executioners within strictly national or familial contexts or work to add greater texture and historical understanding to the biographical memoirs before launching into any definitive piece on executioners across the Continent. At least one historian has recently embarked along this path.

If successfully done, who knows how far the executioner will take us into a new understanding of both his profession and his life as well as of the shifting societal conditions that unfolded around him. London: Robert Hale, New York: St. Bernhard, Virginia. De Maistre, Joseph.

Petersburg Dialogues. Translated by Rihard Lebrun. McGill-Queen's Press, Elias, Norbert. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, Evans, Richard J. Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany New York: Oxford University Press, Foucault, Michel. New York: Vintage Books, Sunday Book Review, 30 July Ginzburg, Carlo. Translated by John and Anne Tedschi. Hay, Douglas et.

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Selected publications : Laura Kounine : University of Sussex

New York: Pantheon Books, Kellaway, Jean. The History of Torture and Execution. New York: The Lyons Press, Levy, Barbara. London: Chatto and Windus, Piccadilly, Schmidt, Franz. Edited by Albrecht Keller, Translated by C. Montclair, New Jersey: Patterson Smith, Spierenburg, Peter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Dr Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann.

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Markus Stegmann. The Jews' State. Theodor Herzl. The First Century of Welfare. Jonathan Healey. Crown, Covenant and Cromwell. Stuart Reid. Crime and Culture in Early Modern Germany. Joy Wiltenburg. En Garde! Craig Woodfield.


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