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20.08.37 Schneider, Eberhard Windeck und sein "Buch von Kaiser Sigmund"

20.08.37 Schneider, Eberhard Windeck und sein "Buch von Kaiser Sigmund"

Interest in Sigismund of Luxemburg (king of Hungary, 1387-1437; Romano-German king and emperor, 1410-1437; and titular king of Bohemia, 1420-1437) has soared among late medievalists in recent decades. While this monarch was always a key figure in Hungarian and Czech national narratives, he languished in relative obscurity in other historiographies between the publication of a four-volume overview of his reign by Joseph von Aschbach (1838-1845) and Jörg Hoensch's 1996 biography. Since the 1990s-- and, not coincidentally, the advent of renewed contact between scholars in western, central, and east-central Europe--"Sigismund studies" have exploded. The monarch's activities in his various dominions have been the subject several international and interdisciplinary conferences and edited volumes, a major 2006 exhibition in Budapest and Luxembourg, and a raft of articles and monographs. Print and digital editions of Sigismund's charters and correspondence have appeared in four new volumes published between 2008 and 2016 in the venerable Regesta Imperii series, more than a century after the publication of the two original volumes for his reign. Sigismund's apparent cosmopolitanism, as a pan-European figure whose itineraries took him through dozens of modern-day countries, has doubtless contributed to this scholarly attention, given the enthusiasm of funding bodies for such transnational topics at the national and European levels.

A near-indispensable source for much of this work on Sigismund is the account of his reign written by Eberhard Windeck, a citizen of Mainz who spent many years in the monarch's entourage. This untitled Early New High German text, dubbed the "Book of Emperor Sigismund" in the scholarship, is a lively, eulogistic, and apparently first-hand retelling of the king and emperor's career. It is replete with detailed information about the myriad royal, princely, clerical, and urban actors with whom he had dealings, not to mention entertaining anecdotes about his travels throughout Europe--characteristics that make it a highly appealing point of departure for studying Sigismund, and sometimes the only source for several putative episodes in his tenure as ruler of Hungary, Bohemia, and the Holy Roman Empire and organizer of the Councils of Constance and Basel. It is all the more attractive as a source because there are no other chronicle-length narratives of Sigismund's reign. Indeed, Windeck's work is the only extant history of an individual Romano-German monarch from the fifteenth century.

Despite the importance of Windeck's chronicle for Sigismund studies, and late medieval German and European history more generally, neither the text nor its author have garnered much scholarly attention. Since its publication in 1893, Wilhelm Altmann's edition of Windeck's work has been cited relatively uncritically, and often used as if it were a straightforward mine of information about Sigismund's activities. Only a handful of scholars have pointed out that Altmann made some erroneous assumptions about Windeck's life and the most faithful surviving copy of his text.

This monograph by Joachim Schneider changes all that. It is the result of meticulous research to uncover all the surviving evidence of the life of Eberhard Windeck and the genesis and reception history of the "Book of Emperor Sigismund." This evidence is analyzed across eight tightly-written chapters, which together make the persuasive argument that Windeck's history of Sigismund's reign was intended as a polemical intervention in the politics of his home city of Mainz. Windeck composed extensive sections in the first person, and included passages focusing on local events largely unrelated to Sigismund's life, such that the text has an unmissably autobiographical character (Schneider calls it a Selbstzeugnis--"personal testimony"). Its composition coincided with long-running and bitter personal and institutional struggles involving Windeck, his family, and various urban elites, which drew in external agencies such as Sigismund's judicial and courtly personnel. Schneider contends that the author's depiction of Sigismund and self-representation as his loyal servant should be read in this light. Furthermore, the chronicle did not survive unadulterated, but found a wide readership in fifteenth-century German-speaking Europe--not least through its production in a professional manuscript workshop--resulting in substantial additions and changes of emphasis. Schneider is well placed to provide this multi-dimensional analysis of this work and its contexts, having published extensively on fifteenth-century chronicles (and Windeck's text more specifically) for several decades, as well as German political and social history in the same period. He is also preparing a much-needed new edition of the "Book of Emperor Sigismund" under the aegis of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica.

The three opening chapters serve as an extended introduction, sketching the timeline for Windeck's career (roughly the first half of which was spent in itinerant service, mostly to Sigismund, and the second jostling for influence in Mainz) and the ostensible purpose, inspiration, and audience for his text. This lays the groundwork for a critical interrogation of these issues in subsequent sections of the book. Schneider examines this constellation of questions through the lens of Windeck's own opening claim that his chronicle should serve as an example to young enterprising burghers about the value of serving an exalted lord for his own honor and connections to family members and associates back home. The extent to which Windeck's service for Sigismund really helped him in this way, let alone provided a model that others followed, is questionable, as Schneider shows in later chapters. Equally, he makes it clear from the outset that Windeck portrayed events in Sigismund's multiple reigns, in the internal affairs of the Holy Roman Empire, and in the city of Mainz in light of the author's own conflicts within the latter.

Windeck was not always a prominent citizen with a stake in Mainz's politics, as Schneider's reconstruction of his early life and career in chapter 4 demonstrates. He was born into a mid-ranking merchant family sometime between 1379 and 1382, and, as a cadet son, followed the tradition of apprenticing himself to commercial elites in other cities to make a living. Windeck proved an adept and fortunate participant in this system, making connections and finding employment in the Upper German-speaking world of commerce and finance throughout his teenage and young adult life--not only in Worms and Erfurt, but as far afield as Prague and Paris. He conducted his second trip to the French capital in 1400 as part of the retinue of Duke Stephan of Bayern-Ingolstadt, presumably as a translator and financial broker, and Schneider surmises that this opened Windeck's eyes to the lucrative possibilities of princely service. Further trips to Cologne, Frankfurt, Venice, Eger (modern-day Cheb), and Pressburg (modern-day Bratislava) followed, and Windeck seems to have made particularly important contacts in east-central Europe, mediated through Upper Germany's most important commercial gateway to that region: Nuremberg. Apparently via the mercantile networks of that city, Windeck undertook lucrative jobs and commercial transactions in Vienna and Buda.

In 1409 or 1410 Windeck came into contact with Sigismund (then only king of Hungary), probably for the first time, by fulfilling a spectacular financial service contract: verifying the transaction of a gift of 40,000 florins from the Teutonic Knights to the monarch (32). By this time, he was an independent merchant and financier established in Pressburg, where he obtained citizenship and married a local. However, presumably because of the failure of risky investments, in 1413 Windeck faced financial ruin and fled Pressburg with his young family, leaving his guarantors in the lurch and permanently staining his reputation in the city. Schneider is able to establish this date through careful archival research; Windeck himself glossed over it in his chronicle, compressing the timeline of his departure westwards to 1410. This was a deliberate attempt to conceal an embarrassing incident that Windeck's opponents in Mainz weaponized against him in the 1420s-1430s, as Schneider makes clear in later chapters. This moment of crisis was followed by a period of extended service to Sigismund, now Romano-German king, during the Council of Constance (1414-1418) and the monarch's journey through western Europe to resolve the papal schism. As Sigismund travelled through France and England, Windeck acted as a financier, making detours to Lyon and Bruges to pawn valuable objects in order to keep the Luxemburg court and household afloat. In the early 1420s Windeck continued to serve Sigismund, this time as an intermediary with the archbishop of Mainz--a task that required tact at a time of stormy relations between the Rhenish prince-electors and the king of the Romans.

Windeck was probably a much more peripheral figure at Sigismund's court than he makes out in his chronicle--he was never inducted as a familiaris, for instance--but he nevertheless received important rewards for his service in 1424: imperial charters of privileges granting him and his descendants control of a meadow in Ginsheim and half of Mainz's river tolls in fief. Schneider calculates that this provided a handsome annual revenue of 116 fl. (80-82), allowing Windeck to re-establish himself in his home city in the late 1420s in the expectation that he could live the life of a wealthy rentier and provide for his family: his first wife Elspet from Pressburg (d. 1429-31), his second wife Anna Hexheim (d. after 1458) and their son Eberhard the Younger (d. 1451-3), and his brother Hermann Windeck (d. 1479-80). Instead, however, the rest of Eberhard Windeck's life was dogged by disputes in Mainz, some of which remained unresolved at the time of his death around 1440.

The most persistent conflict was highly personal: part of the Windeck estate was claimed by a member of the patriciate, Peter zum Jungen, who married the widow of Eberhard's older brother. The struggle between the Windeck and zum Jungen families was carried out in multiple fora, including before Sigismund's aulic court. At stake was not only Eberhard Windeck's material wealth, but also his honor: zum Jungen obtained defamatory letters from Windeck's enemies in Pressburg, and on one occasion in 1428 the two men engaged publicly in a violent physical confrontation. Even after Eberhard's death, the long-running litigation continued under his widow and son and then his brother Hermann and nephew Hartmann, who finally safeguarded the Mainz toll fief for the Windeck family in the late fifteenth century. Windeck was also implicated in a political struggle between Mainz's guilds (which he favored) and its patriciate, which came to a head in the municipal debt crisis of 1428-31, and also found expression in conflicts with the city's ecclesiastical institutions. All these disputes prompted Windeck to appeal to his old employer Sigismund, who--along with the Council of Basel--intervened on several occasions, though not always to the benefit of Windeck's party. The two chapters that cover this second phase of Windeck's life (5 and 6) not only shed light on the immediate and polemical agendas that shaped the author's depiction of Sigismund and local politics in his chronicle, but also serve as a rigorous prosopographical and cultural history of mid-fifteenth-century Mainz, amply justifying the inclusion of this monograph in the University of Mainz's Geschichtliche Landeskunde series.

Chapter 7 offers a reception history of Windeck's "Book of Emperor Sigismund" which completely overturns the assumptions of Wilhelm Altmann. His edition relied primarily on what is now known as Manuscript V2, which turns out to have been one of the most heavily adulterated copies of Windeck's text. The--now-lost--original was written with the help of a scribe, mostly in the course of the 1430s. Windeck included sections after Sigismund's death, covering the brief reign of the Habsburg Albert II and the dramatic confrontation between the Council of Basel and Pope Eugenius IV. It ended with no clear conclusion upon the author's death, which must have been before the coronation journey of the newly-elected Frederick III into Germany. A version of this event in 1442 is found as a continuation of the narrative in most copies of Windeck's chronicle, but not the one that Schneider is able to prove is the closest to the original: an early sixteenth-century copy ("Manuscript H"), possibly commissioned by the elderly Hartmann Windeck. Most other copies, which extend to 1442, were created in the Haguenau manuscript workshop of Diebold Lauber in the 1440s-1450s--the most important German center of book production before the advent of printing. Some of these were extremely luxurious, with multiple illustrations (including V2, which was commissioned by a bishop of Speyer, and is now Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 13975, digitized here: [accessed June 3, 2020]). Schneider suggests that a burgher of Strasbourg travelling in Frederick III's coronation itinerary entourage, Claus Bernhart Zorn, may have acquired a copy of the chronicle from Hermann Windeck in Mainz in 1442, when the latter received a confirmation of the Mainz toll fief. Zorn then transmitted it to the Lauber workshop, which tapped into an enthusiastic market for an entertaining narrative of recent events in the Holy Roman Empire. "Manuscript C" shows that the patricians of Nuremberg, in particular, were keen consumers of Windeck's chronicle; one added section depicts several Nuremberg families on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. A key motive for them was that Sigismund had made Nuremberg the custodian of the imperial insignia, an event recorded by Windeck with much literary fanfare. In the 1440s, Frederick III was refusing to confirm that privilege for the city. Thus, in a very different context from Windeck's politically divided Mainz, his chronicle resonated with a variety of audiences interested in imperial affairs, and particularly Sigismund's activities, which were already undergoing sacral memorialization in the decade after his death.

It is no exaggeration to state that Schneider's reconstruction of Windeck's biography and the context and reception history of his chronicle has the potential to transform some of the ways we think about Sigismund's reign, since it forces us to reassess this vital source from several angles. These are summarized again in the concluding eighth chapter. Henceforth, historians wanting to use Windeck's "Book" will have to consider how his narration of Sigismund's deeds was inflected by the fraught agendas of his party in Mainz in the 1420s and 1430s, and those of the commissioners and recipients of copies of the chronicle in subsequent decades of the fifteenth century. The reader's only regret is that, in centering Windeck and his text, Schneider loses Sigismund somewhat from view. Only occasionally does he spell out the implications of events in Windeck's own life for his depiction of Sigismund. For instance, Schneider highlights how Windeck's account of the emperor's death in Znojmo in 1437 reflects the author's despair at the loss of a powerful patron to whom he had just sent a petition, in the midst of political tumult in Mainz in which his enemies were gaining the upper hand (205). For further insights of this kind, scholars will have to await Schneider's forthcoming re-edition of Windeck's work, which he promises will shed further light on this chronicle's unique approach to representing fifteenth-century monarchy and imperial politics (295).​