News , Treasures of the MGH Library and Archive | 04. May. 2020

Treasures of the MGH Library and Archive, No 7: King Max of Bavaria Gives Permission

During the Corona closure of our Munich Institute, the MGH invite you to join us on a trip through 200 years of medieval research history: The series “Treasures of the MGH Library and Archive” presents a treasure trove of rare and fascinating items illustrating key moments of our history. Enjoy discovering!

It is well known that the Free State of Bavaria assumed custody of the MGH just over 75 years ago. But the history of Bavarian support for the MGH goes back much further, beginning with the act of foundation in the private rooms of Heinrich Friedrich Karl Freiherr vom und zum Stein on January 20 1819. One of the five representatives of state invited by Freiherr vom Stein to participate in the inauguration of the „Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde“ – the association later to be known as the MGH –, was the lawyer, royal minister and Bavarian representative at the German Bundestag Johann Adam Freiherr von Aretin. Aretin, who was also a honorary member of the Bavarian Akademie der Wissenschaften, is the addressee of the document here on display.

Adam Freiherr von Aretin, born in Ingolstadt in Bavaria, entered the Bavarian civil service in 1788 and made thereafter a remarkable career. Among other offices he held, he was entrusted with the general commissariat for the quondam prince-bishopric of Freising that had been secularised and made part of the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1802. In 1817, he was appointed to represent Bavaria at the German Bundestag in Frankfurt. His experience in creating organisational structures was invaluable in making the project MGH into a functioning organisation. In article no 3 in this series we have already read his constructively critical commentary to the „announcement of a complete edition of the German source-writers“ written in 1820.

From the very beginning, Aretin was concerned to get the backing of political authorities for the newly formed „Gesellschaft“. As the acting chairman in the absence of Freiherr vom Stein, he presided over a sitting of the central board on June 12 1819 in which the decision was made to present the German Bundestag with the above mentioned „announcement“ (see no 3 of this series) and an accompanying „memorandum“. The positions proposed in the memorandum were entirely concurrent with the founding ideas of the Deutscher Bund, which had been formed shortly before in 1815, arguing that the time had come to begin this enormous undertaking thanks to „the restauration of peace in our Vaterland, that has been shaken by such storms (...). The prospect of a peaceful future allows us now again to think of larger scholarly undertakings with some degree of security (...)“. However, the project would require the „favourable participation and support of the governments“ to clear some of the hurdles out of the way. Hence, the authors of the memorandum appealed to the „humane spirit of our princes that honours and favours true science“ requesting that they open their libraries and archives for use and also encourage their scholars to participate in the undertaking. Aretin himself presented the Bundestag in Frankfurt with the documents on August 12 1819.

The proposals were received with unanimous approval and the representatives in the Bundestag declared that they would „recommend this important enterprise for the history of the Vaterland [to their sovereign rulers] counseling them to extend their protection to this worthy undertaking and provide it with the requested support (...)“. After this resolution was passed, Aretin quickly moved to push King Maximilian of Bavaria into making a royal declaration of will by sending him a detailed „immediate report“ on the proceedings on August 18 – with success. On November 22 1819, the „state ministry of the royal house and external affairs“ wrote to the royal general archive, the state ministry of internal affairs, the royal academy of the sciences, the academic senate of the royal universities in Landshut and Erlangen and the university curators in Würzburg to communicate the following royal decrees:

1) his royal majesty expressly recognised the decision to join the association,

2) his royal majesty would be agreeably pleased if in particular the royal archives would support the project,

3) his royal majesty permitted, "that the undertaking also receive every possible support especially from the royal academy of sciences and the universities (...)."

At this point, our treasure from the MGH archive comes into play. On November 18 1820, one year after the royal proclamation, Adolph Heinrich Frederick von Schlichtegroll, general secretary of the academy of sciences, sent Aretin „academic diplomata for Herren Büchler and Dümgé“, requesting that they be passed on to Johann Büchler, the secretary of the „Gesellschaft“, communicating that he and Dümgé had been appointed to corresponding members of the Bavarian Akademie der Wissenschaften. Schlichtegroll was also instrumental in the organisation of a private scholarly association in Munich to assist the „Gesellschaft“ in Frankfurt. After Schlichtegroll’s death in December 1822, however, this cooperation soon faded. „Nevertheless, the lists, articles, and comparisons that were produced at these Munich meetings are some of the best of the rather heterogeneous material that the „Gesellschaft“ received in the first years of its activity“ (Bresslau, p. 81).

The royal bavarian Akademie der Wissenschaften in Munich, for its part, saw no need to respond to the royal proclamation. The secretary for the academy’s historical section expressed the view that the business of the „Gesellschaft“ only pertained to the king’s library and was none of the academy's business.

A. Marquard-Mois

Auszug des Protokolls der 29. Sitzung der hohen deutschen Bundes-Versammlung, vom 12. August 1819, in: Archiv der Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde 1 (1820), S. 89f. (

Aufnahme und Würdigung des Unternehmens der Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde, zur Beförderung einer Gesammtausgabe der Quellenschriften deutscher Geschichte des Mittelalters, in den Königreichen Baiern und Württemberg, in: Archiv der Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde 1 (1820), S. 154-156. (

Bresslau, Harry: Geschichte der Monumenta Germaniae historica im Auftrage ihrer Zentraldirektion. Hannover 1921

Learn more about this treasure of the MGH archive in: Martina Hartmann: Bayerische Diplome als Anerkennung. Brief von Friedrich von Schlichtegroll an Johann Adam von Aretin (18. November 1820), in: Mittelalter lesbar machen. Festschrift 200 Jahre Monumenta Germaniae Historica, 2019, S. 142-145.