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!
To finance the publication of the first MGH volume containing annales and chronicles of the Carolingian Age (MGH Scriptores in Folio 1), the „Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde“ sent out a call for subscriptions, 5000 copies of which were addressed to potential buyers throughout Europe. Instigated by the „Gesellschaft“, the representatives of the member states of the Deutscher Bund had repeatedly urged their governments to support the MGH. The founder, vom Stein, however, based his hopes on the German-speaking nobility. Generalising his own views as a nobleman, he was convinced that the source editions in planning would be of interest to the aristocracy as a whole. This turned out to be a delusion.
In fact, the German nobility was deeply divided in itself, with the interests of the mighty rulers over large territories in the Deutscher Bund standing in direct opposition to those of the lesser nobility, who had lost many of their privileges through the resolutions of the Final Recess in 1803. Some raised the question of whether the aristocracy in the smaller and middle-sized states of the Bund were now hoping to improve their position by reviving medieval traditions. King William I of Württemberg, for example, inquired suspiciously if the edition project really „served purely scholarly purposes bar all partisan interests“, or rather, if it aimed at attesting „the privileges of feudalism“ through old charters (cited in Bresslau, p. 56). Besides such conflicts of interest, personal animosity also contributed to the reluctant support of the nobility. The Prussian chancellor Karl August von Hardenberg, for example, was no freind of Freiherr vom Stein and therefore rejected his undertaking. The Kingdom of Bavaria and the imperial government in Vienna did not even deign to respond to their own representatives urging them to financially support the MGH. The patriotic spirit embodied by the project and explicitly formulated in its slogan „Sanctus amor patriae dat animum“ (holy love of the Vaterland gives the spirit), seemed to many governments too much akin to the spirit of revolution.
Considered thus reactionary by some and revolutionary by others, the MGH found few supporters and were forced to rely on private contributions from vom Stein himself, his friends, and individual well-wishing aristocrats. Vom Stein complained bitterly in his letters about the „wretched spirit of philistinism in good old Germania“ (cited in Bresslau, p. 65). However, the founder of the MGH had himself contributed to the financial straits through his refusal to accept financial support for the project from Russia, turning down an offer from the Russian Czar in December 1819 on the grounds that „it would be rather humiliating if we needed the help of a Russian to realise our plan of editing German historical source material,“ as he explained to the secretary Büchler (cited in Bresslau, p. 27). Likewise, his aristocratic disposition rejected the support of Frankfurt’s bankers and merchants. „It was always my first idea that [the project] should be expedited on the basis of contributions from the Westphalian landed nobility without any help from governments or merchants,“ he avowed in a letter to councillor of state von Merian, who had suggested trying to win the support of an important Frankfurt banker named Simon Moritz von Bethmann for the MGH (cited in Bresslau, p. 28, note 1).
The first MGH volume, published in 1826, contains an eight page list of the enlisted subscribers – the results of the first MGH sponsoring campaign. Particularly notable is King George VI of England and Hannover, who ordered 24 luxury copies of the edition printed on fine paper. In contrast, the Emperor of Austria subscribed for exactly one copy printed on normal paper. The Austrian state chancellor von Metternich also subscribed for a simple copy through a bookseller named Schalbacher. The Bavarian king ordered six copies of the luxury edition, but sent two back to the MGH in 1830, since the Bavarian state library and the universities in Munich and Erlangen had already purchased the volume on their own initiative. In total, 417 books were pre-ordered with the list of subscribers including 22 regents, a countess, three imperial cities. Of the remaining 203 other buyers of the book, 131 were booksellers. That might seem quite normal to us today, but Freiherr vom Stein had certainly planned it otherwise.
Bresslau, Harry: Geschichte der Monumenta Germaniae historica im Auftrage ihrer Zentraldirektion. Hannover 1921, especially pp. 52ff.
Lern more about this treasure of the MGH archive in: Anna Claudia Nierhoff: Die Hoheiten lassen sich lumpen. Die Subskriptionsliste im ersten Band der MGH 1826, in: Mittelalter lesbar machen. Festschrift 200 Jahre Monumenta Germaniae Historica, 2019, pp. 146-156.