News , Treasures of the MGH Library and Archive | 02. Apr. 2020

Treasures of the MGH Library and Archive, No 4: Freiherr vom Stein seeks diversion

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!

„As Freiherr Karl vom Stein departed from the Congress of Vienna at the end of May 1815 and returned home to his native climes in North Rhein-Westphalia, he was determined to step down from public office.“ Thus begins Harry Bresslau’s „Geschichte der Monumenta Germaniae Historica“, published in 1921. And indeed, Heinrich Friedrich Karl, Reichsfreiherr vom und zum Stein’s decision to step down from office was at the same time the first step towards the founding of the MGH.

In his own words, vom Stein relates: „I entered this new phase of my life by solving the two problems confronting me: lack of purpose and getting old. To fill the void arising from the former, I turned to scholarly work and chose the field of history, partly because of the history lessons that I was giving my youngest daughter at the time, and partly because of my rediscovered interest in national affairs. My study of German historical sources made me aware of the imperfection of the extant collections and led me to conceive the idea of founding an association for the purpose of publishing source writers“ (cited in Bresslau, S. 4).

Born in Nassau an der Lahn in 1757, Karl Reichsherr vom Stein looked back on a wealth of experience as a minister, influential political adviser and unresting reformer. He approached his new project with characteristic thoroughness, writing the statutes for the planned association himself. The autograph manuscript in the MGH archive is vom Stein’s second draft of the text – the first draft with numerous corrections is in the Goethe Museum in Frankfurt. In his distinctive handwriting, vom Stein lays down: „An association is to be founded with the purpose of expediting a complete edition of the source writers of German medieval histories and it shall have its seat in Frankfurt am Main. The members of the association join to advance the said purpose, partly through monetary contributions, and partly by themselves editing the source writers according to the set plan (...).“

The hierby founded „Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde“ (society for the study of older German history) met for the inaugural sitting in Freiherr vom Stein’s private rooms at 2 p.m. on January 20, 1819, in the presence of four delegates of the German Bundestag: Johann Adam Freiherr von Aretin from Bavaria, Karl Christian Freiherr von Berckheim from Baden, Leopold Engelke Hartwig von Plessen from Mecklenburg, und Karl August Freiherr von Wangenheim from Württemberg. In the following months, the organisational framework was laid down and, on June 12, 1819, the statutes were published – largely bearing the stamp of their energetic initiator. On the statutes, the newly founded association also first proclaimed its motto written in an oak wreath: „Sanctus amor patriae dat animum“, reflecting the awakening spirit of national identity typical of that time.

Freiherr vom Stein’s daughter, Therese, whose history lessons led to the founding of the MGH, later married a cousin on her mother’s side at the age of 24. What profit she had from her historical knowledge is unknown.

A. Marquard-Mois

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

Lern more about this treasure of the MGH archive in: Stefan Petersen: „Stiftung einer National-Angelegenheit". Die ersten Statuten der Gesellschaft für Deutschlands ältere Geschichtskunde 1819, in: Mittelalter lesbar machen. Festschrift 200 Jahre Monumenta Germaniae Historica, 2019, S. 118-123.