The Early-Modern German Court, Part 1/3

These are a bunch of notes I put together for a friend who was working on a court supplement for WFRP. Although the supplement hasn’t, as far as I know, yet materialised, I thought I’d put these up here to help anyone wanting to reconstruct a convincing aristocratic court in the Empire. There’s quite a lot of it, so I’ll divide it into three posts. The information is taken and translated almost entirely from Rainer A. Müller, Der Fürstenhof in der frühen Neuzeit (Munich, 1995).

For Part Two go here, and for Part Three go here.

Ideally the court consisted of two groups of people, each of which undertook different functions even though the functions often overlapped in one person. One group, the Hofstaat [princely household] was entrusted with the personal care of the prince and his family. The other constituted the offices of state, such as the Hofrat/Geheimrat [both meaning Privy Council]. But the two areas were not separated in the patrimonial early modern state – Hofdienst [service at court] meant largely the same thing as Staatsdienst [state service]. The Hof [court] was at the same time centre of government and the prince’s household. Work in the central administration was couple to service to the prince and administrators had the additional status of being a personal servant of the prince.

The medieval court was dominated by the quattuor officia principalia [Four Principle Offices] of the Marschall [Lord High Marshal or Earl Marshal], Kaemmerer [Lord High Chamberlain], Truchsess [Lord High Steward/Seneschal] and Mundschenk [Cup-Bearer/Butler], but in the later Middle Ages and 16C, the importance of these offices varied greatly, with some becoming key and others losing in importance. But later the hierarchy became much more fixed, with the idea of places of honour (particularly the different statuses in seating positions at feasts) being extended to the administrative hierarchy.

Proximity to the prince or ruler was the key to the structure of courtly personnel. Everyone at court was personally bound to the ruler and hierarchical criteria of status created different levels of service in the court administration (clientele system). There was an enormous amount of variation in German courts, but there were some key positions.

The Lord High Marshal developed out of the medieval leader of the ruler’s travelling court and took over the running of the court from the medieval Hofmeister [Master of the Household], who was then in turn entrusted with caring for the wife and children of the ruler. A Schlosshauptmann [Constable/Castellan/Bailiff] might assist the Marshal.

The responsibility of the Marshal extended to three areas: the economy of the court, the ceremonial and the Iudicium curiae (Courts of Judgment). The Marshal was in charge of the Chamber, Kitchen, Cellar, Musicians, Clergy and the Kammerherren [chamberlains; sing. Kammerherr], Kavaliere [knights/gentlemen; sing. Kavalier], Leibaerzte [personal physicians; sing. Leibarzt] and Hofgesinde [domestic servants; same sing.]. He was also responsible for maintaining the buildings, inventory and generally servicing the court both in the family residence and on its travels.

The offices of Mundschenk and Truchsess were, like that of Hofmeister, marginalised and became little more than an honorary titles and sinecures. In contrast, the office of Kaemmerer became very important, being responsible for the princely Finanzkammer [Treasury] as well as the prince’s properties and demesnes. He was in charge of the (always aristocratic) Kammerherren, Kavaliere and Junker [squires; same sing.], who were also involved in court ceremony. [Incidentally, you can put Hof , i.e. ‘court’, in front of a lot of these titles, like Hofkaemmerer, Hofkammerherr, Hofkavalier, Hofjunker just to distinguish them from similar people outside the court.]

The court also included a number of transient aristocratic members who were only part of the court for certain periods. The group was fairly homogeneous in the Middle Ages, but in the Early Modern Period, a categorisation developed which prescribed an ascent from Kammerjunge [page; pl. Kammerjungen], through Hofjunker [court squire], then Kammerjunker [squire of the chamber] to Kammerherr [chamberlain, although you could also translate this as ‘gentleman’; pl. Kammerherren]. Pages and aristocratic children were given light duties around the court and in return were educated and brought up there.

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