The Early-Modern German Court, Part 3/3

The third and last part of this overview of the offices of the early-modern German court covers religion, culture and government.

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

The court’s religious community could either consist of the narrower court itself, in which case religious ceremony took place in the Hofkapelle [court chapel] or Hofkirche [court church] or it might include the wider community that surrounded the court, in which case the Hofkirche also formed its own parish. The church was under the authority of the Hofprediger [court preacher], who was responsible for services as well as the moral condition of the court. Occasionally, court churches were also monastic or conventual churches.

Music was extremely important at court. It was under the authority of the Kapell or Konzertmeister and both smaller and larger orchestras provided music at mealtimes, chamber music and music for religious services. Trumpeters in particular took part in virtually every court occasion. Apart from the actual musicians, vocalists etc, there were also technical personnel, such as instrument makers, copyists etc.

From the end of the Middle Ages, court poets (Hofdichter) were common in England and France, but only occasionally appeared in German courts.

From the late 17th and then in 18th centuries, the name Hofmeister described the tutor of the sons of high aristocrats. These teachers had graduated from the philosophical or theological faculties of the universities, travelled with the court on its journeys and often attained high office.

The Hoffaktor [court factor; plural: Hoffaktoren] were responsible for court finances and after the 16th century were usually Jews [so-called Hofjuden; sing: -jude; see below for a further discussion]. Hoffaktoren could become very rich through profits made supplying the army and the household. The Hoffaktor took on the responsibilities of a minter [Hofmünzer], jeweller [Hofjuwelier] and the court supplier [Hoflieferant]. No courtly residence could buy the necessary luxury goods or pursue courtly politics by paying annuities or bribes without access to a financier [Hoffinanzier]. Some Hoffaktoren could act as diplomats, agents or acquired other offices in the bureaucracy. Others became princes’ personal doctors [Leibarzt; pl. -ärzte]. They were rewarded by the princes with privileges and by being raised to the nobility.

Although the high-point of the court fool [Hofnarr] was the late Middle Ages, they continued into the Early Modern period. One reason for the end of their popularity towards the end of the 17th and in the 18th centuries was the increasing power of the courtly mistress who became the enemy of the court fool. In the morally more liberal period after the wars of religion, the princes was generally accepted as being outside the normal moral code and their mistresses were established as rivals to the princess.

The expansion of governmental tasks in the early modern period led to the development of a wide variety of committees. These typically belonged to one of four different offices: the Hofrat [Aulic Council], Hofgericht [supreme Court of Justice], Hofkammer [Court Chamber] and Konsistorium [Consistorium]. The increasingly administrative nature of government meant that the old Renaissance image of the prince as patriarch and judge over his people gave way to the prince as landowner and field commander.

The oldest collegiate office was the Hofrat, which from the end of the 15th to the middle of the 16th century combined judicial and administrative functions. The councillors [Ober- or Hofräte; sing.: -rat] supported the prince firstly in his role as supreme judge and secondarily as a political executive. The councils were typically made up half of promoted commoners and half of aristocrats; meetings often took place every week and were chaired by the Hofmeister, Kanzler or a specially-appointed Ratspräsident. The total number was rarely officially limited and a quorum not used. Originally, in smaller territories, the prince took part in the meetings but later on and in bigger territories hardly at all. In the 16th century the various functions of the Hofrat were barely differentiated. In the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, the council lost its original double role – the Aulic Council became the central legal institution and the administrative and political functions were taken over by the Geheime Rat [Privy Council].

The Geheime Rat consulted on the most important state affairs, acted as a counter-weight for the prince against the estates (parliaments and church) and consisted of a small circle of high aristocrats and learned academics. It met in the court, but its precise organisation is rarely known. Because it acted fairly quickly and according to the needs of the situation, it met regularly although not as often as the Hofrat. It was at the top of the decision-making hierarchy.

The increase in the number of members of the Geheime Rat in the 17th century (due to the increasing complexity of its tasks) let to greater formality and inflexibility, which in turn by the beginning of the 18th century demanded the creation of a new, even closer circle of advisers called the Kabinett or Konferenz. These no longer mainly served as places to solve conflicts but were increasingly practising organs of regular government.

And that completes our tour d’horizon of the offices of the early-modern German court. But before I finish up entirely, I think it’s useful to have a closer look at the significance of the Hofjude for our purposes. Fantasy and sci-fi has a long and unedifying history of using real-life minorities as models for non-human races. That doesn’t mean that the issues the particular mix of prejudice and privilege the Hofjuden exemplify aren’t worth including in a game with serious themes. So I’ve included some thoughts below on how the kind of prejudice that brought Jews into high-ranking but very vulnerable positions in German courts might be mirrored in a WFRP game.

In the hands of a master like Terry Pratchett, fantasy races can be used to comment on the experience of minorities or oppressed groups in the real world. Thus Pratchett uses Discworld Dwarfs to look at issues of minority assimilation, gender roles in conservative societies, custom and inherited ethnic hatreds. But unless you’re Terry Pratchett, it’s probably a better idea not to go anywhere near this sort of equivalence. That does not, however, mean that the kind of issues inherent to the existence of so-called “Hofjuden” can’t be looked at in other ways.

One way would be to use other human groups in Warhammer as equivalents. Thus, by the early-modern period in the real world, Italian banking houses had taken over a lot of the financial business that medieval prejudice had originally assigned to some Jews, and in WFRP canon, banking is very advanced in Marienburg. Perhaps in the Old World, Tilean or Wastelander groups have made similar inroads into the courts of the Empire. Miraglianese families rich enough to escape the the fall of their city have perhaps found shelter in Nuln and now occupy an influential position as Hoffaktoren at the Electoral court. And their enemies might start to wonder how they escaped Miragliano with their wealth intact. Or a maybe a Marienburger banker has got his family a title by marrying his daughter to a hard-up Imperial duke and has followed her to his son-in-law’s court where he holds the purse strings as Hoffinanzier: there are numerous real-world precedents for cliques of influential outsiders at court creating resentment among the natives who feel shut out of their rightful places.

The other way to approach the topic is to take the characteristics associated with non-humans in WFRP and create a political, court-centred story out of those. Thus, any self-respecting Imperial prince will have a Halfling Hofküchenmeister. But what if the prince or his only heir falls mysteriously ill? If rumours of poisoning start up, then how will his loving subjects react to the Halfling community in their midst? Similalry, hunting parties were fantastic opportunities to disguise a political assassination as an accident. And if the Oberjägermeister responsible for organising the party is an Elf, like Middenheim’s Allavandrel Fanmaris, then who better than a non-Human outsider to use as a scapegoat while the real perpetrators manoeuvre themselves into power?

These are just a few thoughts sparked by the one office, the Hofjude, which is especially difficult to translate. I hope this overview of the different roles at court has sparked further ideas in you. Don’t hesitate to share in the comments if they have.

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