Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Daphnis: Zeitschrift für Mittlere Deutsche Literatur 22:4 (1993), pp. 561–580. Published by Editions Rodopi B.V. Copyright © 1993 Editions Rodopi B.V. Used by permission.


In medieval city chronicles of northern Germany we find an inter esting instance of polysemy in the word “schicht,” which is used to mean both “history” and “uprising”. Th is semantic overlap suggests a strong association in the contemporary imagination between the processes of historical change and the manifestation of disorder. This association is reflected in the practice of city chronicle writing in the medieval and late medieval period, which frequently was undertaken in the aftermath of an uprising. The chronicle documented the legitimacy of the restored order, and served the specific purpose of perpetuating the city’s present legal status, in the same way a legal document could. An extension of the council’s interests, the chronicle made sense of the uprising by relating it to a present, lasting and eternally valid Rechtszustand. Histories of the schichten thus contributed to the stabilization process following an uprising, by documenting the passage out of the medium of change and into the changeless state of Recht. The schicht—both the history and the uprising—concluded with the reestablishing of order.

In the discussion below I would like to explore what the implica tions of this polysemy might be for a German city chronicler of the late medieval period, by looking at a specifi c example, Herman Bote’s Schichtboik. This work relates the history of six uprisings that occurred in the medieval Hanseatic city of Brunswick between 1292 and 1514. As the city tax collector and the son of a councilman, Bote was well-informed regarding city politics. This combined with his considerable literary skills—Bote is the author of numerous historical and didactic works, and most recently has been put forward as the author of the anonymously published chapbook, Em kurtzweilig Lesen von Dil Ulenspiegel—made him a uniquely well-qualifi ed chronicler of Brunswick’s schichten. The Schichtboik, like Bote’s other works, reflects the political and social views of a loyal supporter of the city order, who attempts to justify this order in the face of forces threatening it from within and outside its walls. Although the work apparently was not commissioned by Brunswick’s city council, it is likely that they are Bote’s desired readers. Bote’s purpose in writing the Schichtboik was to admonish the council to work for the “common good” and thereby uphold the Hanseatic city order, its political privileges, trading rights and financial stability, lest the city fall prey to the territorial princes. Already in the foreword we read the cautionary warning, “weset vorsichtich,” that Bote reiterates throughout the Schichtboik. Bote appeals to the authority of tradition, both civic and religious, in arguing conservatively for the preservation of the old, “holy” order.