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The burgermeister's daughter by Steven…

The burgermeister's daughter (1996)

by Steven Ozment

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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I was rummaging through the shelves and came upon this book - and stopped because I can not remember where it came from. It could have been bought in a used bookstore binge years ago (I guess that because it's hardcover) - or I could have "borrowed" it from my father, who has a similar relationship with the used bookstore. Well, however it managed to get here, it's now on the to read pile. (Humorously my father can't remember buying it either.)

What I immediately liked in the first chapter was that there was no "we're only going to give vague hints out as to the plot, even though this is all past history." The idea of writing history as if it were a mystery novel works in some cases, but after a while it gets old - well, depending on the writer's skill I suppose. In any case, I'm certainly ok with hearing about the jist of the case before diving into the details.

p. 2 "...Anna was peculiarly vulnerable to such scrutiny. Both in her late teens and twenties, she had behaved in a manner scandalous to the society in which she lived. Her story is one of multiple collapsing relationships: between a daughter and a father, a sister and her siblings, a servant and her mistress, a woman and her lovers, a citizen and her town. Twice, in original and unforgettable ways, she brought shame and embarrassment to her family and the city of Hall: the first time, when she deceived her father and incurred his undying wrath, the second, twenty years later, when she defied the city council and provoked its retaliation."

I'm also fascinated with the idea that the reason we're able to get such a clear story out of this is because of the amount documentation thanks to the court case(s).

For instance, read this quote and imagine being able to read all these letters now, as they've all been preserved and still exist (imagine historians doing a gleeful dance over them):
p. 24 "...In the cache of Anna's letters through which her father now rummaged, there were no fewer than forty-two between Anna and Erasmus (eleven by Anna and thirty-one by Erasmus), written back and forth between 1520 and 1525, several containing frank talk about love and sex. In the same bundle were nineteen love letters from Daniel Treutwein, along with still other correspondence connected with the two affairs. Twenty-five years later, her brother Philip and sister Agatha would submit the entire collection to the imperial commissioners in an effort to discredit their sister's character and justify her disinheritance. At the time, the two described them as letters no honorable daughter or maiden would write, which was also their father's view of them on his first reading."

p. 26 "...If the letters to and from Erasmus and Daniel were not evidence enough of Anna's depravity for her father, their dates and contents further indicated to him that the affairs had gone on concurrently; Anna had been sexually active not with one man, but with two men simultaneously, one of whom, Erasmus, was a completely unrealistic marriage prospect, making that relationship an affair for its own sake. That was the bombshell that moved Hermann Buschler to describe his daughter as an "evil serpent," a phrase hereafter often used in referring to her, and to remove her from his house."
And this in a time period where women of her class did not do this sort of thing.

I should note here that Anna had been stealing items from her father's house in order to sell them for the money. Her overall complaint against her father was that he'd wasted a chunk of her life by not setting up a marriage for her, as most fathers would have by her age.

This is one of those stories where you know you're not going to like many of the main characters for multiple reasons.

...I'm adding this quote because 1) Faust reference, and I always enjoy that story, and 2) a lot of WTFery. (Also I want to remember that the story came from this book.)
p. 37-38 "One of the stories told about Dr. Faust during his stay describes the day the salt-makers challenged him to "conjure [literally shit] a devil." Accepting the challenge the famous doctor dropped his trousers and sent a great firey bolt into the Kocher River, while the salt-makers watched from a footbridge in disbelief. At the very spot where the flash entered the water, a coal-black man emerged and proceeded to attack the salt-makers, who in their panic jumped from the bridge into the river."Really good background detail that surrounds the main story. All of this is meticulously footnoted, and most of the sources are in German.

...In case you were curious, the author does give you many, many excerpts from the letters, translated and with enough background information that you understand what's actually going on. Two that I can't resist quoting bits of:
p. 51-52, Anna to Erasmus, after Anna has been questioned by a lady (well, by flunkies of said lady) who is of the same rank as Erasmus and wants to know whether Erasmus is marriage material (Anna is not happy about this):

"...I was interviewed again, and this time asked if I could find out if your grace had any desire or interest in her, and, because Schenk Friedrich [of Speckfeld] is dead, if anyone wanted to discuss the matter. They also were concerned to know if your grace might be put off by the hump.

I did not have much to say in answer to these questions. ...Furthermore, I said that I did not know whether your grace knew that she had a hump. But should your grace meet with her, do take note of the high coat she wears."


p. 56-57, Erasmus to Anna, after a letter in which Anna has chastised him for his drinking and whoring:

"...I am not a little taken aback by the letter you have written, which I must assume you write in a whimsical mood. If the "Speckfeld pigs," as you call [me and my party], have made a lot of work for the maids [here], I believe they have more power to do so than the mother pigs of Hall [Anna and her suitors], who have also left quite a lot of work for the maids. So how dare they reproach us! Also, I have heard it said before that where drinking is held in honor, vomiting is no shame."Must make note of and remember that bit on vomiting.

Quotes that make me wish I knew German:
p. 80 "...Duke Ulrich of Wurttemberg - a man of so many crimes and atrocities that it took his enemies a thousand lines to memorialize them in rhyme..." And the footnote on that is for a text from 1520, in German. Sigh. For anyone else that can read/find it: "Ein Sundenregister Herzog Ulrichs, zur Warnung vor ihm aufgestellt," 1520, Steiff and Mehring, Geschichtliche Lieder, pp. 189-208. Because now of course I'm all curious to read about the atrocities in rhyme. In an English translation of course.

...Finished and if I am ever stingy with the stars in my ratings this was the time not to be. The final chapter gave us the answer of "why is this important and why did you feel compelled to tell us this bit of history?" Not to mention that in the rest of the book the author has managed to sum up some incredibly busy German history that I remember only from survey history classes as being incredibly politically tangled up. And he managed to do in briefly, and then get back to the meat of the story about the family and their tussles. Also he managed to wrap up what is mainly a sad story but show parts of it in a light that makes it not as depressing an end as I'd thought.

And thus I'm now off to find out what other books of his I may put on my To Read list. ( )
  bookishbat | Sep 25, 2013 |
Interesting subject. It appears Steve Ozment did a great job documentary editing the primary sources. His actual writing style was dry and wreaks of a "pulbish or perish mentality" far beneath his standing. ( )
  LCBrooks | Feb 7, 2010 |
REENACTORS NOTES: 1520's - 1552 223 pages: A detailed and increadable account of a young woman taking on not only her father, but the Town Council he lead as Burgermeister. Anna is a truely unique spirit, as the various extant records used to create this book illustrate. Not content with her lot in life, Anna defied tradition and her family to try and have the future she wanted. The one she got was far harsher than I think even she could have imagined: Twarted by politics and lies at every turn, even when the Imperial Courts found in her favor!, Anna dies in relative poverty after a long struggle to gain what she sees as rightfully hers. ( )
  hsifeng | Mar 27, 2008 |
Women "back in the olden days" were quiet. They stayed home married young, and were quiet and subissive. HAH! Not the case at all. This book is an account of a young greman woman who worked as a servant in the nearly castle (as was the custom for upper middle class families who hoped to social climb) and had an affair with 2 notable men, caroused in the tavern with her firends and generally carried on and had fun. We have heard about her story becuase of court records, she sued her father for her inheritance. A good read to see how far feminism has come, and in some ways, how far it hasn't.
  Selkie | Oct 19, 2005 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steven Ozmentprimary authorall editionscalculated
Alfons, HarrietTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carlsson, Irja MTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hanssen, TorilTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On January 27, 1552, in the courthouse of the centuries-old south German imperial capital of Schwäbisch Hall, a notorious case of parental brutality and denial of abruptly ended with the announcement of the death of the plaintiff, Anna Sporland, born Anna Büschler (1496/8-1552).
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060977213, Paperback)

The tragic but uplifting story of Anna Buschler, whose rebellion against the constricting mores of her times is reconstructed in this vivid social portrait of Germany at the end of the Middle Ages.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:22 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In an era when women were supposed to be disciplined and obedient, Anna proved to be neither. Defying 16th-century social mores, she was the frequent subject of gossip because of her immodest dress and flirtatious behavior. When her wealthy father discovered that she was having secret, simultaneous affairs with a young nobleman and a cavalryman, he turned her out of the house in rage, but when she sued him for financial support, he had her captured, returned home and chained to a table as punishment. Anna eventually escaped and continued her suit against her father, her siblings and her home town in a bitter legal battle that was to last 30 years and end only upon her death. Drawn from her surviving love letters and court records, The Burgermeister's Daughter is a fascinating examination of the politics of sexuality, gender and family in the 16th century, and a powerful testament to the courage and tenacity of a woman who defied the inequalities of this distant age.… (more)

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