Tillmann Walter

Researcher’s profile


Court Medicine in the German Southwest (1400–1700): New Findings in the Archive of the County of Hohenlohe

Numerous libraries and archives in Germany and beyond have preserved letters of early modern physicians. They are of great value to historical research in general and the history of medicine and science in particular. In the project “Early modern physicians’ letters”, which is started in 2009 under the auspices of the Bavarian Academy of the Sciences, the letters from and to physicians and other scholars, written between 1500 and 1700 in the German speaking area will for the first time be systematically assessed and registered in a database.

The Counts of Hohenlohe in the southwest of Germany, whose territory was close to the Duchy of Württemberg, have left behind an impressing wealth of sources: The Hohenlohe-Zentral­archiv at Neuenstein today contains five kilometers of files. Although Adelheid Schumm in 1964 in her medical dissertation claimed to describe the “Entwicklung des Medizinalwesens in der Grafschaft Hohenlohe“ (history of medical affairs in the County of Hohenlohe), our current research in this archive has shown that in most cases she has only read the archivists’ comments on the files’ envelopes and not their content. Therefore we are now able to present the rich epistolary tradition of the Counts’ academic medical personnel covering previously unknown letters of otherwise nearly unknown doctors of medicine such as Eucharius Seefried, Johann Conrad Gerhard, Konrad Zinn, Johann Örtel, and Johann Caspar Silberschlag.

These letters are concerned with the state of health of the members of the Counts’ families, with questions about the upbringing and the diseases of their children, and with the conduct of the wet nurses. The letters also broach financial issues (such as petitions for the doctors’ higher fees and debts or contracts about considerable high amounts of money they had lent to the their noble patrons) as well as private topics (like quarrels with their neighbours and colleagues or sexual misbehaviour with a housemaid that resulted in the doctor’s dismissal).

My paper will also focus on questions of medicine and politics such as the doctors’ constant petitions for measures against “charlatans”, proposals to improve state of the local apothecaries, and plague advice. The paper also highlights the great social distance between the medical personnel and their noble employers: to be concerned with the Counts’ most private bodily state and incidents did not imply any kind of social intimacy, and political decisions concerning medical affairs in the Counts’ territory (which were rare incidents) were made in the political boards by lawyers and only marginally influenced by the physicians’ bulletins.

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