The Publishing of a Murder Case in Early Modern Germany. The Limits of Censorship in the Electorate of Saxony (1726)

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The murder of a popular and high-ranking Lutheran cleric in May 1726 in the residential city of the Electorate of Saxony, Dresden, by a Catholic foreigner triggered both urban turmoil and a process of intense media recycling. This article is concerned not so much with the murder case in detail but with the ‘publishing of the murder case’ by the lively local and regional print industries. It will be argued that these publishing processes were moments of economically driven media recycling that had effects on the censorship regime. Analyzing the contemporary perception of circulating prints by the Saxon authorities shows clearly a very low level of censorship activity. When connecting the bits of evidence, it seems evident that the inactivity must have been caused by more than just the usual level of administrational incompetence: the relevant Saxon authorities were Lutheran officials working for a Catholic King, and they chose inactivity deliberately.


A Journal Devoted to Manuscripts and Printed Books




Creasman, op. cit. (n. 8), p. 61.


Johannes Arndt, ‘ “Pflicht=mäßiger Bericht”. Ein medialer Angriff auf die Geheimnisse des Reichstags aus dem Jahre 1713’, Jahrbuch für Kommunikationsgeschichte, 4 (2002), pp. 1-31; Susanne Friedrich, Drehscheibe Regensburg. Das Informations- und Kommunikationssystem des Immerwährenden Reichstags um 1700 (Berlin 2007).


Around 1700, ‘flying’ prints like pamphlets or edicts and newspapers usually had a minimum print run of 400 to 800 copies. Popular pamphlets or cheap prints in general often had bestseller proportions of about 1,000 to 1,500 copies per title. It is exemplary for the bestselling of (reprinted and pirated) editions of the volumes discussed here that the Leipzig based copperplate printer Nicolaus Mosel pirated at least two of the early pamphlets on the murder case and sold them to book networks in Dresden, Leipzig and Halle. See the letter of the Dresden City Council, dated 1 October 1726, to the Elector after the questioning of the printer Christian Erfurt (sad, 10088, Oberkonsistorium, Loc. 10754, Bücher=Sachen ab Ann. 1724-1730, Vol. iii, fol. 253-7.).


See Leibetseder, op. cit. (n. 19), pp. 75-97, on the gossip factory in Dresden that produced rumours and created demand for new information around the clock.


In an order dated 31 July 1726, roughly eight weeks after the publication date of the pirated edition of Löscher’s sermon, the Oberkonsistorium informed the Privy Councils in Wittenberg, Leipzig and Dresden, and the Bücherkommission in Leipzig, to confiscate all detectable copies (piecen) of this edition. In August 1726 the feedback came in at the Oberkonsistorium: no copies were confiscated in Leipzig, Wittenberg, Dresden. See sad 10088, Oberkonsistorium, Loc. 10754 Bücher=Sachen ab Ann. 1724-1730, Vol. iii, fol. 208).


See Leibetseder, op. cit. (n. 19), pp. 118-21, on the unfinished publication project Actenmäßige relation von dem in der Königlich Polnischen und Churfürstlich Sächsischen Residenz-Stadt Dresden am 21. May dieses Jahres verübten Priester Morde [. . .] geführten Reden und Bezeigen eingehohlten Urtheln, und erfolgten execution umbständliche und zuverleßige Benachrichtigung ertheilet wird.


On 30 August 1726, the Privy Council informed the Bücherkommission in a letter that a ‘Scarteque unter dem Titul das betrübte Dreßden zweyten theils mit vorsetzung der Städte Frankfurth und Leipzig sonderlich am letzten Orte divulgiret werden wolle’ (cal, Tit. xlvi (F) Nr. 146 Acta, Allerhand Censursachen, am Schluß einige Injuriensachen. 1593 bis 1792., fol. 21-21v; sad, 10088, Oberkonsistorium, Loc. 10754, Bücher=Sachen ab Ann. 1724-1730, Vol. iii, fol. 210-11). On the same day, the City Council of Dresden was sent the same letter (cad, Ratsarchiv, b xvii 37 Acta Commissionis Die allergnädigst anbefohlene Aufsuchung einer, wegen der entleibten Diaconi zum heil. Creutz alhier H. M. Hahns divulgirten Scarteqve, der betrübte Dreßden zweyter Theil betr. [. . .] 1726, fol. 1-1v].


  • Copperplate print that was included in [Christian Friedrich Henrici], CURRICULUM VITÆ, Oder: Leben, Todt und Begräbniß Des weyland Hoch=Ehrwürdigen Herrn/ HERRN M. Hermann Joachim Hahns / S.S. Theol. Baccalaurei, Diaconi und der Zeit gewesener Mittwochs=Predigern zum Heil. Creutz in Dreßden/ aufgesetzet von PIQVANTERN. Im Jahr 1726. (ul, Vit.N.766)].
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  • Copperplate print of the murder case (bound into ul, Vit.N.763)].
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