by Armin Wolf

Published by Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main, 2013; paperback,
1184 pages in 2 volumes, 192 charts, maps, etc., ISBN 978-3-465-04180-1

Reviewed for FMG by Charles Cawley[1]

Foundations (2014) 6: 102-103   © Copyright FMG and the reviewer

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This book, written in German, is constructed around the author’s basic theory that descent from earlier emperors/kings of Germany (through the male or female line) was a condition for candidacy in all German royal elections and also for eligibility of individuals as electors. The work represents the results of Dr Wolf’s long-time study of the German election process since publishing his commentary on the 1356 Golden Bull in 1968. The author tests his theory against the ancestry of candidates and electors in various elections, with particular emphasis on those which resulted in the appointments of Heinrich II in 1002 and Philipp in 1198.

Most of the ancestry lines can be reconstructed from commonly available primary sources, such as the Annalista Saxo and Thietmar, and appear to confirm the theory. However, several important cases remain where primary sources hint at family connections but do not provide details (including Rudolf von Rheinfelden and the Thuringian ruling family). In other cases, surviving primary source material is insufficient to reconstruct any lengthy ancestry at all (for example the Grafen von Northeim). In relation to all of these, Dr Wolf espouses novel possibilities of descent which would support his basic theory, although many will consider these speculative. These include:

  • suggesting two separate royal descents of Rudolf von Rheinfelden: from Richlind, daughter or granddaughter of Emperor Otto I, and from Gerberga, daughter of King Heinrich I.
  • identifying Ludwig “cum Barba”, ancestor of the Landgrafen of Thuringia, as Louis, son of Louis Comte de Mousson (whose wife descended from Emperor Charlemagne), in an attempt to explain the Thuringian family´s alleged imperial Frankish ancestry which is referred to in general terms in the dubious Cronica Reinhardsbrunnensis.
  • linking the shadowy figure of Siegfried, son of Siegfried Comte de Luxembourg (whose mother was of Carolingian descent), with Siegfried Graf von Northeim, based on suggested connections between the Lotharingian Luxembourg family and the province of Saxony.

In addition to dealing with the election theory, a large part of Dr Wolf´s book consists of extensive commentaries on twelve related academic articles published in Germany, as well as re-publication of various short works which the author himself has published elsewhere.

This book includes a remarkable amount of data, but it is not easy to use. The chapter structure results in duplication of information (for example, lengthy discussion of the parentage of Richlind, referred to above, is repeated in three places). Navigation within the book is hindered by the absence of an index. It is also difficult to trace footnote citations because there is no alphabetical bibliography against which shortened references, particularly to secondary sources (like “Hlawitschka 1991”), can be deciphered.

The book is lengthy (nearly 1200 pages, divided into two volumes) and rather expensive (€189). A copy has been placed in the FMG library.


[1]     The reviewer is the author of Medieval Lands, a prosopography of medieval European noble and royal families, hosted on the FMG website.


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