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Crisis – Bread and games (of intrigue)

22nd March - 12th of April 1631, these three weeks played a pivotal part in the outcome of the Siege of Magdeburg, according to Johan Dieter, the professor of European history at Leipzig who gave a lecture at Maastricht University last night. His lecture was on one of the bloody struggles of the elites of Magdeburg who were caught in the contestation for Central European dominance between the Swedish Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, between Protestantism and Catholicism. The Magdeburg elite were in crisis. A power struggle in their own cabinet ensues. And not long after, violence.

Documents show plots of assesination, bribery and an expensive struggle for power - including the assasination of the city's leading catholic. They highlight the nature of the discussions between the imperial elites and the Magdeburg burgers, and how the negotiations continued after a Swedish envoy arrived mid-talks, sent by the Swedish war cabinet. He assured MAgdeburgers and Imperials that they would be coming to relieve the siege - “soon”.

Similarly to the find of the historian Jan Peters, who found the diary of the Landstknecht Hagendorf, as covered by my colleague in his article on the historic siege, contemporary diary entries of a nameless monk describes the anger of the Magdeburg citizens towards the elites in the city, their frustration at the chaos, and the seemingly shameless fight for power in the city council. Let alone the anxiety and anguish experienced because of the siege further fueling the eventual break out of the first wave of riots. However, this was then placated temporarily by distributing sweets and bread.

It is however shortly before the bread runs out that there is a sudden blank page, and the end of all entries. A fascinating find, with Prf. Dieter said that “this monk’s tale just came to an end, why we cannot know...highlighting the cost of living in uncertain times.”.


Richard Head

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