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Privilege of the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg (1479)

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Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)

Identifier: d_1479


Privilege of the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg

Friedemann Kawohl

Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management, Bournemouth University, UK


Please cite as:
Kawohl, F. (2008) ‘Commentary on the privilege granted by the Bishop of Würzburg (1479)', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,


1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. Georg Reyser and the Breviarium Herbipolense

4. Rudolf of Scherenberg and the integrity of religious books

5. Censorship and Copyright in the Edict of 1485

6. The ‘coat of arms' copper-plate as a quasi-trademark

7. References


1. Full title
Privilege granted by Rudolf of Scherenberg, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, to the printers Reyser, Dold and Beckenhub, in a breviary for the diocese of Würzburg.


2. Abstract
In the foreword, Prince-Bishop Rudolf (c.1400-1495), together with two ministers and the whole diocesan chapter of Würzburg Cathedral, explains why they had commissioned a new edition of the breviary. Reference is made to three printers commissioned to edit and print this book for its use within the diocese. The three printers, who were recruited from Strasbourg, are granted protection of their property, and it is specified that they alone have been commissioned to do this work. Thus, the foreword contains the first exclusive right bestowed on a printer in the German Empire with regard to a specific book. Furthermore, it is the oldest episcopal privilege, as well as appearing to be the first one to have been embellished with, and authorised through, a sovereign prince's emblem. In this commentary it will be argued that the integrity and uniformity of the print edition were the prince-bishop's two main concerns, and it will be shown why Rudolf of Scherenberg is regarded to be one of the first sovereign rulers to make tactical use of the new art of printing, in order to achieve clerical and political goals. This foreword of 1479 illustrates the common roots of copyright, trademark practice, and censorship.



3. Georg Reyser and the Breviarium Herbipolense
A "breviarium" (from Latin brevis ‘brief') is generally a short compendium meant for use in church and containing a register of all ecclesiastical hourly prayers. In later periods, the liturgy itself, in an abridged form, came to be presented in these breviaries. It was not before the Council of Trent (1545-1563) that the form of celebrating Mass was standardised throughout all Catholic territories. Before the Council, though, breviaries, missals and other liturgical books were standardised, if at all, within each separate diocese. The titles of fifteenth and early sixteenth- century liturgical books therefore do not always indicate the place of printing but, rather, the episcopal territory where the service was celebrated in accordance with the form laid down in the given book - e.g. a Breviarium Frisingene was printed in Venice by Petrus Liechtenstein in 1520 and intended for the diocese of Freising in Bavaria.[1]


The foreword to the Würzburg breviary is meant to demonstrate the authenticity of the print as such. The authorities invoked to confirm its authenticity are the Prince-Bishop; the cathedral provost Cilian of Bibra (c.1425-1494), who had been appointed in 1478; Baron Wilhelm of Limburg; and the whole Cathedral Chapter. Because the Chapter had been in constant conflict with Scherenberg's predecessors, as soon as he was consecrated, it stipulated that henceforth it would be entitled to undersign every official document.[2] According to the foreword, the liturgical books in use in the diocese were not in a good condition, and so three printers had been asked to come to Würzburg, in order to edit and produce new ones. Georg Reyser, Stephan Dold and Johannes Beckenhub are referred to as "most experienced master printers" ("notabiles artis impressorie magistros"). We do not know how exactly they collaborated with the ecclesiastical authorities in Würzburg. At any rate, this collaboration was apparently not extended beyond this their first and only edition. Reyser alone was then the official Würzburg printer from 1481 onwards until his death after 1504.[3]


A Strasbourg document identifies Georg Reyser as a native of Ensingen (today part of Vaihingen near Stuttgart). Ryser had worked in Strasbourg with Michael Reyser, who was possibly his brother or father. On 27 August 1471, he acquired Strasbourg citizenship as a member of the goldsmiths' guild,[4] and there are some prints from Strasbourg - including breviaries for the Strasbourg and Regensburg episcopal territories (Breviarium Argentinense and Breviarium Ratisponense, respectively) - which may well have been produced in Reyser's printing shop. Beckenhub was called "Menzer", i.e. a native of Mainz. After studying in Heidelberg, he worked with Reyser in Strasbourg.[5] He is known to have been active as a printer in Bamberg around 1584, and to have worked as a press-corrector for the Nuremberg publisher Anton Koberger (c.1440-1513) between 1489 and 1491. Dold acquired Strasbourg citizenship on 2 December 1479. It is therefore possible that he returned to Strasbourg after the publication of the Würzburg breviary had been completed.[6] Since both Dold and Beckenhub had studied theology and worked as canons in Strasbourg, one may assume that they were both responsible for the editorial part of the work, whereas Reyser saw to the technical aspects.


The breviary of 1479 heralds the start of a flourishing tradition of printing religious books in Würzburg over subsequent decades. There were six further editions of the breviary within the following 22 years. The music print Missale Herbipolense, of which 22 editions appeared between 1481 and 1503,[7] is regarded as the most extensive project carried out in Reyser's workshop and as the most important incunabulum from Würzburg. Because of the high-quality types used by Reyser, no reprints of his liturgical books had to be commissioned within the Würzburg territory in all of the sixteenth century.[8]


Reyser was granted privileges by Prince-Bishop Rudolf on several occasions. Apart from promising protection for the printers' "goods and chattels", the 1479 foreword also stipulates - albeit in a rather ambiguous wording - their exclusive right either to print in general or to print that specific breviary. In the Würzburg archives there is a general privilege for Reyser, dated 15 December 1481 and granting him tax exemption for six years - it was renewed on 12 November 1485 for a further three years. After Rudolf's death, his successor, Lorenz of Bibra, granted Reyser a four-year privilege on 22 December 1496, giving him the exclusive right of printing graduals, missals, antiphons, vigiliae and breviaries.[9] Apart from these general privileges, many of Reyser's editions begin with a privilege similar to the one for the breviary of 1479. Transcribed versions of four of these book privileges for Reyser's editions of the Missale Herbipolense have recently been published.[10] The forewords are similar to the breviary of 1479: Reyser is always mentioned as the "master printer" ("artis impressorie magistrum") who has been commissioned by the prince-bishop to produce the given books. However, none of these later forewords to the Missale Herbipolense actually repeat the wording of 1479, which explicitly excluded other printers: "To them alone and to no one else" ("quibus dumtaxet et non aliis"). This was either because there was no threat of reprinting whatsoever within the diocese, or because the official general privilege granted to Reyser was regarded as sufficient. All the same, the fact that it was not felt necessary to explicitly repeat the exclusivity of the prince-bishop's privilege suggests that the foreword to the 1479 breviary was meant merely to demonstrate the authenticity of the print rather than to protect the printers against reprinting.


4. Rudolf of Scherenberg and the integrity of religious books
On 20 April 1466, Rudolf of Scherenberg[11] was anointed Prince-Bishop of Würzburg. His bellicose predecessor Johann of Grumbach (in office from 1455 to 1466) had been involved in constant feuds, which had meant that the town of Würzburg (whose population numbered about 5,000) had had to maintain a standing army of 400-500 men. The popular discontent of Würzburg's citizens was given vent when, shortly after Grumbach's death, his agent Fritz Hase, a former jailer, was abducted from the castle and thrown headfirst into the waters of the Main, where he drowned. Rudolf had already been administrating the diocese under his predecessor. Following his election by the diocesan chapter and the approval of the Pope, he was consecrated as Bishop on 29 September 1466. Formal investment ceremonies took place in Graz, in 1468, under the aegis of Emperor Frederick III (1415-1493); and in Meiningen, in 1494, after Maximilian I (1459-1519) had become Emperor. Under Rudolf's reign the town and surrounding territory of Würzburg experienced an era of prosperity and financial reorganisation. In 1470, he sold a license for the brewing of beer in Würzburg; and in 1482, after a harvest failure, he introduced a temporary ban on exports. He signed peace treaties with the neighbouring territories of Brandenburg-Ansbach and Bamberg, and succeeded in balancing the budget after Frederick III granted him the power to raise wine taxes - both on wine being transported through the Würzburg lands, and on domestic consumption. (The reference to Cilian of Bibra as "archipincerna" at the beginning of the document indicates that he was responsible for collecting the wine taxes). The town's castle was refurbished and the stone bridge, which still exists today and is famous for its span of 180 m and its stone sculptures, was completed in 1588.


Ever since the Hussite wars of the 1420s, triggered by the burning of Jan Hus at the stake following his condemnation by the Council of Constance, there had been disturbances in Bohemia and other parts of the Empire. Three years before our document was printed, Würzburg had been the scene of one of the biggest upheavals between the Hussite wars and the German Peasants' Wars of 1524-1525. The conflict was caused by a young man called Hans Böhm (also Behem), who worked as a shepherd during the week and as a musician on Sundays. Invoking divine revelation, Böhm burnt his drum in the pilgrims' church of Niklashausen, to the south-east of Würzburg, and henceforth called himself the "drummer of Niklashausen". He publicly threatened the clergy with divine punishment and heralded "God's new reign on earth", which was to comprise universal brotherly love and a general abolition of class distinctions and taxes. Backed by Rudolf's opponents, he was allegedly able to mobilise crowds of up to 40,000 listeners to come to his sermons in Niklashausen. After his arrest, it was stated that 30,000 of his supporters had besieged the Würzburg fortress. Böhm was publicly burned at the stake in Würzburg on 19 July 1476.


Rudolf of Scherenberg, an erudite and widely travelled man, who had studied in Heidelberg and Leipzig and visited Rome, attached great importance to the education of the clergy. According to the chronicle written by Wilhelm Werner (1485-1575), the Duke of Zimmern, Rudolf made repeated appeals to the priests to amend their way of living, and he saw to the dissemination of ecclesiastical books within his diocese, in order to improve standards in the celebration of Mass. As the Duke of Zimmern puts it:

"The first thing that he undertook was above all to reform, renew, and strengthen the conduct of divine service not just in his episcopal see but everywhere throughout his lands - and he did so in the following way: wherever until then it had been carried out in a negligent, casual, or slack manner, it was henceforth to be celebrated with the utmost diligence, earnestness, and attention to detail. Similarly, he saw to it with the greatest strictness that his priests lived honestly and chastely, and that, in general, they conducted themselves in such a way that laymen and common people would not be offended by it but, rather, so that they themselves would be encouraged to lead better lives."[12]

The privilege also mentions that Rudolf was dissatisfied with the condition of the ecclesiastical books in his see, and that he wanted these to be "corrected" and "improved". In 1477,[13] he had already commissioned from the Speyer-based printer Peter Drach the Elder (d.1480) a book under the title Ordinarius missae Herbipolensis (also known as Directorium Herbipolense). It contained "a detailed set of instructions laying down the form in which divine services were to be conducted always, and serving as the basis for a revision of the liturgical books."[14]

The publication of the Ordinarius was intended to provide local clergymen with guidance so that they could correct their liturgical manuscripts themselves. From the fact that there were still 250 copies in stock in 1483, it has been inferred that the project fell short of the prince-bishop's expectations.[15] So given that this directive to the clergy to correct their liturgical books had failed, the most promising way to ensure the prevalence of corrected, uniform liturgical books now seemed to be to supply copies produced under the prince-bishop's surveillance.


The new technology of printing was both a means of producing a considerable number of books in a relatively short period of time and an opportunity to control the content. The assumption that Rudolf of Scherenberg was more interested in the latter aspect than in the former, can be supported by a glance at book prices in the fifteenth century. A substantial ‘economies of scale' effect - resulting in printed books costing about half the price of handwritten ones - can already be observed in Italy around 1470, and in Germany between 1470 and 1480.[16] In one case from 1467 the price of a printed copy was even just a fifth of the handwritten version. But some data suggests otherwise: e.g. the fact that the Catholicon, a Latin dictionary in folio format printed in Mainz in 1460, was sold in 1465 for 41 guilders, which was equivalent to the combined annual salary of three scribes.[17] So when estimating the printing costs of the 1479 breviary, one has to take into account the careful textual examination which it was subjected to after printing - a procedure which was apparently more time-consuming for copies coming from the printing press than for handwritten books produced individually by reliable clergymen. After the first edition of the Regensburg Mass book Missale Ratisponense was printed in 1485 with the assistance of Beckenhub - one of the master printers referred to in the Würzburg privilege - it was proofread individually before it was finally concluded that:

"as it happened, by a divine miracle as it were, every copy of the print run is identical - in the letters, syllables, words, sentences, signs of punctuation, paragraphs, and in everything else - to the original [...] of our cathedral. May God be thanked for this."[18]

Two years later, a new breviary for the Bavarian see of Freising was examined by several persons, copy by copy, so that, as Ferdinand Geldner puts it, "apparently, people in Freising in 1487 hadn't realised yet that it would have been sufficient to carefully examine just one copy, and then to apply the few necessary corrections to the other copies."[19] Even though the uniformity of the whole edition had to be checked copy by copy and was attributed to a divine gift, rather than to a logical consequence of the new technique, the sheer fact of this uniformity and its implications were soon realised. If we bear in mind that Prince-Bishop Rudolf's main concern was to standardise ecclesiastical books within his diocese, and that production by means of the printing press was not significantly cheaper than reliance on handwritten copies, it appears that the prospect of obtaining a respectable number of uniform copies was the principal reason for employing printers rather than scribes.


Thus, it emerges that Rudolf of Scherenberg was a man who understood the potential of the printing press to help remedy a familiar problem in the Christian world. For instance, in 1457, the famous scholar Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) had ordered the synod of his diocese in Brixen to forbid, under threat of excommunication, any changes to the text of missals and agendas.[20] Nicholas, in fact, was one of the first to realise the potential of the printing press for ensuring the integrity of clerical books, and it was he who is said to have arranged for "this holy art, which had then apparently originated in Germany, to be transferred to Rome" ("haec sancta ars, quae oriri tunc videbatur in Germania, Romam deduceretur").[21] But both Nicholas and Rudolf were also aware of the possible threat which the new technology of book production brought with it. More than twenty years after Nicholas's death, the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg showed his determination to preserve the Church's power to control the spread of knowledge. In 1485, he was responsible for the printing of the "first censorship edict issued for a whole archdiocese since the invention of book printing",[22] which had been promulgated by the Archbishop of Mainz, Berthold of Henneberg (c. 1441-1504), who several decades earlier had studied under Nicholas of Cusa in Padua.


Apart from his awareness of the impact which printing technology could have on the circulation of ecclesiastical books, Rudolf was one of the first sovereign rulers in the German lands to strategically employ prints for his political aims. Thus, about 60 broadsheets produced by Reyser on behalf of the prince-bishop have been preserved. The broadsheets were the core of an "efficient publication strategy" applied by Rudolf in his feud with the Rosenberg family. After a member of the Rosenberg family had committed suicide, the prince-bishop had claimed his estate, and to substantiate his claim he sent messengers to the nearby cities, with explicit orders to first read out the text of the broadsheets and then to put them up in public places.[23] Feuds were one sphere in which the prince-bishop strategically distributed prints - another was the sphere of religious administration. Under an edict of 8 February 1481, Rudolf forbade the clergy of his diocese to pay taxes to Albert III, called Achilles (1414-1486), the Elector of Brandenburg, who had his residence in neighbouring Ansbach. On the only copy which has survived five priests certify with their signatures that they have proclaimed the mandate during the Sunday service on 18 February 1481. One of the most interesting single-sheet publications during Rudolf's reign is the mandate of 1485[24] banning German bibles, an order which originated with the abovementioned Archbishop of Mainz, Berthold of Henneberg. The Würzburg print stats explicitly that the ban must be read out "from the pulpit, in front of all the congregation, so that it becomes publicly known".[25] Rudolf of Scherenberg also made strategic use of the technique of printing to communicate in Latin with his diocese's clergy, and in German with the Imperial Free Cities and with the nobility in remote regions of the Empire. Amongst fifteenth-century German sovereign princes, as Falk Eisermann puts it, "he was the one who most consistently used the new medium".[26]



5. Censorship and Copyright in the Edict of 1485
Alongside Cologne and Trier, Mainz was one of three ecclesiastical electorates, whose incumbents had a vote in the election of the Holy Roman Emperor. From around 1000, the Electors of Mainz acquired, as Imperial Arch-Chancellors, a prominent role in the election procedure. They were responsible for issuing the official invitation to the Electors to come to Frankfurt for the coronation, as well as for blessing and anointing the elected Emperors. The secular jurisdiction of the archbishop was confined to the Mainz and Aschaffenburg regions, but his ecclesiastical authority encompassed the dioceses of Worms, Speyer, Constance, Chur, Strasbourg, Augsburg, Würzburg, Eichstätt, Paderborn and Hildesheim. Only a few months after being elected Archbishop of Mainz on 20 May 1484 and confirmed by the Holy See on 20 September, Berthold of Henneberg issued his censorship edict on 22 March 1485. It was confirmed on 4 January 1486[27] and printed at the behest of Rudolf of Scherenberg on 1 May 1485.[28] Berthold later played an important role in the constitution of the Imperial Senate ("Reichsregiment") - the institution which granted printing privileges in 1501 and 1502 to Conrad Celtis and his "Sodalitas Celtica".[29].


The Edict was addressed to all ecclesiastical and lay subjects of the archbishop and tried to establish a pre-printing censorship regime. It was explicitly forbidden to translate into German from Greek, Latin, or any other languages, and any commercial trading in such translations was punishable by excommunication, confiscation of the books and fines, except where the works had been explicitly allowed by qualified censors. The Edict reads:

"Although one can easily and abundantly arrive at human learning and gain access to the books of the individual sciences thanks to the divine art of printing, we also know for certain that some men have been induced by vain ambition or greed for money to abuse of this art, and through something that was originally given [by God] for the education of mankind have been led into ruin and disgrace. For we have seen how Christ's books containing [details of the] celebration of divine services, as well as works on divine matters and the most important principles of our religion, have been translated from Latin into German to be handled by the common people, which must inevitably be considered an offence to religion. Would such translators claim, assuming that they care about the truth - irrespective of whether they carry out their translations in good faith or with evil designs - that the German language is capable of containing all that Greek and Latin writers have written, in the most careful and distinct way, about the highest ideas of Christian religion and matters of science?! One must confess the poverty of our language, its inability to suffice these writers in the least, and that if these [translators] fabricate unknown words out of their entrails, or even if they do make use of some ancient [texts], they will inevitably corrupt the sense of the truth - something that we have reason to fear most in the case of holy Scripture because of the magnitude of the danger posed by this. For what is there to enable the ignorant and unlearned men and women, into whose hands the books of holy Scripture might then fall, to pick out the true meanings? Having seen the text of the holy Gospel or the Epistles of St Paul, no one with good sense will deny that they are the result of combining and supplementing many different writings. Some of these are generally accepted. But what is one to make of those which are the subject of the most bitter disputes amongst scholars of our universal Church? We could cite many more things, but for the purposes of our argument the few points we have put forward will suffice.

Since it is true that the art of printing books had its origin in an office here in our splendid Mainz, for us to be able to make use [i.e. pride ourselves on] of this title [of being its inventors], for it to fully deserve to be called divine, and so that it continues to be highly refined and faultless, it is only fair that the honour of this art should be defended by us. It is most certainly important for us to preserve the immaculate purity of holy Scripture, and for this purpose [...] we decree that no works whatsoever, of whatever science, art or [fame?] they may happen to be, whether they are composed in Greek, Latin, or any other language, may be translated into German; nor may any such translated books be sold or purchased anywhere - publicly or secretly, directly or indirectly - unless they have been examined - before printing, in the case of works which are to be printed, or before their sale, in the case of books that have already been printed - by [...] the Doctors and Masters of the University in our city of Mainz, or by Doctors and Masters in our city of Erfurt whom we have selected for this purpose, and have been approved for printing or selling by an honest testimony."[30]


The edict starts by inferring directly from the new technology of printing the need for taking measures to prevent the adulteration of doctrine. It is assumed that it is the new art of printing which has attracted those men "by vain ambition or greed for money". Theological works are to be confined to learned, i.e. Latin-reading men, and may not pass through everyone's hands, since the German language is not capable of rendering the true meaning correctly. Furthermore, the archbishop claims that Holy Scripture cannot be understood without the proper explanations. This is in accordance with the fifteenth-century university practice of reading only excerpts in anthologies - even of works by the Fathers of the Church, the recognised authorities in theological interpretation. The archbishop even justifies his determination to control printing by invoking his secular authority over the city of Mainz, where Gutenberg had come up with his invention.


Early modern censorship is widely regarded as working according to the model of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, regularly issued by the papal authorities from 1559 onwards and containing of a list of prohibited books. The above edict, however, illustrates an earlier phase of the ecclesiastical authorities' struggle to control the book market. The archbishop does not mention any specific books he wants to have banned. Rather, he claims a kind of general copyright in the Scriptures and all theological works, even if confined to German translations of Latin and Greek originals. If we put this into modern terms, we might say that the archbishop is laying claim to an exclusive right to license, through his deputies, any translation into German of the Scripture and religious writings in general. Thus, he is acting as if he were a publisher or an author's heir who derives his right from the author himself. The archbishop's claim that it is his duty to safeguard the integrity of Holy Scripture is based on the doctrine of apostolic succession, i.e. the Catholic church leaders' claim that they derive their authority not from the people but from Christ via St Peter and the Bishops of Rome.


The Mainz censorship provisions are therefore not legitimised primarily by any claim on the part of the ecclesiastical ruler to be acting on behalf of public morality and welfare. The archbishop's power to prevent the circulation of corrupted versions of the core texts of Christianity is legitimised, rather, by his "authority", his claim to speak for the authors themselves: for Christ, for the writers of the Gospels, for St Peter, St Paul and all the Fathers of the Church. Censorship here is thus based on the archbishop's claim to hold a kind of exclusive copyright rather than on considerations of public welfare.




6. The ‘coat of arms' copper-plate as a quasi-trademark
When looking at printing privileges, twentieth-century historians like Bappert[31] and Gieseke[32] were interested in aspects of pre-copyright regimes. They therefore identified the first steps to protect printers against reprinting in the German lands with the privilege granted in 1501 by the Imperial Senate to Conrad Celtis and his Nuremberg edition of works by Hrotsvit (Roswitha) of Gandersheim (d_1501). Earlier charters of protection[33] granted by bishops were left out of their survey, since these were based on traditional Christian authority rather than on early-modern concepts of governance by legality. However, more recent media and book historians, like Falk Eisermann[34], have pointed to Rudolf of Scherenberg's quite advanced methods of ‘media control' and to his strategic use of prints so that they would serve his political and ecclesiastical aims.


Rudolf was aware of the printing press's implications for the flow of information. He ordered a printed book to be used as the model on the basis of which the handwritten ecclesiastical books within his diocese were to be corrected; he invited to Würzburg the three printers mentioned in the 1479 privilege and thus established a printing industry within his diocese; he arranged for the Archbishop of Mainz's censorship edict to be printed; and he used printed broadsheets to achieve his political goals.


We have argued that Rudolf's decision to issue printed rather than handwritten books was motivated by his striving for correct and uniform versions rather than by any economic considerations. This argument is supported by the use of his coat of arms on the title-page. Compared with woodprint, copper-plate engraving was an expensive technique which at the time only a few artists had mastered. The rarity of presenting the title of a work using such a technique was ideal for emphasising the book's origin and the fact of its approval by the prince-bishop. From a modern perspective, this way of designating the origin of a book by using a copper-plate print can be seen as a kind of proto-trademark.


Around the time of this edict, the technique of copper-plate printing was beginning to blossom in the Upper Rhine area. It has been argued that Reyser became acquainted with the art of Martin Schongauer (c.1450-1491)[35] while he was working in Strasbourg. The copper-plate in the Breviarium is nevertheless the first such used in a book of German provenance.[36] Reyser may have commissioned the engraving from Strasbourg, since there were no qualified masters in Würzburg at the time.[37] The copper plate displays two emblems. On the left side we find the coat of arms of Prince-Bishop Rudolf of Scherenberg (the crowned, bearded man with the helmet, and the two scissors in fields 2 and 3 of the shield). The German word for scissors: "Schere" alludes to the name of the prince-bishop's family: "Scherenberg". On the right side is the coat of arms of the diocesan chapter - the shield held by two angels in front of the patron of the see, Saint Kilian[38] (also spelt Cillian in Irish), who is shown with his attributes, the ducal sword and the crosier, symbolising his temporal and spiritual powers. Larger, but quite similar coppers were used in Reyser's Missale editions of 1481, 1482, and 1495.[39] In Reyser's missal of 1495, in a gradual of 1496, and in the two antiphonaries of 1498 and 1499, a woodprint was used instead, but it is clearly modelled on the older copper plates.[40] The same printing block was used for all of these woodprints. The missal of 1495 was published only a month before Rudolf of Scherenberg's death. He was succeeded by Lorenz of Bibra, and in order to re-use the same printing block, the coat of arms had to be redone. Thus, the scissors in fields 2 and 3 of the shield in the coat of arms were sawn out and replaced by a beaver, the German word for which, ‘Biber', sounds similar to the name Bibra. The bearded man in the upper section was removed, too, but not replaced by anything else.


Episcopal coats of arms can be found in many fifteenth-century liturgical books, and they were used to make it clear that a book's text had been authorised. Apart from their practical utility, liturgical books were also a way of propagating sovereign symbols and served as a platform for the sovereign prince's self-representation.[41]


For the Würzburg Prince-Bishop printing was a core concern within in political activities and thus Georg Ryser was in fact the printer of the Würzburg court. Apart from liturgical books, Reyser printed only single sheets, but no juridical works, no bibles, no grammars, no dictionaries - in other words, none of the kind of books which other fifteenth-century printers were producing. Out of the 60 single sheets from his workshop 17 were commissioned by the archbishop and published in his name; a further seven are closely related to his political activities.[42] Rudolf, as Falk Eisermann puts it, was a man

"who knew, better than almost all other spiritual or temporal sovereign rulers in fifteenth-century Germany, how to make use of book printing for the purposes of government, administration, and even censorship already."[43]



7. References

Bappert, Walter. Wege zum Urheberrecht (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1962)

Eisermann, Falk. "Buchdruck und Herrschaftspraxis im 15. Jahrhundert. Der Würzburger Fürstbischof Rudolf von Scherenberg und sein Drucker Georg Reyser", in Horst Brunner (ed.) Würzburg, der Große Löwenhof und die deutsche Literatur des Spätmittelalters (= Imagines Medii Aevi 17) (Wiesbaden 2004): 495-513

Engel, Wilhelm. Die Würzburger Bischofschronik des Grafen Wilhelm Werner von Zimmern und die Würzburger Geschichtsschreibung des 16. Jahrhunderts, (Würzburg: Schöningh, 1952)

Engelhart, Helmut. "Die frühesten Druckausgaben des Missale Herbipolense (1481-1503)", Würzburger Diozesangeschichtsblätter, 62/63 (2001): 69-174

Falk, F. "Johann Beckenhub, genannt Mentzer", in Neuer Anzeiger für Bibliographie und Bibliothekwissenschaft (1878): 349-352. [Available online at:]

Geldner, Ferdinand. "Zum ältesten Missale-Druck", Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, 1961: 101-106

Geldner, Ferdinand. Inkunabelkunde (Wiesbaden Reichert, 1978)

Giesecke, Michael. Der Buchdruck in der frühen Neuzeit, 4th ed. (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2006)

Gieseke, Ludwig. Vom Privileg zum Urheberrecht: Die Entwicklung des Urheberrechts in Deutschland bis 1845 (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1995)

Hellwig, Barbara. Inkunabelkatalog des Germanischen Nationalmuseums Nürnberg (Nürnberg: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, 1970)

Hirsch, Rudolf. "Pre-Reformation Censorship of Printed Books", Library Chronicle, 21 (1955): 100-105

Kapp, Friedrich. Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels bis in das siebzehnte Jahrhundert (Leipzig: Verlag des Börsenvereins der Deutschen Buchhändler, 1886), vol.1

Lauchert, Friedrich. "Kilian", in Chatholic Encyclopedia (1913). The full text is available online at:

Ohly, Kurt. "Georg Reysers Wirken in Straßburg und Würzburg", in Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, 31 (1956): 121-140

Ohly, Kurt. "Der Brief des Würzburger Fürstbischofs Rudolf von Scherenberg an den Straßburger Magistrat über Michael Reyser", in Aus der Welt des Bibliothekars (= Festschrift für Rudolf Juchhoff zum 65. Geburtstag) ed. by Kurt Ohly and Werner Krieg (Köln: Greven, 1961): 99-117

Pallmannn, Heinrich. "Des Erzbischofs Berthold von Mainz aeltestes Censuredikt". In: Archiv für Geschichte des deutschen Buchhandels 4 (1884) 234-241

Pleticha-Geuder, Eva: " ‘Getruckt in der Stadt Würtzburg'. 525 Jahre Buchdruck in Würzburg", in Abklatsch, Falz und Zwiebelfisch, 525 Jahre Buchdruck in Würzburg (Würzburg: Dietrich, 2004)

Reuss. "Würzburg's erste Drucke", in Serapeum, 1 (1840): 97-103. [Available online at:]

Rößig, C.G. Handbuch des Buchhandelsrechts systematisch dargestellt für Rechtsgelehrte, Buchhändler und Schriftsteller (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1804)

Franz Xaver von Wegele, Franz Xaver von "Rudolf II. von Scherenberg" in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, herausgegeben von der Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Band 29 (1889), S. 566–569. The full text is available online at:

Welzenbach, Thomas. "Geschichte der Buchdruckerkunst im ehemaligen Herzogthume Franken und in benachbarten Städten", in Archiv des historischen Vereins von Unterfranken, 14, nr 2 (1857): 117-158

Widmann, Hans. "Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Erfindung des Buchdrucks" (Mainz: Gutenberg-Gesellschaft, 1973)

Widmann, Hans. Geschichte des Buchhandels (Mainz: Harrassowitz, 1975)


[1] See the digitised version of the Bavarian State Library at:

[2] Kurt Ohly, "Der Brief des Würzburger Fürstbischofs Rudolf von Scherenberg an den Straßburger Magistrat über Michael Reyser", in Aus der Welt des Bibliothekars (= Festschrift für Rudolf Juchhoff zum 65. Geburtstag) ed. by Kurt Ohly and Werner Krieg (Cologne: Greven, 1961), 99-117: 100.

[3] Helmut Engelhart, "Die frühesten Druckausgaben des Missale Herbipolense (1481-1503)", in Würzburger Diozesangeschichtsblätter 62/63 (2001): 69-174.

[4] ibid: 72.

[5] A letter of 25 April 1480 from Rudolf to the Strasbourg City Council refers to "several persons who have been residents of your city" ("ettlichen personen die in Ewer Stat gesessen sind"). Ohly (1961), 99.

[6] According to Ohly (1961), 109, Dold acquired Strasbourg citizenship on 2 December 1479. He thus may have returned to Strasbourg after the Würzburg breviary was completed. For details on Beckenhub see also F. Falk, "Johann Beckenhub, genannt Mentzer", in Neuer Anzeiger für Bibliographie und Bibliothekwissenschaft 1878: 349-352 (which is available online at: and Thomas Welzenbach, "Geschichte der Buchdruckerkunst im ehemaligen Herzogthume Franken und in benachbarten Städten", in Archiv des historischen Vereins von Unterfranken 14, nr 2 (1857): 117-158.

[7] Engelhart (2001): 71.

[8] Eva Pleticha-Geuder, " ‘Getruckt in der Stadt Würtzburg': 525 Jahre Buchdruck in Würzburg", in Abklatsch, Falz und Zwiebelfisch, 525 Jahre Buchdruck in Würzburg (Würzburg: Dietrich, 2004): 11.

[9] Quoted in Kurt Ohly, "Georg Reysers Wirken in Strassburg und Würzburg", in Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 31 (1956): 121-140, based on a full-text transcription of the German original in Welzenbach (1857): 150.

[10] Engelhart (2001) quotes transcribed versions of the privileges for Reysers's Missale editions of 1481, 1491, 1495 and 1497.

[11] For biographical details see Franz Xaver von Wegele in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, herausgegeben von der Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Band 29 (1889), S. 566–569. The full text is available online at:

[12] "Das erst werck, so er anfieng, was, das er vor allen dingen den gotzdienst nit allayn in dem thumb [Bistum], sopndern allenthalbem durch seyn land reformieren, erneuwern und meren thet durch seyn gantzes land dergestalt: wä er bis dahin seumlich und hynlessig oder unfleyssig begangen oder etmas gar underlassen worden, das must nun furohin mit allem fleyss, ernst und aufmercken geschehen und wyderumb erfollet werden. Desgleychen hielt er mit hoechstem ernst darob, das seyne priester erberlich und zuchtigklichen leptend [ehrbar und züchtig lebten] und auch sich dermassen halten werend, das die layen und der genayn mankayn ergernus, sonder vil mer ayn besserung darab empfiengend." Quoted in Engelhart (2001): 74, with reference to Wilhelm Engel, Die Würzburger Bischofschronik des Grafen Wilhelm Werner von Zimmern und die Würzburger Geschichtsschreibung des 16. Jahrhunderts (Würzburg: Schöningh, 1952).

[13] Ibid: 74

[14] "eine die ständige Gottesdienstordnung festlegende ausführliche Anweisung, die die Grundlage für die Bearbeitung liturgischer Bücher bildete." Ohly (1961).

[15] Ibid: 104.

[16] Hans Widmann, Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Erfindung des Buchdrucks (Mainz: Gutenberg-Gesellschaft 1973): 15.

[17] Hans Widmann, Geschichte des Buchhandels (Mainz: Harrassowitz, 1975): 77.

[18] Michael Giesecke, Der Buchdruck in der frühen Neuzeit, 4th ed. (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2006): 145, with reference to Ferdinand Geldner, "Zum ältesten Missale-Druck", in Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 1961: 101-106.

[19] Ferdinand Geldner, Inkunabelkunde (Wiesbaden: Reichert 1978).

[20] Widmann (1973): 16.

[21] Dedication letter of the Vatican librarian Giovanni Andreae dei Bussi to Pope Pius II, in Hieronymus, Epistolae (Rome: Konrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, 1486).

[22] Widmann (1973): 33f.

[23] Falk Eisermann, "Buchdruck und Herrschaftspraxis im 15. Jahrhundert. Der Würzburger Fürstbischof Rudolf von Scherenberg und sein Drucker Georg Reyser", in Würzburg, der Große Löwenhof und die deutsche Literatur des Spätmittelalters (= Imagines Medii Aevi 17) ed. by Horst Brunner (Wiesbaden 2004), 495-513: 504. Copies have survived in Frankfurt and Nuremberg, the latter with holes possibly arising from it having been nailed to a wall.

[24] A facsimile of the copy held by the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg is reproduced in Eisermann (2004): 513ff. An English translation of parts of the documents is given in Rudolf Hirsch, "Pre-Reformation Censorship of Printed Books", Library Chronicle, 21 (1955): 100-105.

[25] "volumus eciam quod presens processus in ambone coram plebis multitudine publice intimetur et volgarizetur", quoted in Eisermann (2004): 505.

[26] Eisermann (2004): 506.

[27] Widmann (1973): 33.

[28] Giesecke (2006): 731, with reference to Hellwig, Barbara. Inkunabelkatalog des Germanischen Nationalmuseums Nürnberg, Nr. 820 (Nürnberg: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, 1970).

[29] Cf. d_1501.

[30] Translation by Luis Sundkvist based on the German version by Hans Widmann and an abbreviated English translation given by Hirsch (1955). For scans, transcription and translation see also d_1485. According to Pallmannn, Heinrich. "Des Erzbischofs Berthold von Mainz aeltestes Censuredikt". In: Archiv für Geschichte des deutschen Buchhandels 4 (1884) 234-241, in a manuscript version of the edict held in the Frankfurt archives is preceded as follows: "honorabili Deuoto nobis in Christo dilecto Conrado Hensel sacre theologie doctorj, plebano ecclesie sancti Bartholomei opidi Franckfordiensis nostre Moguntine diocesis Salutem in domino sempiternam a praesentium executionem." The Frankfurt version of the edict is accompanied by a German letter demanding the Frankfurt Council to instruct "one or two doctors" to examine all the books offered at the Frankfurt fair. The following transcription is quoted in Widmann (1973): 43ff. "Etsi ad mortalium eruditionem divina quadam imprimendi arte ad singularum scientiarum codices abunde facilique perveniri possit, compertum tamen habemus quosdam homines inanis gloriae aut pecuniae cupiditate ductos hac arte abuti, et quod advitae hominum institutionem datum est ad perniciem et calumniam deduci. Vidimus enim Christi libros missarum officia contonentes et praeterea de divinis rebus et apicibus nostrae religionis scriptos, e latina in germanicam linguam traductos nec sine religionis scriptos, e latina in germanicam linguam traductos nec sine religionis dedecore versari per manum vulgi [...] Dicant translatore tales, si verum colunt, bono etiam sive malo id faciant animo, anne lingua germanica capax sit eorum, quae tum graeci tum et latini egregii scriptores de summis speculationibus religionis christianae et rerum scientia accuratissime argutissimeque scripserunt?

Fateri opportet idiomatis nostri inopiam minime sufficere necesseque fore, eos ex suis cervicibus nomina fingere incognita, aut, si veteribus quibusdam utantur, veritatis sensum corrumpere, quod propter magnitudinem periculi in literis sacris magis veremur. Quis enim dabit idiotis aatque indoctis hominibus et femineo sexui, in quorum manus codices sacrarum literarum inciderint, veros excerpere intellectus?

Videatur sacri evangelii aut epistolarum Pauli textus, nemo sane prudens negabit, multa suppletione et subauditione aliarum scripturarum opus esse. Occurrerunt haec, quia vulgatissima sunt. Quid putabis de his, quae inter scriptores in ecclesia catholica sub acerrima pendent disputatione? Multa afferre possemus de quibus tamen ad propositum paucula ostendisse sufficiat.

Verum cum initium officinae huius artis imprimendi codices in hac aurea nostra Maguntia, ut vera eius appellatione utamur, divinitus emerserit, hodieque in ea politissima atque emendatissima perseveret, iustissime eius artis decus a nobis defensabitur. Nostra etiam intersit divinarum literarum puritatem immaculatam servari, unde [...] mandamus, ne aliqua opera, cuiuscunque scientiae, artis vel notitiae, e graeco, latino vel alio sermone, in vulgare germanicum traducant, aut traducta, quovis communitationis genere vel titulo distrahant, vel comparent, pulice vel occulte, directe vel indirecte, nisi opera deinceps imprimenda ante impressionem et impressa ante distractionem per [...] doctores et magistros universitatis studii in civitate nostra Maguntia, aut doctores et magistros studii in oppido nostro Erfordiae ad hoc deputatos fuerint visa et patenti testimonio ad imprimendum vel distrahendum admissa.

[31] Walter Bappert, Wege zum Urheberrecht (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1962).

[32] Ludwig Gieseke, Vom Privileg zum Urheberrecht: Die Entwicklung des Urheberrechts in Deutschland bis 1845. (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1995).

[33] Apart from the Würzburg privilege, for the period after 1479 we also have a reprinting privilege issued in 1490 by Heinrich, Bishop of Bamberg, regarding a Mass book of the Bamberg church. Cf. Friedrich Kapp, Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels bis in das siebzehnte Jahrhundert (Leipzig: Verlag des Börsenvereins der Deutschen Buchhändler, 1886), 1: 843, with reference to C. G. Rößig, Handbuch des Buchhandelsrchts systematisch dargestellt für Rechtsgelehrte, Buchhändler und Schriftsteller (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1804).

[34] Eisermann (2004): 495-513.

[35] Reuss, "Würzburg's erste Drucke", in Serapeum, 1 (1840): 97-103 (98). This is available online at:

[36] Welzenbach (1857): 151.

[37] Engelhart (2001): 86.

[38] For details see Friedrich Lauchert, "Kilian", in Chatholic Encyclopedia (1913). The full text is available online at:

[39] Helmut Engelhart, "Vigiliae maiores secundum chorum Herbipolensem. Bemerkungen zu einem wenig bekannten liturgischen Druck aus der Offiziin Georg Reysers in Würzburg", in Würzburger Diozesangeschichtsblätter, 68, nr 3 (2006): 215-259 (221).

[40] Ibid.: 222. The different versions of the emblems are reproduced on pp.254-257.

[41] Eisermann (2004): 497.

[42] See ibid. 498 for details on the political use of Rudolf's single sheets.

[43] Ibid. 508.

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