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Organizing public opinion in a resonating box: the Gülich rebellion in early modern Cologne, 1680–1686


The article analyses one of the most spectacular urban rebellions of the early modern Holy Roman Empire of the German nation from the perspective of local acts of communication. Led by the merchant Nikolaus Gülich, the ‘Gülich rebellion’ convulsed the free and imperial city of Cologne in the 1680s. Gülich appealed to public opinion and used media impulses within the urban community to campaign successfully against the corruption of the city council.

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1 See for the distinction between ‘rebellion’ respectively ‘revolt’ and ‘revolution’ Johnson, C., Revolutionary Change (Stanford, 1982), 142–9. In calling a ‘rebellion’ a form of collective action, I am following the interpretation of Tilly, C., From Mobilization to Revolution (Reading, 1978), 7.

2 Darnton, R., The Literary Underground of the Old Regime (Cambridge, 1982); Farge, A., Dire et mal dire: l'opinion publique au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1992); Freist, D., Governed by Opinion. Politics, Religion and the Dynamics of Communication in Stuart London 1637–1645 (London, 1997); de Vivo, F., Information and Communication in Venice. Rethinking Early Modern Politics (Oxford, 2007); Bellingradt, D., Flugpublizistik und Öffentlichkeit um 1700. Dynamiken, Akteure und Strukturen im urbanen Raum des Alten Reiches (Stuttgart, 2011).

3 Schlögl, R., ‘Politik beobachten. Öffentlichkeit und Medien in der Frühen Neuzeit’, Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung, 35 (2008), 581616. As Brendan Dooley has pointed out, the level of political observation by all people living in an early modern city could be defined as follows: ‘whatever may be thought or said about events connected with the government of states and with cities and their people’. See Dooley, B. and Baron, S.A., ‘Introduction’, in idem and idem (eds.), The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe (London, 2001), 1.

4 Schlögl, R. (ed.), Urban Elections and Decision-Making in Early Modern Europe, 1500–1800 (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2009).

5 Würgler, A., Unruhen und Öffentlichkeit. Städtische und ländliche Protestbewegungen im 18. Jahrhundert (Tübingen, 1995); idem, ‘Conspiracy and denunciation: a local affair and its European publics’, in van Horn Melton, J. (ed.), Cultures of Communication from Reformation to Enlightenment: Constructing Publics in the Early Modern German Lands (Aldershot, 2002), 119–31; idem, ‘Revolts in print: media and communication in early modern urban conflicts’, in Schlögl (ed.), Urban Elections and Decision-Making, 257–75.

6 R. Darnton, ‘Introduction’, in idem and Roche, D. (eds.), Revolution in Print. The Press in France 1775–1800 (Berkeley, 1989), xiiixv.

7 For initial orientations, see the overviews by Friedrichs, C.R., The Early Modern City, 1450–1750 (London, 1995), and Cowan, A.F., Urban Europe, 1500–1700 (London, 1998). With regard to traditional interpretations of outbreaks of turmoil within the Holy Roman Empire which do not take a wider communicative perspective, see, for example, Friedrichs, C.R., ‘Urban conflicts and the imperial constitution in seventeenth-century Germany’, Journal of Modern History, 58 (1986), 98123; idem, ‘German town revolts and the seventeenth-century crisis’, Renaissance and Modern Studies, 26 (1982), 27–51.

8 McLuhan, M., The Gutenberg Galaxy (London, 1962).

9 See for example the edict of the city council against pasquills from 30 Dec. 1675 in which highly dangerous and threatening pamphlets intended to stir up sedition (‘höchst gefahrliche und bedrowliche, zur aufwiegelung und auffstand zielende chartecen’) are mentioned. These pamphlets were published and read at public places (‘an offentlichen orthen’), continued the edict. See Historical Archive of the City of Cologne (HACC) 14/Edicts 25/fols. 208–9, Edictum wegen angeschlagener famoser chartecquen, 30 Dec. 1675.

10 Habermas, J., The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, MA, 1989). For the state of research and positioning for and against Habermas’ ideal-typical thoughts on the process of formation of Öffentlichkeit, see Gestrich, A., ‘The public sphere and the Habermas debate’, German History, 24 (2006), 413–30; S. van Damme (ed.), Farewell Habermas? Deux décennies d'études sur l'espace public, (2009, accessed 7 May 2011). For this path of interpretation see my study ‘The early modern city as a resonating box: media, the public sphere and the urban space of the Holy Roman Empire, Cologne and Hamburg, ca. 1700’, Journal of Early Modern History, 16 (2012), 201–40.

11 See for example Rückleben, H., Die Niederwerfung der hamburgischen Ratsgewalt. Kirchliche Bewegungen und bürgerliche Unruhen im ausgehenden 17. Jahrhundert (Hamburg, 1970); Soliday, G.L., A Community in Conflict. Frankfurt Society in the 17th and in the Early Eighteenth Century (Hanover, 1974).

12 Many urban and rural conflicts in the early modern Holy Roman Empire were recorded and dealt with by the imperial institutions of justice. See Fuchs, R.P., ‘The supreme court of the Holy Roman Empire: the state of research and the outlook’, Sixteenth Century Journal, 34 (2003), 927.

13 The elections to the city council took place twice a year and were a mixture of (36) direct votes by the 22 Gaffeln of Cologne and (13) co-optative votes by the existing city council. The Gaffeln were the organizations of the guilds and burgher of Cologne. In 1513, the ‘Transfixbrief’ confirmed this power-balance.

14 Dreher, B., ‘Die Beschwörung der Freiheit’, in Schäfke, W. (ed.), Der Name der Freiheit 1288–1988. Aspekte Kölner Geschichte von Worringen bis heute (Cologne, 1988), 467.

15 See the overviews by Dreher, B., ‘Vor 300 Jahren – Nikolaus Gülich’, Kleine Schriften zur Kölner Stadtgeschichte, 4 (1986), 386, and Bergerhausen, H.W., Köln in einem eisernen Zeitalter 1610–1686 (Cologne, 2010), 349–71. The rich stock of documents about the ‘Gülich rebellion’ in the HACC comprises more than eight metres of archived documents, divided into 25 cartons of loose paper without an index. Due to the tragic collapse of the archive in 2009, it seems questionable whether the documents can ever be used again.

16 Dreher, ‘Die Beschwörung’, 467. For the traditional argument for rebellion in the cause of the common good, see Haemers, J., For the Common Good. State Power and Urban Revolts in the Region of Mary of Burgundy, 1477–1482 (Turnhout, 2009).

17 Theatrum Europaeum, Zwölffter Theil (Frankfurt, 1691), 146.

18 Theatrum Europaeum, Dreyzehender Theil (Frankfurt, 1698), 89.

19 A contemporary of the events published 1694 his perception of the public opinion in Cologne as follows: altogether, the rumours about Gülich were planted among the burghers (‘In Summa Rumores Gulichiani serebantur per totam Civitatem’), and Gülich should be mayor (‘der Gülich müsste Burgermeister seyn’). Cited from A. Judendunck, Theatrum / Lanienae Coloniensis / Sive / Blutige Schau-Bühne (1694), 43.

20 See with examples from London, Paris, Venice, Cologne, Hamburg and Leipzig: Farge, Dire et mal dire; Freist, Governed by Opinion; de Vivo, Information and Communication; Bellingradt, Flugpublizistik und Öffentlichkeit.

21 The accused persons were Caspar von Cronenberg (1612–81), mayor from 1667 to 1680; Maximilian von Krebs (1624–84), mayor from 1667 to 1680; and Jakob von Wolfskehl (1624–83), a four times mayor from 1669 on. See Dreher, Bernd, ‘Oligarchische Machtstrukturen, Stadtregiment und Gemeindepartizipation: Der Prozeß gegen die Bürgermeister Krebs, Cronenberg und Wolfskehl 1680/81 als Auftakt zur Revolte des Nikolaus Gülich’, in Mölich, G. and Schwerhoff, G. (eds.), Köln als Kommunikationszentrum. Studien zur frühneuzeitlichen Stadtgeschichte (Cologne, 2000), 403–52.

22 HACC 14/Edicts 29/16, Anwarnung dem von Wolffskehl getrewlich zugestlt, 1681.

23 Merlo, J.J., ‘Nikolaus Gülich, das Haupt der Kölner Revolution von 1680–1685’, Annalen des Historischen Vereins für den Niederrhein, 46 (1887), 31–5, mentions several memorial prints (‘Gedenkblätter’) from his private (and lost) archive. All illustrated broadsheets were single-sheets editions.

24 HACC 38/Carton 1/11/fol. 11, indictment against den Entwichenen Jacobum von Wolffskehl, 1680.

25 HACC 38/Carton 17/315/fols. 222–3, PUBLICATIO SENTENTIÆ JACOBI Von Wolffskehl, 1681; HACC 38/Carton 17/315/fol. 240, PUBLICATA EST SENTENTIA MAXIMILIANI von Kreps, 1681. The verdicts against the middlemen (‘Officiis’) have been published via edicts in May 1681: HACC 14/Edicts 29/fol. 20.

26 The mayors successfully sent for help to the emperor in Vienna and to the aulic council (‘Reichshofrat’). From Oct. 1680 on, a special imperial commission under the supervision of the elector of Trier, the duke of Pfalz-Neuburg and the aulic councillor Johann Christoph Jodoci started investigations as well, and published a single-sheet title in Cologne on 11 Dec. 1680 (HACC 38/Carton/35/fol. 1), that was followed by a printed edict dated on 13 Dec. 1680 by the city council of Cologne accepting the imperial commission (HACC 14/Edicts 25/fol. 290).

27 Lord Oettingen wrote on 17/27 Dec. 1680 to Vienna that he detected significant hostility (‘zimliche Animositet’) in Cologne to the extent that all contextual statements were interpreted in the most sinister way (‘alle und jede darinn begriffene Wörther fast sinistrè interpretiret / und anderster außgedeutet werden wollen’) (HACC 14/Edicts 29/18).

28 For example HACC 38/Carton 1/fols. 47–8, Abtruck Instrumenti prætensæ Appellationis casparen von Cronenberg dero Rechten Doctoris, 1680; HACC 38/Carton 1/11/fols. 44–5, Eilfertige Ablehnung Doctoris Casparen von Cronenberg / E.E. hochweisen Rhat des heyligen Reichs Freyer Statt Cölln insinuierten Instrumenti Prætensæ Appellationis, 1680; HACC 38/Carton 1/11/fols. 50–83, Allerunderthänigster Exhibitions Recess mit beylage sub lit. A. & B. von Kreps contra Der Stadt Cöllen Deputatos & Consortes, 1680; HACC 38/Carton 17/315, CENSVRA PARNASSI sive Anwarnung dem von Wolffskehl getrewlich zugestelt Ohne! Daß umb ein haar breit sich gebessert / sondern verstockt bey seinen Unthaten ist beharret, 1680; University Library of Cologne (ULC) RH/fol. 172, An die Römische Kayserliche / auch zu Hungarn und Boheimb Königl. Majest. Allerunderthänigst ferner special Bericht = Schreiben . . . Deß Heil. Röm. Reichs Freyer Statt Cölln Burgermeister und Rath / auch Deputirten der löblichen Zunfften / und Consorten Contra IACOBEN Wollffskehl, 1680. The full extent of titles by the city council and the imperial commission during the trial against Krebs, Wolfskehl and Cronenberg can be found in HACC 38/Carton 1/394.

29 See the edict of the city council from 30 Apr. 1682 complaining about the volume of the editions and the circulation all over the city (HACC 38/Carton 17/315/fol. 254).

30 Around 1700, ‘flying’ prints like pamphlets or edicts usually had a minimum print run of 400 copies. According to K.T. Winkler, a bestseller print had about 1,000 copies. See ibid., Wörterkrieg. Politische Debattenkultur in England 1689–1750 (Stuttgart, 1998), 133.

31 It was forbidden to distribute manuscripts or even communicate speeches that included lies and slander regarding relations between the city council and the burghers (‘Reden und Schrifften mit außgesinneten Erdichtungen / Lügen / und Verläumbdungen angefült / dahin außzustrewen / damit Sie zu Erreichung Ihres boßhafften Zwecks / zwischen Magistrat, Löbl. Deputirten und der Bürgerschafft Mißverständtnüß erwecken möchten’). See the edict of the city council from 3 Feb. 1681 (HACC 14/Edicts 2/86).

32 The edict of the city council from 26 Feb. 1681 (HACC 14/Edicts 13/132) stated that ‘dergleichen außschreibens spargirens und berichtens, außerhalb deme was mit E: hochst: Raths erlaubnuß in offentlichen truck gestelt und, auch heimb und öffentlich sich zu müßsigen und zu enthalten’.

33 See for example the edict of the city council from 22 Mar. 1681 against pasquills and invectives (‘Edict wegen famoser pasquillen und anzeyhtlichen Verkleinerungen’) in HACC 14/Edicts 13/133.

34 Edict of the city council from 23 Apr. 1681 (HACC 14/Edicts 2/fol. 88).

35 See the documents in HACC 38/Carton 18/326.

36 The document was titled Brevis Expositio Processus Amplissimi Senatus Coloniensis contra Cronenberg, Kreps und Wolffskehl. See Dreher, ‘Die Beschwörung’, 468–9.

37 Judendunck, Theatrum / Lanienae Coloniensis, 73.

38 See for instance Kümin, B. and Tlusty, B. (eds.), The World of the Tavern. Public Houses in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot, 2002); Kümin, B., Drinking Matters. Public Houses and Social Exchange in Early Modern Central Europe (Basingstoke, 2007). For a detailed analysis of the situation in the taverns of Cologne, see Schwerhoff, G., ‘Das Gelage. Institutionelle Ordnungsarrangements und Machtkämpfe im frühneuzeitlichen Wirtshaus’, in Melville, G. (ed.), Das Sichtbare und das Unsichtbare der Macht. Institutionelle Prozesse in Antike, Mittelalter und Neuzeit (Cologne, 2005), 159–76.

39 Theatrum Europaeum, Dreyzehender Theil, 90.

40 Judendunck, Theatrum / Lanienae Coloniensis, 140, gives the hint that in June 1682 Gülich managed to get pamphlets distributed to priests and read aloud from their pulpits through a middleman called ‘Dr. Köpgen’. For the mobilization of hundreds of mass attenders within Cologne in 1708, see Bellingradt, D., ‘Lateinische Zettel in der Reichsstadt Köln (1708). Signale, Diskurse und Dynamiken im öffentlichen urbanen Raum der Frühen Neuzeit’, Geschichte in Köln, 56 (2009), 207–37.

41 Theatrum Europaeum, Dreyzehender Theil, 90.

42 Judendunck, Theatrum / Lanienae Coloniensis, 107, 110.

43 Edict of the city council from 18 May 1683 (HACC 14/Edicts 2/fol. 94).

44 Dreher, ‘Die Beschwörung’, 472.

45 Cited after a manuscript of a letter from Gülich from 30 Jul. 1683 to ‘Prälat Ohm’ (HACC 38/Carton 15/293/fols. 3–4).

46 See the imperial edicts from 16 Aug. 1683 (HACC 14/Edicts 29/31 and 33).

47 Theatrum Europaeum, Dreyzehender Theil, 91.

48 Dreher, ‘Die Beschwörung’, 473–4. See also the imperial edict from 9 Dec. 1683 (HACC 14/Edicts 29/36). Mülheim was part of the territory of Johann Wilhelm, elector palatine, who was also duke of Jülich and Berg.

49 For both prints see Dreher, ‘Die Beschwörung’, 373; Judendunck, Theatrum / Lanienae Coloniensis, 237.

50 Letter from Gülich from 30 Jul. 1683 to ‘Prälat Ohm’ (HACC 38/Carton 15/293/fols. 3–4).

51 See the edicts of the imperial commission from 9 and 29 Dec. 1683 and from 19 Feb. 1684 (HACC 14/Edicts 29/35, 37 and 38).

52 For example ULC RHG/2174, Copia ahn Ihro Hochwürden Herren Prälaten in Petra de Sto. Petro erstatteten Berichtschreibens Lucii Veri Statt Colnisch Babel betreffendt, etc. Gedruckt im Jahr 1684, 1684.

53 HACC 38/Carton 13/248/fols. 34–50, Verbundt = Brieff; HACC 38/Carton 21/284/fols. 37–42, Transfix = Brieff and Dit is der Statt Cöllne Recht und Bürger Freyheit. All titles were published first on 25 Aug. 1684 and were produced by the Cologne based printer Caspar Kempen. See also the ‘codex’-print: HACC 38/Carton 13/248, fols. 1–2, IVRAMENTUM Eines Ehrsamen hochweisen Rhats der käyserlichen freyen Reichs Statt Cölln am Rhein, 1684.

54 See the edict of the city council from 23 Jun. 1684 (HACC 14/Edicts 13/134).

55 See the edict of the city council from 31 Jul. 1684 and 15 Aug. 1685 (HACC 14/Edicts 26/fols. 95–6; HACC 14/Edicts 2/103, 3).

56 Imperial edict from 25 Jun., published in Cologne on 8 Aug. 1685 (HACC 14/Edicts 29/41).

57 Theatrum Europaeum, Dreyzehender Theil, 92.

58 See the manuscript account of the interrogation from 9 Oct. 1685 (HACC 38/Carton 7/152/fols. 1–63).

59 See for example the edicts of the city council against ‘Paßquillen’ from 15 Sep. 1685, Oct. 1685, 20 Nov. 1685, 14 Dec. 1685, 14 Jan. 1686, 25 Jan. 1686, 1 Feb. 1686 (in the mentioned order: HACC 14/Edicts 2/102, 2; HACC 14/Edicts 7/210; HACC 14/Edicts 2/104; HACC 14/Edicts 13/135; HACC 14/Edicts 13/136; HACC 14/Edicts 13/137; HACC 14/Edicts 2/107, 2). The official re-establishment of the old city council by the imperial commission happened via an edict on 20 Nov. (HACC 38/Carton 7/159/fols. 3–5).

60 On the use of the term ‘Paßquillen’ to dismiss publications see Bellingradt, Flugpublizistik und Öffentlichkeit, 236–42.

61 Edict of the city council from 25 Jan. 1686. It has not been proved if these executions have been carried out.

62 Edicts of city council from 25 Jan. and 1 Feb. 1686.

63 See the edict of the city council from 25 Jan. 1686.

64 See for example two Latin poems (Quinquennalis seditio atque rebellis Ubiorum status and TVMULtUantIs et In se saeVIentIs UrbIs pars se VnDa ContInUat. AnonyMUs, seD pLUrLbUs In Urbe AgrIppIna NotUs) that drew scholarly attention by Uta Schmidt-Clausen, Das lateinische Gedicht des Franz Xaver Trips über den Gülich-Aufstand in Köln: Untersuchungen und Teiledition mit Übersetzung und Erläuterungen (Hildesheim, 2010); Hartung, Karl, ‘Die Gülich-Rebellion in Köln 1680–1686 und die Kölner Gesandtschaft an den Kaiserhof 1683/84: Ein zeitgenössischer Bericht in lateinischen Versen’, Jahrbuch des Kölnischen Geschichtsvereins, 59 (1988), 87126.

65 The verdicts against Gülich, Sax and Meshov were published in different versions and formats in Cologne. The single-sheet editions in 2°-format can be found in HACC 38/Carton 7/142, fol. 58; a quatro-edition of all verdicts titled Der dreyen cöllnischen Rebellen Nic. Gulich, Abr. Saxen u. Ant. Mesthovii Verbrechen u. den 23. Febr. 1686 exquirtes Urtheil can be found at: ULC RHFOL2354–10. All shorter verdicts, ranging from 30 May to 4 Jul. 1686, can be found at: HACC 14/Edicts 29/47; HACC 14/Edicts 29/48; HACC 14/Edicts 29/49.

66 van Dülmen, R., Theater des Schreckens. Gerichtspraxis und Strafrituale in der Frühen Neuzeit (Munich, 1985); Evans, R.J., Rituals of Retribution. Capital Punishment in Germany, 1600–1987 (Oxford, 1996); Spierenburg, P., The Spectacle of Suffering. Executions and the Evolution of Repression: from a Preindustrial Metropolis to the European Experience (Cambridge, 1984).

67 See for example Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Fy 10401, Justa Divæ Themidis Ultio, Oder: Gerechte Rach=Vergeltung der H. Gerechtigkeit und wohl=verdiente Belohnung / Bürgerlicher Untreu und Aufruhrs / wider die vergesene hohe Obrigkeit . . . Vorgestellet / An den Cölnischen Executions=Proceß / Dreyer boßhafftigen Aufwickler und Ertz=Rebellen. Nicolaui Gulichs. Abraham Saxens / und Anthonii Meshovii. Wie solche als declarirte Aechter / und Treulose Main=Eydige Bürger / jüngsthin zu Mühlheim den 23 Februarii / dieses mit GOtt tragenden 1686sten Jahrs/ exemplarisch abgestrafft und Executirt worden, 1686.

68 See the indictment in HACC 38/Carton 7/151, Käysel: fiscalischen Anwaldt c[ontra] Inhaftirten Ächteren Nicolaum Gülich.

69 Vittinghoff, F., Der Staatsfeind in der römischen Kaiserzeit. Untersuchungen zur damnation memnoriae (Berlin, 1936).

70 R. Jütte, ‘Kommunale Erinnerungskultur und soziales Gedächtnis in der Frühen Neuzeit. Das Gedenken an Bürgeraufstände in Aachen, Frankfurt am Main und Köln’, in Mölich and Schwerhoff (eds.), Köln als Kommunikationszentrum, 453–72.

71 Imperial edict from 19 May 1687 (HACC 14/Edicts 7/220).

72 Schlögl, ‘Politik beobachten’.

73 This interpretation of cities of the early modern Holy Roman Empire is developed at greater length in Bellingradt, Flugpublizistik und Öffentlichkeit.

74 These aspects have been called the ‘keyboard of communication’ for ambitious individual actors within early modern European cities. See R. Schlögl, ‘Power and politics in the early modern European city: elections and decision-making’, in Schlögl (ed.), Urban Elections and Decision-Making, 21.

* I owe my gratitude to Francis J. Wall for his supervision of my use of the English language.

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