Digital Edition of the Book Inventory of Duchess Elisabeth of Calenberg (1539)

The Book Inventory

In the summer of 1539, the inventory of the private rooms of Duchess Elisabeth of Calenberg at her residence in Münden was entrusted to the new chambermaid, named Ilse. For that purpose, the Duchess' personal estate had been recorded under the title: Inventory of clothes, linen, household utensils, books and other things that were handed over to the Duchess' Elisabeth of Brunswick's chambermaid Ilse in the year 1539. On this date, Ennichen, the chambermaid of my gracious woman, commended the following things to the chambermaid Ilse in the presence of her princely grace, in the year etc. on the 39th on the Wednesday after Vitus [June 18, 1539].1

The inventory was written by two chancery hands in an unbound collection of papers, the particulars of which were completed by the hand of the Duchess Elisabeth. Up to page 30, one chancery hand records the rooms' interiors (probably using a template), followed by a second hand as well as some rather perfunctory entries by the Duchess. The inventory lists items of clothing, fabric, jewelry, household textiles, tableware, and other household utensils – as well as the books of the Duchess (Books as follows fol. 6v-10r) [Link auf die Handschrift].

Elisabeth's writing and work chamber were obviously close to her reference library. Some items allude to the Duchess' government business, such as the writing utensils „with a weight“2 , a box with pfennigs for counting, and the certificate of her second daughter Anna Maria's election to be abbess of Wunstorf as well as the registry and excerpts of the dower. Elisabeth also kept a few other books and a small writing tablet in her bedchamber (fol. 23v-24r): Regarding books / The new testament / Short exposition of the noblest feast Andreas Corvinus / Three song books / Short exposition by Corvinus of the Sundays of the whole year / Two Psalter books / Catechism / A writing tablet. Just these eight books characterize the theological writings in Elisabeth's possession: they attest to Elisabeth's great interest in the biblical text, particularly in the Psalter, and in its ‚simple‘ exegesis aimed at priests and laypeople, here in the form of devotional books. 3

The Library

The books of the reference library recorded during the inventory were already made separately accessible for research by Ingeborg Klettke-Mengel in 1952.4 The complete inventory was first edited in 2011 as a contribution from an interdisciplinary conference. In the context of this edition, however, the deliberate decision was made not to include an identification and commentary of the book titles in order to make use of the possibilities offered by an electronic edition for the reconstruction of the reference library of the daughter of the Elector of Brandenburg, the later Duchess of Brunswick. Noticeably, Elisabeth's chamber library was a working library. 5

The inventory lists 68 titles. The last title (no. 68) was probably a handwritten breviary or prayer book belonging the Duchess(cf. Note no.68). All other titles are printed editions.

The order of the books: The library is not structured in any discernible systematic order. However, an analysis of the printing formats suggests that the books were listed in the order in which they stood in the armarium. Apparently, their order made a basic distinction between folio and small formats. The first seven titles are books that were also, or in part only (no. 5, 6), printed in folio form. Titles no. 8-67 are (mostly) only accounted for in quarto and/or octavo formats. The format as well as the small volume size help to identify most of these titles as pamphlets.

A systematic analysis of these titles' publication dates reveals that the library's „order“ likely shows the point in time at which the books and pamphlets entered into Elisabeth's possession. Titles no. 9-15 all have established publication dates before or in 1537. The same applies to titles no. 16-50 (before or in 1538) and titles no. 51-67 (before or in 1539). This assumption is further supported by the fact that titles of which Elisabeth owned several copies (nos. 15, 18; 30, 54; 37,39), are sometimes located far apart from each other. Elisabeth was in possession of several titles that were exclusively printed in the 1520s or the early 1530s (e.g. nos. 3, 5, 37 and 39, 40 and others), which suggests that she established most of her library in the second half of the 1530s. Elisabeth probably compiled the working library starting at a time at which the 25-year old Duchess' scope of action had significantly expanded, both literally as well as metaphorically, by the allocation of a larger „dower“ in 1535. This finding corresponds to the fact that the library, as it presents itself in June of 1539, was for the most part assembled in 1538 and thus at the time when Elisabeth's independent (religio-)political activities, against the background of aggravated (religio-)political conflict situations, were increasingly taking shape, especially in the larger region of Saxony. 6

Because several copies of the Lutheran Psalter (nos. 37, 39), its exegesis of the 17th chapter of the Apocalypse (nos. 15, 18), and the homiletics of Urbanus Rhegius, the reformer from Celle, (nos. 30, 54 – 3 copies) are listed in Elisabeth's library, it is likely that they entered the bookcase of her residence as presents or as presentation copies. This also makes sense in the context of our knowledge of the formation of libraries of other princesses and princes in the 16th century. 7 The fact that the two translations by Caspar Hedio (nos. 7, 8) that mark the transition from folio to small formats are recorded outside of the chronological order of entries normally used for small-format prints might also suggest that they were simultaneously shelved in the armarium as book presents.

Language: Elisabeth's holding of books almost always consisted of prints in the vernacular. Only a very small number of prints exist also or only in Low German (nos. 33, 38 or 47).

Authors: Most of the titles' authors can be conclusively identified. Apart from the writings of Martin Luther, which are the most frequent ones by far, the majority are works by the leading theologians and the writings of humanist scholars geographically close to the leading theologians (e.g. Ambrosius Moibanus, nos. 10 , 17; Dr. med. Heinrich Stromer, no. 56) in the larger region of Saxony. Elisabeth mainly related to this region due to her dynastic network of connections (represented most prominently by Antonius Corvinus, Urbanus Rhegius). Important authors of the Upper German Urban Reformation are missing or are only marginally represented, such as the Strasbourg theologian Martin Bucer (nos. 20, 65). The fact that the works of particularly Bucer and his colleague Hedio (in his capacity as translator, nos. 7, 8) are present in Elisabeth's library can probably be ascribed to her close Hesse-Strasbourg contacts of the 1530s. It is thus highly plausible to assume that these writings came to Münden by the agency of the Hesse-born Antonius Corvinus, a reformer from Calenberg.

It was also Hedio who, with his translation of the Diadema monachorum of Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel (died around 830), provided Elisabeth with one of the few medieval authors in her armarium (no. 7). 8 Martin Luther added a preface to the prophesy of Johann Lichtenberger (no. 67), translated into German by Stefan Rodt, a leading translator of the reformation period, and thus also established a link to late medieval bodies of knowledge. The vernacular version of a late medieval author, Denis the Carthusian, also included the Carthusians of Cologne in the printing market (no. 11). The fact that Elisabeth's only unambiguously orthodox book is an exposition of a Psalter points to the specific profile of the contents of her book collection.

Contents: A detailed interpretation of the contents of the library must be left to further research. In the context of this introduction, it is only possible to present a few observations. It is hardly surprising that theological literature dominated her library, comprising 2/3 of all her prints. Already suggested by the books kept in Elisabeth's bedchamber, this presence is confirmed by her theologically orientated collection of books. Striking are not only several titles belonging to the genre of devotional literature (e.g. nos. 21, 26, 31, 40, 41, 43), but especially also her pronounced psalm piety. Next to the Psalter itself (nos. 37, 39) and several psalm exegeses (nos. 11, 17, 25, 28, 35, 51, 52, 53) is also a print that makes the Psalter the basis of one's own prayer and thus of everyday pious practice (no. 44). The fact that these are mostly prints with a limited number of copies firmly emphasizes Elisabeth's interest in the Psalter.

Apart from her pronounced psalm piety, Elisabeth's library certainly also presents her as a princess who participated in the increasingly eschatologically loaded discussions of Lutheranism since the end of the 1530s. This is not only specifically evidenced by the Lutheran interpretation of several chapters of the Apocalypse (nos. 15, 18 and 19) and by the exegesis of the gospels by the Göttingen priest Johann Sutel, a native of her territory (no. 62), but also by her general interest in prophesies (no. 53) and divinations (no. 67). Knowing about the triad of „Pope, Turk, and Jews“ as forming an essential part of the „apocalyptic code“ (Thomas Kaufmann) of the reformation period Lutheranism, the anti-Jewish writings of Luther and Bucer published in the late 1530s (nos. 22, 65) can also be seen in this context.

Elisabeth's library, however, does not only portray her as a princely Christian but also as a Christian princess. Long before she takes a prominent stance as a princess of the Reformation in 1542, she owned works that called on the authorities to engage in reformatory activities (no. 10) or that documented the principles and results thereof (nos. 20, 30, 54, 47, 49, 64).

Elisabeth's attention, however, was not only directed to questions of Reformation politics in a narrow sense but also to contemporary historical events. She thus not only kept the writings documenting the escalating conflict between her uncle, Archbishop Albert of Mainz and Magdeburg, and the Elector of Saxony John Frederick I (nos. 24, 27, 55) (cf. Schenitz case), but also ones bearing witness to the intensification of the religiously and confessionally connoted conflicts on the political level of the Empire in the years 1538/399 (nos. 59, 61, 63). It is possible that the escalating conflicts of her own time also fostered her historical interests (nos. 6, 16).

Another larger cluster of prints is concerned with knowledge that can be ascribed to the sphere of Oeconomia, the princely housekeeping and way of life (nos. 23, 33, 45, 56, 58, 66). Some of them reflect the specific circumstances of Elisabeth's life. As a mother of a ten-year-old son, she concerned herself with questions of child rearing (no. 45). In a similar manner, when she became the wife of a husband who reached the second half of the seventh decade of his life, she showed interest in matters of old age (no. 56). In conclusion, one can argue that Elisabeth's library demonstrates the close interconnection of all aspects of her existence as a Christian, princess, wife, and mother.

The Digital Edition

According to the means available at that time, Ingeborg Klettke-Mengel was able to knowledgeably identify many book titles in 1952. However, the Europe-wide rapidly progressing indexing and full-text digitalization of prints from the 16th century (cf. VD 16, Europeana) offers many new opportunities and perspectives, especially with regard to the genre of sources that are concerned with library inventories or library catalogues. The problem, for instance, of titles that usually do not provide an indication as to which printed edition they reference, can be solved by assembling all editions in question without breaking up the edition's coherence. The present solution is thus also intended as a methodological proposal for a digital edition of library inventories.

The indexing of the prints of Elisabeth's library inventory was carried out via the „Catalogue of the prints of the 16th century published in the German language area“ (VD 16). Most of the work was done by Ms. Mag. Stephanie Moisi (University of Graz) in June 2010. Subsequent research was carried out until June 30, 2011. The titles were identified via keywords and (where available) author-names in the inventory. With the exception of two titles (nos. 9, 32), the inventory's short titles enabled the conclusive identification of the books. The decision to exclusively work with VD 16, even though the WorldCat partly provides further editions of pertinent titles (cf. for example no. 2), was made due to the fact that only VD 16 presents the data in a form (fingerprint) that allows for the unequivocal identification of several editions of the same title. As the available dating of the prints in VD 16 is sometimes incorrect, on rare occasions prints have also been indexed that VD 16 dates to the first half of the 1540s (nos. 40, 42-44).

An additional great advantage of a digital edition is the possibility to subsequently add corrections or further references and to take methodological objections into consideration. If you have any such suggestions, we would feel grateful to receive them at: or

The present edition uses various levels in the inventory's presentation:

Level 1: The first level presents the text of the inventory as it appears in the printed edition. (cf.note 1).

Level 2: The second level provides the respective edition of the title with its complete title, year, place of printing, printer, format, number of pages, and VD 16 number. Incomplete data are due to omissions in VD 16.

Level 3: The third level offers access to the digital copy. As only in a few cases evidence can be provided as to which edition was owned by Elisabeth,10 the edition is (provisionally) simply making a copy of the respective title digitally available. It is thus possible to virtually revive Elisabeth's library for the reader, at least in the form of its contents.


Access to secondary literature as well to Elisabeth's writings is provided by: Cf. now also: Eva Schlotheuber, Birgit Emich, Wolfgang Brandis, Manfred von Boetticher (rev.): Herzogin Elisabeth von Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1510-1558). Herrschaft - Konfession - Kultur. Beiträge des wissenschaftlichen Symposiums der Klosterkammer Hannover vom 24.-26. Februar 2010 im Historischen Museum Hannover, ed. by Historischen Verein für Niedersachsen (Quellen und Darstellungen zur Geschichte Niedersachsens 132), Hannover 2011. [opac]


For their support in the realization of this edition and for their valuable suggestions, we express our thanks to Dr. Thomas Stäcker, Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, Dr. Bettina Wagner, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek – Bavarian State Library, Munich, Dr. Gerd Brinkhus (Director of the manuscript and scarce book section at Tuebingen University Library, ret. Tübingen/lecturer at Tuebingen University), Dr. Norbert Haag (Director of the Landeskirchliches Archiv Stuttgart/lecturer at Tuebingen University) and Prof. Dr. Berndt Hamm (Chair of church history – Lehrstuhl für Kirchengeschichte, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg – University of Erlangen-Nürnberg), Ms. Stephanie Moisi (Graz), and Ms. Anna Durwen (Düsseldorf) for their knowledgeable contributions and Eric Erbacher (University of Paderborn) for the translation.

1Cf. the edition of the complete inventory Brigitte Streich, Eva Schlotheuber: „Edition des Inventars von 1539. ‚Kurfürstliche Kanzlei zu Münden: Inventar über das Gezeug der Herzogin Elisabeth, welches in ihrem Beisein das Kammermägdlein Ännchen der Ilsen überantwortet, erstreckt sich auf den gesamten Hausrat der Herzogin, auch ihre Bibliothek.‘“ (Hauptstaatsarchiv Hannover, Cal. Br. Nr. 1012), in: Brigitte Streich, Eva Schlotheuber, Birgit Emich, Wolfgang Brandis, Manfred von Boetticher (rev.): Herzogin Elisabeth von Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1510-1558). Herrschaft - Konfession - Kultur. Beiträge des wissenschaftlichen Symposiums der Klosterkammer Hannover vom 24.-26. Februar 2010 im Historischen Museum Hannover, ed. by Historischer Verein für Niedersachsen (Quellen und Darstellungen zur Geschichte Niedersachsens 132), Hannover 2011, p. 259-280. [opac]
2Cf. the Oeconomische Encyclopädie by Johann Georg Krünitz: „Writing utensils, a box of wood, cardboard, tin, etc. containing all the materials needed for writing [...]“
3Cf. Briefwechsel des Antonius Corvinus. Nebst einigen Beilagen gesammelt von Paul Tschackert, Hannover/Leipzig 1900, pp. 17, 25. [opac]
4Ingeborg Klettke-Mengel: „Ein bisher unbekanntes Bücherinventar der Herzogin Elisabeth von Braunschweig-Lüneburg aus dem Jahre 1539“, in: Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft für niedersächsische Kirchengeschichte 56 (1952), pp. 51–58. [opac] (Nachdruck in Klettke-Mengel 1986, pp. 82–89. [opac]
5Cf. Eva Schlotheuber: „Fürstliche Bibliotheken – Bibliotheken von Fürstinnen“, in: Schlotheuber/Emich et. al., pp. 207-221. [opac]
6Gabriele Haug-Moritz: „‚dan wir seint der hofnunge Got der Almechtig solle noch viel guts durch dieses weib wirken.‘ Welfische Dynastie, Schmalkaldischer Bund und die Neuordnung der kirchlichen Verhältnisse in Calenberg-Göttingen 1542“, in: Schlotheuber/Emich et. al., pp. 66-82, here: 74-79. [opac]
7Nadezda Shevchenko: Eine historische Anthropologie des Buches. Bücher in der preußischen Herzogsfamilie zur Zeit der Reformation. Göttingen 2007. [opac]
8The scholarly abbot Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel was an influential exegete and grammarian and was particularly renowned for being the author of the first Carolingian mirror for princes, entitled Via Regia (Royal way), and of the widely used Diadema monachorum (The monk's diadem), a sort of mirror for monks, cf. Fidel Rädle: Studien zu Smaragd von Saint-Mihiel, München 1974 (Medium Aevum. Philologische Studien 29). [opac]
9Haug-Moritz, p. 69-74. [opac]
10Cf. on this Benjamin Müsegades: „Die Bücher Herzogin Elisabeths d. J. von Braunschweig-Calenberg, Gräfin von Henneberg-Schleusingen (1526-1566)“, in: Jahrbuch des Hennebergisch-Fränkischen Geschichtsvereins 26, 2011 (forthcoming).