Albrecht of Brandenburg, Kriegsbericht und Memorial, on the composition of the army, in German, illuminated manuscript on paper [north-east Germany or Poland (probably Königsberg), dated 1550]
(1) Written and illuminated for Albrecht of Brandenburg-Ansbach (1490-1568), 1st Duke of Prussia, Elector and Margrave of Brandenburg, last Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, patron of the arts and science, founder of the University of Königsberg, the first German head of state to embrace Lutheranism, and a flamboyant and intelligent ruler who transformed Königsberg into a centre of Renaissance learning and culture, keeping a vast collection of German manuscripts for his own personal use in his Kammerbibliothek in the east wing of the ducal residence there: his full-page arms on fol.2v, dated 1550 in the lower border.
(2) The volumes on warfare in his Kammerbibliothek most probably passed by descent to Albrecht Friedrich, 2nd Duke of Prussia (1553-1618: P. Porter, ‘A Fresh Look at Harley MS.1413', British Library Journal (electronic version) 2009, pp.3 and 8), but appear to have been dispersed by the turn of the eighteenth century, when the volume now British Library, Harley MS.1413, was acquired by the Earl of Oxford from the estate of John Spicer (d.1710). The present manuscript has an erased eighteenth-century inscription partly covered by an inkstamp of the crowned initials ‘W.P.S.’ at the foot of its first text leaf.
(3) North American private collector, and in their family for approximately half a century.
The art of warfare was the subject of numerous compositions throughout the Ancient World and Middle Ages, but experienced a renaissance in Germany in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as new technologies and the emergence of modern-style professional armies made earlier manuals of chivalry and feudal warfare redundant. To fill this gap, writers such as Michael Ott von Achterdingen (1479-1532) and Leonhard Fronspenger (c.1520-75) produced new, more methodical manuals of warfare for the Renaissance ruler, and this text was composed within the early decades of this new genre.
The surviving volumes of Albrecht’s manuals of warfare are by the same scribe, or two very closely related hands, while the illuminations are more refined in this volume, presenting finely modelled portraits rather than large-scale watercolours. Pamela Porter has recently elucidated the relationship between them. She deduces that Albrecht “started to compile the written version of his Kriegsordnung in the 1540s, but appears to have become disillusioned, setting it aside before completion. Whilst on a visit to Königsberg in 1552, his cousin Sigismund Augustus of Poland gained sight of the work, whereupon he urged Albrecht to complete it and expressed interest in owning a copy for himself. On returning to his unfinished text Albrecht felt the need for much revision, and it was not until 1555 that he had completed a version suitable for sending to Poland” (p.11). The present manuscript is dated 1550 and is in a smaller format than the others. It must be part of Albrecht’s initial phase of composition, corresponding to parts of book I-III in the other witnesses. Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Ms. boruss. fol.441 is dated 1555 and dedicated to Sigismund (R. Leng, Ars Belli, II, 2002, pp. 51-55 and the facsimile and commentary volumes devoted just to that manuscript: Die Kriegsordnung des Markgrafen zu Brandenburg, 2006), and must be the condensed version of the text sent to Sigismund. The longest version of the text, dating to around 1555 or soon after, survives in British Library, Harley MS.1413 and the volume sold in our rooms, 7 July 2009, lot 25, for £240,000 hammer (and now Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Ms. boruss. fol.1254). However, that version is substantially different from the present manuscript. Comparison of the two volumes shows that as Porter suggested the later version was substantially “edited, modernized and augmented whilst preparing the version for Poland”, and the manuscript here contains the only known witness to the earliest version of Albrecht’s work. If Porter is correct, then it is almost certainly one of the actual volumes consulted by Sigismund in the ducal library at Königsberg.
In the main, its text discusses the composition of the army. Like the others its opens with a verse title (fol. 2r), and narrates each of the officers and ranks of the army and their responsibilities (fol.5v), as well as documenting the tasks of women attached to the army (fol.82v: ‘Von Weibel weilelenn’), including a section on the provision of prostitutes (fol.84r: ‘Von Huren Weibbel Ampt’). It ends with a record of an agreement made with the footsoldiers of the army on their behaviour (including their protection of pregnant women), and its ratification in Rome in April 1536.
The illustrations are: (1) fol.2v, the arms of Albrecht of Brandenburg; (2) fol.6r, a Field Captain (most probably a portrait of Albrecht himself wearing ornamental gold and silver armour, a black cap and holding a black staff, and with a magnificent gold-hilted sword: cf. the similar depiction on p.25 of our 7 July 2009 catalogue); (3), fol.33v, a Lieutenant; (4), fol. 36v, a Field Marshal; (5), fol. 61r, a Reuter Hauptmann; (6) fol.78r, a Captain.