But what’s the story behind this document?

5 April 2022

The origins of the old Wolfenbüttel court library extend as far back as 1550. That was when the duke, Herzog Julius von Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1528–1589), bought his first books on an educational trip to France – but they were chivalric novels rather than specialist non-fiction. When he became ruler of the Duchy of Wolfenbüttel in 1568, his now considerably enlarged collection of books became an important component of a royal court and a source of prestige. The advent of the Protestant Reformation led to a further increase in the ruler’s literary treasures: between 14 March and 24 April 1572 numerous medieval manuscripts, incunables and early printed works were brought to the royal capital from the nunneries at Wöltingerode, Steterburg, Lamspringe, Heiningen, Dorstadt, Brunshausen and Marienberg near Helmstedt.

These developments required the book collection to be professionally administered from that point on. Herzog Julius initially hired the cantor and composer Leonhard Schröter as librarian on 30 December 1571. The duties he was to fulfil were set out in the final version of the ‘Liberey-Ordnung’ dated 5 April 1572. Rather than being a generally formulated document, it was directly and personally addressed to the ‘Bibliothecarius’, as the librarian was known. It is thus likely that Schröter received the original document, which was signed by Herzog Julius and bore his seal. An annotation made by the chancellery shows that the surviving document is a copy that had been placed in the librarian’s file (Staatsarchiv Wolfenbüttel, 3 Alt Nr. 50, Bl. 12r–15v).

The ‘Liberey-Ordnung’ contains ten sections elaborating the librarian’s duties in some detail and, as such, its primary function is to catalogue the holdings and their use. The duke wished to retain the key role of deciding which books were to be acquired, and thus this aspect was not explained at any greater length. Schröter was to be personally present in the library’s rooms in the lower floor of the old chancellery building to the east of the Schloss, and he would attend to any relevant correspondence (Point 1). His duties included a weekly cleaning of the books that stood in cupboards (Point 4).

The duke attached particular importance to the order of the books and their cataloguing. Schröter was to paginate the books (Point 7), write the title in legible capital letters, and provide them with shelf marks in the form of ascending numbers (Point 2). These details would be used to collate all the volumes in a shelf catalogue (Point 3) that would function as a ‘common inventory’. Finally, the duke demanded a precise compilation of all the duplicates (Point 5); the purpose of this was probably to exchange the ‘superfluous’ items for new books.

The library could only be used and books lent out upon the express written orders of the duke. The librarian was required to record which books had been loaned out and for how long in a ‘receipts book’. Moreover, he was enjoined to reclaim them in good time and inspect the returned books to ensure that they were complete and undamaged (Points 6–8). Only individuals selected by the duke could visit the library in person, a privilege which was generally reserved for scholars and aristocrats. Even these people, however, were only permitted to enter the premises without a knife or ‘long outer clothing’, ‘so that the kind of thing Illyricus is supposed to have done in several places does not happen to us, in our library and to our books.’ In other words, visitors were to be prevented from imitating the questionable example set by the scholar Matthias Flacius Illyricus (1520–1575), who removed books from libraries or damaged them (Point 9). The signed and sealed document concludes with a sworn declaration by Schröter that he will conscientiously follow the duke’s instructions, including any changes or additions that his employer might make (Point 10).

A random collection of books can only become a library on the basis of growth, systematic administration, classification and use. The ‘Liberey-Ordnung’ marks the birth of this development in Wolfenbüttel – but it is known to have taken a considerable period of time before the duke’s directives were actually implemented: a scholarly system for arranging the books according to their shelf marks, labelled with their titles and indexed in a full catalogue, was only completed by Schröter’s successor Liborius Otho in 1614. Thanks to this one administrative deed, however, Herzog Julius’s contemporaries were well aware that his private collection had been turned into a library, thereby boosting its cultural prestige. On 25 June 1573, the landgrave William IV of Hesse-Kassel (1532–1592) gifted the duke an exquisitely decorated gospel book (Cod. Guelf. 65 Helmst.) with the explicit comment that the costly volume was ‘intended to adorn the library that was recently founded by his princely grace’. It is thus entirely appropriate to call the ‘Liberey-Ordnung’ the birth certificate of the Herzog August Bibliothek.


#HAB_Geburtstag #HABewegt

Image: ‘Vnser von Gotts gnaden Juliussen Hertzogen zu Braunschweig vnd Luneburg Verord[n]ung, wie wir mit gnaden gehabt haben wollen, das sich vnser Bibliothecarius diener vnd lieber getrewer Leonhartt Schroter in vnser biblioteck beÿ seinen Pflichten vnd Ayden halten soll.’ [This decree by the grace of God from our Julius Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg that God should have mercy upon the servant of our library, dear loyal Leonhartt Schroter, in the exercise of his library duties and sworn obligations.’] Start of the ‘Libereyordnung’ of Herzog Julius zu Braunschweig und Lüneburg in the Wolfenbüttel section of the Lower Saxony State Archive (Bl. 12r).