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The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess

The Paths of Prophecy in Reformation Europe

Jonathan Green

Publication Year: 2014

Although nearly forgotten today, the prophetic writing of Wilhelm Friess was the most popular work of its kind in Germany in the second half of the sixteenth century. While the author “Wilhelm Friess” was a convenient fiction, his text had a long and remarkable history as it moved from the papal court in fourteenth-century Avignon, to Antwerp under Habsburg oppression, to Nuremberg as it was still reeling from Lutheran failures in the Schmalkaldic War, and then back to Antwerp at the outbreak of the Dutch revolt.Dutch scholars have recognized that Frans Fraet was executed for printing a prognostication by Willem de Vriese, but this prognostication was thought to be lost. A few scholars of sixteenth-century German apocalypticism have briefly noted the prophecies of Wilhelm Friess but have not studied them in depth. The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess is the first to connect de Vriese and Friess, as well as recognize the prophecy of Wilhelm Friess as an adaptation of a French version of theVademecum of Johannes de Rupescissa, making these pamphlets by far the most widespread source for Rupescissa’s apocalyptic thought in Reformation Germany. The book explains the connection between the first and second prophecies of Wilhelm Friess and discovers the Calvinist context of the second prophecy and its connection to Johann Fischart, one of the most important German writers of the time.Jonathan Green provides a study of how textual history interacts with print history in early modern pamphlets and proposes a model of how early modern prophecies were created and transmitted. The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess makes important contributions to the study of early modern German and Dutch literature, apocalypticism and confessionalization during the Reformation, and the history of printing in the sixteenth century.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Cultures of Knowledge in the Early Moder

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-viii

As anyone who has gone through the process can attest, the latter stages of publishing a book involve periodic bursts of intense effort under tight deadlines, interspersed with lengthy periods of waiting on all the things that are not under the author’s control. During one of those waiting...


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-10

As I write this, several devout students of holy scripture have just seen their careful calculations for the date of the Rapture come to naught, while budget and debt projections for the next seventy-five years continue to dominate the headlines. No matter how unpredictable the future...

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Chapter 1. A Strange Prognostication

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pp. 11-22

The prophecies of Wilhelm Friess, the most popular German prophetic pamphlets of the later sixteenth century, were the writings of a dead man: the title pages of these booklets insist that the prophecies were found with their ostensible author after his death. Their story begins...

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Chapter 2. A Seditious Prophecy

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pp. 23-35

On 4 January 1558, the printer Frans Fraet was executed in Antwerp for publishing seditious books. Until quite recently, Fraet’s martyrdom was the only thing anyone knew about him as a printer, as there were no known copies of any book from his press.1 Instead, Fraet was known as...

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Chapter 3. From Avignon to Antwerp and from Antwerp to Nuremberg

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pp. 36-53

The ways in which the text attributed to Wilhelm Friess changed from edition to edition run parallel to changes in who was reading it and where it was being printed. Those who published and redacted the prophecy left their marks on the text. By piecing together the history of the text...

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Chapter 4. From Protest to Propaganda

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pp. 54-71

Establishing the relationship of one edition of “William Friess” to another is a slow and wearisome process in which slight and seemingly inconsequential variations are identified, compared, and categorized. I have reserved most of the details for the appendixes. Even for the brief summary...

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Chapter 5. A Horrible and Shocking Prophecy

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pp. 72-93

With a better understanding of when the L version of “Wilhelm Friess” was printed and how the text took shape, we have come full circle, returning once again to Antwerp and the Low Countries. In Dutch history, 1566 is the wonderjaar, the “year of miracles,” which saw the outbreak...

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Chapter 6. "Wilhelm Friess" in Strasbourg

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pp. 94-112

Despair at the sight of enemies on all sides and from all nations, which is so vividly depicted in “Friess II,” had also been the experience of the embattled Calvinists of Antwerp in March 1567, whose defeat would have been made more humiliating by the stridently Lutheran prophecy...

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Chapter 7. The Last Emperor and the Beginning of Prophecy

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pp. 113-130

The previous chapters have allowed us to connect the numerous editions of “Friess I” printed in Nuremberg in 1558 with the appearance of “Friess II” in Basel beginning in 1577 by establishing a chain of textual and historical connections through Antwerp in the 1560s and Strasbourg in...


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pp. 131-132

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Appendix 1. The First Prophecy of Wilhelm Friess

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pp. 133-150

The following editions of “Friess I” and “Friess II” attempt to capture on paper the complex relationships between the various versions and editions of each text and its sources. As with the transcriptions of early modern printed texts in the notes, the editions presented here use...

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Appendix 2. The Second Prophecy of Wilhelm Friess

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pp. 151-156

For the edition of “Friess II” supplied here, I do not use F1, the 1639 edition that appears to be a descendant of the earliest version of the prophecy, as its language was significantly updated and altered in the seventeenth century. Similar reasons preclude use of F2, a seventeenth-century...

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Appendix 3. Editions Attributed to Wilhelm Friess

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pp. 157-168

Title transcriptions follow the same conventions used in appendixes 1 and 2: umlauted vowels are given modern orthography, u/v and i/j have their modern values, and abbreviations are resolved silently. Punctuation and spelling are otherwise unchanged. Titles that do not differ substantially...


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pp. 169-190


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pp. 191-202


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pp. 206-208

E-ISBN-13: 9780472120079
E-ISBN-10: 0472120077

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Cultures of Knowledge in the Early Moder