- Fürstliche Prachtentfaltung in Abwesenheit des Herrschers. Bedeutung von Schloss und Hofstaat im Fürstbistum Osnabrück zur Regierungszeit Friedrichs von York (1764–1802)by Heinrich Schepers
The Peace of Westphalia not only ensured the consolidation of the state order, but also proved to be strong and sustainable for the future, strengthening the religious-political principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity in early-modern Europe. In this context, the prince-bishopric of Osnabrück in northwest Germany has played a remarkable role, also apart from the fact that it was the capital and seat of residence and became one of the two venues (besides Münster) for this peacemaking negotiation process in 1648. Since the Reformation era and in the long eighteenth century, the population of Osnabrück consisted of Catholics and Lutherans and was, already for that reason alone, a bi-denominational prince-bishopric. [End Page 579]Even more significantly, this confessional dualism had also a specific effect on the principles of princely succession. In order to ensure the religious-political balance of power, the prince-bishopric was ruled alternately, either by appointment of a Lutheran prince from the House of Hanover or by election of a Catholic clergyman through the Catholic members of the cathedral chapter. In both cases, however, the prince-bishopric of Osnabrück certainly underwent the same fate of being controlled in 'personal union' with other principalities and, as a result, in total absence of the respective ruler.
This is precisely the point where historian Heinrich Schepers questions what strategies were used to maintain the dominance and power of an absent prince-bishop. Schepers specifically focuses on the reign of Frederick August, Duke of York and Albany (1764–1802), who was appointed as the prince-bishop of Osnabrück as an infant by his father George III, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, King of Great Britain and Ireland. Under the rule of Frederick, as Scheper explains and illustrates in detail, the display of princely splendor reached its climax with the reconstruction and redesign of the residence and garden as well as with the establishment of a princely court in Osnabrück. Fürstliche Prachtentfaltung in Abwesenheit des Herrschersprovides a well-researched manuscript collection and in-depth descriptions of the substantial changes between 1764 and 1791, offering also rich insights into the practices of representation and symbolic communication (ritual, ceremonial).
However, Scheper's detailed interpretation of his findings sometimes appears as too superficial. Further questions need to be addressed when asking about the symbolic dimensions of princely splendor in the Age of Enlightenment: How did the residence, garden, and court represent Frederick's self-image as a "princeps" as well as an "episcopus"? 1Did Frederick even identify himself as a noble and Enlightened ruler? What was the role of religious tolerance in the visual and ceremonial culture, particularly against the bi-denominational constitutional background of the prince-bishopric? As Gerd Dethlefs has recently demonstrated in his concise study on the construction of the residence palace at Münster, an entirely Catholic prince-bishopric, analyzing the architecture, design, and decoration of Münster's residential palace allows historians to better understand the exercise and representation of politico-ecclesiastical rule. 2Despite these weaknesses, Schepers' explanations will certainly have several implications for research, especially into the cultural history of political thought and practice in early-modern Germany. [End Page 580]
1. Bettina Braun, Princeps und episcopus. Studien zur Funktion und zum Selbstverständnis der nordwestdeutschen Fürstbischöfe nach dem Westfälischen Frieden(Göttingen, 2013).
2. Gerd Dethlefs, "Sinnbild milder Herrschaft. Politische Ikonographie an der fürstbischöflichen Residenz zu Münster," in Katholische Aufklärung in Europa und Nordamerika, ed. Jürgen Overhoff and Andreas Oberdorf (Göttingen, 2019), 500–15.