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MEININGEN, THURINGIA

147. Seal of Gutkind [or Gutkint] Jew

GVTKIND · IVD

Dimensions: approximately 30 mm. (from photo). Impression.

Location: Meiningen City Archives.

Bibliography: Brückner, Hennebergisches Urkundenbuch, 1842–77, Nos. 55, 67, 198.

Three documents with the seal of a Gutkind or Gutkint are still extant, dated June 24, 1388, January 21, 1391, and February 9, 1412. They are located at Meiningen in the State of Thuringia, just inside the border of East Germany. After unsuccessful attempts to obtain reproductions of these documents over several years, the writer finally received photographs through the help of the United States Embassy in Berlin. The 1391 document is shown here because it is the only one on which the seal shows with any degree of clarity.

The history of the movement of the archival records of the counts of Henneberg is an expression of the inner social structure of the Middle Ages. Coburg is located in the extreme north of Bavaria, close to Thuringia. In 1245 the Coburg castle became the seat of the elder branch of the counts of Henneberg (Coburg-Schmalkalden). These countships passed to Otto V of Brandenburg, whose grandson sold them to Henry VIII of Henneberg. The castle, town, and title then went by marriage into the possession of the Saxon house of Wettin, which had brought under its realm all of Thuringia. The archives thus became centered at Meiningen. As is apparent, extensive territories with flourishing estates and cities passed through family inheritance, marriage, or sale from one ruler to another, sometimes irrespective of cultural difference and even geographic contiguity.

No. 147, seal of Gutkind the Jew, attached to part quittance from Meiningen, January 21, 1391 (reduced in size).

The 1391 document, whose old German presents some difficulties in translating, reads in summary as follows:

I Gutkint Jew, resident of Hilpurgehusin [Hildburghausen, a town less than twenty miles from Meiningen], acknowledge in this open letter for myself, Hennlin my wife, and all our heirs that we have agreed with the noble lord Heinrich, Count and Lord of Hennenberg [Henneberg], our dear merciful lord, regarding all debts, items and breaches which we have had with one another until now; that he still owes us a hundred gulden… for which we have his silver in pawn and shall keep until the debt is paid. . . . affixed with my seal that hangs on this open letter.

The document then ends in a form extremely rare for letters involving Jews as principals: the date is given as “One thousand three hundred and ninety-one years after the birth of God on St. Agnes Day of the Holy Virgin.” When Jews signed and sealed such debt documents, the dating was sometimes figured according to the Hebrew year, namely “after the creation of the world.” At other times the date followed the Christian practice, referring to the number of years from the birth of Christ. It is difficult to believe that a Jew at this period would voluntarily sign and acknowledge with a dating from “the birth of God,” meaning Jesus.

The sourcebook edited by Georg Brückner consists of a reprint of documents and therefore no seals appear. A note appended to the Gutkind letter, listed as No. 67, states that the small round seal of gold wax is rather well preserved on a strip of parchment. The seal is described thus: “In the shield a crown-like figure with hoop, GVTKIND. IUD.” As can be seen from the illustration here, in which the seal is out of focus and badly lit, the object on the shield cannot be easily described. Perhaps a “crown-like figure” is the best description, though it is an odd crown indeed which has what look like flowers growing out of the ends of its two outside prongs. The letters around it are obscured here as well. To the right would normally be the Latin letters. To the left would be the Hebrew letters giving the names of Gutkind and his father.

The first of the three Gutkind documents, dated June 24, 1388, listed as No. 55 in the Henneberg source material, is a smaller one written on paper. It is an acknowledgment to Gutkind (the name is clearly written in this case) that Count Heinrich still owes him twelve hundred gulden. A much larger sum of money is involved here, and, as in the 1391 document, the phrasing indicates that matters are being adjusted between the creditor and debtor. In fact, the later 1391 debt adjustment agreement may refer to the last phase of a settlement of a much larger previous loan to which both documents are witness. A note below this 1388 letter states that the seal is on the back and shows a coat of arms and GVTKINT + JUDE +. Though the “coat of arms” might indeed be “a crown-like figure with a hoop” as described in the 1391 document, the difference between the descriptions of the two seal legends in documents in the same book dated only three years apart—involving not only a variation in spelling but also crosses in one case and dots in another—shows that one must always approach these old records with skepticism.

The substance of the third document, dated February 9, 1412, listed as No. 198, is as follows:

I, Gutkint Jew, resident of Hiltburgehewsen [sic], acknowledge in this open letter for myself, Hermelin my wife, all my sons and daughters and all our heirs that the high-born prince and lord Wilhelm, Lord of Hennenberg [sic] . . . has paid all the debts which he and his father, Count Heinrich, owed us . . . with the exception of 300 Rhine gulden* which the above-named Count Wilhelm still owes. … I affix my seal on this document for myself, my wife, all our sons and daughters and all our heirs.

This time the form of the date at the end is more conventional namely “1,412 years after the birth of Christ,” rather than “the birth of God,” disliked so much by Jews.

A note below this document in the Henneberg sourcebook states that this well-preserved seal was impressed in dark green wax and showed as device a mast with two flowers on a shield. Unfortunately, on the photograph of this document sent from the Meiningen Archives the seal is a black blotch and no features can be distinguished. However, the description is close enough to the earlier one to indicate that we are dealing with the same seal, for the three prongs making up the “crown-like figure” could indeed be interpreted as a vertical mast, and the two outside prongs do have flowery heads. Thus this seal is somewhat similar to that of Jordan of Braunschweig (No. 144). As noted, references to masts, and particularly boat anchors, to which this device also has a vague resemblance, were used on later seals as an emblem of the mercantile profession.


*The summary statement refers to 350 and not 300 gulden, but the document itself reads, “drie hundirt Rynischir gulden.”

*The summary statement refers to 350 and not 300 gulden, but the document itself reads, “drie hundirt Rynischir gulden.”

I, Gutkint Jew, resident of Hiltburgehewsen [sic], acknowledge in this open letter for myself, Hermelin my wife, all my sons and daughters and all our heirs that the high-born prince and lord Wilhelm, Lord of Hennenberg [sic] . . . has paid all the debts which he and his father, Count Heinrich, owed us . . . with the exception of 300 Rhine gulden* which the above-named Count Wilhelm still owes. … I affix my seal on this document for myself, my wife, all our sons and daughters and all our heirs.

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
274-275
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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