I The fabric of communities: Social interaction and social control


by Ute Lotz-Heumann

This chapter explores the dynamics of early modern social interactions in different types of communities and the forces that exerted social control in these various contexts. Pia F. Cuneo’s essay draws attention to markers of social status, in this case the horse, in early modern society. Animals - just like skills,1 clothing,2 material objects, and legal privileges3 - functioned as indicators of an individual’s position on the social ladder, from the monarch at the top to the peasant at the bottom.

Paul Milliman’s and Michael Crawford’s essays focus on the highest ranks in early modern society. Jousting provided an opportunity for political and social interactions among the nobility through the means of sports, but this could also be a fraught undertaking. The case of García de Contreras Figueroa draws attention to the fact that noble privileges, especially the privileges of the lower nobility, were not always self-evident but needed to be asserted, and often came under pressure during the early modern period when they clashed with new developments like economic change, colonization, and state formation.

Ulinka Rublack’s, Bruce Gordon’s, Amy Nelson Burnett’s, and Allyson M. Poska’s essays focus on groups within the ‘third estate,’ the urban elites and the clergy in early modern Europe. In Magdalena Paumgartner’s correspondence with her husband, clothes are revealed as markers of social identity among the urban merchant elite. Clothes displayed the tension between a desire for luxury and the need to fit in with the expectations of one’s social and religious group (essay by Ulinka Rublack). Conrad Pellikan, a Hebrew scholar who moved from Basel to Zurich, belonged to the highest echelons of a new group of Protestant clergy and university professors. While pursuing their careers at newly reformed universities, these scholars also had to contend with novel expectations for their social group, namely organizing their home life and getting married (essay by Bruce Gordon). Johannes Brandmiiller, a senior pastor and adjunct professor of theology in Basel, was also a member of this group, but his personal behavior as a husband, father, and community member did not fit the social expectations for the new Protestant clergy (essay by Amy Nelson Burnett).4 While Basel’s church leaders attempted to discipline Brandmiiller in private, the two Catholic priests who accidentally shot an image of the baby Jesus in a shooting contest were publicly reprimanded and fined by the Spanish Inquisition (essay by Allyson M. Poska).5 In both cases, church authorities tried to exert social control over the clergy as examples for the laity.

Catherine Richardson’s and B. Ann Tlusty’s essays draw our attention to the lower orders among the ‘third estate,’ and their definition of honor and social norms.6 A case of slander brought in the ecclesiastical court of Canterbury by one woman of the lower urban classes against another for a claim of adultery shows these women’s concern with preserving both their reputations and the social peace. The ‘popular duel’ fought between two members of the local guard in Augsburg7 exemplifies the importance of defending one’s honor in early modern society and shows that resort to arms was regarded as an acceptable form of social control.

Siegfried Hoyer’s and Helmut Brauer’s essays address economic regulations and the economic concerns of the urban middling and lower classes. Day laborers found themselves bound by ordinances which set limits for their wages in a thriving economy in sixteenth-century Zwickau,8 while miners in early eighteenth-century Saxony tried to stage a social protest to better their declining economic conditions.

Finally, Richard L. Gawthrop’s essay introduces August Hermann Francke’s vision of universal social reform through education. Francke, the leader of the Pietist movement in German Lutheranism, saw all social groups - “all the estates” - as corrupted and therefore aimed his campaign of reform at society as a whole.


  • 1 See no. 13, Cuneo: Life at a German court: The importance of equestrian skill in the early seventeenth century.
  • 2 See no. 4, Rublack: “And so the old world has renewed”: Magdalena Paumgartner of Nuremberg reveals the social significance of fashion, 1591.
  • 3 See no. 3, Crawford: Resisting and defending noble privileges in the New World: Garcia de Contreras Figueroa before the royal appellate court of New Spain, Mexico City, 1580.
  • 4 Gordon’s and Burnett’s essays also address the question of the new gender roles for Protestant clergy. See also no. 30, Maag: Professor Bryson’s unfortunate engagement, Geneva, 1582; no. 34, Kooistra: A letter sent from Augsburg in 1538: A Protestant minister writes to a friend about his illegitimate son.
  • 5 For another example of the activities of the Spanish Inquisition see no. 48, Graizbord: A snapshot of Iberian religiosities: The inquisitorial case against the

New Christian Maria de Sierra, 1651. For Protestant institutions and procedures of religious and social discipline see no. 56, Christman: Mansfeld, 1554: Follow-up to an ecclesiastical visitation; no. 57, Blakeley: Reformation mandates for the Pays de Vaud, 1536: How Bernese authorities tried to force their subjects to become Protestants; no. 58, Bruening: Ministers and magistrates: The excommunication debate in Lausanne in 1558.

  • 6 For other essays that deal with the question of male and female honor see no. 26, Lotz-Heumann: Housefather and housemother: Order and hierarchy in the early modern family; no. 30, Maag: Professor Bryson’s unfortunate engagement, Geneva, 1582; no. 31, Wunder: Gender relations in Germany during the Thirty Years’ War: A groom refuses to marry his bride; no. 33, Williams: A Chatty Comedy About the Birthing Room: Johannes Praetorius observes women’s lives in seventeenth-century Germany.
  • 7 Other essays that are concerned with the German imperial town of Augsburg are no. 15, Tyler: Contested spaces: Bishop and city in late fifteenth-century Augsburg; no. 17, Van Amberg: “We want the friar!” A civic uprising in Augsburg in 1524; no. 29, Plummer: Hans Gallmeyer: Seduction, bigamy, and forgery in an Augsburg workshop in 1565. This is a reflection of the rich collection of early modern primary sources that has survived in Augsburg.
  • 8 See no. 32, Wiesner-Hanks: Defining a new profession: Ordinance regulating midwives, Nuremberg, 1522, for another type of urban regulation.

Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are: Marx Fugger on horses as markers of social status, 1584

by Pia F. Cuneo

Now confined to the margins of Western culture and our present-day life, the horse in the early modern period played a central role in all cultural, social, political, and economic sectors. Different kinds of horses facilitated numerous activities essential to trade, transport, manufacture, agriculture, warfare, recreation, and entertainment. Consequently, the products of the early modern printing presses included books on the breeding, maintaining, training, and medical treatment of horses. These books were written by a range of authors that included humble craftsmen trained in farriery (blacksmithing) at one end of the social spectrum, and educated members of the nobility at the other.

Belonging to this socially diverse group of authors was the German humanist and patron Marx Fugger (1529-1597). The Fugger family had risen from modest beginnings in the fourteenth century as weavers in the southwestern German city of Augsburg to attain extraordinary wealth, prestige, and political influence during the course of the sixteenth century. In the ninth chapter of his book on the breeding and training of horses, printed in 1584, Marx Fugger muses at length about the many and profound ways horses are useful to humans. In his extended argument about the multifaceted and fundamental utility of this animal, Fugger also offers a cogent articulation of early modern social identity. In its ideal manifestation as he describes it, social status is portrayed as divinely ordained and therefore natural, hierarchical, clearly defined, and stable. Any attempted subversion of it would be immediately recognizable as laughably ridiculous.

“If one wants to observe accurately the utility derived by humans from horses, then one must consider first how many horses, and second how many people there are in this world. ... As there are many social groups and many kinds of horses, so must there be many kinds of utility. And if one observes such things carefully, and considers them from all angles, so one will discover in this ... a special and mysterious providence from God the Almighty. Because just as the lives and activities of people are different, so one also finds different kinds of horses that are appropriate for every individual person according to his social status, his activities and his way of life, and that these have been ordered and created by God for just that purpose. ...

For example, one would not tolerate it if a farmer wanted to be a prince, or a prince wanted to be a farmer; one would laugh at either one of them because they would both appear to have taken leave of their senses. So it would also be an enormous folly if a prince had his Spanish or Arabian horse costing many thousands of ducats hitched to a plow in order to work the land and instead sat himself upon a plow-nag to ride into battle or crusade to rescue and protect his subjects and territories. When, however, a farmer remains a farmer, and hitches a farmer’s horse to the plow and works the land; and when a prince remains and is a prince and sits himself upon a Spanish, Arabian, or similarly precious horse and rides with that into battle to protect and defend his territories and subjects, then both are doing their part and both are to be praised because each behaves appropriately to his social status and his being. Because the farmer is ordained by God to till the soil and work the land, God has created for him an appropriate horse for this work. But the prince is ordained by God to govern territories and subjects, to lead them diligently ..., and to protect and defend them from enemies and similar dangers. For this, God has ordained for him different horses that are appropriate.”1

In Fugger’s text and in the images that accompany it (see Figure 1.1 and Figure 1.2), the farmer and the prince each have their own distinct social identity and a fixed place in the social hierarchy manifested in the specific activities they perform. They perform these activities because God has willed it so. It is also part of God’s divine plan that the farmer and the prince should be aided in their characteristic activities by horses appropriate to the task. Thus, divinely sanctioned social status is visualized and performed not only in what one does but on what kind of horse one does it on.

In reality, early modern social status was not as unmistakable and immutable as texts like Fugger’s make it seem. Individuals then as now dynamically inhabited and operated within a plurality of social relationships by which social identity and social status was structured and signaled in an ongoing, perpetually changing process. Social status was not merely a condition into which a person was born, and it was even less an indelible and eternal trait with which God marked someone. To some degree, social status did involve choices that individuals made according to social, economic, political, moral, and cultural possibilities and exigencies. This state of affairs explains the need, emphasized even by Fugger, for social identity to be performed; it had to be demonstrated so that it would be visibly and tangibly present for others to witness. Oftentimes, that demonstration of social status, such as plowing the field or riding into battle, involved the participation of animals, and early modern people regarded specific animals as effective indicators of the presence, absence, or degree of wealth and status. As Fugger tells us, what kind of horses a person had access to, and what that person actually did with those horses, sent a clear message about that individual’s specific place in society.

Jost Amman, emperor on horse performing a levade, woodcut illustration to Marx Fugger, Von der Gesttiterey, Frankfurt/M

Figure 1.1 Jost Amman, emperor on horse performing a levade, woodcut illustration to Marx Fugger, Von der Gesttiterey, Frankfurt/M.: Sigmund Feyerabend, 1584, p. 16v

Jost Amman, man on horse transporting cargo, woodcut illustration to Marx Fugger, Von der Gesttiterey, Frankfurt/M

Figure 1.2 Jost Amman, man on horse transporting cargo, woodcut illustration to Marx Fugger, Von der Gesttiterey, Frankfurt/M.: Sigmund Feyerabend, 1584, p. 9v


1 Marx [Marcus] Fugger, Von der Gestiiterey, Frankfurt/M.: Sigmund Feyerabend, 1584, pp. 18v-19r. Translated by Pia F. Cuneo.

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