Lambert of Hersfeld
Lambert of Hersfeld (c. 1024 – c. 1088) (also called Lampert) was a medieval chronicler, probably a Thuringian or Franconian by birth. His work represents a major source for the history of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire in the eleventh century.
What little is known of his life is revealed in scattered details from his own historical writings. He became a monk in the Benedictine Hersfeld Abbey in 1058. At the time of his entry into the monastery, he was also ordained as a priest at Aschaffenburg and therefore sometimes called Lampert of Aschaffenburg. After his elevation to the priesthood, he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and visited various monasteries of his order. However, he is most famous as the author of an extensive historical chronicle known as the Annals as well as a number of other minor works, including a hagiography of the founder of Hersfeld Abbey, archbishop Lullus of Mainz (c. 710–786).
Lampert's Annals begin with a universal history from the creation of the world until about 1040. This portion of the work is drawn largely from other, earlier annalistic works, particularly those of Venerable Bede, Isidore of Seville, and regional German traditions like the Annals of Quedlinburg and Weissembourg. From about the date of 1042 onwards, however, the account is Lampert's own and he carries the history from there up to the year 1077, when the Swabian duke Rudolf of Rheinfelden was crowned anti-king by the dissident barons opposed to Henry IV. Lampert's Annals are among the most important sources available for the reign of king Henry IV, the Investiture Controversy, and the rebellion of the Saxon and Thuringian princes in 1073–74.
Among the significant events detailed in Lampert's history are the infamous Coup of Kaiserswerth in 1062, Henry's famous walk to Canossa where he submitted (albeit temporarily) to Pope Gregory VII, and the Battle of Homburg in Thuringia where the royal army defeated the Saxon and Thuringian rebels in June 1075. Throughout, Lampert is openly hostile to Henry IV and royal interests, which is not surprising given his sympathies for the independence of the regional aristocracy. He expresses a generally favorable opinion of Gregory VII and the ecclesiastical reform movement, but also evinces skepticism towards some contemporary monastic reforms in Germany. Lampert is also quite uncharitable towards figures like Siegfried I, Archbishop of Mainz, who encroached on the traditional rights and prerogatives of Hersfeld and other monasteries. Lampert ended his work with the election of the anti-king Rudolf of Swabia in 1077, stating that his own account had reached an appropriate conclusion and that another writer would be able to pick up from where he left off in chronicling this new era for the German kingdom. (Rudolf was killed in battle against Henry's forces in 1080.)
Lambert's history of the Germans, De rebus gestis Germanorum was printed in the compilation of chronicles edited by Johann Pistorius (Frankfort, 1613).
Lampert was superbly educated for his day and wrote in a fine, classicizing Latin peppered with references and allusions to Roman authors, particularly Livy, Sallust, and the playwright Terence. Like many of the classical authors he admired, Lampert fancied himself a cynical observer of elite society, casting a critical eye on the political melodramas and scandals of his day and chronicling the way in which power and pride corrupted rulers and perverted society, raising up the unworthy and punishing the good and decent.
The Annales were first published in 1522, and were edited in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, along with Lampert's other known works, by Oswald Holder-Egger (MGH Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usu scholarum, vol. 38) in 1894.
Holder-Egger, in his edition of Lampert's work, also demonstrated that Lampert was the likely author of at least two other significant works: a biography of Hersfeld's founder, Lull of Mainz, and a shorter, polemic history of the monastery of Hersfeld, which survives only fragmentarily in excerpts made by later medieval German writers.
Reputation as a Historian
In the nineteenth century, German historians trained in the positivistic methods of comparative Quellenkunde (historical source criticism) taught that Lampert was a strongly biased, partisan writer who could not be trusted for an objective account of the reign of Henry IV. Oswald Holder-Egger himself called Lampert an outright fabulist in some instances. Scholars at this time held critical objectivity to be the highest value in a historical source and Lampert, along with many other medieval writers, failed to meet this standard. While they acknowledged Lampert provided important details for certain events and dates, his own view of history and opinions about some matters could not be accepted. Today, however, historians try to approach medieval historiography on its own terms and in its own contexts, rather than impose modern standards of objectivity on medieval authors. Modern scholars recognize Lampert as an important voice representing the views of the regional aristocracy and elite monasticism in a turbulent period in the kingdom's history.
- Lambert of Hersfeld at the Catholic Encyclopedia
- Ulrich Schmidt (1992). "Lampert von Hersfeld". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German) 4. Herzberg: Bautz. cols. 1058–1059. ISBN 3-88309-038-7. (with up-to-date references and bibliography)
- Extacts from the Annals of Lambert of Hersfeld
- Hans Delbrück, Uber die Glaubwurdigkeit Lamberts von Hersfeld (Bonn, 1873)
- August Eigenbrodt, Lampert von Hersfeld und die neuere Quellenforschung (Cassel, 1896)
- Leopold von Ranke, Zür Kritik frankisch-deutscher Reichsannalisten (Berlin, 1854)
- Wolfgang Stammler (ed.), "Lampert von Hersfeld, in: Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters. Verfasserlexikon vol. 5 (Berlin/New York 1985), cols. 514–520
- Edmund E. Stengel, "Lampert von Hersfeld. Der erste Abt von Hasungen," in Aus Verfassungs- und Landesgeschichte, Festschrift für Theodor Mayer, vol. 2 (1955), pp. 245–258.
- Tilman Struve, "Lampert von Hersfeld. Persönlichkeit und Weltbild eines Geschichtsschreibers am Beginn des Investiturstreits," in: Hessisches Jahrbuch für Landesgeschichte 19 (1969), pp. 1–123 and 20 (1970), pp. 32–142
- Wilhelm Wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen Band ii. (Berlin, 1906)