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The Burgermeister's Daughter: Scandal in a Sixteenth-Century German Town Hardcover – March, 1996
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The tragic but uplifting story of Anna Buschler, whose rebellion against the constricting mores of her times is reconstructed in this vivid social portrait of Germany at the end of the Middle Ages.
From Publishers Weekly
Ozment (Protestants: The Birth of a Revolution) brings a medieval drama to life in this meticulously researched and engrossing narrative of the 30-year lawsuit between Anna Buschler (1496/98-1552) and her family. Anna's father, Burgermeister (mayor) of the German town of Schwabisch Hall, banished his daughter from the family home in 1525 after he read letters that confirmed her sexual involvement with two men. Anna responded by suing her father, and after his death her siblings, for disinheriting her. Ozment details the twists and turns of Anna's legal battle, which continued during her two marriages and resulted in her being shackled to a table for six months by her father and later jailed briefly by the town council. She escaped from both incarcerations. Although Anna was promiscuous, Ozment convincingly argues that the Burgermeister's treatment was overly severe, and Anna emerges in this account as an unusually resourceful and feisty woman. Illustrated. History Book Club selection.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
While the entire premise of the book revolves around Anna's lawsuit against her family, the truly interesting bits are lifestyles of men and women in Germany in the 1600's and the laws and social mores that supported them.
In a nut shell, Anna's father was a miser and a bit of a crook, misappropriated his deceased wife's properties and didn't bother to make a decent match for his daughter. Anna in turn took a few pages from her father's book. Stole from him and a family she worked for when it suited her and carried on with two simultaneous sexual relationships without discretion. When she was found out her father put her out with just the clothes on her back. The Burgermeister's real vindictiveness, however, occurs when he is called out by the town council (in which he serves) and the local judicial courts on his foul play and this costs him his esteemed position.
This is where it really gets interesting to me. While the 1600's are heralded as the renaissance period and all the focus typically goes to Italy for all the fantastic art. But in Germany there was a spiritual and intellectual reform going on that makes Italy look like neanderthals. Thanks to the printing press, the wide distribution of Bibles and the spread in literacy ideas and debates where on the rise and in Germany this had a great effect on the church (Luther broke away from the Catholics and various strains of protestantism began.) and Germany's legal system, while still very much in line with the rest of Europe in that women where property and could not give representation on their own behalf, were in fact constantly finding loop holes and making almost every concession possible to go around this. A great deal of this was in part to simple logic based on Germany's social standards. Unlike the rest of Europe both men and women of every class was expected to work. Since every citizen was expected to develop a skill and trade than it only made since that the law should support the claims of an individual no matter what their gender was and since Germany also strived to avoid anyone becoming a ward of the state. Anna just happened to live in the exact right country to defend herself.
Anna, despite coming from a wealthy family had been farmed out at the age of 15 to the local noble family to learn how to be a housekeeper. When her mother died her father recalled her at the age of 20 to come home and be his housekeeper. This she did until she was 25. Therefore when her father turned her out and went out of his way to see that no friend or family member helped her he was, by law intentionally impeding her from a living. A serious no-no in German law.
What followed was a nasty fight that lasted until the end of both the Burgermeister and Anna's lives. While the Burgermeister was clearly a vain shyster who lost his temper and then tried to find ways to outwit the legal system that bordered on the criminal (kidnapping, enslavement, hiding funds.), I unfortunately found myself losing all sympathy for Anna. Mr. Ozment does a very good job of articulately presenting all sides of the argument (i.e. father, Anna, siblings and particularly the witnesses, legal representatives and the town council.) Because the legal system could be so readily used by Anna she was constantly reneging on deals struck in her favor. She was too much like her father in stubbornness and her inability to accept satisfaction of any kind left a woman who literally goes insane over time in seeking full on revenge and retribution.
While I enjoyed this story immensely, it was more for the history of Germany at this time and how socially, intellectually, spiritually and judicially advanced it was from other countries it was at this time. For sure, a woman had a much better place in society in Germany than in Italy or France at this time. And it was nice that a woman like Anna could get representation on her own. But as for Anna herself, hardly a feminist icon, her insanity and vindictiveness only showed how she was truly her father's daughter. I really felt sorry for all their legal representatives as they were definitely put upon by this awful family.
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