Chronicle of the Council of Constance

Chronicle of the Council of Constance – Jan Thorbecke Verlag – Hs. 1 – Rosgartenmuseum (Constance, Germany)

Constance (Germany) — Ca. 1465

Council history at first hand: the report of Ulrich von Richental, a citizen of Constance, on the festivities, ceremonies, and other unofficial events during the historically important Council of Constance

  1. Ulrich von Richental (ca. 1360–1437) wrote his chronicle in the local Alemannic dialect

  2. It is the detailed account of a citizen of Constance who experienced the events firsthand

  3. 98 masterful pen and ink drawings, some full-page, and 804 coats of arms adorn the work

Chronicle of the Council of Constance

Hs. 1 Rosgartenmuseum (Constance, Germany)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Chronicle of the Council of Constance

Held between 1414 and 1418, the Council of Constance was one of the most important ecumenical councils of the Middle Ages, which inter alia ended the Western Schism. Ulrich of Richtenthal, a citizen of Constance, chronicled this important series of meetings among the European clergy and nobility. However, while other sources focused on the theological debates and diplomatic negotiations, Richtenthal chronicles the festivities and ceremonies surrounding the Council as well as traffic in the city and other unofficial events. Written in the local Alemannic dialect of German, the text of this manuscript written on paper ca. 1465 is adorned by 98 masterful pen and ink drawings that resemble woodcuts, some of them full-pages, and 804 coats of arms.

Chronicle of the Council of Constance

Ulrich von Richenthal (died c. 1438) immortalized himself with his firsthand account of the Council of Constance (1414–18) and a large mural depicts him writing the work in the Oldtown of Constance today. While other accounts of this historic event exist, most are dry records written by clerics in Latin and none paints a picture as rich and as detailed as von Richenthal’s vernacular chronicle. The modern reader is transported to the scenic shores of Lake Constance in the early 15th century thanks to the detailed records and gorgeous illustrations of the work. As such, it is not merely a historical record but a slice of life from a prosperous late medieval city.

A Firsthand Account with Biases

The now-lost original manuscript appears to have been a collection of documents from the Council of Constance, illustrations, and von Richental’s own notes and observations. Its anti-clerical character and later association with the Reformation resulted in lasting interest in the work. There is a clear sympathy for Jan Hus (ca. 1372–1415) and reformers in general and a critical attitude toward the papal curia and its delegation. On the one hand, illustrations of Jan Hus are iconographically juxtaposed with those of the Passion of Christ, while on the other, the pope’s displays of splendor are contrasted with the gestures of humility made by King Sigismund (1368–1437). More attention is paid to secular events and imperial dignitaries than to ecclesiastical matters, which is evidenced by the number of coats of arms from the city’s burghers and nobleman and the relatively large number of secular addresses that are recorded.

A Wealth of Miniatures

The text of this historic work is adorned by 98 gorgeous pen and ink and 804 coats of arms. There is evidence of at least three and possibly even five hands participating in the rich illustration of this important text. The pen and ink drawings were mostly designed as double-page miniatures or form multi-page sequences of pictures, e.g. the pope’s entry into Constance (fol. 11r–12v) or the Corpus Christi procession (fol. 49v–53r). These illustrations are remarkable for their vivid realism and demonstrate a knowledge of early-15th century Dutch works of art through their dynamic movements, complex spatiality, detailed architectures, and differentiated gestures and physiognomies. It has been hypothesized that the master leading this team of artists was Konrad Witz (ca. 1400/10–1445/46), who was born in nearby Rottweil, is believed to have spent time in the Netherlands as a youth, and worked in Basel, which was upriver from Lake Constance. The rich illumination of the manuscript makes the events and personalities it describes come to life in a most artful manner, which greatly contributed to the lasting popularity of von Richental’s account of the Council of Constance.


Alternative Titles
Ulrich Richental: Das Konzil zu Konstanz
Konzilchronik des Ulrich Richental
Chronicle of the Council of Constance by Ulrich Richental
Das Konzil zu Konstanz
Konzil von Konstanz
Das Konzil zu Konstanz MCDXIV-MCDXVIII
Chronik des Konzils zu Konstanz
Size / Format
300 pages / 39.0 × 29.0 cm
Ca. 1465
Littera bastarda
Pen drawings, coats of arms
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Detail Picture

Chronicle of the Council of Constance

The Burning of Jan Hus

Aside from resolving the Western Schism, the Council of Constance is most famous for condemning the proto-Protestant religious leader Jan Hus as a heretic on July 6th, 1645. A secular court then sentenced him to be burned at the stake that same day despite the fact that he had been summoned under a letter of safe conduct. The fact that Hus wrote his will before departing for Constance indicates he may have known what was coming. Although he is depicted speaking or praying, which the record confirms, other details are missing e.g., Hus was undressed before his execution and was fastened to the stake by a chain around his neck.

Chronicle of the Council of Constance – Jan Thorbecke Verlag – Hs. 1 – Rosgartenmuseum (Constance, Germany)
Single Page

Chronicle of the Council of Constance

The Enfeoffment of Frederick von Hohenzollern

Despite their association with Prussia, the House of Hohenzollern originated from Southern Germany before splitting into Swabian and Franconian branches. Burgrave Frederick VI of Nuremberg belonged to the latter branch and became the first member of his family to rule over the Margraviate of Brandenburg on the 30th of April 1415 when King Sigismund, depicted here making an announcement from a window, named him Margrave and Prince Elector of Brandenburg during the Council of Constance.

Frederick formally received the fiefdom on the 18th of April 1417 and began the transformation of the Hohenzollerns from a minor princely German family to one of Europe’s most powerful dynasties. Thus, the Council of Constance was the site of momentous events not only for the internal politics of the Church but for international relations among the lay princes of Europe.

Chronicle of the Council of Constance – Jan Thorbecke Verlag – Hs. 1 – Rosgartenmuseum (Constance, Germany)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das Konzil zu Konstanz

Binding: Half leather covers in linen slipcase
Commentary: 1 volume
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
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