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THE BURGERMEISTER'S DAUGHTER by Steven Ozment

THE BURGERMEISTER'S DAUGHTER

Scandal in a Sixteenth-Century German Town

By Steven Ozment

Pub Date: March 14th, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-13939-X
Publisher: St. Martin's

 An absorbing true story of sexual intrigue, legal battles, filial piety, and social history in 16th-century Germany. Ozment (History/Harvard, Protestants, 1992) recreates the fascinating confrontation between a respected bĂ…rgermeister and his free-spirited daughter. Hermann BĂ…schler was a wealthy councilman in the southern German city of Schwabisch Hall. His daughter Anna provoked his wrath and that of the town with her flirtatious and scandalous behavior; in particular, she juggled affairs with two men, one a Jew. When her father discovered Anna's cache of love letters, he resolved to disown her. Anna, in turn, charged that her father was negligent in contracting a proper marriage for her and insisted on claiming her inheritance. So began a battle that lasted over 25 years. The tale unfolds within the context of a Germany driven by the Protestant Reformation, recovering from periodic recurrences of the Black Death, and struggling to confront the overwhelming issues of the early modern age. Ozment, utilizing Anna's love letters and surviving court documents, weaves a complex human story of the woman, her lovers, and her family. No less important as characters are the townspeople, who see Anna as transgressing time-honored norms of filial and sexual behavior. Successfully disowned by her father, an outcast in the community, Anna spent the remainder of her life in a fruitless effort to recover her inhertitance. Ozment clearly examines how Anna's case reflects issues of class and gender, and concludes that ``in that distant age, as in our own, rationality and madness accompanied one another, the one as prominent and real as the other.'' Less convincingly, the author argues that Anna's story reveals that women were not ``powerless victims of male rule,'' but able to define themselves and ``leave their mark on history.'' Undoubtedly, though, the situation of women was more complex than previously thought, and this riveting drama of an ambiguous heroine sheds light on that bygone age. (illustrations, not seen) (History Book Club alternate selection)