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Early modern Europe’s answer to the Times rich list?

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by Katherine Quinn (IHR library trainee 2012-13)

It was their dainty size and shape that initially drew our eyes to the IHR’s collection of Almanach de Gotha (Gothaischers Hofkalender ) books. Small but perfectly formed, these directories invite us to consider the highly stratified world view of Europe’s elite class. The tiny size of the books (measuring not more than 5 x 3 inches) suggests that they were designed with ease of use and transportability in mind, rather than being merely showy tomes designed to dominate the drawing room. With publication beginning in 1763, and continuing in its original form until 1944, the Almanach is essentially a directory of Europe’s key movers and shakers and includes key statistics of the Royal and Princely familes such as genealogical, biographical and titulary details. It was set up by Emmanuel Christoph Klupfel (1712-76) in Gotha and was published by Justus Perthes, a German publishing house that also published Petermann’s Geographische Mitteilunge.

These annually published editions include a ‘Calandrier pour l’an’ complete with some quirky chronological details. For example, the 1866 edition reminds us that it has been 2642 years since the first Olympiade (good to know). The phases of the moon and signs of the zodiac are also listed – so perhaps the great and the good of Europe’s elite enjoyed a good horoscope!

Reaction to the genealogical aspects of Almanach was often predictably tetchy, with self impressed individuals feeling compelled to argue for and against the inclusion of deposed dynasties, and the absence of families within their particular sphere of influence. According to ‘A history of the Almanach de Gotha’ Napoleon was moved to complain that the 1807 edition of the book had been ‘badly done’ because of there being a perceived over emphasis on German nobility and relative lack of French.

Not only useful for researchers into the genealogical details of Europe’s key families, these Almanachs are also useful for understanding the ways in which these families viewed themselves and their place in the world.

Find them on the IHR library catalogue here

Or read more about the series’ more recent incarnation here