The Healing Touch of a Sacred King? Convicts surrounding a prince in adventus ceremonies in the Holy Roman Empire during the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries
The author seeks the origins of a specific political ceremony that was quite common not only in medieval but also in early modern Germanic Länder. When solemnly entering a city, the riding prince used to be surrounded by criminals, previously convicted by local courts and sentenced to exile. He brought these convicts with him back into the city from which they had been expelled. This form of amnesty used to be explained by many German scholars mostly in terms of the ‘sacred kingship’ (Sakralkönigtum) as deriving from the charisma of ancient Germanic chieftains or late Roman emperors. They appealed also to the Sachsenspiegel and Schwabespiegel, as if these law books could reveal the basic juridical norms that made it possible for the princes to grant their pardon to exiled criminals. The article argues that the custom had nothing in common either with Roman emperors, ancient chieftains and ‘sacred kingship’, or with the ‘Mirrors’—both these habitual explanations are in fact nothing more than historiographical myths. The author claims that this highly impressive element of royal and princely representation did not even emerge in Germany but was borrowed there only in the late middle ages from an alien royal tradition, and for its roots one should in fact look not to kings but rather to bishops.