Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess, Chapter Three: From Avignon to Antwerp and from Antwerp to Nuremberg

Recognizing the German "Wilhelm Friess" pamphlets as descendants of Frans Fraet's edition of "Willem de Vriese" not only allows us to get a glimpse of Fraet's text - it also reveals his source. The prophecy of "Wilhelm Friess" turns out to be nothing but the Vademecum of Johannes de Rupescissa in disguise. The identity of the two isn't controversial; many passages are transparent translations of a redaction also known in a fifteenth-century French manuscript (BAV Reg. lat. 1728). We can therefore approach Fraet's edition in two directions, from its source and from its descendants.

What happens to the descendants of Fraet's edition in Germany is if anything even more interesting. The Vademecum includes a passage where Rupescissa listed the enemies of Christendom who would either be converted or perish: Jews, Saracens, Turks, Greeks, and Tatars. Some of the earliest German editions preserve but update this passage, putting in its place an enemies list: Papists, Calvinists, Adiaphorists, Majorists, Menianists, and Interimists. In other words, the enemies of uncompromising Gnesio-Lutherans like Matthias Flacius in the 1550s. While we can't attribute the translation of "Wilhelm Friess" into German to Flacius specifically, it's clear that someone who shared his religious perspective was behind it. Frans Fraet's covert critique of Habsburg rule in Antwerp found its first home in Germany among those who rejected the the religious compromises imposed by the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor in Germany.

Knowing the ultimate source in the Vademecum and the redaction from which "Wilhelm Friess" descends makes it possible to reconstruct the prophecy's textual history fairly accurately. In doing so, we get a sense for how rapidly the text could change at the time it was being so frequently printed and reprinted - I see at least ten generations separating the earliest and latest editions published just in 1558, and multiple contacts between different branches of the textual tradition. Some of the changes are accidental - a line lost from one edition to the next, with subsequent editions trying to restore sense in various ways. But the most interesting cases are ones where we can connect changes in the text to the specific circumstances of the people who were reading, revising, and reprinting "Wilhelm Friess."

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