Basel: Thomas Wolff, 1521.
Quarto: 19.7 x 14 cm.  lvs. A-L4, M6 (with blank leaf M6)
One of numerous editions (1st ed. 1476).
Bound in modern quarter vellum and drab boards. With a large woodcut of the emperor by Urs Graf (ca. 1485-1528) on the title page and a large, dramatic, historiated initial. A very good, crisp copy with a little light marginal foxing and occ. minor marginal blemishes.
The “Reformation of Emperor Sigismund” is one of the great successes of 15th c. German grievance literature. Presented at the Council of Basel in 1439 as the work of the charismatic Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Bohemia, who had died in 1437, the book gives voice to aspirations for political, social, and church reform that would reverberate into the early 16th c.
“The grievance literature (Gravamina) of the 15th century in Germany is generally deemed a precursor of the polemical publications of the early 16th century. The 'Gravamina' were devoted to criticizing many aspects of the state of the nation. They expressed dissatisfaction with the political functioning of the Empire, in particular with defects resulting from the jumble of territories; with social conditions, such as the over-taxation of the peasantry; with the legal system and uncertainty arising from the transition from Germanic law to Roman law.
“‘Gravamina’ of the 15th century received a powerful impulse from the Ecumenical Councils at Constance (1414 to 1418) and Basel (1431 to 1449). The best-known example is the ‘Reformatio Sigismundi’ (Reformation of the Emperor Sigismund).. It was first printed in 1476 and appeared in numerous editions up to 1525… The author, no doubt a member of the bourgeoisie schooled in humanism, declares that Christians should be free and equal and that taxes and tithes should be abolished.”(Davidson)
“The text broadly calls for an end to regional autonomy and disorder and the (re-)creation of an impartial, centralized government under the aegis of the Roman emperor. It begins with the claim that its proposals came to Sigismund (who had been dead for two years at this point) in a spiritual vision, and that he then fashioned these into an ordinance ("ein ordenunge") in collaboration with the Council of Basel. Modified manuscripts of the "Reformation," which took at face value the attribution to Sigismund, enjoyed a wide circulation from the 1440s, and many printed editions were in existence by the end of the 15th century. The text was often grouped with legal ordinances (the 1356 "Golden Bull" of Charles IV and the 1442 "Reformation" of Frederick III), which suggests that it was regarded as an authentic and desirable set of regulations. That the Baslean author thought that Sigismund's name would lend weight to his ideas, and that his text did indeed enjoy enormous success, is a testament to the enduring appeal of the figure of Sigismund, whose name alone evoked the charismatic ideal of a rejuvenated, effective imperial government presided over by a powerful and just monarch.”(Hardy)
“Complaints about the apparent relationship between obligatory clerical
celibacy and the conduct of incontinent priests were not unique to the
English context. The ‘Reformatio Sigismundi’ (c.1438) combined an acute
apocalyptic sense with a vehemently hostile appraisal of the contemporary
church and society. The author of the tract depicted an Empire in turmoil
and chaos, bereft of divine grace and in urgent need of reform in root
and branch. Criticisms of social structures and temporal authority were
accompanied by a swingeing denunciation of the ills of the church, the
avarice of the popes, and the failings of the clergy. It was indeed a ‘good
thing for a man to keep himself pure’ the anonymous author argued, but
with the caveat ‘observe the wickedness now going on in the church.
“Many priests have lost their livings because of women. Or they are secret
sodomites. All the hatred existing between priests and laymen is due to
this. In sum: secular priests ought to be allowed to marry. In marriage
they will live more piously and honestly, and the friction between them
and the laity will disappear’. Permitting marriage to the clergy was a
remedy both for those priests who could not live in continence, and for
those who did so beneath a show of hypocrisy. Capitalizing on the recently
invented printing press, it was possible for such tracts to circulate widely
in the second half of the fifteenth century, and the Reformatio itself ran to
seven editions before Luther’s protest in 1517. The purpose of the reform
demanded was not simply to put matters to right, but to bring church
and empire back into divinely appointed order. In this context, clerical
celibacy and its apparent fruits were not simply a matter of ecclesiastical
law and preference, but a symptom of a disordered church which stood in
need of radical reform.”(Parish, Clerical Celibacy in the West).
VD16 ZV 12989; USTC 637177; Panzer II, 47, 1231; Kuczynski 2220. Further reading, see Hardy, The Emperorship of Sigismund of Luxemburg (1410-37): Charisma and Government in the Later Medieval Holy Roman Empire; and Davidson, An Examination of German Reformation Dialogues