I hope I’m not going to spoil your cornflakes with an unwanted lecture in 18th century history, but my understanding of this period became a little less fuzzy today, so I though I’d share what I now understand better.
The ‘Age of Enlightenment‘ occurred during the “long 18th century” (1685-1815). It was an intellectual movement emphasising reason, individualism, and skepticism. It presented a challenge to traditional religious views. Enlightenment thinkers were the liberals of their day – typically humanists who supported equality and human dignity. They stood opposed (in varying degrees) to supernatural occurrences, superstition, intolerance, and bigotry.
We’re in Rothenburg, an extremely attractive place on the Romantic Road, so to balance the diet of Disney’s fantasyland, we decided we couldn’t resist a visit to Rothenburg’s Museum of Medieval Crime and Torture.
The exhibits in the museum include all manner of torturing devices, such as racks, thumb screws and dunking stools. Contraptions designed and used to extract confessions and inflict punishment.
Before the Age of Enlightenment, punishment for crimes was arbitrary, court cases were often just a precursor to the sadistic torture and barbaric punishment of the guilty and the innocent alike! ‘The Law’ as we know it didn’t exist.
A good example is witchcraft and witch-hunting, where hundreds of innocent women were ruthlessly persecuted and mercilessly punished, with convictions based often on nothing more than fear and superstition.
With Age of Enlightenment came a separation between law and morality. Religious justification’s in criminal law were replaced by secular equivalents.
The old inquisitorial proceedings – in which the accused, who was obliged to tell the truth and was investigated by a judge through a secret written fact-finding process – were replaced by reformed criminal proceedings of public and oral hearings.
The concept of a constitutional state based on the role of law with separation of power and protections of individuals rights began to prevail. A clear statutory regulation was necessary for punishment. Discrimination based on the social status was increasingly disregarded.
The prosecution was assumed by the district attorney whose duty it was to be guardian of the law. Defendants had rights and no longer had to assist in their own conviction. Judges ruled on the basis of evidence rendered during the trial. This judicial freedom to consider evidence made torture as a means of obtaining evidence redundant.
Seeing the the artefacts and reading of life in those times was disturbing and powerful. It brought home some horror of what it was like for the folks who lived through that period of history and makes me grateful for the laws that society is governed by today.
Rothenburg is on the German ‘Romantic Road‘. This route visits some really pretty chocolate box places, as it meanders through the provinces of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. Many of the towns are overflowing with medieval timber framed buildings inside walled perimeter defences. So for someone with a soft spot for timber framed houses, this makes them cute and attractive but trapped in an another age.
Ok so I’m not that romantic but I’m old, NO, I’m no that old. BTW – You know you’re ‘old‘ (not just getting old) when no one is at all surprised or bats an eye when you ask at a museum for an over 65’s
I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you,
I have run I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you,
But I still haven’t foundU2 – From The Joshua Tree
What I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for
Arriving in the Stellplatz in Dinkelsbühl we were surprised to see three other motorhomes all UK registered. As these were the first ‘Brits’ we’d seen since Vogelsang about 30 days ago, we had to go for a bit of a ‘blether’. We were soon learning about the town (given a map) and hearing of one couple’s trials and tribulations whilst motorhoming in Italy.
The most interesting of the three couples was Cat & Chris who had made a fab job of converting a lorry into ‘FlorryTheLorry’. They had made the inside a real home from home with all the mod cons of a motorhome but in a lorry.
We could have talked to these two for ages but they were heading north (Cat driving their car) no not a cat! They kindly gave us the remainder of the electric left on their hook up meter and we said our goodbyes. Now where’s that town we had to explore?
With abundant forests the timber frame designs of Bavaria have worked well for the houses and the farm buildings of the predominantly agricultural communities spread across the fertile lands of lower Germany and as far south as Switzerland.
Dinkelsbühl was a good example of the multileveled constructions in this area that have that particular high gabled look. A look that prominently features in romantic images of Germany from tourists like us.
Walking around you could tell Christmas is coming as there were some great displays using colourful natural materials to celebrate Advent, something we see less of at home in the UK.
150 years after the artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement of age of Romatisium came the New Romantics in the guise of Adam Ant, Boy George, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Soft Cell and Spandau Ballet. I wonder in the future if this will be remembered as an age of ………
So if I have understood correctly, through Enlightenment society introduced laws that reduced intolerance and bigotry, making society more civilised. And we no longer need people to wear shame masks, correct mmmm?
Dave & Lesley
Maybe it’s me but in what seems such a short time we seem to have forgotten the lessons of history. I need to re-read Jonathan Freedland’s loss of shame again.