The Beleaguered Magistrate

in The Unwanted Child

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780226317274
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226317298 | DOI:
The Beleaguered Magistrate

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This chapter analyzes the story of city councilor and Nuremberg Findel administrator Albrecht Pö, who orchestrated governmental responses to a variety of related problems. The devastating war and plague years of 1632–39 constituted the worst and most sustained economic, demographic, and political crisis in Nuremberg's nine-hundred-year history. Pömer's challenge as Findel administrator was formidable, but it was extraordinary only in terms of the number of children affected and the creative coping methods employed. Fueled by a merger of traditional patrician sense of duty with Lutheran and humanist visions of the just civic order, ambitious reformers such as Pömer attempted to eliminate child begging, provide for the education and placement of citizens' children, and effectively deter child abandonment and infanticide through rigorous law enforcement and sometimes harsh punishment. Goals of this magnitude were virtually unprecedented among European states and in many ways anticipated the aspirations and methods of much later nation-states. Their methods, meanwhile, remained fairly conservative, particularly in their strong preference for informal child circulation, with institutional care for unwanted children a last resort. The result was a mixed success. To grasp the significance of this typically early modern mixture of innovative social reforms and traditional bureaucratic methods, the nature of all magisterial responsibility and action is first discussed.

Keywords: city councilor; Nuremberg Findel; plague; war; civic order; child welfare; law enforcement; informal child circulation

Chapter.  20475 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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