Claims of noble ancestry?

You may recall that some time ago I came across a reference in an old book to a 17th century manuscript residing in the Bavarian State Library. The manuscript was entitled Genealogie und Stammbuch der Familie Raitt bis 1683 (Genealogy and  Family Register of the Raitt Family until the Year 1683) and was mostly in old German, with some parts in Latin. I arranged to have the manuscript first digitized and then translated from both the German and the Latin into English so that we could read what it had to say about the Raitt families in Bavaria and to see whether it shed any light on our own ancestry.

The process has taken some considerable time and the translation of the bits from Latin is still not complete because the German translator didn’t think they were particularly relevant to the book and thus not worth translating. However, I felt that since the author of the manuscript thought them worth including for whatever reason, then I wanted to know what the passages actually said!

In the translation I have included the scant information the translator provided for four entries. The translator said that these entries (which he has still not yet translated) are typical album entries, most of them without any genealogical or historical content, just for reasons of friendship and benevolence. Regarding the diploma in Latin (which he did translate) about the nobilitation of Hildebrand Raitt, given in the year 898, the translator had this to say:

“I've just had a look at the document in the Bavarian State Library. That sounds quite fantastic, especially the letter given to Hildebrand Raitt by Arnulph "in his 11th year as a German king and his 3rd year as emperor, in the year 898…" Indeed Arnulf derived from the Karolingian dynasty, and he was a Bavarian duke since 880 and king of Ostfranken (which is today Germany) since 887. After his predecessor Guido von Spoleto had died in Nov. 894 Arnulf was crowned emperor in February 896.

Even if this document is not authentic it is quite interesting since there are only a few documents for the short period of the Emperor Arnulf. Unfortunately there are several linguistic, form and content aspects which indicate the document is not authentic. Some of the most striking and conspicuous weak points are:

The first line of the text relating to the ennobling of Hildebrand Raitt in 898 says the copy is “word by word”. However, the opening formula which appears in each and every imperial document (“in nomine sanctae et individuae Triniatis” = in the name of the Holy and undivided Trinity) is omitted.

Hildebrand Raitt bears a fixed surname by the end of the 9th century although hereditary surnames do not occur before 1100, and in most parts of Germany not before 1500.

The document is dated "inditione VI" which is a double mistake: “in ditione” means “in the territory”. The correct expression is “indictione” (most medieval documents mention the “indictio” which was a style of counting years in a 15 year cycle). “Indictio VI” means the year 888 or 903, but the document above was given in 898 which can be calculated to “indictio I”.

The year is given as “DCCCIIC”. However, the correct Latin number for 898 is “DCCCXCVIII” (view other authentic 898 documents in the series “Regesta Imperii”). The imperial notaries surely did not commit such clumsy formal mistakes.

Besides, some phrases in the document were obviously taken word by word from other (authentic) documents of that time:

“hoc nobis ad Regni nostril…”  document given by Ludwig in 900

„Quapropter comperiat...“ document given by Ludwig in 901

“Signum Domini Arnolfi…”  document given by Arnolf in 898

All these „diplomata“  were already printed and easily accessible for everyone more than 300 years ago: Johann Christian Lünig (1662-1740): „Deutsches Reichs-Archiv: Des Teutschen Reichs-Archivs Spicilegii Ecclesiastici. Anderer Theil, von Hoch-Stifftern…“ (printed in Leipzig, publishing house Lanckische Erben, about 1720). Lünig probably used an older publication to set up his encyclopaedia, e.g. "Der Römisch Keyserlichen Mayestät...Acta Publica" (10 volumes, by Michael Caspar Lundorp, Frankfurt 1621-1624). This might have been a model for the 898 document above.

All imperial documents have been edited and can be investigated in the comprehensive series “Regesta Imperii”. A special edition on the 9th century has been given by Paul Kehr ("Die Urkunden Arnolfs" / Arnolfi Diplomata, published in 1940, reprint 1988). It says there are some 40 documents given by the emperor Arnold, especially donations and acknowledgments of rights. Arnolf was elected emperor in January 896, crowned in February 896 and died on 29 Nov 899 or 08 Dec 899 in Regensburg, There is no hint on the Raitt document. In fact, in the whole “Regesta Imperii” series there is not a single document on the Raitt family.

Obviously the entire book on the Raitt family is a 17th century concoction which should not be considered as a serious, reliable genealogical source. It is quite likely that someone took another Arnulph diploma as a model and changed the content in order to prove the nobility of the Raitt.

There is a well-known German nobility encyclopedia edited by Prof.Dr. Kneschke between 1858 and 1870 (9 volumes / about 5,500 pages / over 15,000 families). It says there were only two Bavarian Raitt families being ennobled:

Anton Raith von Sternfeld, Austrian Chamber Counsellor, 1732

Siegmund Raith auf Weng, leaseholder in Hofmark near Landshut, 1816

Another work about medieval inscriptions in the Franciscan friar church in Regensburg says there was a certain family Raitt zu Kirnstein in the 16th/17th century. But it does not seem there is any link to the pretended knight Hildebrand Raitt in the late 9th century.”

The translator adds “As far as I can see from my sources, there was a  shoemaker from Bavaria named Johann Raitt who was living in Illinois in 1870. This one might descend from the old Raitt clan in the city of Rain, 40 km north from Augsburg (Bavarian province of Schwaben). The earliest Raitt can be found in Rain parish books before 1636. Obviously there is no connection to the Raitt buried in Regensburg (Oberpfalz province). I assume there is no connection to the Scottish Raitt, either.”

I did a brief check on this Johann Raitt! In the 1870 census he is living (as John Raitt) in Joliet, Will County, IL, age 34 (thus born about 1836). He does not seem to be in the 1860 or 1880 censuses under that surname.

I queried with the translator what might have been the reason for creating such a document? Based on the information contained in the Bavarian State Library catalogue we know that a certain Hugo Raitt zu Kirnstein lived in the 17th century in or near Regensburg. The German translator of the Latin text is of the opinion that Hugo pretended to be a descendant of an ancient Bavarian noble family and he pursued a certain passion. Namely, he collected precious books and signed each book with a copperplate-Exlibris (a book-plate, showing the Raitt coat-of-arms). It is quite likely that he tried to augment the value of his collection by using this book-plate. It is likely that you only use a book-plate if you have more than just four books - Hugo Raitt obviously owned a lot of books, and he wanted to keep the collection together and preserve (if not raise) its value.

The translator goes on to opine that by showing the symbols of lion (Bavaria) and eagle (Empire) in his coat-of-arms, Hugo Raitt demonstrates his claim to be a descendant of a very old noble clan. He did not just write his name on the first page of his collected books as many people do, he wanted to proudly exhibit his education and culture and rank. So he used a book-plate produced with the help of a copperplate engraver.

Even modern literature is taken in by Hugo Raitt's book-plate, continues the translator. He notes that the "Catalogue of Inkunabela in Libraries of Rottenburg-Stuttgart Diocese" (edited by Heribert Hummel, 1993) states that Christoph Raitt (mentioned in 1505 and also with a bookplate showing coat of arms) derives from an "old Bavarian noble family". Aside from this case, the translators many clients apparently still tell him how "sad" it is that it's just impossible to prove their noble descent. The Zeitgeist (spirit of the age) still says that high-mindedness and distinction must have something to do with noble ancestors.”  And I myself have already noted that in the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society in a discussion in 1898 about the fraudulent use of book-plates, we read “For what other reason have we the mighty achievement of the arms of "Hugo Raitt in Kirnstein" on this Confessional. Here it was clearly intended that the ownership should be a lasting one, and by printing his engraving on a page of the book itself it became impossible for the hook-plate to be removed.”

However, in the view of the translator, the 1100 year-old nobility of the Bavarian Raitts seems to be mainly a dream of the Raitts themselves. There are no Raitt entries in the inventories of Bavarian and Austrian state archives at all. The tiny castle of Kirnstein had already been destroyed in 1504 and never had to do anything with a Raitt family. The sepulcher in Regensburg shows the Raitts were pious and wealthy enough to be able to afford it - but it was not a collegiate church or the bishop's Cathedral, it was the Minorites' church. The Franciscan Friars had ideals like modesty and social awareness, rather contradictory to the ideals of the nobility.

In reference to a question I posed, the translator concludes that he doesn’t know if Hugo Raitt himself wrote the "family history book” but he would have had a motive or motivation. No researcher seems to have investigated the parish books and other Regensburg sources to set up a genealogy of the Raitt. Maybe it is worth to send an inquiry to the city archives.”

Sunday 15 February 2015