Money - Power - Governance. Sovereign Finances and Accounting in the Duchy of Saxe-Gotha and Altenburg 1672-1804 in Comparative Perspective

Project description

The subject of the project is the source-based analysis of the sovereign finances of the Duchy of Saxe-Gotha and Altenburg in the late 17th and 18th centuries. The focus is on the long-term development of ducal revenues and expenditures within the institutional framework of Gotha's financial administration combined with an in-depth analysis of selected areas of revenues and expenditures. A central starting point of the study is the comparative examination of the financing of princely rule under the various dukes. This is also the reason for the comparatively long period of investigation. The main object of the evaluation are the accounts of the central treasuries of the duchy. In addition to the chamber in Gotha and Altenburg, this also includes the landscape treasuries, also in Gotha and Altenburg, and the military treasury in Gotha. It is precisely the persistence of existing institutions and procedures, for example with regard to the practice of financial administration and accounting, that has not yet received sufficient attention for the second half of the early modern period. This is especially true for the dynastic princely state. The financial-historical approach by no means explains all aspects of princely rule and the manifold representative endeavors. It does, however, allow access to almost all thematic fields. In this respect, this approach offers an opportunity to view different aspects of princely rule in the early modern period and different areas of princely rule formation from a different perspective in a more differentiated way. In this respect, the project sees itself as a contribution to the study of the further development of "state power" in the smaller territories of the Old Empire on the basis of an example that can be regarded as representative. For the Duchy of Saxe-Gotha and Altenburg, as a small old princely territory within the Old Empire, can certainly be regarded as a "normal case" of a so-called inferiorly powerful secular territory. The smallness and inferiority of the object of investigation is thus not to be seen as a disadvantage, but as an opportunity. The starting point of the investigation is the foundation and formative arrangement of court and administration under Ernst I. In 1672, a considerable enlargement of the territory and revenues took place through the annexation of the principality of Altenburg. Under the following dukes, Frederick I and Frederick II, the focus was on both the consolidation and the supraregional establishment of the duchy by means of diplomatic and military engagement. What effects this had on finances in general is one of the questions to be clarified. The examination of the reigns of Dukes Frederick III and Ernst II also focuses on the aspect of possible change. The increasing loss of importance of the smaller principalities in the empire at the latest from the middle of the 18th century falls into their reign. This, it is assumed, could not have been without impact on the financing of princely rule, which in turn may have affected all aspects of court culture. On the one hand, then, are the general lines of development in the revenue and expenditure structure of the sovereign's finances. On the other hand, answers are provided to a number of very specific questions from the area of court management and the organization of authorities. In this respect, the results are by no means exclusively relevant from a regional historical perspective. Rather, the study is intended as basic research that can serve as a pilot study for comparative observations of conditions in other territories. The methodological approach is based on financial, economic and institutional history. Linked to this are aspects of the new history of diplomacy and court culture research. The financial context of the exercise of power and the resulting room for maneuver in shaping it are examined as examples for the history of a smaller principality of the Old Empire in the early modern period. As far as the research situation allows, the results of the investigation will be related to developments in comparable territories.

Workplace with pen, ink and coins

Project management

Holder of the professorship Wissenskulturen der Europäischen Neuzeit
(Faculty of Philosophy)

Scientific employee and contact person

(Gotha Research Centre)
Forschungszentrum Gotha (Gotha, Schloßberg 2) / Raum XX


Fritz Thyssen Foundation


May 2019 until September 2022