The Library of the Princes of Oettingen-Wallerstein

In the year of 1980, the Freistaat Bayern (the free state of Bavaria) acquired the library of the Princes of Oettingen-Wallerstein that comprised 120,000 volumes printed mainly before 1850 and allocated it to the Universitätsbibliothek Augsburg. This aristocratic library was started back in the fifteenth century. In 1655, it received an important addition of over 1,000 titles from the library of Marquard Fuggers (1595–1655). This library included the collection of the Augsburg patrician, humanist and merchant Markus Fugger (1529–1597) who in the second half of the sixteenth century had built up a scholarly universal library.

Count Ernst II (1594–1670) united all of the libraries which had so far been existent within the family of Oettingen-Wallerstein with his own and brought them into the family entailment. Prince Kraft Ernst of Oettingen-Wallerstein (1748–1802; r. 1773–1802), comprehensively collected the scholarly literature of his times (c.10,000 title). With a total stock of c.20,000 titles the princely library comprised literature from all fields of knowledge in c.1795.

The greatest addition to the library happened in 1802/03 during the course of the secularisation of the Benedictine monasteries of Saint Mang in Füssen, Heilig Kreuz (Holy Cross) in Donauwörth and Mönchsdeggingen in the Ries as well as of the convent of Saint Brigida in Maihingen in the Ries (Franciscans after 1600) and of the convent of the Cistercian nuns in Kirchheim in the Ries. The main emphasis of these holdings in terms of content was on theology and ecclesiastical history, history and older languages.

In the year 1812, Ludwig, the son of Kraft Ernst succeeded to the government. The territories of the house of Oettingen meanwhile had been mediatised and included into the kingdoms of Bavaria and Württemberg. Ludwig's collecting diligence and his ambition to present the collection in the form of a museum to the public extended over diverse fields to paintings, prints and coins as well as to objects relating to fields of natural philosophy and, of course, he also worked as a bibliophile: he managed to acquire single spectacular manuscripts – in particular exquisite pieces of the early and high middle ages– for his library. In 1816, he arranged in Wallerstein 4,500 manuscripts and incunabula in Gothicising armoires into a "mediaeval library" as well as instituting a publicly accessible "Leseinstitut" (Reading Institute) in which for example numerous periodicals could be perused. The attempt to make Ludwig Uhland princely librarian remained unsuccessful.

In the case of Ludwig's very ambitious plans, it is not surprising that by 1821 a debt of two million guilders had been accrued. In 1823, his wedding to the daughter of a princely gardener forced him to abdicate. As a result, he turned to civil service (for example in 1831–1837 Bavarian Home Secretary). His later years, were overshadowed by imprisonment for debt. He died in 1870 in his Swiss exile.

The princely library was preserved from 1816 in Wallerstein, from 1840 in Maihingen. After the end of WWII it was in Schloss Harburg (Harburg castle, Landkreis/district Donau-Ries).

(Dr. Günter Hägele)

The objects of the Library of the Princes of Oettingen-Wallerstein available on bavarikon

>> The library of the princes of Oettingen-Wallerstein is a holding of the Universitätsbibliothek Augsburg (University Library Augsburg).