St George fights dragon, c. 1370, Basel cathedral
(photo: Wikipedia Commons)
Sabine von Heusinger
University of Cologne


Basel (or Basle) is an ancient settlement on the Rhine; the early medieval bischop’s palace dates back to the 5th century.  Groß-Basel, with the cathedral’s hill (Muensterhuegel), is located on the left bank of the Rhine; Klein-Basel on the right bank was founded by the bishop of Basel but was located in the diocese of Constance. The city of Basel emancipated itself from the lord of the town (Stadtherr), the bishop, in the course of the fourteenth century. Guilds came to form part of the city council in 1337; after 1382 they provided the majority of councilors.  The earthquake of 1356 was one of the strongest experienced north of the Alps in pre-modern times; the city of Basel was almost completely destroyed. Several European powers tried to exert influence on Basel, including France, the dukedom of Burgundy, the growing Swiss Confederation, and Austria. A powerful and continuous tradition of historiography extends across this period: prominent writers include Mathais of Neuenburg (to 1355); “Größere Basler Annalen” (to 1410); Kleinere Basler Annalen (to 1388); Heinrich von Beinheim; Henmann Offenburg; Röteler Chronik (Ergänzung zu Königshofen).

The beginning and end of our ‘Regeneration’ period are marked by powerful collections of literary texts associated with women. Margaret Ebner belonged to the Dominican convent at Maria Medingen near Dillingen. In 1332, she met the secular priest Heinrich of Noerdlingen and underwent a “mystical reversal” (mystische Wende). Heinrich, already a well-known confessor of nuns, reinterpreted Margaret’s experiences as mystical. He stayed in contact with Margaret chiefly through letters; their correspondence is the first such personal exchange in the German language. Only one letter has survived from Margaret, as compared to 56 from Heinrich. Heinrich introduced Margaret to the Dominican Johannes Tauler and the Friends of God (Gottesfreunde) at Basel; she had extensive correspondence with him, too; she died in 1351.The first decade of the 15th century at Basel was dominated by the controversy over beguines. The starting point was a sermon given by the Dominican Johannes Mulberg on June 25, 1405 that preached on poverty and against the right to beg; it survives in five manuscripts.  Mulberg’s accusation against beguines led to a first expulsion of the women in November 1405; they were expelled again in 1411 and never returned to Basel.

For a profound overview and basic references see Moosbrugger-Leu, R. / Maurer, F./ Marchal G.P. / Gilomen H.-J.: Art ‘Basel’, Lexikon des Mittelalters 1 (1980), 1505-1516; Hagemann, Hans-Rudolf, Art. ‘Basel’, Handwörterbuch für Rechtsgeschichte, 2nd edition, 1 (2008), 453-455; and still Wackernagel, Geschichte der Stadt Basel, esp. vol. 1, 188-212; 249-337; vol. 2, 191-220.