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The Rise of a Burgher – Burkard Zink (1397-1474/75)

Born in Memmingen, Burkard Zink (1397-1474/75) spent most of his adult life in Augsburg as a man of business. There, he composed a lengthy four-book chronicle of the history of his adopted city. At the beginning of Book III, Zink provided an account of his own life, most of which is reproduced below. Zink’s text is perhaps the first true autobiography by a German burgher, for it expresses a self-conscious sense of continuity of experience lacking in earlier works. The account reveals the great variety of Zink’s travels and experiences, the economic mobility of burgher life, and the familiar and emotional sides of family life.

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In God’s name, I began to write this special book about how I, Burkhart Zink, lived since my childhood days, in what ways I have striven, and what my fortunes were.

In the year 1401 my dear mother died in childbirth. May God have mercy upon her. Amen. I was then four years old and had three siblings: two brothers, Johannes and Conrad, and our sister, Maragrete. Our father was named Burkhart Zink, who was at that time an artisan working in Styria. He also had property in Memmingen next to Mangolt’s ditch, near the baker, the widow Kipfenberg, who later remarried. Our father’s house has since been bought by a farrier, and today many smiths who smelt iron are settled in the surrounding streets. [ . . . ]

Thereafter, that is in 1404, my father remarried. His new wife’s father was Hans Schmid von Krumbach, a smith and a pious man. A young, proud woman, she was unfriendly to us children and beat us badly. My father loved her, however, and she loved him in turn, as so often old men and young women suit one another, which is as it is.

In 1407, when I was a lad of eleven, I left Memmingen, my father, and all my friends to travel with a student. I was also a student at the time and had been in school for nearly four years. And we went together to Carinthia into the Wendish Lands to a market town, Reisnitz by name, a town that lies in Carinthia (1) six [German] miles beyond Laibach [= Ljubljana] in the direction of Croatia. I remained for seven years in this land, where I attended school, for my father’s brother was a village priest at Riegg, a large, pretty village, to which belonged at least five other villages – Göttenitz, Pausenprunnen, etc. He had been pastor there for nearly thirty years, having arrived in the land with the wife of Count Friedrich von Ortenburg. He had been her secretary and became a priest at her wish. The countess was born a von Teck. Her brothers, Duke Ulrich, Duke Friedrich, and Duke Lutz, had their seat at Mindelheim. My master, that is, my father’s brother, sent me to school in Reisnitz and placed me in the care of an honest fellow, Hans Schwab. He was Count Friedrich’s builder at Ortenburg, where he was building the lower house down here on the mountain.

I lived for seven years with my host in Reisnitz, who treated me well and desired that I should do well. He wanted to send me to Vienna to the university, but I didn’t want to go, and, wishing to stay with him no longer, I left him against his will. Returning to Memmingen – I was by this time an eighteen-year-old student – I intended to stay with my father and be a young gentleman. But the entire plan went bad, for my father and stepmother had separated, my brothers had died, and my sister had been married off. Whatever I had as inheritance from my mother, my father and other friends had given to my sister, for we children each had our own maternal legacy, which we had received when our father remarried. While I was living in the Wendish Lands with my master, my friends had decided that I would stay with him and that he would support me. In order to give her [Burkhard’s sister] better chances, they gave her more of the inheritance. Now that I had returned home, I wanted to have as much as other young fellows possessed, but I received nothing, and everyone was against me. Then I regretted not having stayed with my uncle. I went into action and traveled back to my uncle. When I arrived, I received a terrible shock, for my uncle was dead. He had left his property to his children, of whom he had four, and to other persons. Alas, I had gone there and worn myself out in vain, for I got nary a penny out of it. Had I stayed with him, it would have been all right, for everything would have gone to me.

(1) In the March of Carniola, today Slovenia – trans.

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