János Thuróczy (c. 1435–88/9) Chronica Hungarorum

Augsburg: Erhard Ratdolt, for Theobaldus Feger, 3 June 1488

Erhard Ratdolt (1447–1527), the printer of this historical chronicle of the kingdom of Hungary, experimented with colour printing, but also employed colourists in his print workshop to hand-colour some of his books. This copy was hand coloured in Augsburg, but then travelled widely. Its earliest known owner, Stephanus Rodtacker (active 1539–48), master in liberal arts at the University of Heidelberg, left copious notes. Later in the sixteenth century the book had made its way to Riga, where it was acquired by the diplomat Jerome Horsey (d. 1626). With Horsey the book travelled to Russia, before returning to England on his demise.

Inc.5.A.6.18[829], fols [pi1] verso–[pi2] recto

The Chronica Hungarorum, the most extensive fifteenth-century account of the history of Hungary, was written by János Thuróczy, Protonotary at the court of royal appeals in Buda under the Chancellor Thomas de Drag (died 1490/1). When the first printed edition was published in Brno (Moravia) on 20 March 1488, it opened with a preface addressed to Drag in which
Thuróczy described the intentions of his work. Even though Thuróczy meant to rectify the shortcomings of older chronicles, his book is still largely a compilation from earlier sources. The mythical origin of the Huns and Magyars, who were thought to descend from the Scythians, is covered in great detail. Benefiting from access to royal charters and other documentary sources, Thuróczy placed particular focus on the events of the preceding hundred years, which had not been recorded
systematically. He accorded a more cursory treatment, however, to the reign of King Matthias Corvinus (reigned 1458–1490), under whom Thuróczy served.

In order to satisfy the demand for copies of Thuróczy’s chronicle, a second edition of the work appeared less than three months after the first. The reprint was commissioned by Theobald Feger, a bookseller of
Buda, and produced by Erhard Ratdolt in Augsburg, who had only recently returned to Germany after a prolonged stay in Venice. Ratdolt was famous for the outstanding quality of his books, and his far-reaching trade network guaranteed their quick and wide distribution. In order to adapt the book to the expectations of different audiences, he produced three variants. Two dedication copies survive in Budapest in which the preface to Drag is printed in gold letters on parchment. The version intended for Hungarian readers concludes with the recent military successes of King Matthias Corvinus: the conquests of
Vienna in 1485 and of Wiener Neustadt on 17 August 1487. As these events were potentially controversial, they were omitted in the third issue, targeted primarily at the German market. The Cambridge copy belongs to the latter group and attests the long-standing and Europe-wide interest in Thuróczy’s chronicle. The volume moved through the hands of at least four owners within a century: a member of the University of Heidelberg in the 1540s, a pastor in Latvia and a British diplomat and envoy to Russia, from whom the book passed on to the Master of Emmanuel College, who bequeathed it to the University of Cambridge.

Essay by Bettina Wagner

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