Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Off the Board

In memory: A statue of Katharina Henot (figure on the right) has been placed in Cologne following her execution

Katharina Henot is immortalized
in a stone statue on the city hall
tower of Cologne, Germany.

Katharina Henot was well known in Germany in 1627 when she was suddenly blamed for causing a plague of caterpillars, and burned at the stake for being a witch.

She was 57 years old, married, and the first female Postmaster in Germany. She never faltered in spite of being tortured, and denied all charges even as she was paraded down the street and strangled before being set fire.

On February 13th, 2012, Cologne city councillors heard new evidence that she was arrested on trumped-up charges in a political dispute, and 385 years after she died they have declared her innocent.

Katharina and her brother, Harger Henot, inherited a post office from their father. They were thought to have been embroiled in a dispute with the Imperial Court whose members wanted some of the profits. Particularly with Count Leonhard II von Taxis, who was trying to establish a single, central post office.

The Count was a fifth generation member of the Princely House of Thurn and Taxis. From about I290 the early ancestors of the family had operated courier services in the Italian city-states. The first generation founder had set up a horse-based message transport system which had proven to be so efficient that the Habsburg needed it to control their expanding empire. In I490 Emperor Frederick III offered a communications monopoly to the family. 

This would continue to expand and last for more than 350 years.The last Thurn and Taxis postal system was purchased by the Prussian government and nationalized in 1867.
the ancestor of the modern TAXIS
Taxis post coach.
The legacy of Thurn and Taxis mail delivery lives on in many ways. Today our word taxi derives from the post coaches they employed, and many are the same distinctive yellow that their coaches were painted. The post-horn from the Thurn and Taxis  coat of arms is still the logo of the German Post.
the Posthorn, todays logo of Deutsche Post AG

References can be found in many books including Walter Jon William' Elegy for Angels and Dogs, where the protagonist is the head of the Thurn and Taxis family. And the mail monoply of Thurn and Taxis is central to the plot of The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, which deals with a secret rival mail system called W.A.S.T.E., developed by the fictional Trystero family.

Perhaps most telling is the winner of the prestigious 2006 Spiel des Jahres award, the Thurn and Taxis board game designed by Karen and Andreas Seyfarth. In the game, players seek to build postal networks and postoffices in Bavaria and surrounding areas, as did the house of Thurn und Taxis in the 16th century. 

In 1627, the game was also taking over as much mail delivery as possible, and Katherina Henot appears to have been pushed off the board.

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1 comment:

Exhume said...

I have always heard the Courts/Councilors can be slow but 385 years is a bit after the fact.
Like the Salem Witch Trials these stories are so sad.