Supplementary Appendix 443.1

Johann Heinrich Sternberg, Andreas Emmerich,
and the Marburg Insurrection in June 1809 [*]

On 16 August 1809 (letter 443), Caroline writes the following to her brother Philipp Michaelis in Kassel:

The disturbance and unrest that held our brother back are as — depressing as everything else one constantly sees and hears today. A leaden heaviness hangs over the world now that makes it hard even to breathe freely anymore.

Fritz Michaelis, a professor of medicine in Marburg in Hesse with whom Caroline had once lived, had just been through a difficult episode in that town in connection with the War of 1809. As noted in chap. 6 of the supplementary appendix on that war, Archduke Karl of Austria was hoping that the general opposition to Napoleon in northern Germany and Tyrol would prompt insurrections in connection with the Austrians’ own advance into both Bavaria and Italy. Caroline mentions insurrectionists in both these areas later in her letter.

In this instance, Caroline is referring to a considerably lesser known insurrection that unfolded in Marburg itself back in late June and early July 1809 and was led by the seventy-three-year-old retired officer and former forestry official Andreas Emmerich (1737–19 July 1809), who had served for various countries, including in England, in the American Revolutionary War, and for Prussia in the Seven Years War. Of particular interest to Caroline would have been the case of an immediate colleague of Fritz Michaelis in the school of medicine, namely, Johann Heinrich Sternberg, a professor of medicine who had joined the insurrection, and his wife, Charlotte, née Siemens.

(Central Europe in 1812, from William R. Shepherd, Historical Atlas [New York 1923], Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection):


After Hesse and Kassel had been incorporated into the Kingdom of Westphalia under Jerome Bonaparte after the Treaty of Tilsit and after a general but unsuccessful uprising under Baron von Dörnberg in Hesse in April 1809, Emmerich was inspired by the Austrian advance and by Archduke Karl’s call for guerilla-style action against the basically exposed French presence in northern Germany.

Hence Emmerich and his band viewed itself as a pendant to the Austrian incursion into the Kingdom of Westphalia; the Austrians, moreover, had been joined, albeit hesitatingly, by the Hessian Legion of the Prince Elector of Hesse, Wilhelm I, who feared such guerilla action without the support of regular troops was too risky.

When Austrian troops finally seemed forthcoming, the prince elector decided to join in, and on 3 June 1809 the Hessian troops received their orders. Part of this plan was to spark an insurrection in Hesse itself that might threaten the Westphalian troop rear guard. Ferdinand von Schill had already created disquiet in the northern part of the kingdom, and the reverberations continued even after his death on 31 May 1809.

Because other parts of Hesse were deemed too unpredictable as sites for an uprising because of the unlikelihood of citizen enthusiasm, Marburg was chosen because of its support of Dörnberg earlier, who in fact had lived there for a year. The town was in any case occupied by approximately 200 soldiers of the Westphalian kingdom.

It was probably Dörnberg himself who suggested to Archduke Karl that Johann Heinrich Sternberg might be a good candidate to organize support for the insurrection in Marburg, since his position at the medical school seemed to put him beyond suspicion and he had good connections with the university at large, with professors and students, the citizenry, and especially because he could quickly connect with farmers and the old Hessian soldiers in the vicinity (Marburg’s old university complex and a town bridge over the Lahn River; illustration on an early postcard):


Sternberg had corresponded with Friedrich Schlegel in Vienna, who had composed Archduke Karl’s proclamations, a circumstance that will later play a role in Sternberg’s fate. Sternberg tried to win over citizens and students to the idea of freeing the fatherland from the foreign French yoke.

In connection with this insurrection, it is worth noting that Sternberg was not acting on his own initiative or out of adventurous ambition, but rather on the orders of his former territorial lord, the prince elector of Hesse, Wilhelm I, who directed Sternberg to solicit the help of dissatisfied citizens and retired soldiers. In any event, Sternberg had probably already participated in some fashion in the Dörnberg uprising earlier.

The retired soldiers that Sternberg recruited were also charged with trying to stir up the population around Marburg; because the upper classes and students tended to steer clear of these developments, however, the Marburg insurrection was largely one of the lower classes, especially of the rural classes and retired Hessian soldiers. Many of the meetings of the insurrection’s leaders took place in Sternberg’s house on the Renthof in Marburg (a street just below the castle on its north side) or in an isolated tavern just outside town, and one later piece of evidence against Sternberg was that such meetings had even taken place in his own garden.

Here a photograph of Wettergasse and, to the far right, the commencement of Renthof: Ludwig Hach (uncertain attribution), “Häuser in der Marburger Wettergasse,” (13 August 1849), capturing Wettergasse 42 and 43 along with Renthof 1; Historische Bilddokumente, Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen. The house at left was that of the saddle-maker Burghard Barth; the display window contains purses, belts, and other leather wares. The middle house was that of the baker and innkeeper Peter Matthäi (the sign reads “Beer-Brewery, Coffee-Tavern”; note the table in front with bakery goods for sale.


Unfortunately, although Sternberg had prepared things meticulously, when the time came to give the word, he fell ill with typhus and was bedridden, and his place was taken by Andreas Emmerich, who was, despite his previous military experience, in over his head as an old-school soldier, not least by commencing the insurrection prematurely and against Sternberg’s explicit orders and by being almost inconceivably incautious in his actions and speech prior to the insurrection, depriving the action of any element of surprise and incriminating himself by failing to destroy his correspondence. Even the police chief, Wolff, was prompted to return to Marburg from a trip because of the rumors after Emmerich had been called before the Marburg prefect, who had, however, dismissed the old man as a relatively unimpressive character.

Emmerich, thinking he had been betrayed, moved up the starting date for the insurrection and planned to take over Marburg with his small band, then hold out in the castle until Austrian reinforcements arrived, whose arrival, however, had been greatly exaggerated. Emmerich also viewed the news of Napoleon’s ill fortune at Aspern as a good omen.

He gathered his troops in Ockershausen on 23 June 1809, though as early as 22 June 1809 there had already been incidents of unrest in Marburg itself (Ockershausen is located slightly southwest of Marburg proper; here in relationship to Caroline’s former apartment at Reitgasse 14; here also on an early postcard looking back toward the town and castle): [1]



Emmerich’s group finally assembled in Ockershausen on 24 June 1809, though Emmerich now found that he had to encourage those who were hesitating by threatening to burn their houses should they refuse, or even with death.

A 1:00 that night, the group — allegedly numbering 45 persons according to one report, or 150 according to official reports — set out for Marburg (Aloys Henninger, Marburg und seine Umgebungen [Marburg 1856], illustration following p. 4):


The majority stopped at the Barefoot Gate on the western edge of town; along the way they encountered and routed a small group of sentries. Another group entered through an open side door at the Green Gate, hastened thence to the Barefoot Gate, and opened it. The soldiers entered, disarmed the sentries, and headed for the market square, overcame the guards, and headed for the tavern Ritter, where the prefecture guard opposed them but was also routed.

The Barefoot Gate (on the left) is located on the west side of town, with a road leading almost directly to Ockershausen to the west. In any event, the market square is indicated at center, the location of Caroline’s former apartment at Reitgasse 14 at right; illustration: Marburg market Square and the town hall, by Charles F. Flower (on an early postcard): [2]



The scene then seems to have disintegrated into confusion and chaos, with peasants shooting, shouting, and riding around town, and citizens ringing bells to signal that the time had come to rise up. Although the Westphalian offiicals were surprised despite having suspected the uprising had been planned, the prefect himself calmly sent a courier to Hanau for reinforcements while his own officers and officials fell into a panic, fleeing and seeking any and all hiding places (under hay, under their maidservants’ beds). The small garrison, however, exited town through the Elisabeth Gate and took up a position to protect the road to Kassel.

But Emmerich had been successful, and for a short time held the town. By chance, the commander of the troops outside the Elisabeth Gate sent his manservant back into town to fetch linens and money. The servant was stopped and interrogated by peasants, but simply lied and said he was also one of them, whereupon the peasant lamented that the uprising’s allies had not shown up and that they were too weak — now 45 persons — to do anything. The manservant reported this situation to the commander, who immediately entered the town and, under a beating of drums, marched to the market square. Although the insurrectionist put up a fight there, they were quickly routed, some dying on the spot, some fleeing. Emmerich and seven on his followers were captured. [3]


Interrogations and hearings began the next day, 25 June 1809. The personnel necessary for a military tribunal arrived on 26 June at 10:00 p.m., and police chief (commissar) Wollf could begin his own proceedings. Word came from Kassel that citizens suspected of participating in the uprising were to be interrogated, and that Emmerich and the other prisoners be transferred to Kassel, an order that was immediately carried out. The prisoners arrived in Kassel on 1 July.

A number of denunciations of Sternberg also arrived in Kassel, so an order was issued on 2 July 1809 to arrest him as well even though he was lying bedridden with typhus. The investigative commission met in the tavern Schwarzer Adler. Sternberg’s house was searched, and all his belongings sealed. Instead of being held in the castle prison, however, he was held under house arrest in Wollf’s own house in Marburg on Reitgasse, the street where Caroline herself had lived during her own sojourn in Marburg (see Caroline’s letter to Philipp Michaelis on 16 December 1789 [letter 96], note 2), a move of which many residents, however, disapproved, including some of Sternberg’s adversaries on the Marburg faculty. Here Reitgasse with, at left, the house in which she lived with Fritz Michaelis (Friedrich Küch and Bernhard Niemeyer, Die Bau- und Kunstdenkmäler im Regierungsbezirk Kassel, VIII Kreis Marburg-Stadt, Tafel 60, 2; Historische Bilddokumente, Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen [LAGIS]):


Wolff’s object, however, was not merely to provide a more humane treatment, but to coerce the ill and vulnerable man into a confession. Among the evidence found in Sternberg’s house on Renthof in Marburg after the insurrection was a piece of paper (delivered to the commission by an informant) containing the address of Friedrich Schlegel in Vienna, who was, as mentioned above, now an Austrian court secretary accompanying the entourage of Count von Stadion in Hesse (see Schelling’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 2 May 1809 [letter 441a], note 12) and with whom Sternberg had allegedly corresponded. Sternberg’s death sentence, however, was a foregone conclusion, and the authorities were intent on making an example of a highly respected man in the community to ensure that no more such insurrections be contemplated.

When Sternberg’s personal adversaries in Marburg tried to get him transferred to a normal castle prison in spite of these steps, a three-member “medical board” was convened that included Fritz Michaelis and that issued a statement opposing transporting the ill man under any circumstances. But because Sternberg was still quite weak and gravely ill, officials, especially Wolff, tried to force a confession by lying to him about have been compromised and implicated by Emmerich himself.

The story picks up:

When Sternberg continued to deny any culpability, Wolff engaged a diabolical trick to coerce the confession. . . . a kind of mental torture . . . He had found Sternberg’s wife and told her that everything had been discovered and that her husband was as good as lost, and that only an open, full confession and appeal to the king’s mercy could save him. Sternberg’s wife, who had no inkling of her husband’s plans and the consequences of his actions, and trembling with fear, requested admittance to her husband, saying she wanted to convince him to confess and commend himself to the king’s mercy. Wolff summoned the woman the next morning at 4:00 a.m., when he was planning to badger Sternberg into a confession — 11 July [1809] —

He declared that he kindly intended to let her see her husband even though the investigating commission had in fact denied such. When Sternberg started vacillating in the face of Wolff’s evidence, the latter had the wife brought in from the adjoining room. A moving scene was now set into motion. The wife implored her ill husband to confess openly, insisting that it was the only way to save himself.

Sternberg finally began to falter, “he became faint, asked for water, drank, and then cried out loudly and in excruciating, visible despair: ‘Oh, sir! How to my own misfortune have I failed to recognize you [the official Wolff]! — yes, I am guilty, but not the way one thinks, — I throw myself into your arms!” — He demanded a quill and paper and wrote out his confession in a form that compromised his own position as little as possible.

Wolff’s plan had succeeded. . . . Sternberg never saw through the deception that had been perpetrated on him. Even up until his death, he still considered Wolff to be his friend and benefactor. . . . Only much later did his wife realize that she had been used as an instrument to destroy her husband. . . .

This confession decided Sternberg’s fate, and there was no longer any reason to retain him in Marburg. On 12 July [1809] he was transported to Kassel along with the other defendants in five carriages, though Sternberg traveled in his own carriage. . . . News of his confession had spread in Marburg, and people feared he had compromised others as well. As he departed, people in the crowd yelled out “Judas! Judas!” . . . He was hoping to get off with mere fortress imprisonment, perhaps in Mainz. But these hopes deceived him. . . . The military courts interrogated him and the other prisoners twice a day. Sternberg, however, denied nothing. He was condemned to death [by the military court] on 17 July [1809].

Early on the morning on 19 July [1809], Emmerich was executed by firing squad near Kassel. The old soldier stared death straight in the eye. Like the Schillerian officers, he scorned the blindfold, waiting for death instead with his lit pipe still in his hand, and dying with the cry, “Long live the Prince Elector!”

Although Sternberg had not expected a death sentence, he was calm when it was announced. . . . He no longer expected the king’s mercy.

On the day of his death, something horrible must have happened to him. “And even were the king to grant me mercy now — no, this insult is too great,” he wrote an hour before his death. The nature of this insult can no longer be determined.

On 19 July [1809] at 5:00 p.m., he began the death march to the forest outside Kassel together with Günther and Muth [other prisoners]. At 6:00 p.m. the sentence was carried out. . . . “He entered the place of execution with extraordinary steadfastness. . . . took a few steps back, bound the blindfold around his eyes himself, and received the lead that was intended to end his life.” But he was only wounded and lay whimpering on the ground. The bullet of a compassionate rifleman put him out of his misery. [4]


Sternberg’s wife was certain that King Jerome would grant mercy. She intended to go to Kassel to petition the king in person but had to turn around in Jesberg because she was expecting to give birth soon. [5]


Yet even had she finished the journey, she would not have found her husband alive, since he had been executed the same day she set out. The day after her husband’s death, she gave birth to a little boy, and learned only late that her husband had been executed, believing at first that he had died of his illness.

Because Sternberg’s wife, Charlotte, née Siemens, a native of Goslar, did indeed learn only much later (or, according to some sources, not at all) that her husband had been executed, she was never given the letters he had written her before his death. [6]


[*] This account, including the quoted material, is based on Willi Varges, “Der Marburger Aufstand des Jahres 1809,” Zeitschrift des Vereins für hessische Geschichte und Landeskunde, new series 7 (1892), 350–408. Back.

[1] Kurfürstenthum Hessen: Niveau-Karte auf 112 Blättern, ed. Kurfürstlich Hessischer Generalstab; Kurfürstentum Hessen – 60 (Marburg [n.d.]). It may be recalled that Caroline had social contacts in Ockershausen during her stay in Marburg; see her letter to Lotte Michaelis in 1794 (letter 94). Back.

[2] Engraving of Marburg, 1740. Back.

[3] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Dämpfung des Sächsischen Bauernaufstands (ca. 1790–93); Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 2209; originally in Georg Forster, Erinnerungen aus dem Jahr 1790 (Berlin 1793), illustration following p. 86. Back.

[4] Stylized 1913 postcard of the execution. Back.

[5] Ignaz Heymann, PostKarte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern, 2nd ed. (Triest 1806); Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans. Back.

[6] It may be noted that in Caroline’s letter to Philipp Michaelis cited above, she mentions that Philipp may not yet be back home in Harburg yet, i.e., was still in Kassel. It is possible that Philipp may have been in Kassel when the finale of this episode played out, namely, the trials and executions. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott