Continuing history in the margins

Schedel, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, VII 1493).
The Wellcome Library: 5.f.6 (SR), f. 243v.

The Nuremberg Chronicles Continuing history in the margins
The Nuremberg Chronicles Continuing history in the margins

Wellcome Library

All Our Chronicles

Hartmann Schedel, the author of the Nuremberg Chronicle, continued his story of the ‘six stages of the world’ right up to the year of  publication, 1493. Before proceeding to the ‘seventh stage’ yet to come – the Apocalypse – Schedel purposefully designated three blank leaves for readers to continue writing their own history.  However, many readers – like this one – ignored the blank pages, preferring to make notes of contemporary events in the margins of the book instead. 

“The early German reader reported on the latest news in the margins: ‘now Basel belongs to Germany.”

The German reader of this copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle was among its earliest readers, as she or he annotated it in 1498-1499, just a few years after the Chronicle was printed. They were deeply interested in sacred and political history. Extensive notes cover almost every page of the book, providing synopses of printed text, adding extra details from other sources, and diligently recording new events that happened after the publication of the Chronicle. For example, this page narrates the history of Basel, concluding  with the words “now Basel belongs to Germany”. The reader continued this story underneath the woodcut, writing about negotiations in 1498, the war, and the treaty in 1499 between the Swiss Confederacy and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

We do not know the name of this reader, as his or her ownership inscription was totally erased by later owners.  In 1570, the book belonged to another anonymous German owner, and by the end of the 19th century it came into possession of British artist William Morris. Morris’ ownership may have increased the value of this copy, but the earlier 15th-century annotations are a fascinating insight into how inseparable print and manuscript culture were at the time.


The Nuremberg Chronicle combined sacred and political history, attracting readers with its encyclopaedic nature. Early modern readers read the book for information about the past but they also added to the historical narrative of the Chronicle, developing their own chronologies and even continuing the Chronicle’s narrative up to the present.