A Short History of the German Student Corporations

Elizabeth Wiskemann finds that the German students’ societies have played an unusual and a characteristic part in the history of modern Germany, and yet one which their mysterious rites and code of honour have obscured, even among their compatriots.

The earliest universities within the frontiers of the Holy Roman Empire were those of Prague, founded in 1348, of Vienna, founded in 1365, and of Heidelberg, founded in 1385; Leipzig followed in 1409. The medieval students were divided into groupings called Nationen: Franks, Saxons, Bo-Russians, according to the regions—Franconia, Saxony, Prussia—from which they came. In the early days the status of the students was ill-defined, and some of the members of each so-called nation banded together to protect themselves in societies which came to be called Lands-mannschaften; their members were apt to pick quarrels and to come to blows rather in the fashion of Tybalt and Mercutio. They also appear to have adopted customs that are known to have flourished in some of the convent schools of Saxony: new recruits were subjected to great cruelty and for an initial period treated as slaves in a manner that makes the worst days of British public school fagging sound agreeable.

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