First Comprehensive History of the Reformation

Sleidan, Johann. De Statu religionis et reipublicae, Carolo Quinto, Caesare, Commentarij. Cum Indice luculenetissimo.

Argentorati [Strassburg]: Per Hæredes Vuendelini Rihelij, Anno mdlv [1555]. 306 x 233 mm (12 x 8 in). Folio. [4], 469 ll. In Latin.

Bound in red boards (19th century) with two faded spine labels, an old shelf mark, and a new leather spine title label with gilt lettering. Index tabs. Ink inscription on title page: Sum Wentzij” (?). Ink stamp on title page: Seminar für Wirtschaftsgeschichte an der Universität München.” Later stamp beneath the first: Ausgeschieden.” Some marginal annotations and underscoring throughout. 

Binding merely good showing wear, bumping, and abrasions all around. Interior, very good with minor worming to lower margins not affecting text and light soiling throughout. Lacking front free endpaper.

By one of the first professional historians. A history of the Reformation from 1517 to 1555, published one year before the author’s death in 1556. Sleidan was enlisted by the Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of Lutheran princes, to write the official history of the Protestant Reformation. Born in 1506 in Schleiden near the Rhine River, Sleidan spent much of his life transiting between French-German borderlands, living in Paris, studying at the universities at Orleans and Louvain, and settling in Strasbourg in 1544. This background furthered his career as a translator and diplomat, linking French and German Protestants as well as attempting to reconcile Catholic and Lutherans. Sleidan was friends with Johann Sturm, a Protestant Reformer and educator credited with initiating the gymnasium system of German secondary education. 

A pioneering work in archival research methods. The book opens with Luther’s 95 Theses and ends with the 1555 Diet of Augsburg. Sleidan’s Commentaries took more than ten years to complete, with much of that time spent tracking down documentary evidence. He made extensive use of European archives, access to which was granted by his association with the Schmalkaldic princes and major Protestant theologians of the time–and at times interrupted by religious wars. This practice was part of what Sleidan expresses in the preface as a desire to present events [“just as each thing happened”] (prout quaeque res acta fuit). Such a methodological commitment (according to Kelley, Sleidan’s obsession with archival research and appetite for information” at times overwhelms the narrative) stands in contrast to more partisan historical accounts of the time, such as the Magdeburg Centuries which set out to show the corrupting influence of the Catholic Church on Christianity, and the Annales Ecclesiastici, the official response to the Magdeburg Centuries whose historical narrative aimed to counter the Protestant account and show the legitimacy of Catholicism.

A divisive work appearing just before the peace of augsburg. Though Sleidan’s employment (his wages were not delivered quite as promised) and use of documentary evidence has earned him recognition as one of, if not the, first modern professional historians, the initial reception of his most well-known work was not all as positive. The book sold incredibly well–Kess counts 48 editions in six languages by 1560–and found an audience among Lutherans and Calvinists. However, his relative moderation during a time when historical scholarship was the site of tremendous partisan controversy led to attacks from his many readers–both Protestant and Catholic–thus heightening disagreements just as the Peace of Augsburg was under negotiation. This moderation also contributed to this book’s longevity as it remained a popular text for both Protestant and Catholic critics to draw upon.

Evidence of four centuries of use. Various aspects of this copy evince centuries of use, according with Sleidan’s influence on German historiography. There are a handful of marginal annotations by an early hand, including several manuscript additions to an already extensive printed index. The binding appears to be from the late 18th or early 19th century. At some point, a former owner added narrow tabs to mark the start of each book (in this edition, 25; a 26th book based on Sleidan’s manuscripts recovered after his death was added in later editions). The upper right of each page has been annotated to mark the years through which the text progresses. More recently, the title page bears stamps indicating this copy was once owned by, and deaccessioned from, the University of Munich’s Seminar für Wirtschaftsgeschichte (Seminar on Economic History) founded by Jakob Strieder in the 1920s, and which became, under the leadership of Friedrich Lütge, the Institute for Social and Economic History in the 1960s. In this single volume we can glimpse the circulation of an early, popular, and controversial work of European history across four centuries.


Kelley, Donald R. Johann Sleidan and the Origins of History as a Profession.” Journal of Modern History, volume 52, number 4, December 1980, pages 573–598.

Kess, Alexandra. Johann Sleidan and the Protestant Vision of History. London: Routledge, 2008.

There are four editions of this work all published in Strasbourg in 1555. oclc Worldcat entries for this book are confusing. We did our best and were able to locate five copies in u.s. libraries, which encompasses the holdings of all four slightly different 1555 editions. 

VD16 s 6668

USTC 667354


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Stock Code: 1147B16 Collections: , Catalogue:


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