- March 14, 2017
The Scharzhof Revisited—the Failed Attempt to Sue Jacques Koch
- by Per Linder
Editor’s note: Per Linder has studied the files from the archives in Koblenz and unearthed some documents at Luxembourg’s National Archives, both of which shed light on the Scharzhof saga, as told by Franz Irsigler.
Since the publication of my last articles about the Scharzhof, I studied the item no. 649 from the stack of files no. 300 at the Landeshauptarchiv Koblenz. Also, I have been back to the Archives nationales de Luxembourg and found some new relevant documents.
The most significant new discovery from my research is that Jacques Koch leased the Mergen estate, in Wiltingen, which included the Scharzhof, before he bought it. Further, he did not deposit any funds in the Hospice Civil; the correspondence was a result of an alleged outstanding debt, which surfaced when the Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary's ad Martyres and its possessions were nationalized in 1802.
The nationalization and auction
Once again, we have to keep in mind that since the early Middle Ages, Kanzem, Wiltingen, and the Scharzhof were situated in an exclave of the Duchy of Luxembourg within the Electorate of Trier. Last year, the National Archives of Luxembourg made available a 1776 map of the borders between the Duchy of Luxembourg and the Electorate of Trier. The cartographer, Bergé, had been commissioned to mark disputed borders, and, on the map, the borders of the Wiltingen exclave were undisputed. These borders were kept intact when the Duchy and Electorate were transformed to French departments in the late 1790s.
France’s attitude toward the exclave can be illustrated by a case heard at the Central Administration in Luxembourg in the spring of 1796: shipping on the Saar had been duty-free since 1548 by an agreement (concordat) between the rulers along the river. When the exclave of Wiltingen and Kanzem became a part of France in 1795, the French canceled that agreement and manned Wiltingen with customs officers to levy duties on the Saar traffic. On March 14, 1796, two men came traveling downstream on a small river boat (nacelle) from Saarburg, on their way to Trier. When the French officers on the Wiltingen side called on them to come ashore to pay duties, they disobeyed and steered over to the left bank instead, ran into a vineyard (most probably the east-facing Schlossberg), and hid a belt with money there. The two men were quickly arrested and their money and cargo, two sacks of flour, was confiscated—neither the money nor the flour was duty-free. When the men’s master, Mathias Funck, a burgher of Saarburg, appealed at the Central Administration in Luxembourg, the seizure was confirmed as a fine for the fraud committed. The Administration, however, let Mr. Funck keep his boat since it had not been an “absolutely necessary instrument for the fraud.” Duties on the Saar were probably levied till the creation of the Sarre (Saar) department (département de la Sarre) in 1798.
Three weeks before the incident at Wiltingen, on February 23, the Central Administration had rejected the petition from Saint Mary’s to obtain full use of their properties situated in the Forêts department (see my article on the legal analysis). At the same time, the administration decided that the Domain Administration was to manage all former Trier monastic properties in Forêts till they could be sold. Since the legislation to dissolve the religious orders and sell their property was not yet in place, the Domain Administration organized auctions to lease it on April 5. From documents found in the Luxembourg National Archives, we know that Jacques Koch was in Grevenmacher that day and bid for the lease of the Mergen estate, including the Scharzhof.
The name Mergen is a dialect version of Mary or Maria in German. Many of the properties of Saint Mary’s Abbey in Trier were called Mergen. The chronicle of Nittel, where the abbey had had tithe rights on the Upper Mosel since the Middle Ages, the monastery is simply called St. Mergen’s Abbey (Kloster St. Mergen); within the Trier city walls, the abbey owned the Mergener Hof (the house does still exist and is a youth center today, just like the old abbey itself). The estate in Wiltingen consisted of two lots—the Scharzhof and the press house next to the church in the village, which is still called Mergen Kelterhaus today. The properties were probably gifted at separate occasions to St. Mary’s and were never merged. For the sake of readability for the modern reader, I will hereafter use the term Scharzhof for the entire estate, including the press house in Wiltingen.
In the National Archives, I have found a document confirming that Jacques Koch won the nine-year lease contract for the Scharzhof at an annual price of 345 livres (which was equivalent to francs).
As we know from other articles published here, the Scharzhof was up for sale a good year later. In its session on July 12, 1797, the Central Administration of the Forêts decided to auction the estate. The poster for the final round of the auction, another recent find in the National Archives, was published shortly thereafter on July 16. On the poster, the estimated annual revenue was at 577 livres; this was far removed from Belva’s lowest estimate of 15,000 francs in 1808.
Koch probably traveled by boat from Wiltingen to Grevenmacher, where he continued to Luxembourg either by coach or he rode on a horse. Today, it takes me a little more than an hour to go on my road bike from Luxembourg to Grevenmacher, and another hour to Wiltingen. By car, Wiltingen to Luxembourg takes about 45 minutes.
The auctions of nationalized property took place every 10th day at 10 a.m. at the Central Administration’s office, which was situated in today’s Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg. The session of July 29, 1797, was not so busy; apart from the Scharzhof, three other properties were auctioned.
The situation in 1806
Nine years later, when the correspondence of Koch’s acquisition started, the general sentiment among the people in the region seemed to have been that the Republic and then the Bonaparte Empire was here to stay. This acceptance might have started earlier—for instance, I am not sure if it was just a coincidence that Jacques Koch got married in the same month as the Treaty of Lunéville on February 9, 1801, which formally ended the war and definitely settled the incorporation of the annexed departments to France.
The German history professor Gabriele B. Clemens writes that in Trier, in the first few years of the 19th century, many French and German families had been linked through marriage. The local elite met at the masonic lodge La Réunion des amis de l’Humanité, which had been founded in 1805 by the wealthy wine merchant Matthias Joseph Hayn and the Parisian career bureaucrat Jean Bernard Berger. The latter was the director of the Domain Administration in the Sarre department. He would correspond with his colleagues in Luxembourg on the Koch case. These gentlemen were buyers of former monastic property, especially Hayn (see “Ayler Kupp: A Short History” for more on this). The Luxembourg Domain Administration was headed by Joseph Antoine Pruneau, who had privately bought some 35 nationalized properties in Forêts between 1797 and 1800. During his first assignment to Luxembourg 1796–1797, he had signed off many auction posters, so he was very familiar with the auction procedure.
As I have explained in my article on the legal analysis, the anticlerical policy of the Republic was implemented within a year in the Forêts. In the neighboring Sarre department, however, it took almost four years, and the conditions were slightly different. By a decree (arrêté) of 9 June 1802, the three Consuls of France (among them Napoleon Bonaparte) decided to dissolve all religious orders and nationalize their property. The monks and the nuns were given a mere 10 days (une décade) to leave their premises. The pension schemes were designed differently compared to the one in Forêts: instead of a capital, in form of a note, (bon de retraite) to acquire nationalized property, they were attributed yearly payments of 500 francs—the same as a priest’s annual salary. The decree prescribed that the Domain Administration should make complete inventories of the monasteries—including outstanding allowances (rentes) and debts. In German, this event is referred to as the Säkularisation (secularization). Many other famous wine estates, like Maximin Grünhaus (once the property of the Benedictine monks of Saint Maximin’s Abbey in Trier), had the same fate.
Another important factor during this period was the full introduction of the French civil code (also known, in English, as the Napoleonic Code) in March 1804. For our story, its inviolability of private property as a fundamental principle is important to keep in mind.
The Koblenz documents on the failed attempt to sue Jacques Koch
The file no. 649 from the archives in Koblenz consists of correspondence between the administrations of domains in Luxembourg and Trier from the fall of 1806 to the spring of 1808—altogether 22 pages. All the documents are handwritten in French with various degrees of difficulty to decipher.
In conjunction with the procedure under the consular decree, the former monks of St. Mary’s most probably listed a claim of 8,588.62 francs against Jacques Koch in form of an allowance. From the correspondence, we can deduct that this claim was first raised by the Domain Administration in Trier sometime between June 1802 and December 1803. Since Koch was a resident in Forêts, the Trier administration then asked their colleagues in Luxembourg for judicial assistance, but for some unknown reasons the request was ignored.
The first step to collect an outstanding debt in those days was to seek a decision by a municipal institution—the Commission des hospices. The Commission in Luxembourg seems to have had jurisdiction over Wiltingen, since, on October 20, 1806, it decided to claim a debt of Jacques Koch as declared by the former monks of St. Mary’s. Unfortunately, neither the National Archives nor the City Archives in Luxembourg has any trace of this decision. It was then the competence of the Domain Administration to collect the debt by issuing an order (contrainte) to Mr. Koch.
When Koch was notified of the order, he refuted it. His main argument was certainly that there was no title document (titre) for the claim. The administration then instructed an inquiry, and reports were issued by two staff members—one from a certain Baudol and one from Louis-Joseph Belva.
One has to wonder what the monks wanted to achieve with their declaration—their monastery had been dissolved and its property nationalized (some 50 properties in the Sarre department were auctioned between 1803 and 1811). They had all been granted pensions and were probably all well passed retirement age—Abbot Mannebach, for instance, was over 80 years old. Had any of the claims against Jacques Koch been successful, the allowance would have been granted to the Domain Administration, in other words, the French government. Had he been dispossessed, the outcome would have been the same. So, either they wanted to share the income from Koch’s Scharzhof estate on top of their pensions by co-ownership, or maybe they were just revengeful?
Belva’s report was made on February 14, 1808. He focused his argument on the declaration made by Abbot Mannebach that Koch had received the claimed funds from the monastery treasury to purchase the Scharzhof at auction. Belva acknowledged that the abbot did not have any proof of that claim. He then went on to argue that St. Mary’s many possessions in Forêts should have been treated under the procedure in the Sarre department. That was indeed a weak argument because all monastic property in Forêts had been nationalized already in 1796 when the petition was rejected (see above and my article on the Scharzhof transaction). Belva suggested giving up the allowance claim, and, as we know from earlier articles, very radically in the early days of the civil code, dispossessing Koch completely from the Scharzhof.
In his report from March 9, 1808, Baudol was trying to establish that there had been an implicit allowance paid in kind by Koch to his former monastery. He assumed that Koch had delivered wine as an allowance to the abbey up until secularization, but he could not find any documental evidence for that either. Also based on the monks’ declaration, he recommended that the claim to the allowance was valid.
These reports were presented to the president of the Domain Administration Joseph Antoine Pruneau. On March 22, 1808, he made a decision not to follow the proposals at all. His grounds and observations were:
- None of the claims introduced by the monks could be proved;
- Jacques Koch, like any other French citizen, had used his legal rights to give up his vows;
- Koch had legally acquired the Scharzhof and paid the price in full to the public treasury;
- In 1802, Koch had not been listed as a member of St. Mary’s in Trier. He was then a layman and a long-time resident of Forêts.
Abbot Mannebach died in St. Matthias, in Trier, in 1812. Louis Joseph Belva transferred to Bitburg in 1810 and continued his career in his native Cugnon and Bouillon, both in present-day Belgium. He was a member of the Dutch provincial government in Luxembourg in 1830. Joseph Antoine Pruneau remained the director of the Domain Administration until the end of the French rule. He then withdrew to Hettange-Grande, just north of Thionville, in the Moselle department (Lorraine) in France, where he lived for the remainder of his life. I have not been able to find any further information on Mr. Baudol. ♦
Per Linder works in asset management; he lives in Luxembourg, not far from the Hospice Civil, with his wife and two children.