Bergenroth, Gustav Adolph (DNB00)
BERGENROTH, GUSTAV ADOLPH (1813–1869), historical student, was born at Oletzko, in East Prussia, 26 Feb. 1813. From his father, the magistrate of the town, a stubborn and incorruptible patriot, he received an education well calculated to develope the independence of mind and strength of body for which he was remarkable all his life. After a somewhat stormy career at the university of Königsberg, he successively obtained several minor situations in the magistracy, and devoted himself to the study of statistics and political economy. His inquiries, combined with the restless temper which always made official life distasteful to him, led him to adopt advanced democratic opinions, which, freely manifested during the outbreak of 1848, cost him his post in the civil service upon the triumph of the reaction. After assisting in Kinkel's remarkable escape from Spandau, he determined to emigrate to California, whither he proceeded in 1850. The incidents of his voyage and residence were most adventurous. He caught yellow fever on the passage out, was robbed, while unconscious, of all his property, arrived at San Francisco half dead, and owed his life to the charity of a woman. Having also recovered from an attack of cholera, he betook himself to the wilderness, and lived for some time the life of a hunter. He saw much of the operations of the vigilance committee, which he subsequently vividly described in 'Household Words.' In 1851 he returned to Europe, and led for several years a roaming life, seeking employment alternately as a tutor and as a man of letters. In 1857 he formed the resolution of devoting himself to English history, and settled in London with the view of studying the period of the Tudors. Finding the materials in the English Record Office insufficient, he conceived the bold plan of establishing himself at Simancas, and making a thorough examination of the Spanish archives, at that time exceedingly difficult of access. Before Bergenroth not more than six students, Spanish and foreign, had made any important research in the archives, and it was generally believed that great havoc had been committed among them by the French soldiers, which Bergenroth found reason to doubt. The history of his investigations is most graphically narrated by himself in letters to the 'Athenæum,' and in private communications to Sir John Romilly, master of the rolls, who was induced by the 'Athenæum' letters to procure Bergenroth a commission with a stipend from the English government. Both sets of letters are fully reprinted in Mr. Cartwright's memoir. He speedily manifested the most remarkable talent as a decipherer, interpreting more than twelve ciphers of exceeding difficulty, with which the Spanish archivists were themselves unacquainted, or the keys to which they withheld from him. Their persistent obstruction compelled him to have recourse to the English embassy at Madrid; but his energy triumphed over every obstacle, and in 1862 he was enabled to publish a calendar of the documents in the Simancas Archives relating to English affairs from 1485 to 1509, with additions from the repositories at Brussels, Barcelona, and other places. This calendar was introduced by a fascinating preface, describing his difficulties and successes as a decipherer, and including a brilliant review of the relations between England and Spain during the period. A second and larger volume appeared in 1868, analysing the documents from 1509 to 1525, and accompanied by another striking preface, which, however, gave much offence by harsh and irrelevant criticism of his fellow- labourers, and betrayed a strong tendency to sensational and melodramatic views of history. This lack of sobriety was still more glaringly evinced in his last publication (1868), a supplemental volume treating of Queen Katharine of Arragon as a Spanish princess, and of the projected marriage of Henry VII with Queen Juana of Castile. In dealing with the former subject he cast groundless reflections on Katharine's chastity before marriage, and in the second part, disputing the reality of Queen Juana's madness, concocted a ghastly history of her wrongs, which more exact research has shown to be a mere romance. While labouring indefatigably at the Simancas records, he was attacked by an epidemic fever, of which he died at Madrid on 13 Feb. 1869. He left the reputation of a most vigorous and indomitable labourer in history, of unsurpassed acumen in the pursuit of isolated facts, but he was deficient in the faculty of combination, and was continually misled by his appetite for the picturesque and dramatic. His style is pregnant and animated, and many of his remarks indicate great sagacity. Bergenroth's calenders of the Simancas papers have been continued by Don Pascual de Gayangos.
[Cartwright's Gustave Bergenroth, a Memorial Sketch, Edinburgh, 1870; Pauli, in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Bd. ii. For appreciations of Bergenroth's historical labours, especially his theory of the insanity of Queen Juana, see Pauli in Sybel's Historische Zeitschrift. Bde. iv. xi. xxi.; Gachard, Sur Jeanne la Folle, Bruxelles, 1869; Rösler, Johanna die Wahnsinnige. Wien, 1870; Edinburgh Review, vol. cxxxi.; The Month, vol. iii. N. S.]