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Marriage as Partnership – Magdalena and Balthasar Paumgartner of Nuremberg (Correspondence, 1582, 1591, and 1592)

Wealthy Germans often commissioned diptych portraits to memorialize their marriages. The partnership of husband and wife stood at the core of the 16th-century household, which, in turn, formed the fundamental social unit of the era. The household was the primary civilizing milieu, the place where children learned both obedience and table manners. Domestic life is by nature poorly documented, but sometimes the records offer an all-too-rare picture of what it meant for a married couple to organize, administer, and provide for a household. The correspondence between Magdalena and Balthasar Paumgartner, a well-to-do Nuremberg couple, provides just such a glimpse into family life. The spouses shared the rule of their household, the rearing of their children, and the management of their mercantile ventures. Their letters begin soon after their engagement and continue through the death of their young son. They record joys and sorrow, intimate affection and hard calculation, faith in God and worldly wisdom.

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1. Balthasar to Magdalena
December 15, 1582, in Lucca

My honest, good, true, friendly, dearest, closest bride:

I have at 12:00 this night received with great longing your letter of November 11. As I had carefully considered and calculated the mail delivery with which your reply to my letter must come, I waited with longing for a letter last Sunday; anticipating it, I did not leave the house the entire day. But how just it would have been to me, had you not written as soon as you did!

The news that all are well is received most happily. I and all my associates here are also, praise God, still well. May it be God's will to keep us in his grace and help us soon to come happily together again in our little garden of joy.

I am truly happy to hear that you have already visited my old Aunt Scheurl several times and that she was so friendly to you, which I never doubted she would be. Please continue to visit her when there is opportunity, and cultivate her counsel in various matters. I know she enjoys such attention and that she is especially well pleased when someone places their trust in her and takes her advice. She also wants us to think well of her and, when possible, to turn to her as to a friend. Although she is of little benefit to us, she is also the kind of person who will never do us any harm. But you already know well how to stroke the tail of the fox, of that I have no doubt.

Dearest one, with this letter you will have discovered the reason, and therein also my excuse, for being so slow and rather irregular in my writing. As far as I can tell from your present letter, you have not yet received such clarification from me. Matters were such that had I managed now and then to write to you while I was on the road, I would have brought you little joy and much worry. For as long as I am traveling and wagering on good fortune and not yet home, I have no assurance whatsoever that the strong prohibitions against travelers issued because of plague will allow me to enter the towns through which I must pass and make my way back to you. I do not want to add to your worries with news of such difficulties.

But if you have often asked why and have been surprised that you have received no letter from me, the same has certainly also been true for me here. Every Sunday, when the mail usually arrives, there has been no end to the question in my mind why you have not written to me, and I have also pondered why you will not write to me until you have first received a letter from me. So let this anger between us end!

Most dearest love, I will await your answer to this letter here. Thereafter, you need not write to me again in Lucca, for around the end of January I will have to travel on business to other places and towns en route to Modena and Reggio, and for this reason your letters may no longer find me here. Too much is presently unsettled in our business to know for sure if I will depart so soon. I desire to go, but all too often and far too long I am prevented by many things beyond my control. If I could now complete one most important matter in which our firm has not a little invested, how quickly I would turn the other matters over to my brother and the staff here and be on my way! I am trusting and hoping in Almighty God that next January nothing will prevent my planned departure.

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