Confronted with such an image of a man dressed in ornate finery, one might not easily recognize his status as a servant, yet this was nonetheless Ignatius Fortuna’s position at court. Ignatius Christianus Fridericus Fortuna was a very wealthy servant of Countess Palatine Francisca Christina of Sulzbach. Francisca Christina was the abbess of Essen Abbey, home to unmarried noble women. It is unknown when Fortuna was born, but he was given to the abbess in 1735 by Franz Adam Schiffer, a businessman from Essen, who had brought Fortuna back with him from South America; at this time, Fortuna was believed to be around five to seven years old. Two years later, on 12 October 1737, he was baptized and received the name Ignatius Christianus Fridericus Fortuna.
At first, Fortuna performed duties typical of servants of the time, but later gained more important duties, such as the responsibility for organizing musical entertainment for the abbess’s guests. In return, he was granted many privileges unusual at that time, including a heated and furnished private room on the abbess’s private floor (all other servants shared unheated rooms at further remove), healthcare, a salary, and elegant livery in which he would appear before the abbess’s guests.
When Abbess Francisca Christina died in 1776, her will granted Fortuna the perpetual privilege of free room and board at the abbey, a substantial cash endowment, various luxury items, and the promise that his medical bills would be covered by the abbey for the rest of his life. Fortuna then began to work under the abbess’s successor, Princess Maria Kunikunde von Sachsen of Poland.
By the time of Fortuna’s death on 24 November 1789, he had become a very well respected citizen in his town of Essen, as he had gained social status and wealth from his fifty years of service at the abbey. The fortune he left behind was large enough be contested. While Franz Adam Schiffer’s children argued that, because their father had brought Fortuna to Germany, they were essentially half-siblings and his rightful hiers, the abbey seems to have successfully claimed that, having provided Fortuna with free room, board, and medical care, it was the only legal heir.
Abbess Francisca Christina stated in her will that she wished for Fortuna to be buried next to her in the abbey’s crypt, but, because this site was reserved for clergy and nuns, Fortuna was buried in the abbey’s bell tower instead.
– Hannah Beebe (University of Missouri)