The Black chamberlains of the “false Frederick” in the Rhineland and Hesse (1284)

From Clemens Specker, Austrian Chronicle (1476), courtesy of the Burgerbibliothek, Bern, Cod. A45, p. 154.

After the death of Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen (d. 1250) people kept popping up claiming to be the former emperor, troubling the rule of King Rudolf. Among these pretenders was a certain Tile Kolup, who was first reported in Cologne, then in 1284 gathered around himself a large following in Neuß, Mainz, Frankfurt, and Wetzlar. Kolup’s claim was made more believable by the mysterious appearance of Black chamberlains who richly provided him with funds. Historically speaking, there is much we don’t know about this “false Frederick,” but the appearance of the Black chamerlains shows how much Frederick II, even long after his death, was associated in the public consciousness with an African entourage.

The episode below was recorded in verse in the Österreichischer Reimchronik, and is reproduced here in prose. The Reimchronik is one of the predecessors of an illustrated chronicle that today is kept in the Bern City Library. This later chronicle puts the same story in a broader context and illustrates the spectacular arrival of the Black chamberlains with the image to the right.

Oliver Humberg (translated by Jeff Bowersox)


Translations coming soon….

Source: Ottokars Österreichische Reimchronik, in: Deutsche Chroniken und andere Geschichtsbücher des Mittelalters V/1, MGH Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi, Deutsche Chroniken, Nr. 5/1, Hannover 1890, Verse 32182–32297, modernized by Oliver Humberg, reviewed by Christian Sonder.

Source: Österreichische Chronik der 95 Herrschaften, Burgerbibliothek Bern, Cod. A 45, Blatt 71v–72r, transcribed and modernized by Oliver Humberg, reviewed by Christian Sonder.

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The Black chamberlains of the “false Frederick” in the Rhineland and Hesse (1284) by Oliver Humberg and Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at