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The Mummy of Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz

The Mummy of Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz, the Not So Chivalrous Knight

There are not many who would mourn the death of Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz, a German knight who is known to have frequently exercised droit du seigneur , a legal right in late medieval Europe allowing feudal lords to have sexual relations with subordinate women. Still, Kahlbutz receives many visitors, but not because he is sorely missed. Rather, many flock to see Knight Kahlbutz for his extraordinary state of natural preservation.

Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz (1651-1702) was a German knight who lived and died in Kampehl, Brandenburg. He is known to have had 11 children of his own and produced at least 30 other illegitimate children while exercising his right of droit du seigneur .

The right of the first night

Droit du seigneur, meaning “right of the lord” in French, was a feudal right that was said to have existed in medieval Europe giving the lord to whom it belonged the right to sleep the first night with the virgin bride of any one of his vassals.

According to German legend, Kahlbutz tried to claim his right of first night with the bride of a shepherd from Bückwitz, but she refused him. Furious that his right was being denied, he murdered the shepherd. The shepherdess, Maria Leppin, took Kahlbutz to court for murder, but he was acquitted after he exercised another bizarre and unjust ‘right’.  The elite were given special rights whereby they could swear an ‘oath of innocence’ and this would be taken as truth, leading to their acquittal.

Legend states that in declaring his innocence von Kahlbutz said "It was not I, otherwise after my death my body will not decay."

Vasily Polenov: Le droit du Seigneur (1874). A Victorian artist's painting of an old man bringing his young daughters to their feudal lord.

Vasily Polenov: Le droit du Seigneur (1874). A Victorian artist's painting of an old man bringing his young daughters to their feudal lord. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The death of Knight Kahlbutz

Kahlbutz died in Brandenburg at the age of 52 and was placed in in a double coffin in a family tomb located in the church of Kampehl. In 1794, while the church was being renovated, the coffins were retrieved in order to move them to the local cemetery. When they were opened, it was discovered that all of the corpses had decayed, except for that of Kahlbutz, supposedly affirming his guilt based on the oath he made before the court.

When Kahlbutz’ coffin was opened, his body was found to be mummified

When Kahlbutz’ coffin was opened, his body was found to be mummified ( Wikimedia Commons )

The natural mummification of Kahlbutz

An analysis of the remains of Kahlbutz revealed that his body had not been intentionally mummified. Scientists are still not certain what conditions caused his body to remain so well preserved, while those of his family, who were kept in the same environmental conditions, were not. Today, the most accepted theory is that Kahlbutz had died of an illness that caused the emaciation of his body before death, such as cancer, muscular dystrophy, or tuberculosis.  Historical sources say that Kahlbutz suffocated on his own blood, which suggests that he experienced severe blood loss before death, which could have contributed to his mummification. 

The body of Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz, the not-so-chivalrous knight, remains on display in the church of Kampehl in Brandenburg.

The mummified body of Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz in the church of Kampehl, Brandenburg, Germany

The mummified body of Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz in the church of Kampehl, Brandenburg, Germany ( Wikimedia Commons )

Further reading:

The Mummy of Knight Kahlbutz: The Natural Mummy of the Less than Chivalrous Knight Kahlbutz – Atlas Obscura. Available from: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/mummy-knight-kahlbutz

Ritter Kahlbutz: The Mummy of Knight Kahlbutz – Unlike.net. Available from: http://unlike.net/berlin/escapism/ritter-kahlbutz-the-mummy-of-knight-kahlbutz

Droit du seigneur: Feudal Law – Encyclopedia Britannica. Available from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/532829/droit-du-seigneur 

Featured image: The Mummy of Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz ( Wikimedia Commons )

By April Holloway

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