12 October 2010

Totenkopf

The Duke of Wolfenbüttel, imprisoned by Napoleon, revived the Order of the Death's Head (Totenkopf), founded in 1652 by the Duke of Württemberg-Oels. The revival of this order apparently was realised in the rising of the Black Legion of Germany that defeated Napoleon. The Death's Head was on the headgear of all the Brunswick Hussars. Knights and ladies of the Order had to devote their life to contemplation on the "secrets of God and Nature" and the meaning of life in accordance with the maxim of "Memento mori" (translation: 'remember you will die' or 'be mindful of death'). Religious insignia consisted of a silver or white enamel totenkopf, suspended with a black neck ribbon with silver embroidered words "Memento mori" and a silver ring with a skull worn on the left hand. The Order expired upon the death of the prince Sylwiusz in 1664. It was revived by his granddaughter Elizabeth Luiza Fr. Saksonii-Merseburga in 1709 as a sisterhood, only to expire again after her death. The spirit of this order has lived on, and has been used by many more generations of armies. The Totenkopf is an eternal reminder that death is certain.

6 comments:

Tabitha said...

How utterly fascinating, I had no idea of the history behind the Totenkopf. My friend's grandfather served was in their most recent reincarnation, I shall look upon his photographs and death's head insignia with a renewed interest.

Des Esseintes said...

Wuerttemberg-Oels it is.

It has been a tradition in German military history that particular elite units of the various major and minor principalities, and later the German Reich, carried some variant of the skull and bones as their insignia.

Best known, besides the Hitler's even later bunch of assassins, are the German Imperial "Totenkopfhusaren" (1st and 2nd Leib-Husaren-Regiment, not to be confused with the Leib-Garde-Husaren-Regiment).

dE

Hilton said...

Excellent post, Admiral, excellent. Keep up the good work.

Belle de Ville said...

And...Memento Mori or Mourning jewelry stayed popular until the late 91th Century. Usually, the jewelry consisted of a locket/brooch filled with the braided hair of the deceased.
It's creepy when you actually see it.
I wonder, does wearing a Patek watch that has been handed down within the family count as Memento Mori?

A.E.F. said...

Admiral, "In human hearts what bolder thought can rise,
Than man's presumption on to-morrow's dawn?"
Edward Young: Night Thoughts

Anonymous said...

I was "shopping" over at Sotheby's and came across a man's watch chain and fob that sounds like it fits the "Totenkopf" description. What do you think?

http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?from=salesummary&intObjectID=5365746&sid=066ef1db-864c-49d8-bed4-968111960709