Balthasar Speyrer: School Teacher & Court Official

by Bishop Jude Speyrer

(Two previous articles featured topics like the name, place and year of birth of the original SPEYRER ancestor. Readers encountering today's material for the first time need to know that initial records show the first SPEYRER to reach Dörrenbach (Konrad Speyrer's hometown) was a man called Balthasar Speyerer. He arrived there from Wertheim am Main at the age of 19 to become the town's school master.

Balthasar Speyrer (the name was then spelled SPEYERER) (See my article A Trip to Germany Part 2,) was born in 1546, the year Martin Luther died. When Michael Frick, (the first schoolmaster in Dörrenbach whose name is known), died, Balthasar was hired to succeed him.

Balthasar Speyrer, a student for the ministry (Lutheran) was also expected when needed to visit the sick, help on Sunday with the Lord's Supper and occasionally preach at the midweek evening service in addition to his duties in the classroom).

In all of Guttenber, Dörrenbach was the very first hamlet to enjoy a school of its own. Founded in 1545, the school was a one-class, one-room establishment which remained that way for almost 300 years until in 1829 a grade for girls was introduced. ( Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that Konrad was by then 13 years old and undoubtedly still in school). Doerrenbach was ahead of its time; schools in byear-ny communities of similar size did not exist until at least fifteen years later.

For the first 8 years from the school's founding in 1545, a succession of principals was hired whose names are not even recorded. Nor was the position always filled. A report from the town's pastor written in 1553 laments that ``there's normally a school-teacher to help with the singing, but right now I have no one.''

Then came Michael Frick, the first whose name we do know. Frick died in an epidemic of the Black Death 11 years later and was replaced by our progenitor, the young theology student from Wertheim. Herr Frick was at that time being paid 40 Guilders a year. (In the XVI cemtru. this could have been worth as much as $800 to $1000 in purchasing power today).

Frick's successor was Balthasar Speyerer. Only boys made up his classes, and these attended school solely during the winter time; they were understandably needed by their parents to work in the fields during the planting, growing and harvesting seasons. From extant school records we know that in 1579, for example, all of 14 boys filled the classroom desks!

Balthasar Speyrer was slightly better paid than his predecessor Frink; he drew 40 Guilders for his teaching and 20 Guilders as the town's bell-ringer. This last amount, collect door-to-door, regularly had to be topped out from church and community funds.

But what about Herr Speyrer's duties as a court official?

In Dörrenbach, as in Kandel, Kleeburg and Barbelroth (surrounding villages) the school teacher was commonly pressed into service as the Clerk of Court (or recorder), often at the expense of education.

In 1567, during Balthasar's tensure as school principal, pastor Friederich Scheer filed this complaint: "On the 4th, there was no school; drawing loud protests from parents and causing harmful neglect to our youth. Why? Because school teachers are now expected to officiate as Clerks of Court in Dörrenbach and . . . (other villages), creating much confusion. Through we would want it otherwise, it seems that teaching now takes second place.''

By the time my great-grandfather, Konrad Speyrer, born in 1816, reached school age, 19 school principals had succeeded his ggggggrandfather (The number of generations is my estimate; I simply used 35 years as the span of one generation) in that job! The man in charge from 1819 to 1863 when Konrad learned his ABC's, was Heinrich Sprenger who in 44 years at the helm of the Dörrenbach school was destined to become a legend. Ten years into the job, he now had 120 children in his charge! But by that time, an aide was assigned to him to teach the girls who for the first time formed a separate section of their own. For almost 300 years. the school had been a single-class, one-room enterprise (Records at hand do not indicate when the one-room school became co-educational).

Thereafter, things were never the same again.

Return to Speyrer Family Home Page