Dr. Florian Schönfuß

  • History of the European Nobility
  • New Military History
  • Agricultural History
  • History of the Holy Roman Empire

Not long after I began my studies of History, Geography and Classical and Ancient Studies at the University of Cologne I got into contact with Neue Militärgeschichte (New Military History). Starting shortly after the German reunification, this movement reflected a revived academic interest in military history, which after 1945 had more or less disappeared from the curricula of German universities, decidedly addressing civil-military relationships. Blending well into my then already strong interest in Early Modern History, I embraced the opportunity of attending respective seminars and courses outlining the history of the Thirty Years War on the basis of contemporary printings and manuscripts held in local archives, which eventually led me to prepare a corresponding PhD project.

Nevertheless, given the very promising contemporaneous opening of the till then inaccessible private family archives of the Rhenish nobility comprising of rich, hitherto unknown material, I seized the opportunity to become part of a French-German research project of the German Historical Institute Paris responding to a strongly revived interest in the history of the European nobility during the Age of Revolutions. Within this context, the project focused on the Rhineland, distinguished by its long period of French rule (1794-1814), asking how the regional nobility reacted to fundamental political, social, and economic change. Glancing at the military as a traditional arena of noble culture, I examined the rendering of military service to changing state and semi-sovereign actors as a means of accommodating to an accelerated tide of events, but also as a yet highly combinable instrument of noble family strategy integrated into a comprehensive system of providing for rank-befitting positions, income, lifestyle, prestige, and patronage.

After finishing my PhD, I conducted research for a planned postdoctoral research project in transnational economic history aimed at assessing agricultural entrepreneurs as profiteers of the Napoleonic Wars at the University of Wuppertal. Moreover, I engaged in an interdisciplinary research project on Early Modern noble antiquities collections initiated by the German Archeological Institute and the universities of Bonn and Cologne. Lastly, I worked on a critical edition of the diaries of Alfred Haehner (1880-1949), a military doctor serving as personal physician of Emperor William II in Dutch exile.

Since October 2019 I work on the Vienna case study within Prof. Peter Wilson’s ERC research project on the European Fiscal-Military System 1530-1870 (https://fiscalmilitary.history.ox.ac.uk/vienna).

Featured Publication

Mars im hohen Haus. Zum Verhältnis von Familienpolitik und Militärkarriere beim rheinischen Adel 1770-1830 (= Herrschaft und soziale Systeme in der Frühen Neuzeit, vol. 22), Göttingen 2017.


In the Age of Revolutions, military service more than ever formed a central arena in the nobility's struggle to conserve its privileged societal position. However, within the scope of a recently renewed academic research on the German nobility this integral sector of the noble living realm hitherto lay largely in darkness. On the basis of as yet inaccessible records emanating form the Rhenish nobility's private archives the author focuses on a regional noble community which due to the Rhineland's long period of French occupation was challenged above all average by the fundamental changes in the wake of the French Revolution. By means of a cross-generational approach the author not only demonstrates the increasing significance of military careers for the acquisition of patronage, income, social prestige and political influence. For the first time, noble military careers are furthermore revealed as a meaningful instrument of a patriarchal family management the Rhenish nobility virtuously utilized to adapt to radically altered political and societal conditions.