Ursula Naumann

El Caballero Gustavo Bergenroth - How a Prussian Researcher Made History in Spain

With 30 black-and-white images
(German title: El Caballero Gustavo Bergenroth.)
ca. 300 pages
Ursula Naumann
Foto: Ursula Naumann
© Jürgen Bauer

Ursula Naumann, born in 1945, lives in Erlangen where she works as a freelance author. Her meticulously researched and brilliantly written biographical accounts have been published by Insel Verlag, C. H. Beck and Andere Bibliothek. In 2014, she was awarded the Friedrich-Baur-Prize by the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts.

Selected Backlist:
Auf Forsters Canapé. Liebe in Zeiten der Revolution (2012)

Geträumtes Glück. Angelica Kauffmann und Goethe (2007)

Schiller, Lotte und Line. Eine klassische Dreiecksgeschichte (2004)

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A Prussian jurist deciphering the secret Simancas records: a feat of cryptology unsurpassed to this day


Early in the morning of August 20, 1860, the East-Prussian jurist Gustav Bergenroth arrives in Simancas, an isolated village in Castile. His destination: the official archive of the Crown of Castile, an ancient castle fortified with thick walls, moats, towers and battlements, which has only recently become accessible to researchers. He wishes to conduct research on the Tudor period, the most colourful era of English history.

But he has no idea what is expecting him: Endless volumes of encrypted records no one has deciphered before him. Over the course of eight and a half years he cracks the most complicated of codes under the most adverse of circumstances – a master stroke of cryptology. What he discovers and publishes in astute, unillusioned reports turns firmly established conceptions of history upside down and shocks his contemporaries.

Who is this Gustav Bergenroth? Born and raised in the Masurian provinces, a dedicated democrat, fighting on the barricades during the Revolutions of 1848, escaping to California after their defeat, then emigrating to London – he has already had a lot of adventurous experiences. But Simancas was to become the crucial chapter of his life full of vicissitudes.

Ursula Neumann has written a brilliantly researched and captivatingly told biography. She achieves nothing less than to portray a man who revolutionised against his times and against historiography.


»A combination of literarily polished entertainment, historical education (that by no means flaunts itself) and emotional dedication.« DIE ZEIT on Auf Forsters Canapé