Tree Beekeeping in the Middle Ages

Medieval tree beekeeping was performed by professional beekeepers dedicated to the gathering of honey from wild or partially wild beehives.

Etymology

The word "Zeidlerei" originates from the Latin "excidere" (to cut out), which developed into the old German word "zeideln" (to cut honey).

 

The entire honeycomb was extracted from a hive, which meant that the continued existence of the beehive was of minor importance. The honey and wax could be immediately put to use and processed.

Zeidlerei – Historische Darstellung der Waldimkerei aus Adam Gottlob Schirachs Wald-Bienenzucht von 1774
Zeidlerei – Historische Darstellung der Waldimkerei aus Adam Gottlob Schirachs Wald-Bienenzucht von 1774

Prevalence

Coniferous softwood forests were ideal for tree beekeeping. The major areas used during the Middle Ages were Lausitz, the Fichtel mountains and the Nuremberg Reichswald. In Bavaria, for instance, evidence of forest beekeeping in the area around Grabenstätt has been dated back to 959 AD. In the area around present day Berlin, there was extensive trade performed by tree beekeepers, especially in the larger forests.

In the Nuremberg countryside, there are still numerous references to the once flourishing tree beekeeping profession (such as the Zeidler castle). Honey was an important ingredient in the world famous Nuremberg gingerbread; it was the Nuremberg Reichswald ("the Holy Roman Empire's Apiary") which provided a steady supply.

The German name "Zeidler" given to the present day Brtníky in the Czech Republic, can be traced back to traditional forest beekeeping. "Zeidler" is also the name of a former municipality in the district of Fördergersdorf in the Saxon town of Tharandt near the Tharandt Forest.

 


The Zeidler Charter of 1350

By the grace of God, I, Emperor Charles, the Roman King, expander of the Empire and King of Bohemia, with this charter, do declare and confirm the rights of the Zeidler of Nuremberg Reichswald, who have implored me to guarantee their longstanding legacy and traditions.

1. The Zeidler are exempt from paying duty throughout the Roman Empire.
2. The Zeidler foreman based in Feucht has judicial authority over the Zeidler Guild.
3. All Zeidler equipment is to be manufactured out of wood, which with the help of forestry workers and their superiors, can be sourced from the Nuremberg Forest for free. The respective forest owners should be paid with two Heller.
4. Each Zeidler has the right to transport out and sell two cartloads of trunk wood and branches from the Reichswald twice a week.
5. The Zeidler can pass on his forest rights to only one Zeidler.
6. The rightful Zeidler will determine alone, without the involvement of the ranger and forester, which trees he will use for beekeeping.
7. Every Zeidler foreman, who has his seat in Feucht, is legally entitled to decide the employment and discontinuation of any Zeidler at a Zeidler estate.
8. It is mandatory for each Zeidler, who leaves his Zeidler estate, to pay the Zeidler foreman 13 Heller. If the Zeidler foreman refuses this payment, then the Zeidler should leave the amount to his successor, who will then have to pay a Schilling Heller to the Zeidler foreman as part of his recruitment.
9. If a Zeidler foreman no longer wishes to hold the position of judicial authority, then following the counsel and will of the Zeidler Guild, the position can be transferred to another, who will also inherit his Zeidler estate.
10. To be able to execute the rights of the Zeidler, the Zeidler foreman will be equipped with six crossbows, the required number of arrows, the necessary drawn carriages and appropriate meals. If the foreman cannot maintain and care for this equipment, he will be dismissed from his office.
11. All proposed log beehive locations in the Reichswald must be approved and concentrated within the Imperial Apiary.
12. Whoever fells a tree beehive must pay the Zeidler foreman 10 Pound Heller plus a penalty of 1 Heller.  The owner of the tree beehive must also be compensated with 10 Pound Heller and a penalty of 1 Heller. Whoever fells a tree, whose crown has been sawn off, or is marked to be sawn off, and the crown is to be used for beekeeping, will pay the Zeidler foreman 1 Pound Heller and the tree owner also 1 Pound Heller as a penalty.
13. These and similar damages to any Zeidler work should be lodged by the Zeidler with their local authority in Feucht. If this is not done properly, then the complaint should be taken to the Imperial Judicial Officer, who will follow up and administer the required penance and fine.
14. No one is allowed, except an authorised Zeidler, to disturb or take a swarm of bees from the Apiary in the Nuremberg Reichswald.
15. Each Zeidler should deliver to the Imperial administrative body his honey funds proportional to his income.
16. The Zeidler may pledge a fee of 1 Pound Heller, as well as Lime, Sallow and Juniper trees. When the forester receives this fee, then the Zeidler, who takes the pollen, nectar and bees from the corresponding tree, will be refunded 1 Schilling Heller.
17. When the Zeidler requires wood for beehive building, he is allowed to remove it from the forest. The foresters must ensure that there is spruce and not only pine trees planted in their forests by their forestry workers.
18. I decree that the Zeidler foreman must work according to the targets of his and the Empire's service. This means he may demand food and board, the orderly exercise of his rights and the so-called White Penny.
19. If a murder or homicide occurs in the district of the Zeidler foreman, then both fall under the jurisdiction of the bailiff or the person, who acts on my and the Empire's behalf.


I am satisfied with this matter in light of the loyal and untiring service of the Zeidler for me and the Empire, into the future.

 

I confirm and affirm with my royal authority and special grace the exact wording and content of all the above rights and practices. They will also be maintained in future without any change.

This charter - fitted with my royal seal - is proclaimed in Nuremberg and put into effect. The year is 1350. Year after the birth of Christ and Corpus Christi the following Tuesday in the fourth year of my reign.

Interestingly, this privilege (The Zeidelrecht) was never specifically repealed, not even during the legal reorganisation of the Weimar Republic, so in theory it still stands today. A legal reference to this privilege can still be found in the civil law book.