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Friedrich Leopold, Count zu Stolberg

Born at Brammstedt in Holstein (then a part of Denmark), 7 November, 1750; d. at Sondermühlen near Osnabrück, 5 December, 1819. He belonged to the younger branch of the Stolberg family and was the son of a Danish magistrate and owner of a manorial estate. A few years after his birth the family moved to Copenhagen and soon formed friendships with distinguished literary men, especially Klopstock. Klopstock was then at the height of his fame and the fundamental principles which he held, devotion to God and country, made a deep impression on the young Stolberg. Stolberg's religious ideas, it must be acknowledged, remained at first somewhat misty and confused, as his parents held to an eclectic form of Christianity and read for their own edification the most heterogeneous authors, as Augustine and Luther, Fénelon and Saurin, Zinzendorf and Young. Together with his brother Christian, Friedrich Leopold went to the University of Halle in 1770, in order to study law. His other studies embraced the classics and various historical courses. Two years later the two brothers went to Göttingen, where they joined the little company called the "Hainbund", a society of young men who had high aspirations for the freedom of the country, and who cultivated German poetry. Some of the poetry by the members of the "Bund", has a permanent value. However, besides Bürger, Hölty, and Voss, of all the members of the "Bund" only Stolberg has, in reality, not been forgotten, and his name continues to live less on account of his literary productions than because of his conversion to Catholicism.

After completing his studies at the university Stolberg made a journey in Switzerland with Goethe and Count von Haugwitz in 1775. Here, besides meeting other distinguished persons, he became acquainted with Lavater, with whom he formed a lasting friendship. In 1777 he entered the service of the Protestant Prince-Bishop of Lübeck, and was for a while the bishop's envoy at the Danish Court. Somewhat later, in 1781, he was chief administrator at Eutin and in 1785 magistrate at Neuenburg in the Duchy of Oldenburg. Four years after this he was the Danish ambassador at Berlin. In 1791 he was appointed president of the board of ecclesiastical administration of the Prince-Bishop of Lübeck, and in 1797 he was sent as ambassador to Russia. On 1 June, 1800, he joined the Catholic Church in the private chapel of the Princess Gallitzin at Osnabrück, and on 22 August he resigned his various positions. After this he lived first at Münster in Westphalia, then from 1812 at Tatenhausen near Bielefeld, and finally from 1816 at Sondermühle near Osnabrück, where he died after a short illness. He was buried in the cemetery at Stockkempen. Stolberg was twice married. His first wife, Agnes von Witzleben, died on 11 November, 1788, after six years of happy married life, leaving two sons and two daughters. Two years later Stolberg married Countess Sophie von Redern. After their marriage he and his wife took a long journey through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. This tour was of great importance for his religious development, as he then made the acquaintance of the devout Catholic Freiherr von Droste-Vischering, as well as of Droste-Vischering's resident tutor, the distinguished theologian Katerkamp. By his second marriage Stolberg had a large family, and all, with the exception of the oldest daughter, followed the father's example and joined the Catholic Church in 1801. The oldest daughter, Agnes, was betrothed to the Lutheran Count Ferdinand of Stolberg-Wernigerode, but her son in 1854 became a Catholic. Four sons and two sons-in-law took part in the campaign against France in 1814; one of these sons was killed at Ligny (1815).

Stolberg's change of religion attracted great attention. Many of his numerous friends deserted and some abused him, such as Gleim, Jacobi, and others, or attacked him with bitter hatred as Voss in his pamphlet "Wie ward Fritz Stolberg ein Unfreier?" He was charged, and this charge is even now repeated, with having been a Catholic for years before he publicly left the Protestant Church. Men who judged of the facts as they were, as Freiherr von Stein, Goethe, and especially Lavater, looked on his conversion in a kindly spirit and imputed no ignoble motives to him. They were entirely justified in so doing, for even after his conversion and notwithstanding his genuine piety Stolberg was never able to rid himself altogether of the syncretism of the paternal home. Both in days of good and ill health he sought edification, after his conversion as before, from Protestant hymns and sermons. Even when dying, besides the prayers and hymns of the Church, he had read aloud to him Klopstock's poems and passages from the writings of the "Wandsbecker Boten", the well-known freemason, Claudius. He was also a warm friend of the late Bishop Sailer. Sailer's orthodoxy was doubted in his own day, but without reason; whatever be thought of his peculiar mysticism, he was a strong believer in the primacy of the pope, and a defender of the Church against State encroachments.

As regards Stolberg's literary works, there is no doubt that the quantity exceeded the quality. They may be divided thus: translations, as "Homer" (1778); "Plato" (1796); "Æschylus" (1802); poetry, as "Ballads" (1779), "Iambics" (1784), "Plays" (1787); "Travels" (1791); novels, as "The Island" (1788). After his conversion he devoted himself chiefly to the preparation of a "Geschichte der Religion Jesu Christi" (1806—), which is marked by a warmth of tone, although not without errors in investigation. He also wrote a history of Alfred the Great (1816); a life of St. Vincent de Paul; translated passages from the works of St. Augustine, and also wrote meditations on the Holy Scripture, which, however, together with the "Büchlein der Liebe", and the polemical pamphlet "Kurze Abfertigung des langen Schmähschrifts des Hofrats Voss", did not appear until after his death. At first Stolberg's muse was entirely influenced by the ideas of Klopstock. However, the poet soon abandoned the antique poetic measures and successfully adopted German rhyme. Most of his poetry is now out of date and scarcely half-a-dozen of his "Lieder" are known to the present generation. In his own day his translations from the classics were considered well done. At times credulity and lack of critical discernment mar his descriptions of travel and historical writings. Probably his best work is contained in his devotional writings, but even these are not entirely satisfactory, especially the translation of the numerous passages from the Bible, which at times are not very correct.

Joseph Stolberg

Son of the poet Friedrich Leopold, b. 12 August, 1804; d. 5 April, 1859. In 1849 he was president of the general assembly of Catholic Associations held at Ratisbon (2-5 October). At this congress the St. Boniface Association was founded, and Stolberg was elected its first president. In the winter of 1849-50 he made a laborious journey to all the episcopal sees of Germany, and until his death was constantly active in the interests of the association. Since 1904 his son Hermann (b. at Westheim in Westphalia, 28 February, 1854) has been president of the St. Boniface Association.

Katharina Stolberg

Sister of Friedrich Leopold, b. at Bramstedt, 5 December, 1751; d. at Peterswaldau, 22 February, 1832. Gifted with a highly poetical nature, she was one of the most learned women of her age. As she was most devotedly attached to her brother and lived with him after the death of his wife, his conversion aroused in her an intense struggle between her love for him and her Evangelical belief. In 1802 she also joined the Catholic Church; however, new mental struggles followed, and finally she returned to Protestantism.


     Gothaischer genealogischer Hofkalender, s.v.; Allgem. deutsche Biog., s.v.

About this page

APA citation. Wittman, P., & Löffler, K. (1912). Stolberg. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Wittman, Pius, and Klemens Löffler. "Stolberg." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. In memory of Fr. John Hilkert, Akron, Ohio — Fidelis servus et prudens, quem constituit Dominus super familiam suam.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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