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The Textual Sources of the Pied Piper Legend

by Julian Scutts

The Sources of Stories telling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin with attendant Commentaries

An informed opinion should rest on evidence. In an old anecdote, two philosophers were arguing on the basis of theoretical conjectures about the number of teeth a horse might have. At last a young lad asked: "Why not open that house's mouth and count them."

This documentation comprises early accounts of stories telling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin and includes commentaries on developments of the story’s basic theme produced by the absorption of new material or significant modifications added through the course of time. The sequence and chronology of the following texts are based on the findings of Hans Dobbertin in his authoritative study Quellensammlung zur Hamelner Rattenfängersage (Göttingen: Otto Schwartz, 1970).


  • Time Line

a. Around the End of the 13th Century

 Probably the earliest version of the story on record, which dates from the end of the 13th century, is recorded on a beam visible on a wall of the so-called 'Rattenfängerhaus' located on the site of the medieval east gate of Hamelin, the gate through which the Piper, according to an old tradition, led 130 children as he left the town.


Anno 1284 am Dage Johanni et Pauli, war der 26 Junii, CXXX Kinder verledet, binnen Hameln geborn dorch einen Piper mit allerlei Farve bekleidet gewesen to Calvarie bi den Koppen verloren.

(In the year 1284 on the day of John and Paul, the 26th of June, 130 children born in Hamelin were led away by a piper dressed in many-coloured clothes to Calvary close to the Koppen and were there lost).


This brief and chaste account offers little or no commentary on the few basic facts it contains. These details are precise referring as they do to a particular date, a particular year, the precise number of children and particular place names. No explanation concerning the nature and cause of the loss of the children is apparent. We can only make inferences from possible hints provided by certain details:

The mention of a saint’s day and the name 'Calvarie' seem to imply a connection with the domain of religious belief and tradition. A further clue may lie in the reference to Koppen. Only 10 miles from Hamelin lies the small town of Coppenbrügge. The resemblance of the names of Koppen the hill and the town of Coppenbrügge does not appear to be coincidental. Hans Dobbertin and other researchers have concluded that Nikolas von Spiegelberg is the most likely historical person to be identified with the Pied Piper. The counts of Spiegelberg had recently established residence in Coppenbrügge before 1284. Dobbertin held the opinion that Nicholas von Spiegelberg acted as a recruiting agent urging the youth of Hamelin to emigrate to areas in Pomerania and contribute to the founding colonies there. In Dobbertin’s view a contingent of 130 young people perished at sea on a voyage to the area to be colonized. Nicholas von Spiegelberg mysteriously vanished from history a few weeks after the 26th of June 1284. A theory put forward by Herr Gernot Hüsam asserts that Spiegelberg led the youths of Hamelin to a high hill overlooking Coppenbrügge, previously known as the Koppenberg or Koppan, where they met their end, either as the result of a natural rock fall or of a massacre. In the latter case the motive of the murderer or murderers may have been the suppression of heathen or heretical rites performed near or on the Koppenberg. DVDs in English and German may be ordered. Those interested should  contact: either or


b. Around 1394


Henricus Meibom in Historia Bardewicir Rerum Germanicarum from a parchment in Hamelin monastery (since lost) – , 1688 III, p. 60). Dobbertin cites another version copied from a missal . This bears the title of Passionale Sanctorum by Johann Daniel Gottlieb Herr, Collectanea zur Geschichte der Stadt Hameln, manuscript dated 1761. This is the probable wording in the original version of the account written on a parchment from which later versions were copied (Dobbertin).


Anno millesimo ducentesimo quarto in die Johannis et Pauli, perdiderunt Hamelenes centum triginta pueros, qui intraverunt montem Calvariam, Maria audi nos, tibi Filius nil negat. Post duo CC.mille, post octoginta (octuaginta) quaterue (quaterque),Annus hic est ille, quo languet sexus uterque, Orbantes /orbantis) pueros centumque triginta Joannis (Johannis) Et Pauli caros Hamelenses, non sine damnis.Fatur ut omnes (omnis) eos vivos Calvaria sorpsit. Christe tuere tuos / overwritten “roes”). Ne tam mala res obsit.

Mary, hear us, for your Son denies you nothing. 1284 is that year when members of both sexes languish (through weakness), the year of the day John and Paul, which the 130 dear children of Hamelin swept away and not without doom. It is said that Calvary swallowed them alive. Christ, protect the guilty so that no similar evil fate  overtake them.


A comment: This clearer hint of a disaster implies a negative interpretation of the original account of events. Calvary at the time was identified with the mouth of hell which was believed to swallow sinners. According to Gernot Hüsam this account alludes to neo-pagan, possibly orgiastic, celebrations near the summit of Koppen, now the Ithberg (viz. DVD Der Rattenfänger /Julian Scutts and Gernot Hüsam (see above).



c. Around 1430/50


Translation from the Original in Latin, the text of which will be supplied in due course


A very amazing miracle is to be reported which occurred in the town of Hamelin in the diocese of Minden in the year of the Lord 1284, exactly on the saints' day of John and Paul. A certain young man of thirty years of age, good-looking and decidedly well-dressed, so much so that all who observed him personally also admired his clothing, stepped over a bridge and came in through the Weser bridge. He had a silver pipe of strange design and began to play upon it as he passed through the town. And all the boys (or children) who heard that pipe, about 130 in number, followed him through the eastern gate, bound as for Calvary, or the place of execution, departed and disappeared, allowing nobody to discover where even a single one of them might remain. The mothers of the boys (children) ran from town to town abut found out nothing.


(Thus [it is written in Matthew 2,18)]. 'A voice is heard in Ramah, and every mother wept for her son'. And just as the years of the Lord are counted or the first, second and third years of  an anniversary commemorate some great event, so in Hamelin they count the first, second and third year after the exodus and disappearance of the children. This I discovered in an old book. And the mother of the Dean Johann von Lüde saw the children depart.)


There follows an account of a fatal accident that occurred in 1347 when three brothers were suffocated after falling into a sewer.

Record by a third and final scribe on the closing page of an abridged version of Catena Aurea of the monk of Minden, Heinrich von Herford (died 1370) about the exodus of the children of Hamelin.


This account is relatively free of value judgements but emphasises the emotional suffering of the mothers who had lost their children.


d. 1553 (1557) by Hans Zeitlos


Es ligt auch ein Berg ungeuerlich eines Puchss scus weitt von dieser statt, der ist Caluaria genannt, sagten die Burger, das anno 1283 Ein groser man gesehen sey worden gleich einem spilman, welcher ein rock mit vil farben angehabt, vnd ein Pipen oder pfeiffen, damit er in der stat gepfiffen. Do sind die Kinder in der statt mit hinausgeloffen bis vff den vorgenantten Berg vund alda bey jme versuncken; alein 2 derselben Kinder sind wider nackend hamkumen, das eine verplind, das ander stumbt. Als aberdie wieiber, jre Kinder zu suchen hinausgeloffen, hat jnen der vorgenannt man gesagt: vber 300 jar wollt er wieder kommen vnd mer kinder holen, seien der 130 gewest, Furchten sich demnach die leut desselben Ortts, derselb man werde, so man 1583 zelen sol, wieder kommen.


There is a mount (ungeuerlich eines Puchss scus?) not far from this town, named Calvary; the townsfolk said that in the year 1283 a big man was seen, being like a musician, dressed in a coat of many  colours, having a pipe or pipes with which he played in the town. Then the children of the town ran out with him to the a mountain aleady referred to and all sank down close to it; only two naked children came back, the one blind the other dumb. When the women ran out looking for their children, the aforesaid man said he would return after 300  years and fetch more children apart from the 130 there had already been. Afterwards the people of the same locality feared the same man would return in 1583, as they reckoned.


Source: Hans Zeitlos in the Bamberger Chronik in 1557. He was being held hostage in north Germany in 1553 and visited Hamelin in the June of that year.

Note the reference to a blind and deaf child and a prophecy of the Piper’s return. Reference to 1283 from town book “Donat” (Dobbertin).


e. 1555/6: The Piper becomes the Devil (Jobus Fincelius)


Von des Teuffels gewalt vnnd / boßheyt wil ich hie ein wahrhafftige/ Historiam melden. Vngefehrlich für / 180 jaren hat sichs begeben zu Ham/mel inn Sachsen an der Weser, das / der Teuffel am tag Marie Magdalen/ne inn menschlicher gestalt sichtiglich / auff den gassen vmgegangen ist, hat / gepfiffen, vnd vil kinder, kneble vund meidle an sich gelockt, vnd tum stad/thor nauß geführt an ein berg. Da er / dahin gekommen, hat er sich mit den kin/dern, der sehr vil gewest, verloren, das / niemandt gewüst, wo die kinder hin/kommen sind. Solchs hat ein Meidle, das von fern nachgefolgt, jren El/tern angezeigt,ist derwegen bald auff/ wasser vund Land an allen örtern fleis/sige nachforschung vund bestellung geschehen. Ob die kinder villeicht gesto/len vnd hinweg geführt weren word/den. Aber es hat kein mensch erfarn, wo sie hin kommen sind. Solchs hat / die Eltern höchlich betrübt, vnnd ist einschröcklich exempel götlichs Zorns /vberdie sünde. Solches alles ist be/schriben in dem Stadbuch zu Ham/mel, da es vil hoher Leut selbs gelesen / vnd gehört.


Of the Devil's power and malice I wish to relate a true historical account. About one hundred and eighty years ago it came about in Hamelin in Saxony on the river Weser that upon the day of Mary Magdalene the Devil visibly in human form walked the lanes of Hamelin and by playing a pipe lured after him many children, both boys and girls,leading out through the town gate to a mountain. Once there, he with the children, who were great in number, could no longer be found and nobody could tell where they had gone. Such a report a girl who had followed at some distance, passed to her parents. Consequently a diligent search on land and water was made to ascertain whether the children had stolen and led away. But no mortal came to know where they had gone. All this greatly distressed the parents and it afforded a terrible example of God's wrath against sin. Such is written down in the town book of Hamelin and so many highstanding people could read and learn about it themselves.


Source: Oldest printed version of the story. Jobus Fincelius, Wunderzeichen, Part 1, Foreword 1555. Report on the year 1533.


On 14 October flying dragons were reportedly seen in Etschland and other parts. If one subtracts 180 years, one alights on 1350, when the Donat document was on exhibition.

Reference to the day of Mary Magdalene (22 July) may have been derived from a Pomeranian version of the legend (Dobbertin), but there is no obvious reason why the day of John and Paul (22nd June) or the year 1284 should be replaced by the day of Mary Magdalene (22nd July) and the year 1376. It is clear, however, that an element of continuity is can be found by the substitution of one saint's day by another. Robert Browning's famous poem makes the 22nd of July the date of the Piper's return to Hamelin, which possibly reflects his deep interest in the motif of death and resurrection inferable from the legend at one level of interpretation. Prosper Mérimée evidently recognized the principle of substituting one saint's by another in his novel Chronique du Regne de Charles IX, (1829) as in this the story of the Pied Piper is linked with the massacre of Huguenots on Saint Bartholomew's Eve in 1572. The notorious massacre of the Jews of Cologne in 1469 also fell on Saint Bartholomew's Day.

This account is the first to explicitly equate the Piper with the Devil. This may be understood as the ultimate result of the Piper's possible association with occult practices. It more probably results from the climate of hysteria that attended the witch hunts and religious rancour of the sixteenth century.


f.    1565/68 The Fusion of the Original Story of the Pied Piper and the Theme of a Rat-Catcher


Almost simultaneously two writers gave accounts of the story of the Pied Piper which correspond to the popular versions of the tale with which we are familiar. These writers were Count Christoph Froben von Zimmern and Johannes Weirus (see below).

Stories about those who rid towns of rats or other vermin can be found in many traditions in places as distant from Europe as China. Rats had become associated with the notion of death, plague and evil after the Black Death of 1348 to 1352. However, the introduction of the theme of a pact and the breach of a contract must have arisen spontaneously through the fusion of the two main narrative strands composing the new version of the legend. One supposes this reflected a deep concern with financial contracts and wages, one aggravated, perhaps, by social unrest among the peasant and wage-earning classes at the end of the Middle Ages. Gernot Hüsam believes that the motif of rats (and mice) is implicit in the original story as references to  rats and mice may have connoted the catching of souls by a seductive evil force.


f,I Around 1565: Report on the Hamelin Piper and Ratcatcher legend in the Chronicle of the Count Froben Christoph von Zimmern and his secretary Johannes Müller.


Das ich aber widerumb uf die ratzenmaterie kom, so kan ich nit underlasen, ain wunderwerk Gotes, so sich in gleichförmiger gestalt vor vil jaren mit vertreibubg der ratzen in der Statt zu Hamen in Westfalen begeben hat zu melden, dann es seiner selzamkeit und ungewöne der gedechtnus wol würdig, und darass auch wol abzunehmen, das der allmechtig in seinen gescepfn wunderbare, die auch mit menschlicher Vernunft nit zu durchgründen.


Vor etlichen hundert jarn sein die inwonner der stat Hammeln in estphaln mit ainer solchen groen anzall und viele ratzen geplagt worden, das inen ein solichs überbeschwerlich und nahendt unleidenlich gewesen. Begabt sich, das ungeferdt, oder villeucht user der verhenknus Gottes ein frembder , unbekannter man oder ain landtfarer, wie man dann vor zeiten in unsern deutschen landen die farende schueler gefunden, dahi gekommen. Da derselbig die clag und beschwerdt der burger vernommen, hat er sich erpotten, wo sie im dafür lonen und ein willen machen, welle er inen der ratzen allerdings abhelfen. Solchs seins anbringens sein sie wol erfrewt, haben im uf sein vordern und begern ein zimliche anzal gelts uf etlich hundert guldin versprochen und zugesagt. Uf das er durch alle gassen der Stat mit eim pfeifle gangen, dasselbig an den mundt genommen und gepfiffen. Alsbaldt haben sich alle ratzen der ganzen Stat usser allen heusern versamlet und haufechtig mit ungleublicher anzall im uf dem fueß nachgelofen für die Stat. Da hat er sie in den nechst beiligenden berg verbannet, und volgends kein ratz mehr in der stat geseurt, noch gemerkt worden. Also hat er das versprochen gelt an sie, wie er dann mit inen überkommen, erfordert. Dessen haben sie sich gespert und gewidert, gleichwol sie im der abrede gestendig gewesen, haben aber doch gemaint, seitmals im nit vil mühe oder costen darauf gelofen, sondern hab die Sach geschwindt, ohne alle arbait sonder ains zimlichen oder sonderliche kunst vericht, sollte er sovil nit begern, sich beniegen lasen und ain weniges nemen. Es wolt aber der frembt man sich von seiner vorderung nit weisen lasen und beharret uf dem, wie sie mit im überkommen und im versprochen hetten, dann wo sie das nit theun, würde er rewenhernach, aber villeucht zu spat, volgen, und burgerschaft aber beharret uf dem, das es gar zu vil were, und wolten im nit mer geben. Also wie er sahe, das er bei ine nichs erhalten, gieng er wieder durch alle gassen der statt mit seinem pfeifle, wie vor; da sein im mertails der jungen kindt under acht oder neun jaren, die geen haben kinden, knaben und medlin, uf dem fueß nachgevolgt, für der stat zum nechsten berg. Der selbig hat sich wunderbarlich gegen inen ufgethon, und ist also so der unerkant man mit den kindern in den berg gangen. Der hat sich gleich wider beschlossen, und fürter ist weder der man oder die kinder nimmer merr gesehen worden. Wiewol nun damaln ein groser jammer in der ganzen stat entstanden, so haben sie doch der sach weiter nit thuen kinden, sonder dem allmechtigen bevelchen müeßen und irer aignen schuldt geben müesen. Diser wunderbarlichen geschicht zu ewig gedechtnus schreibt iezermelte stat in allen iren briefen am datum nach Christi gepurt die rechte jarzall, daran henken sie aber and nach verlierung unserer kinder in dem oder dem jar. Es ist dises schreiben sich im datum der Stat hammel nit zu hoch zu verwundern, so wir doch wissen, das im erzstift Trier gebreuchlich, so das new jar anfacht, das solichs nit schreint nach der gepurt Christi, wie in allen lendern gepreuchlich, sonder man schreibt nach der mentschwerdung christi im jar etc., und wurt das jar angefangen uf unser Frawen tag der verkindigung. doch gemaint, seitmals im nit vil mühe oder costen darauf gelofen, sondern hab die Sach geschwindt, ohne alle arbait sonder ains zimlichen oder sonderliche kunst vericht, sollte er sovil nit begern, sich beniegen lasen und ain weniges nemen. Es wolt aber der frembt man sich von seiner vorderung nit weisen lasen und beharret uf dem, wie sie mit im überkommen und im versprochen hetten, dann wo sie das nit theun, würde er rewenhernach, aber villeucht zu spat, volgen, und burgerschaft aber beharret uf dem, das es gar zu vil were, und wolten im nit mer geben.Also wie er sahe, das er bei ine nichs erhalten, gieng er wieder durch alle gassen der statt mit seinem pfeifle, wie vor; da sein im mertails der jungen kindt under acht oder neun jaren, die geen haben kinden, knaben und medlin, uf dem fueß nachgevolgt, für der stat zum nechsten berg. Der selbig hat sich wunderbarlich gegen inen ufgethon, und ist also so der unerkant man mit den kindern in den berg gangen. Der hat sich gleich wider beschlossen, und fürter ist weder der man oder die kinder nimmer merr gesehen worden


While on the subject of rats, I simply cannot miss this opportunity of reporting on a miracle by God that happened many years ago involving the expulsion of rats in the town of Hamelin in Westphalia. This event deserves a place in human memory on account of its unusual and strange quality, for we may gather from it evidence that the Almighty works wonders which cannot be fathomed by human reason.

Several centuries ago the inhabitants of the town of Hamelin in Westphalia were plagued with such a great number of rats that the situation became highly distressful and well nigh unbearable. It happened whether by chance or perhaps through the providence of God that a strange and unfamiliar man or country vagrant arrived on the scene, like one of the wandering scholars who one used to come across in German domains in by-gone times. When this person heard the complaint and suffering of the townsfolk, he made an offer under the terms of which the town  would give him a reward and concession should he help them to get rid of the rats.

The town was very pleased with his offer and on his request promised him a substantial sum of money amounting to several hundred guilders. Thereupon  he passed through all the streets of the town with his small pipe, which he placed on his mouth and proceeded to play. Immediately all the rats in the whole town collected outside the houses and followed his footsteps through the town  massively, in unbelievably high numbers. Then he exiled them in the nearest mountain and so no more rats were seen or noticed in the town after that. He then claimed the promised money as per agreement with the townspeople.To this they objected and replied that, while acknowledging the agreement, they were of the opinion that since he had not exerted great efforts or incurred costs but accomplished the task briskly without any remarkable show of skill, it was not right of him to demand too much but rather be satisfied with a modest remuneration. However, the stranger refused to withdraw his demand and insisted on receiving what they had agreed to and promised, threatening that if they failed to do so, he would retaliate,  perhaps with irreversible consequences, but the town corporation remained entrenched in their position that the agreed sum was far too high and confirmed that they would not yield to his demand.

So when he saw that he would not get any change out of them, he once again went through all the street of the town with his little pipe, as he had done so before. The children of the town, mainly boys and girls under eight or nine years of age, followed his footsteps from the town to the nearest mountain, the which opened its side miraculously on their arrival, and so the stranger with the children went into the mountainside. This closed behind them again and after that nothing was seen of the man or the children ever again.

Now that a great lament had arisen in the entire town, they were unable to undertake any further action but could only beseech the Almighty and confess their own guilt. To commit this marvelous story to  memory of posterity for all time the secretaries, dating their letters in the usual way with the year after the birth of the Lord, tack on the year after the "loss of our children" accordingly. Such need hardly come as a surprise in Hamelin, and we know that in the archbishopric of Trier it is customary that when a new year begins, the date given is not the birth of Christ, as is otherwise the case in all other countries, but that of the years after Incarnation and the year began with the Annunciation to our Lady.



Notes: No emphasis on any evil character of the Piper but rather on the dishonesty of the town elders. Story seen as a testimony to the power of God. The rats did not drown in this account but were taken into a mountain. Interest in counting years from a notable event.


f, ii Account by Johannes Weir 1566/7


Tibicen quidam Hammelae ad eliciendo glires conductu, sequenti rependet facinore ingratitudinem, cum illi ex pacto non satisfierent. Num (1) anno millesimo ducentesimo quarto, die uicesimo sexto Iunii, hunc tibicinem Omnicolorem nuncupatum ob uestis uarietatem, centum et treginta pueri Hammelae nati sequati sunt, in Caluarie sub montem Koppen dicto perierunt. Vnus superstes relictus narrauit. En daemonem tibicinem sanguinarium.


A certain piper, who was commissioned to drive out the rats in Hamelin in return for a certain wage, exacted retribution for the ingratitude of those who refused to pay him the contracted reward by committing the following heinous crime.

For in 1284 on the 26th of June, 130 children born in Hamelin followed this piper called the man of all colours on account of the appearance of his clothing and then perished at Calvary under the mountain called the 'Koppen. A male who was left behind and spared the fate of the others reported this. Obviously a case of a pipe-playing blood-sucking demon.


Source: Johannes Weier De praestigiis daemonium


g.   1592 Watercolour by Freiherr (Baron) Augustin von Moersperg, Click:


This highly revealing picture betrays the artist's thorough research of the legend as it  contains a detail of three stags, the emblem of the counts of Spiegelberg and  possibly allusions to Saint Peter the Fisher of Souls, Calvary and aspects of medieval mysticism .


Gernot Hüsam, the custodian of the Coppenbrügge Museum near Hamelin, claims to interpret the picture in accordance with the way medieval symbolic pictures were to be read. For a video clip on this topic please click .


The left side of a picture accordingly portrays something "sinister" (viz. original Latin meaning for "left"). This side is dominated by the figure of the Pied Piper

The right side indicates all  that belongs to 'the right' in the widest sense, the divinely appointed, the righteous. Here we see a typical "Petri-Fischer" representing Saint Peter,  the fisher of souls.

In the middle, the focus of the picture, we see three stags, and  as such,  the visual representations of  the three stags  composing  the coat of arms of the  hereditary counts von Spiegelberg in Coppenbrügge. The three brothers, Nikolaus von Spiegelberg, Moritz and Herman (the young stag without full grown antlers), are traditionally identified as those who rid Hamelin of the young devotees of heathen midsummer rites  practised on the "Coppanberg", which, as Gernot Hüsam  has certified by reference to  a document  in the Museum archive dating from 1013, was the 'Koppen' to which the earliest reports concerning the Pied Piper referred.


Reportedly there are still 'strange goings-on' in the upper reaches of  the  same rocky elevation, now called the Oberberg. The region contains stone age figures, apparently sculptures, such as those termed 'Adam and Eve', ( see here) earlier venerated as  divine objects holy to prehistoric or Germanic deities, and more recently frequented by newly-weds seeking a blessing for their future life (Viz. interview with Gernot Hüsan on cited below).



h.   Richard Verstegan: 1605  First version of the piper story in English and the primary source on which Robert Browning based his famous poem on the theme of the Pied Piper


A shrill pype went pyping through the streets, and foorth with the rates came all running out of the howses in great numbers after him; all wich hee led vnto the riuer of Weaser and therein drowned them. This donne, and no one rat more perceaued to bee left in the town, he afterward came to demaund his reward according to his bargain, but being told that the bargain was not made with him in good earnest, to wit, with an opinion that euer hee could bee able to do such a feat; they cared not what tey accorded vnto, when they imagined it could euer bee deserued, and so neuer bee demaunded, but neuerthelesse seeing he had donne such an vnlykely thing in deed, they were content to give him a good reward; and so offered him him far lesse then hee lookt for: but hee therewith discontented, said hee would haue his ful recompence according to his bargain, but they vtterly denying to give it to him, hee threatened them with reuenge; they had him do his wurst, wherevpon he betakes him again to his pype, and going through the streets as before, was followed of a number of boyes out one of the gates of the citie, and coming to a little hil, there opened in the side thereof a wyde hole, into which himself and all the children being in number one hundred and thirty, did enter; and being entred, the hil closd vp again, and became as before. A boy that being lame and came somewhat lagging behind the rest, seeing this that hap.

I cannot omit for the strangenes thereof briefly heer by the way to set it down. There came into the town of Hamel in the countrey of Brunswyc an od kind of compagnion, who the fantastical cote which hee wore being wrought with sundry colours, was called the pyed pyper; for a pyper hhe was, besides his other qualities.. this fellow forsooth offred the townsmen for a certain somme f mony to rid the town of all the rattes that were in it (for at that tyme the burgers were with the vermin greatly annoyed.) The accord of fine being made; the pyed pyper with ned, returned presently back and told what what hee had seen; forthwith began great lamentation among the parents for their children and men were sent out with all diligence, both by land and water to enquyrie they could possibly vse, nothing more then is aforesaid could of them beevnderstood. In memorie whereof it was then ordained, that from thenceforth no drum, pype or other instrument, should bee sounded in the street leading to the gate through which they passed; nor no osterie to bee there holden. And it was also established, that from that tyme forward in all publyke writings that should bee made in that town, after the date therein set down the years of our Lord, the date of the years of the going foorth of their children should be added, the which they haue accordingly euer since continued. And this great wonder hapned on the 22. dayof July, in the years of our Lord one towsand three hundreth seuentie, and six.


The occasion now why the matter came vnto my remembrance in speaking of Transiluania, for that some do reporte that there are diuers found among the Saxons of Tansiluania to haue lyke surnames vnto diuers of the burgers of Hamel, and wil seem thereby to infer, that this iugler or pyed pyper, might by negromancie haue transported them thether, but this carieth little apparence of truthe; because it would haue bin almost so great a wonder vnto the Saxons of Transiluania to haue had somany strange children brought among them, they know not how, as it was to those of Hamel to lose them; and they could not but haue kept memorie of so strange a thing, yf in deed any such thing had there hapned,

Source: Richard Verstegan, A restitution of decayed intelligence, Antwerp, 1605:



I.     1816, in the Grimm Brothers Deutsche Sagen


The brother s Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm have gone down in literary history as the great compilers and guardians of German's rich folklore, inspired not least by the ardent patriotism that arose in response to the affront of the Napoleonic invasion and occupation of the German states. They thus recorded folk stories while adding the spice of their own literary creativity. Thus the story of the pied Piper as told  in Deutsche Sagen is a faithful rendition of some earlier accounts of the story with one or two significant additions to boot. They emphasize the role of the children who followed the Piper but were fortunate, or unfortunate,  enough not to follow him the whole way. They also refer to a variation between two dates of the Piper's return to Hamelin, the 26th of June (corresponding to the first version of the story) and 22nd of June (not 22nd of July as in other versions). for an English translation of the story according to the Grimm brothers:



J. 1829: Story of the Pied Piper  as recounted by Mila, a gypsy girl, to solders on their way to Paris shortly before the massacre of Huguenots in Paris in Chronique du Règne de Charles IX  by Prosper Mérimée.


See a translation of this text after the passage in French.

Mila le repoussa doucement, car la bouche de Mergy touchait presque sa joue ; et, après avoir jeté à droite et à gauche un regard furtif pour s'assurer que tout le monde l'écoutait, elle commença de la sorte :

- Capitaine, vous avez été sans doute à Hameln ?

- Jamais.

- Et vous, cornette ?

- Ni moi non plus.

- Comment ! ne trouverai-je personne qui ait été à Hameln ?

- J'y ai passé un an, dit un cavalier en s'avançant.

- Eh bien ! Fritz, tu as vu l'église de Hameln ?

- Plus de cent fois.

- Et ses vitraux coloriés ?

- Certainement.

- Et qu'as-tu vu peint sur ces vitraux ?

- Sur ces vitraux ?- À la fenêtre à gauche, je crois qu'il y a un grand homme noir qui joue de la flûte, et des petits enfants qui courent après lui.

- Justement. Eh bien, je vais vous conter l'histoire de cet homme noir et de ces enfants.

« Il y a bien des années, les gens de Hameln furent tourmentés par une multitude innombrable de rats qui venaient du Nord, par troupes si épaisses que la terre en était toute noire, et qu'un charretier n'aurait pas osé faire traverser à ses chevaux un chemin où ces animaux défilaient. Tout était dévoré en moins de rien ; et, dans une grange, c'était une moindre affaire pour ces rats de manger un tonneau de blé que ce n'est pour moi de boire un verre de ce bon vin.

Elle but, s'essuya la bouche et continua.

- Souricières, ratières, pièges, poison étaient inutiles. On avait fait venir de Bremen un bateau chargé de onze cents chats ; mais rien n'y faisait. Pour mille qu'on en tuait, il en revenait dix mille, et plus affamés que les premiers. Bref, s'il n'était venu remède à ce fléau, pas un grain de blé ne fût resté dans Hameln, et tous les habitants seraient morts de faim.

« Voilà qu'un certain vendredi se présente devant le bourgmestre de la ville un grand homme, basané, sec, grands yeux, bouche fendue jusqu'aux oreilles, habillé d'un pourpoint rouge, avec un chapeau pointu, de grandes culottes garnies de rubans, des bas gris et des souliers avec des rosettes couleur de feu. Il avait un petit sac de peau au côté. Il me semble que je le vois encore.

Tous les yeux se tournèrent involontairement vers la muraille sur laquelle Mila fixait ses regards.

- Vous l'avez donc vu ? demanda Mergy,

- Non pas moi, mais ma grand-mère ; et elle se souvenait si bien de sa figure qu'elle aurait pu faire son portrait.

- Et que dit-il au bourgmestre ?

- Il lui offrit, moyennant cent ducats, de délivrer la ville du fléau qui la désolait. Vous pensez bien que le bourgmestre et les bourgeois y topèrent d'abord. Aussitôt l'étranger tira de son sac une flûte de bronze ; et, s'étant planté sur la place du marché, devant l'église, mais en lui tournant le dos, notez bien, il commença à jouer un air étrange, et tel que jamais flûteur allemand n'en a joué. Voilà qu'en entendant cet air, de tous les greniers, de tous les trous de murs, de dessous les chevrons et les tuiles des toits, rats et souris, par centaines, par milliers, accoururent à lui. L'étranger, toujours flûtant, s'achemina vers le Weser ; et là, ayant tiré ses chausses, il entra dans l'eau suivi de tous les rats de Hameln, qui furent aussitôt noyés. Il n'en restait plus qu'un seul dans toute la ville, et vous allez voir pourquoi. Le magicien, car c'en était un, demanda à un traînard, qui n'était pas encore entré dans le Weser, pourquoi Klauss, le rat blanc, n'était pas encore venu.

« - Seigneur, répondit le rat, il est si vieux qu'il ne peut plus marcher.

« - Va donc le chercher toi-même, répondit le magicien.

« Et le rat de rebrousser chemin vers la ville, d'où il ne tarda pas à revenir avec un vieux gros rat blanc, si vieux, si vieux, qu'il ne pouvait pas se traîner. Les deux rats, le plus jeune tirant le vieux par la queue, entrèrent tous les deux dans le Weser, et se noyèrent comme leurs camarades. Ainsi la ville en fut purgée. Mais, quand l'étranger se présenta à l'hôtel de ville pour toucher la récompense promise, le bourgmestre et les bourgeois, réfléchissant qu'ils n'avaient plus rien à craindre des rats, et s'imaginant qu'ils auraient bon marché d'un homme sans protecteurs, n'eurent pas honte de lui offrir dix ducats, au lieu des cent qu'ils avaient promis. L'étranger réclama : on le renvoya bien loin. Il menaça alors de se faire payer plus cher s'ils ne maintenaient leur marché au pied de la lettre. Les bourgeois firent de grands éclats de rire à cette menace, et le mirent à la porte de l'hôtel de ville, l'appelant beau preneur de rats ! injure que répétèrent les enfants de la ville en le suivant par les rues jusqu'à la Porte-Neuve. Le vendredi suivant, à l'heure de midi, l'étranger reparut sur la place du marché, mais cette fois avec un chapeau de couleur de pourpre, retroussé d'une façon toute bizarre. Il tira de son sac une flûte bien différente de la première et, dès qu'il eut commencé d'en jouer, tous les garçons de la ville, depuis six jusqu'à quinze ans, le suivirent et sortirent de la ville avec lui.

- Et les habitants de Hameln les laissèrent emmener ? demandèrent à la fois Mergy et le capitaine.

- Ils les suivirent jusqu'à la montagne de Koppenberg, auprès d'une caverne qui est maintenant bouchée. Le joueur de flûte entra dans la caverne et tous les enfants avec lui. On entendit quelque temps le son de la flûte ; il diminua peu à peu ; enfin l'on n'entendit plus rien. Les enfants avaient disparu, et depuis lors on n'en eut jamais de nouvelles.

La bohémienne s'arrêta pour observer sur les traits de ses auditeurs l'effet produit par son récit.

Le reître qui avait été à Hameln prit la parole et dit :

- Cette histoire est si vraie que, lorsqu'on parle à Hameln de quelque événement extraordinaire, on dit : Cela est arrivé vingt ans, dix ans, après la sortie de nos enfants- le seigneur de Falkenstein pilla noire ville soixante ans après la sortie de nos enfants.

- Mais le plus curieux, dit Mila, c'est que dans le même temps parurent, bien loin de là, en Transylvanie, certains enfants qui parlaient bon allemand, et qui ne pouvaient dire d'où ils venaient. Ils se marièrent dans le pays, apprirent leur langue à leurs enfants, d'où il vient que jusqu'à ce jour on parle allemand en Transylvanie.

- Et ce sont les enfants de Hameln que le diable a transportés là ? dit Mergy en souriant.

- J'atteste le ciel que cela est vrai ! s'écria le capitaine, car j'ai été en Transylvanie, et je sais bien qu'on y parle allemand, tandis que tout autour on parle un baragouin infernal.

L'attestation du capitaine valait bien des preuves comme il y en a tant.

- Voulez-vous que je vous dise votre bonne aventure ? demanda Mila à Mergy.


English Rendition:

Mila gently pushed him, as the mouth of Mergy almost touched her cheek; and, after throwing a furtive glance to left and right to ensure that everyone was listening, she began thus: - “Captain, you have probably been to Hamelin”. – “Never”.- “And what about you, Cornet?” – “Neither have I.” .-“What! I won't find a soul who has been to Hamelin?” – “I spent a year there,” a cavalry rider said, coming forward –“Well! Fritz, you saw the church of Hamelin then?” – “More than a hundred times I did”. – “And its stained-glass windows? – “Certainly”. –“ And what did you see painted on the windows?” – “On these windows? - At the window to the left, I believe there is a large black man who  plays the flute, and small children running after him”. – “Precisely. Well, I will tell you the story about the black man and these children. - Many years ago the people of Hameln were being tormented by a vast multitude of rats that had come up from the north, with such a teeming density that the earth turned pitch  black with them so that no carter would have dared to drive his horses across a path where these animals passed by in a huge column. Everything got eaten up in no time; and in a barn it took these rats less time to eat a ton of wheat than for me to drink a glass of this wine. She took a sip, wiped her mouth and continued. - Mousetraps, rat traps, traps, poison, all to no avail. From Bremen they brought a boatload of eleven hundred cats; but nothing did any good. For every one thousand killed, ten thousand new rats took their place, even hungrier than the first lot. In short, if  no solutions were found, not a grain of wheat would have remained in Hameln, and all the inhabitants would have starved. .Here one Friday who should appear in the presence of the mayor of the city but a large man, swarthy, parched looking, grinning from ear to ear? He was wearing a red doublet with a pointed hat, big breeches trimmed with ribbons, grey stockings and shoes with flame-colored rosettes. He had a small leather bag to his side. It's so vivid as if I still see him before  my very eyes.” All eyes turned involuntarily to the wall on which Mila fixed her eyes – “You've seen him?” asked Mergy – “Not me personally, but my grandmother once did; and she remembered his face so well that she could have drawn his portrait” -. “And what did he say to the mayor?” – “ For the sum of a hundred ducats he offered to deliver the city from the scourge which was ruining it. You can imagine that the mayor and the citizens there were immediately dumbfounded  Forthwith  the stranger drew from his bag a bronze flute; and, having taken position on the market square in front of the church, but turning his back, mark my words he started  playing a strange looking instrument producing a sound that no German magpie has ever sung. On hearing this tune, from all the granaries, from all the holes in walls, below the rafters and roof tile, rats and mice in their hundreds and thousands flocked towards him. The stranger, still piping, made his way towards the Weser; and there, having taken off his shoes, he entered the water followed by all the rats of Hamelin, whereupon they immediately drowned. There was only one of them left in the whole city, and you'll see why. The magician, for there is no other way to describe him, asked a straggler who had not yet entered the Weser: - “Klaus, why hasn't that white rat come along yet?’ – ‘Sire,’said the rat,’“he is too old to walk.’ –  ‘Then go and fetch him yourself,’ replied the magician. So the rat went back to the city from where he soon returned bringing along a big old white rat with him. So old. so very old was he that he could not drag himself along. The two rats, the younger pulling the old one by the tail, both entered the Weser and were drowned just like their kindred. Thus the city was well served. But when the stranger showed up at City Hall to claim the reward promised by the mayor and the citizens, they, in the belief that they had nothing more to fear from the rats and that they could get away with shortchanging a man without anyone to protect him, were not abashed to offer him ten ducats instead of the hundred they had promised. The stranger retorted. that he had been pushed too far and then threatened to secure himself a higher payment should they not keep to their side of the  bargain to the last farthing. The townsfolk burst out laughing at this threat, and showed him to the door of the town hall, calling him a fine rat catcher indeed! The insult was echoed by the children of the city in the streets next to the New Gate. On the following Friday at noon, the stranger appeared once more in the market place, but this time with a hat of purple hue rolled up in a very strange way . He first produced from his bag a very different flute and as soon as he began to play, all the boys of the city, from six to fifteen years of age, followed him out of the city”. “And the people of Hameln let them go?” asked both Mergy and the captain. “They followed him up the mountain of Koppenberg to a cave that is now blocked. The Pied Piper entered the cave and all the children with him. For some time the sound of the flute could be still heard and then; gradually it faded away till at last nothing more was to be heard. The children had disappeared, and have never been seen again from that day.” The gypsy stopped to observe the facial expressions of her listeners to judge the effect produced by the recounting of her story. The trooper who had been to Hameln answered and said – “This story is so truly convincing that when anyone talks about some extraordinary event in Hamelin, the response is always: ‘This or that event happened twenty years, ten years, whatever, after the departure of our children - the lord of Falkenstein plundered our city sixty years after the departure of our children.;’ -  But the most curious thing of all,” said Mila, “is that at the same  period of time in far-away Transylvania, some children appeared who spoke good German, and could not tell where they had come from. They married in the country and taught their language to their children, with the effect that to this day there are those who speak German in Transylvania”. – “And these are the children of Hamelin that the Devil Hameln transported there?” Mergy then said with a smile on his face. – “I swear to heaven that all this is true!” cried the captain , “because I was in Transylvania, and I know for a fact that there are those who speak German, while all around they talk in some infernal gibberish.” This corroboration by the captain was a valuable piece of evidence like so many others that exist.- “Do you want me to tell you your fortune ?” Mila asked Mergy .


 Here we find a literary rendition of the legend rather than a documentary source. However, whether by intuition on erudition, the author retells the story in a manner fully consistent with certain traditions we have noted. The tale poses an evil omen that foreshadows the massacre of the Huguenots in the Seine, whose fate resembles that of the rats in the Weser. Clearly the author follows precedents that identify the Piper with the Devil. Strangely enough, the story, however negatively, is associated with a saint's day (the day of Saint Bartholomew). The sources had assigned the day of the Piper's final appearance to either the day of John and Paul. or that of Mary Magdalene (see above). The story refers to a  precise year in history, i.e. in 1572 (cf. 1284, 1376).. The earliest versions of the legend  point to the tragic fate of those flouting the authority of the Church, and in the strict  judgment of Roman Catholic teaching, the Huguenots were "heretics."

It is quite possible, even probable, that a knowledge of this passage influenced Robert Browning when composing "The Pied Piper of Hamelin". In this the Piper wears a "Gypsy coat of red and yellow.". The rat "as fat as Julius Caesar" finds a possible precursor in the fat rat in Mila's story ,which almost escapes drowning but is pulled into the Weser by its tail. In the context of Mérimée’s Chronique this rat poses an allusion to the leader of the Huguenots, Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. Alone among those who have recounted the story of the Pied Piper, the author burdens the children of Hamelin with the guilt of complicity in their  parents' insults and bad treatment of the Piper. A parallel case might be found in the  punishment of the children who made fun of Elisha in the Bible.