Hardestadt, the lead founder of the Camarilla, was an enigmatic figure to say the least. Said to have been killed in the late 14th century and replaced by his own childe (known as Hardestadt the Younger), even in death he casts a long shadow upon the World of Darkness. There’s some implication that an entire council of Hardestadt family members may sit as the Directorate of clan Ventrue, running it to this night. In such a situation it would be nice to know more about this important figure and his lineage. Where was he from? What was he all about? Was he a noble, a warrior, or just a charismatic charlatan who created a lasting legacy? It’s happened before.
Perhaps appropriately, digging into the man’s origins is just as confusing as his ending. He’s said to have hailed from what is “modern day Bavaria”, a region of Germany, but it’s hard to know when we should be looking. Stats for Hardestadt are listed in the Giovanni Chronicles, but based on the timeline it seems more likely that those stats are for Hardestadt the Younger since those adventures all take place after the Elder’s death. However, the year of embrace, birth, and generation listed there are taken by those here at the White Wolf Wiki to be those of the Elder Hardestadt, as they do not match the generation and embrace of the Younger.
Ok. So, let’s go with that. That gives us a date of birth of 904 CE and a year of embrace as 947 CE. Tenth century Bavaria is an interesting time and place. During that century the Magyars of what is modern day Hungary were on the move, invading nearly every kingdom in Europe. They were essentially at war with Bavaria, partially because Bavarians successfully assassinated one of their leaders after inviting him to a feast. This has really interesting implications for the Dark Ages novel series, since during it Hardestadt and his childe Jurgen are constantly sending troops into Hungary, which plays out as a bargaining chip between the two major factions of Tzimisce at the time.
It seems possible and even likely that Hardestadt was caught up in all of this. He could have gone to war. He could have been a soldier or a military leader. He was born the same year as the Bavarians assassinated that Magyar leader at the feast, so he was brought up in the thick of it, but obviously couldn’t have been that particular assassin.
One possibility is that Hardestadt was Duke Eberhard (sorry, German Wikipedia is more useful for this stuff), the former ruler of Bavaria. The dates of his birth and death are vague, but seem to be right around the birth and embrace dates of Hardestadt. To state the pretty obvious: the ‘hard’ in Eberhard could have become the ‘hard’ in Hardestadt when he reinvented himself.
This is an interesting possibility because Eberhard’s reign ended not by his death, but because he was deposed and banished by the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I, and may have snuck off to hide among his enemies in Hungary from there. Eberhard was an historical figure who, according to scholars, “disappears from history” after he was betrayed by his own family.
According to wikipedia: "Eberhard is an old germanic name meaning the strength or courage of a wild boar."
There exists a town in Norway called Harstad. Archeological digs have found a 3000 year old bronze axe and a 2600 year old bronze collar, as well as evidence of iron age civilization. The area was documented as a power center in the viking age.
The name of the town seems to derive from -stad (see below in The Name) and the nordic male name hǫrðr, which is itself derived from the name of a germanic tribe, which was named based on the old germanic word for warrior: *haruð-.
Perhaps Hardestadt was not Bavarian, but a viking, embraced in the 10th century just as viking raids where becoming commonplace in Europe. Maybe he was just embraced in Bavaria, having wandered far from home.
Hardestadt has, to my knowledge, no known first name. This makes it somewhat easier for his descendants to act in his name and with his identity. They say they’re Hardestadt too and they’re not lying really. They look like him (according to a Revised edition short story) and bear his name as a badge. It’s a perfectly Ventrue way of creating a lasting legacy. Your descendants become you. The name itself is where things start to go off the rails.
The name ‘Hardestadt’ sounds a lot like a German surname or town (or both). The word ‘stadt’ in German means town and there are a number of towns with names that end in ‘-stadt’. Stadt is an interesting word. It really means place, and is the root of the word ‘stead’ in English. When we say “instead”, we are essentially saying “in place of”. Stadt eventually came to be part of a rank in the Netherlands: stadtholder, which somewhat humorously means “placeholder” in Dutch.
However there are no current towns in Germany named Hardestadt. Importantly, ‘harde’ is not a German word. Not in modern German at least. It is, however, a word in Danish and it has a Dutch counterpart that is simply ‘hard’. Check out this German Wikipedia entry on the word: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harde
It says that ‘harde’ is a word with a seriously convoluted and evolving meaning. It first meant something like ‘hundreds’ and then ‘herd’ and then it moved on to meaning something like ‘riding band’. From there it moved to being about groups of sailors, technically denoting a number of ships, or possibly a particular number of sailors needed to man them. Then it became a term for the place where that number of potential sailors lived. Then it moved on to meaning a place, or town. Then an administrative unit of sorts. In some places it was used as a term for a town with a Catholic parish.
By this point we’re well past the embrace year of Hardestadt the Elder, but the word just keeps getting redefined as different sizes of town. According to some translation sites, it can be an alternate word for ‘parish’ in German. In the end, the meaning of the name is cryptically “place place”, or perhaps more realistically “sailor town”. The cryptic version makes sense if it's a totally made up pseudonym. The simple, sailor version makes sense if he took his name from a port village while journeying north to Scandanavia or just the Netherlands after his embrace.
Embrace and Beyond
Let’s talk about his embrace. We don’t really know who his sire was supposed to be, which is interesting because there were a number of powerful 4th generation Ventrue active in Europe at the time. They were: Alexander of Paris, Mithras of London, and Erik Eigermann of Berlin. The idea that either Alexander or Mithras would leave their respective kingdoms to embrace the Bavarian Hardestadt seems unlikely. Eigermann has been prone to torpor in recent centuries, but didn’t actually end his reign and go to ground until 1140 CE, when he was attacked by a vampire hunter.
Eigermann is an enigma all his own. He came to a place that would eventually become Berlin, within the largely Slavic region of Prussia, and began ruling what was an unimportant village. Even in 947 CE, when he may have embraced Hardestadt, Berlin was not even close to being the biggest or most important city in Germany. The first historical evidence of Berlin’s existence dates to 1192 CE, several decades after Eigermann went into torpor.
Eigermann seems the likely candidate to have been Hardestadt’s sire, though it’s hard to say just why Hardestadt was embraced. One clue might be Eigermann’s only known childe, Ilse Reinegger, who would later rule Berlin in 1240 CE. She established there a proto-Masquerade long before the one that Hardestadt’s Camarilla would later take up. What if Eigermann’s agenda is embracing childer who will create Masquerades? Hardestadt was known to intensely enforce a Masquerade of sorts within the Fiefs of the Black Cross.
Hardestadt the Ancient
Going back to the name, it’s interesting that both ‘harde’ and ‘stadt’ are quite old. There’s a way to interpret the Hardestadt stats given in Giovanni Chronicles in a more interesting way. Maybe those are not just the stats of Hardestadt the Younger; they’re the embrace date, birth date, and generation of the Younger as well. Hardestadt the Elder is always referred to as a “powerful elder” of his clan, even in books set in the Dark Ages period, but those stats don’t actually match that.
He was embraced in 947 CE. The Dark Ages clan novels that describe his ruling over the Fiefs of the Black Cross, an area roughly equivalent to the sprawling Holy Roman Empire, take place around 1222 CE. That means he became one of the most influential and powerful elders in history by the age of 275? That’s barely an elder. By Dark Ages standards, that’s an ancilla really.
What if 947 CE were the embrace year of Hardestadt the Younger? What if Hardestadt the Elder where 4th generation? This is perhaps the most interesting, but unlikely of scenarios. Hardestadt could certainly be the progenitor of his line, which is almost a Bloodline all its own. Perhaps this would be fitting.
However, the most recent canon concerning Hardestadt coming from the Dark Ages 20th anniversary edition implies that Hardestadt’s allure as a leader was the fact that his sire appeared to be inactive or deceased, but that there have been rumors that his sire was now active again in that period. It seems unlikely that all this rumor stuff is about the Ventrue antediluvian himself rising up in the middle of the 13th century. I think we’d know about that in the modern era if that were true.
This theory is further debunked by the fact that Tyler diablerized him. If she had diablerized a 4th gen Ventrue we would expect a similar outcome to that of the diablerie of Mithras by a high generation Assamite antitribu: the ancient's personality comes out eventually, taking over the body to some degree. Tyler shows no real evidence of becoming Hardestadt.
There are a number of likely real-world inspirations for the man and his dynasty. Most obvious is the Habsburgs of Austria, a family which defined royalty in Europe and who bear a name starting with H and ending with a word that means castle or town, just like our man Hardestadt. The family name was actually taken after the name of a Castle in Switzerland that served as a base of operations for the family for many generations. Sounds a lot like the various Castle Hardestadts to me.
Charlemagne is another obvious reference point. Hardestadt is said to have held no permanent location for his court while he ruled the Fiefs of the Black Cross, in reverence for the style of Charlemagne. Charlemagne was the defining Holy Roman Emperor, founder of the Carolingian Dynasty, and the kind of all-around powerful guy that Hardestadt would have wanted to emulate as he rose to power and came to rule over the exact same regions as the mortal emperor. In fact, one might be tempted to cast Charlemagne as Hardestadt the Elder, if we where going to assume the dates in Giovanni Chronicles referenced the Younger. Certainly Charlemagne would have been a tempting potential embrace for the clan of kings.
Whatever we take his origins to be, Hardestadt is the archtypal Ventrue and the inspiring, if flawed, visionary who founded the Camarilla. It's appropriate that a master of the Masquerade would have a hard-to-pin-down history and identity. It's in his nature to obscure and perhaps reinvent himself.