The surname Stehelin, Stähelin or Staehelin

The surname Stehelin or Stähelin common in Alemannic-speaking areas occurs sporadically in Basel and the immediate and wider vicinity from the 13th century onwards. It cannot be assumed however that they are directly descended from old German masculine names such as Stahalhart, Stahalolf or the shortened form Stal (8th c.) and Stallo (9th c.) – they mean ‘steel sword’ and later disappear completely again - because of the length of time before these similar-sounding surnames appeared 1.

The family name occurs for the first time in a reference to a Dtheodericus Stehellinus in Strasbourg in 1201 and appears in Basel in 1273: “domus in vico textorum in latere Stehellini” [Stehellin’s house in Unterer Heuberg street]2.

But it is only possible to follow the development of a family of Basel burghers with this name from the start of the 15th c. A son of the blacksmith Konzmann Stellin who died around 1408 in Büsserach, Hans Stellin (Stehelin), becomes a citizen of “ze minren Basel” [Little Basel] (Rotes Buch [Red Book], p. 296) in 1406 and carries on his trade in the town. One of his sons was the armourer Oswald, who in 1429 pays tax of two guilders, and another “Stehelin und sin mueter” [Stehelin and his mother], who in the same year pays tax of three guilders (Schönberg). This is probably Oswald’s brother, Peter Stellin the armourer, who had also settled in Basel. “1429 sabatto videlicet ipsa die S.Vincencii... git ze kouffende her Henman von Thonsel, oberster Zunftmeister ze Basel, und frow Ennelin, sin efrow, Petro Stähellin, dem wappenschmied, das hus hoffstat mit Schöepflin und stalle dahinder, genannt Ochsenstein, vo ist gelegen in minren Basel zwüschent hüsren zem roten schilt and zem witen kehr...” [in 1429, on Saturday St Vincent’s day...Henman von Thonsel, senior Guild Master in Basel and his wife Ennelin sold to Petro Stähellin the armourer the property with a little barn and stall behind, known as Ochsenstein, which stands in Little Basel between the house of the red shield and the wide bend ...(Untere Rheingasse street, formerly no. 375)]3.

According to the inscription, a seal belonging to Oswald Stehelin, to which is attached a certificate dated 1463 (Klingenthal certificate 2207), goes back to 1441; this seal has a four-petalled flower.

About the same time various other people called Stehelin or similar were living in Basel, for example in 1420 Stechellin, the tanner (Book of Judgments A 15 fol. 106), on 25 October 1457 Hans Stachel, tanner (Basel Register Vlll, p. 43, no. 69); in 1459 Albrecht Stechenly inherited a house in Rapoltzhof from Wingarten (Clararegistratur 1507); but these people are not part of Oswald’s family4.

We also meet Oswald Stehelin as a taxpayer in 1446, and in 1453 he is mentioned as “Meister Oswalt Stehelin, schmid” [Master Oswalt Stehelin, blacksmith] in Little Basel, who owns a property worth fl. 900 (Schönberg). He was married to Elsi Rogklin (= Röcklin) (Lesser Basel Register of Judgments). He is definitely the same person as the Oswald Stehelin who is documented in 1439 as a councillor, in 1451, 1453, 1458, 1460 and 1462 as master, and in 1456, 1459 and 1460 as judge “of Greater Basel” (Schönberg)5.

His brother Peter Stehelin, the armourer, was married to Clara Bloczin, a member of the Cantonal Parliament from 1429 to 1435 and in 1435 an officer of the blacksmiths’ guild; he died before 1440.

Whilst Oswald, as a “Burgher and member of the council”, is still using the old seal with the four-petalled flower in 1463, in 1477 a red ox, statant towards sinister (turning to the left and standing on all fours), appears on the coat of arms for the first time and in 1481 the sign of the blacksmith  - a hammer and tongs with a lump of iron - appears for the first time on a seal (illustrations of both coats of arms in the first edition of this book), both in fact in connection with a Hans Stehelin cloth merchant (Stechely).

A man of that name from Laufen in the valley of the Birs became a burgher of Basel in 1465: “Uff Sambstag nach Jacobi het Burgrecht koufft and geschworen Hanns Stehelin the Schnider von louffen” [On the Saturday following St James’ day (27 July), Hanns Stehelin the blacksmith from Laufen purchased burgage tenure and took the oath” (Public record book IV, p. 41). In the same year, this man also paid to join the Saffron and Wholesalers’ guilds6. No coat of arms accompanies either of these entries. In contrast, in 1477 we find the coat of arms with the red ox in the old Roll of Arms of the Wholesalers’ Guild (E.E.Zunft zu Schlüssel), in connection with a Johann Stechely, councillor.

The origin of this coat of arms, which was used later by various people called Stehelin, may be directly connected with the “Ochsenstein” property that Peter Stehelin (see previous page) had bought in 14297. If this supposition is correct, at that time there must have been two Hans Stehelin, cloth merchants, living in Basel; because if the Hans Stehelin from Laufen who became a burgher of the town in 1465 was a descendant of the family that had already acquired citizen rights in 1406, he would not have needed to acquire those rights again. It is also striking that the red ox already appears as a coat of arms charge in 1477, whereas the blacksmith’s sign is only known after 1481 and, as far as we know, was no longer used after 1500. The Hans Stehelin of the old Basel-based family would, as a cloth merchant, certainly have had no reason to take the symbol of another trade four years after the adoption of his own coat of arms (the red ox).

Easier to understand is the fact that the official documents from 1481 and 1500, to which the blacksmith’s sign is attached (see first edition), refer to Hans Stehelin from Laufen, so that the blacksmith’s sign could be understood to be an adjective relating to the family name or possibly refer to the descent from Konzmann Stelli, the Büsserach blacksmith.

Hans Stehelin (red ox coat of arms) was married to Clara Zangenberg († between 1523 and 1526). He died in 1503 or 1504, leaving the following children, whose dates of birth are unknown:

  1. Hans, renewed his membership of the Wholesalers’ Guild (E.E.Zunft zu Schlüssel) in 1491, and of the Saffron Guild in 1492, in Aug. 1510 a forager, 29. 4.1513 a clerk (War List of the Italian campaigns), in 1518 an councillor  of the Wholesalers’ Guild, from 1518 to 1523 the first head overseer at Ramstein, † 1523. His wives: 1) Elsa Mütt, 2) Elsa Strütt. His seal (red ox) is attached to certificate no. 800 in the regional archive in Liestal for 1522.
  2. Barbara, oo to Jakob Böck, town clerk in Little Basel, both died before the third Sunday in Lent 1526 (Book of Court Decisions B 23).
  3. Elsin, oo to Heinrich Egen, butcher, both † before 1513.
  4. Ursula, oo  1) to Hans Bomgartner, a cloth merchant, 2) to Burkhart Tegerfeldt (both still alive in 1526).
  5. Hieronymus, renewed his membership of the Saffron Guild in 1505, from 1511 owner of the building at no. 12 Gerbergasse, and also of part of no. 2 Gerbergasse, in 1511 he was a guild council member and in 1512 treasurer of the Wholesalers’ Guild (E.E. Zunft zu Schlüssel), in 1513 a forager with the Dijon expedition (Basel Chronicles VI 76,14), in August 1515 a “mercenary”, in other words the paid representative of the burgomaster Wilhelm Zeigler übers Gebirg (according to the War List of 24.8.1515), and fell in that capacity on 14.9.1515 in the battle of Marignano (Basel Chronicles I 23,19, and VI 69,20). He was married to an Ottilia (Bischoff of Hiltalingen [?] – this is Aug. Burckhardt’s conjecture based on the cartoon by Urs Graf, sign. 41 a, in Basel Museum’s collection of drawings).
    Hieronymus had a son out of wedlock, Eucharius, who led a very adventurous life (P. Burckhardt, Basel Yearbook 1947, pp.35 ff.).
    Nothing is known of his descendants who settled in the Margravate. Eucharius put the red ox coat of arms on his seal (1545).
  6. Heinrich, enrolled as a student in Basel in 1500 and in Dôle in 1504, later canon in Colmar, alive in 1526.
  7. Margreth, oo 1) to Ludwig Ross († before 1509) in Berne,  2) to Peter Wymann († before the third Sunday in Lent 1526) in Berne, where she lived as a widow.
  8. Agnes, oo 1) to Simon Schoni, citizen of Berne († after 1509), 2) to Rudolf Pur, mayor of the village of Aarau, both were living in 1526.

Clara, widow of Hans the Elder née Zangenberg, sold the “guldin Wind [Golden Wind]” house in 1509 and the “gelen Wind [Yellow Wind]” house in 1523, this last to Jacoben Bomgartner the cloth merchant, together with all cloth, clothing etc. and debts, “for 1500 fl on condition that Hieronymus Steheli, her son would survive him and be his heir”. As a result the assets and liabilities of the Steheli cloth business went to the new firm of Bomgartner, Ursula’s husband (see above no. 4).

From 1528 onwards, there is no mention at all of this family in Basel, so that Konrad Schnitt († 1541) was able rightly to observe, in relation to our town, in his handwritten Roll of Arms p. 230a, regarding the coat of arms of this family (red ox, towards dexter this time, crest only the top part of the body) “Stechelin, duechlüt, abgestorben” [Stechelin, cloth merchant, died out].

The 15th century documents a further two cousins belonging to the patrician family, Stähelin von Stockburg, of Villingen. They are mentioned in several documents between 1447 and 1454 (Basel Register Vll). One of them, Berchtold Stehely the Elder, was an administrator for the Knights of St John in Heitersheim, Freiburg and Neuenburg. His cousin Berchtold the Younger was a mercenary in the service of Basel in 1448 and swore an oath renouncing feuding and revenge in 1452. Both had on their seal (the elder’s seal is affixed to town deeds in 1422 and in 1498; the younger’s seal is affixed to town deeds in 1398 and 1498) an eagle with outstretched wings, the administrator also having a stork as a crest. No descendants of this Stähelin von Stockburg are known in Basel, and in Germany the family died out in 1587.

Mention must also be made of a Johannes Stehelin “de Basilea” [of Basel], who was enrolled at the University in 1485, and a Jörg Stehelin, pastor of Rümlingen. The former came from Magden, the latter from Memmingen.

The 16th century brought a wind of change to Basel’s old burgher class. In the 1520s, the struggle against the powers of the bishop and the nobility was successfully brought to an end by the guilds; many new people were accepted as citizens, and the fact that the reformation of the church also happened in Basel in 1529 is due in no small measure to the influence of these new burghers.

Two families called Stehelin joined the burgher class of Basel during these eventful years. They were founded by

Hans Stehelin,  a ropemaker, who became a burgher in 1520, and 
Heinrich Stehelin, a barber surgeon from Schlettstadt. Became a burgher in 1524.

The ropemaker’s descendants are dealt with in detail in this book; we can add a few remarks about the barber surgeon’s family here.

Heinrich Stehelin from Schlettstadt, a barber-surgeon in Little Basel and a steward of Burg, was living in Basel from at least 1515 and was married to Anna Brand, the daughter of councillor and surgeon Bernhard Brand. As the latter’s “mercenary”, Heinrich took part in the Italian campaign, according to the War List of 24 June. On 11 October 1524, he became a burgher; in the same year he was referred to as ‘Bailiff over the Rhein’ and master of the Brotherhood of Barber-Surgeons, and in the autumn of 1535 he was given the stewardship of Burg. The following are recorded as his children in the Basel Roll of Arms:

  1. Niklaus (Klaus), barber-surgeon in Little Basel, renewed his membership of the Painters’ and Saddlers’ Guild (Zunft zum Himmel) in 1533, in October 1547 became bailiff of the Little Basel municipal court, divorced from Margaretha Strittberger in 1534.
    oo 2) to Anna Kösy 1537, only one daughter, Anna, is known from the second marriage.
  2. Michael, barber-surgeon, mentioned as having a daughter, Anna, in 1542.
  3. Bernhard, * about 1520, oo 1) to Dorothea Gyßler, 2) to Anna Grebel of Zurich. In 1541 junior clerk. From 1543 to 1551 senior clerk at the hospital. In 1547 paid to join the Winegrowermerchant’s Guild (Zunft zu Weinleuten)  and became its clerk, and in 1550 a member of its council. From 1551 to 1556, he was the innkeeper of the “Kopf”. From 1553 and for several years in a row, a captain in the service of the French. On 14 August 1554, due to his bravery on the battlefield of Renty he was knighted by King Henry II of France himself and made a hereditary peer (patent of nobility dated January 1555)8. Later, in the service of the French again as colonel in charge of ten Fähnlein (small units) of Swiss soldiers, and finally a political agent for France in Basel. From 1557 to 1565, owner of Pratteln castle. † 20 August 1570. Only one daughter, Anna, from his first marriage is known (~~9 March 1544)9 .
  4. Apollinaris, oo 1) to Abigail Gast (* 1531, † 1564, daughter of the pastor Johannes Gast and Apollonia Glaser), 2) to Gertrud Irmy (* 1543, † 1606, daughter of the cloth merchant Hans Valentin Irmy and Ursula Frobenius), renewed his membership of the Painters’ and Saddlers’ Guild (Zunft zu Himmel) in 1547, was steward in/on Burg in 1555, council member of the Winegrowermerchant’s Guild in 1558, treasurer in 1580, city councillor in 1588, † 28. 8.1591.

Children from the first marriage:

    1. Anna, ~~ between 27.11.1549 and 10.12.1549 (St. Martin’s Church).
    2. Margaretha, oo  21.9.1567 (St. Peter’s Church) to Samuel Merian, goldsmith, ~~ 9.10.1542, † after 1590.
    3. Hans Heinrich, ~~ 23. 3.1552 (St. Alban’s Church), † 1586, oo 1577 to Verena Felber in Liestal, winemaker, owner of “Ortenberg” house (64, Freie Street) from 1580 to 1584. An armorial plaque donated by him hangs in Liestal town hall

      His children:
      a) Hans Heinrich, * 1578.
      b) Hans Jakob. * 1579.
      c) Maria, * 1581.
      d) Apollinaris, * 1583.
      e) Anna, * 1584.
      f) Hans Jakob, * 1586.

    4. Hans Bernhard, * 1554, Captain in the service of the French (cf. Basel Chronicles l, 184), oo 2) to Rahel Brand, * 1562, daughter of Senior Guild Master Bernhard Brand.

      Children from the first marriage:
      a) Barbara, * 1579.
      b) Katharina, * 1580.

      Children from the second marriage:
      c) Bernhard, * 1582.
      d) Dorothea, * 1584.
      e) Salome, * 1586.

    5. Hans Jakob, * 1557.
    6. Magdalena, * 1560, oo mit Isaak Krämer.
    7. Dorothea, * 1562, † 1596, oo mit Heinrich Strübin, pastor in Bubendorf and Ziefen † 6.6.1625

      Children from the second marriage:
    8. Ursula, * 1567, † 1625, oo 1589 (or 1586?) to Hans Konrad Wieland, * 1563, † 2.7.1629. Hans Konrad Wieland jun. (§ 263,6) is born of this marriage.
    9. Gertrud, * 1571.
    10. Emanuel,  * 1574, † 1610, oo to Verena Frey, * 1569.
      Their children:
      a) Maria, * 1603.
      b) Apollinaris, * 1605
      c) Ursula, * 1606.

5. Heinrich, ~~ 21.6.1530 (St Theodore’s Church).
6. Margaretha, ~~ 21.9.1531 (St Theodore’s Church).
7. Ulrich, * 1532, barber-surgeon, member of the cantonal parliament,
    council member of the Painters’ and Saddlers’ Guild
    (Weiß, Basilea sepulta).

The coat of arms of this clan is illustrated twice in the Roll of Arms of the Winegrowers’ Guild and also attached as a seal to Liestal certificate no. 935. It features three red roses on a green three-topped hill, above them three golden stars on an azure ground. These elements are also used in the nobleman’s arms of the knight Bernhard, which can be seen in the grant of arms letter, on the gravestone and as a seal on the aforementioned Liestal certificate. The shield is quarterly with a heart; bottom left are three red roses on a silver ground, top right are three golden stars on an azure ground. Bottom right and top left and in the crest is a crowned black lion in gold. The heart-shaped escutcheon contains the French lily in gold on an azure ground (see Basel Roll of Arms: Stehelin of Schlettstadt; the first edition of this book also includes illustrations of these coats of arms).

However, because the family was not directly descended from Bernhard, it continued to use the old, simple coat of arms. There is no trace of it beyond the fourth generation.

General remark: We should point out that so far it has not been possible to demonstrate a direct genealogical link betweem the Stähelin and Stehelin families living in Eastern Switzerland (Schaffhausen, St. Gallen) and the families maintaining this website, i.e. the descendants of the ropemaker Hans Stehelin, who became a burgher of Basel in 1520.


1 Cf. Alfred Götze, Zeitschr. f. Deutsche Bildung [Journal for German Education] (Year 4, issue 7./8., July/August 1928).
2 Fechter, Basel im 14. Jahrhundert [Basel in the 14th century]. Basel 1856, p. 76, footnote. 4.
3 Cf. Wappenbuch der Stadt Basel [City of Basel Roll of Arms], Part 1, series 2 , Stellin and Stoelli, by Aug. Burckhardt and W. R. Stähelin, and Court Archive P 3.
4 Cf. Rudolf Kaufmann, Gregor Stächelin und seine Familie [Gregor Stächelin and his Family]. Basel 1930, pp. 3ff.
5 See also Karl Stehlin, Gerichtsbesatzungen des Gerichts der mehrern Stadt 1394‑1500. [Greater Basel Court personnel 1394-1500].
6 Eintrittsbuch Safran No. 24; Schlüsselzunft, Zunftbuch ll. [Saffron Guild membership book No. 24; Wholesalers’ Guild, Guild Book II].
7 Handwritten note by Felix Stähelin based on information supplied by Aug. Burckhardt.
8 The patent of nobility for Bernhard Stehelin in French and in a German version (St‑Germain 1555) has been lodged for safekeeping with the Historisches Museum in the national archive; the family archive holds two certified copies dating from 1716.
9See Basel Biographies, Vol. lll, 1905.