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Ingolstadt, Germany, lies on the Danube and Schutter Rivers, 45 miles north of Munich and 30 miles south of Regensburg.

Records of this cultural and commercial center of Bavaria go back to the beginning of the 9th century C.E. The city is surrounded by fourteenth-century walls, and is distinguished by a ducal castle (1420), the Cathedral of Our Lady (1425-1500), the Church of Maria de Victoria (1732-36). For centuries it was the seat of the Dukes of Bavaria, who transferred to Munich only in 1800, leaving Ingolstadt a relatively small provincial city (current population c. 90,000). The brief account in the 4th edition of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1797), written before this event and roughly contemporary with the timeframe of the novel, gives no hint of the town's impending displacement.

A university was founded there in 1472, although it was moved to Landshut in 1800 and then to Munich in 1826. At the height of its importance in the Renaissance the city and the university were a stronghold of Counter-Reformation orthodoxy.

In the eighteenth century an intellectual fervor of an opposite sort was centered there, when a secret society, an offspin of the Masons self-styled the Illuminati, was formed in Ingolstadt to consider the means to a revolutionary reconstruction of European society. Although their actual effect was small, they constituted an easy target for reactionary agitators who traced the debacle of the French Revolution to this improbable source. The main purveyors of this reactionary propaganda were John Playfair's Proofs of a Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of Europe (1797) and the Abbé Augustin Barruel's Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire du Jacobinisme (1797). The latter volume was read by both Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1814-1815.

These and other similar works were the basis for a novel, with a long episode set in Bavaria and drawing upon the secret society of Illuminati, written by Thomas Jefferson Hogg, Shelley's roommate at Oxford, Memoirs of Prince Alexy Haimatoff (1813). Shelley wrote the notice of the novel that appeared in the Critical Review in December 1814. It is thus impossible for Mary not to have been well aware of the political contexts in which she inserts her youthful protagonist.