Ulrich von Liechtenstein


Ulrich von Liechtenstein
(ca. 1200–1275)
   We are surprisingly well informed about Ulrich von Liechtenstein’s biography. He was born at the beginning of the 13th century, near Judenburg in Styria (modern Austria), and died on January 26, 1275. His name often appears in historical documents between 1227 and 1274, especially because he was appointed to important political posts in Styria, such as lord high steward from 1244 to 1245, court marshall from 1267 to 1272, and supreme provincial judge of Styria in 1272. Ulrich has gained considerable fame in modern scholarship for his more or less fictional autobiography in verse, his Frauendienst (Service of ladies, ca. 1255), in which he provides many insights into his life as a knight and lover of courtly ladies. Foreshadowing significant developments in the literature of the early Renaissance, Ulrich here combines prose with verse, and letters with courtly love songs within the framework of his autobiography. Fitting for an esquire and subsequently for a knight, tournaments play the most significant role for Ulrich and his compatriots, and a major section of the Frauendienst discusses his organization of a series of tournaments while in disguise as Lady Venus, dressed in most impressive women’s clothes (1227). On a second tour of tournaments (1240), Ulrich assumes the role of King ARTHUR and achieves similar success both as actor and as knight.Most of the names of the tournament participants can be verified historically.
   Around 1257, Ulrich composed his Frauenbuch (Women’s book) in which a lady and a knight, deploring the decline of courtly virtues, discuss with each other who might be responsible for it, what to do with homosexuality, and how to help women find sexual satisfaction within marriage. In the latter part the knight makes a number of suggestions on how to return to ideal courtly behavior. Here the traditional distinction between love and marriage is removed in favor of the latter, though Ulrich still embraces the traditional concept of wooing a courtly lady, which would inspire the young man to aspire to the highest ideals. In his Frauendienst, Ulrich emphasizes that he composed 58 melodies for his songs, which do not differ remarkably from traditional courtly love poetry. However, when he reflects upon composing a dawn song (1987, stanzas 1622–1632; see ALBA), Ulrich sharply criticizes the reliance on castle guardians to protect lovers from being discovered early in the morning, which constitutes the basic framework for a dawn song; he suggests that such lovers should rely only on their own precaution.
   Bibliography
   ■ Heinen, Hubert. “Ulrich von Lichtenstein: homo (il)literatus or Poet/Performer?” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 83 (1984): 159–172.
   ■ Spechtler, Franz Viktor, and Barbara Maier, eds. IchUlrich von Liechtenstein. Literatur und Politik im Mittelalter. Klagenfurt, Austria:Wieser, 1999.
   ■ Ulrich von Liechtenstein. Frauendienst. Edited by Franz Viktor Spechtler. Göppingen, Germany: Kümmerle, 1987.
   ■ Thomas, J.W., trans. Ulrich von Liechtenstein’s Service of Ladies. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969.
   Albrecht Classen

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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