and Worms

from Ulrike Schäfer
Barbarossa, Petrus de Ebulo, 12.Jh .

What happened in History in the Poet's Time?

Emperor Frideric and Henry VI were kings of Burgundy, just as Gunther, Gernot and Giselher. In fact, Burgundy, situated in the heart of Europe, played a great role in this time. This importance is said to be originated in the legend of the Holy Lance that belonged to martyr St Maurice d'Augune. After getting married with Beatrice, Princess of Burgundy, Barbarossa ruled over vast Burgundian possessions which stretched from the river Rhone to the Alps, from the river Saone to the Mediterranean. So, by considerably extending their sphere of influence, the Hohenstaufen dynasty became Europe's most important power.

Just a few years before the Nibelungenlied was finally written, they reached out for Sicily, when Henry VI got married with Constance, the Norman heir to the throne and daughter of king Roger II of Sicily. She was almost ten years older than her husband, who is said to have been very hard, cruel and unscrupulous in achieving his goals.
It is well known that Henry had Constance's treasure brought from Sicily to the fortress Trifels in the Palatinate, which makes us think of the Treasure of the Nibelungs. Constance's fate also seems similar to the life of Brunhild. But for yet another reason the marriage of Sicily was quite important. Constance's nephew, William II, who preceded her as a king, was married to Joan, the youngest sister of Richard the Lion-Heart. Richard, who was himself of Norman descent, was not only king of England, but he had vast possessions on the Continent; the growing power of the Hohenstaufens was a thorn in his flesh, and of course the fact that he was related by marriage to Henry the Lion, the arch-enemy of Henry VI, contributed to this. Henry and Richard were the two big adversaries of that time.

The whole of Europe was shocked when, on his way home to England, the victor of Akko was captured in Austria and extradited to Henry VI. It was probably more than a year that he was detained in the Trifels fortress near Annweiler, not far from Worms. The ransom of 150,000 marks, negotiated for in Worms on June 29th, 1193, was colossal. But on the top of that, Henry forced Richard to surrender his kingdom to him on condition that he receive it back as a fief. The battle-tried hero, wearing the cross on his garment, forced to swear an oath of allegiance and losing his treasure to a cool and malicious ruler ? isn't that Siegfried? The Hundeshagen manuscript shows Siegfried's murder as committed with an arrow. Did the painter think of Richard, who was killed in the same way at Châlus? Petrus of Ebulo, who described and illustrated Henry V's life, glorified in his work the hated Hohenstaufen Emperor. Did the author of the Nibelungenlied write an anti-Hohenstaufen epic soon afterwards? Or did he want to back up the Hohenstaufen claim to Burgundy by writing a legend of origin, which was the usual way of justifying political usurpation?

Whatever the reasons ? against the background of these explosive events, the intention of the Nibelungenlied is emphasised, that is to condemn the excessiveness and the violence of its protagonists: Siegfried's cockiness, Gunther's deception and betrayal, Hagen's cruelty, Kriemhild's thirst for revenge. To establish a link, the poet again and again alludes to facts and circumstances of his time, using the common symbolisms. We may well assume that he had an extraordinary understanding of history and current power politics and that he drew on a massive store of knowledge. It could be Bligger II of Steinach, a very famous poet, whose lost epic is praised by Gotfrid of Strasbourg. He came from a noble family from the vicinity of Worms and who fulfilled important functions at court.