A Real Knight’s Tale

Many of us have seen the movie A Knight’s Tale, the story of William Thatcher’s adventures revolving around his impersonation of a knight named Ulrich Von Lichtenstein. But what few know is that ‘Ulrich’ wasn’t just a nom-de-guerre created for the Columbia Pictures Organization, but a real person.

Ulrich Von Lichtenstein was a “Prominent member of the nobility in Styria who was especially active in politics and poetry in the middle third of the thirteenth century.” (Heinen) He “was born in 1200 in… Present-day Austria,” but the rest of his life is not so easily ascertained by historians. His most famous work is the “supposedly autobiographical poetry collection Frauendienst” (Wikipedia contributors) which “Describe[s] a journey he made dressed as the goddess Venus, during which he took part in innumerable jousts and tournaments, all for the unrequited love of his lady.” (Prestwich)

Few can forget the image of William Thatcher bravely tilting against nobles and royals and winning the hand of the fair Jocelyn, but I’m sure the real Ulrich Von Lichtenstein (or at least his literary alter-ego) cut an even more memorable figure with a crowned Venus, “wield[ing] a red arrow and a flaming, red torch… ‘rid[ing]’ on [his] helmet as he rides on his horse, triumphing over him” even as he bested other knights. His choice of clothing represents not only his love for his chosen lady, but the metaphorical triumph of Venus over Mars, of love over warfare. That the power of Venus often bested even “Hercules, Paris, Achilles, Troilus, Aeneas, Samson, Tristan, and Lancelot.” A knight had his duties to his superiors and his code, but all were “overcome by a triumphant Venus at one point or another.” (Baldwin).

Ulrich von Lichtenstein, from the Codex Manesse, 1305

Baldwin, Robert. “SocialHistoryofArt.com.” German, Poet-Knight [Ulrich von Lichtenstein] Rides into Battle Under the Crest of Venus, from the Codex Manesse, ca. 1300 . Robert Baldwin, 02 Mar 2012. Web. 2 Apr 2012. <http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=4&sqi=2&ved=0CD4QFjAD&url=http://www.socialhistoryofart.com/Baldwin%20%20The%20Knight%20of%20Love%20in%20the%20Manesse%20Codex.doc&ei=Z7yAT5K4CorjiAKEqeWIAw&usg=AFQjCNFj-CrFrax1BQuXc0Gt-F9TeOb29A&gt;.

Scholar: Heinen, Hubert. “Ulrich von Lichtenstein: “Homo (il)litteratus” or Poet/Performer?.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 83.2 (1984): 159-172. Web. 2 Apr. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/27709309&gt;.

Prestwich, Michael. Knight the Medieval Warrior’s Unofficial Manual. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2010. 83. Print.

Wikipedia contributors. “Ulrich von Liechtenstein.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 04 Mar 2012. Web. 5 Apr 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulrich_von_Liechtenstein

((Primary source is my image.))

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