.. .. .. .
THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA
STUDIES IN GERMAN
The Concept of Nobility in German
Didactic Literature of the
SUBMITTED TO THE FACULTY OF THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF ARTS AND
SCIENCES OF THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA IN PARTIAL
FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
SISTER MARY PAUL GOETZ, O.S.B.
THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA
WASHINGTON, D. C.
UNIV ES OTY OF FLORIDA
3 1262 07082 9659
COPYRIGHT, 1935, BY
THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
BY J. H. FURST COMPANY, BALTIMORE, MARYLAND
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABBREVIATIONS . . . viii
INTRODUCTION . . . 1
I. A SURVEY OF THE CONCEPT OF NOBILITY TO THE YEAR
1200 . .. 14
The Greeks . . 14
The Romans . . . .. 17
The Fathers . 24
Early Germanic Nobility . .. 27
The Heliand 31
Feudalism . 33
Christian Influence . .. 34
Knighthood . ... 35
II. THE DIDACTIC WRITERS AND THE FEUDAL NOBILITY
OF THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY . .. 39
Terms for Nobility . .. 39
Knighthood as an Institution . . 42
Feudal Nobility in General . . . 45
The Clergy as Feudal Nobles . . . 50
The Council of the Princes . . . 51
Poor Nobles and Intruders .. 53
The Education of the Nobleman . . 54
Court Epics . 59
Courtly Love . 61
Tournaments and Knightly Equipment . 66
III. THE RISE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS AND MORAL NOBILITY
ACCORDING TO THE DIDACTIC WRITERS 3. 3
Commercialism of the Nobles . . 73
Rise of the Middle Class . . .. 76
Definition of Nobility . . .. 79
The Ethical Code of the Nobleman
a. Justice reht .
b. Prudence bescheidenheit
c. Fortitude hoher muot
d. Temperance maze
e. Liberality milte .
Signs of Bourgeois Spirit . .
a. Training in Social Etiquette
b. Economy .
c. Labor .
d. Wealth .
S . 81
IV. NOBILITY AND CHRISTIAN IDEALS ACCORDING TO THE
DIDACTIC WRITERS ..
The Christian Social Order .
Social Preferences within the Church .
The Christian Nobleman .. ....
The Nobleman as miles christianus .. ..
The thirteenth century in Germany was a period of marked
economic, religious, social, and moral transitions. Naturally, the
writers of the time, poets, preachers, and educators, took a definite
stand regarding the new developments and their works reflect
their personal reactions. The didactic writers in particular are
among those who record these changes most faithfully and a study
of their writings proves both interesting and valuable from a cul-
tural and historical point of view. Such a study this dissertation
purposes to be. The investigation will include consideration of the
place the nobleman was accorded in the general scheme of existence,
his education and duties, his rights and privileges. Since the cen-
tury witnessed the rise of the middle class, special attention will be
paid to the influence which this social movement exerted upon the
life of the nobles in general and upon the concept of nobility in
In order to suggest the source of the ideal and the background
against which it is to be projected, a survey has been made of the
concept of nobility, beginning with Homeric times and noting the
various influences which in the course of centuries contributed
something to or changed the early Greek ideal of nobility. A lack
of monographs dealing with specific periods renders impossible a
more thorough treatment of the subject. The chapter represents,
however, the author's own independent investigation of the sources
mentioned. No other work has, as far as could be ascertained,
followed the same line of research.
Of the literature of the thirteenth century the didactic works
alone have been examined. Epical romances and other writings not
of a strictly didactical nature have not been considered. The texts
selected for investigation are: the Winsbecke and the Winsbeckin,
the Wiilsche Gast of Thomasin of Zerclaere, Freidank's Bescheiden-
heit, and the Renner of Hugo of Trimberg. These works were
chosen because of their highly representative character, reflecting,
as they do in a very striking manner, the point of view of the period.
During the past years valuable contributions have been made
towards a better understanding and appreciation of the didactic
writers; but, aside from scattered references to the social, ethical,
and religious aspects of nobility in studies concerning the ethical
teaching of the didactic writers,2 no comprehensive investigation
of this subject has been made. Friedrich Vogt, in his Rektoratsrede,
Der Bedeutungswandel des Wortes edel (Marburg, 1909), traced
the historical development of the term edel, with a slight emphasis
on the didactic writings, but he ignored almost entirely the social
and religious side of the problem. Gustav Neckel in an excellent
article, Adel und Gefolgschaft,3 investigated early Germanic nobil-
ity from a philological point of view. The political and legal aspects
of the problem of nobility in Germany have also been treated by
prominent historians,4 though no definite conclusions have been
1 Moriz Haupt, Albert Leitzmann, Hans-Friedrich Rosenfeld, and S. Anholt
concerned themselves principally with Winsbecke and Winsbeckin; Hans
Teske supplied the latest information regarding Thomasin von Zerclaere
and his work, Der Wdlsche Gast. Unfortunately, Friedrich Neumann died
before he was able to publish his promised Freidankstudien" and a new
edition of Freidank's Bescheidenheit; his two articles, however, "Frei-
danks Lehre von der Seele," Festschrift Max H. Jellinek (Wien und Leipzig,
1928), 86-96, and "Scholastik und mittelhochdeutsche Literatur," Neue
Jahrb. 49-50 (1922), 388-404, contribute much toward a better under-
standing of this writer. The most prominent scholar in the field of
medieval German literature in general and the didactic writers in particu-
lar is Gustav Ehrismann. Besides his history of medieval German litera-
ture (the 4th volume dealing with the didactic writers has not yet
appeared), and a number of learned articles, his critical edition of Hugo
of Trimberg's Renner is still unsurpassed.
I Cf. L. Behrendt, The ethical teaching of Hugo of Trimberg, Diss.
(Washington, 1926), ch. IV, 36-39. F. Getting, Der Renner Hugos von
Trimberg (Miinster i. W., 1932), 104-114; H. Teske, Thomasin von Zer-
claere (Heidelberg, 1933), 207 f.; J. Goldfriedrich, "Die religibsen und
ethischen Grundanschauungcn in Freidanks Bescheidenheit," ZfDeutschk.
13 (1899), 376-427, but especially G. Ehrismann, "Die Grundlagen des
ritterlichen Tugendsystems," ZfdA. 56 (1919), 137-216.
*PBB. 41 (1916), 385-436.
'The most important of them are: K. Maurer, Ober das Wesen des
iiltesten Adels der deutschen Stdmme (Miinchen, 1846) ; P. Gierke, Rechts-
geschichte der deutschen Genossenschaft, 4 vols. (Berlin, 1868-1913); H.
Brunner, Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte, vol. I, 2nd ed. (Leipzig, 1906), vol. II,
2nd ed. by C. Fr. v. Schwerin (Leipzig, 1928) ; Philip Heck, Die Gemein-
freien der Karolingischen Volksrechte (Halle, 1900) ; Die Standesgliederung
der Sachsen im frilhen Mittelalter (Tiibingen, 1927); A. Dopsch, Wirt-
schaftliche und soziale Grundlagen der europiischen Kulturentwicklung,
2nd ed. (Wien, 1924).
reached. No attempt is made in the present study to deal with the
philological, legal, or political side of the problem. That task has
been left to more competent scholars for final treatment, while the
author has endeavored to approach the subject from the social,
ethical, and religious angles.
This investigation of the personal ideals of the age should be of
service to anyone interested in the problems of medieval culture
and thought. The difficulty of achieving a fair representation of
the religious background of medieval times has often been felt by
non-Catholic writers. The evidence presented here may serve to
show the extent to which religious thought influenced the life of
the people, particularly that of the upper classes, and how the
didactic writers strove to derive from an eclectic harmony of Pagan
and Christian philosophies a rule of conduct for Christian nobility
which measured natural virtue by the scale of supernatural values.
The writer wishes to express her gratitude first of all to Reverend
Mother Lucy Dooly, O.S.B., and to her community for the oppor-
tunity of continuing her studies at the Catholic University of
America. She is especially indebted to Doctor Leo Behrendt, who
suggested the subject of this study and whose constant encourage-
ment and unstinted assistance and direction have been invaluable.
Sincere thanks are due to Professor Paul G. Gleis and the Reverend
Doctor Aloysius K. Ziegler for the careful reading of the manu-
script and many constructive criticisms. Grateful acknowledgment
is also made of services received from the staff of the Library of
Congress, from Doctor Rita Dielmann, from individual members
of the writer's own community, and from fellow students at the
Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie
Archiv fir Osterreichische Geschichte.
Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum.
Deutsche Vierteljahrschrift fiir Literaturwissenschaft
Deutsches Wirterbuch. H. Paul.
Journal of English and Germanic Philology.
Geschichte der deutschen Literatur his zum Ausgang
des Mittelalters. G. Ehrismann.
Sitzungsberichte der Bayrischen Akademie der Wissen-
Neue Jahrbiicher fir das Klassische Altertum, Ge-
schichte und deutsche Literatur.
Beitrlige zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und
Jahrbuch fir Gesetzgebung Verwaltung und Volks-
wirtschaft im Deutschen Reich. G. Schmoller.
Zeitschrift fiur deutsches Altertum.
Zeitschrift ffr Deutschkunde = Zeitschrift fir den
Zeitschrift fiir deutsche Philologie.
Most German scholars are well acquainted with the writers upon
whose works the present study is based. It has been thought
necessary, however, to give a brief summary of the facts already
known in order to inform the reader less familiar with this special
field of German literature. Only those facts have been selected
which are pertinent to the study itself and which will help to
explain the individual views held by each particular writer on the
subject of nobility.
The literature of the thirteenth century, which is mostly didac-
tic, shows us the gradual decline of knighthood as well as the
factors which brought about this change.' The representative
didactic poems of the thirteenth century are the Winsbecke and
the Winsbeckin, the Wiilsche Gast of Thomasin of Zerclaere,
Freidank's Bescheidenheit, and the Renner of Hugo of Trimberg.
The religious-didactic purpose, which is uppermost in these
writings, renders them somewhat unattractive as a whole when
compared with epical romances. The free poetic fancy of the
poets of chivalry is displaced by tedious moralizing. Realism
enters poetry and discloses the fact that the world is far from
being an ideal place. Men are falling short of their allotted tasks
and the nobles especially, the mainstay of the old social order, are
found wanting. Privileges pass out of their control and into the
hands of an ambitious middle class. Their economic condition,
rendered precarious by incessant strife, becomes pitiable. The
writers, seeing the evil, wish to arrest the collapse before it is
complete; therefore their zeal in denouncing the evil tendencies
which are making themselves felt.
The Winsbecke and the Winsbeckin, two didactic poems of the
early thirteenth century,2 show us knighthood at its best. The
1 Walter Rehm says: ". .. solche Ubergangszeiten, in denen das Alte aus-
klingt und das Neue antant, greifen gerne, um sieh auszudriicken, zur Satire
und zur Didaktik."-" Kulturverfall und spitmittelhochdeutsche Didaktik,"
ZfdPh. 52 (1927), 304.
2 Albert Leitzmann, who supplied the latest edition of both poems (1928),
places the date in the second decade of the thirteenth century. Cf. Intr.,
XXIV. The Winsbeckin was written somewhat later by a different author
on the analogy of the Winsbecke. Of. ibid., XX.
2 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
father in the Winsbecke gives instructions to his son concerning
the duties of a true knight, while the mother in the Winsbeckin
admonishes her daughter to become a model of perfect womanhood.
The original titles of the poems were probably Des vater lUre and
Der muoter lre.3 This was a favorite form of moral textbook
following the model of the Disticha Catonis.
Leitzmann believes that the poem, as we now possess it, was
the work of three writers. The original draft, he says, included
only stanzas 1-56; and the continuation, stanzas 57-80, he attri-
butes to two writers, of whom the first composed stanzas 57-64,
and the second, stanzas 65-80. The Winsbeckin, of a somewhat
later date, but probably written before the continuations, is a
companion poem to the old Winsbecke, and the work of an inferior
We are mostly concerned with the original poem, stanzas 1-56.
The author, a knight of Winsbach, belonged to a noble family,
whose ancestral castle was located in the little town of Winsbach a
few miles south of Niirnberg, and whose coat of arms contained
three golden suns in a blue field. Members of this house are
mentioned in several documents from about the middle of the
twelfth to the middle of the thirteenth century, but the real
identity of the poet is still disputed.5 Leitzmann holds that he was
a secular noble, not a clergyman as Haupt was inclined to
believe," and that he had a son for whom he wrote or whom he at
least had in mind when he wrote his poem.7 The fact that the
author was a nobleman explains his familiarity with knightly
customs as well as the complete absence of any reference to other
classes, since the nobility, in general, had but little understanding
of social problems.
Cf. ibid., XXIV.
Cf. ibid., XX.
"Cf. ibid., XXIIf., and ADB. 43 (1898), 461.-For further reference
see A. Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands IV (Leipzig, 1903), 539,
note 4; A. Leitzmann, PBB. 13 (1888), 248; E. Wilken, Germania 17
0Cf. GOttingische Gelehrte Anz. (1847), 1, 374.
SCf. Intr., XXIII. See also H. Denicke, Die m-ittelalterlichen Lehr-
gedichte Winsbeke und Winsbekin in kulturgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung
(Rixdorf, 1900), 17.
A somewhat different spirit manifests itself in the work entitled
Der WVilsche Gast, written by Thomasin of Zerclaere, a canon at
the cathedral of Aquileja, in the year 1215-1216.8 The title
implies that the poem was sent by its Italian author into German
lands as a "guest." Thomasin calls himself a walich, a foreigner,
von Friule geborn.9
The family of the Zerclaere,lo which is mentioned in a number
of documents, belonged to the rich merchant class and was one of
the first families to engage in trade between Friuli and Venice.
We know little of Thomasin's own life, his work supplying almost
the only source of information. He went to school (Wiilsche
Gast 12256), but not to a university, as Teske points out.11 He
probably attended the cathedral school of his native town oi that
of Aquileja, where he became familiar with the septem artes and
later with theology. Around 1200, when about 14 years of age,
Thomasin visited a court in Upper Italy, where Provencal litera-
ture and customs attracted his attention.12 A few years later he
himself attempted to write two love poems in the Provencal tongue,
following therein the fashion of the times.13 When in 1204
Wolfger of Ellenbrechtskirchen, bishop of Passau, became patriarch
of Aquileja, Thomasin returned home and entered the service of
the patriarch.14 The latter, a feudal noble, was a vassal of the
German emperor and the greatest landowner in his own domain,
the Mark Friuli. His possessions included even vast portions of
Carniola and Istria, many of whose nobles owed allegiance to him.1
8 H. Teske, Thomasin von Zerclaere (Heidelberg, 1933), 117.
o Wilsche Gast, ed. by H. Riickert (Quedlinburg u. Leipzig, 1852), 69ff.
-Joseph v. Zahn believes him to be German. Cf. Arch. OG. 57 (1879),
348, n. 1.
10 Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 42-49.
Cf. ibid., 51 ff.
Cf. ibid., 58-79.
'3 See H. Teske's account of the two Ensenhamens," op. cit., 79 ff.
H. Teske says that Thomasin came to his court probably in 1205, when
not yet twenty years of age. Of. op. cit., 50.
'" Cf. ibid., 3. Im Jahre 1077 schenkte Heinrich IV. dem Patriarchen
Sigehard von Aquileja den comitatus Forojulii und kurz darauf Istrien und
Krain." V. HasenShrl, "Deutschlands sfidistliche Marken im 10., 11. und
12. Jahrhunderte," Arch. OG. 82 (1895), 543.- Concerning Wolfger, see
4 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
The nobility of this southeast corner of the empire was over-
whelmingly German. Most of the lords and ministeriales had
come from German houses and received fiefs from the patriarch,
who needed a strong nobility to protect the borders and to make
safe the trade between Germany and Venice. A chain of castles,
built by German nobles in the eleventh and twelfth centuries,
bordered the eastern frontier of the patriarchate. The west and
southwest were similarly protected. German nobles were every-
where and the patriarch was their highest suzerain.16
Wolfger, an able diplomat and powerful ruler, loved to surround
himself with men of talent. Walther von der Vogelweide was
often seen at his court,T7 and Buoncompagno, the great Florentine
scholar, served the patriarch for a number of years,"1 together with
a native of Friuli, Thomasin of Zerclaere.
It is not certain what position Thomasin filled. According to
G. Grion,"1 he died as a canon of Aquileja. While silent as to
his occupation, Thomasin tells us, that he had witnessed the coro-
nation of Otto IV, and had spent more than eight weeks at the
emperor's court (10471 ff). He is likewise well acquainted with
the political troubles of the time, especially in so far as they affect
his native land. The rise of the cities causes him great anxiety.
He fears that they will wrest the power from the old feudal nobles
and bring anarchy to Friuli as they have done to the rest of Italy.
Paul Kalkoff, Wolfger von Passau, 1191-1204, eine Untersuchung fiber den
historischen Wert seiner ,,Reiserechnungen" (Weimar, 1882) ; R. Schwemer,
Innocent III vnd die deutsche Kirche wihrend des Thronstreites von 1198-
1208 (Strassburg, 1882), 98 ff.
"1 Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 6.
1 Cf. ibid., 30 ff.; K. Burdach, Walther von der Vogelweide I (Leipzig,
1900), 55-81; Vorspiel I, 1 (Halle, 1925), 350-379; Anton E. Schnhach,
Die Anfiinge des deutschen Minnesanges (Graz, 1898), 33; 63 f.; H.
Sparnaay, Zu Walthers 'Drier slahte sane '," Neophilologus 19 (1934),
At least between 1204 and 1220. Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 34 ff.; K.
Burdach, Walther von der Vogelweide I, 290 ff.; Vorspiel I, 1, 355; A. E.
Schinbach, WSB. 145 (1902), 11 ff.
"Article Fridanc," ZfdPh. 2 (1870), 431. H. Teske says: "Er wird
regulierter Domherr zu Aquileja. Gottesdienst und Predigt liegen ihm ob."
Op. cit., 216. On the same question see A. E. Schinbach, Die Anfinge des
dcutschen Minnesanges, 30 ff.
He partly blames the nobles for this state of affairs, and, in his
anxiety to remedy the evil, he writes a work of 14742 verses
addressed to nobles and clergy to bring them back to their duties.
He uses the German language because those for whom it is intended
are German knights. He himself says that he writes not durch
durch n6t, wan ich sihe wol
daz man nien tuot daz man sol. (12289 f.)
He could not longer endure to see the world, and especially those
around him, the upper classes, failing so lamentably in their
obligations. Though it was hard for him to forego the pleasures
of society,20 he shut himself up for ten months in order to write
his work. According to him, the root of all evil in the world is
unstaete, i. e., instability of character, while state, or steadfast-
ness, is the fountainhead of all virtues.21
He hopes that his book will be well received despite some mis-
takes which he is prone to make on account of his being a foreigner
and not so well versed in German. How gratefully his work was
accepted is shown by the many, often richly illuminated, manu-
scripts which have been preserved.22 Burdach mentions eighteen
manuscripts of the poem, three of which belong to the thirteenth,
five to the fourteenth, and ten to the fifteenth century.2
The very personality of the author of the Wiilsche Gast makes the
work important for the study of nobility. He is an Italian and a
ministerialis, descended from a family which has risen through
trade. His native Friuli is ruled by German nobles, who follow
German feudal customs and who are watching with anxiety the
rise of Italian city-states. Thomasin as a man of Friuli speaks
against Venetian influence, and as an aristocrat treats the lower
20 mich luste harte wol ze schouwen
beidiu riter under vrouwen, Wtilsche Gast, 12319 f.
1 For an analysis of the work see F. Ranke, "Sprache und Stil im
Wlilschen Gast des Thomasin von Circlaria," Palaestra 68 (Berlin, 1908),
22 Cf. A. v. Ochelhiuser, Der Bilderkreis sum Wiilschen Gast (Heidelberg,
1890); A. Hessel, "Friaul als Grenzland," Historische Zeitschrift 134
23 Cf. Vorspiel I, 2, p. 109.
6 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
classes only in relation to the ruling class, the feudal aristocracy.
He becomes a member of the clerical profession and takes his duties
seriously.24 But his youthful contact with Provengal life and
ideals still colors his later work and gives to the Wilsche Gast a
certain air of courtliness.
The courtly atmosphere is less pronounced in Freidank's
Bescheidenheit, a collection of terse, epigrammatic sayings, which
enjoyed great popularity for several centuries.25 The moral pro-
verbs which it contained were in later centuries widely used by
popular preachers and incorporated in the Proverbia Fridanci, or
Freidank sermons of the first quarter of the fifteenth century.2"
Little is known of the author's life except that he took part in
the crusade in 1228,27 and that he wrote his work in all probability
between 1215 and 1230.28 Hauck believes that he belonged to the
nobility,29 but the general tone of his work is democratic.
As the century draws to a close, realistic tendencies become
more pronounced. They find expression especially in the Renner of
Hugo of Trimberg. The author was a schoolmaster in Teuerstadt,
1 Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 216 f.
25 Cf. W. Grimm, "Vridankes Bescheidenheit," GUttingische Gelehrte
Anzeigen 1 (1835), 404. The edition by Fr. Sandvoss is followed in all
26 Cf. J. Klapper, Die Sprichwilrter der Freidankpredigten. Proverbia
Fridanci. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des ostmitteldeutschen Sprichworts
und sciner Lateinischen Quellen," Wort und Brauch, 16 (Breslau, 1927).
See also a review by Richard Jente in JEGPh. 28 (1929), 142-144.
27 f. H. E. Bezzenberger, Fridankes Bescheidenheit (Halle, 1872), 18.-
The home of Freidank is a much disputed question. O. v. Zingerle tried to
prove that the author in all probability lived in the neighborhood of
Bruneck in Tyrol. Cf. "Die Heimat des Dichters Freidank," ZfdPh. 52
(1927), 93-110. Other writers would place him in Alsace; of. H. E. Bezzen-
berger, op. cit., 18; Fr. Sandvoss, Freidank, 250 f.; R. Krauss, Schwi-
bische Literaturgeschichte (Freiburg i. B., 1897-99), I, 44, speaks of him as
a Swabian writer. Gervinus places him in the Upper Rhine region; cf.
Geschichte der deutschen Dichtung, 5th ed. (Leipzig, 1871), II, 22.
28 Neumann says: Die Spriiche gehiren in das erste Drittel des XIII
Jahrhunderts. Nichts weist in ihnen unter das Jahr 1230."-" Scholastik
und mittelhochdeutsche Literatur," Neue Jahrb. 49-50 (1922), 391, n. 3.
2 Cf. Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands IV, 540, n. 3. F. Pfeiffer tries to
prove that he belonged to the middle class. Cf. Germania 2 (1857), 129-
a village on the outskirts of Bamberg.30 His verses present a
picture of society in which the relationships of all classes, the
high and the low, ecclesiastical and lay, men and women, are
portrayed in their most intimate aspects. The descriptions are
so full and touch upon so many problems of society that they
illumine not only the civilization of the time, but also cast con-
siderable light upon the preceding and the following periods.
Besides the Renner, Hugo wrote several Latin works, the Registrum
multorum auctorum, Solsequium, Laurea Sanctorum, and, perhaps,
a Vita Maria Rhythmica, and seven German poems which have,
however, been lost.31 The Renner was written between the years
1280 and 1313,32 and portrays as few other works of the time, the
change in German social life and ideals which had taken place in
the course of the century.
Hugo was an old man when he wrote the Renner,3 and the
tendency of advanced age to criticize the young generation is felt
throughout the voluminous work. He was born in East Franconia
and was well educated, though he never attended a university.34
Besides being an exceptional Latin scholar, he also may have
possessed some knowledge of Greek.35 His enthusiasm for learn-
ing prompted him to collect a library consisting of two hundred
biiechelin, a rather expensive investment for a poor man like
Hugo." His great erudition granted him access to the upper
classes of society.
The social texture of Franconia was like that of the rest of
Germany in the thirteenth century-a warlike feudal and eccle-
siastical aristocracy lording it over a servile peasantry. Hugo
was not in sympathy with the life of the nobles. He had seen much
S3 Of. L. Behrendt, The ethical teaching of Hugo of Trimberg, Diss.
(Washington, 1926), 18. For a good discussion of the realism of this
period see Ch. F. Fiske, "Homely Realism in Mediaeval German Litera-
ture," Vassar Mediaeval Studies (New Haven, 1923), 111-147.
a' Cf. L. Behrendt, op. cit., ch. I, 5-15.
32 Of. ibid., 5 f.
CO Cf. Renner 10494, where he tells us that he is 77.
1 For further information regarding his education and scholarship see
L. Behrendt, op. cit., 16-23.
Cf. ibid., 16 f.
Concerning his poverty see ibid., 19 f.
8 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
of it and proposed to preach a sermon on the defections of humanity,
exhorting nobles and clergy in particular to live up to the ideals
of their calling.
The complaint about the evils of the time is one of the chief
characteristics of the didactic literature of this period. The writers
regret the loss of the good old times, when everything that is now
wrong was right. They notice a decline and fight against it.
Naturally, their zeal to preserve the old order of things leads them,
on the one hand, to overemphasize the good conditions of the past,
to paint them in brighter colors than the facts would warrant;
and, on the other, to exaggerate the faults and shortcomings of their
own times. Freidank realizes this when he says:
Swa man lobet die alten site,
df schiltet man die niuwen mite. (52, 8 f.)
That does not prevent him, however, from doing it himself, and we
find the same to be true with the other writers.37
It must also be remembered that the didactic poets were true
children of their time and borrowed from all kinds of sources
without troubling themselves, in most instances, to indicate the
original author. Thomasin's attitude is characteristic of all didactic
writers. That he holds plagiarism no literary sin is stated clearly
in his own justification of his borrowings:
daz ist untugende niht,
ob ouch mir lihte geschiht
daz ich in mins getihtes want
cin holz daz ein ander hant
gemeistert habe lege mit list,
daz es gelich den andern ist. (109 ff.)
Classical authors were held in great esteem. The didactic
writers frequently drew from them in order to give force, emphasis,
and classic coloring to their own convictions. Hugo of Trimberg
defends his practice of quoting from non-Christian sources and
points out that a prudent man can learn much from their perusal.38
"Walther Rehm says: Immer wird, subjectiv oder objective, an einem
Ideal der Ablauf des Geschehens und die eigene Zeit gemessen und danach
von HIihe oder Verfall gesprochen," loc. cit., 298.
38 Dcr heiden spriiche habent ouch Are
Und sint manigen enden wert
Als wahs, da man night honiges gert.
He holds that virtuous pagan authors are, after Holy Scripture,
of great benefit to clergy as well as to laymen. They must not,
however, be preferred to Holy Scripture. Hugo refers here to St.
Jerome's youthful preference for Cicero and other Roman authors,
An den unsers herren lop night was: (8464),
and to the Saint's famous dream, when he first embraced a life of
Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Sallust, Juvenal, Ovid, Horace,
Lucan, as well as numerous other classical authors, were well
known to the didactic writers and are often mentioned by them.
It is doubtful, however, if they came into direct contact with the
originals. The probability is, that even if they cite an author
verbally and give his name, as is the case at times with Hugo, the
quotation is, more often than not, taken from an intermediate
source. Their knowledge of ancient writers came to them princi-
pally through their school-books, which were collections of accepted
aphorisms and quotations from the ancients, interspersed with
Christian thoughts from the Bible and the Fathers.
Their acquaintance with Holy Scripture and the Fathers may
have been made in the same way, although in some instances the
writers probably had access to the original texts. Thomasin,40
Freidank,41 and Hugo 42 show great familiarity with patristic and
Swer sich nu wol verrihten kan
Uz disen zwein, der werfe hin dan,
Swaz er vinde daz im niht fiiege; Renner 24509 if.;
of. also 24548 ff.; 16275 f., and E. J. Wilfel, Untersuchungen fiber Hugo
von Trimberg und seinen Renner," ZfdA. 28 (1884), 161. E. Seemann,
"Hugo von Trimberg und die Fabeln seines Renners," Milnchener Archiv 6
(1923), 4ff. and 12 ff.; S. Sawicki, Gottfried von Strassburg und die Poetik
des Mittelalters (Berlin, 1932), 13 ff.
a Cf. Renner 8460 11., and E. Seemann, loc. cit., 16.
40 Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 149 ff., 158-189; A. E. Schinbach, Die Anfinge
des deutschen Minnesanges (Graz, 1898), 39.
1 Gf. C. Loewer, Patristische Quellenstudien zu Freidanks Bescheidenheit,
Diss. (Leipzig, 1900); Fr. Neumann, "Scholastik und mittelhochdentsche
Literatur," Neue Jahrb. (1922), 388-404 and by the same author, "Frei-
danks Lehre von der Seele," Festschrift Max Jellinek (Wien u. Leipzig,
4 Cf. F. Getting, Der Renner Hugos von Trimberg (Miinster i. W., 1932);
E. J. Wolfel, loc. cit., 162; H. Kissling, Die Ethik Frauenlobs (Halle,
10 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
later Latin writings, such as the works of Pope Gregory, Isidor of
Seville, St. Bernard, Alain of Lille, Vincent of Beauvais, Hugh of
St. Victor, John of Salisbury, and others.
The best known and most popular collections of the time were
the Moralis Philosophia ascribed to Guillaume de Conches, the
Disticha Catonis, an accumulation of ethical maxims with specific
reference to conduct, compiled by a Latin rhetor before the end of
the third century, and the Summa virtutum et vitiorum of Guilliel-
mus Peraldus (f 1275)."
The Moralis Philosophia formed an important gateway through
which ancient philosophy entered medieval thought and teaching.
Here we find combined the maxims of Cicero, Seneca, Juvenal,
Horace, Boethius, Terence, and Lucan, as well as a few citations
from Isidore and St. Gregory.44 Guillaume de Conches, the sup-
posed author of the treatise,"4 lived between 1080 and 1154 (or
1150)." The frame of his work is supplied by Cicero's De officiis.
Following his model, he divides the work into five principal parts:
De honest, De comparatione honestorum, De utili, De compara-
tione utilium, and finally, De conflict honest et utilis.4 He
approaches the question of nobility in Part III, and numbers it
13 Cf. L. Behrendt, op. cit., 9, and E. Schrdder, Die Summe der Tugenden
und Laster," ZfdA. 29 (1885), 359 f. A good account of medieval books
will be found in Ch. H. Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century
(Cambridge, 1927), 70-91.-See also A. E. Schbnbach, Walther Von der
Vogelweide, 2nd ed. (Berlin, 1895), 161 f.
4 Zingerle gives a compilation of the various citations in MSB., phil.-
hist. K1. (1881), 302 ff. A complete and correct summary is supplied by
J. Holmbcrg in his edition (Uppsala, 1929), 9, n. 3. This edition will be
used for further references.
56 J. Holmberg takes up the problem of authorship and after examining
internal as well as external evidence, he concludes: "Die verfasserschaft
des Guillaume de Conches wird durch diese iibereinstimmungen, wenn nicht
gesichert, so doch jedcnfalls wahrscheinlich gemacht." Op. cit., Intro-
duction, 7. John R. Williams -says that on account of the uncertain data
with regard to authorship, the Moralium Dogma Philosophorum should
not be unreservedly ascribed to anyone."-" The Authorship of the AMora-
lium Dogma Philosophorum," Speculum, 6 (1931), 411. For the sake of
convenience, Guillaume de Conches will be referred to in the present study
as the possible author.
1 Cf. J. Holmberg, op. cit., 8 and note 2 for further bibliography.
Cf. ibid., 9.
among the goods of the body.4 Cicero,49 Horace,50 Sallust,51 and
especially Juvenal 12 are his sources. The Christian concept does
not enter in. The first part, the De honest, treats of the four
cardinal virtues and their filiae, which became the foundation for
the ethical system of knighthood.53 Thomasin in particular is
greatly indebted to this treatise. It supplies the frame for his first
book and many of his thoughts can be traced directly to it.54
As other possible Latin sources might be mentioned: the Moribus
et vita quisquis vult esse facelus,5 and the Facetus cum nihil
utilius,56 both containing rules for good conduct; a short Latin
poem called De statibus mundi,57 the author of which chastises
severely the different classes of society, but especially the clergy,
for their avarice and their delight in lustful pleasures; finally,
another Latin poem of greater length, written about 1220, and
called Sermones nulli parcentes.58 Hugo of Trimberg seems to have
been very familiar with this last poem, a German translation of
which was made about 1276." The unknown author of the poem
deplores in twenty-eight chapters the evils of the time, charging
each class with its particular shortcomings. He begins with the
pope and includes all the ecclesiastical ranks, monks and nuns,
emperor, kings and princes, knights and citizens, merchants,
farmers, and women.
48 Of. ibid., 54, 8. Ehrismann suggests that it properly should belong to
the advantages of fortune. Cf. "Grundlagen des ritterlichen Tugendsys-
tems," ZfdA. 56 (1919), 143, n. 1.
'D De off., I, 34, 121.
o Epod. IV, 5-6.
"Jug. LXXXV, 22-23; Catil. LI, 12.
SSat. X, 297; VIII, 20; 24; 30-32; 76; 140-141; 269-271.
3 Cf. G. Ehrismann, loe. cit., 142.
Cf. A. E. Sch6nbach, Die Anfinge des deutschen Minnesanges, 41, and
H. Teske, op. cit., 19.
5 Ed. by A.i Morel-Fatio in Romania 15 (1886), 224-235.
Ed. by C. Schr6der, Palaestra 86 (Berlin, 1911).
The exact date and author are not certain. It has been attributed to
both Gautier de Chatillon and Walter Mapes. Cf. R. Mohl, The Three
Estates in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (New York, 1933), 21 f.
"5 The original and a German translation are edited by M. v. Karajan in
ZfdA. 2 (1842), 15-45.
"B Karajan calls the translation Buch der Riigen.
12 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
Aside from epical romances, French as well as German, which
were known to the didactic poets, there are several French poems,
with which the didactic writers may have been familiar, judging
from the similarity of subject matter and treatment. A Cistercian
monk, Hl6inant, who is supposed to have written Les Vers de la
mort about the year 1194,60 speaks of the power of death over all
mankind. Another French writer, Etienne de Fougeres (t 1178),
wrote Le Livre des manieres about 1174,61 in which he furnishes
rich information concerning the conditions of the various classes
of society. He discusses their duties and notes their failures. La.
Bible Guiot, written probably before 1209 by Guiot de Provins,62
mirrors the faults of all mankind. The author has much to say
about monastic orders and the corruption of nobility. A young
Burgundian knight, Huges of Berz6-le-Chatel, wrote a similar
poem, somewhat later, entitled: La Bible au Seigneur de Berzd."
The author begins with praising the good old times and then turns
to the evil conditions of his own age, especially among the knights.
Another Norman cleric, Guillaume, wrote Le Besant de Dieu,6"
in which he presents the conflict of vice and virtue in the world.
The Roman de cariti and Roman de misere of the Recluse of
Molliens 65 are fashioned on the same style. The poet seeks charity
everywhere but cannot find it. He has much to say about the vices
of the rich. Robert de Blois in his L'Enseignement des princes,
written about 1260,66 discusses the pride of the lords, the avarice of
the clergy, and the arrogance of the serf who is not satisfied with
Besides the literature mentioned above, there were also a con-
siderable number of German poems, most of them of a religious-
didactic nature, contemporary with or preceding the didactic poems
6o Cf. R. Mohl, op. cit., 34 f.
1 Cf. ibid., 35 f.
62 Cf. ibid., 37 f. The poem is found in Les Oeuvres de Guiot de Provins,
ed. by J. Orr (Manchester, 1915), 10-93.
83 Cf. R. Mohl, op. cit., 39 f.
Of. ibid., 40 ff.
Cf. ibid., 42 ff.; they are edited by A.-G. Van Hamel, Bibliotvleque de
i'Vcole des hautes etudes, 61 (Paris, 1885).
Ed. by J. Ulrich, Sdmmtliche Werke (Berlin, 1889-95), III.-Cf. also
R. Mohl, op. cit., 44.
of this study.67 It is impossible here to go into detail with regard
to the sources. What has been said should be sufficient to indicate
the various influences which affected the concept of nobility of
the didactic writers of the thirteenth century. In them we find
a fusion of classical and Christian thought, colored, to some extent,
by Romance views, but presenting, after all, the writers' own
opinions, since they made their borrowings according to their
There is also a great interdependence among the didactic writers
themselves. Freidank is familiar with the Winsbeckce 6s and knows
and uses the Wiilsche Gast of Thomasin of Zerclaere,69 while Hugo
of Trimberg borrows extensively from Freidank's Bescheidenheit.70
Although their reliability as historical sources is thus greatly re-
stricted, their testimony is, nevertheless, of great value. Because
each author observes the same weaknesses, the same symptoms of
decline, their reiterations lend force to one another until their
writings blend into an historical voice of so great importance that
it may not be denied a hearing.71 Their complaint is not the cry
of a certain class, since these writers were widely separated in social
position: the author of the Winsbeclce was an accomplished noble-
man; Freidank, evidently a member of the lower nobility;
Thomasin, a theologian and scholar; and Hugo of Trimberg, a
man of the middle class. It is very suggestive that even Hugo,
the biographer par excellence of the bourgeoisie, is anxious to pre-
serve the old conditions. He cannot think of a new order which
would work as well as the old. In all likelihood, this hesitancy
was due to a feeling that the middle class was not yet ready to
assume the lead.
A list of them is given by L. Behrendt, op. cit., 10, n. 6.
Cf. H. E. Bezzenberger, op. cit., 44.
9 Cf. ibid., 43; Fr. Neumann, loc. cit., 391 and H. Teske, op. cit., 87.
See, however, F. Pfeiffer, Germania 2 (1857), 150.
7o A. Leitzmann gives a complete list of Hugo's borrowings from Frei-
dank. Cf. "Die Freidankcitate im Renner," PBB. 45 (1920), 116-120.
An incomplete list is given by K. Janicke, Germania 2 (1857), 418-424.
"1 Cf. W. Rehm, loc. cit., 309. Opposed to this view is J. Petersen, Das
Rittertum in der Darstellung des Johannes Rothe," Quellen u. Forschungen
106 (Strassburg, 1909), 6 ff., and 163 f.; Petersen is correct in so far as
accumulative testimony often fails to establish historical accuracy, but it
is valuable as an indication of the general trend of thought for the period
A SURVEY OF THE CONCEPT OF NOBILITY TO
THE YEAR 1200
Nobility is a term which covers an accumulated array of ab-
stractions. It is impossible to arrive at a complete, unambiguous,
and generally acceptable definition. The concept has varied with
time and place. Poets and philosophers, lawyers and statesmen
have their individual interpretations, and this again differs from
one nation to another and ever changes as time goes on. But
despite this internal evolution, the ideal basis remains the same.
Nobility, in whatever guise it appears, always spells excellence.
Now it refers to excellence of character, again it indicates position
in society. A reconciliation of the various types of nobility is thus
made possible through this common bond. The ancient Greeks,
in fact, believed that true nobility consists in a complete harmony
of physical and moral excellence with social supremacy.
Homer, in the Iliad and the Odyssey,1 gives us the first picture of
the Greek noble, and it is this picture which Aristotle seems to
have in mind when in his philosophical works he outlines for us
the qualities of true nobility.2
A nobleman in the Homeric Age must first of all be such by
birth. This implied a connection with the gods, who were con-
sidered the ancestors of every princely house.3 Aristotle, too,
SW. D5rpfeld dates them in the 12th century B. C. Cf. Homers Odyssee
(Miinchen, 1925), I, 4.
2 Aristotle's conception of nobility is an ideal one, just as is his con-
ception of state. He does not give us a true picture of the nobility of
the time, but tells us how it ought to be. For a detailed description of
early Greek nobility see L. R. Brandt, Social aspects of Greek life in the
sixth century B. C., Diss. Columbia Univ. (Philadelphia, 1921), ch.
II, 29-43; J. Burckhardt, Griechische Kulturgeschichte (Berlin u. Stutt-
gart, 1898-1902, I, 170ff.; J. Beloch, Griechische Geschichte, 2nd ed. (Ber-
lin u. Leipzig, 1912-1927), I, 1, 17 ff.; 84ff.; 213 ff.; G. Busolt, Griechische
Geschichte (Gotha, 1893-1904), II, 93 ff.; G. Lowes Dickinson, The Greek
view of life (London, 1932), ch. II, 69-133.
3 Nobility in Homer is always expressed by prefixing 6ios to the hero's
name, as 56os 'Ax XXeis, thus indicating divine descent. Cf. Iliad I, 7;
I, 121; et passim. t&oyvcis is also used in this connection. Cf. Iliad I, 489.
Herodotus, however, makes fun of Hecatacus, who had traced his lineage
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
believes in a nobility of birth. He considers it as one of the ex-
ternal goods necessary to perfect happiness.4 Athenian nobles
were called Enrarpt'Sa or the well-born.5 At Aristotle's time, how-
ever, the earlier emphasis on noble birth had gradually weakened
and that kind of nobility which owed its prestige more exclusively
to wealth had gained prominence. But, Aristotle remarks, noble
descent is still respected everywhere,6 and honor is also due to the
descendants, because, he concludes, it is reasonable to expect that
men of worth will have children of equal merit.7
A beautifully organized body matching a harmonious, well-bal-
anced spirit and soul is another requisite for a Greek noble. Per-
sonal beauty is, according to Aristotle, indispensable to a perfect
man,9 and a well-balanced character is the foundation of Aris-
totelian happiness." It is that virtue which avoids excess and
deficiency,10 the ueaov already pointed out by Theognis 1 and
frequently referred to by Aristotle.12 In the Heroic Age, noble
birth, beauty, and virtue 13 were still considered inseparable,'4 but
to a god in the sixteenth generation. Cf. Herodotus II, 143. How deeply
the belief in divine descent was rooted in Greek nature is also proved by
the example of Alexander, who considered himself the son of Zeus, with-
out, however, denying Philip as his father. Cf. U. Wilken, Alexander der
Grosse (Leipzig, 1931), 117 and 255.
Cf. Nicomachean Ethics I, viii, 16. The importance attached to noble
birth appears strikingly in Sophocles, Ajax 1290.
5 Cf. Xenophon, Symposium 8: 40. For further reference on the term,
see G. Busolt, op. cit., II, 94 f. and n. 5; also G. W. Botsford, Hellenic
History (New York, 1922), 105.
6 Cf. Aristotle, Politics III, vii, 7; also Theognis, Elegies 409-410.
Cf. Aristotle, Politics III, vii, 8.
SCf. Ch. B. Gulick, Modern traits in old Greek life (New York, 1927),
90. The Greeks believed that a fine, healthy body was indicative also of
strength of soul. Cf. Iliad III, 44 f., and G. Lowes Dickinson, op. cit.,
'Nicomachean Ethics I, viii, 16. Cf. also Plato, Republic 402.
10" pea6,rdT ris ipa icriv i dperT aroxaruTKni ye oLra Troi pdou." Nico-
machean Ethics II, vi, 13.
12 Nicomachean Ethics II, vi, 13; et passim.
S3 Virtue must be understood as a habit of right action, formed by acting
rightly. Cf. ibid., II, i, 4; et passim.
14 Cf. Iliad III, 44 f.
16 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
Theognis, with an eye for reality, knows that beauty and virtue
fall to but few and calls those happy who have a share of both."'
Virtue was considered the exclusive possession of those of noble
descent, while those of low origin were thought to be incapable of
performing virtuous acts. The Greek nobles called themselves
&yaOoi or iOrAol, "the good," and Theognis, a typical noble of the
old social order, continually identifies the nobles with the good," 1s
while he calls the commons, or rich commercial class, o0 Kaxo 17 or
of eLSAot,'8 "the base." This latter class had gradually gained
recognition and in the course of time changed the original Greek
conception of nobility."9
Wealth was always a determining factor in the life of a Greek
noble, and, like honorable descent and superior bodily and mental
endowments, a necessary qualification.20 When Theognis and Aris-
totle speak against wealth, they do not mean ownership of land or
inherited possessions,21 but that new ruling class which had grown
wealthy by commerce and was trying to force its way into positions
of power even as early as the seventh century. The old nobility
clung tenaciously to their ancient rights and privileges, and we hear
their complaints in the laments of Theognis, who deplores the new
order of things, and regrets that riches have corrupted birth.22
Unrighteous gain has brought honor to those undeserving of it and
15 Cf. Elegies 933-938. Ibid., 279; et passim.
6 Ibid., 35; et passim. 8 Ibid., 281; et passim.
Cf. G. Busolt, op. cit., II, 186 and 198.
20 Cf. J. Burckhardt, op. cit., I, 173 f., and 175, note 1. Aristotle defines
"good birth as long standing wealth and virtue. evyves d ir&v dpxatoF
\rXorTOS Kati per7." Politics IV, vi, 5.
21 The nobles in the Heroic Age were landholders. Attic placenames can
be traced to certain families, whose possessions were located there, as for
instance: Butadai, Thymoitadai, Perithoidai, etc. Cf. G. Busolt, op. cit.,
II, 93 f.; in Syracuse the nobles were known as yewl pots or "landhold-
ers"; cf. Herodotus VII, 155; also in Samos; cf. Thucydides VIII, 21.
The Chalcidian nobles were called hrrofp6rac, i. e., horse breeders "; cf.
Herodotus V, 77. The keeping of horses was a distinguishing trait of
nobility, determining to a certain degree the rank of the nobles. Cf. J.
Burckhardt, op. cit., I, 172; Aristotle, Politics VI, iii, 2. See also Th. D.
Seymour, Life in the Homeric Age (New York, 1907), 247.
"Elegies 190. See also 53-58; 315-318; 525-526; 621-622; 699-700;
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
lowered the standards of moral worth.23 Only the "great-souled"
(yeyaAo'uvos) man, declares Aristotle, is deserving of honor,24
whereas those who possess the goods of fortune without virtue
cannot claim high worth.25
The Greek conception of nobility is primarily aesthetic. The
noble man is the beautiful man, beautiful in body and beautiful
in soul. In order to produce and perpetuate such a combination
he must be supplied with external advantages such as wealth,
friends, and the like. Moreover, he cannot engage in manual labor
or trade, since such occupations are held in bad repute. Plato
believes that a life of drudgery disfigures the body and enervates
the soul.2" Aristotle calls the occupation of the artisan unnatural
and denies to him excellence of any kind, rating him even below
the slave as far as virtue is concerned.27 The proper occupation
for the "excellent" man is the performance of public duties. He
is first of all a citizen of the state, and civic duties require the
greater part of his time and energy. The productive class, on the
other hand, realizes the means of subsistence; it exists simply to
maintain the aristocracy of citizens. Aristotle's definition of the
"happy" man, who is the ideal Greek noble, is: one whose activity
accords with perfect virtue and who is adequately furnished with
external goods, not for a casual period of time, but for a complete
and perfect life-time.28
The Roman concept of nobility is illustrated best by the writings
of Cicero, who, true Roman that he was, can be considered the
exponent of the normal trend of Roman ideas. The Romans were
an intensely practical people,29 and it is not surprising, therefore,
that even their ideal of nobility bears a certain utilitarian stamp.
2 Cf. ibid., 291-292; 635-636; 647-648. Aristotle denies to the nobles
the right to engage in gainful professions (cf. Politics VII, viii, 2) and
leaves the tilling of the soil to the serfs ibidd., VII, ix, 9).
24 Nicomachean Ethics IV, iii, 11.
26 Ibid., IV, iii, 20.
2 Cf. Republic 495, also Xenophon, Oec., IV, 3.
2 Cf. Politics I, v, 10.
8 Nicomachean Ethics I, x, 15.
21 Cf. W. W. Fowler, Social life at Rome in the Age of Cicero (New
York, 1909), 187; A. Bimer, "Anstand und Etikette nach den Theorien
der Humanisten," Neue Jahrb. 14 (1904), 224.
18 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
The Romans like the Greeks had a nobility of birth whose
earliest representatives were the patricians.30 In their relation to
the plebeians they formed a real aristocracy of birth. A person
born of a patrician family was and remained a patrician, no matter
what his later fortunes might be. No power could make a patrician
a plebeian. The vast gulf between the two classes was bridged
only after a long and serious struggle, which lasted until the
third century B. C., and secured for the plebeians political equal-
ity.31 The outcome was a new nobility, distinct from the old
patriciate and composed of those who had held curule offices and
were members of the senate.32 The first man who obtained a curule
office became a novus homo,33 or the actor generis, that is, with
him began the nobility of the family."
Theoretically, personal merit could raise a man to the rank of
nobility and Cicero was one of those qui non in cunabulis, sed in
campo sunt consules facti5 But in reality name and renown of
ancestors were more potent factors for the obtaining of offices than
so Concerning the various views and arguments regarding this class, see
G. W. Botsford, The Roman Assemblies (New York, 1909), 16-45.
1 Cf. ibid., 309 and 330; and W. E. Heitland, The Roman Republic
(Cambridge, 1909), I, 118.
"2 Roman nobility from a political and social point of view is treated by
M. Gelzer, Die Nobilitdt der r6mischen Republik (Leipzig u. Berlin, 1912),
and F. Miinzer, Rdmische Adelsparteien und Adelsfamilien (Stuttgart,
3 Cicero refers to this practice in his De lege agraria II, 1-4, where he
calls himself primum hominum novum, being elected consul by the people
on account of his merit, not because of his birth.
Concerning this nobility, A. W. Becker says: "wer einmal mit der
hdchsten Gewalt bekleidet gewesen war, der war far immer fiber die Menge
erhoben, und sehr nattirlich going auch sein pers8nliches Ansehen auf seine
Nachkommen fiber. Er hatte sein Geschlecht geadelt, und so bildete sich,
wie friiher innerhalb des patricischen Standes, von selbsti ohne gesetzlich
anerkanntes Institut des Staats zu werden, an der Stelle, oder vielmehr
neben dem immer gleichgiiltiger werdenden Geburtsadel ein Amtsadel, der
aber forterbend in den Familien eben auch wieder zu einer Art Geburtsadel
wurde, und nach und nach zu einer compacten Kirperschaft sich gestaltete,
welche die hichste Gewalt ebenso exclusive, wie friiher die Patricier, als ibr
Eigentum betrachtete." Handbuch der rdmischen Alterthilmer (Leipzig,
1843-44), II, 1, p. 219. Cf. W. E. Heitland, op. cit., I, 127.
Cicero, De lege agraria II, 100.
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
the personality of the man.36 The nobiles tried to keep honorary
positions as much as possible in their own families,37 and thus
little chance was given to men of real worth. But the ideal
remained, and Cicero constantly refers to it, emphasizing the
superiority of moral nobility over nobility of birth.8" This moral
nobility or honestum, he says, is not within the reach of all but
is the possession of a few and is only recognized by a few. The
common people have the mistaken notion that the rich, the pros-
perous, and those of noble birth are to be considered the best."
Nobility of birth, however, is by no means identical with moral
excellence, though illustrious ancestors reinforce the shining
virtues of a man,40 while the man of humble birth must rely on
his own virtue and superior ability.41 If fortune 42 favors a man
with noble descent, he is, as it were, placed upon a pillar and his
deeds are noticed by all.43
Cicero places the greatest emphasis on virtue as possessing the
sole claim to distinction. But it must be public virtue, that is,
conspicuous personal merit and ability shown in actions beneficial
to the state. Cicero's highest ideal is a perfect citizen.44 For such
S8 Cicero is very indignant in his speech against Piso whom his family
busts had raised to his office. Cf. In Calpurnium Pisonem Oratio 1-3.
7 Ibid.; also De lege agraria II, 3.
38 Cf. Cicero, Ep. fam., III, 7, 5; Post reditum in senate 25: also De
off., I, 121; II, 36, 43.
1""opulentos homines et copiosos, tur genere nobili natos esse optimos
putant." Cicero, De re public I, 51.
4o Cf. Cicero, Pro Cn. Plancio 67.
41Cf. ibid., and Philippic VI, 17.
42 Cicero numbers noble birth among the gifts of fortune. Cf. De off.,
I, 115. It belonged like wealth and repute to the accidents of individual
men, which were looked upon by the Stoics as "the dispensations of Provi-
dence, results of the divinely appointed, unalterable course of nature."
R. D. Hicks, Stoic and Epicurean (New York, 1910), 92.
Thus Cicero says to his son: "Nam si quis ab ineunte aetate habet
causam celebritatis et nominis aut a patre acceptam, quod tibi, mi Cicero,
arbitror contigisse, aut aliquo casu atque fortune, in hune oculi omnium
coniciuntur atque in eum, quid agat, quem ad modum vivat, inquiritur et,
tarquam in clarissima luce versetur, ita nullum obscurum potest nec
dictum eius esse nec factum." De off., II, 44.
Cf. Cicero, De re public I, 2; De off., I, 72; et passim.
20 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
a citizen are designed his Moral Duties," and if he lives up to
the virtues outlined and serves his country he possesses true nobility
and is deserving of honor even though he be not generally en-
nobled.45 Moral goodness rests in deeds, not in fame, and the
genuine nobleman prefers to be first in reality rather than in
A Roman noble was almost unthinkable without wealth. Many
of the nobles became, in fact, great capitalists,47 and the crowd
undeniably regarded riches as a main reason for reverencing their
possessor. Cicero, too, recognizes wealth as a valuable concomi-
tant for nobility. This wealth, however, must have been honestly
obtained, and must not captivate the heart of him who is favored
with it. He believes that love of riches characterizes a narrow,
base disposition.48 Wealth must never be a determining factor in
the bestowal of public honor, and it is, indeed, a bad state of affairs
when that which ought to be obtained by virtue is secured by
Very little emphasis is placed upon the aesthetic side. Herein
lies, in fact, the main difference between the Greek and the Roman
ideal. The Greek love of proportion, of balance, is lost to the more
practical Romans. The business of life absorbs the attention, and
moral rather than aesthetic considerations set the standard.
Furthermore, the importance of moral nobility is accentuated by
divesting it of the necessity of noble extraction and making it
dependent upon virtuous acts alone. In addition, mere possession
of good qualities does not constitute moral goodness, that is there
is no such thing as an absolute nobility of heart based upon divine
predilection and limited to a privileged social class. Cicero's
nobleman is the virtuous man, who by his noble acts and excellent
behavior gains the esteem of his fellowmen; these in turn are
willing to look up to him and to be ruled by him.50 Cicero, refer-
ring to the nobility of his time, says:
6 Cf. Cicero, De off., I, 14.
-a Cf. ibid., I, 65.
( Cf. E. Bevan, The World of Greece and Rome (London, 1928), 73.
48 Cf. De off., I, 68.
4 Cf. ibid., II, 22.
"o Cicero, De re public I, 51.
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
nostri isti nobiles nisi vigilantes et boni et fortes
et misericordes erunt, iis hominibus, in quibus haec
erunt, ornamenta sua concedant necesse est."
W. Drumann aptly comments on this passage, saying:
Das Vorrecht ohne h6here Befahigung und Wiirdigkeit
verletzt, wo nicht Herren und Sklaven mit Sklavensinn
There is but a short path now to the end of the old Roman
nobility. During the time of the emperors the senate became a
figurehead and the government a bureaucracy.53 Bitter strife
between the emperors and the leading senatorial families resulted
in an almost complete annihilation of the latter by the end of
Nero's reign.4 The new social class of imperial officials, recruited
largely from the city bourgeoisie and from the slaves and freedmen
of the emperors," increased rapidly in number and influence,
gradually replacing the Roman nobility of Republican times. The
emperors granted and sold to them large tracts of land, thus creat-
ing a landed aristocracy of immense wealth.56
Serious protests to this state of affairs are not wanting. Both
Horace and Juvenal castigate the degeneracy of aristocratic Rome
and contrast the vigor of early Rome with the enervated atmos-
phere of their own times. Neither kindred nor virtue, says Horace,
count for aught in these times unless accompanied by wealth.5' A
man is valued according to his possessions," and Queen Money"
Pro S. Roscio Amerino 139.
62 Geschichte Roms, 2nd ed. by P. Groebe (Leipzig, 1919), V, 256, n. 9.
6" This class of government officials existed in germ under Augustus but
increased rapidly in number and influence under his successors, especially
Claudius and Vespasian. Cf. AM. Rostovtzeff, The social and economic
history of the Roman Empire (Oxford, 1926), 81.
Suetonius in his Lives of the Caesars (120) presents a realistic pic-
ture of the persecutions which the senatorial aristocracy experienced. Cf.
also F. Lot, La Fin du monde antique et le ddbut du moyen dge (Paris,
66 Cf. M. Rostovtzeff, op. cit., 81; see also A. Stein, Der rdmische Rit-
terstand (Miinchen, 1927), 421 ff.
"6 Cf. ibid., 95.
Sat. II, v, 8.
6R Ibid., I, i, 62.
22 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
supplies him with everything desirable.59 But nobility, he con-
tends, can never be bought:
licet superbus ambules pecunia,
Fortuna non mutat genus.60
Joys, Horace observes, are not confined to the rich only, nor has he
lived ill who from birth to death has remained unknown.1
Juvenal blames money for much of the evil that has befallen the
prima peregrinos obscena pecunia mores
intulit, et turpi fregerunt saecula luxu
Personal nobility, he avers, is the only true nobility.
nobilitas sola est atque unica virtus.3
Noble lineage and the possession of large estates do not make a
true nobleman. Deprived of a noble character a man has no
moral right to be preferred to others.64 But such is the degeneracy
of the times that a man's worth is measured only by the standard
59 "genus et formam regina Pecunia donat." Horace, Epist., I, vi, 37.
omnis enim res,
virtus, fama, decus, divina humanaque pulchris
divitiis parent; quas qui construxerit, ille
clarus erit, fortis, iustus. "sapiensne? etiam, et rex
et quidquid volet." Horace, Sat. II, iii, 94-98.
6oEpod. IV, 5-6. Cf. also Sat. I, vi, 1-44.
Epist. I, xvii, 9-10.
62 Sat. VI, 298-300.
es Ibid., VIII, 20.
64 prima mihi debes animi bona. sanctus haberi
justitiaeque tenax factis dictisque mereris?
adgnosco procerem. Ibid., VIII, 24-27.
quis enim generosum dixerit huln qui
indignus genere et praeclaro nominee tantum
insignis? Ibid., VIII, 30-32.
miserum est aliorum incumbere famae.
Ibid., VIII, 76. Cf. also 269-271.
E5 quantum quisque sua nummorum servat in area,
tantum habet et fidei. Ibid., III, 143-144.
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
It was this capitalistic aristocracy which evidently formed the
bulk of the Roman nobility during the empire."6 Public spirit, an
essential quality of the nobility during Cicero's time, was no longer
to be found among the senatorial aristocracy of the late Empire.
Debarred from the army and made exclusive by a rigid caste
system,67 the ruling class lost all spontaneity and initiative.
Their landed estates formed their sole interest and often, it may
be presumed, their only title to social preference.6
A new significance was given to nobility through Christ's ethical
teaching."9 He passed no comment on social rank nor did He in
any way ethically examine the fundamental rights of man. But
He emphasized the divine origin of the soul, the common brother-
hood of all men, and contempt for worldly goods. He came at a
critical moment, when even the best were drifting into purely
material self-seeking; when the pursuit of ease and pleasure, of
wealth and political power, was combined with a careful avoidance
of work and duty.7" The Christian view of life and the complete
According to Rostovtzeff, the second century, i. e., the time of the
Flavians and Antonines, formed an exception. He says: The Roman state
was indeed still ruled by an aristocratic and plutocratic class, but selec-
tion of its members was based not so much on birth and wealth as on
personal merits, efficiency, and intellectual gifts." Op. cit., 119.
61 This caste system and its attending evils are well described by F. Lot,
op. cit., 115-146.
66 Lot says: Se d6prenant de charges publiques, l'aristocratie s'attache
plus passionnement que jamais la terre, d6sormais seule source de la
richesse. Elle se refugie sur ses immense domains et y mene une vie
facile, autant que possible 1l'abri des seductions, des menaces aussi, du
pouvoir public." Op cit., 210.
66 Regarding the Jewish concept see ch. IV, 103 ff.
70 I. Seipel thus characterizes decadent Rome: "Die Sucht zu besitzen
und die Sucht zu geniessen herrschten. Der Besitz war es in erster Linie,
wovon die Stellung des Birgers im Reiche abhing, alles andere war nur
insofern von praktischem Nutzen, als es zu Besitz verhalf oder das Leben
des Besitzenden noch glanzreicher und angenehmer gestalten konnte. Wer
keine Aussicht hatte, zu einem Besitze zu gelangen, der ihm das Empor-
steigen in die h6heren Kreise erm6glichte, begniigte sich leicht damit, in
der Tiefe zu bleiben, wenn er dabei nur miglichst miihelos und doch in
seiner Art genussreich leben konnte." Die Wirtschaftsethischlen Lehren
der Kirchenviiter," Theologische Studien der Leo-Gesellschaft 18 (Wien,
1907), 46 f. Cf. also Tacitus, Ann. III, 53-56.
24 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
reinterpretation of the ideals of existence became important factors
for reorganizing this world, socially and economically as well as
morally and politically bankrupt. The ethical concept of life before
Christ was quite devoid of the idealism and perfection preached
by the founder of Christianity. Stoic philosophers, among them
Seneca, had indeed come quite close to the Christian ideal,71 but
their fundamental principles were intrinsically different."
The writings of the early Fathers of the Church set forth the
Christian view of life. Their doctrine and their form of exposition
repeatedly point to classical, especially Stoic, influence. Christian
thought, undoubtedly, owes much to the philosophical systems
established by the ancients. The Fathers use all the good they
find in classic antiquity and transform it by infusing into it the
Christian ideal of the gospel.73
Nobility of birth is rarely mentioned explicitly by these early
Christian writers. Evidently, the Christian idea concerning its
value was so clear that it needed no further explanation. In the
East the problem of birth seems to have been more acute than in
the West,74 for references among the Greek Fathers are common
and direct, while those of the Latin writers are mostly incidental
Clement of Alexandria is the first of the Fathers of the East who
combines Stoic philosophy with the Christian ideal of virtue.75 He
had entered Christianity with a mind steeped in Greek learning,
and in his writings he drew as freely from Plato, Homer, or Euri-
1 J. Stelzenberger says of Seneca: "Der Heide ist aufgeriickt zu einem
Autor, den man ohne Bedenken neben einem Kirchenvater anfiihren darf."
Die Beziehungen der frilhchristlichen Sittenlehre zur Ethik der Stoa (Miin-
chen, 1933), 48.
72 A recent writer says: Das Christentum hat seine aus der Offenbarung
stammenden sittlichen Prinzipien, die von der rein natiirlichen Ethik der
Antike um Welten getrennt sind." Ibid., 18.
SOCf. J. P. Kirsch, Lexikon fir Theologie und Kirche I, 486 f.; J.
Stelzenberger, op. cit., 18ff.; V. Vedel, Ritterromantik (Leipzig, 1911),
13 f.; J. Leipoldt, Christentum und Stoizismus," Zeitschrift fiir Kirchen-
geschichte 27 (1906), 129-165; R. J. Deferrari, Catholic educational review
24 (1926), 521-528; 620-629.
7" Cf. P. Boissonade, Life and work in medieval Europe (London, 1927),
5 Cf. J. Stelzenberger, op. cit., 226.
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
pides as from Holy Scripture." He voices the Christian concept
of nobility by affirming that the God-fearing Christian alone may
be called rich, of sound mind, and "well-born," i. e., noble.
Through the mediation of Christ he becomes "just and holy with
understanding"; he becomes like to God, being made a son of
St. John Chrysostom is still more explicit in his remarks on
nobility. What good, he says, did it do to the children of Samuel
that their father was noble, since they themselves did not become
heirs of his virtue? Noble birth, he affirms, is no reason for
pride.79 All who are baptized are children of God, which constitutes
our nobility.80 This nobility in its excellence cannot be compared
with nobility of birth.8"
In the West, Minucius Felix exalts the superiority of moral
nobility and declares that virtue alone is able to confer lasting
distinction.82 St. Ambrose also shows himself a direct heir of
Cicero 83 and his classical predecessors by referring to virtue as the
only true nobility.8" As far as external goods are concerned he
76 For his life and writings, see 0. Bardenhewcr, Geschichte der alt-
kirchlichen Literatur, 2nd ed. (Freiburg i. Br., 1913-32), II, 40-95.
77" pa otvv htidv AEdvov rbv eeooepi [XparTarvov] eloedv rXeoiatev re Kal
vawpova Kal et'yev~ Kal 7-a6rT clKeva rTO5 eoD fIe' 6potdecws, Kal X\yetv Kal
rtTredevY ItKaLOV Kail OLOvto perk Ppovijcws ycvdePvov 7T6O XproODU 'ItaoO Kal
CIS rTOaaro b 'potov i73 Kal e Ow." Exhortation to the Greeks, ch. XII.
1" Cf. In Matth., Homil., IX, 5, Migne, PGr., 57, 181.
7 Ibid., 182; Homil., LVIII, 4, Migne, PGr., 58, 570.
so Ibid., 57, 279.
81" Oiros TrjS c ycevlia 6 7p6oros pfieXriv KeIVOU Kal Kupljr7poS." Ibid., 57,
466; cf. also 57, 387.
8 He says: "Fascibus et purpuris gloriaris? Vanus error hominis et
inanis cultus dignitatis, fulgere purpura, mente sordescere. Nobilitate
generous es? Parents tuos laudas? Omnes tamen pari sorte nascimur,
sola virtute distinguimur." Octavius XXXVII, 10.
's Cf. P. Ewald, Der Einfluss der stoisch-ciceronianischen Moral auf die
Darstellung der Ethik bei Ambrosius, Diss. (Leipzig, 1881); Th. Schmidt,
Ambrosius, sein Werk De officiis libri 3 und die Stoa, Diss. (Erlangen,
1897); J. Stelzenberger, op. cit., 234-242; R. J. Deferrari, Philological
Quarterly 1 (1922), 142; 6 (1927), 106; Alois Dempf, Die Hauptform
mittelalterlicher Weltanschauung (Miinchen u. Berlin, 1925), 33.
84 De Nabuthae, Sect. 54 and 61, CSEL. XXXII, 499 and 505; cf. also
Martin R. P. McGuire, S. Ambrosii De Nabuthae, Diss. (Washington,
1927), 82 f., and commentary to section 54 on p. 182 f.; then p. 90 f.
26 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
holds that they are not necessary to perfect happiness, and that
their want does not decrease it.85 They are, indeed, often an ob-
stacle to happiness 86 whereas misfortunes frequently increase it.8
St. Augustine pays a beautiful tribute to Christian nobility in a
letter of congratulation sent to the grandmother, Proba, and the
mother, Juliana, when the noble Demetrias left the world and con-
secrated herself to God. St. Augustine states that the young girl,
noble by descent, yet nobler still by holiness, has more reason to
rejoice because, by taking the veil, she may hope to obtain the
highest nobility in heaven, which is to be prized more than earthly
glory.88 He does not disapprove of social distinctions, but recog-
nizes their purely relative value. The highest ideal for the Christian
is union with God through charity. Virtue without God is an
empty word and cannot constitute supreme happiness.89 There is
a happiness which consists in the perfection of all man's faculties,
but above that happiness is the summa et incommutabilis bonitas,
Boethius, the last of the Roman philosophers, and the first of the
scholastic theologians,91 speaks of nobility only once and the refer-
ence made regards nobility of birth. He calls it "a vain and idle
thing" because it rests on the fame which our ancestors have ac-
quired, not on our own merit. The only good there is in it is this,
that it makes us watchful lest we depart from the virtuous paths
of our fathers.92 He also refers to the divine origin of the soul,
De off., II, 4: 12, Migne, PL. 16, 106 f.
88 Ibid., I, 9: 28; II, 5: 16, Migne, PL. 16, 32; 107.
Ibid., I, 9: 29; II, 4: 15, Migne, PL. 16, 32; 107.
Epist. 150, CSEL. 44, 381.
s" Epist. 155, OSEL. 44, 443.
98 Cf. J. Mausbach, Catholic moral teaching and its antagonists (New
York, 1914), 222.
91 Cf. Paul Th. Hoffmann, Der mittelalterliche Mensch gesehen aus Welt
und Umwelt Notkers des Deutschen (Gotha, 1922), 194 f.; S. Singer,
Altertum und Mittelalter," Neophilologus 19 (1934), 199 f.; E. K. Rand,
Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1928), 135-180.
82 lam vero quam sit inane quam futtile nobilitatis nomen, quis non
videat? Quae si ad claritudinem refertur, aliena est. Videtur namque
esse nobilitas quaedam de meritis veniens laus parentum. Quod si clari-
tudinem praedicatio facit, illi sint clari necesse est qui praedicantur. Quare
splendidum, te, si tuam non habes, aliena claritudo non efficit. Quod si
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
which makes God the author of the race and the Father of man-
If we compare the classical with the Christian ideal of nobility
we perceive that a fundamental change has taken place. Nobility
of birth, the accident of a social class, has no significance whatso-
ever as far as the Christian ideal of life is concerned. Moral
nobility, the superiority of which was extolled even by the classical
writers,94 is esteemed very highly but is not the highest good and
must not be sought for its own sake. Alone it is unable to give
perfect happiness, but merely leads to it. The real contribution
of Christianity to the concept of nobility is found, however, in its
emphasis on the divine origin of the soul. Thus was established a
contact between the finite and the infinite. Christ's redemption
placed the value of the human soul in the brightest light, and God,
by calling Himself the Father of all, gave to all alike a claim to
nobility. The relations which were to bind men together were of a
divine nature and more sacred in character than those of flesh and
blood. The highest ideal of this nobility is expressed in the com-
mand: "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father
is perfect." 95
When Christianity first came into contact with Germanic tribes,96
it met there a nobility which resembled, to some extent at least,
the nobility of Homeric times." It was a privileged social class,
quid est in nobilitate bonum, id esse arbitror solum, ut inposita nobilibus
necessitudo videatur ne a maiorum virtute degeneret." De Consolatione
8 Ibid., III, 6.
Cf. Sail. Jug., 85; Hor. Sat., I, vi, 1-44; Juv. 8; but especially
Seneca, Epist. 44.
Matth. 5, 48.
We know today that Christian communities existed as early as the
second century A. D. not only in southern Gaul but even on the Rhine and
the Moselle. Cf. Alfons Dopsch, Wirtschaftliche und soziale Grundlagen
der europdischen Kulturentwicklung, 2nd ed. (Wien, 1923-24), II, 196 f.;
also A. Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands (Leipzig, 1904-1920), I,
6ff.; F. Kluge, "Gotische Lehnworte im Althochdeutschen," PBB. 35
(1909), 124 ff.
Cf. Rudolf Petersdorff, Germanen und Griechen. Ubereinstimmungen
in ihrer iltesten Kultur im Anschluss an die Germania des Tacitus und
Homer (Wiesbaden, 1902), 55-59, and 0. Fleischer, "Die vorgermanische
germanisch-griechische Kulturgemeinschaft," Mannus 14 (1922), 1-72.
28 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
distinct from the ordinary freemen, with signal honors and rights.98
To the noble family was attributed divine descent, and powers
transcending ordinary human nature were imputed to these favorites
of fortune." Caesar and Tacitus make some allusions to this early
Germanic nobility. Caesar refers to it only casually,100 but in these
references he agrees with what Tacitus tells us about the existence
of a superior class among the German tribes, which he calls
principles. Tacitus states that the Germanic kings were taken from
the most notable (" Reges ex nobilitate "),10 and that the insignis
nobilitas determined the rank and dignity of a prince.102 The
nobility had a special privilege in assemblies. Though important
questions were discussed and decided upon by the people, they were,
however, first handled by the princes or nobles. In trivial matters
the decision of the latter alone was required.103 Land was dis-
tributed on the basis of rank (" secundum dignationem ").104 Thus
ownership of land was a characteristic sign of nobility, determining,
as it were, its greater or lesser degree. Tacitus also refers to the
fact that this nobility was inherited. He says :
insignis nobilitas aut magna patrum merita principis dignationem etiam
The upper class was distinguished even outwardly from the general
class of men. The free-born of the Suebi, for example, combed
their hair back over the side of the face and tied it low in a knot
behind.106 The dress of the rich was also different from that of
inferior persons. ("locupletissimi veste distinguuntur ").207
8 Bei Caesar und Tacitus erscheint ein stark bevorrechtcter Adel, in
dessen Hand die Vertretung des Volkes nach aussen sowie seine Leitung
im Innern, insbesondere aber auch die Fiihrung bei kriegerischen Unter-
nehmungen liegt." V. Ernst, Die Entstehung des deutschen Grundei-
gentums (Stuttgart, 1926), 28. Cf. A. Dopsch, op. cit., II, 42; H. Wopfner
opposes this viewpoint in Historische Vierteljahrschrift (1923), 197.
O Cf. Karl v. Amira, Grundriss des germanischen Rechts, 3rd ed. (Strass-
burg, 1913), 128.
100 De bello gallico VI, 23 and IV, 13.
101 Germ., c. 7. l02Ibid., c. 13. "' Ibid., c. 11.
o10 Ibid., c. 26. Cf. A. Dopsch, op. cit., I, 66 ff., and especially 73; also
V. Ernst., op. cit., 11 and 17.
"1O Germ., c. 13. 1'0 Ibid., c. 38. "07 Ibid., c. 17.
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
Nobility was intimately connected with the sword, and courage
was the most manly and ennobling virtue among the Germans.
Their generals were chosen on the basis of courage (" duces ex
virtute sumunt ").108 Disgrace fell on the man who left his shield
behind him on the battlefield. He could not be present at the
tribal worship nor take part in a council. The man so disgraced
often ended his infamy by a self-inflicted death.'09 Cowardice,
desertion, and similar crimes were punished very severely.110
The most characteristic trait of Germanic nobility was, however,
the retinue, the Gefolgschaft, with which the nobles surrounded
themselves. According to Tacitus,"' young men of the best blood
attached themselves to a leader to serve in his train.112 These re-
tainers struggled for the nearest place to the chief and he in turn
strove to keep the largest and most effective retinue. It meant to
him rank and strength to be surrounded by such a band. His name
and influence were thus carried beyond his own country and brought
him renown and gifts. His reputation alone was sometimes enough
to put down a war."3 The retinue consisted of noble youths
("nobilium adolescentium "),114 who voluntarily attached them-
selves to famous leaders in order to attain distinction."5 But there
were, as Tacitus tells us, degrees in this retinue ("gradus quin
etiam ipse comitatus habet"),11 and these degrees depended upon
the judgment of the leader. Evidently, superior courage entitled
to higher rank, and thus we have a proof that the Germanic people
rated virtue higher than other natural gifts. This primitive Ger-
manic Gefolgschaftswesen is also a splendid example deutscher
Mannestreue, as we find it celebrated in the later national epics.
The retainers had to stand by their chief in his captivity and even
in his death. To survive him meant disgrace."'
"8 Ibid., c. 7. Of. also A. Dopsch, op. cit., II, 41.
1o0 Germ., c. 6.
1o Ibid., c. 12.
"' Ibid., c. 13.
12 Cf. the Pagen at the court of princes. See ch. II, 56 f.
"' Cf. Francis B. Gummere, Germanic origins (New York, 1892), 226-269.
"1 Germ., c. 14. Cf. H. Munro Chadwick, The Heroic Age (Cambridge,
1912), 348 ff.
Cf. Caesar, De bello gallico VI, 23.
11 Germ., c. 13.
Ibid., c. 14. Cf. also Caesar, De bello gallico III, 22; E. Norden, Die
30 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
If we follow Tacitus' account as the authentic description of
primitive Germanic nobility, we must conclude that the Germanic
people believed in a nobility distinct from the ordinary class of
freemen because of honorable descent, large ownership of land, and
above all a high degree of manly valor, faithfulness, and courage."11
This nobility, which maintained itself for a longer time among
the Saxons, Thuringians, Bavarians, and Lombards, early dis-
appeared among the Franks.119 The sources of this period do not
mention a hereditary noble order. There was, however, a numerous
upper class, the antrustiones,120 made up of various races and social
elements. Though not a noble caste,121 they were the privileged
class of the realm, distinguished by a triple wergeld (vira-gilda,
"a man's price ").122 The man in trustee dominica owed his posi-
germanische Urgeschichte in Tacitus Germania (Leipzig u. Berlin, 1923),
124-127; A. Dopsch, op. cit., II, 43-49.
118 Otto Gierke says: Tief wurzelte im germanischen Gemiit der Glaube,
dass mit dem Blute die Eigenschaften des Kdrpers und der Seele fortge-
pflanzt wiirden. Hiher ehrte man daher die Nachkommen hervorragender
Manner, gerechter Richter, und Heerfiihrer aus den Sdhnen derer, die es
ruhmvoll geleitet, und hielt erst, wenn unter ihnen kein Tauglicher sich
fand,-bei den einfachen Anforderungen jener Zeit gewiss ein seltener
Fall-unter den andern Volksgenossen Umschau." Op cit., I, 36. Cf. also
Karl v. Amira, Grundriss des germanischen Rechts, 3rd ed. (Strassburg,
119 Cf. S. Dill, Roman society in Gaul in the Merovingian Age (London,
120 Antrustio is he who is in trust, more especially in the king's trust,
and who has an office, military or civil, temporary or standing. H. Brun-
ner gives the following definition: "Das Wort kommt von salfrink. trust
(latinisiert trustis), ahd. tr8st protectiono adiutorium auch Gefolgschaft,
Schar). Der Antrustio schwirt dem Kinig, wenn er in den Dienst aufge-
nommen wird, trustem et fidelitatem. Hat er sonach seinen Namen nicht
sowohl von der trustis, die er vom Konig empfdngt, als von der trustis, die
er ihm zu listen verpflichtet ist, so ist protector, adiutor die Grundbe-
deutung des Wortes. Die Antrustionen bildeten eben ursprtinglich die
kinigliche Garde, eine berittene, milititrisch organisierte Gefolgschaft,
welche der Person des Kdnigs und seinem Hause zum Schutze diente."
Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte II, 2nd ed. by Claudius Freiherrn v. Schwerin
(Miinchen u. Leipzig, 1928), 134 f.
21 "Die Antrustionen konnten nicht nur Freie, sondern auch Liten und
Knechte sein." Ibid. 137.
122 Cf. ibid.
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
tion solely to the will of the king, to whom he had sworn trustem
et fidelitatem.'23 In return for his loyalty and service he was
rewarded with royal gifts, often large grants of land from the fisc.24
Besides antrustiones there was a large class of courtiers, high
officials and possessors of landed wealth, the latter composed of both
Frank and Gallo-Roman elements, who exercised a powerful social
and political influence.125 The major domus, originally a mere
household official,'26 developed rapidly into a great political officer,
who became the leader of the antrustiones in the seventh century.127
With the growing power of the nobles and the mayors of the palace
came the downfall of royal authority. The official aristocracy,
called into being and favored by the Merovingians, finally usurped
royal functions, displacing the Merovingian dynasty.128
Under the rule of the Carolingians the conquest of the Lombard
Kingdom in Italy (773-774) and the subjugation of the hitherto
heathen Saxons (785) weakened the old Germanic nobility still
further. Tribal representatives were replaced everywhere by Frank-
ish officials. Yet the stubborn nature of the Saxons clung for a
long time to the primitive social institutions and opposed vigorously
the introduction of feudal laws and methods.
An important poetical monument of this crucial period of
German history is the Old Saxon Heliand,'29 the earliest Christian
epic in a European dialect.'30 The author of this remarkable poem
123 The oath of the antrustio is mentioned in the Lex Salica. "Si in
trustee dominica est iuratus." Lex Salica XLII, codd. 6. 5, 2, Hessels' ed.,
124 Cf. S. Dill, op cit., 224.
126 Cf. ibid., 223 ff.
126 Concerning the office of the major domus, see H. Brunner, op. cit.,
121 Cf. ibid., 144.
128 The last king of the Merovingians, Childeric III, was deposed and
placed in a monastery, and Pepin the Short (741-768), son of Charles
Martel, was raised upon the shield of Mars at Soissons, as king of the
Franks (754). The office of major domus now came to an end. Cf. H.
Brunner, op. cit., 148. The antrustiones were replaced by the vassi, the
royal vassals. Cf. ibid., 180.
129 The name was given to the poem by its first editor, Schmeller, in the
edition of 1830. Cf. G. Ehrismann, LG. I, 2nd ed. (Miinchcn, 1932), 158.
''s Ehrismann dates it between 822 and 840. Cf. ibid., 162.
32 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
projects the Gospel narrative upon the background of his own time
and thus supplies valuable hints regarding Old Saxon social life
and ideals. Christ appears in the poem as the glorious hero, who
fights against sin, hell, and the demons, as the noble and powerful
leader and protector of his chosen followers. He is the adal-
kuning,131 who is descended from the best family ("thes bezton
giburdies ").132 Mary too is of noble birth, belonging to the house
of David, the famous adalkuning."13 Joseph and the prophets are
also of noble descent,'34 and the Israelites are called edilifolkun.135
Christ is the drohtin, the Gefolgsherr, the leader of his people, the
mgdomgebo,13s the bdggebo,"37 and radgebo.138 His disciples form
his retinue, they are his companions, erlos adalborana,139 who ac-
company their master through the country, surround him when he
gives his laws, and who are faithful to him unto death. The writer
grows eloquent when he speaks of Matthew, who leaves his treasures
to follow Christ.'40 The apostle Thomas speaks of the duty of the
faithful follower to remain near his lord until the end, to account
life as worthless without him, and to die with him.141 The poet
cannot understand the deed of Judas, who betrayed his master.
He calls him warg,'42 i. e., a criminal, an evil-doer.143 The Ger-
man's delight in battle and conquest is felt in the scene where the
poet relates the attack of the valorous earl Peter upon Malchus.44
Thus the Heliand furnishes interesting evidence as to how far
Germanic ideals harmonized with Christian teaching at the time
of its composition. The virtues of the Saxon noble, manliness,
courage, loyalty, and faithfulness, are expected of the follower of
131 Of. Heliand, Otto Behagel's edition, lines 362 and 2114. This edition
is used for all citations. Other works used in this connection are: Edward
H. Sehrt, Vollstdndiges W6rterbuch zurm Heliand und zur altsichsischen
Genesis (Gittingen, 1925) ; G. Ehrismann, LG., I, 158-165; E. Lagenpusch,
Das germanische Recht im Heliand," Untersuchungen zur deutschen
Staats- und Rechtsgeschichte von 0. Gierke, 46. Heft (Breslau, 1894).
"2 Heliand 584. Sa3 Ibid., 768 and 2541.
33 Ibid., 361 ff. `9a Ibid., 3318.
S6 Ibid., 1200. Of. also E. Lagenpusch, op. cit., 4.
za Heliand 2738. "0 Ibid., 1192 ff.
38 Ibid., 627. Ibid., 3995 ff.
39 Ibid., 4003. "2 Ibid., 5168.
"1 Cf. E. H. Sehrt, op. cit., 641; E. Lagenpusch, op. cit., 14 and 70.
"4 Heliand 4869 ff.
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
Christ. The poet, probably a true Saxon, omits Christ's lowly
entrance into Jerusalem. That was, as he evidently believes, in-
consistent with the dignity of a king.
The introduction of feudalism into Germany weakened conside-
ably the independent spirit of the German nobles. Historians still
disagree as to the origin of this system,145 which completely
dominated the life of medieval Europe especially from the ninth
to the thirteenth century. Its rapid growth in Germany was some-
what halted by the stubborn nature of tribal dukes, who, though
they recognized the office of the king, did not admit that they held
their duchies of the crown.146 Allodial pride would not allow the
taking of a benefice from the emperor. Jacob Grimm 147 gives an
interesting example of the lordly spirit of the German noble.
When the emperor Frederic I (1152-1190) passed one day through
Thun, a nobleman, instead of saluting him in the feudal manner,
merely raised his hat in courteous greeting. The emperor, annoyed
by this act, was told that the Baron of Krenchingen was so old,
noble, and free, that he owed neither service nor homage to any
Thirty years of bitter warfare between Franks and Saxons, and
the final conquest of the latter, were unable to break entirely the
proud independence of Saxon dukes. Saxony retained its own
nobility as late as the tenth century.'14 The war of investiture of
141 Brunner says: Als sicheres Ergebnis der wissenschaftlichen For-
schung steht fest, dass das Lehenwesen aus der Verschmelzung zweier be-
grifflich zu sondernder Rechtsinstitute hervorging, des Beneficialwesens und
der Vasallitat. Allein der Ursprung der beiden geschichtlichen Faktoren
des Lehens ist streitig und bildet den Gegenstand lebhafter bis heute uner-
ledigter Kontroversen." Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte, II, 329; see also J.
Calmette, Le monde fdodal (Paris, 1934), 165 ff.
"O Cf. J. W. Thompson, Feudal Germany (Chicago, 1928), 293. In order
to express their complete freedom, a number of landed nobles called their
own great fiefs Sonnenlehen, or "sun fiefs." Jacob Grimm says: "Diese
giiter waren gleichsam himmlische lehen, nicht irdische, d. h. der wirkung
nach allode, die zu keiner dienstleistung verpflichteten. Hauptsichlich
erscheinen sie in austrasischen und ripuarischen gegenden." Deutsche
Rechtsaltertiimer, 4th ed. by Andreas Heusler and Rudolf Hiibner (Leipzig,
1899) I, 388.
17 Cf. ibid., I, 389.
118 In the tenth century, Saxony was the only country of North Germany
still retaining its own historic and old-line noblesse." J. W. Thompson,
34 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
the eleventh and the Saxon rebellion of the twelfth century procured
a stronger foothold for feudalism, and by the end of Hohenstaufen
times it was well established in Germany. Henceforth, feudal
nobles ruled the country, and the complicated system of land tenure
imposed its obligations upon all, from the king down to those who
held such small fiefs as would hardly suffice for an honorable
Christianity also greatly modified the original Germanic concept
of nobility. The belief that before God all men are equal was soon
shared by high and low. The emperor Louis the Pious (814-840),
in a preface to a collection of capitularies, declares that by nature
he is the equal of other men, being superior only in the dignity
of authority.'15 An unknown poet, who had been treated with
contempt by the emperor Henry V (1106-1125), reminds the latter
that the creator has made all alike, that the emperor is his brother,
and owes his position merely to the whim of fortune which sub-
verted natural law.15" The idea that God is the Father of all is
emphasized in several of the early poems.152 All men are God's
heirs,'53 because God is their true father.54 There will be no dis-
tinction of classes in heaven.155 Death levels all social differences.156
God, says the author of the Sachsenspiegel (1230), made all men
op. cit., 170. Concerning the nobility and freemen among the Saxons, see
G. Waitz, Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte III (Kiel, 1860), 119-150; also
J. Ficker, Vom Heerschilde (Innsbruck, 1862), 125 ff.
141 Cf. J. W. Thompson, op. cit., 318.
1'o Cf. Mon. Germ. Hist. Legum Sect. II, vol. I, No. 137; cf. also ibid.,
611 "Der Schbpfer hat uns alle gleich gemacht. Aber die Kunst gewann
den Vorrang, der Zufall iiberwand die Natur, er setzte Dich iiber mich und
verletzte das Naturrecht, Du bist mein Bruder, einen Vater haben wir
alle." Quoted from Friedrich v. Bezold, Aus Mittelalter und Renaissance
(Miinchen u. Berlin, 1918), 18 f.
"z2Cf. Kchr. 3061; Hochz. 433f.; Milst. Siidkl. 257ff.--Cf. also M.
Mackensen, Anschauungen der friihmittelhochdeutschen Dichter," Neue
Heidelberger Jahrb. (1925), 144 f.
"~ Cf. Rol. 983.
164 Cf. ibid., 8612; Paternoster 5, 1 ff.; Ezzo 26, Iff.
166 Vom Himmelr. 24,43-25,3.
6 Mem. Mori 13, 5; Cant. de conv. S. Pauli 27 ff., ed. by E. Martin in
ZfdA. 40 (1896), 328-331.
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
according to His own likeness, and redeemed man by His passion
without distinction of person.157
The Germanic ideal of nobility, modified by Christian teaching
through which the idea of reward for faithful service was made the
center of medieval ethics,'"5 became also a foundation for medieval
knighthood. Military valor was consecrated to the service of the
Church, and courage, faithfulness, and loyalty were outstanding in
the code of knightly virtues.
Knighthood in its origin was exclusively military. It was the
knight's privilege to sit a horse and bear arms, whereas the peasant
was unarmed.' 5 The institution developed in France as early as
the ninth century,160 and from there spread to Germany where
neither knights nor knighthood were known before the twelfth
century.'6 The crusades, which brought about a close contact of the
Orient and the Occident and unfolded to the European soldier the
splendor and grace of the East, gave the first impulse to the creation
of chivalry, that gallantry of knighthood which distinguished itself
by deep religious feeling, heroic courage, purity, refinement of
manners, and respect for womanhood. The twelfth and the greater
part of the thirteenth century witnessed the full development of
knighthood and chivalry in Germany.
The new spirit engendered by knighthood, created a new, refined
type of man, whose exquisite manners and noble bearing contrasted
favorably with that of the rough, uncouth Germanic heroes of old.
The courtly epics of that time show us the nobleman in a new light.
A peculiarly refined atmosphere pervades the writings of Heinrich
von Veldeke, Eilhart von Oberge, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Hart-
mann von Aue, Gottfried von Strassburg, and their French model,
Chr6tien de Troyes. "Im schinen, beherrschten Kdrper wohne die
schine, beherrschte Seele (das edle Herz); Leib ist Ausdruck und
Form der Seele, Seele Ausdruck des Leibes und des edlen Zusam-
menspiels der Glieder; Tugend ist lehrbar; edles schones Mass ist
das Ziel der Erziehung; unablassig ist jeder bemiiht, sich edler
'6 Got hevet den man na ime seven gebeldet, unde hevet ine mit siner
martere geledeget, den enen also den anderen, ime is die arme also besvas
als die rike." Sachsenspiegel III, 42, 1.
1'8 Cf. G. Ehrismann, LG., I, 170.
Cf. P. Guilhiermoz, Essai sur l'origine de la noblesse en France au
moyen dge (Paris, 1902), 379 f.
"o Cf. J. W. Thompson, op. cit., 311. 1" Cf. ibid., 313.
36 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
und edler zu gestalten." 162 This is, briefly, the courtly ideal of
nobility, as it comes down to us from the twelfth century.
The emphasis upon the aesthetic is new to the Germanic ideal.
It gives it a character gracious and fine, reminiscent of the old
Greek ideal. The favorite watchword of the Greeks, the iaov,"
becomes now the Germanic motto, maze. With Wolfram, noble
qualities of body and soul are the result of noble birth. He is eager
to give each person the distinction of noble descent. The knights
know at once that Parzival is of noble parentage because of his
unusual beauty.163 Though purposely left in ignorance about
knighthood, his inborn desire to 'perform noble deeds urges him to
seek and find it. Wolfram loves to point out that the beautiful
qualities of his heroes are natural to them, that they are the mani-
festation of an inherited inclination to virtue, but, on the other
hand, that vice is to be traced to lowly descent.164
Gottfried of Strassburg, however, believes in the necessity of
education for the development of knightly virtues. Natural dis-
position, a beautiful body, and wealth are, of course, indispensable,'15
but without the aid of instruction and practice they are unable to
bear fruit. A careful education in the art of "pleasing God and
the world is, according to Gottfried, des edelen herzen amme.166
Friedrich Vogt f1 and Ehrismann 168 have pointed out that diu
edele sele of the early mystics supplied the foundation for Gottfried
of Strassburg's Welt der edlen Herzen. With the mystics, nobilty
assumed an essentially religious, and somewhat of a symbolic char-
162 H. Naumann, H6fische Kultur (Halle, 1929), 9. K. J. Obenauer says:
"In der Idee des vollendeten Ritters lsthetisiert sich der Stand des Adels,
indem er, unter dem verfeinernden Einfluss von Kunst, Minne, Spiel und
ritterlichem Sport, das iltere, hirtere Reckentum tiberwindet und jede
wilde Gehirde ungeselliger, unbeherrschter, unsehiner Kraft verpint. Vor
allem ist es das Gebot der ,,mdze," in dem dieses fisthetische Ethos der
Antike, das Ideal einer stets heiteren, in jeder Lage gefassten, durch und
durch gebindigten Humanitat wiederersteht." Die Problematik des asthe-
tischen Menschen in der deutschen Literatur (Miinehen, 1933), 105. Cf.
S. Singer, "Der Geist des Mittelalters," GRM. 17 (1929), 85 f.
163 Wolfram, Parzival III, 8 ff.
Cf. F. Vogt, Bedeutungswandel des Wortes edel (Marburg, 1909), 10.
165 Cf. Tristan 5701 f.; 2262 ff.
.es Cf. ibid., 8006 ff. and 459 ff.; also F. Vogt, op. cit., 11 and 32.
17 Ibid., 12.
1"6 LG., II, 2, 1, p. 308, n. 1.
The Concept of Nobility to the Year 1200
acter. To the divine origin of the soul was added the idea of a
mystic union of the soul with God. The consequence of that union
was an exalted purity and beauty, a greater susceptibility for things
divine, a higher degree of spiritual nobility. The soul is thought
of as an almost corporeal being; she becomes the spouse of Christ.
The Trudperter Hohe Lied is the first book of German mysticism.
With it, says Ehrismann, enters a new spirit into German literature,
"aus der Tiefe der Seele heraus dringt sehnsiichtiges Verlangen
nach einer nur geahnten unaussprechlichen Schinheit." '19 Refer-
ences to this mystical nobility are frequent among the early mystic
writers. The soul is the spouse of Christ, she is the adilvr.ouwi; the
body is her servant.17 The virtues are the edil~t kint, which bring
us to God."71 The contact of the soul with God increases its
nobility.1" Christ becomes unsir gindz.173
This emphasis on emotion finds a counterpart in the courtly love
of the epical romances. Just as caritas is for the mystic the source
of all virtues, so love is the ennobling agent for the courtly hero.74
Hearts, thus ennobled, enjoy the beauties of nature, the song of the
birds, everything which is beautiful.175 Thus we have a nobility in
which the aesthetic predominates; in which the chief emphasis is
placed on beauty of form and behavior.
There is, moreover, no definite opposition between the secular
and the Christian ideal of nobility. Knighthood strives to unite
'" Ibid., II, 1, p. 39. Cf. K. Burdach, "Nachleben des griechisch-
r6mischen Altertums in der mittelalterlichen Dichtung und Kunst und
deren wechselseitige Beziehungen," Vorspiel I, 1 (Halle, 1925), 68ff.
1o Gotis brfth dO seli adilvrouwi,
vorchti dO der ir dOwi.
der lichami ist der seli chamerwib.
Summa Theologiae 27, 1 ff., MSD., 123.
71. Ibid., 27, 9 f.
172 David v. Augsburg, ed. by F. Pfeiffer, Deutsche Mystiker (Leipzig,
1845), I, 377, 19 f.
'8 Summa Theologiae 31, 5, MSD., 124.
"14 liebe ist ein also salic dine,
ein also saeleclich gerinc,
daz nieman ane ir lere
noch tugende hat noch ere.
Tristan und Isold 187-191.
~6'Ibid., 549-554. Cf. H. Kissling, Die Ethik Frauenlobs (Halle, 1926),
38 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
both. "Gott und der Welt zu gefallen" is the chief aim.17
Knightly virtues refer both to this world and the next. triuwe
must be shown not only to one's lord or lady, but also to God.
saelde includes both this world's happiness and that of the world
to come. state (as constantia and perseverantia) provides security
against the instabilitas and mutabilitas of this world, and lends
firmness to the soul, making her independent of exterior things,
the vanitas rerum. Even honor, ere, on which the whole code of
knightly virtues rests, can be divided into spiritual and worldly
honor, both of which must be directed toward God, the summum
A backward glance reveals the fact that by the end of the twelfth
century little is left of the early Germanic concept of nobility. The
development of the ideal of nobility tends away from the Germanic
and toward the Christian. Feudalism deprived the German noble
of his independence; Christianity directed his attention to a
common origin and brotherhood; and knighthood, though it re-
verted to class privileges, made them, nevertheless, accessible to all,
for knighthood was no closed order as was the old aristocracy of
race. The romances of chivalry surrounded this new nobility with
a singular glamor and beauty. But theirs was a poetical world
which existed only in imagination, a dream of an ideal which was
never to be realized."7 They represent, however, the typical atti-
tude at the end of the twelfth century, when knighthood was still
at its best, and when the ideals for which it stood still constituted
the pride of the Christian nobleman.
"16 Tristan und Isold 8008-8014.
17 Cf. A. v. Martin, "Antike, Germanentum, Christentum und Orient als
Aufbaufaktoren der geistigen Welt des Mittelalters," Archiv fiir Kultur-
geschichte 19 (1929), 332ff.; G. Ehrismann, "tiber Wolframs Ethik,"
ZfdA. 49 (1907-8), 405-465; H. Kissling, op. cit., 43. See also G. Miiller,
"Gradualismus," DVjschrLW. 2 (1924), 699 ff., and H. Brinkmann, "Dies-
seitsstimmung im Mittelalter." DVjschrLW. 2 (1924), 751.
78 G. Ehrismann says: "Die h6fischen Romane sind nicht nur losses
Spiel der Phantasie zur Unterhaltung einer verfeinerten Gesellschaft, es
sind Idealbilder, in denen ihre Triiume von einer h.bheren, fiber die harte
Notwendigkeit hinausgehenden Daseinsform verkirpert sind, eine aristocra-
tische Wunschwelt." LG. II, 2, 1, 139. Cf. also Fr. Neumann, "Wolfram
von Eschenbachs Ritterideal," DVjschrLW. 5 (1927), 10 f.; and F. J. C.
Hearnshaw, "Chivalry and its place in history," Chivalry, ed. by E.
Prestage (New York, 1928), 20 f.
THE DIDACTIC WRITERS AND THE FEUDAL NOBILITY
OF THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY
The opening years of the thirteenth century may well have
seemed to promise fair for the future of nobility. Knighthood
was then arrayed in its greatest splendor. The Church had given
to it her sanction and special blessing, thus raising it to the most
exalted position and surrounding it with a nimbus of sacred
romance, which made the nobility of this period unique in all
history. Its fall, however, was as swift as its rise. We notice the
downward trend as early as the beginning of the thirteenth cen-
tury, and at its close we clearly feel that an epoch of German
social history was quickly passing away.
In speaking of nobility, the didactic writers employ the words
adel and edel, the most commonly accepted synonyms for the Latin
nobilitas and nobilis.1 Friedrich Vogt 2 and Gustav Neckel
traced the historical development of these terms, Vogt concen-
trating largely on the Middle High German period, while Neckel
gave valuable data concerning early Germanic times.
The word adal is common to all Germanic languages,4 but its
origin is still disputed.5 Etymologically, it is held to be related
to uodal, i. e., erbgut, (inheritance).6 Paternal property forms
the basis of the Germanic family, and adalboran is he who is born
on or for the uodal. He is the adaling, the one who belongs to
1 Nobilitas in classical times meant almost exclusively noble birth,"
and nobilis was never used in the ethical sense; bonus, probus, generous,
liberals, ingenuus, but especially honestus served to indicate moral nobility.
Cf. J. Ph. Krebs, Antibarbarus der lateinischen Sprache, 7. Aufl. by J. H.
Schmalz (Basel, 1905), II, 152.
2 Der Bedeutungswandel des Vortes edel, Rektoratsrede vom 18. Okt.
1908 (Marburg, 1909).
Adel und Gefolgschaft," PBB. 41 (1916), 385-436.
Ibid., 385. Cf. also A. Walde, Vergleichendes Wdrterbuch dcr indo-
germanischen Sprachen, ed. by J. Pokorny (Berlin u. Leipzig, 1930), I, 44.
6 Cf. ibid. and Fr. Kluge, Etymologisches Wirterbuch der deutschen
Sprache, 10 Aufl. (Berlin u. Leipzig, 1924), 7 and 109. See also Ph. Heck,
Die Gemeinfreien der Karolingischen Volksrechte (Halle, 1900), 38 ff.
adal ist nichts anderes als uodal gewesen." G. Neckel, loc. cit., 390.
40 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
the adel, the proprietor or co-proprietor of the erbgut.7 With the
family we must associate certain characteristics which depend, to
some extent, upon the size and kind of the family property. Thus
a personal or qualitative element enters in, which gradually takes
on the idea of excellence.8
In the same manner the adjective edel referred from the begin-
ning to property and descent,9 while in its more restricted sense it
conveyed the idea of superiority or innate goodness. According
to Neckel, the edel man was originally the adales man without the
qualitative meaning. But because the adales man as such was
looked upon as an excellent man, he became the excellent man.10
The degree of excellence or superiority depended on the family.
Thus a connection is established between Adel and Geschlecht.
Certain families prided themselves on their superiority, their
greater possessions, power, and influence, and raised themselves
above the commonalty by claiming special rights and privileges.
It has been already noted that the Greeks called their nobility
diYevcj', which Wulfila translated by godakunds, of good parentage.1
The expression wol geborn, which appears in Winsbece 12 'and in
Freidank,13 goes back to the same idea, as does h6ch geburt, which
is also used occasionally.'
A man thus raised above his fellow men by descent was looked
up to and honored. The outward signs of honor were titles and
privileges. These were often bestowed by rulers or people upon
those who had no natural right to them, because they were not of
noble descent. This gave rise to a nobility of merit or worth as
distinguished from the nobility of birth. Personal excellence was
thus ennobled by the conferring of titles and privileges. Honor,
7 Cf. ibid., 394; also C. C. Uhlenbeck, "Zum gotischen Wortschatz,"
PBB. 30 (1905), 286.
BVogt holds that the notion of excellence was not contained in the
original concept of Adel. Cf. op. cit., 5. See, however, G. Neckel, loc. cit.,
SCf. A. Walde, op. cit., 44, and G. Neckel, loc. cit., 429.
o1 Cf. ibid., 433.
"Cf. H. V. Velten, JEGPh. 29 (1930), 334.
2 28, 5.
1 54, 6.
Winsbecke 28, 1; Renner 1248; 1260.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
in Middle High German, ire, became synonymous with nobility or
adel, and is often used in this sense by the didactic writers. They
shift back and forth between the honor which means reputation
and that which means nobility. Freidank, in his chapter Von der
Ehre 15 uses ire either in the subjective sense signifying a noble
character, the sum and substance of all inner merits, the honestum
of Cicero,16 or in the objective sense of being honored."1 In the
latter instance ire becomes identical with praise, name, honorable
position, or rank. The other writers do the same, and it is often
difficult to determine the sense in which ire is employed."s
The most common terms to designate nobility are adel and edel.
They are used by all the writers with the exception of the author
of the Winsbecke, and they stand practically for the whole gamut
of meanings. Freidank evidently thinks of nobility in the sense
of noble birth as well as excellence, when he says:
Swer rehte tuot derst wol geborn:
An tugent ist adel gar verlorn. (54, 6f.)
Then he speaks of a nobility acquired by virtue, which has no
legal title to prove its validity.
Er si eigen oder fri,
der von geburt niht edel si,
der sol sich edel machen
mit tugentlichen sachen. (54, 8ff.)
He applies the adjective edel to a golden vessel (15, 26d) as well as
to the children of nobles (29, 9 and 49, 18). Thomasin stresses
the personal quality when he mentions edele viirstn (11731;
11775), the edel kciinic Friderich (11787), edele rilerschaft (11360).
He goes so far as to talk of a muotes adel (3864) and does
not hesitate to speak of the edelen arzdt (5086), the edel Divinitas
(9124), the edeln gesteine (1475). Hugo of Trimberg is just as
free in his use of the terms. He comes very close to the original
Bescheidenheit, 91, 12-94.
B 91, 20 ff.; 92, 9-16; 93, 18.
7 91, 12 ff.; 92, 3-8; 92, 25.
18 Cf. G. Ehrismann, Die Grundlagen des ritterlichen Tugendsystems,"
ZfdA. 56 (1919), 155f., and 165; also, LG. II, 2 (M\iinchn, 1927), 20;
H. Kissling, Die Ethik Frauenlobs (Halle, 1926), 24 ff.
42 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
meaning of adel, i. e., property, possession, when he refers to des
heiligen geistes adel (8949), having in mind the Church, which
satan is trying to appropriate and pervert.
Want of discrimination in the choice of terms referring to
nobility is a significant characteristic of the didactic writers. They
neither cared about philological exactness nor did they trouble
themselves about legal distinctions. They were first and foremost
preachers, and as such were not concerned so much with what
nobility meant according to law, tradition, and custom as with
what it ought to mean; therefore, they connected the ideal with
current titles of privilege, following in this respect their classical
authorities.19 The indiscriminate use of these sources accounts
largely for the confusion of terms and for the various meanings
applied to the words Adel and edel. What Plato and Aristotle,
Cicero and Seneca had to say about nobility was mingled with the
teachings of Christian religion and the precepts of the Bible, and
applied to existing social conditions.20 Nevertheless, we are able
to obtain a fairly accurate picture of the nobility of the time, if
we consider Adel from the viewpoint of social distinction, i. e., a
nobility conferred by society to signify superiority.
The picture of German nobility drawn by the didactic poets
presents the intricate relationships, the rights and privileges, the
faults and shortcomings of the feudal aristocracy of the thirteenth
century. Medieval society was usually divided into three classes:
clergy, nobility, and the common people.2? Freidank says:
Got hat driu leben geschaffen,
gebfre ritter unde pfaffen: (27, 1 f.)
Hugo of Trimberg has the same division of classes.22 Thomasin
does not enumerate them directly, but constantly refers to one or
the other in his moral treatise. The author of the Winsbecce con-
1t Cf. F. Vogt, op. cit., 15.
20 Cf. Introduction, 13.
21 For a treatment of this social attitude see P. Guilhiermoz, Essai sur
l'origine de la noblesse en France au moyen age, 348-49, 357-58, 370-74;
and R. Mohl, The three estates in medieval and Renaissance literature
(New York, 1933), with additional bibliographical references.
"Renner 2214, 8030, 9703, 13818, 19853. Cf. G. Ehrismann, "Die mittel-
hochdeutsche didaktische Literatur als Gesellschaftsethik," Deutschkund-
liches, ed. by H. Teske (Heidelberg, 1930), 38 and 42.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
cerns himself with knighthood only. He is a respected nobleman 23
as well as a knight,2" and has the highest regard for knighthood,25
which is above nobility itself since its privileges were not heredi-
tary. A knight was considered a nobleman, but not every nobleman
was a knight.26 The son in the Winsbecke had not yet received
knighthood,27 but was preparing himself for it.
The father in the Winsbecke is convinced that knighthood as
such is good, though it may happen that now and then an un-
worthy man, ein number man (17, 8), who enters its sacred pre-
cincts does not live up to his calling. That, however, does not
detract from its excellence-
d& ist der schilt unschuldie an. (17, 10)
Thomasin, too, has a high regard for knighthood. He states
that his book is intended for knights and clergy.28 The knight is
above all a warrior; he must fight for justice and right.29 Any
3 He says to his son:
sit ich von 6rste hfses phlac,
da kom ich nie von einen tac.
min umbesaezen wizzen wol,
wie do min wort in 6ren lac. (48, 4 if.)
24 He has broken many a spear in knightly exercises (20, 7).
26 Sun, di solt wizzen, daz der schilt
hit werdekeit und eren vil:
den ritter tugende night bevilt,
der im ze rehte volgen wil.
die warheit ich dich niht enhil:
er ist zer werlte sunder win
ein h6chgemezzen vreuden zil. (17, 1 ff.)
2" Gf. Ch. Seignobos, The Feudal Regime (New York, 1902), 32.
7 The father says:
Sun, lAt dich got geleben die ztt,
daz er mit rehte wirt din dach (18, 1 f.).
Regarding the ceremonies see J. Petersen, Das Rittertum in der Darstellung
des Johannes Rothe, ch. XI, "Ritterschlag und Ritterpflichten," 155-164
with additional references.
28 vrume ritr und guote vrouwen
und wise phaffen suln dich schouwen.
(Wilsche Gast 14695 f.)
29 s6 sol dar nich der riter wert
an guoten dingen sin swert
gebiderben unde amme rehte. (Ibid., 8671 ff.)
44 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
knight would gladly give body, property, and family for his feudal
lord.30 Thomasin speaks of the edele riterschaft (11360), and is
lavish in his praise of German knighthood when he exhorts the
German knights to take part in the crusade.1 The rulers, however,
i. e., the great feudal lords, lay as well as clerical, whom Thomasin
styles herren, are higher in the social scale than knights in general,
and therefore more is expected of them.32 In war they are the
leaders of the knights (6657), and Thomasin says that if through
their folly the army is conquered and led captive, they deserve to
be treated worse than their knights (6658 ff.).
Freidank has nothing particular to say about the institution of
knighthood. Under the term ritter he includes all the upper
classes of society, and so does Hugo of Trimberg. The latter,
however, makes two distinct references to the ceremony of initia-
tion. He says that the blessing which the knight receives is the
s0 swer unserm herren wolde nemen
sin lant, wir wtgten unsern lip,
unser guot, kint under wip,
und wertenz nAch unser kraft, (Ibid., 11436 ff.)
31 Vernim mir, tiuschiu riterschaft:
ich weiz wol daz din kraft
und din lop ist gebreitet wit,
wan du bist zaller zit
diu tiurest riterschaft gewesen
von der wir an den buochen lesen. (Ibid., 11347 ff.)
German knighthood was greatly esteemed for its valor at home and abroad.
Cf. J. Wagner, ". usserungen deutschen Nationalgeffihls am Ausgang des
Mittelalters," DVjscchrLW. 9 (1931), 395.--Cf. also H. Teske, Thomasin
von Zerclaere (Heidelberg, 1933), 207, note 943.
32 Thomasin says:
swaz den writer lastert gar,
da wirt der here night von g6rt,
wan swaz des writers ist unwert,
daz kumt niht dem herren wol,
und swaz den herren zieren sol,
daz muoz gezierde dem riter sin.
hie sult ir nu merken bi,
sit liige dem writer iibel stet,
dem herrn si an sin Are get. (2006 ff.)
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
same for the poor shepherd's son as for the powerful noble."3
Referring again to this special blessing, he puts knighthood in the
category with two sacraments-holy orders and matrimony:
Wort habent der kristenheite geben
Ritter, pfaffen und 6lich leben: (22205 f.)
The knight's duty is to manage the horse (13905 ff.) and to fight
(13912). He must be brave and not run away like a coward, as
so often happens today (13914). His special obligation is to
protect the farmer.34 Hugo also refers to knights fighting for pay.15
The principal accusation advanced against knighthood in general
Aside from these references to knighthood, the didactic poets
take a definite stand toward feudal nobility in general. Hugo says
that the whole nobility is affected by pride.37 It is noteworthy that
he mentions the entire feudal nobility according to rank, stating
that its members are of noble birth.8 Freidank, too, ridicules the
pride of the nobles, saying that many a one imagines er si ein got
33 Und hAte ein armer hirte ein kint
Daz man ze ritter sSite segen,
Diu wort wern als hShe gewegen
Mit den man in ze ritter mechte,
Als ob er hAte tfisent knehte: Renner 19070 ff.
It often happened that men from below, of servile birth and condition, were
raised to the dignity of knighthood. Cf. J. W. Thompson, Feudal Germany
(Chicago, 1928), 323 and instances cited in footnote. Knighthood thus
became in reality a profession or state of merit.
34 Die ritter siiln biliute vertreten
Mit schirmc, Renner 2215 f.
Cf. Fritz Meyer, Die Stdnde, ihr Leben und Treiben dargestellt aus den afrz.
Artus- und Abenteuerromanen, Diss. (Marburg, 1888), 11.
85 Om solt siht man die ritter vehte, Renner 22850.
36 Hc6hfart lit an ritterschaft, Ibid., 475.
37 Kaiser, kiinige und herzogen,
Grafen, fiirsten unde frien
Siiln fiber sich selber wafen schrien,
Daz si von adel sint geborn
Und leider hulde hfint gesworn
H8chferte und vil manager untugent,
Die si nu lernent fif von jugent: (524 ff.)
38 Daz si von adel sint geborn Ibid., 527.
46 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
(29, 19) when others bow and fall down before him. In admonish-
ing the nobility to take part in the crusade, Thomasin addresses
first the knights (11347 ff.), then the princes (11731 ff.), and
finally the leader of the German princes, the edel kiinic Friderich
(11787). The princes were many in the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries, ranging from those having jurisdiction over large states
to the very insignificant princelings who governed merely a few
Freidank advocates the necessity of a strong, centralized kingly
power which would keep these princes under control and prevent
them from becoming too powerful.40 Hugo is of the same opinion
and quotes Freidank almost verbatim.41
With great frankness the writers expose the faults and short-
comings of the princes. Freidank blames them very severely in
several instances,42 and condemns them especially for their avarice.
These nobles would like to claim a monopoly even of God's gifts,
sun, wind, and rain.43 Hugo follows him in this 44 and also states
38 Cf. G. v. Below, Die unfreie Herkunft des niederen Adels," Historische
Zeitschrift 135 (1927), 421.
'4 Lant und liute geirret sint,
swa der kiinec ist ein kint
und sich die fiirsten flizent
daz si fruo enbizent; Bescheidenheit 72, Iff.
41 ,,W1 dem lande, des herre ein kint
Ist und an guoten witzen blint,
Und des fiirsten sich des flizent
Daz si gerne fruo enbizent! Renner 2137 ff.
"Bescheidenheit 63, 6f.; 72, 25; 73, 4f.; 73, 12-15; 78, 4 a-d.
*3 die fiirsten twingent mit gewalt
velt steine wazzer under walt,
dar zuo wilt under zam:
dem lufte taetens gerne alsam;
der muoz uns noch gemeine sin.
mBhtens uns der sunnen schin
verbieten, wint auch under regen,
man mflese in zins mit golde wegen. Ibid., 76, 5 ff.
4* Und mohten si des wazzers fluz,
der wolken guz, des luftes duz,
der stern glast, der sunnen schin
Enthaben und vor uns sperren in,
Si tdtenz gerne. Renner 21367 ff.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
that many a rich prince is living from the exploitation of the poor.45
Another great fault of the princes is rivalry. According to
Freidank (73, 8 f.), their desire for equal power is disturbing the
peace of the land. It would be well with the country if all the
princes lived in harmony.46
Thomasin stresses above all the moral obligation of the rulers.
Land and people are intrusted to them and they must give a good
example (1717 f.). If the rulers are bad, everybody suffers in
consequence. They should let their light shine (8241 ff.), and
preserve the land from harm (8257 ff.). As the sun gives light to
the moon, so do they impart goodness to others (6642 if.). He
criticizes their shortcomings with the same earnestness as Freidank
and Hugo. The emperor Otto has justly been punished by God,
Who had given him power and honor (6250).4 Through his
overweening pride Otto has failed against justice, the necessary
basis of all power, and therefore he has no right to rule others."4
He has deservedly lost the power of an emperor and the privileges
of a king (3424ff.). Thomasin blames the herren for their un-
staete, i. e., lack of stability,4 and attributes much of the evil in
the world to it.50 He knows of a count who has lost his earldom
," AlmLosen manigen fiirsten nert,
Daz er in hoher wirde vert; Ibid., 2343 f.
t4 Daz riche sttiende dicke guot,
und haeten s'alle glichen muot: Bescheidenheit 76, 27 f.
Cf. F. Sandvoss, Anmerkungen, 219 f.
Otto IV was deposed at the Lateran Council 1215. Cf. C. J. Hefele,
Conciliengeschichte, V, 2. Aufl. (Freiburg i. Br., 1886), 874.
48 Swer sin herschaft also hat
daz er nhch rehte niene git,
der hat mit unreht sin herschaft:
uns tuot gewalt ouch sin kraft.
Wlilsche Gast 6267 ff.
Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 195.
49 Waz ist unstacte? herren schande,
irresal in allem lande. Wilsche Gast 1837 f.,
diu state diu ist gar verlorn
von ir willn und von ir schulde: Ibid., 2126 f.
o ja ist uns dicke worden schin
daz der unstaeten herren muot
vil in der werlde unstaete tuot. Ibid., 2144 ff.
48 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
through heresy (3416), of a margrave who has been deprived of
his mark (3419), and of a duke who has forfeited his duchy
(3420).51 But what happened to them was just retribution-the
punishment for their unstaete.
Feudal nobility as a class stood between the emperor and the
common people. It comprised the princes as well as the petty
nobles who had risen from servile position and filled the ranks of
the ministeriales." Thomasin speaks of them all. He is interested
in the most powerful who can proudly affirm:
'ich han herren niht': (7887),
down to the poor ministeriale without property, who is sorry that
he has not learned a trade (8159 ff.), who has to do what his lord
tells him (7982 f.), and who sighs discontentedly:
waterr ich cin herre' (3137).
Freidank has little use for the intricacies of the feudal system.
Swer allez muoz ermieten,
der mac niht vil gebieten. (77, 26 f.)
Too much subservience is not conducive to the engendering of
hohen muot (78, 1 f.). A nobleman should have sufficient property
to live up to his herren name (78, 4). However, feudal nobility
has its rightful place in the social order. Freidank deems it wrong
for anyone whose name and honor are derived from his fief to be
ashamed of the service which he is required to render, saying that
the only nobility which is free from the obligation of service is
nobility of birth.5 Hugo of Trimberg quotes Freidank,54 and adds
51 Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 193 and footnotes.
"5 An excellent treatise on the political aspect of the ministeriales is
given by G. v. Below, loc. cit., 415-422.- Cf. also J. W. Thompson, Feudal
Germany, 323-25, 328-30; Ph. Heck, Der Ursprung der sachsischen Dienst-
mannschaft," Vierteljahrschrift fiir Social- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte 5
(1907), 116-172; Ch. Seignobos, The Feudal Rdgime (New York, 1902),
53 Swa von ein man sin ere hkt,
schamt er sich des, deist missetat.
man siht sich vil der lite schamen
ir 6ren und ir besten namen.
The Didactic 11riters and the Feudal Nobility
that he who wishes to get the benefit of his profession should also
be satisfied with it.55 Toward the close of his work, Hugo reverts
to this same idea and gives four reasons why a man might conceal
his name: either he is a saint (21493) and out of humility wishes
to remain unknown, or he is an impostor (21494), or, perhaps, he
may have done something wrong through which he forfeited his
honorable name (21495 f.), or his family may be of ill repute
None of the writers contests the right of the feudal lord over his
tenants, although all of them inveigh against oppression and
abuses. Hugo enjoins justice on the lord in not taking more from
his subjects than is due to him.57 He feels sorry for the poor
tenant, who, harshly treated by his master, runs away from his
service, leaving many a field uncared for.s Hugo has a special dis-
Ast liitzel namen ane schamen
wan h6rren unde frouwen namen.
Bescheidenheit 53, 9 ff.
Swa von ein man sin Are hat,
Schemt er sich des, daz ist missetat:
Swer sines ordens wil geniezen,
Den sol sines ordens niht verdriezen.
Swem leit ist daz man in bekennet
Und sin geslehte vor im nennet,
Der ist eintweder ein heilic man,
Oder nimt sich valscher 6ren an,
Oder hit vil lihte diu dine getan
Von den er guot und Are muoz lan,
Oder sin geslehte ist s6 bekant
Von boesem liumunt fiber lant.
Renner 3181 f.
Ibid., 3187 f.
Ibid., 21491 ff.
. . mere denne er ze rehte
Nemen sol. Ibid., 2209.
Swer uber reht arme liute twinget (2221);
Manic arm man sinen herren fliuhet:
Swenne er sich vintlich gein im riuhet
Und im sin guot wil an gewinnen,
S6 muoz er durch not entrinnen:
Des lit manic acker ungebiwet;
Swenne armen liuten gein den griwet,
Die billich si beschirmen silten
Ob si daz reht ansehen wdlten: Ibid., 4695 ff.;
cf. also 15220 ff.
cf. also 3756.
50 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
like for the vigte. Though originally intended for the protection
of both Church and state, they degenerated and became rather
oppressors of the poor." Like Hugo Freidank complains:
gerihte voget miinze zol
die wurden 6 durch guot erdAht,
nfi sint sie gar ze roube brAht. (75, 25 f.);
but Hugo is still more vehement in his denunciations.60
He also strongly opposes the feudal nobility within the Church.
Few of the higher clergy are concerned about holiness, for
.. wertlich &re verkirt ir vil, (797).
It is to gain honor that they enter the Church." With charac-
teristic directness he states the reason for his opposition to the
feudal position of the clergy. These prince-bishops, he avers, have
greater care for the good of the land than for the salvation of
souls.62 He likewise condemns the holding of remunerative Church
offices by children."
Freidank is less outspoken. He says once that mile, meaning
here liberality, is found neither in the palaces of bishops nor at the
"6 Concerning their origin as well as the nature of their office see J. W.
Thompson, Feudal Germany, 6-8, 41, 512-14, and Otto Freiherrn v. Dungern,
Der Herrenstand im Mittelalter I (Papiermiihle, 1908), 303 ff. K. D.
Hiillmann speaks of the terrible abuses which were prevalent under the
administration of the Vdgte. Cf. Geschichte des Ursprungs der Stinde in
Deutschland, 2nd ed. (Berlin, 1830), 257 ff.; cf. also Ch. Seignobos, op. cit.,
oCf. Renner8917 ff.; 9238ff.; 9264f.; 9283ff.; 1755ff.
61 Und geistlich man oder pfaffe wirt,
Daz er miige werltliche &re erwerben, Ibid., 4242 f.
62 Nu miiezen si vil mere geriten,
WA si liute und plant beschirmen
Denne wi si predigen, when, firmen. Ibid., 2396 ff.
He complains about them in numerous other places. Cf. 825 ff.; 981 if.;
2017ff.; 2486f.; 4211ff.; 4275ff.; 20553ff.; 21894f. Cf. R. Limmer,
Bildungszustinde und Bildungsideen des dreizehnten Jahrhunderts (hiin-
chen, 1928), 82ff.
o3 Daz man aber kint nu machet rich
Wider got mit gotes gAben,
P denne si kunst oder alter haben,
Daz ist night guot ob man daz tuot: Ibid., 10920 ff.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
great courts.64 Thomasin has no arguments against the feudal
clergy as such. He knows that everything is not as it should be,
but then the rest of the world is suffering from similar disorders.
Friuli was a feudal state resembling the great ecclesiastical princi-
palities of Germany. The patriarch, then Wolfger of Passau,65 the
lord of the land, was a prince-bishop. Thomasin clearly distin-
guishes between his spiritual and political powers. He cannot
preside as judge in secular law courts, since canon law and secular
law are mutually exclusive.66 In his secular jurisdiction a lay
person must represent him.67 Thus Thomasin recognizes the neces-
sity of the advocates or Vogt against whom Hugo and Freidank
are so embittered. Thomasin stresses also the obligation which the
prince-bishop has of ruling his country to the best of his ability.
His eyes and his heart should be broader than his land; he should
have such control of his temporal power that he may raise the
position of the deserving and suppress the undesirable."
An important factor in the feudal system is the rit or council.
4" Biscolve lMrent milte niht:
grozen hdven sam geschiht; Bescheidenheit 87, 6f.;
cf. also F. Sandvoss, Anmcrkungen, 232 f.
Concerning Wolfger and his court see H. Teske, op. cit., 13-40.
"6 . ir suit wizzen daz
swer hat geistlich gerilit,
der sol werltlich rihten nicht.
swer ouch richtet werltlichei,
der sol niht rihten geistlichen,
ern habe danne diu amt
von sinem rehte beidiu samt. VWlsche Gast 12806 ff.
67 Ist daz ein bischolf herzoge ist,
der sol haben zaller vrist
sinen rihtaere der tegeliche
rite den liuten werltliche. Ibid., 12849 ff.;
cf. J. W. Thompson, Feudal Germany 7, and especially H. Teske, op. cit.,
68 sin ougen und sin herze sol
breiter sin dan sin lant.
sin lant sol sin in sincr hant,
wan die iibeln sol er verdriicken
und die guoten zuo zim riicken.
Viilsche Gast 12862 ff.
52 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
All the writers affirm its necessity.69 The rdtgeben are vassals who
hold a fief from their overlord. They are obliged to do as
their lord wishes,70 or they will forfeit their right to the fief.71
This servile anxiety to please the lord at all times, even should he
be in the wrong, breeds evil councilors, who bring much misery to
the country, as Hugo points out in his section on boesen ratgeben
(2149 ff.). Any prince, says Freidank, may be known by his
der wise suochet wisen rat,
der tore sich nach toren hit. (72, 13 f.)72
Hugo of Trimberg complains that God-fearing men are seldom
found in the fiirsten rat (768), nor is there any place for poor
nobles.73 When Thomasin speaks of the poor and the rich who
are in the council of the prince, he evidently has in mind the rich,
powerful vassals and the ministeriales, or dependents. Thomasin
says the ruler should take advice from both (13041 if.), from the
young as well as from the old (13066 f.), and after he has heard
them all, he should weigh their opinions and then decide for him-
self what is best.74 Much depends upon the trustworthiness of the
Cf. Renner 2127 ff.; Freidank 158, 8ff.; WVilsche Gast 12996ff. The
author of the Winsbecke also advocates following the council of wise
friends (34, 1 ff.), and if there is a difference of opinion, the best should
be followed (34, 8ff.) ; also 35, 1 f.
o7 Sogetiner herren ratgeben
Miiezen nach irem willen leben,
Wenne si von in belehcnt sint Renner 2141 ff.
71 Und fiirhtent, daz ir wip und ir kint
Gar verderbet werden von in. Ibid., 2144 f.
72 Hugo says:
Ein rein man hit gern rein gesinde. Renner 753.
73 Armuot manige unwirde hAt,
Man nimt si selten an fiirsten rAt; Ibid., 23113 f.
74 er sol eins iegelichen rAt
in sinen muot nemen: swenner hat
daz getin, er sol ersehen
welhem rAt er miige jehen
daz er der beste rat si
und neme den ode da bi
einn andern, dunket er in guot:
Wdilsche Gast 13071 ff.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
councilors. The unreliable jah&rren, the medieval "yes-men," fool
their lord by their hypocritical praise, according to Freidank.75
The attitude of the didactic writers toward the poor nobility is
also of interest. Freidank speaks of nobles who have a title but
no property (42, 23 f. and 57, 10). With the rich, powerful nobles
(40, 13) he contrasts the poor nobility so deserving of sympathy
(40, 16).76 The rich nobles have many friends (40, 17), while the
poor are looked down upon (41, 1). If a man loses his possessions,
he loses his friends with them (41, 2 f.). Therefore, he advises the
poor man to be wise and remain silent about his poverty in order
to keep his friends (41, 4 ff.). Hugo, too, has pity for gar n6lige
herren (15247). Thomasin advocates a greater reliance on the
lower nobility. A poor noble who is at court, he says, can often be
of greater service with his advice than a strong vassal to whom a
message must be sent (13049 ff.)."
Intruders, however, who force their way into the ranks of the
nobles, find but little sympathy. Freidank speaks of the armen
herren in comparison with the richen ckneht: those, namely, who
have riches but who are not noble from Freidank's viewpoint, even
though they may have acquired honorable positions.78 None give
greater offense than these upstarts.7" Hugo agrees with him so and
ridicules especially the halpritter (1467 ff.), who in their origin
resemble more the farmer than the knight. They live among the
nobles, but their manners are not those of noblemen. They are the
children of a misalliance, the mother being of noble descent, the
father a farmer. He graphically sets forth their position (1525 ff.)
in the fable of the mule.81
7C f. Freidank 50, 2ff.; 72, 7f.; 72, 9f.; 72, 15 f. Cf. also TVilsche
Gast 13177 ff.
7a Cf. F. Sandvoss, Anmerkungen, 187.
The same sentiment is expressed in Freidank's proverb:
tin friunt ist niitzer nfhe bt
dan verre zwane oder dri. (95, 14f.).
78 Man ert nO leider richen kneht
fir armen h&rren ine reht. Beseheidenheit 56, 27 f.
79 SO swache liute werdent rich,
sost niht sO unvertregelich. Ibid., 41, 8 f.
80 Cf. Renner 5255 f.
s8f f. K. Francke, Social forces in German literature (New York, 1896),
54 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
Hugo censures also the universal striving for higher rank.
Scholars, no longer satisfied with learning, would be nobles
(21512); discontented monks, abbots (21514); unruly nuns, ab-
besses (21515) ; servants, ladies (21517 f.).82 The world, according
to Freidank, has become so foolish as to look upon Icleine guot, i. e.,
property, empty pomp, etc., as nobility,83 while Hugo with signifi-
cant irony points out the road to honor: luxurious garments
(17881), pretended learning (17882), or feigned riches (17884)
will safely bring any man to the desired goal; should these fail,
there is a shorter and more secure way-the clerical robe.84
The didactic poets are convinced that there is something wrong
with the nobility of their time. Hugo in particular searches for
the cause of this defection. He, the keen observer of conditions,
the typical schoolmaster, knows that it is education, instruction,
125 f.; E. Seemann, Hugo von Trimberg und die Fabeln seines Renners,"
Miinchener Archiv 6 (1923), 12f.--Farmers' sons could also obtain
knighthood for money. This practice was still prevalent in the thirteenth
century despite the attempt of the Hohenstaufen Frederick to exclude them
as well as the clergy from knighthood. Cf. O. Piper, Burgenkunde, 3. Aufl.
(Miinchen, 1912), 21.
82 Fiirsten, ritter und arme liute
Trahtent alle gerne hiute
Wie si sich wol gefriunden fif erden
Mit irn kinden, daz diu werden
Hich von edelem geslehte: Renner 23331 ff.
83 Diu werlt ist leider so gemuot,
si nimt fiir adel ein kleine guot.
Bcscheidenheit 32, 11 f.
84 Swer wil daz riche liute in griiezen
Und arme im nigen ze den filezen
Und daz die fiirsten in bekennen
Und meister in oder herre nennen:
Der kleide sich schone und neme sich an,
Daz er m&r k-inne denne er kan
Und daz er m&r habe denne er hat,
S5 nimt man in an tiefen rat.
Swer niht mac kumen ze dirre tat,
Der lege an sich geistliche wat,
So wirt er werder in kurzer frist
Denne jene ie wurden, dcr kint er ist.
Renner 17877 ff.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
the bringing-up of youth, which is amiss.85 He believes that it is
not merely blood nor heritage which distinguishes the noble from
the common man, but that training also plays an important part.
He does not, indeed, ignore the influence of heredity," yet he
avers that some of those on the way to becoming robber-knights
could be saved for society and a better life, had their youthful
training prepared them for it.87 Formerly, Hugo says, great care
was exercised in the education of the nobleman's son. He was sent
away to a foreign court to learn zuht und ere (541).88 But now
court life has so degenerated that a tavern would be as fit a place
for rearing a child as the castle of a nobleman." Hugo tells us
85 SwA aber nu pfaffen und leien jugent
Wirt erzogen An alle tugent,
Bi den siiln leider lant und liute
Selten sich gebezzern hiute: Renner 11153 ff.;
swer schalkeit lernet in der jugent,
der enhAt night staeter tugent.
Bescheidenheit 143, 5 f.
Concerning the educational conditions and ideas of the thirteenth century,
see R. Limmer, Bildungszustinde und Bildungsideen des dreizehnten Jahr-
hunderts (Miinchen, 1928). The study is based principally on Latin
sources with an occasional reference to the German didactic writings.
86 He says:
Man bekennet den bourn hi siner fruht. Renner 7002,
Der boese tuot nimmer frumeclichen
Noch der frume lesterlichen: Ibid., 7043 f.,
Ein ieglich obez smecket vil rehte,
Swie verre manz ffert, nAch sinem geslehte:
Sam tuont die liute arm und riche
Alle gern irm geslehte geliche. Ibid., 17653 ff.
"7 Ir etslichez wiirde vil lihte guot,
WAr ez bi liuten in der jugent
Die zuht ez lirten unde tugent: Ibid., 6988 f.
"Regarding this custom as well as the details of training, see J. Dief-
fenbacher, Deutsches Leben im 12. und 13. Jahrhundert I (Berlin u. Leip-
zig, 1919), 45-49; J. Petersen, op. cit., ch. X, 142-154; A. Schultz, Das
h6fische Leben zur Zeit der Minnesinger (Leipzig, 1889), I, 156 ff.
so Wilent dO die herren sAzen
Und ir br6t mit 6ren azen
56 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
that he was twice a guest at the royal court and that he thoroughly
disapproves the mode of living and the luxury and extravagance
he found there.90
Freidank seems to be of the same opinion, for he says:
Liegen triegen werder sint
ze hove dan der ftirsten kint. (166, 25 f.),
Swa schalke magezogen sint,
d& verderbent edeliu kint. (49, 17 f.).
The author of the Winsbeclke and Thomasin show an entirely
different attitude. With them the court is still the ideal place for
a nobleman's son. There zuht und reine tugent are held in esteem,91
and youth is in the company of the best.92 Thomasin deems it a
Vor irm gesinde ansizeclich
In gotes namen ziihticlich,
D8 wart manic edel kint gesant
Von einem lande in daz ander lant,
Daz ez zuht und Are
NAch frumer herren l&re
Silte lernen in siner jugent,
D& von im lop, selde und tugent
Gar Ane missewende
Beklibe biz an sin ende:
Nu ist so manic boeser site,
Der manigen herren volget mite
Die gar sint an ziihten blint,
Daz ein edel man stn kint
Mihte vil nach also gerne
Von im senden in ein taberne
Als ze den herren, der gesinde
Nhch unziihten trahtet swinde. Renner 535 ff.;
cf. F. A. Specht, Geschichte des Unterrichtswesens in Deutschland von den
iiltesten Zeiten bis zur Mitte des dreizehnten Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart,
"0Cf. Renner 4719ff.; 5509ff.; and 710ff.
91 Sun, wiltd kleiden dine jugent,
daz si ze hove in Aren g6,
suit an dich zubt und reine tugent.
IWinsbecke, 22, 1 ff.
2C..l, U" 9Lh- ,1U, C,. U 911
unLL, soUL U Uel %ver e ll
und lA, ze hove dringen dich.
Ibid., 23, 1 f.
The Didactic IWriters and the Feudal Nobility
great wrong to deprive a child of the advantages of a sojourn at
court (9291 ff.). School and court are the two educational agencies
for the upper classes, and Thoinasin seems to consider them of equal
importance. It is not very clear what type of school Thomasin
had in mind, yet from one passage it may be inferred that he is
speaking of castle schools. Under the direction of learned masters,
the sons of the suzerain were brought up and trained in company
with the sons of vassals. Here noble youth was to be instructed in
the virtues essential to the nobleman, in courtly behavior and
virtuous conduct, as well as in the rudiments of learning.93 Frei-
dank agrees that, for anyone claiming an honorable name, such an
education is most needful."
"3 Thomasin writes:
Nu waz wiirre den vrumen herren
daz si ir kint hiezen lAren?
swenn sis da lazent spilen gAn,
s6 solt mans lAren ze versten
waz libel stiiende ode wol
und wes man gerne phlegen sol
und waz si zubt, Are unde guot
und wa vor man sol sin behuot
und waz si reht ode unreht
und waz si krump ode sleht
und waz si valsch ode wAr,
daz solt man siu 16ren gar.
dar zuo sold ein herre wert
haben die meister wol gelert
in sinem hove, daz siniu kint
und ouch die andern die da sint
sich mdhten viirdern an der l1re:
Wdlsche Gast 9239 ff.
F. X. Thalhofer says about courtly education: "Hier an den Hifen, wo
sich die edelsten Ritter und die ritterlichen Dichter versammelten, fanden
die Jungherrn lebende Muster der hlivescheit und der mAze. Sie batten
Pagendienste bei der Tafel, Hilfsdienste beim Turnier und gelegentlich wohl
auch Botendienste zu verrichten. An ihr Benehmen, namentlich nach der
Seite des ehrerbietigen Betragens, wurden hohe Anforderungen gestellt.
Auch die Elemente der literarischen Bildung wurden vom Zuchtmeister oder
vom Hofkaplan vermittelt. Besonders an geistlichen Hilfen wurde darauf
gesehen." Unterricht und Bildung im Mittelalter (Miinchen, 1928), 93.
94 Elliu Ore gar zergat,
der niht zuht noch mister hAt.
Bescheidenheit 53, 23 f.;
of. also 139, 14 a-b.
58 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
The contempt for learning which prevailed among the upper
classes even as late as the thirteenth century 95 evokes much criticism
from the didactic writers. The author of the Winsbecce alone seems
to be satisfied with the state of affairs. There is no indication
whatsoever that he desires his son to devote himself to learning.
Worldly wisdom, i. e., learning without God, he says, is foolishness
in the sight of God.96 Freidank asserts that wisdom is often found
among the lowly, while the great have no leisure to acquire it
(80, 27 ff.). Thomasin complains that laymen are ignorant of the
seven liberal arts (9181 ff.). Learning has become rare among
the laity,97 whereas noble youth was formerly learned and the world
was much better on that account.98 Princes should, therefore,
pursue learning and become wise as were Alexander, Ptolemy,
Neptanibus,9" Solomon, David, the three Magi, and Julius Caesar
(9209 ff). They should honor men of learning and surround
themselves with them (6418 f.). Thomasin must have known in-
stances where noble children were unable to read, since he states
explicitly that ability to read was a general accomplishment of
better times, now past (9197 f.). He constantly keeps in mind
that the higher paths of learning are unfamiliar to one group of
his readers, the noble laity, and he makes allowance for this
Hugo of Trimberg says that formerly kings were chosen not for
F. X. Thalhofer believes that, due to the influence of the crusades and
the concomitant rise of chivalry, the contempt for learning somewhat
diminished during the rule of the Hohenstaufen. Cf. op. cit., 88 f.
D6 ez sprach hie vor ein wiser man,
daz dirre werlte wisheit sl
vor gote ein trheit sunder win:
Winsbecke, 5, 5 ff.
7 ji sint nu stunt viir die tac
daz die leien wArn gelArt:
diu lernunge ist nu wordn unwert.
Wilsche Gast 9194 ff.
us dO whren gar diu edeln kint
gelirt, des si nu niht ensint.
do stuont ouch diu werlt baz Ibid., 9199 ff.
0 It is doubtful to what ancient name Thomasin here refers.
1 0 Cf. ibid., 6037 ff.; 9181ff.; 9299; 9663.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
their nobility nor riches, but for their learning,t0 and cites as
examples the three kings from the East (1253). Men in responsible
positions should also be fitted for their post (4180 ff.). Learning
brings many a poor man to the court and to high honors.102 Never-
theless, Hugo says, the youth of today are little desirous of learning
the things which will be of advantage. Instead of using their time
profitably, the young indulge in vicious habits and bring disgrace
and sorrow to their friends (17494 ff.). What grieves Hugo most
is the want of respect and gratitude towards their teachers evinced
by those who received the benefits of learning. Popes and emperors,
kings and dukes, bishops, abbots, and the entire clergy are educated
in schools (17553 ff.), yet they seem to forget that
manager wiirde vil ltitzel ge6rt,
HMten in die meister niht gel6rt. (17551 f.)
The attitude of the didactic writers toward learning in general
indicates their belief that acquaintance with the rudiments of
learning was desirable, if not necessary, for a nobleman. Times
had changed. War, though still the main business of the noble
knight, was no longer his only concern, nor was attendance on great
nobles his sole occupation in times of peace. He was challenged to
help solve the complicated problems of higher public affairs and,
for that, something beyond the training of the soldier and courtier
was needed. If men of nobility neglected to do their part and
continued in their scorn for learning, the management of govern-
mental affairs would pass into the hands of men of lowly origin.
This anxiety is especially noticeable in Thomasin, and seems to be
the keynote of his moral treatise.
The chief textbooks by which knightly culture was transmitted to
o11 Wilent ein guot gewonheit was,
Als ich viir war geschriben las,
Daz nieman wart ze kiinige erkorn,
Swie rich er was, swie h8chgeborn,
Er kSnde der siben frien kiinste
So vil, daz in mit frier giinste
Die fiirsten Oz andern herren schelten
Und in durch sine kunst erwelten. Renner 1245 ff.
o12 Si bringet den an der fiirsten rat,
der friunde und guotes liitzel hat; Ibid., 17687 f.;
also 17702 ff.
60 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
noble society were courtly epics and romances. They were guide-
books for chivalrous conduct extolling the heroic deeds of knightly
adventurers.'03 The attitude of the didactic writers regarding these
tales is noteworthy. The author of the Winsbecke is steeped in
their lore and desires his son to follow in the footprints of the
valorous knights. He reminds him of Gahmurete, the gallant
warrior, who through his bravery won the heart of Belakane (18,
5 ff.), and exhorts him to equal courage. Freidank is silent on
this subject, while Thomasin is somewhat undecided as to the
educational value of romances of chivalry. Children, he says,
should read good books and avoid bad ones (762 ff.; 773 ff.). He
reprimands the young woman who read the account of Helen of
Troy, but he concedes that a young lady who reads it may be
profitably warned by it.104
daz mant si daz si sich behuote. (787)
His models of exemplary conduct are taken from chivalric romances
(1041ff.). He is fully aware, however, that these tales are of
service only to children (1080), and laymen (1104) who are
unable to understand scholarly exposition. These can derive some
profit from them (1112), and the poets who translated the courtly
epics into German are deserving of gratitude (1135 ff.), because
guot Aventiure zuht m6rt. (1138)
Nevertheless, he is forced to add that more honor would accrue to
them if they had written the truth.105 For those able to grasp
serious thoughts it is a waste of time to read what has been adul-
103" Der Held des Epos wird als Vorbild gepriesen, seine Tugend zur
Nachahmung empfohlen, oder es wird ein warnendes Beispiel aufgestellt."
H. Brinkmann, Zu Wesen und Form mittelalterlicher Dichtung," GRM.
15 (1927), 195.-With regard to their educational influence cf. J. Petersen,
op. cit., 142 ff.
o10 diu tet unreht diuz 6rste las,
wan boese bilde verk6rent sire
guote zuht und guote lIre. Wdlsche Gast 776 ff.
lob und heten si getihtet daz
daz vil gar An liige were;
des heten si noch groezer Are. Ibid., 1140ff.-
Cf. H. Brinkmann, Zu Wesen und Form mittelalterlicher Dichtung," loc.
cit., 201 and note 1.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
terated with falsehood (1113 ff.). Thus Thomasin tolerates this
type of poetry, looking upon it as a kind of sugared dose of morality.
Hugo of Trimberg sees nothing good in romances of chivalry.
He regrets that they are widely known and unduly praised (1222
ff.). Those who write them are guilty of sin.1'0 They are fabri-
cations of lies; 10' they debase morals and corrupt manners, because
foolish youth will try to imitate the adventurous life of these heroes
The most singular practice connected with medieval knighthood
was courtly love.108 Woman became the center of admiration, the
arbiter of all that is good and noble. Her praises were sung by the
troubadour, the minstrel of knighthood. This cult is supposed to
have originated in Provence,109 and from Provence it spread to the
rest of Europe.
1o MAit siinden er sin houbet toubt
Swer tihtet, des man niht geloubt. Renner 1229 f.
o10 ParcifAl und Tristrant,
Wigolais und Enuas,
eree, IwAn und swer ouch was
Ze der tafelrunne in Karid6l.
Doch sint diu buoch gar liigen vol, Ibid., 21640 ff.
Mos Much has been written concerning the origin and nature of courtly
love in German literature. Some of the most important treatments are:
J. Schwietering, Einwiirkung der Antike auf die Entstehung des frilhen
deutschen Minnesangs," ZfdA. 61 (1924), 61-82; K. Korn, Studien ilber
"Freude und Trdren bei mittelhochdeutschen Dichtern (Leipzig, 1932),
ch. 4; H. Langenbucher, Das Gesicht des deutschen Minnesangs und seine
Wandlungen (Heidelberg, 1930); Fr. Neumann, Walther von der Vogel-
weide und das Reich," DVjschrLW. 1 (1923), 504 ff.; H. Brinkmann, Zur
geistesgeschichtlichen Stellung des deutschen Minnesangs," DVjschrLW. 3
(1925), 615-641; G. Ehrismann, Die Ktirenberg-Literatur und die Anflinge
des deutschen Minnesangs," GRM. 15 (1927), 328-350, with further bib-
liographical references. See also H. G. Atkins, The Chivalry of Germany,"
Chivalry, ed. by E. Prestage (New York, 1928), 97 ff., and Alice A. Hentsch,
De la littirature didactique du moyen dge (Halle, 1903), 50 f. and 53 f.
o0 Dort zuerst hatte sich, teils aus fleischlichem Wohlgefallen und
SchSnheitssinn, teils aus Grossmut und Hocherzigkeit, die miinnliche Kraft
des schwiicheren Geschlechtes angenommen." K. Vossler, Die g6ttliche
Kom die I, 2, p. 487. Geoffrey of Monmouth's description of the Arthurian
court and Ovidian characters (Narcissus, Medea, Helen, Paris) also gradu-
ally contributed to it. Of. Cross and Nitze, Lancelot and Guenevere
(Chicago, 1930), 97 f.
62 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
Thomasin seems to be rather well acquainted with this social
convention-at least with its literary angle. Disquisitions on the
art of loving were probably known to him.'10 He himself wrote
two poems in the Provencal tongue 1" before he composed his
Walsche Gast. They were instructions in the art of love, such as
were then in vogue. One was a Mlinnelehre for the knight, the
other was written einer vrowen ze 6re.1'1 Both are lost, but the
author gives a brief summary of their contents in the first book of
his Widlsche Gast. He says:
ich seit daz man der minne kraft
mit schoenem sinne tragen sol,
swer Ane schant wil leben wol. (1176 ff.)
Then he proceeds to explain the essence of minne (1179-1200), and
cautions against the wrong means to obtain it, namely: force (1201-
1212), magic (1213-1220), extravagant presents (1221-1258), ex-
110 Teske says: an einem oberitalienischen Hof und in provenzalischer
Conversation hat Thomasin die Minnedichtung und Minneterminologie
gelernt." Op. cit., 87.
11 Both were composed shortly after 1200. Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 95.
Teske also settles the controversy concerning the number and nature of the
poems. Cf. ibid., 79-95. He argues convincingly that the language which
Thomasin used for his two lost poems must have been the Provengal. Cf.
op. cit., 58-79. E. Wechssler also suggests Provencal origin. Cf. Das
Kulturproblem des Minnesangs I (Halle, 1909), 33 and 138.-The Italian
vernacular was not a literary language at Thomasin's time. Cf. K. Vossler,
Die g6ttliche Komr6die II. 1, p. 583 f.; H. D. Sedgwick, Italy in. the
thirteenth century (Boston and New York, 1933), I, 141 f.; A. Gaspary,
Geschichte der italienischen Literatur (Strassburg, 1885-88), I, 50; E.
Wechssler, op. cit., 33, n. 1.-It was, however, spoken by the people, and
Thomasin must have been more familiar with it than with the German,
since he refers to his Italian descent as a sufficient excuse for any mistakes
he may happen to make (67 ff. and 1468 ff.); cf. also H. Teske, op. cit.,
49. Thus we may safely assert that Thomasin was conversant with four
languages at least; his own mother tongue, i. e., the speech of the Italian
merchant; German from his association with German nobility; Provengal
from his sojourn at an Upper Italian court; and Latin as a student of a
cathedral school. H. Riickert in his edition of the Wdlsche Gast, Anmerk-
ungen, 531, believes that Thomasin wrote in Northern French and so does
Laura Toretta in Ancora del WAlscher Gast," Studi Medievali 1 (1904/05),
622.-A. E. Schnnbach in Die Anftinge des dcutschen Minnesanges (Graz,
1898), 62 and 76, speaks of an Italian book della cortesia.
"1 Wiilsche Gast 1555.-Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 81.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
tortion (1330-1337), and enumerates such gifts as were proper for
a lady to receive:
hantschuoch, spiegel, vingerlin,
viirspangel, schapel, bliiemelin. (1340 f.)
He also gives advice for modest, faithful, and continuous service
(1392-1432), but counsels kindly separation if there is no hope of
gaining a hearing (1535-1548). Addressing the lady, Thomasin
tells her to be wary in her choice of a lover (1565-1570), not to be
deceived by the wealth of a worthless man (1571-88), not to love
one below her rank (1589-92); but, if she does, to choose a man
who is biderbe unde guol (1595), that is, one who by his nobility
of character lifts himself above his lowborn station (1593-1606).11
There can be no doubt that minne, as it is presented by Thom-
asin, owes its distinctive mark to the influence of the trouba-
dours."4 It is courtly love, V'amour courtois, of which he speaks."5
But when Thomasin came to the court of Wolfger, his duties as
well as his surroundings changed his outlook on life. There he
lived amidst German knights, where French troubadours had no
voice. Courtly love lost its glamor and Thomasin began to look at
it from a moralist's point of view. This changed attitude is already
discernible in the first book, when he interrupts his discourse on
courtly love to speak of marriage (1304 ff.; 1354 ff.; 1370 ff.). It
is still more pronounced in the rest of the work."6
13 Cf. ibid., 82. Karl Vossler asserts that the changing conception of
nobility was most clearly manifested in the ethical code of courtly love.
Cf. Die g6ttliche Komddie I, 2, p. 488.
11 Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 87-95.
3 Das ist ein festes System, dessen hichstes Ziel nicht wie in den
deutschen Minnelehren gotes hulde oder irgendein Wert ausserhalb oder
fiber der Wohlerzogenheit ist, sondern diu minne, nur sic." Ibid., 135.
"6 He says in one place:
sol aver der vrT wesen,
der an ein wip night kan genesen
und der niht hit sO vil kraft,
ern miieze ir meisterschaft
dulden und gar ir gebot?
der machet iz im selben spot,
der alle wege ligen muoz
under eines wibes vuoz. (4301-4308).
Cf. also 4012 ff.; 4029 f.; 4083ff.; 4125 ff.; 7205 ff.; 8021 ff.
64 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
Winsbeclke and Winsbeclin are related in thought content to
Thomasin's instructions in the art of love. The author of the
Winsbeckin in particular devotes much space to the subject of
mine. The mother prepares her daughter for marriage and it is
in this connection that she speaks of it. She warns against love
as a passion, but sings the praise of h6he minne.11' This spiritual-
ized love lifts man above himself through the ideal which he
swen h5hiu mine twingen gert,
der sol unvuoge 1hzen gar
und mache sich den werden wert. (25, 8 ff.)
A virtuous heart alone is capable of such love.
ez muoz gereinet innen sin,
e daz si fizen klophe dran: (39, 8 f.)
If it has taken possession of a man, it makes him despise every-
thing that is low and fills him with a desire to become worthy of
sint si an h6hen tugenden wert
die si mit ziihten vindet vr6,
die ziuhet si mit ir so ho,
daz si versmaehent swachen muot. (37, 3 ff.)
The author of the Winsbecklin warns, like Thomasin, against loving
a person of lower rank.118 The writer of the Winsbecke considers
it a great blessing that womanhood has come to be honored again.119
He is eloquent in his eulogy of women (12, 1ff.). If there be
1I Fr. Neumann thus characterizes h6he minne: "In der Hohen Minne
S. wird die Geliebte nicht so gesehen, wie sie ist, sondern zum Ideal
gesteigert, das emporzieht. Man liebt nicht die individuelle Person, man
liebt vielmehr ein Wunschbild des Menschen. Man bildet sich, in dem man
sehnsiichtig aufblickt zur vollkommensten Gestalt."--"Hohe ?Minne,"
ZfDeutschk. 39 (1925), 85. Cf. also K. Boestfleisch, Studien zum Minne-
gedanken bei Wolfram von Eschenbach (Konigsberg, 1930), 80 and 98ff.;
Hans Naumann says: Liebenden wie Geliebten beseelt allein die Sorge
um die eigene innere Tiichtigkeit, die Firderung der edlen Gesinnung, der
Eifer immer weiser, besser, edler zu warden. Wer von solcher Sorge nichts
weiss, der dient dem irdischen Eros." Hifische Kultur (Halle, 1929), 31.
1' Of. Winsbeckin 36, 9 ff.: Wdlsche Gast 1589 f.
11 ez was ein tugentlicher vunt,
do guoter wibe wart gedfht. Winsbecke 15, 5 f.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
one, he says, who falls short of the ideal, she is an exception-
merely one in a thousand (10, 8 f.).120 Courtly love in the Wins-
becke is quite incidental (91, 1 ff.); the general emphasis is upon
This is also the case with Freidank. He says:
Ich sihe nach frbmder minne varn
der sin wip niht kan bewarn. (99, 21 f.) 121
But his attitude toward hShe minne is the same as that of the
author of the Winsbeclcin. H6he minne exerts a beneficent influ-
ence in that it deepens a man's moral worth. He says:
Ein wip wirt in ir herzen wert,
swenn ir der besten einer gert. (100, 16 f.)
Ein man wirt werder dan er sI,
gelft or h6her minne bl. (100, 18 f.)
Hugo of Trimberg, who follows Freidank in so many respects,
does not adopt this sentiment. He seems to be wholly unacquainted
with this convention. mine is to him love in general, which must
be watched lest it degenerate. It is permissible in wedlock only.122
Hugo, eminently practical, has no sympathy whatsoever with
chivalrous pastimes. He ridicules stone-throwing (11651 ff.), and
inveighs against wrestling and jumping (11678 ff.). How much
more profitable would it be, he says, if useful works were under-
taken instead, such as clearing roads and building bridges, etc.23
"1 Cf. also Freidank 101, 15 f. and 103, 1 f.
11 The parallels between Thomasin and Freidank in the subject of
courtly love are noted by H. Teske, op. cit., 87 and footnotes 479 and 480.
12 Wizzet er ist ein silic man,
Swer mit zilhtcn minnen kan
Daz er ze rehte minnen sol:
Unzimlich minne stet night wol: Renner 11923 ff.
13 Ein niitzer were wilt ich im zeigen:
Daz er wiirfe an hohen steigen
Groz und kleine steine iz dem wege
Und daz er briicken unde stege
Mehte swA sin wiirde not:
Des geniizze sin sWle, swenne er wer tot.
Renner 11669 ff.
66 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
He is most severe in his criticisms of the tournament. He men-
tions three kinds according to their purpose: the tournament for
spoils, where horse, armor, or a considerable amount of money is
the prize of the victorious contestant (11647) ; the tournament
durch liebes wibes minne (11649), i. e., for the love of a fair lady;
and the tournament for honor's sake, for tummes ruomes wan
(11640). He disapproves of the buhurt where dull weapons are
used,124 as well as of the tjoste (joust), a more dangerous form of
single combat (11648).125 Many a one, he says, loses body, soul,
and property through such vainglorious competition (11589 ff.).126
Hugo is in perfect accord with the Church, which refused to extend
her sanction to tournaments, tilts, and armed combats, and par-
ticularly to judicial duels.127 The danger to life, as well as their
excessive cost, no doubt accounts for her objection.
Freidank ridicules the idea of risking one's life for the sake of
earthly glory. Many a one rushes to an early grave as if he feared
to miss his chance. There is no need for such haste. He will get
there just as well without any effort on his part.128
Neither the author of the Winsbecke nor Thomasin are greatly
concerned about the physical dangers connected with the tourna-
ment. For the former it is the test of real knighthood. With the
enthusiasm of one long-practiced in the art, he describes the pro-
cedure at a chivalrous single combat, where two knights ride out,
their spears lowered with the purpose of unseating each other either
by a thrust at the helmet or at the shield. This was the usual way
of fighting (21, 1-9).12"
121 Cf. J. Dieffenbacher, op. cit., II, 133.
125 Cf. ibid., 134.
26 Cf. also 6561 f.; 1079 ff.; 13507.
"7 Cf. J. Petersen, Das Rittertum in der Darstcllung des Johannes Rothe,
165; Cambridge Medieval Hist. VI, 814.
128 Vil manager ilet hin ze grabe
als ob er sich versfimet babe;
daz lien daz ist Ane not,
er kiire wol milezeeliche den tot. (177, 25ff.).
Cf. also Renner 11611 ff.
2" Cf. J. Dieffenbacher, op. cit., II, 134.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
Thomasin's opposition is levelled rather at the pride and vain-
glory displayed in these encounters. He says:
dcr dunket mich ouch niht ze wis,
der da want bejagen pris
dA aller slahte ended hit. (3801 ff.)
He ridicules the knight who, for the sake of ruom, i. e., glory, takes
part in a tournament. Many a one, he says, has great dreams in
which he figures as the bold knight who lifts all his opponents
from the saddle. No one will equal him in prowess, his praise will
be on every one's lips, and many will be the comments on his
costly accoutrement (3835 ff.).130 Thomasin also suggests a certain
coarseness in the knightly practice of the tournament, which had
crept in and which he considers unworthy of a refined gentleman.' s
Nevertheless he loves to attend tournaments. It is the buhurt,
however, of which he speaks, where dull weapons were used, and the
combatant's life was not in danger. Thus his general attitude is
rather lenient despite the fact that he is a clergyman.
Coats of arms were a colorful characteristic of chivalry. The
writers emphasize in particular their symbolical meaning. Thomasin
seems to be best acquainted with heraldry. Petersen 132 says that he
speaks as a layman without understanding, because he admonishes
to mdze in the use of heraldic designs. This may be true, but his
intimate acquaintance with nobility argues otherwise. It must not
be forgotten that though he was a moralist, a preacher, he was far
from being an ascetic. Heraldry had for him a moral significance;
it was a symbol of virtue. Thomasin criticizes the emperor's coat
of arms as being overdone. Otto carries in his shield three lions and
half an eagle (10480).133 One lion, Thomasin says, signifies
133 Cf. also Renner 11615 ff.
u" He says:
swelch kint schimpht, der schimphe als6
daz man dervon nien werde unvr8.
boes ernst kumt von boesem schimphe:
man sol schimphen daz ez glimphe.
Wdlsche Gast 659 ff.
132 Das Rittertum in der Darstellung des Johannes Rothe, 95, n. 3.
a3 According to Ed. Winkelmann, Philipp von Sehwaben and Otto IV von
Braunsehweig II (Leipzig, 1873), 498 f., the eagle represented Otto's Roman
kingship, while the three lions were the family ensign of the Hohenstaufen.
68 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
h6hen muot (10495), but three are indicative of ilbermuot (10496
and 12355). An entire eagle is the symbol of &re (10502 and
12360), but half an eagle indicates der ere schidunge (10504 and
12358). Three lions are too much but half an eagle is too little.
That is unmnze (10492), and the root of all evil in the world.
Thomasin refers repeatedly to the heraldic figures of the eagle and
Hugo also mentions the adelar, i. e., the eagle as a symbol of
moral worth,'35 and says that he who has chosen the lion, should be
tugenthaft und milte (19308). The falcon was looked upon as the
special symbol of knighthood.'36 Thomasin comments on the exist-
ence of spurious heraldic designs; the practice of appropriating
another's coat of arms was not infrequent.37
Outwardly, the nobleman was distinguished from the lower
classes of society by his military equipment, his dress and retinue,
as well as by the appellation, Herr. Freidank compares the outfit
of the knight with that of the squire (kneht), saying:
Ros schilt sper hibe unde swert
diu machent guoten ritter wert.
Hengest kocher unde bogen
die hint manegen kneht betrogen (93, 6 ff.) 3a
"3'Cf. 12361 ff.; 12429 ff.; 12483ff.
16 Cf. Renner 17466; 19241 f.; 23921 f. Concerning the influence of
pagan writers upon symbolical interpretation see L. K. Born, "Ovid and
Allegory," Speculum 9 (1934), 366 ff.
1a6 Cf. Renner 21608 and Freidank 73, 17; 143, 13.
'57 He says:
saehe ich verre in dem lande
ein gewaefn daz ich erkande,
ich wande under spraeche s&
daz der writer were da
ze dem ich diu wffen hiet gesehen,
und m'6ht stn doch anders geschehen:
wan der man der si hiete d5,
der milht si haben anderswA
verstoln ode sus genomen;
ez ist ouch dicke als6 komen.
Wilsche Gast 13967 ff.
Cf. also Renner 1079 ff. and J. Petersen, op. cit., 96, n. 3.
lsI There can be no doubt that the didactic writers used kneht in the
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
Hugo of Trimberg includes the schilizen, i. e., the cross-bow, and
the kolben or club in his enumeration of knightly equipment,139
forgetting evidently that these were unknightly weapons.14
The knight and his horse were inseparable. From the time of
Charles Martel the warrior class regularly fought on horseback.141
The knight's horse was of huge size, in distinction to palfreys,
coursers, and nags. It had to carry a rider clad in full armor, and
was the knight's companion in tournament and war.142 Hugo of
Trimberg refers twice to hahe pferde (2486, 13624). Skillful
management of the horse was held in high repute.143
The shield was the most important of the insignia of knighthood,
so much so that the author of the lVinsbecke identifies it with
knighthood itself.144 The sword was scarcely less important.
The farmer was forbidden to carry it,145 and Hugo has nothing
but scorn for those who without right assume this privilege
Hugo insists that costly garments do not make the nobleman.
Many an adventurer can display them, because honorable positions
are given to the rich instead of to the worthy (18941 ff.). Precious
rugs, he says, are fit indeed for princely courts (17389), and beauti-
ful portraits do well adorn castle walls (17391) ; but such luxury
ill becomes the humble man nor does it grace the clergy.'47 Life
was much simpler in the beginning. Adam had no desire for
Prisschuohe, hiben, gebildet hemde (22755),
sense of servant, attendant, or squire. It had lost much of its original
connotation by their time.
138 Harnasch, schiitzen, schoeniu pfert,
Helm, schilt, kolben under swert Renner 2300 f.
110 Cf. J. Dieffenbacher, op. cit., II, 96 f.
"x Cf. H. Brunner, Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte II, 276 ff.; H. 0. Taylor,
The Medieval Mind, 4th ed. (London, 1930), I, 541 f.
142 Cf. R. Berenger, The history and art of horsemanship (London, 1771),
I, 169, 170; Ch. Seignobos, The Feudal Rdgime (New York, 1902), 29.
13 Cf. Winsbecke 21, 4; VWalsche Gast 3851; Renner 13905 ff.
1' Cf. Winsbecke 17, 1 ff.
16 Cf. J. Petersen, op. cit., 117.
148 Thomasin considers the symbolical meaning of the knightly equipment.
Cf. Wdlsche Gast 7470 ff.
17 Cf. Renner 2489 ff.; 16500 ff.; 1578 ff.; 1773 ff.
70 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
nor did he long for golden and silver table-service (22758) or
perfumes (22760 f.). Often the poor have to pay for the luxury
of their betters."48
The profession of the knight required the attendance of a
servant or Jcneht. He had to assist his lord in putting on or
taking off the heavy armor, and in performing other kinds of
menial service.14" Even poor noblemen, like Walther von der
Vogelweide, who did not take part in warlike exploits, had to keep
an attendant.150 The greater the lord, the larger and more dis-
tinguished was his retinue. Hugo thinks it fit that powerful
princes, h6he fiilsten, should surround themselves with a large
train of followers (17396), but takes exception to the practice of
making the poor pay for this expensive luxury (2199 ff.).
Often sons of nobles, who had not yet been dubbed knights, served
in the capacity of attendants at foreign courts.'51 No direct
mention is made of these in the didactic poems. The schiltknehte,
however, who were of ignoble origin, are frequently referred to.
Hugo pities their evil lot. He says:
Diz ist ein orden An allen frumen: (7432)
One who belongs to this class certainly knows misery (7435). Dis-
honorable work and wretched living are his portion (7399 ff.).
Freidank remarks in his terse way that services should be recipro-
cal.'52 He also says that a servant who has a good lord sins against
God if he does not obey his lord's commands.'5 Thomasin ad-
monishes the knight to treat his servant well and to honor God in
him (7867). It may happen, he says, that the eigenklneht will have
148 Cf. ibid., 2343 f.; 2207 ff,. and especially 18955 ff.
149 Cf. J. Petersen, op. cit., 121-124.
15o Cf. K. Burdach, Walther von der Vogelweide I (Leipzig, 1900), 11;
V. Vedel, Ritterromantik (Leipzig, 1911), 5; Ch. Seignobos, op. cit., 29.
C1 Of. E. F. Jacob, The Beginnings of Medieval Chivalry," Chivalry
(New York, 1928), ed. by E. Prestage, 40 f.
152 SwA man dienst fuir dienest hat,
dA sol man dienen; deist min rAt.
Bescheidenheit 50, 8 f.
15 Swelch herre guoten willen hAt
und sinen kneht den wizzen hlt,
tuot er dan niht sin gebot,
der kneht stindet wider got. Ibid., 49, 11 ff.
The Didactic Writers and the Feudal Nobility
greater honor in the next world than he whom he served on earth
(7871 ff.). Besides, he adds, a servant's soul and thoughts are free
(7875 ff.) even though he lives in subjection. The lord's respon-
sibility toward his servants is great (7904 ff.; 7916; 7945 f.), and
God will hold him accountable if they do wrong (7964 ff.).
The social distinction between the nobleman and the man of low
birth was also brought out by the title of Herr.5" Anyone possess-
ing a noble or clerical office had a right to this appellative. It was
also used as a mark of courtesy toward persons of the middle class.
Thus the farmers in Hugo of Trimberg's Renner honor Hugo with
that title. Hugo makes direct reference to it as an honorable
distinction coveted by many (17880). He also draws a parallel
between here and are, saying that they are equal in many respects
(895) and that one presupposes the other.1"" Ere is to be under-
stood here in the sense of moral worth, and the title, Herr, there-
fore, acquires a moral significance.
The nobility portrayed by the didactic writers was the feudal
aristocracy of the thirteenth century. There is a certain vagueness
as to class distinctions. The borderline between the various ranks
of nobles and between nobility and commonalty is not clearly
defined. The original nobility of birth has become corrupted
through infiltration from below, and the didactic poets protest
against it. No serious objection is voiced against the existence of
this new class, nor against the rights and privileges they claim.
The writers, however, take exception to the faults and shortcomings
of this nobility and castigate them in various ways. Kings and
princes rob the poor to enjoy themselves and to amuse the flatterers
about them; they pay no homage to God nor to the Church. They
1S" Ehrismann says: "Der Titel 'Herr' kam urspriinglich nur dem
Freien (dem Adel) zu, aber durch Erteilung der Ritterwiirde wurde er
auch auf die unfreien Dienstmannen iibertragen." LG. II, 1, p. 16. Cf.
also p. 299, n. 5 and J. Petersen, op. cit., 131 ff.
165 Herre An Are ist lesterliche;
Ere bi herren, herre mit Aren
Kan gunst, guot und nuz gemAren;
Herre Ane Are ist ermer vil
Denne arm mit eren, Renner 896 ff.
72 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
should preserve justice, and instead they spend their time in foolish
pleasures. While the poor go hungry, their lords eat and drink
what they have stolen from them. They oppress them in every way.
The knights, whose duty is the protection of the defenceless, think
of nothing but hunting, tourneying, dancing, and feasting. Honor-
able vassals have disappeared and flatterers have taken their place
at courts. Their sole concern is adding to their wealth. All are
covetous and mercenary, even the clergy. The bishops have become
niggardly. They love war and luxury too much and disregard the
burdens of the poor. Temporal duties at royal courts usurp the
place of the spiritual duties of the clergy. All this was different
in times gone by, when the nobles were of good stock, magnanimous
and just, their courts respectable and renowned, their councilors
wise and learned.
THE RISE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS AND MORAL
NOBILITY ACCORDING TO THE DIDACTIC
The thirteenth century is replete with the problems of a new
social era. The impact of waning feudalism with a rising
industrial society, which in later centuries becomes so forceful, is
already fore-shadowed in the writings of the didactic poets. From
them we may gather that the towns began to constitute a disturbing
element, and that the new classes, merchant, professional, and
artisan, which they produced, were soon to be reckoned with. The
Winsbecke reflects a society still unruffled by changing social and
economic conditions. But Thomasin, Freidank, and Hugo are
aware of certain undercurrents which are gradually but surely
undermining the existing social structure.
A trend toward commercialism characterizes the upper classes,
the nobility as well as the higher clergy. Their one aim seems to
be the acquisition of wealth. The whole world, Freidank says, is
desirous of gain (55, 19 f.). Profit is preferred to a man's dearest
possessions, his wife and children (56, 1f.). His thirst for more
is insatiable (41, 18 ff.; 56, 3 f.).
Des mannes sin
ist sin gewin. (56, 5 f.) 1
Even youth is taught how best to gain riches and worldly profits.
The avaricious man, Hugo says, scorns training in liberality and
honor, and would substitute for true culture a practical education
in the art of money-making. He would teach his children and his
grandchildren that trick of finance by which a penny grows to a
1 Of. 41, 18 ff.; 56, 3 f. There are numerous variations of the same theme
in the sources. Cf. also Renner 773; 16330 ff.; 5097 f.; 4405 f.; Walsche
Gast 13751 ff.
SIch wil lWren mtniu kint
Und min tiehter ein bezzer dine:
Wie von einem orte ein helbelinc,
Wie von dem helbeling ein pfenninc,
74 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
Learning and law are now pursued for the sake of gain. Noble-
men, Thomasin says, are eager to be instructed in the art of reading
and writing, not for the sake of culture but in order to secure
through fraud and trickery what cannot be gotten through physical
prowess." The very terms of law are made subservient to this
passion for gain. The lords, observes Thomasin, lantrehten ndch
gewinne (8707). They strain its meaning, and seek in it an excuse
to circumvent the neighbor in his rights (8716 ff.). Their judg-
ments are swayed by greed. Hugo puts it graphically when he
Si ziehent daz reht tim bt der nasen:
But the evil does not stop here. Noblemen, says Thomasin, have
so far forgotten their name and rank as to engage in trade. Instead
of fostering tugende unde reht, they dishonor their calling by sit-
ting far into the night over their account books.5
Wie von dem pfenning ein schillinc,
Wie von dem schilling wahse ein pfunt:
Und daz in daz baz were kunt,
SO siiln sie sliefen von dem wege
Und weder milte noch Aren pflege,
Loben und schelten gellche wegen,
Fluochen haben viir einen seen. Re
Cf. also 16684 f., and Wiilsohe Gast 9276 f.
der leie dunkt sich ouch night wert,
ern habe zuo sinem swert
diu buoch, wan der schrift sin
wil er ouch haben an gewin.
er heizet im schrfben harte wol
daz wuocher daz man im geben sol.
swa im gebristet siner sterke,
d5 kArt er ane list und kerge.
Cf. also Renner 13338 f.; 17855 ff.
Cf. also Renner 8295 f; 8479 f.
SNu seht wie daz eim riter guot
st&t, daz er dar an sinen muot
kert, daz er wetzet sinen sin
nahtes wachende if gewin,
der niwan an riterschaft
solde vrumen sine kraft
und an tugende und an reht:
nner 4526 ff.
The Rise of the Middle Class and Moral Nobility
Usury and trade are synonymous with the didactic writers. The
merchant is the wuocheraere,6 and he is scorned, principally on
account of the deception and fraud ever associated with his occupa-
tion. Freidank says:
mich dunket night daz ieman miige
vil verkoufen ne liige. (171, 13 f.) '
He ascribes the creation of the merchant class to satan, the father
of lies (27, 3), and states that it has acquired mastery over
gehfire ritter unde pfaffen: (27, 2) s
The writers believe themselves in accord with the teachings of the
Church and the decrees of synods, which condemn usury."
Although in theory nobility and trade were mutually exclusive,
noblemen did not hesitate to marry the rich daughters of those
they despised.'0 Freidank deplores this practice. Through it, he
says, marriage becomes a mercenary affair and many a noble family
goes to ruin."
er waer noch verre baz kneht,
swelich riter also tuot,
daz er ist riter durch daz guot.
Wdlsche Gast 8695 f.
SThomasin uses the word more in the sense of money-lender; but he also
speaks rather disparagingly of the merchant or "koufman." Cf. 14331 f.;
7 Freidank speaks against wuocher from 27, 1-28, 15. Cf. also 48, 2;
166, 1 f., and Renner 6199; 8300 ff.; 4866 ff.; 4687 f.
8 Cf. Renner 5177 ff. See also M. R. Kaufmann, Der Kaufmannsstand
in der deutschen Literatur his znm Ausgang des siehzehnten Jahrhunderts,"
Die Grenzboten 69 (1910), Viertes Vierteljahr, 111; R. Limmer, op. cit., 46.
9 Cf. C. J. Hefele, Conciliengeschichte V, 899 and 844; H. Teske, Thomasin
von Zerclaere, 111 and n. 598. F. Neumann, Scholastik und mittelhoch-
deutsche Literatur," Neue Jahrb. (1922), 400 f. and footnotes.
10 Cf. W. Sombart, Luxus und Kapitalismus (Miinchen u. Leipzig, 1913),
11 swer wtbes gert der wil ze hant
liute schatz biirge unt lant.
swelch e durch gitekeit geschiht,
diu machet rehter erben niht.
mane gr6ziu hhrschaft nO zergAt,
daz si niht rehter erben hit. Freidank 75, 12 ff.
Cf. also Renner 13038 ff., and Ch. Seignobos, The Feudal Rggime, 32.
76 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
Constant warfare and other evils of feudalism had reduced many
nobles to sore straits."1 To retrieve their fortunes, they preyed
upon their subjects and even resorted to thieving and robbing. It
was thus that the robber-baron and robber-knight came into exis-
tence. Hugo of Trimberg says that poor nobles are treated with
disdain (6731ff.). Unable to bear this, they become robbers and
thieves. They mask themselves, change their voice to avoid being
recognized, and fall upon the unsuspecting traveler (6740 ff.)."
Thomasin also knows of those who ride about at night watching
for prey (243 f.), and he warns his knights against robbery and
theft (7253 ff.)."
While feudal nobility was thus beginning to lose ground, the
wealthy middle class was slowly gaining ascendancy. Freidank
admits this when he states the general rule:
SwA ein kiinne ff stiget,
daz ander nider siget. (117, 26 f.)
The blame rested to a great extent upon nobility itself. Instead
of defending the poor, says Hugo, they oppress them and deprive
them of an honest living. Thus despoiled of their property, the
victims are driven to the towns.
Des sint die stete nu wuocherer vol. (4703)
The city is now better qualified for protection, and whoever wishes
to live a peaceful life will find it there more easily than with the
nobles.15 Towns and crafts grow in importance. Merchants cross
12 Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 112.
IS Cf. also 6800 f.; 6837 ff.; 3115ff.; 7036ff.; 7089ff.; 16320 ff.
1 Cf. Freidank 73, 17, and Anmerkungen 213 ff.; 143, 13 f., and Anmer-
kungen 290 f.
6 Hugo says:
Swer gem habe ungeriiewic leben,
Der sol nAch grozen Aren streben,
Swer aber gern si mit gemache,
Der diene gote under einem obedache
Und lebe im sanfte an einer stat. Renner 6819 ff.
Concerning the rise of the cities, see R. Hipke, "Die Entstehung der
grossen biirgerlichen Vermigen im Mittelalter," Schmollers Jahrb. 29
(1905), 1051-1087; G. Schmoller, Strassburgs Bliite und die volkswirt-
schaftliche Revolution im XIII. Jahrhundert (Strassburg u. London,
The Rise of the Middle Class and Moral Nobility
the sea and risk their lives to increase their possessions (8171 f.).
Rulers surround themselves with such mercenary upstarts and
prefer them to those of noble birth.'1 Freidank complains:
Man rt nfi leider richen kneht
fiir armen h6rren ine reht. (56, 27 f.)
Once raised aloft, they maintain themselves like great nobles and
despise those whose former companions they were. Hugo refers
here to an experience of his own:
Swenne si riten Wf hohen pferden,
So enwolten si niht an die erden
Sehen daz si griiezten mich: (16445 ff.)
The thrifty man is now considered wise and deserving of praise.17
Honors can be purchased and are often bestowed by those who are
themselves devoid of honor, as Freidank remarks:
fre muoz koufen manic man
von dem der Are nie gewan. (93, 10 f.)
The farmer, too, acquires self-importance. He covets the life
of a courtier and wishes to dress and act like one. Becoming rich
and arrogant, he is worse in his extortion than those who lord it
over him.'8 Naturally, the poor and oppressed begin to question
the right of a favored class.
1875); C. H. Freiherr Roth von Schreckenstein, Das Patriziat in den
deutschen Stidten, besonders Reichsstddten (Tiibingen, 1856); R. Sohm,
Die Entstehung des deutschen Stddtewesens (Leipzig, 1890).
1B Cf. Freidank 77, 8 f.; 92, 25; 56, 25 f.; Renner 1064 ff.
Cf. Renner 769 f.; 5063 f.
1' Cf. Freidank 122, 11 ff.-- See also E. Gothein, Die Lage des Bauern-
standes am Ende des Mittelalters, vornehmlich in Stidwestdeutschland,"
Westdeutsche Zeitschrift fiir Geschichte und Kunst 4 (1885), 3.--R.
Limmer sums up the various circumstances which contributed to raise the
position of the farmer in the thirteenth century. He says: "Kirche und
Wissenschaft betonten mit Nachdruck 'in remedium animae die Freiheit
der Volksgenossen; durch die Kreuzziige, das Aufbliihen der Stiidte und
die damit verbundene Landflucht, durch den sich im Gefolge der wirt-
schaftlichen Musterh5fe der Orden entwickelnden rationelleren Kolonisa-
tions- und Wirtschaftsbetrieb, verbunden mit gesteigertem Wohlstand und
Selbsthewusstsein des Landvolkes, die die starken stindischen Unterschiede
zuriicktreten liessen, nicht zuletzt durch eigene Zusammenschliisse und
Sicherungen gegen Unrecht und Gewalt besonders von seiten der Ritter
78 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
Hugo of Trimberg tells us that one day, as he was riding through
a village, a group of drunken farmers surrounded him and plied
him with questions as to the origin of nobility.19 Hugo with some
hesitation, but fearing their anger, complies with their request,
and explains half-heartedly to them that the inequality of men is
due to Noah's curse for the unfilial conduct of his son Cham
(1353 ff.). This curse, Hugo continues, falls on all those who
do not lead a virtuous life and are disobedient to God's commands.
Had Cham been virtuous like his brothers, he would never have been
doomed to servility. In order to pacify the farmers, Hugo adds that
they (the farmers) are virtually equal to those of noble birth,
since they are of free origin.
Ein fri gebfir ist herren gen6z: (1407)20
He also suggests that there are some noblemen who are inferior to
the free farmer because of servile descent (1410 f.).
This theory concerning the origin of nobility was popular with
medieval writers and is found already in the Vorauer Genesis,
written between 1130 and 1140.21 The poet establishes Sem as the
father of the nobles, Japhet as the ancestor of the free middle class,
and Cham as the progenitor of the unfree.22 Underlying this
theory is the assumption that class distinctions ultimately revert to
virtue, being a reward for noble conduct. Hugo, however, fails to
draw any inferences. He himself seems to have had only a vague
notion as to its import. He is probably merely rehearsing what
he has read or heard. A clergyman, he says, would be better able
und Grundherren, wurde der vielgeschmihte Bauer zu einem nicht mehr zu
verachtenden Glied der Gesellschaft emporgehoben." Op. cit., 50 f.
Wa von einer edel w6re,
Der ander unedel, der ander frt,
Der ander eigen. (1338ff.)
20 Cf. A. Heusler, Der Bauer als Fiirstengenoss," Zs. d. Savignyst. Germ.
Abteil. VII (Weimar, 1887), 235 f.
21 Cf. G. Ehrismann, LG. II, 1, 99.
22 Cf. J. Diemer, Deutsche Gedichte des 11. und 12. Jahrhunderts, 15, 3 ff.;
F. Vogt, Bedeutungswandel des Wortes edel, 6 and 30; J. Petersen, Das
Rittertum in der Darstellung des Johannes Rothe, 70 f.
The Rise of the Middle Class and Moral Nobility
to give a satisfactory explanation of this perplexing question
The fact, however, that new men were constantly rising from
the lower classes and were procuring titles of nobility set the
didactic writers thinking. They began to define nobility. Such
attempts were still feeble and vague but they supplied a basis for
writers who followed. What, these poets ask themselves, constitutes
nobility? Is it noble birth, or wealth and ancestral virtue, or,
perhaps, honorable titles bestowed by princes? These, the writers
decided, were mere externals and of negligible importance. Virtue
or tugent was the essential and determining factor.23
The author of the Winsbecke formulates in rather specific terms
his conception of nobility saying:
Sun, hbch geburt ist an dem man
und an dem w1be gar verlorn,
da wir niht tugende kiesen an, (28, 1 ff.)
He becomes still more definite when he continues:
der tugende hat, derst wol geborn
und 6ret sin geslehte wol.
ich han ze vriunde mir erkorn
den nidern baz, der 6ren gert,
viir einen hohen sunder tugent, (28, 5 ff.)
Thus he throws the emphasis from noble birth as an essential
quality to moral excellence and even intimates the superiority of
this moral nobility.
Virtue, says Thomasin, should be preferred to wealth and noble
birth (1597 ff.), for moral nobility is the only true nobility.
niemen ist edel niwan der man
der sin herze und sin gemiiete
hat gekert an rehte giiete. (3860 ff.)
23 In medieval parlance tugent was the sum total of moral and social
excellence, including not only a virtuous disposition but also the actual
proof of moral rectitude. It was equivalent on the one hand to etiquette,
behavior, and therefore synonymous with zuht, h6vescheit, guote site, but
it also meant moral superiority, or right conduct according to ethical
principles. Ehrismann says: "mhd. tugent (zu touch taugen, tiichtig sein)
bedeutct Tiichtigkeit jeder Art, nicht nur sittliche Vollkommenheit (virtus),
sondern auch gesellschaftliche Fertigkeit." LG. II, 2, 19. Cf. also ibid.,
315; A. Nolte, ZfdA. 52 (1910/11), 61 ff.; H. Kissling, Die Ethik Frauen-
lobs (Halle, 1926), 67 ff.
80 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
He who is of noble birth ought also to possess moral nobility, for:
sin geburt gert zaller vrist
daz er wol und rehte tuo. (3868 f.)
If he fails to act as becomes a nobleman, he dishonors his rank
(3863 ff.) and becomes doubly blameworthy, because his high birth
increases his guilt.24 Ancestral wealth and virtue, however, do not
make a man noble; he must be noble himself.25 It is the virtuous
disposition which exalts a man, not his noble descent. He may be
of an illustrious family and nevertheless indulge in vice, using his
rank as a shield for his evil deeds.26
reht tuon daz ist hiifseheit (3920),
says Thomasin, and
sweleh man hat einen hiifsehen muot,
der tuot mit rehte swaz er tuot. (3921 f.)
The writers emphasize very forcefully the intimate relationship
existing between moral nobility and practical virtue. Thus Frei-
Swer rehte tuot derst wol geborn:
An tugent ist adel gar verlorn. (54, 6 f. and 64, 13)
sost nieman edel Ane tugent. (53, 18),
Ein edeline tuot edellfchen, (1421)
Ein edel kint hat edel site, (1425)
Ere hAt aleine mit tugenden pfliht. (906)
Friunde und guot gebent nieman tugent. (1429)
If moral nobility, says Hugo, is supported by wealth and honor-
able position, it will be still more prominent (1431 f.), since the
world becomes cognizant of it. Those in responsible places are
always observed (559 ff.; 1051 f.). An honorable position, however,
does not of itself confer nobility. Freidank says:
4 sin geburt minnert sine &re. Wdlsche Gast (3872)
Freidank expresses the same opinion when he says:
Sin selbes schande er maret,
der sin geslehte unAret. (118, 3 f.)
26 Cf. Wilsche Gast 3873 ff.; 4281 f.; 4447 ff.
Cf. ibid., 4455 ff.
The Rise of the Middle Class and Moral Nobility
Ere kan nieman genden,
gaeb er mit tfisent henden. (93, 18 f.)
If honor and power were distributed according to virtue, many a
lord would find himself in his servant's place, while many a servant
would possess the rights of a lord (76, 19 ff.).
Thus the attitude of the didactic writers toward birth and descent
is obvious. They do not consider them integral parts of moral
nobility, but, insofar as they are necessary to let moral nobility
display itself, they are conditions of it. Freidank in one place is
still more daring. He intimates that servility even does not bar a
man from acquiring true nobility. He says:
Er s! eigen oder fri,
der von geburt niht edel si,
der sol sich edel machen
mit tugentlichen sachen. (54, 8 ff.)
Yet for the most part the didactic writers still had faith in the
upper classes as the natural supporters of moral excellence. The
nobleman, they argued, was raised above his fellowmen by signal
rights and privileges. In return for these, special demands were
made both on his public and private character. The desire to make
the nobleman worthy of his high place actuated the didactic writers
in defining his obligations and persuading him to meet them.
It is futile to search for a clear and consistent conception of an
ethical code in the sources. Elaborate and confused lists of virtues
are found in each one of the didactic writers. The practice of all
eminent virtues is enjoined upon the nobleman and is, in turn,
required of all the other classes. Hugo in particular is fond of
generalizing vices as well as virtues.
However, the moral code obtaining for knighthood at its best
is still discernible in their writings, especially in Thomasin's
Wiilsche Gast. Ehrismann in his excellent study-Die Grundlagen
des ritterlichen Tugendsystems 27-traces the moral code of knight-
hood back to Aristotle's system of practical philosophy, which,
modified through Cicero's De officiis, supplied the basis for medieval
thought.28 The Moralium Dogma Philosophorum of Guillaume de
ZfdA. 56 (1919), 137-216.- Cf. also G. Ehrismann, tber Wolframs
Ethik," ZfdA. 49 (1907-8), 405-465.
28 Die Stoa, speciell Cicero, liefert Form und Gedankcn." J. Stelzen-
82 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
Conches 29 was the medium by which Cicero's catalogue of duties
passed into the moral code of medieval knighthood.30
The knightly virtues demanded by medieval writers are, as
Ehrismann 1' has pointed out, chiefly Aristotelian. They descended
through Cicero, Ambrose, Augustine, Guillaume de Conches, and
others to the didactic writers, and comprised the inevitable four:
justice, prudence, fortitude, and temperance.32 Added to these
were the Christian virtues of faith, hope, charity, and humility.
The didactic writers, especially Thomasin and Hugo, tried to effect
a reconciliation between pagan and Christian virtues, following
therein the vogue of early ecclesiastical writers. Moral philosophy,
however, supplied in the main the virtues required of a nobleman.
Justice holds an important place in the hierarchy of virtues.
The writers look upon it primarily as a guide which nobles must
follow in their relations toward God as well as toward their fellow-
men. Thomasin devotes the entire ninth book 3 to an exposition
of the medieval conception of iustitia.34 The author of the Wins-
becke, summing up his advice to his son, says:
wirt gotes minne nimmer vrl,
wis warhaft, ziihtic sunder wane. (56, 7 f.)
berger, Die Beziehungen der friihchristlichen Sittenlehre zur Ethik der
Stoa (Miinchen, 1933), 234.
Lateinisch, altfranz6sisch und mittelniederfriinkisch hg. von John
Holmberg (Arbeten utgivna med understod av Vilhelm Ekmans universitets-
fond, Uppsala 37), Uppsala, 1929.
o Cf. G. Ehrismann, ZfdA. 56 (1919), 142; H. Teske, op. cit., 164.
3 Cf. ZfdA. 56 (1919), 138.
32 Regarding their treatment in Christian ethics, see J. Stelzenberger,
op. cit., ch. X, Das Schema der vier Kardinaltugenden," 355-378.
a Verses 12223-13564.
The term reht had a wider connotation in mhg. than in modern usage.
It included everything, was einer person oder einem dinge vermage eines
inneren oder iusseren gesetzes oder auch vermlge geltender sitte zukommt"
(Benecke-Mtiller-Zarncke II, 1, p. 618), namely, sowohl das, was sie zu
listen, als das, was sie zu beanspruchen hat" (H. Paul, DWB. 3. Aufl.,
408). "Da die verschiedenen Stlinde im Mittelalter unter verschiedenem
Rechte standen, ist 'reht' auch Ausdruck des Standesrechts und der
Standespflicht und dadurch oft des Standes selbst." M. Mackensen,
"Soziale Forderungen und Anschauungen der friihmittelhochdeutschen
Dichter," Neue Heidelberger Jahrb. N. F. (1925), 146.
The Rise of the Middle Class and Moral Nobility
His admonition, wis warhaft, refers to the virtue of justice, the
obligation of which he had previously explained.35 Freidank often
speaks about reht, and even has a special section on it.3 Hugo's
work is one long complaint against the injustice reigning in this
The nobleman, because of his position as administrator and up-
holder of the law, needed the virtue of justice. Thomasin laments
that many study decreta and leges for the sole purpose of practicing
deceit (9151), and for the sake of enriching themselves (9179 f.).
It is, therefore, the first duty of a ruler to establish order in this
matter."7 Human society, he says, cannot exist without justice.38
Even thieves cannot get along without it,"3 for, he continues, those
who practice highway robbery wish to divide the booty equally
(12379 ff.).40 A lord should judge fairly the rich and the poor
(12430) and should not swerve from justice because of
Barmunge, vorht, minn und unminn,
geheiz, gabe, nit und unsin, (12483 f.)
36 Winsbecke 52, 1-55, 10. Cf. also S. Anholt, Zum Text des Winsbeken,"
ZfdA. 68 (1931), 131.
3a Bescheidenheit 50, 16-51, 12. Cf. Hans Fehr, Das Recht in der Dichtung
(Bern, 1931), 160-163.
'7 Thomasin says:
ein herre der rihten niht getar,
der macht sin liute tumbe gar.
ein herre zage machen kan
kiien wider sich einn lihten man.
ob er gebieten niht getar,
er krenket sin gebet gar. (1741 ff.)
Cf. H. Teske, op. cit., 197, and Renner 8823 ff.
38 Daz reht ist iiber al
an alien dingen maze, wAge, zal.
an reht mac niemen genesen. (12375 ff.)
so jA mac ein diep An reht niht wesen (12378)
1o Thomasin borrows here from the Moralis Philosophia, whose author
says: "Cuius tanta vis est, ut nec illi, qui maleficio et scelere pascuntur,
possint sine ulla particular iusticie vivere. Nam qui eorum cuipiam, qui
una latrocinantur, furatur liquid aut eripit, is nec in latrocinio sibi locum
relinquit. Archipirata, si non equabiliter predam dispertiat, aut inter-
ficiatur a sociis aut relinquatur." (Holmberg, 12, 19 ff.) Cf. also H.
Teske, 183 and 199.
84 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
Freidank says that many a judge is now in league with thieves (48,
5 f.). The writers agree that justice requires above all subjection
to God as the author of power. To Him every lord must give an
account, and it will fare ill with him if he has failed to judge
Prudence, likewise requisite for the nobleman, is called by the
didactic writers bescheidenheit. This virtue was considered essen-
tial to all moral virtues, for without its light any virtue might
become a vice through excess or misdirection. Freidank's book is
diu aller tugende kr6ne treit. (2)42
With the help of prudence a nobleman should determine what to
seek and what to avoid. Prudence, says Hugo, teaches foresight.43
This virtue, according to Thomasin, has to control the gifts of the
body-the bona corporis:
sterk, snelle, glust, schoene, behendekeit. (9738),
as well as teach the fickleness of fortune and its goods:
adel, maht, richtuom, name, herschaft. (9740)
Thomasin considers prudentia equivalent to ratio. Bescheidenheit,
he says, is the sinnes rat (8624) and
RAtio bescheiden sol
waz stA tibel ode wol, (8827 f.)
Sin has lessened our power of discernment (8593), but we should
so mag ez im night wol ergAn,
hat er niht gerihtet wol,
wan im dar nfch geschehcn sol. (12408 ff.)
Freidank expresses the same sentiment:
Swer unreht wil ze rehte han,
der muoz vor gote ze lerze stAn. (50, 16 f.)
42 Cf. Renner 6107 f. and 3825 f.
48 Wenne der mensche sol viir sich sehen
Waz guotes und iibels miige geschehen, (6121 f.)
Guillaume de Conches says: "Huius offitia sunt ex presentibus future
perpendere, adversus venientem calamitatem consilio premunire." (Holm-
berg, 9, 2 f.)
The Rise of the Middle Class and Moral Nobility 85
be happy that we still have a part of it (8599). This is for us
gr6ziu ere (8597).
Prudence also inculcates tugent und guote site (8606), observes
Thomasin. The latter included not only morality, but also courtesy,
noble behavior.44 Blood could be expected to tell here.45 The author
of the Winsbecke admonishes his son to cultivate courtly behavior.46
He moreover insists that manners must not be something merely
laid on, as one, for example, puts on a garment, but must proceed
from within and be thus an expression of a man's character
Courtesy as the virtue of a nobleman was thus supposed to be the
outward expression of a fine inward feeling, and the writers com-
L. Diestel defines "guote site," saying: "da bedeutet sie ebensosehr
die Sittlichkeit als die Sittigkeit, die strenge MoralitLt und den ausseren
Anstand. Daher sind auch Tugend, hiifscheit, zuht, site, vrumkeit durchaus
Synonyma; die Verstisse gegen hiifscheit zeigen den untugendhaften Mann,
wie die Laster gegen die gute 'zuht' sind." -" Der Wlilsche Gast und die
Moral des 13. Jahrhunderts," Allgemeine Monatsschrift fiir Wissenschaft
und Literatur (Halle, 1852), 705.-Cf. also G. Ehrismann, LG. II, 1, p.
19; A. Nolte, "Zu Gottfrieds Tristan," ZfdA. 52 (1910/11), 66-69; A.
Bimer, "Anstand und Etikette nach den Theorien der Humanisten," Neue
Jahrb. 14 (1904), 225.
16 Hugo says:
Ein edel kint hit edel site, (1425)
Uz ieglichem vazze git
als ez innerhalben hit. (111, 2f.),
Nature unde gewoneheit
der beider kraft ist harte breit. (Ill, 4f.)
46 Sun, df solt hoveliche site
in dinen sinnen lazen phaden. (38, 1 f.)
Sun, swer ze blicke vuoge entnimt,
daz decket doch die lenge night:
geribeniu varwe night enzimt,
di man den schaden blecken siht.
diu helkeppel sint enwiht,
diu bi den listen kleident wol
und daz in kiindekeit geschiht.
nfi ziehe er sine kappen abe,
der als6 well triegen dich,
und merke, waz er drunder habe. (26, 1 ff.)
Cf. Freidank 44, 13 f.; 45, 6 f.; Renner 683 f.; 6685 f.; 7095 ff.
86 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
plain that such is not the case in their times. Often it is nothing
more than an artful guise. The predominant evil seems to be,
however, that bad manners, the sign of low origin, have entered
Fortitude or, better, courage was the virtue par excellence of the
medieval knight. Romances of chivalry picture him courting
danger for danger's sake, rejoicing in suffering and gladly meeting
death, if, by doing so, he could procure renown, a most coveted
reward. This spirit still echoes through the Winsbecke, whose
author mentions courage as one of the virtues necessary for a
perfect knight.48 When you put on your helmet, he says to his son,
zehant wis muotic under balt. (20, 2)
But Thomasin, Freidank, and Hugo evince by their attitude toward
the tournament 49 that they see no virtue in meeting danger for its
Magnanimity or h6her muot, a form of sublimated courage,50
was a virtue exclusively belonging to the nobleman. It is related to
the ,eyaXoauvxla of Aristotle 51 and the magnanimitas of Guillaume
de Conches.52 The lion, says Thomasin, signifies h6hen muot or
magnanimity, and a nobleman should have
.. .in sinem muot
eins lewen here, (12365 f.);
but he must guard against iibermuot or pride. If he overrates
himself and does not moderate his exercise of power, he overthrows
justice, the necessary basis of all power. Thomasin distinguishes
between superbia and h6hen muot, saying:
,8 Sun, wilti ganzlich schiltes reht
erkennen, s6 wis wol gezogen,
getriuwe, milte, kiienv und sleht, (19, 1 ff.)
Cf. H. Schrade, Kiinstler und Welt im deutschen Spatmittelalter,"
Deutsche Vierteljahrschrift 9 (1931), 11.
Cf. ch. II, 66 f.
o0 Ehrismann says: im volkstiimlichen epos ist hoher muot gesteigertes
kraftgefiihl und liegt in der heldeneigenschaft der tapferkeit," ZfdA. 56
(1919), 164.-Cf. also H. W. Nordmeyer, "Der Hohe Mut bei Reinmar
von Hagenau," JEGPh. 31 (1932), 360-394, especially 378, 393, and note 38.
51 Cf. Nicomachcan Ethics IV, iii, ff.
Of. Holmherg, pp. 30-32, also G. Ehrismann, ZfdA. 56 (1919), 164.
The Rise of the Middle Class and Moral Nobility
zwischen h6hem muot und iibermuot
ist daz, swer sin war tuot:
der h6he muot getar wol
ndch rehte tuon daz er sol,
der ibermiietic man wil
dn reht begen harte vil. (12369 ff.)
The magnanimous man must, therefore, take precaution against
inordinate self-esteem as well as against inordinate lust for power.
Ze gr6z muotwille wirt nimmer guot, (577),
says Hugo, and if a man knows himself he will scarcely overrate
his abilities (10395 f.) and lose thereby God's pleasure and the
respect of good men (17797 ff.). A virtuous man, explains
Thomasin, does not boast of his accomplishments nor does he seek
unmerited praise (3555 ff.). His deeds alone shall recommend him
(3661 ff.).53 He is, indeed, a namegireger man (3687), who desires
to do more than he is able."4 Whoever longs for praise, lessens his
moral worth.55 He becomes guilty of pride or hochvart, the
vitiorum regina."6 Freidank calls superbia der helle kiinigin which
brought about the fall of the angels and the banishment from
paradise.7 This sin 58 is denounced by all the writers, especially
Temperance, or maze, is the moderator among the virtues, the
ornament of the nobleman's life; jucard6q, Aristotle calls it, the right
53 der ist geloht nach rehte wol,
den sin were loben sol. Wdlsche Gast (3679 f.)
54 man sol tuon reht unde wol
An schallen. Ibid. (3708 f.)
Cf. K. Vossler, Vom sprachlichen und sonstigen Wert des Ruhmes,"
DVjschrLW. 4 (1926), 235 f.
"5 wan swelch herre rehte tuot,
der minnert da mit sin guot,
tuot erz dar umbe daz er wil
daz man sage von im vil. Wilsche Gast (3715 ff.)
Gregory the Great, Moralia 31, ch. 45, Migne, PL. 76, 620.
57 Bescheidenheit, 28, 15.
68 hdchvart had a much wider meaning in mhg. than in modern usage
as Fr. Neumann points out. He says: h6chvertic ist im h8chsten Sinne
der, dessen Ich sich so vergrdssert hat, dass er Gott nicht mehr sieht."-
"Scholastik und mittelhochdeutsche Literatur," Neue Jahrb. (1922), 395.
Cf. also H. Kissling, Die Ethik Frauenlobs, 33 ff.
88 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
mean between excess and defect 9 in the sphere of affections and
actions. Distinguished from it was the aw4 poivri, directed toward
self-control as regards the appetites in particular.60 Guillaume de
Conches defines temperance as the dominion of reason over passion
and other importunate motions.61 The didactic writers adhere to
this definition of temperance, as modified by the patristic writers.62
In the Winsbecke, maze is strictly a knightly virtue. The father
exhorts his son to do everything in a becoming manner-
als dir von arte st geslaht. (20, 6)
Well-regulated exterior conduct, which is the indication of a bal-
anced character, is deserving of honor and praise.63 So important
is this virtue for the nobleman, remarks Thomasin,-that without it
he sinks to the rank of a menial.64 The author of the Winsbecke
approaches the Aristotelian concept when he says:
wirf in die mitte dinen sin, (30,8)
Thomasin, still more explicit, observes:
Zwischen zwein untugenden ist
ein tugent zaller vrist. (9993 f.)
Humility, he continues, has its place
zwischen hShverte und bloedekeit. (9996)
Since humility is truth (9995), it preserves man from underrating
himself and becoming a mean-spirited creature, a sneak, as well
"1 Cf. ANicomachean Ethics II, vi, 15 ff.
0o Cf. ibid., III, x-xii.
*e Temperantia est dominium rationis in libidinem et alios motus inpur-
tunos." (Holmberg, 41, 10f.)
"2 Cf. J. Stelzenberger, Die Beziehungen der friihchristlichen Sittenlehre
zur Ethik der Stoa, 263 ff.
83 Sun, merke, daz diu maze gtt
vil Oren unde werdekeit: Winsbecke 31, 1 f.
diu maze git uns Ore und guot, (9947)
Cf. S. Singer, Mittelalter und Renaissance (Ttibingen, 1910), 22 f.
64 den herren macht unmaze kneht. (9950)
The Rise of the Middle Class and Moral Nobility
as from unduly exalting himself.65 Through mdze the natural
appetites of man can be directed toward good."6 Thus anger and
love, which God has given us (10109), may, if controlled by reason,
become virtues. Thomasin does not, therefore, believe in complete
suppression and denial of the passions, but subjects them to the
curbing influence of maze. Here mdze is very closely related and
almost identical with bescheidenheit, and Thomasin actually uses
the terms interchangeably.
The vices opposed to temperance are chiefly gluttony, drunken-
ness, and impurity, and the writers complain that many are
addicted to them. Freidank has a long section on trunkenheit (94-
95, 14) and Hugo expatiates on Freidank's terse epigrams.67 The
suppression of the passions rather than a balanced exterior conduct
becomes the principal theme both with Freidank and Hugo.
Nothing is good without mdze, says Freidank (114, 5 f.),6s and
Hugo knows that it is wholesome for everybody, be he knight or
farmer (9589). Rehte mdze keeps all appetites under perfect
control and insures health and happiness.69
MAze also must regulate liberality, another virtue particularly
becoming the nobleman.70 Milte, as the didactic writers termed
66 The author of the Winsbecke says:
swer iiber sich mit h8chvart wil,
daz im sin leben mac dar zuo komen,
daz sich vervellet gar sin spil.
ein ieglich man hat 6ren vil,
dcr rehte in siner maze lebet
und iibermizzet niht sin zil. (41, 2 ff.)
man mbhte mit der maze lere
die untugent ze tugent bringen. (9986 f.)
'COf. Renner 9437ff.; 9446ff.; 9851ff.; 10011ff.; 10045ff.; 10171ff.;
Mize ist ze alien dingen guot: Renner 20689.
6 Hugo says:
Des wirt manic junger lip begraben,
Der manic jAr noch hate gelebt,
Het er der maze niht widerstrebt. (9664 ff.)
'0 Thomasin says:
diu milte get die mittern strAze,
si behaltet under git nAch mAze. (10031 f.).
Cf. Fr. Neumann, "Walther von dcr Vogelweide und das Reich,"
90 The Concept of Nobility in German Didactic Literature
this virtue, consisted in the judicious bestowal of favors and rewards
in money or its equivalent upon other individuals.
Aristotle taught liberality in his Nicomachean Ethics.n But it
was also a specific Teutonic ideal, harking back to the generosity
of the leader toward his companions in arms. Both influences,
undoubtedly, determined the attitude of the didactic writers toward
liberality, and the Christian ideal of charity suffused and directed
this virtue into the right channels which lead to God as the
summum bonum. Thus the author of the Winsbecke admonishes
his son to practice mile, because God is merciful to those who show
mercy to others."7 Hospitality, or hlisere, he says, merits a place
among the most exalted virtues (51, 2).
Thomasin devotes the tenth book of his work to an exposition of
liberality. Milte, he notes, is a child of justice.73 Like every
other virtue, he directs it toward God, and insists that it must be
practiced for His sake. He reproves severely one who hesitates to
hazard property or life in the service of God, while risking all in
less worthy service (1262 ff.). He also blames him who gives for
DVjschrLW. 1 (1923), 518. Concerning the high place which the virtue of
generosity occupied among medieval virtues, see the interesting study by
M. P. Whitney, Queen of Mediaeval Virtues: Largesse," Vassar Mediae-
val Studies (New Haven, 1923), 183-215.
Cf. IV, i ff.
a7 . swer dir sinen kumber klage
in scham, fiber den erbarme dich:
der milte got erbarmet sich
iiber alle, die erbarmic sint. (10, 3 ff.)
Den armen gip, snit unde brich
mit willen diner reinen habe: (47, 5 f.).
"Die Gastfreundschaft wurde von alters her in deutschen Landen gepflegt.
Dem reisenden Fremdling ein offenses Haus und herzliches Willkommen zu
bieten, war immer deutscher Brauch." J. Sass, Zur Kultur- und Sittenge-
schichte der sdchsischen Kaiserzeit, Diss. (Berlin, 1892), 55 and note 32.
73 diu milte ist gar des rehtes kint (13580 and 14125).
The liberalitas in Guillaume de Conches is regulated by justice. Cf. Holm-
berg, 13ff. Hugo says:
Swer meister oder rihter wird gegeben
tiber sin gensz, der sol mit giiete
Und niht mit hdchfart si behiiete (508 ff.).