Trial by Fire and Battle in Medieval German Literature

Trial by Fire and Battle in Medieval German Literature

Vickie L. Ziegler


Camden House



Offers a broader, more contextualized understanding of the function of ordeals in medieval literature and society.
Medieval judicial ordeals, especially trial by fire or battle, conjure up vivid pictures in the modern imagination. Yet popular perceptions of the Middle Ages leave the reader without a context in which to understand these most drastic of medieval judicial remedies. This book analyzes literary texts that provide some of the most vivid and detailed accounts of the medieval ordeal: the dramatic treason trials in late medieval Charlemagne epics. The two epics chosen -- Stricker's Karl der Groe and the Karlmeinet -- treat trial by battle as the living legal reality it was in those times, yet display very different attitudes toward feud and punishment in their respective (13th- and 14th-century) societies. Gottfried's Tristan contains an ordeal by battle, of which the author approves, and an ordeal by fire, of which he does not, reflecting a common position of the intelligentsia of the time. Well after the condemnation of ordeals by the Fourth Lateran Council, the Kunigunde legend preserves the ordeal by fire much as it was portrayed in the mid-12th-century Richardis legend, while Stricker's short secular burlesque "The Hot Iron," written in the mid 13th century, makes sport of this formerly serious legal proceeding, reflecting its sudden abandonment as a legal proof following the council's decision. The study brings extensive background material in legal and cultural history to bear on literary texts, helping both medievalists and general readers understand the function of the ordeal in the texts as well as in the larger society for whom these works were written.

Vickie L. Ziegler is professor of German and Director of the Center for Medieval Studies at the Pennsylvania State University.


June 2004
248 pages
9x6 in
Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture
ISBN: 9781571132918
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Camden House
BISAC LIT004170, LIT011000
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Historical Background
Decoding the Codes: Treason in the Late Medieval Karlsepik: Der Stricker's Karl der Grosse and the Karlmeinet
The Ordeals of Tristan and Isolde
Saintly Queens Under Fire in the Kaiserchronik and in Heinrich und Kunegunde
Coda: Der Stricker's "Das heisse Eisen" and Conclusion


A fascinating and learned study. The Introduction provides a sharp and clear summary of the changes in legal procedure which are at the heart of the book. Inclusion.of short synopses of the plots of the works Ziegler analyzes is very useful. DE RE MILITARI

Ziegler touches on topics that are of broad interest to students of every epoch and has gone to extra-ordinary lengths to make this volume accessible to those well outside the field of German Studies. (The appendices ... include plot summaries and/or translations of all of the major works treated.) Yet, she includes a good deal of often overlooked material and provides new insights that make this volume of interest to specialists in the field as well. THE MEDIEVAL REVIEW

An indispensable tool for literary, historical, and legal scholars. Ziegler handles a wide range of literary and historical sources deftly, carefully framing them with a cogent discussion of medieval jurisprudence. GERMAN QUARTERLY

Vickie Ziegler has opened the door to the world of jurisprudence inherent in medieval thought and literature which has been left relatively unexamined until now. The book traces historical changes in legal thought and practice and their literary transformation into different genres. ... (Her) study provides an excellent example of each poet's selective use of historically accurate framework in the service of literary goals. GERMAN STUDIES REVIEW

A welcome addition to monographs with a triple focus on medieval literature, history and legal theory and practice. SPECULUM, April 2006

The careful and thorough examination of descriptions of trials endured by historical and literary heroes and heroines, the analysis of the function of the ordeals in their literary context, and especially the comparison of the episodes yield perspectives worthy of continued investigation by Germanists. JOURNAL OF ENGLISH AND GERMANIC PHILOLOGY

Ziegler's study ... provides an interesting view of the interplay between social practices and their literary treatment. In the process it emerges that traditional modes of conflict resolution were interpreted in very different ways in juristic practice. BEITRÄGE ZUR GESCHICHTE DER DEUTSCHEN SPRACHE UND LITERATUR

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