Heinrich Wittenwiler

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Heinrich Wittenwiler is the author of a late medieval satirical-didactic rhyme poem, which he titled " The Ring ".


Heinrich Wittenwiler, of whom only a few life dates are known, is probably identical with Heinrich von Wittenwile, who lived as a noble lawyer and court master at the court of the Bishop of Constance at the end of the 14th century . The time in which he lived was marked on the one hand by the inner-city disputes between the patriciate and the guilds and on the other hand by the wars between the dukes of Austria and their aristocratic allies against the confederates . The dating of the ring, which was only handed down in a single manuscript, the Meininger manuscript, is also not clear. It varies between 1370/71 and the time of the Constance Council in 1414/18, but seems most plausible around 1408/10 in the context of the Constance bishop Albrecht Blarer. Despite the few evidence and the initially sluggish reception of the Ring, the author is today one of the most important German poets of the late Middle Ages, alongside Oswald von Wolkenstein and Johannes von Tepl .

Biographical traces

Knowledge of the person is based on a total of six references, including documents from the years 1387, 1389 and 1395. There is also an entry in the Konstanzer Ratsbuch from 1390 and two undated documents. The undated documents include, on the one hand, self-mention in the ring and its inclusion in the Wurmsbacher Totenbuch.

  • 1st mention : On November 30, 1387, a master Hainrich von Wittenwile in Constance appears as a witness to Count Heinrich von Montfort zu Tettnang in a dispute against the abbot of St. Gallen Kuno von Stoffeln . He is named, among other things, alongside the Provost of Constance and later Bishop Burkhard von Hewen as well as a canon and a knight. Since Heinrich Wittenwiler bears the magister title (the title maister is to be understood as the German equivalent of the Latin magister ), it can be assumed that he studied, assumptions are made from Bologna as the place of study. In addition, his mention in the last place suggests that he received at most minor church ordinations and was therefore not obliged to be celibate. This detail becomes important in relation to the marriage debate in his ring. EC Lutz also assumes that he worked as a lawyer at the episcopal court in Constance as early as 1387, but was in any case close to the Austrian nobility.
  • 2. Mention : In a document on the decision of an arbitration tribunal on May 29, 1389 Heinrich Wittenwiler appears for the second time as the elected arbitrator of a party. He is titled here as the first gentleman Hainrich von Wittenwille , not magister as in the other certificates. Here, too, he is not called a citizen, which supports the assumption that he already belonged to the episcopal court at that time.
  • 3rd mention : The third mention of his person can be found in an entry in the Konstanzer Ratsbuch from 1390. Without knowing an exact date, Wittenwiler violated public order: Item maister Hainrich Witwile. A knife shrugged and Hansen stabbed the Zoller. Despite the different spelling, Lutz assumes that it is the same person.
  • 4. Mention : The document of March 16, 1395 gives precise information about Wittenwiler's position at the episcopal court. Desolated Maister Hainrichen von Wittenwil, aduocatus des Hofes Costentz. He is listed here as the first among five witnesses, which points to his position as court attorney, which apparently more than compensates for the lack of ordination.
  • 5. Mention : Under the date of July 29th, but without the year, the Book of the Dead of the Cistercian Sisters in Wurmsbach near Rapperswil notes a year-end donation by Master Heinrich von Wittenwil, Hofmeister zuo Kostenz . According to this, Heinrich Wittenwiler would have moved from the episcopal court to the head of the administration of the Constance Curia and the bishopric.
  • 6. Mention: Heinrich Wittenwiler's last mention by name is in his only work, the Ring, in his prologue, verse 52: said Hainreich Wittenweilär . The Bavarian alienation of his name is not just a gimmick on the part of the author, but also announces “what is to come and what remains omnipresent in the Bavarian impact of the language, the Austrian sentiment that connects Wittenwiler with the nobility of the Lake Constance area and its partisans, Usurpation desires of the gpauren , who do not even stop at the language of the old elites. "

Connections of the life testimonies

According to the evidence, Heinrich Wittenwiler probably studied law in northern Italy (Bologna) and is returning to his home diocese of Constance with a magister degree, where he can be found for the first time in the vicinity of the curia in 1387. Already here he appears together with the provost Burkhard von Hewen and after his elevation to bishop 1388 he will be in his service as early as 1389, certainly from 1395. At this point in time Heinrich Wittenwiler was advocatus curie and one of the highest officials in the episcopal judicial authority. Later, it is not known exactly when, he was appointed court master at the head of the administration of the episcopal curia. The document from 1395 proves that he was not ordained a priest and was therefore perhaps married. At the same time he has the special position of the cleric, does not have civil rights as an official of the bishop and enjoys the exemption of the court from the city court.

So he held a respected position and in the fighting with the Confederates was clearly on the side of the enemy of the countrymen. In addition, the lawyer Heinrich Wittenwiler is the only historical personality of this name known to us who not only lived at the right time and in the right place, but who above all seemed to have the education and / or access necessary for the work The Ring had a sufficiently large library (the episcopal one at the Constance court).

Looking at his personal environment, he was firmly integrated into the party of the nobility. He belonged to the forces that were interested in maintaining and further stabilizing the political and social conditions in the Lake Constance area. They are also Austrian and therefore have a clementist orientation at times. In addition to the enormous losses of the rulers in power, land and people, in income, political influence and reputation, the Appenzell Wars from 1401 to 1429 between the Prince Abbot of St. Gallen and the communities of the Appenzellerland had a lasting impact on the origins of the ring.


Heinrich Wittenwiler's work "Der Ring" is a satirical didactic poem consisting of 9699 rhyming verses and was created around 1400 in the vicinity of the Bishop of Constance . This textbook conveys a lot of knowledge and behaviors of human life, which are embedded in a comical-satirical plot. It is divided into three parts of roughly the same length, with the first part containing the main character Bertschi Triefna's campaign for Mätzli Rüerenzumph and the second part the teachings and the wedding. In the third part, the wedding feast degenerates into a "world war" in which Bertschi's village Lappenhausen is destroyed and its residents and Bertschi's wife are killed. Bertschi is the only one to survive and, out of grief over the loss of his wife, retires as a hermit in the Black Forest .


  • Jürgen Babendreier: Studies on the narrative style in Heinrich Wittenwiler's 'Ring' , dissertation Kiel 1973.
  • Hans-Jürgen Bachorski: madness and colportage. Studies on the "Ring", the "Lalebuch" and "Geschichtklitterung" . Trier 2006 (wvt, LIR; Volume 39).
  • Marinus A. van den Broek: Proverb and saying in Heinrich Wittenwiler's "Ring" . In: Proverbium 14/1997, pages 23-57.
  • Horst Brunner (Ed. And transl.): Heinrich Wittenwiler. The Ring , Early New High German / New High German. Reclam, Stuttgart 1991, 1999 (Reclam Universal Library, Volume 8749).
  • Horst Brunner: Wittenwiler, Heinrich . In: The German literature of the Middle Ages . Author's Lexicon , Volume 10, 2nd Edition Berlin / New York 1999, columns 1281–1289
  • Eckart Conrad Lutz : Spiritualis Fornicatio. Heinrich Wittenwiler, his world and his "ring" . Sigmaringen 1990 (= Konstanzer Geschichts- und Rechtsquellen. NF der Konstanzer Stadtrechtsquellen; Volume XXXII), ISBN 3-7995-6832-8 ( review by Klaus Graf )
  • Thomas Neukirchen: At the zero point of literature. Heinrich Wittenwiler's 'Ring' and the tradition of contempt for literature . In: Euphorion 104/2010, pp. 247-266.
  • Ortrun Riha : Research on Heinrich Wittenwiler's "Ring" 1851–1988 . Würzburg 1990 (= Würzburg Contributions to German Philology; Volume 4).
  • Barbara Schmid: A festival for women in the world - Heinrich Wittenwiler's verse novel 'The Ring' and his teachings for the nobility on Lake Constance , in: From Lake Constance to Bischofszell. Everyday life and economy in the 15th century, ed. by Silvia Volkart, Zurich, NZZ Libro, 2015, pp. 219–226.
  • Michael Bärmann: Heroes Among Peasants: Attempt to Heinrich Wittenwiler's 'Ring'. In: Writings of the Association for the History of Lake Constance and its Surroundings, Volume 119 (2001), pp. 59-105 online

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Immo Eberl: Burkhard von Hewen. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . October 20, 2004 , accessed June 26, 2019 .
  2. Eckhart Conrad Lutz, Spiritualis Fornicatio, p. 93.
  3. Eckhart Conrad Lutz, Spiritualis Fornicatio, p. 92.