Among the many legends recounted among the Swabians about their land and their fathers’ history, there is perhaps none of such supreme romantic interest as that which harks back to the struggles of the aforementioned period and the wondrous fate of that unhappy prince. We have attempted to narrate it – even at the risk of being misjudged. In objection, people will naturally point out that the character of Ulerich von Württemberg is not fit to be portrayed in soft colours in an historical novel.
It’s obvious from his introduction that Wilhelm Hauff had an idea of what might happen. There are limits to the suitability of his main character as a model hero. In Hauff’s “Lichtenstein” novel, Ulrich von Württemberg appears noble, wise and just, essentially the prototype of the good ruler.
In real life, old Ulrich was precisely the opposite. He cheated on his wife, was constantly broke, and even spent time as an outlaw. He displayed brutality in his dealings with his own subjects, had his political opponents tortured, and didn’t shy away from murder. And Ulrich, of all people, was meant to be the hero of this “romantic legend”? Here’s what Hauff wrote in his own (supposed) defence:
He has frequently been treated with hostility. Many an eye, when surveying the long rows of portraits of the Dukes of Württemberg, has even grown accustomed to the notion, as if a country’s misfortune were only to be sought in its ruler, or as if there were merit in looking away in revulsion from times of misery.
In 1519 the duke breached the Treaty of Tübingen – essentially, Württemberg’s constitution. It provided a guarantee of certain civil liberties to the territorial estates and gave them a voice. But Ulrich went further than that. He launched an assault on the Imperial City of Reutlingen – and in doing so, provoked a declaration of war from the Swabian League. Historically, that was the starting position in 1519.
On several occasions during this period, Ulrich asked for refuge at Lichtenstein Castle and in a nearby cave called Nebelhöhle – if the legend is to be believed, that is. Hauff was familiar with the tale and chose it as the basis for his historical novel.
The book may have side-lined the historical truth, but that didn’t undermine the novel’s success. On the contrary. With “Lichtenstein”, Wilhelm Hauff was very much in tune with the 19th century zeitgeist: a plot set in the Middle Ages, richly seasoned with local legends, folksy characters and a romantically heightened portrayal of the landscape.
Hauff’s readership is unlikely to have overlooked the novel’s topicality. After all, there were connections with their own time. Just a few years earlier, the King of Württemberg had rescinded the constitution and triggered an embittered constitutional battle. The conflict was overcome in 1819, when a new constitution came into force that combined the old estates’ rights with modern constitutional concepts.
Foto: © Wilhelm-Hauff-Museum