Ulrich von Hutten

Ulrich von Hutten, born in 1488 in Steckelberg Castle in Hesse, was a German knight and scholar who became a follower of Martin Luther and was particularly well known for his writings, which were often satirical and critical of the Catholic Church, and his close affiliation with Franz von Sickingen

Erhard Schön (ca. 1491-1542), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Born the eldest son of an impoverished knight, Ulrich was destined to enter a cloister due to his small build and poor constitution. He joined a Benedictine monastery in Fulda when he was 10 years old to be educated as a monk, receiving an excellent education in what was considered a very fine monastic school. However, he hated his life in the cloister and fled in 1505 to Cologne, much to the dislike of his father. 

In Cologne, Ulrich met a number of contemporary scholars and poets. In 1506 he first moved to Erfurt, before settling in Frankfurt an der Oder, where a new university was established. The following years a travelled to a number of such institutions, including the University of Greifswald in 1509. On leaving Geifswald, he was robbed by the servants of a former friend, who stole his most priced possessions, his books. Arriving in Rostock he started a blistering attack on his rivals, making use of satire, a medium that would stay with him for the rest of his life. 

Ulrich continued to move from university to university, eventually ending up in Vienna, where he tried to impress emperor Maximilian with one of his poems. However, neither the emperor nor the university of Vienna would support him. By now, Ulrich had build a reputation of being vain and his attacks on this enemies had not made him many friends. After a short while in Italy and being wounded as a soldier in the 1512, he returned to Germany in 1514 and his friend Eitelwolf von Stein helped him to win favour with the Archbishop of Brandenburg. 

In 1515 his relative, Hans von Hutten was murdered by Ulrich of Württemberg, which had a huge impact on his life. He returned to Italy to take degrees in law and eventually the emperor bestowed a knighthood on him and crowned him with the honours of a poet laureate. Ulrich von Hutten never forgot his haltered of Ulrich of Württemberg, who had been spared by the emperor though. He also learned to dislike the papacy during the wars he fought in Italy. These experiences made him write extensively, paving the way for Martin Luther to emerge and in 1518 Ulrich established a small printing press in Paris attacking the pope and the papacy. 

In 1518 Ulrich von Hutten became a supporter of Martin Luther’s, after being denounced by the Archbishop of Brandenburg, his former patron. Immediately, he aimed to enforce the aims of the reformation through means of war and he linked with Franz von Sickingen to form the Knight’s Revolt, which was defeated in 1523. Following the defeat, he tried to bring Erasmus of Rotterdam into the fold of the reformation, who refused, however. Ulrich von Hutten died on the shores of Lake Zürich after suffering for years from syphilis.

Ulrich von Hutten left a long legacy of academic pursuit and writing, as well as military campaigns agains the papacy. His name was somewhat tarnished by the the German Wehrmacht using it for some of its infantry devisions during WWII in 1945. However, his work contributed to the emergence of Martin Luther and the success of the reformation.

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