Ulrich von Hutten

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Ulrich von Hutten

The German imperial knight and humanist Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523) advocated the dissolution of Germany's ties with the papacy. He advanced an unrealistic program, however, for solving German national problems by reversion to medieval knighthood and feudalism.

Ulrich von Hutten, born in a castle near Fulda in Hesse, was sent at age 11 to a monastery to become a Benedictine monk. After 6 years he escaped and led a vagabond life, attending four German universities. In Erfurt he befriended Crotus Rubianus and other humanists. He went to Italy, took service as a soldier, and attended universities, spending some time in Pavia and Bologna. In Germany he served in the imperial army (1512). Because of the death of a cousin, Hans, at the hands of Duke Ulrich of Württemberg, he published sharp Latin diatribes against the duke, which have been compared with the Philippics of Demosthenes and which brought him fame. In 1519 he played a part in the expulsion of the duke.

A second visit to Italy took Hutten to Bologna and Rome (1515-1517). In 1517 he was crowned poet laureate by Emperor Maximilian I in Augsburg for his Latin poems. His protector was Archbishop-Elector Albrecht of Mayence, at whose court he often appeared. In 1517 too he played a part in the defense of Johann Reuchlin against the Cologne Dominicans; he probably wrote the second part of the famous Epistolae obscurorum virorum. His Colloquia followed in 1518 (in German, 1520-1521). The bitter dialogues Vadiscus (1520), directed against the papacy, cost him the protection of Albrecht. His German work Aufwecker der teutschen Nation (1520; Arouser of the German Nation), which opens with his motto "Ich hab's gewagt" (I have dared to do it), was bold and forward-looking and announced his support of Martin Luther. The hostility aroused by this work forced him to flee to Basel.

In Basel, Hutten hoped to find help from Erasmus, but the two humanists soon feuded. His dream of enlisting Luther and the unsuccessful freedom fighter Franz von Sickingen in his struggle for a stronger, independent empire also failed, as did attempts to interest Maximilian and his successor, Charles V. Efforts to war against the Catholic clergy had degenerated into a robber-baron adventure. In Switzerland, Huldreich Zwingli took an interest in him and sheltered him on the island of Ufenau in Lake Zurich, where Hutten died in 1523.

Further Reading

Two biographical studies of Hutten are David Friedrich Strauss, Ulrich von Hutten, translated by Mrs. George Sturge (1874; new ed. 1927), and Hajo Holborn, Ulrich von Hutten and the German Reformation, translated by Roland H. Bainton (1937). Recommended for general background is Harold J. Grimm, The Reformation Era, 1500-1650 (1954; rev. ed. 1965).

Additional Sources

Holborn, Hajo, Ulrich von Hutten and the German Reformation, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978, 1937. □

Hutten, Ulrich von (1488–1523)

views updated May 11 2018

Hutten, Ulrich von (14881523)

German author, humanist, and militant defender of Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation. Born near Fulda, Hutten was sent as a boy to a Benedictine monastery, where he was prepared to join the order. Unwilling to submit to monastic discipline, however, he escaped and wandered from town to town, eventually arriving in Italy, where he became a student at the universities of Pavia and Bologna. On his return to Germany in 1512, he joined the armies of the Habsburg emperor Maximilian I. His essays and poetry gained him acclaim from the emperor, who named him poet laureate of the realm in 1517.

In 1519, he was converted by Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther's doctrine of justification by faith and his stand against the corrupt and tyrannical practices of the Catholic hierarchy. Hutten wrote Vadiscus, a bitter denunciation of the Papacy, in 1520, and in the same year published a work in German, Arouser of the German Nation, which called on his countrymen to rally to Martin Luther's side. Hutten took the Reformation one step further by organizing an anti-Catholic militia with Franz von Sickingen. The two men led the Knight's Revolt, mounting an attack on the estates of the Archbishop of Trier. They were defeated, however, and Hutten was forced to flee Germany. Arriving in Basel, he failed to enlist the widely respected humanist Desiderius Erasmus to his side. By this time he had made an enemy of the emperor Charles V, and the knights he had enlisted had degenerated into a rabble of highwaymen and thieves. Still a rallying figure for Protestants, Hutten was given shelter by Huldrych Zwingli on an island in Lake Zurich. There he died of an illness in 1523.

See Also: Luther, Martin; Reformation, Protestant; Zwingli, Huldrych

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