Post-classical history

Rolandslied des Pfaffen Konrad

Middle High German version of the Old French Chanson de Roland, written by an author recorded as der phaffe Chun- rat (Conrad the Priest) for Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria.

The Rolandslied injects a twelfth-century German ideology of empire and crusade into the ancient epic of Charlemagne’s war against the Muslims of Spain, reflecting Henry’s renewal of Carolingian holy war against the pagan Slavs and the church’s sanction of it as crusade from 1147.

Conrad may be the ducal chaplain Conradus recorded in charters of the 1170s: a Swabian priest, conversant with Henry’s politico-religious goals, and charged with the literary representation of his quasi-royal status and crusading aspirations. The commissioning of the Rolandslied was part of a lavish program of secular and religious patronage centered upon Henry’s palace and court church in Braunschweig and their associated artifacts. Conrad’s epilogue extols Henry’s imperial lineage and his conquest and conversion of the heathen.

In the poem, the Emperor Karl and his warrior-bishop Turpin summon and preach a crusade, pledging spiritual rewards. Roland and the knights eagerly take the cross, in warfare simultaneously serving theocratic emperor and heavenly king. Death in battle confers not warrior glory but a martyr’s crown. The heathen, spurning baptism, and the traitor Genelun, seduced by basely secular concerns, are consigned to hell as children of the devil. Conrad’s portrayal of Karl reproduces twelfth-century hagiographical images of the Emperor Charlemagne. Roland’s and Oliver’s austere redemptive chivalry seems inspired by Bernard of Clair- vaux’s preaching of the Second Crusade (1147-1149) and his writings for the Templars.

One complete illustrated manuscript (MS Heidelberg, Universitatsbibliothek cpg. 112) and six fragments, all written shortly before or after 1200, testify to the Roland- slied’s contemporary impact. It profoundly influenced Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Willehalm (1210/1220). Around 1225 the poet known as Der Stricker modernized Conrad’s narrative, which in this form remained popular until the end of the Middle Ages, especially among the Teutonic Knights.

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