HUTTEN, Ulrich von

Ulrich von Hutten gained prominence with his poetical and satirical polemics against the papacy and continued support of German national solidarity. He was considered a humanist and German patriot and associated with such intellectual and theological figures as Desiderius Erasmus* and Martin Luther.*
Born into the knight class in Franconia, Hutten was sent to a convent in Fulda at age eleven and left in 1505 to become an itinerant scholar. He spent the next five years at universities in Cologne, Erfurt, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Griefswald, and Wittenberg, during which time he gradually became disenchanted with scholastic endeavors and became keenly aware of the cultural and economic decline of his class. Humanists such as Mutianus Rufus and Rhagius Aesticampianus influ­enced Hutten during his university days, which led to his disavowal of Scho­lasticism. He included in his early tracts not only defenses of humanism but also a sense of German pride in an attempt to restore the greatness of the knightly class. Hutten's Exhortation, written to Maximilian I, was a political poem praising German literary and military greatness that was based upon Tac­itus s description of Germany. Maximilian, duly impressed, began to use Hutten, as he had Conrad Celtis, for political reasons in order to promote and justify Habsburg expansion, and he even named Hutten poet laureate in 1517.
Visits to Italy in 1512 and Rome in 1515 greatly shaped Hutten s view of the papacy, and ultimately, his view found expression through his writings.
While Hutten was in Italy, he incited German students to riot, and he killed a Frenchman for speaking poorly of the emperor. He became overly critical of papal Scholasticism and the lack of religiosity found in Rome. His poem Nobody reflected his growing distaste for the papacy and support of the Christian hu­manism of Erasmus. Hutten attacked Scholastic theologians, however, not church doctrine. He also became involved in the Reuchlin feud (Johannes Reuchlin was a defender of Jewish learning), which gave him the perfect op­portunity to defend humanism and attack the papacy. He and Crotus Rhubeanus produced Letters of Obscure Men between 1515 and 1517, which was a satirical, but fictitious, dialogue between the opponents of Reuchlin. Hutten and Crotus successfully ridiculed conservative theologians while creating a new satirical genre. The attack on the papacy continued during this period with such polemics as Concerning the Sword of Julius, Fever the First, Fever the Second, and Roman Trinity,or Vadiscus. The famed knight Franz von Sickingen protected Hutten during this period. Hutten refused to recant his writings and became an open enemy of the papacy. When his writings were printed in German in 1521 in the form of Dialogues, they greatly expanded his audience. He continued to promote German greatness and mobilization against Roman tyranny, but his political aspirations proved unrealistic. His pamphleteering on behalf of the em­pire aided in supporting Habsburg dynastic ambitions but failed to motivate people to action.
Hutten eventually attached his cause to that of Martin Luther. He did not understand Luther's spiritual arguments but fully appreciated his displeasure with the church. Hutten included in his polemics programs for church reform, but his last hope of encouraging a political movement ended after the close of the Diet of Worms in 1521. The various German leaders returned to their homes without heeding Hutten's call to arms against papal tyranny.
Support for Hutten waned as it became evident to many Germans that he only promoted the resurgence of his own class, and that he possessed no realistic political agenda. In Expostulation (1522) Hutten turned against his former idol, Erasmus, claiming that he was too inactive in the struggle against the papacy, and he attacked those German princes and cities that resisted the Reformation. Hutten remained under the protection of Sickingen until his defeat in battle in 1523, and Huldrych Zwingli* subsequently gave him asylum in Switzerland. Hutten's battle with syphilis ended in 1523 when he died at age thirty-five on an island in Lake Zurich.
Hutten produced numerous polemics against papal tyranny and proudly sup­ported his German heritage. Contemporaries viewed him as an equal to Erasmus, Celtis, and Luther, but due to the unrealistic nature of his political programs, he did not command the following of an Erasmus or a Luther. Both influential leaders admired Hutten's poetry and polemics but ultimately differed over his political and religious agenda. Hutten was most successful as a humanist patriot espousing the greatness of the German empire for the holy Roman emperor in contrast to the unabated tyranny of the papacy.
H. Holborn, Ulrich von Hutten and the German Reformation, 1937.
K. Stadtwald, Roman Popes and German Patriots, 1996.
H. Watanabe-O'Kelly, ed., The Cambridge History of German Literature, 1997.
Paul Miller

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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