Essays, Medieval Sources, The Ludwigslied
Leave a comment

An Introduction to the Ludwigslied

This is part 1 of the Ludwigslied series. See part 2 here, part 3 is forthcoming.

Introduction to the Poem

The Ludwigslied is a poem, sometimes called a battle song, about the clash between the Franks and the Northmen at Saucourt in 881. How do we know this exactly? Because the Frankish medieval chronicles also mention the battle.1 Moreover, the poem starts with the sentence: “I know a king, Ludwig is his name” (l. 1). The name Ludwig is the German translation of Louis. And the history books tell us Louis III was king of the West Franks who battled the Vikings at Saucourt.2

The song has 59 lines and is fairly short compared to similar battle poems such as Brunanburh (73 lines) and Maldon (375 lines).3 But, curiously, the Ludwigslied lacks interesting details about the battle, and has a very dominant Christian theme and moral.

Three weeks ago, I happily wrapped up my research and wanted to quickly edit and publish this post. That was not to happen. Since then, I’ve rewritten this post eight times and reached a different conclusion each time. Upon reading and rereading the poem, I found myself more and more second-guessing the scribe’s meaning. And the more I learned about the context, the more I wondered.

So, here are my findings. This first part will deal with the provenance of the manuscript, and a brief description of the manuscript itself.

A Backward Chronology

The Ludwigslied is part of Ms. 150 of the Valenciennes public library. And thanks to various scholarly articles and the Wayback Machine,4 we know a bit about how it ended up there.

The earliest known fact, is that the manuscript appears in an inventory list of the abbey of St-Amand-Les-Eaux (Elno) in the mid-twelfth century.5 But where it was written remains food for thought in part two of this post.

Abbey of St-Amand-Les-Eaux by Antoine Aveline (vers 1710) (Source: Wikipedia)

Seventeenth Century

Did it stay in St-Amand all the time? Perhaps. But there are also several centuries unaccounted for. From the findings of Heinrich Hoffman von Fallersleben,6 we learn about a transcript of the poem. This transcript is made by Dom Jean Mabillon in the late seventeenth century. Mabillon is a monk, but also a highly regarded scholar and considered an authority on the authentication of ancient texts.7

This transcript comes into the hands of Johannes Schilter via a middle man called Von Eyben. Schilter prepares a text edition but has concerns about the quality of the transcript. He writes a careful letter to Mabillon, asking if errors might have occurred when he copied the text. By that time, Mabillon no longer lives in the abbey and has moved to Paris. He takes about a year to respond that he can not access the original manuscript. It is still in the abbey and he includes a letter from the abbey’s librarian who hints to chaos there after an earthquake.

Schilter publishes his edition in the end and gives the poem the title we now use: Ludwigslied. Note that some online sources state that Jacob Grimm gave the poem its name. Grimm indeed prepared a text edition, but he used Schilter’s version and thus it is not likely the title is his idea!

Nineteenth Century

After more than a century, a man called Docen makes a new edition in 1813 that is never published. This edition is based on Mabillon’s transcript, not Schilter’s.

Heinrich Hoffmann (Source: Wikipedia).

By 1830, Hoffman publishes both Schilter and Docen’s versions in his Fundgruben für Geschichte deutscher Sprache und Litteratur. But he remains curious about the lost manuscript. During his search, he ends up at the public library of Valenciennes and finds the remaining inventory of the abbey that moved there during the French Revolution. Hoffman wastes no time. In 1837 he publishes a new edition based on the original manuscript.8

For any manuscript at St-Amand to survive seems incredible if one considers the number of destructions the abbey has seen since its foundation in the seventh century.9

Manuscript 150, Valenciennes / F 112, Abbaye St-Amand

After finding Hoffman’s editions online, my geekiness is further satisfied with the discovery of the online version of the manuscript at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.10

Have a look and see what I see: the text is 143 ff. long and written on parchment. It is not illuminated, apart from a few frills. More likely, this manuscript is prepared for regular use in the abbey.11 Experts (Hoffman being the earliest among them) date it back to the ninth century. From the different handwritings, it is clear that several scribes have helped to produce the manuscript.

The first text, from 3v-140v, contains sermons of Gregory of Nazianzus in Latin by Tyrannius Rufinus (Rufin d’Aquilée) who lived in the fourth century. Which means, by the way, that a scribe in the ninth century copied them from an earlier source (that has perhaps been lost, or simply not studied yet? I did not go down this side-road in my research).

A different handwriting continues under the capitals on 140v. The hagiography of Saint Eulalia starts on 141v. It is written in Old French, or more precisely, the Old Picard dialect spoken in West Francia.12 On 141v, the same hand continues with the Ludwigslied in Old High German, or more precisely, the Rhine Franconian dialect13 spoken in Lotharingia.14 After the poem, another hand continues in Latin.

Part Two

In the next part, I’ll outline the problems with the poem as mentioned in the introduction above! Stay tuned, and share your ideas about the poem’s provenance in the comments below!


  1. For example, the Annals of Fulda, St. Vaast, and St. Bertin. Annals of Fulda. Translated and annotated by Timothy Reuter (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992). The Annals of Saint–Bertin. Translated and annotated by Janet L. Nelson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991). Luit van der Tuuk, ‘Annales Vedastini (De Annalen van Sint–Vaast),’ Gjallar. Last Accessed 17 January 2020.  ↩
  2. Jake Coen, ‘Ludwigslied,’ Medieval Studies Research Blog | University of Notre Dame. Last Accessed 12 January 2020. ‘The Lay of Ludwig.’ Trans. Hannah Frakes. Global Medieval Sourcebook.–ludwig. Last Accessed 15 January 2020.  ↩
  3. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘ The Battle of Brunanburh,’ Encyclopædia Britannica. Published 12 February 2017. Last Accessed 29 January 2020.–Battle–of–Brunanburh. Ing2011, ‘The Battle of Maldon,’ The Viking Age Archive. Published 02 July 2017. Last Accessed 29 January 2020.–battle–of–maldon/.  ↩
  4. See for example: Marie–Pierre Dion, ‘Le Rithmus Teutonicus,’ Les Manuscript Valenciennes. Last Accessed 20 January 2020. Waybackmachine:– Wolfgang Haubrichs, ‘Pragmatic and Cultural Conditions of Vernacular Literacy in Carolingian Times.’ In: Anfangsgeschichten / Origin Stories: Der Beginn volkssprachiger Schriftlichkeit in komparatistischer Perspektive / The Rise of the Vernacular Literacy in a Comparative Perspective. Edited by Norbert Kössinger, Elke Krotz, Stephan Müller, Pavlína Rychterová (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2018). Roger Berger and Annette Brasseur, Les Séquences de Sainte Eulalie. (Genève: Librarie Droz, 2004).  ↩
  5. Roger Berger and Annette Brasseur (2004), pp. 46.  ↩
  6. The summary below is based on: Heinrich August Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Fundgruben für Geschichte deutscher Sprache und Litteratur. (Grass: Breslau, 1830), pp. 4–9.  ↩
  7. Donald D. Sullivan, ‘Maurists,’ In: Encyclopedia of Monasticism, edited by William M. Johnston and Christopher Kleinhenz. (Abingdon/New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 838 [pp. 837–838].  ↩
  8. Heinrich August Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Elnonensia: Monument des Language Romane et Tudesque dans le IXe siècle contenus dans un manuscrit de l’Abbaye de St.–Amand, conservé à la Bibliothèque publique de Valenciennes avec une traduction et des remarques par J. F. Willems (Gand, 1837), pp. 3–4, 9–13.  ↩
  9. ‘St–Amand–Les–Eaux,’ FranceNord.mag Site Archive 2000–2017. Last Accessed 02 February 2020.  ↩
  10. ‘Valenciennes. Bibliothèque municipale | Ms. 150,’ Biblissima Last Accessed 01 February 2020. ‘Manuscrits de la Bibliothèque de Valenciennes,’ Bibliotheque Nationale de France Last Accessed 01 Feburary 2020. ‘Gregorius Nazianzenus: Apologeticus et homiliae,’ Europeana Regia. Last Accessed 15 January 2020.  ↩
  11. Roger Berger and Annette Brasseur (2004), pp. 58.  ↩
  12. John Fought, ‘The ‘Medieval Sibilants’ of the Eulalia–Ludwigslied Manuscript and Their Development in Early Old French,’ in: Language, Volume 55.4 (1979), pp. 845 [pp. 842–858]. Roger Berger and Annette Brasseur (2004), pp. 58.  ↩
  13. See the transcript of the poem on Bibliotheca Augustana by the Fachhochschule of Augsburg (by Prof. em. Ulrich Harsch). https://www.hs–  ↩
  14. Kenneth Barkin, John Michael Wallace–Hadrill et al, ‘Germany,’ Encyclopaedia Britannica Published 08 January 2020. Last Accessed 12 January 2020. Roger Berger and Annette Brasseur (2004), pp. 59.  ↩

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.