A historically significant abbey in scenic surroundings

Hirsau Monastery

Portrait of Duke Ulrich von Württemberg, oil painting by unknown artist. Image: Wikipedia, in the public domain
THE FIRST PROTESTANT PRINCE

ULRICH VON

WÜRTTEMBERG

Ulrich von Württemberg (1487–1550) is undoubtedly one of the most prominent, but also most controversial figures in Württemberg's history. His fate is closely tied to that of his duchy, which he temporarily lost. He brought the Reformation to Württemberg and dissolved the Hirsau Monastery.

Duke Ulrich von Württemberg, woodcut by Hans Brosamer. Image: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Robert Bothner

He trusted no one around him.

WHAT WAS ULRICH'S CHILDHOOD LIKE?

Ulrich had an unhappy childhood. His mother, Countess Elisabeth von Zweibrücken-Bitsch, died shortly after his birth. His father, Heinrich von Württemberg, was alleged to be mentally ill and was imprisoned at Hohenurach Castle from 1490 until his death. Ulrich's guardians, as representatives of his position, operated in his political interests but made no effort to raise the child. As an adult, Ulrich was mistrustful, quick-tempered and inconsiderate.

Portrait of Duchess Sabina von Bayern, circa 1530. Image: Wikipedia, in the public domain

Sabina von Bayern came from a powerful family.

WHAT KIND OF RULER WAS WILHELM VON WÜRTTEMBERG?

Emperor Maximilian I named Wilhelm Duke of Württemberg at the young age of 11. Simultaneously, the emperor arranged a politically calculated marriage to his niece Sabina von Bayern. Ulrich's feudal lifestyle and frequent military campaigns required enormous sums of money. In order to fund further campaigns, he levied new taxes. The poor were particularly affected, and they voiced their dissatisfaction in the "Poor Conrad" uprising of 1514. Together with the wealthiest citizens of the state, Ulrich crushed the peasant riot.

HOW DID ULRICH LOSE HIS DUCHY?

Ulrich's marriage to Sabina von Bayern was full of drama: strife, violence and scandal were a matter of course. Ulrich had affairs and murdered his lover's husband out of jealousy. This resulted in Sabina fleeing and taking a position against him. Her uncle, Emperor Maximilian I, declared an imperial ban on Ulrich. In 1519, when the fractious duke raided the imperial city of Reutlingen, he was exiled. He fled to Mömpelgard, while his duchy fell to the House of Habsburg. Ulrich did not return until 1534, made possible with the support of Philipp I von Hessen, one of the most influential Protestant princes in the empire.

Ulrich von Württemberg murdering Hans von Hutten, copper engraving. Image: Wikipedia, in the public domain
Coat of arms for the Duchy of Württemberg at the Old Castle Stuttgart. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Steffen Hauswirth
County of Mömpelgard, estate registry by Heinrich Schickhardt. Image: Wikipedia, in the public domain

The ban resulted in the temporary loss of his duchy and his flight to Mömpelgard.

Duke Ulrich von Württemberg, woodcut by Hans Brosamer, circa 1540. Image: Wikipedia, in the public domain

Ulrich returned to power with a new faith.

WHY DID ULRICH BECOME A PROTESTANT?

In 1525, while in exile at Hohentwiel Fortress, Ulrich joined the "evangelical brotherhood" surrounding peasant leader Hans von Bulgenbach. Whether Ulrich had hoped that, in doing so, he would be able to mobilize mercenaries from the Peasants' War for his own causes, or whether he had undergone actual spiritual reform, remains a mystery. After Ulrich returned to Württemberg in 1534, however, he converted his duchy into one of the first Protestant territories in the Holy Roman Empire.

Ulrich's grave in the collegiate church in Tübingen. Image: Wikipedia, in the public domain

Württemberg modernized under Ulrich's rule.

WHAT DID ULRICH DO AFTER HIS RETURN?

The duke brought the Reformation to Württemberg. Hirsau and other monasteries were dissolved, church property and revenues were absorbed into state property. A new church constitution took effect in 1536. In the same year, Württemberg joined the Protestant Schmalkaldic League against Emperor Karl V. The Reformation modernized the duchy and pivotal changes were made in education. Ulrich died in 1550, and is buried in the collegiate church in Tübingen.

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