THE MINSTREL KNIGHTS
THE Minnesingers (love-poets) of Germany are said to have begun their career under Frederick Barbarossa, in the last half of the twelfth century. But the first of their number, Henry of Veldig, is the author of a poem lamenting the decadence of the Minnesinger's art; so we are forced to consider its real origin as of an earlier date.
The Minnesingers were minstrel knights, such as Wagner pictured in his opera "Tannhäuser." There is said to have been an actual tournament of song on the Wartburg, as in Wagner's opera; and the names that he used were real. The Suabian Court was the centre of the Minnesinger's art, and the Suabian language was used, though the minstrel poets came from all parts of the empire. So highly was their position rated that nobles and princes were proud to be known as Minnesingers.
As may be judged from the name, many of the poems of these knightly minstrels were love-songs. Some of them were ideal in their purity of sentiment, while others were less lofty in style. Examples of the former class are found in the works of Henry of Meissen, considered the last of the Minnesingers. He became so noted for his homage to the nobler qualities of womanhood that he was given the name of "Frauenlob," or "Praise-of-Women"; and when his funeral took place, numbers of high-born ladies followed to his open grave, and each cast a flower into it until it was overflowing with blossoms.
In their more personal love-songs, the Germans did not usually go to the same lengths as the more ardent Troubadours of France. Yet there must have been some degree of amorous adventure, and the latter is reflected in the so-called Wachtlieder (watch-songs). In these a knight may plead with a watchman for secret admittance to a castle; or the watchman may warn the knight of impending danger or discovery.
Such songs were all set to music, and sung by the knights, who would accompany themselves on a small harp.