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The Song of Heinrich | De Heinrico

Introduction to the Text

De Heinrico (literally of Heinrich,” and here translated as The Song of Heinrich) is a tenth-century historical narrative poem which gives an account of an Emperor called Otto greeting a Duke called Heinrich and handing over most of his power to him, though retaining his title. There has been considerable scholarly debate over who exactly Otto and Heinrich are, given that there are so many noblemen of those names in this period in Germany. The most popular explanations are that the poem is about either (1) Otto I the Great and his brother Heinrich, who were reconciled in 941 CE, or (2) Otto III, who was a small child when Heinrich the Quarrelsome was reconciled with the court and became regent in 991 CE.

A further puzzle presents itself in line 14, where Otto greets Heinrich saying “Welcome Heinrich, both of you with the same name.” There is little scholarly consensus as to who the second Heinrich with the same name could be, with some scholars even suggesting this accepted translation is completely wrong. Both Otto and Heinrich are portrayed as humble Christians who do not covet power. 

The poem consists of eight stanzas, each with either three or four lines. The first half of each line is in Latin and the second half is in Old High German.

Introduction to the Source

The poem survives in only one source, commonly referred to as the Cambridge Songs Manuscript (Carmina Cantabrigiensia), which contains many examples of Goliardic Medieval poetry that is mostly in Latin but includes some French and German vernacular poems as well. The Goliards were young clergymen and university students who became poets and writers and were often critical of the church. Scholars have speculated that the Cambridge Songs Manuscript may have been a songbook for wandering minstrels, though it is more likely to have belonged to a court. The original was probably compiled in France before the Norman Conquest in 1066 CE and was copied before being lost or destroyed, with the surviving copy making its way to the church of St. Augustine at Canterbury and eventually to Cambridge University. A number of the songs and poems in the manuscript were set to music by Carl Orff (1895-1982) in his famous cantata Carmina Burana.

Further Reading

Bostock, John Knight, Kenneth Charles King, and D. R. McLintock. A Handbook on Old High German Literature. Clarendon Press, 1976.

Murdoch, Brian. Old High German Literature. Twayne Publishers, 1983.


Transcription by Hannah FrakesTranslation by Hannah FrakesEdited by Björn BuschbeckEncoded in TEI P5 XML by Hannah Frakes and Danny Smith

Suggested citation: Anonymous. "The Song of Heinrich." Global Medieval Sourcebook. Retrieved on May 28, 2022.