The Germanic medieval folk epic Gudrun, sometimes called Kudrun, was probably written at the start of the thirteenth century and was likely based on earlier folk stories. The story takes place over the course of several generations and has many familiar themes that are interesting to folklorists and useful to storytellers.
Hagen and the Princesses
The tale begins with the story of Hagan, a king’s son who was carried off at seven years of age by a grifﬁn—a creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body and tail of a lion—that intended to feed the boy to its chicks. The boy escaped by falling out of the nest when the grifﬁn’s chicks were ﬁghting over their dinner.
Hungry and frantically dodging the mother grifﬁn, Hagen found shelter in a cave with three princesses who also had escaped the grifﬁn. The small group started home, foraging for food. They eventually came upon a ship that had been wrecked in a storm. Hagen investigated and discovered armor and a sword on the ship. With this, he killed all the grifﬁns.
A ship belonging to the Count of Garadie found the four young people and took them on board. The count had plans to hold the group for ransom. Furious, Hagen beat off the count’s warriors and threatened the count. He yielded and took Hagen and the princesses home.
Hagen was reunited with his parents, who also took the three princesses under their protection. Hagen’s father decided to abdicate, and Hagen, married to one of the princesses, Hilde (or Hilda), became king.
The daughter of Hagen and Hilde was also named Hilde. She grew into such a lovely young woman that Hagen literally had to ﬁght off all suitors, refusing to accept any of them for his daughter.
King Hetel heard of young Hilde’s beauty and sent an envoy to win her. In the envoy were his trusted minstrel, Horant, and his chief warrior, Wate. After hearing Horant’s song, Hilde agreed to meet Wate and Horant at their ship, and she was promptly carried off.
The outraged Hagen pursued Hetel and challenged him. Hilde pleaded with them to stop ﬁghting, and Hetel, in love with Hilde, lay down his arms. Hagen, impressed that Hetel had risked his life for love of Hilde, accepted Hetel as Hilde’s husband.
The Third Generation
The daughter of Hilde and Hetel, Hagen’s granddaughter, Gudrun, was even more beautiful than her mother and was wooed by many suitors. The primary suitors were King Herwig, King Hartmut, and the Moorish King Siegfried. Hetel refused all three, but Gudrun liked Herwig. A battle ensued between Hetel and Herwig, but when Hetel saw how brave and determined Herwig was, he accepted him as the one to claim Hilde’s hand.
Jealous Siegfried then attacked Herwig, but Hetel and his army came to Herwig’s aid. In Hetel’s absence, the third suitor, Hartmut, tried to win Gudrun, but she refused him. In spite of her protests, Hartmut carried her off. When Gudrun’s father learned of this, he set out in pursuit but was slain by Ludwig, Hartmut’s father.
Hartmut brought Gudrun home with him and tried to get her to marry him. His mother, Queen Gerlint, decided to break her spirit. Gudrun was treated like a lowly servant, beaten, and kept imprisoned. Yet she continued to refuse Hartmut’s advances.
Meanwhile, Herwig and the widowed Hilde organized an army and set out to rescue Gudrun. In a great battle, Herwig killed Ludwig, avenging Hetel. The terriﬁed Queen Gerlint, realizing that her foes had taken her castle, ﬂed toGudrun and begged for mercy. But Wate, Hetel’s true-hearted warrior, beheaded Gerlint.
Herwig and Gudrun were reunited, and he returned her safely back to her mother. Hartmut’s life was spared, and he ﬂed the country. In the end, Herwig and Gudrun were joyously married.