Kudrun or Gudrun Lied was arguably the second greatest German epic in the Middle Age, after the Nibelungenlied. It was written in Middle High German verse, probably between 1220 and 1250.
The first part of the story is concern with Hagen, the grandfather of the heroine Kudrun or Gudrun. After Kudrun is born, the poem then centred on the heroine herself.
Please note that the epic Gudrun Lied or Kudrun is a totally independent tale to the Nibelungenlied and Volsunga Saga, because it has different themes. It has nothing to do with the Nibelungs, Attila (Atli or Etzel) and cursed treasure.
Despite that the poem has similar names, such as Kudrun or Gudrun, Hagen and Siegfried, this poem doesn’t belong to the Nibelungen cycle (eg. Nibelungenlied and Volsunga Saga). So please don’t confuse the heroes and heroines in this tale with those from the Norse saga and other German epics. I had used the name Kudrun to avoid confusion with the Norse heroine Gudrun in the Volsunga Saga.
In Ireland, there was a king, named Siegebart, the son of Ger and Ute or Uote. Siegebart married the daughter of the King of Norway (she was unnamed in the poem) from Friedescotten. She bore a son to the king; the boy’s name was Hagen.
Hagen was playing outside, when a griffin snatched the boy from his horrified parents. The poem had only described the griffin as a gigantic bird, not the mythical creature that we know of as having the head and wings of an eagle and the body of lion. The griffin flew to some hills on a remote island.
Apparently, the old bird was going to feed him to the young griffins. As the young chicks quarrel over the frightened boy, Hagen escaped when he fell out of the nest. Hagen was hungry and frightened, as he tried to hide from the mother griffin.
Finally, Hagen found shelter in a cave, where he found three equally frightened damsels. These maidens were also taken by the old griffin, but managed to escape. Hagen complained that he was hungry, but there was not much food, since they were frightened that the griffin would carry them off again as food to the young griffins. Mainly they offered roots gathered outside the cave to eat.
It seemed that Hagen had stayed with girls for several years. To avoid the griffin, they would only gather only food under the cover of the trees.
One day, a ship was wrecked in the storm and all on board had drowned. The griffin carried off most of the dead sailors to feed its young chicks.
Hagen immediately went to investigate the wreck after the bird left with some bodies. Hoping to find food among the debris, he found a dead warrior, who wore armour and had some weapons. Hagen armed himself and would have return to the cave, but the old bird returned.
Hagen discovered that arrows he had fired against the griffin, bounced off harmlessly. So the youth faced the hungry griffin with a sword. Young as he was, Hagen displayed a great physical strength as he cut off the diving griffin’s wing, before despatching the monster.
Other young griffins then attacked the boy, but Hagen slew all of the filthy creatures with his sword. Hagen returned to the cave with the news that all the griffins had been killed.
They left the cave to find a way to leave the island. With a bow and arrows, Hagen was able to hunt game creatures, so there were no needs to feed on roots. Yet they were all weary by the time a ship arrived.
The ship belonged to the count of Garadie, who was current at war with Ireland. The count allowed the damsels and youth aboard his ship.
Here, we discovered that all three girls were princesses from three different lands. The eldest girl came from India, the middle girl from Portugal and the youngest from Iserland.
Upon discovering the identity of the boy, the count decided to hold them to ransom, since Hagen was the son of his enemy. Hagen promised that he would try to persuade his father to make peace with Garadie, if the count returned him home. The count refused to listen and ordered his men to throw him in the cell on the ship.
In a rage, Hagen fought off the count’s warriors, with great strength and speed, throwing them all overboard. Drawing his sword, Hagen would have killed the count. The three girls persuaded the angry boy from this.
The count fearing the dangerous youth, decided that it was best to send them home. So he ordered his ship to sail for Ireland. Upon arriving in Ireland, the count sent twelve men as envoy with the news of their son’s return.
At first, Siegebart and Uote refused to believe that their son had escaped from the griffin, until one of the men described the golden cross that Hagen bears. The parents rushed to the ship where they recognised their son. Siegebart and his wife warmly welcomed the three ladies to their home.
Hagen persuaded his father to end the war between Ireland and Garadie since the count had rescued him and returned him safely home. Siegebart agreed.
At home, Hagen had received all the education and training of a prince and a knight. Hagen had grown into a brave, strong and handsome young man. The three ladies stayed and lived in Siegebant’s court. All three girls grew into very beautiful women. The eldest girl from India was the fairest of the three. Hagen had fallen in love with the eldest princess, as he grew older.
Upon becoming a knight, Hagen married the Indian lady. Siegebant decided to abdicate in favour of his son. So Hagen became the new king of Ireland. We learned that his bride’s name was Hilde or Hilda.
As Hagen and Hilde ruled Ireland, his wife bore him a daughter who was also named Hilde. The younger Hilde grew into a lovely young princess where many suitors, from all over Europe, wanted to woo her. Hagen refused all suitors, and those who persisted were either killed or driven out of his kingdom.
Hetel, the king of the Hegelings from Denmark, had also heard of Hilde the Younger’s great beauty. Hetel decided to send an envoy to win her hand. Among the envoy were his trusted warrior Wate and his minstrel Horant.
In Hagen’s court, Horant’s beautiful song persuaded Hilde to consider Hetel as a suitable husband. Knowing of her father’s animosity towards all suitors, she agreed to meet Wate and Horant at their ships.
The next day, Hilde the Younger was accompanied by her companions, ladies-in-waiting. When they arrived at the Hegeling’s ships, the Hegelings immediately bundle Hilde and her companions on the ships and sailed off.
Hagen outraged at his guests’ betrayal, gathered his warriors and sailed after his daughter. A lengthily battle was fought between the Irish and the Danes, where Hagen wounded Hetel. Wate came to his king’s rescue and fought Hagen.
Seeing that her father getting the worse of the combat against Wate, Hilde pleaded that if the king really loves her, he should end the conflict with her father. For his love for her, Hetel pull back his warriors with his proposal of peace with Hilde’s father.
Hagen agreed. And seeing his enemy was wise and brave, Hagen accepted Hetel as his daughter’s husband.
Hilde the Younger married Hetel. She became the queen of Denmark and the mother of a son, named Ortwin and a daughter called Kudrun.
Kudrun’s beauty was even greater than that of her mother Hilde and her grandmother Hilde the Elder. Suitors from powerful kingdoms tried to woo the young Kudrun. Among them was Moorish king, Siegfried, not to be confused with the hero of the Nibelungenlied. There was also Hartmut, the king of Normandy and the son of Ludwig and Gerlint; and Herwig, the king of Zealand.
Like his father-in-law Hagen, Hetel had to deter her eager suitors. Hetel first rebutted Siegfried (probably because he was a heathen), who became angry enough to cause trouble later on.
Hartmut and Herwig had also presented themselves before Hetel, and each got a similar reply from Hetel.
Herwig, who was bolder of the two, decided to press the issue and a battle was fought between Hetel and Herwig. Seeing how strong and valiant Herwig was in battle, Hetel decided to end the conflict with the younger man. Hetel accepted the king of Zealand as the most likely candidate to marry his daughter.
However, Siegfried became embroil in the war against Herwig, because of Hetel’s approval. Kudrun persuaded her father to aid Herwig in the war against the Moors.
During his father’s absence, Hartmut once again tried to press his claim over Kudrun. Obviously Kudrun preferred Herwig to Hartmut, because she wanted to marry Herwig. So Hartmut carried Kudrun off, heading back to his kingdom.
When Hetel heard of his daughter’s abduction, he set out in pursuit. But in the battle at Wulpensand, against the Normans, Ludwig, Hartmut’s father, killed Hetel and the Hegelings were defeated.
Wate brought back the survivors with the news that Hetel had been killed. Hilde the Younger grieved over the death of her husband and the abduction of her daughter.
Hartmut brought Kudrun to Normandy, where he tried to persuade her to marry him. Hartmut’s mother, Queen Gerlint, decided to break the younger woman’s resistance.
Instead of being treated civilly and with respect due to royal prisoner, Gerlint and Hartmut’s other relatives treated her no better than a servant. Kudrun was forced to wash clothes like a servant. The Queen even had Kudrun tied to the bedpost, where she was beaten with the besom.
For a number of years, Kudrun lived in misery, suffering from the cruel and abusive treatments of Gerlint. Yet, Kudrun had steadfastly refused to marry Gerlint’s son.
Finally, Herwig arrived in the court of Hegelings and had learned that Hartmut had abducted his betrothed. Hilde organised an army to rescue her daughter, sending Herwig along with her son, Ortwin.
Kudrun was washing clothes on the beach when she saw the arrival of ships filled with warriors. Kudrun instantly knew that she would be rescued.
There was another great battle, where Herwig slew Ludwig, Gerlint’s husband. The younger knight severed Ludwig head from his shoulders. Hartmut was taken captive.
Seeing that the battle was lost and that her enemies had taken the castle, Queen Gerlint fled to Kudrun’s chamber and pleaded that her life would be spared. Reluctantly, Kudrun agreed. But Wate, the faithful warrior and chamberlain of her father, was angry at the cruel and shameful treatment of Kudrun. Wate dragged the distressed Queen from the chamber, by her hair. With his sword, Wate beheaded the queen, despite Kudrun’s plea for mercy to her tormentor.
Kudrun was reunited with Herwig, and they sailed home, taking Hartmut as prisoner. There was a joyous reunion between mother and daughter.
Later, Herwig and Kudrun were married. The poem ended with not only that Hartmut’s life was spared, he was granted pardon, where he was allowed to return to his kingdom.