PhD defence Irmgard Fuchs: Medieval tales of Reynaert the Fox fiercely criticised the court

Reynaert de Vos in een kinderboek uit 1869. Via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

On 10 February, Irmgard Fuchs will defend her thesis ‘Konzepte von Ehre und Treue in der mittelalterlichen deutschen und niederländischen Tierepik’, in which she makes a thorough comparison between German and Dutch Reynaert traditions for the first time. Fuchs argues that the famous medieval stories about Reynart the Fox provided a constant and fierce criticism of rulers and courtiers who put their self-interest above the common good.

Honour and loyalty

Fuchs compared two narrative traditions from the Germanic animal epic: the short-lived German tradition consisting only of ‘Reinhart Fuchs’ (twelfth century) and the long-lasting and influential Dutch tradition starting in the thirteenth century with ‘Van den vos Reynaerde’ and continuing in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with ‘Reynaerts historie’.

In her comparison, Fuchs focuses on honour and loyalty – two categories that played a central role in the feudal relationship between a king and his servants in the Middle Ages. An ideal servant is benevolent to his lord and performs loyal services that allow his lord to obtain honour.

Medieval animal epics as criticism

Fuchs shows that the court criticism is very similar in all three stories, even though they discuss the courtly ideal very differently. First, the criticism focuses on kings and servants in high positions of power, Fuchs writes. They consider their own needs more important than the common good of the community and strive for personal honour (such as rule, property, wealth or benefits).

Second, the criticism focuses on the feudal relationship. While feudalism is supposed to be stabilising and provide security, complacent rulers and disloyal servants abuse it to benefit themselves – to the detriment of the community as a whole.

Start date and time
End date and time
Hybrid: online (click here) and at the Utrecht University Hall
PhD candidate
Irmgard Fuchs
Konzepte von Ehre und Treue in der mittelalterlichen deutschen und niederländischen Tierepik
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. S. Köbele
Prof. P.W.M. Wackers