Duke Albrecht III founding the Collegium ducale, the first purpose-built university building
Mark Chinca


Historical context. The destruction of Vienna was an ongoing event in the second half of the fourteenth century, no less than the city’s regeneration. For three decades after the Black Death, which struck in spring 1349, there were periodic outbreaks of epidemic, fire and crop failure, some with devastating consequences for the inhabitants and material fabric of the city. A policy of urban development had been pursued by the Habsburg Dukes of Austria even before the Black Death; renewal and regeneration were prosecuted with particular energy, however, during the reign of Rudolf IV (1358-1365), who aimed to build up Vienna as a princely residence and centre of culture and learning to rival Prague.

Vienna’s literary culture (not necessarily the same thing as literary production) is most palpable in the settings of the ducal (after 1358/59: archducal) court and the new university, founded by Rudolf IV in 1364. It is therefore intimately connected with the centrally directed policy of urban regeneration and dynastic status-seeking.

The court as literary centre. Rudolf IV and his successors Albrecht III (r. 1365-1395) and Leopold III (r. 1365-1386) figure as dedicatees and recipients of works written outside Vienna (e.g. Konrad von Megenburg, new recension of Buch von den natürlichen Dingen; Heinrich von Mügeln, second Hungarian Chronicle; Johannes von Neumarkt, presented Albrecht with illustrated codex of the Hieronymus-Briefe). In some cases these dedications and presentations reflect already existing connections with Vienna and the Habsburg dynasty (Konrad von Megenburg was rector of St Stephan’s school, the forerunner of the university, 1342-1348), in others they document an external perception of the Habsburg rulers as patrons of the arts whose favour it was worth cultivating. The most important author active at the court was Peter Suchenwirt, resident in Vienna from 1377, though his relationship with ducal circles evidently extended back to the time of Albrecht II (r. 1330-1358): heraldic and allegorical panegyrics for deceased courtiers and rulers form his most significant body of work.


The university. Modelled on the Sorbonne and Cracow, and intended by Archduke Rudolf to rival his father-in-law Charles IV’s foundation at Prague, the university only really took off from 1384, when Pope Urban VI permitted a theology faculty to be established; it attracted scholars from the Sorbonne who refused allegiance to the Avignon papacy. This influx laid the basis for “Vienna school of pastoral theology” which came into its own in the atmosphere of reform following the Council of Constance. Principal authors and works before 1418: Heinrich von Langenstein (one of the Sorbonne refugees; Erkenntnis der Sünde, before 1393, catechetical handbook on penance and deadly sins based on Raymond of Peñafort and William Peraldus) and his pupil Nikolaus von Dinkelsbühl (sermons, still avidly read in the fifteenth century according to Enea Silvio Piccolomini).

The town. It is difficult to identify a literary scene here independent of the court and the university. Heinrich der Teichner may have been writing in Vienna between 1350 and 1365; since there is no evidence to link this self-styled “simple layman” (schlechter lay) with the court, it is likely that his sermon-like didactic verses, which range across religious, moral and social themes, were intended for a bourgeois public.