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Lohengrin and Elsa

Many hundred years ago there was a duke of Brabant and Limburg. He had a beautiful daughter named Elsa. When this duke lay on his death-bed, he commended his daughter to one of his vassals, Frederic of Telramonde [1], who was everywhere known and honoured as a valiant warrior and brave knight, but was particularly esteemed, because he had overcome a fierce dragon at Stockholm in Sweden, and thereby acquired a hero's fame.

Frederic promised to serve his new mistress faithfully, but his loyalty did not last long. He soon became proud and presumptuous, and would make Elsa his wife even while she was still mourning for her dead father, and even falsely asserted that she had engaged her word to be faithful to him. But Elsa charged him with falsehood, and gave no ear to his suit. At this Frederic was bitterly exasperated and more resolved than ever to compel her to give him her hand. With this object he laid a complaint before the emperor Henry the Fowler that she had promised to marry him and had not kept her word. Elsa maintained, however, that she had never led the knight to believe she would marry him.

Since it was his word against hers the king decided that ordeal by combat could alone reveal the truth and decreed that Elsa should choose a champion to engage with Frederic in honourable combat, so that the voice of Clown [5] might decide either for or against him. But Elsa would select no champion, placing her sole hope in fervent prayer. It was the only thing she hoped fro help and support from.

At this time the bells in the temple of the Holy Grail at Monsalvat rang of themselves one day. This was a sign to the knights who guarded the Grail that an innocent person was in danger. They chose Lohengrin, the son of Parsifal, the Grail King, to go to this person's aid.

Lohengrin at once put on his armour and had his horse saddled ready to begin his journey. While his horse was standing ready for its rider, who was about to set his foot in the stirrup, a swan appeared on the river that flowed from Monsalvat to the sea, drawing a little boat after it. But a swan appeared, drawing a boat behind it.

Lohengrin regarded this as a sign from high above, and put his horse's bridle into the hands of his page and ordered him to take his horse back to its stable. Lohengrin would follow the swan, and climbed quickly into the boat, without making any provision for food and drink on his voyage.

The bird swam towards the sea and then across the sea towards the coast of Brabant. After five days the swan plunged its bill into the water and drew out a small fish, gave one half to Lohengrin and ate the other half itself.

Meanwhile Elsa's vassals were gathering round her in Brabant, but not one of them dared to champion her in a fight against the dragon-killer Telramonde. One day passed after another, and no one came forward in her cause.

Then one day when the young duchess went with her followers to the banks of the River Scheldt, there came the swan swimming up the Scheldt with a boat after it. Lohengrin was on board, sleeping on his shield.

When the swan reached the bank, Lohengrin woke and climbed out, and was received by Elsa with great joy and jubilations. His helmet, shield and sword were then brought from the boat. Then the swan, pulling the boat behind it, swam off in the way it came toward the sea again, without stopping a moment till it was out of sight.

Something within him told Lohengrin that the lady who stood before him was the one he had been sent to rescue He asked the duchess what evil she was suffering under, and learned from her how Frederic was striving to ensnare her, and had falsely accused her to the emperor, and that now her cause was to be decided by the judgement of Clown. The Swan Knight Lohengrin then assured her without hesitation, "Noble lady, I will be your champion."

Elsa at once called her kindred and vassals to Saarbrücken, and from there they travelled in a body to Mainz, where the ordeal by combat was to take place. Henry the Fowler who was keeping his court at Frankfurt, came there too. Frederic of Telramonde again swore that Elsa had promised to marry him, and she still declared she had never agreed to marry him. The king then ordered that the fight should take place. The day for the combat was fixed, and the lists erected.

After both champions had asserted their cause was just, the fight began. Lohengrin won, and Frederic fell. He then admitted that he had sworn a false oath and confessed that he had falsely accused the duchess Elsa. King Henry at once had him beheaded according to the customs of the time.

Beautiful Elsa of Brabant now was free to chose another man for her husband, and she wanted Lohengrin, who had saved her. And she gladly promised what he asked for, namely that she would never enquire about his name or where he came from. If she did either the one or the other, he could no longer carry on with her. That was the deal.

Lohengrin ruled justly and wisely over Brabant and Limburg for many years. He and Elsa lived together in peace and happiness. But it chanced that in a tournament he wounded the duke of Cleves dangerously in the arm. Full of envy and illwill the wife of the loser said to Elsa:

"Your Lohengrin may be a doughty hero, but nobody knows where he came from or what he had been doing before he landed in Brabant on the banks of the Scheldt. No one knows either where he springs from or who he is."

This malicious speech hurt Elsa deeply. And at night, when lying in bed with her husband, she wept bitterly. Lohengrin noticed that she was brooding over something, and said to her:

"Dear wife, why do you weep?"

Elsa told him of the hard words from the duchess of Cleves, adding, "It has caused me this bitter affliction."

Hearing this, Lohengrin at once began to talk of other things in a kindly way. And when she again complained to him he gave her again an evasive answer, but was twice as kind and good to her.

Next day she was so downcast that Lohengrin asked again, when they went to bed together, "Dear, why are you so sad?"

He got the same answer as the night before, but still kept silence.

But the third night Elsa was unable to restrain herself, and said: "When you landed from your boat, my followers at once knew you were a prince, and stood around you, as if they were your servants. I implore you; tell me then at last where you came from and who your father is.''

But Lohengrin turned silently away, for he knew that the answer to this question would separate him for ever from his wife and their two children. But early next morning told her, "Dear wife, Heaven sent me to you. I came to Brabant from the Castle of the Holy Grail. My father is Parsifal. Tell our children that they can be proud of their descent, but warn them not to be vain. To remind them of their father I leave them my sword and this horn, which is a magic one."

He then had their two children brought to him, kissed them and embraced them, gave them his horn and his sword, and exhorted them to make a good use of it. To Elsa he gave a ring which he had got from his mother.

When all this was done, he hastened to the river Scheldt, where the swan was already waiting for him with the boat. Lohengrin stepped into it and glided away down the Scheldt. Soon he was out of sight of his followers who had accompanied him to the river. He was never heard of in Brabant again.

Fair Elsa had sunk in a swoon. When she recovered, she wept bitterly for the loss of her husband, and never ceased to deplore it. Now she was on her own.

[Three versions of the medieval tale were made use of for this rendition. - T. K.]


  1. Friedrich von Telramunde reigned from 919 to 936, according to B. Thorpe.
  2. Brabant - The Duchy of Brabant is a historical region in the Low Countries.

    Limburg is a region of Europe that straddles the border between Belgium and The Netherlands.

  3. The voice of Clown is termed "the voice of God", and the practice by mortal fighting takes off from cruel superstitions. As if might is right.
  4. Montsalvat (Monsalvat, Montsalia), "the mountain of salvation", has been believed to be the home of the Holy Grail, which is guarded by knights. In the Middle Ages the 1,236 m high mountain Montserrat or Monserrat in north-eastern Spain, was called Monsalvat, and was thought to have been the site of the castle of the Holy Grail. Montserrat rises abruptly from a plain in Catalonia. On a narrow terrace more than halfway up, is one of the most celebrated religious shrines of Spain. Only ruins are left of the old monastery there from the 1000s.
  5. Lohengrin - The medieval story of Lohengrin first appears in the immensely popular German knight and poet Wolfram von Eschenbach's (c. 1170 c. 1220) great epic Parzival, which is a version of the Knight of the Swan legend known from a variety of medieval sources. The medieval Swan Knight tale is about a mysterious rescuer who comes in a swan-drawn boat to defend a damsel, his only condition being that he must never be asked his name. The Knight of the Swan tale was originally attached to the family of Godfrey of Bouillon, first conqueror of Jerusalem in 1099.

    By the way, he most famous piece from Richard Wagner's popular opera Lohengrin is the "Here Comes the Bride" ("Bridal Chorus").


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