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Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (1633-1694)

Considered the poetic equal of any male poet by her contemporaries – most notably Sigmund von Birken (1626-81) – Greiffenberg is one of the most important German-language female poets of the early modern period. Her work is often deeply personal, frequently expressed in the form of an internal monologue. It focuses on the nature of the relationship between the believer and God, and is marked by a mystical use of imagery, as well as linguistic inventiveness.

Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg was born into an Austrian noble family at Castle Seyssenegg (now Seisenegg in Lower Austria). The family soon became Lutheran and experienced the anti-Protestant actions of the Habsburgs in Austria, which meant , for example, that the Protestant Austrian nobility had to make the long journey across the border to Nürnberg (Nuremberg) to attend church services. On the death of Greiffenberg’s father in 1640, her uncle, Hans Rudolf von Greiffenberg, was made her guardian and he also became her mentor and teacher. Greiffenberg’s education was extensive, and through her acquaintance with Johann Wilhelm von Stubenberg (1619-63), she became a member of the Pegnesischer Blumenorden (Pegnitz Order of Flowers), a language and literary society based in Nürnberg. As a result of her links with Stubenberg and with Order, Greiffenberg came to the attention of Sigmund von Birken, who was impressed by the quality of her poetry and encouraged her publication. In 1652 Hans Rudolf proposed marriage for the first time and in 1664 Greiffenberg finally agreed to marry him. They married in Bayreuth, since it was a union forbidden under Austrian law. Her first collection of poetry was published under the auspices of Hans Rudolf in 1662 and the following year Greiffenberg and her mother fled Austria for Nürnberg to escape the Turks. There followed many years of legal wrangling for Greiffenberg to gain possession of her inheritance, but in 1680 she finally moved to Nürnberg permanently. Collections of her poems were published in 1672, 1675, and 1678.


Auf meinen bestürmeten Lebens-Lauff; On my bestormed life path

Auf sein allerheiligstes Blutvergiessen; On his all-holiest shedding of blood

Auf die unverhinderliche Art der Edlen Dicht-Kunst; On the irrespressible character of noble poetic discourse

Please click on the above poem titles for further information.

General Studies

Ute Brandes, ‘Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (1633-1694) Austria/Germany’, in Elke P. Frederiksen and Elizabeth G. Ametsbichler (eds), Women Writers in German-Speaking Countries: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998), pp. 171-79

Albrecht Classen, The power of a woman’s voice in medieval and early modern literatures: new approaches to German and European women writers and to violence against women in premodern times (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2007)

Helene M. Kastinger Riley, ‘Protestant Clarion in the Habsburg Empire: Catharina von Greiffenberg’ in Katharina M. Wilson and Franke J. Warnke (eds), Women Writers of the Seventeenth Century (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989), pp. 464-70

Further Reading in English on Greiffenberg’s Poetry

Silke R. Falkner, ‘Rhetorical Tropes and Realities – A Double Strategy Confronts a Double Standard: Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg Negotiates a Solution in the Seventeenth Century’, Women in German Yearbook 17 (2001), 31-56

Kathleen Foley-Beining, The Body and Eucharistic Devotion in Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg’s “Meditations” (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1997)

Flora Kimmich, Sonnets of Catharina von Greiffenberg: Methods of Composition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975)

Jane M. Mehl, ‘Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg: Modern Traits in a Baroque Poet’, South Atlantic Bulletin 45 (1980), 54-63

Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, ‘Ways of Knowing: Blaise Pascal, Angelus Silesius and Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg’, in The Present Word: Culture, Society and the Site of Literature. Essays in Honour of Nicholas Boyle, ed. by John Walker (London: Legenda, 2013), pp. 92-101

Further Reading in German

Peter M. Daly, Dichtung und Emblematik bei Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (Bonn: Bouvier, 1976)

Gesa Dane (ed.), Scharfsinn und Frömmigkeit. Zum Werk von Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (1633-1694) (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2013)