Heidelberg University, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany
Haus Schlosspark, Schloß-Wolfsbrunnenweg 18, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany
Ernst Hartwig Kantorowicz (May 3, 1895 – September 9, 1963) was a German-American historian of medieval political and intellectual history and art, known for his 1927 book Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite on Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, and The King's Two Bodies (1957) on medieval and early modern ideologies of monarchy and the state. He had a relationship with Woldemar Graf Uxkull-Gyllenband. Possible it was Uxkull who made the first move, for he previously had a same-sex affair with Percy Gothein (Gothein was arrested several times during the Nazi era for engaging in homosexual acts and died in Neuengamme concentration camp): the dedica of his book on Greek sculpture is to Gothein and takes a line from a verse that Uxkull's deceased brother, Bernhard Graf Uxkull-Gyllenband, had written to his own same-sex lover: "We rarely had a rich day when love did not course though our blood." Kantorowicz had also an affair with Maurice Bowra.
Kantorowicz was born in Posena (then part of Prussia) to a wealthy, assimilated German-Jewish family, and as a young man was groomed to take over his family's prosperous liquor distillery business. He served as an officer in the German Army for four years in World War I. After the war, he matriculated at the University of Berlin to study economics, at one point also joining a right-wing militia that fought against Polish forces in the Greater Poland Uprising (1918–1919) and helped put down the Spartacist uprising in Berlin. The following year, he transferred briefly to the University of Munich, where once again he was involved in armed clashes between leftists and pro-government militias, but soon thereafter settled on the University of Heidelberg where he continued to enroll in economics courses while developing a broader interest in Arabic, Islamic Studies, history, and geography. While in Heidelberg, Kantorowicz became involved with the so-called Georgekreis, a group of artists and intellectuals devoted to the German symbolist poet and aesthete Stefan George, believing that George's poetry and philosophy would become the foundation of a great revival of the nationalist spirit in post-war Germany. In 1921, Kantorowicz was awarded a doctorate supervised by Eberhard Gothein based on a slim dissertation on "artisan associations" in the Muslim world.
In a 1924 letter to Wilhelm Stein, Kantorowicz wrote that Woldemar Graf Uxkull-Gyllenband (Woldi) was the most important person in his life, and in an open postcard of early 1925 he referred to "W" as "table companion and playmate in bed." Kantorowicz expressed himself unreservedly in a letter to Stefan George of October 1924, telling of his "marriage" with Woldi as having been "absolutely happy from the first hour." Despite this, the partners kept house together only for little more than a year - from April 1921 until June 1922 - because Uxkull left Heidelberg after he received his doctorate. He wished to pursue his academic career with the intention of gaining a professorate in ancient history and consequently went to Berlin and than to Oxford and London for further study. After he returned from England in the late spring of 1924, he became Privatdozent at the University of Halle in 1925 and remained there until he was called to a professorship in Tubingen in 1932. Passages in Kantorowicz's letters from the period indicate that he and Uxkull maintained their intimacy until at least 1927. When Kantorowicz traveled to Italy in the spring of 1924 he wrote to Wilhelm Stein that he thought of Woldi when he saw noteworthy sights and was annoyed that he preferred to stay in London rather than join him. Later Uxkull stayed with him in the apartment in Haus Schlosspark for short periods. In October 1924 Fine von Kahler was there for tea "with Ernst and Uxkull." In the spring of 1925 Kantorowicz wrote to Stein that he hoped Woldi was coming soon, and later that his "spouse" had left and that he was now a "grass widow." In the summer of 1926 Kantorowicz, on his way from Heidelberg to his mother's home in Holstein, made a considerable detour to see Uxkull in Halle; in October he looked forward to seeing Uxkull in Heidelberg after the latter's return from Italy. The dedication to Uxkull "in reciprocating thanks" that appeared in March 1927 on the title page of Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite is the ultimate testimony to the bond.
Although his degree was in Islamic economic history, Kantorowicz's interests soon turned to the European Middle Ages and to ideas about kingship in particular. His association with the elitist and culturally conservative Georgekreis inspired Kantorowicz to undertake writing a sweeping and highly unorthodox biography of the great Holy Roman emperor Frederick II, published in German in 1927 and English in 1931. Instead of offering a more typical survey of laws, institutions, and important political and military achievements of Frederick's reign, the book struck a distinctly panegyrical tone, portraying Frederick as a tragic hero and the idealized embodiment of the German nation. It included no footnotes and seemed to elide historical events with more fanciful legends and propagandistic literary depictions. The work elicited a combination of bewilderment and criticism from the mainstream historical academy. Reviewers complained that it was literary myth-making and not a work of serious historical scholarship. As a result, Kantorowicz published a hefty companion volume (Ergänzungsband) ) in 1931 which contained detailed historical documentation for the biography.
Despite the furor over the Frederick book, and not having written a formal Habilitationsschrift (second thesis to qualify for a professorial appointment), Kantorowicz received an (honorary) professorship at the University of Frankfurt in 1930. Soon thereafter began Nazi-minded students to disturb his lectures. He retired on November 1, 1934. Apart from a visiting professorship at Oxford University in 1934 , he lived in Berlin.
In Oxford he became lover of Maurice Bowra. Kantorowicz left Oxford in July 1934 and Bowra went to visit him in Heidelberg, where he was staying with his female partner, Baby. Then, after the Oxford fall term, Bowra went to Berlin to see Kantorowicz and they lived in Kantorowicz's apartment for the period between Christmas and New Year's. A passage in a letter from Kantorowicz to Bowra of 1943 reminisces about talks they had on their "honeymoon."
After taking several leaves of absence, he was finally granted an early retirement with a pension in 1935. He remained in Germany until 1938, when after the Kristallnacht riots it became clear that the situation for even assimilated Jews such as himself was no longer tenable. After a brief stay in Oxford, he accepted a lectureship at the University of California, Berkeley in 1939 and departed for the United States. After several years, Kantorowicz was finally able to secure a permanent professorship, but in 1950, he famously resigned in protest when the UC Regents demanded that all continuing faculty sign a loyalty oath disavowing affiliation with any politically subversive movements. Kantorowicz insisted he was no leftist and pointed to his role in an anti-communist militia as a young university student, but nonetheless objected on principle to an instrument which he viewed as a blatant infringement on academic freedom and freedom of conscience more generally. During the controversy in Berkeley, two eminent German émigré medievalists working in Princeton, Theodore Mommsen (grandson of the great classical historian) and the art historian Erwin Panofsky, persuaded J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study, to appoint Kantorowicz to the Institute's faculty of Historical Studies. Kantorowicz accepted and moved to Princeton, where he remained for the rest of his career.
In 1957, Kantorowicz published his masterpiece, The King's Two Bodies, which explored, in the words of the volume's subtitle, "medieval political theology." The book traced the ways in which theologians, historians, and canon lawyers in the Middle Ages and early modern period understood "the king" as both a mortal individual and an institution which transcends time. Drawing on a diverse array of textual and visual sources, including Shakespeare and Dante, The King's Two Bodies made a major contribution to the way historians and political scientists came to understand the evolution of ideas about authority and charisma vested in a single individual versus transpersonal conceptions of the realm or the state in pre-modern Europe. The book remains a classic in the field.
Kantorowicz died in his home in Princeton of an aortic aneurysm at age 68.
Kantorowicz was the subject of a controversial biographical sketch in the book Inventing the Middle Ages (1991) by the medievalist Norman Cantor. Cantor suggested that, but for his Jewish heritage, the young Kantorowicz could be considered a Nazi in terms of his intellectual temperament and cultural values. Cantor compared Kantorowicz with another contemporary German medievalist, Percy Ernst Schramm, who worked on similar topics and later joined the Nazi Party and served as the staff diarist for the German High Command during the war. Kantorowicz's defenders (particularly his student Robert L. Benson) responded that although as a younger man Kantorowicz embraced the Romantic ultranationalism of the George-Kreis, he had only contempt for Nazism and was a vocal critic of Hitler's regime, both before and after the war.
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