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In the movie A Knight's Tale, Heath Ledger's character William ends up going by the name Ulrich von Liechtenstein to hide that he's not a real knight. This alias is also the name of a real life person.

Was William intended to be based off of the real person, loosely or otherwise, or was this a throw away nod to the real person?

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While Ulrich von Liechtenstein is not well-known, he was a knight and a poet who wrote various works concerning medieval knights and noblemen. Ulrich wrote a semi-autobiographical poem titled Frauenbuch (“The Service of Ladies”). The Ulrich von Liechtenstein depicted in A Knight’s Tale was more than likely taken from the exploits of the knight in Ulrich's poem which includes the following which are depicted by Ulrich's/William's character in the film:

  • Ulrich's jousting was inspired by a woman.
  • He had a talent for jousting and he dedicated many of his matches to a particular woman.
  • Ulrich embarked on a jousting spree from Venice to the borders of Bohemia
  • He injured himself in the name of love for this particular woman.
  • There were many who laughed at him due to his dress and breaking of lances.

These are but a few examples comparing William Thatcher's alter-ego in the film. Nobody knows for sure how much of the information in this poem actually happened, but it was written by the actual Ulrich von Lichtenstein.

There is no dispute that Ulrich was an actual knight. He was knighted by Duke Leopold VI of Austria. He focused the majority of his works on courtly love and knightly ideals.

Ulrich wrote his stories at a time when knightly ideals were just being promulgated from Western Europe. He outlines rules for knights, ministeriales, and free nobles to follow to lead honorable and courtly lives. There are several instances where he places the (unfree) ministerials and the free nobles in one category separate from the knights to point out the nobility of his own estate.

NOTE: There is a quote from filmmakers stating what year the film was set in, which contradicts the possibility of Ulrich von Lichtenstein even being alive during this time.

Ulrich von Lichtenstein died in 1275. Director Brian Helgeland stated that the movie was set in 1372.

The movie happens in 1372. So it’s the seventies, it’s just the wrong seventies.

There is sufficient evidence to support the fact that the writings coupled with real life experiences of Ulrich von Lichtenstein provided inspiration for filmmakers when shaping the character in the film.

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It could be considered a throw away nod to the real person, but it definitely doesn't seem like the character in the movie is based on the real historical Ulrich in any way.

According to the trivia section of IMDB, I found this:

Several of the named knights were, in fact, real, though many of them are from different time periods. Ulrich von Lichtenstein was a knight and author who was said to have invented the concept of chivalry and courtly love. Piers Courtenay was a descendant of Edward I, born in the 15th Century. Sir Thomas Colville, Edward III's disguise, was a knight from the 13th Century. Lord Roger Mortimer was the lover of King Edward II's wife - Isabella of France - and was hanged, drawn, and quartered by the Black Prince's father, King Edward III. The real-life Ulrich von Liechtenstein was a real knight, and regular jouster. He boasted that he would give a golden ring to any knight who could break a lance on his armour, giving away 271 in total, but remaining undefeated.

So, it would seem that the the use of a real historical knight's name was on purpose (in fact, all the major knight characters are named after real people,) however, they were all pulled from different parts of history, so there can't really be any expectation that this is based on real events, even vaguely.

(Also, the story of William Thatcher told in this movie bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real Ulrich's life.)

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