The story of the Lady of Weissenburg became one of the most well-known dramas of the early medieval Europe. Its 'theatrical' quality, its dramatic power — a collision of love, betrayal and retribution — for centuries aroused the imagination of poets, singers, writers and painters. It entered the folklore of German-speaking people from Holland to northern Italy. In Slovakia, the version of the Ballade of the Lady of Weissenburg was known — and sung — up until after the second world war.
Count Friedrich, Imperial Palatine of Saxony, married Adelheid, daughter of the powerful Count of Stade. Things were rarely that simple in marriage even back then, and soon after the wedding, Adelheid fell in love with her neighbour – young Ludwig, Count of Thuringia and Friedrich III's cousin. Together, they conspired to murder Friedrich, staging a hunting accident: One gloomy winter day a party of hunters enter the forest near Friedrich's residence. Reacting to Adelheid's warning, he dashed off to intercept and to arrest the trespassers, who ambushed him and killed him. He was buried at the Goseck monastery nearby.
However, while Friedrich was gone, his genetic legacy was not. Adelheid, who had by now wed Ludwig with almost indecent haste and without properly observing the period of mourning, bore the dead Count a son, Friedrich IV.
The young Friedrich was less than happy with his step-father, who was briefly detained by Emperor Heinrich IV of the time, but escaped – and earned the epithet 'The Jumper' – by jumping into the Saale River. As Ludwig won back favour with the Emperor over time, so his power as Count of Thuringia grew. He was no slouch as a politician, bestowing generous deeds of appropriated land and privileges on his subjects. He then built the Neuenburg Castle, barely 3km away from the Weissenburg Castle: Friedrich's court. This was a grave affront to Friedrich, opening up the rift between them further. Friedrich would go on to openly accuse Ludwig of his father's murder and challenge him to a duel.