Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Münchhausen

Born 1720
Died 1797

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German officer and author, born May 11, 1720, estate Bodenwerder, Hannover; died February 22, 1797.

Biography of Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Münchhausen

Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Münchhausen, also known as "the baron of lies", initially served as a page to Prince Anton Ulrich von Braunschweig, and later as a cornet, lieutenant and cavalry captain with a Russian regiment in two Turkish wars. In 1760 he retired to his estates as a country gentleman.

He became famous around Hannover as a raconteur of extraordinary tales about his life as a soldier, hunter, and sportsman. After the death of his first wife, Münchhausen married a 17-year old noblewoman. This marriage was an unhappy one which constantly drove him to debt and caused scandals.

A collection of extraordinary tales appeared anonymously in the magazine Vademecum für lustige Leute (1781-1783), all of them attributed to the Baron, though several can be traced to much earlier sources.

The man who created the Münchhausen myth was a family friend, a penniless scholar and librarian professor from Kassel, Rudolf Erich Raspe (1737-1794), who had had to flee England because of thefts. Raspe used the earlier stories as basic material, extended it, translated it into English, and published it anonymously in a small volume in London in 1785: Baron Munchhausens Narrative of His Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia. The book was a great success and the second edition was translated into German in 1786, in 1798 further extended with eight stories by the poet Gottfried August Bürger (1747-1894) and soon became a truly popular book.

This became the prototype for the subsequent genre of the Münchhausen wonder tales. In 1788 Bürger added another five wonder tales to this collection and brought out an enlarged second edition. The later and much larger editions, none of them having much to do with the historical Baron Münchhausen, became widely known and popular in many languages. They are generally known as The Adventures of Baron Münchausen, and the English edition of 1793 is now the usual text. It has been translated to and plagiarized in most European languages, and has been filmed several times. A German production of 1942 in Agfacolor was also intended as Germany’s (and Goebbels’) "Gone With the Wind." It wasn't even close. It was remade by director Terry Gilliam as "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" in 1989.

If you read German, you will find most of his stories in extenso on the Internet.

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