When we first meet the tragic figure of Ulrica, she goes by the name of Urfried. A Saxon woman in the castle at Torquilstone, she's obviously not happy to be there. She's a bitter, cruel old woman who mocks Rebecca for getting captured by the Normans. "Urfried" despises Rebecca for being Jewish and strongly implies that the Normans are going to rape her soon.
But "Urfried" does do Rebecca a favor by bringing her the news that there's an anonymous wounded knight in the castle. Rebecca pieces together who it is (Ivanhoe!), and "Urfried" smuggles her into Ivanhoe's room to care for him. As hateful as "Urfried's" words are, her actions are surprisingly kind.
It's not until "Urfried" meets Cedric (in disguise as a friar, sneaking out of Torquilstone) that we get her full, terrible backstory. "Urfried" is actually Ulrica, daughter of Torquil Wolfganger, the original lord of Torquilstone. When Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, Sr. seized the castle of Torquilstone, he killed Wolfganger and Ulrica's seven brothers. Instead of killing Ulrica along with the rest of her family, he raped her and kept her prisoner for decades in her own former home.
During this forced captivity, Ulrica has gone crazy with bitterness. She freaks out Cedric, who appears revolted by the depth of her hatred and desire for revenge. (For more on Cedric's response to Ulrica, check out "Quotes: Duty" and "Quotes: Society and Class.") Ulrica's loathing for the Normans drives her to encourage Front-de-Boeuf, Jr. to kill his own father. Later she hangs around Front-de-Boeuf, Jr.'s deathbed just so she can taunt him with his failures. When the castle of Torquilstone goes under attack by the outlaws, Ulrica seizes the opportunity to set the building on fire. Before being burned up herself, she sings a last song of sorrow and vengeance over the battlefield.
Ulrica's death is one of the more horrible things that happens in this novel, but her presence in the book is also probably the most realistic acknowledgement of what actually happens in war. Ivanhoe and King Richard I are both obsessed with the glory and honor of battle. Ulrica reminds the reader of the cost of warfare, how it traumatizes civilians. Even though 99% of Ivanhoe is a fun-loving book about tournaments and jousts and medieval knights, Ulrica shows the darker side of war, the part that never seems to make it into Wamba's ballads.