Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology

  Raising the Wreck - The Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Part 2

After the Vasa sank, the upper parts of her three masts with their rigging were still visible which must have made for a somewhat eerie sight.

(Left: the main mast with the crow's nest)

I was suprised to learn that attempts to raise the Vasa were made immediately after she went down. The unfortunate captain Söfring Hansson was tasked with coordinating the effort. He'd likely have been grateful for the chance to sort the mess before King Gustav Adolf came visiting in a mood as foul as the letters he had written. "Sorry, your Majesty, she got a bit wet, but we'll give her a brush up and she'll be as good as new, I promise," would have sounded nicer than pointing at the slanted mast tops in the harbour. "There she lies."

Salvaging technology in the 17th century worked like this: Two ships, often just hulks, were placed on both sides of the sunken ship. A number of ropes were sent down and hooked to the ship with the help of special anchors. I could not find details about the process but it may have involved freedivers - we'll later see that those could reach the ground where the Vasa lay. The hulks were then filled with as much water as was safe for them to hold so they would lie deep in the water, the ropes tightened and the water pumped out. When the hulks or ships rose again, they would take the sunken ship up with them. The process was repeated until the wreck could have been transported to shallower waters and then further until she was fully raised above water level. At this early stage, the timber of the Vasa was not yet waterlogged, so the method might have worked.

The first attempt was made by the English engineer Ian Bulmer who succeeded in righting the ship which had sunk sideways; an important first step. But it turned out the Vasa got stuck deeper in the mud by the process, which would cause problems. Mud sucks and increased the weight that pulled on the ship to a point that could not be overcome by 17th century technology. Bulmer's successors, first a Dutch and later a Scottish engineer (1), had no more luck in lifting the Vasa, though they used the largest warships of the fleet for leverage and had extra strong anchors forged to attach to the wreck. In 1640, she was counted as lost.

Some 300 years later, the mud filling parts of the ship turned out to have one advantage; it preserved organic material which is normally lost to decay.

Reconstructed crow’s nest in the museum

But some parts could still be salvaged. The top- and topgallant yards and crow’s nests had already been taken down in fall 1628, so they would not be harmed by the ice. Since King Gustav Adolf came back to Stockholm as late as December, the only part still visible were the bare tops of the masts. Later parts of the cordage and spars were brought up; those were valuable goods that could be reused. Some of the decorative figures were also saved.

(Right: The restored weather deck, seen from the aft)

Even more valuable were the cannons which were recovered with the help of a diving bell in 1663-65. The greatest disadvantage of freediving is the short time people can actually work under water because of the way down and back up (in case of the Vasa that was about 30 metres). The time would never be enough to deal with the heavy and unwieldy guns.

A diving bell is weighted so that the air compresses when the bell is let down, and the divers can go back in and take a fresh lungful several times before the bell has to be lifted, thus strechting the working time under water considerably (2). In the Baltic Sea, the cold proved more of a problem; the divers had to go up and get warm again after 15-20 minutes.

The idea of a diving bell goes back to Aristotle, but the technology was refined only in the 17th century. The bell used with the Vasa was a so-called wet bell with an open bottom of about 130 cm height. A small leaden bench – more or less an extended clapper - was attached so it stuck out 50 cm below the bell, where the diver could sit on the way up and down with his head and shoulders in the air bubble. The bell was moved by several men with help of a simple crane. The diver could also bring objects to the surface, though in case of the cannons, ropes were attached to bring them up independant of the bell (see below).

Albrecht of Treileben was a nobleman from Brandenburg in Germany who had participated in the Thirty Years War as officer in the Swedish army. He later traveled around Europe and took up scientific studies. In the 1650ies Treileben and his German associate Andreas Peckell established a diving crew with divers from Sweden and Finland in Gothenburg which successfully salvaged parts of another ship in presence of the Lord High Steward Per Brahe. Treileben applied to King Karl X Gustav for the right to salvage parts of the Vasa (3) in 1658, but it would take until the regency of Brahe (for the underage Karl XI; 4) for Treileben to get the commission (1603).

The Italian priest, natural scientist, and traveler Francesco Negri (1624 -1698) left an eyewitness account of the salvaging in his travelogue of a journey to the north that led him as far as the North Cape, the Viaggio Settentrionale. We owe him the description of the bell and some information he obtained from one of the divers. Visibility under water was acceptable, the diver said; the air in the bell would have been enough for half an hour, but the cold was the greatest problem albeit the divers wore special suits of oiled leather.

The cannons were decorated as well -
the three remaining cannons salvaged in the 20th century

The weather deck was dismantled in parts to get at the cannons of the upper gun deck, but salvaging the ones from the lower gun deck proved more tricky. The team used big gripper tongs maneouvered by ropes from the crane that also worked the diving bell. The diver would fix the claws of the tong to the shaft of the cannon. The ropes leading to the surface put pressure on the thong, the claws tightened, and the cannon could be dragged out of its port, probably with some guidance by the divers. It seemed to have been a pretty smooth process since the gun ports show very little damage. Pity they didn’t use the same method for the upper gun deck.

The work was overshadowed by a big quarrel between Treileben and his associate Peckell. Treileben had Peckell forcefully emitted from the docks and kept all his tools. Treileben obviously wanted to be the only one to gain the financial win, and because he had friends in the Royal Council, he thought he’d get away with it. But Peckell managed to get a trial which condemned Treileben to pay Peckell his share and reparation for the confiscated tools (5).

The guns were sold to Lübeck and Hamburg (6), the main markets for cannons. Some of them were then sold to the Danish army which was at war with Sweden - yet again - during the Scanian War (1675-79). Denmark wanted Scania which it had to cede to Sweden in the Treaty of Roskilde in 1160. Sweden lost at sea, Denmark at land, and in the end nothing much changed (7).

The decorated quarterdeck seen from the side

The Baltic Sea has one advantage: the water is too brackish for the nasty naval ship worm Teredo navalis (8) to thrive, therefore wood survives pretty well. But nevertheless, the wreck of the Vasa was subjected to erosion and decomposition during the more than 300 years it lay in Stockholm’s harbor. Fortunately, the hull was held together by wooden nails and thus remained intact, contrary to the thousands of iron bolts that fixed most exterior structures like the beakhead, the quarter galleries, and the decorative figures. Those eroded pretty fast so that the parts fell into the mud – which proved a good thing since the mud conserved the timber so well that traces of the original colours and gilding can still be found.

The surface of the hull eroded to some extent, but never so badly that the wreck was in danger of collapsing. The worst damage here was done by the recovering of the cannons on the upper deck. Treileben also salvaged some 30 cartloads of timber which likely included the - still missing - figures, intact planks and parts of the standing rigging. In the 19th century, at least one ship anchored above the Vasa; the anchor destroyed part of the quarterdeck.

Model of the raising: first step after the cables had been affixed

The Vasa was never entirely forgotten, but since there was no way to raise the ship before new technologies were developed in the 1950ies, she gained little interest. That changed when the Vasa was rediscovered in August 1956 by the engineer and wreck researcher Anders Franzén and the diver Per Edvin Fälting. The navy, the National Maritime Museum, and the Neptune salvage company cooperated in the huge undertaking of raising her.

(Left: A diving suit from the 1950ies)

The method was not so very different from the one used in 1628, but instead of hooks and anchors, six steel cables were put under the ship. Tunnels were cut through the clay with the help of high pressure water jets; a dangerous work for the divers involved since the tunnels were always in danger of collapsing, or the ship might shift her position. Plus diving suits in the 1950ies looked more like space suits, including the big helmet and external air / oxygene support by a hose - surely not as pratical as modern ones. But not accidents happened during the 1300 dives necessary to dig the tunnels and fix the cables.

The cables were connected to lifting pontoons on both sides of the ship. Those work like the hulks or ships used in earlier times, but they are more powerful. The first lift was attempted in August 1959. No one knew if the hull of the ship would hold together under the pressure of getting her out of the sucking mud, but it held. The Vasa was lifted in 18 steps - each gained a meter - from 32 metres (105 foot) to 16 (52 foot) metres and transported to shallower water where it was safer for the divers to prepare her for the final lifts.

The last lift, when the structure of the hull woud no longer be supported by water, was the most tricky one. The divers cleaned out mud and debris to lighten the ship, and made the hull watertight. All holes caused by the rusted iron bolts which had fallen out were plugged, and the gun ports covered with temporary lids. The cables were replanted with even stronger ones, and the final lifts were done by hydraulic lifting pontoons.

The last steps began in April 1961, and on April 24th, the Vasa broke the surface again after 333 years. In addition to the lifting, underwater pumps were used to get the remaining water out. In early May, she was towed close to the dry dock on Beckholmen and then floated on her own keel for the first time in more than 300 years to enter the dock proper - a bit deep in the water and leaning to port, but float she did.

The Vasa was set up on a concrete pontoon, the hull supported by beams, and the water pumped out of the dock. The ship still rests on the same pontoon today after it had been towed to the new museum complete with its pontoon. The part of the museum where the keel and lower hull sit had been flooded for that purpose.

Model of the raising: final step before being moved to the dock

A building was erected over the ship, but it left little space between the hull and the walk for the visitors. I've been there in 1980 during my fist visit in Sweden and I was fascinated by the Vasa even though it took a fair bit of imagination to envision her in full splendour. The new museum which opened 1990 is gives a much better impression of the ship.

Several loose parts had already been brought up during the preparations for the raising of the Vasa, and from 1963-67, the ground was systematically checked for more remains. The amount of finds on site and inside the ship amounts to 4,000 pieces. Fitting those back to their proper place on the ship proved a nice jigsaw puzzle, since there are no plans or drawings of the Vasa. Today, 95% of the wood are original timber. Loose finds like possessions of sailors and such are displayed in vitrines.

Quarterdeck decorations, closeup of the Swedish coat of arms

The wood needed preservation once it came in contact with air again. The wreck was sprayed with polyethylene glycol for 17 years (1962-79) until the last bit of water had been replaced so the timber woud not shrink and crack. But it turned out that the structure of the wood has nevertheless weakened during the long stay under water. The problems became visible in the 1990ies. One of the culprits turned out to be the highly corrosive iron, so all iron bolts used to reaffix the parts that had fallen off - like most of the quarterdeck and the bowsprit - since the 1960ies were replaced by stainless steel bolts. To deal with the slight shifting of the hull, adjustable steel wedges were set up to support the ship and further support structures are researched. The temperature and humidity are constantly checked and kept on a level of 18-20°C, relative humidity of 51-59 RF and UV filtered, dim light - a compromise for what is best for the ship and comfortable for visitors. Smaller, removable wooden parts are additionally treated with freeze drying under vacuum.

Restored upper deck, seen from aft

The Vasa is displayed as she would appear in winter storage with the three lower masts stepped and rigged. The topmast and topgallant mast as well as the upper rigging have been lost, but the new museum shows a stylised image of them outside so you can get an idea of the full hight of the ship's 52 metres. One of the few parts of timber that are not original is the mizzenmast (the original could never be found); it consists of wood left outside to season for several years.

The ropes used to rig the ship amount to 4 kilometres. The ship had four sails set when she sank, the remaining six were found in the storage rooms and could be preserved. The smallest is 32 square metres; so it would take too much space to display her with several sails set, and there's not wind to billow them prettily anyway. But the Vasa is impressive even without sails. I'm glad I had the chance to revisit her in 2012.

Another shot of the museum with the stylized masts

1) Willem de Besche and Alexander Forbes, respectively.
2) In modern variants, oxygen is pumped into the bell which further prolongs the time for divers to remain under water.
3) Those rights were held by Alexander Forbes at the time.
4) For the geneaology fans: Karl XI’s mother was another member of the Hostein-Gottorp family, Hedwig Eleonora. She shared in the regency with Brahe.
5) The whole process is well documented in the Royal archives. Peckell actually got more than he asked for since he only claimed the share for the time he actually worked on the site, but he got the share of the entire endeavor. Treileben had overstretched his welcome with his influential friends.
6) I wonder why they were not reused in Sweden, but the contract with Treileben meant that the Swedish government would have to buy them. There may not have been enough money.
7) The Scanian War was basically an aftermath of the Second Northern War (1658-1160). But Scania was only one battlefield during that time. France, Sweden and England were fighting the Netherlands, Brandenburg and House Austria-Hapsburg on a larger scale in the Franco-Dutch War (1672-78).
8) Teredo navalis is actually a marine bivalve mollusc, not a worm. Since the salinity of the Baltic Sea, which started out as proglacial lake 12,000 years ago, increases due to its connection with the North Sea, teredo navalis has started to create havoc in its western parts as well.

Fred Hocker, Vasa. Stockholm, 2011
Lorelei Randall, Dykarklockan – en resa i tid och rum. Online publication of the KTH Undervattensteknik, 1998
The Vasa Museum's website.

  The Ship that Never Sailed - The Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Part 1

Well, she did sail some 1,300 metres before she sank on her maiden voyage in August 1628, but that doesn't really count. It was bad news for King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden who commissioned the Vasa, and a worse fate for the 30 people who drowned, but it turned out a good thing for historians, since the wreck could be salvaged in 1961 and gives us a fine example of a warship in the early 17th century.

Today, the Vasa is housed in a new museum in Stockholm which I visited in 2012. The light is dim, the timber of the ship darkened in the process of conservation, and photographing - no flash allowed - proved a bit tricky, but I managed to get enough decent shots (with the help of photo editing software) for a blogpost or two.

The Vasa (seen from the bow) in her new home, the Vasa Museum in Stockholm

When Gustav II Adolf of Sweden, scion of the Vasa dynasty, became king in 1611, he inherited no less than three wars: with Denmark, Poland, and Russia, as a result of the Swedish attempts to expand their power in the Baltic Sea. Plus a cousin who wanted his throne. No wonder the young king (born 1594) needed warships.

(left: The stern with the richly decorated raised quarterdeck. The figures had once been brightly painted.)

The dynastic tangle this time involves mostly Sweden, Germany and Poland. Gustav Adolf's grandfather and founder of the dynasty, Gustav Vasa, had married three times and produced a bunch of sons who became king after him in turn. One of these was Johann III who married Katharina Jagiellonka of the ruling house in Poland (1). Their son was Sigismund King of Poland and some time King of Sweden (1592-1599). Another son was Karl Duke of Södermanland, acting regent since 1599 and king since 1604. He was married to Christina of Holstein-Gottorp (a Danish-German house residing in the palace in Schleswig); their son was Gustav Adolf.

Sigismund had been brought up a Catholic and was married to a Hapsburg princess to boot, and the Lutherian Swedish nobility was not keen on having a Catholic king who spent most of his time in Poland anyway. So they told him to go packing - not without fighting a battle first (2) - and Karl became king as Karl IX. When he died in 1611 Gustav Adolf took the throne, aged but seventeen. Sigismund still insisted on his right to the Swedish throne, but he had enough problems in Poland and never posed a real danger for the young king.

The war between Poland and Sweden was about the possession of Livonia (basically what is today Latvia and Estonia). It flamed up several times between 1600 and the Armistice of Altmark in 1629. In that, Sweden gained part of Livonia including the important trade town of Riga with its toll income, and a share in the toll of Gdansk, though the town itself remained in Polish possession.

The so called Ingrian War with Russia - at times a three sided affair with Poland involved as well - about the possession of the trade town Novgorod / Lake Ladoga and southern Finland, ended with a peace treaty and Swedish gain: the Peace of Stolbovo (1617) cut Russia off the Baltic Sea and forced it to trade through harbours mostly controlled by Sweden which got 20,000 rubles in war indeminity as well, and the fortress of Shlisselburg at Lake Ladoga (though Russia kept Novgorod).

The hull seen from the stern

The war with Denmark went less well. Denmark controlled the traffic through the sound between the Baltic and North Sea, and thus the trade routes to England and the Dutch Republic. To avoid their tolls, Karl IX of Sweden tried to establish a northern land route through Lapland to Tromsø to gain access to the North Sea. As a result Denmark, which claimed Lapland as well, declared war and conquered Kalmar in 1611.

When Gustav Adolf ascended the throne, he personally led some raids across the Danish border, but Christian IV of Denmark managed to conquer the fortress of Älvsborg (today Gothenburg), the last Swedish hold in the west. But other countries did not want to see Denmark's power growing too strong, and it was King James I of England who pushed the parties to the negotiation table in Knäred in 1613. Lapland came back under Danish control while Sweden would be fred of the Sound toll, though it had to ransom the important harbours of Kalmar and Älvsborg. No wonder Gustav Adolf was keen on getting money.

Sailing right at you with her impressive bowsprit

But Gustav Adolf was not done with wars. In 1618, a war had started on the continent that would become known as the Thirty Years War. It was about religion as well as politics, a Catholic/Imperial league against a Protestant/anti-Imperial union (3). When the Catholic armies began to push deep into Protestant territories in northern Germany, and the emperor Ferdinand II declared the Edict of Restitution (4), Gustav Adolf was worried not only about those sharing his faith, but also about a possible danger of imperial Hapsburg influence at the Baltic Sea coast. Nor did he like the alliance between Sigismund of Poland and his Hapsburg relations-by-marriage. So Gustav Adolf supported his former enemy and fellow Protestant Christian IV King of Denmark (and Duke of Holstein) who had taken heavy losses agains the imperial generals Wallenstein and Tilly. When Wallenstein laid siege to the important coastal town Stralsund, both Gustav Adolf and Christian sent relief troops by sea and forced Wallenstein to abandon the siege (1628).

Closeup of the quarterdeck with its ornaments; in the middle the arms of House Vasa

The rest of the story is well known. In July 1630, Gustav Adolf landed with an army of 13,000 men on the Usedom peninsula and swept through Germany, defeated general Tilly at Breitenfeld, and continued all the way to Munich with an ever increasing army. The emperor Ferdinand II of Hapsburg was obliged to recall Wallenstein whom he had sent into early retirement just a few months before. Wallenstein forced the Swedish-Protestant army to battle at Lützen where King Gustav Adolf, leading his men in person as usual, fell to the bullets of some mercenaries on November 6, 1632. His chancellor Axel Oxenstierna acted as regent for the king's daughter (5). Sweden continued to be involved in the war on German soil which would last another sixteen years until 1648.

Upper deck with parts of the rigging

One ship that would not join in the relief of Stralsund was the unfortunate Vasa. It was a bright Sunday with little wind on August 10, 1628. The Vasa had been rigged, ballast, cannons and ammunition stored, and some 150 crew members were onboard. Three hundred soldiers were supposed to join later. All gunports (she carried 64 cannons on two gun decks) had been opened.

After the ship had been warped into the waters of the Slussen, four of her ten sails were set. Onlookers ringed the quays and shorelines, a salute was fired, and the Vasa set off for her maiden voyage. But when she reached the lee of the Södermalm Cliffs, a sudden down drought, common in these waters, caught her and she heeled to port. She had been prone to instability to begin with, so she rose but slowly. A second gust made her heel again and now the lower gunports caught water. The Vasa sank after having sailed but 1300 metres. Most of the people onboard could save themselves by swimming or clinging to the rigging that was still over the waterline. But 30 unlucky ones inside the ship died; 16 of their skeletons would be found more than 300 years later.

Seen from the bow, with the forecastle deck to the left

The Vasa was one of four ships King Gustav Adolf had commissioned in 1625. He chose the Dutch master shipwright Henrik Hybertsson and his brother Arendt de Groot, who was responsible for the financial part. Henrik was an experienced shipwright and had already worked for Karl IX of Sweden, but he had never built a ship with two gun decks before. At that time, there were no plans and drawings; a shipwright used proportions, rules of thumbs, and his own experience. Unfortunately, Henrik Hybertsson became ill and died in spring 1627. His assistant Hein Jakobsson and his widow Margareta took over.

In January 1628, Gustav Adolf visited the wharf at Skeppsgården. Obviously, no one was aware of any problems with the ship's stability at that point.

Model of the Skeppsgården wharf

Material for the ship came from a number of places: timber - more than a thousand oak trees - from Sweden and Poland (6), iron from Sweden, sail cloth from Holland, tar from Finland, hemp from Latvia. The cannons were cast in Stockholm. They would cost more money than the hundreds of painted and gilded wooden sculptures created in the workshop of Mårten Redtmer that adorned the ship.

A model of the ship with the original colours (zoomed in)

The Vasa was an impressive ship. Her length - including the bowsprit - was 69 metres, the height of the quarterdeck 19,5 metres, the height from keel to the top of the main mast 52 metres. The ship was only 11,7 metres wide at maximum point, though, and the hold for the ballast stones was rather shallow according to Dutch habit. The ten sails would make for 1275 square metres. The gun decks were supported by half a metres thick beams that added to the weight above the water line.

The bowsprit with a lion decoration

Sea warfare was about to change and cannons became more important. For the centuries before, the aim was to enter an enemy's ship and capture her in hand-to-hand combat; more or less a land battle at sea. This is why there were still 300 soldiers to go with the Vasa, though some of them may have been artillery specialists. There were also stands for musketeers and mounted crossbows on the high decks which would be more useful at closer range.

In the time to come, ships would pass each other and fire with cannons, trying to sink the enemy's ships.

48 of the Vasa's cannons were 24pounders, the rest somewhat smaller. There is some discussion whether they were indeed intended as weapons or more as a means to intimidate an enemy.

Replica of part of a cannon deck in the musem

The first hints at bad stability came when Captain Söfring Hansson showed the vice admiral Klas Fleming who acted as contact to the king, that thirty men running to and fro on the upper deck could make the ship sway so badly she'd capsize at the quay. The admiral was overheard to have said he wished the king was there. But he did not act upon his suspicions and neither did Captain Hansson. The Swedish fleet had lost several ships to a storm in autumn 1625, and the pressure to replace them was great (7). King Gustav Adolf sent letters from Prussia where he fought the Polish, urging to get the ship ready to sail, and obviously no one dared to delay any further.

Upper deck with rigging
(From this angle you can see how slender the ship is compared to its height.)

Of course, King Gustav Adolf was furious when news of the disaster reached him, and demanded that the guilty ones should be punished. An inquest before a tribunal of members of the privy council and admiralty was set up. Captain Hansson swore that the ballast had been properly stowed, the cannons fixed, the crew sober (which was confirmed by the surviving crew members), and blamed the disaster on the shipwright (8). Vice Admiral Fleming said he was no sailor but responsible for the soldiers and did not understand the true measure of the problem, though his remark about wishing the king to have seen the test performed by the captain was repeated by witnesses during the trial. Shipwright Hein Jakobbson, who had taken over from Henrik Hybertsson, said that he had followed the plans of his master, even widened the ship some 40 cm, but that was all he could do to improve her stability. And the king had approved the plans of his master. In the end, no one was found guilty and the blame was laid on the dead Hybertsson. His widow had to sell her shares the wharf due to financial troubles.

(The next post will be about the salvage of the ship.)

The new Vasa Museum,
the masts standing out above the building show their original height

1) I'll leave it to Kasia to sort out the Polish geneaologies. :-)
2) Stångebro, 1598.
3) The whole matter is too complicated to cover here. The fault lines were not always along religion; for example Catholic France under Richelieu supported the Protestant confederation because it did not want the Spanish-Austrian Hapsburg dynasty to gain even more power, and the Calvinists and Lutherans were at odds more than once.
4) The Edict of Restitution from 1629 restored all lands and possessions secularized after 1555 (Peace of Augsburg that gave the princes the right to decide on the religion in their territories) to the Catholic Church, which would have meant a vast gain in land and power for the Catholic Church. Several archbishoprics and about 500 monasteries had to be returned.
5) Gustav Adolf was married to Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. Their daughter Christina, born 1626, would become Queen of Sweden (1632-1645); she was the last of the Vasa dynasty.
6) Since Sweden was at war with Poland at the time, the timber was traded via Amsterdam.
7) The king then asked for two medium sized ships to be built first, but at the time the timber for the Vasa had already been cut and prepared, so Hybertsson continued with her construction.
8) Though the captain should have kept the lower gunports locked since he knew how unstable the Vasa was. That obviously was never addressed. It also would likely have led to problems later when the lower gunports were opened at some point.

Fred Hocker, Vasa. Stockholm, 2011

  A Time of Feuds - The Counts of Hohnstein and Stolberg (Part 3)

This is the third part of the essay about the Counts of Hohnstein and their main seat, Hohnstein Castle (as well as a few shots of the palace in Stolberg).

(Left: View through a door, with remains of the outer curtain wall and the land beyond)

A number of feudal transactions that gave the Hohnstein family more land and rights (like bailiwicks) can be found in local chartes between 1250 and 1350, but I'll spare you the array of difficult to pronounce German names. :-)

What can be said is that the family accumulated a fair share of lands in the southern Harz and Thuringia, including parts of the fertile Golden Valley (Goldene Aue) between the Harz and the Kyffhäuser mountains. They also established connections - often by by marriage - with other important families; among them the Eppstein who provided Mainz with a number of archbishops (the archbishop who supported Heinrich Raspe was from that family). It's always good to have one of those on your side. *wink*

Not all lands were obtained peacefully. There was a feud with the counts of Klettenberg going on for some years, including the siege and conquest of Klettenberg castle, which resulted in the counts of Hohnstein gaining the Klettenberg fief from the bishop of Halberstadt in 1353. This is a clear sign that the counts of Hohnstein had the more powerful supporters in the feudal game. I could no find a reason for the feud but that is not unusual - those pesky chroniclers tended to leave out the bits historians want to know. Ask Kathryn.

The counts of Hohnstein also got involved in the quarrel between Albrecht the Degenerate and his sons in which they supported Friedrich who fought his father for his heritage. Adolf of Nassau, King of Germans, who had bought the landgraviate of Thuringia from Albrecht, sent troops but they only managed to harass the land without laying siege to the castle.

The family fared less well when another Friedrich (III, nicknamed 'the Stern'), Landgrave of Thuringia sieged and conquered the castle in 1380 (1). It looks like the Hohnstein had got involved in the Star Wars and ended up on the losing side when the landgraves of Thuriniga and Hessia allied against the Star League of disgruntled nobles. The official war had ended when their leader, Otto 'the Quarrelsome' of Braunschweig-Göttingen, made peace (1273), but pockets of resistance continued for some years, fighting for their own aims. They counts of Hohnstein may have been among those. Relations with the landgraves of Thuringia became more strained in the late 14th century.

(Right: Remains of a staircase tower)

The Hohnstein family split into branches a few times, and sometimes those branches were at cahoots. The line of Hohnstein-Sondershausen split off in 1312; when it died out in 1356, the possessions fell to the counts of Schwarzburg due to a heritage confraternity. A few years later the branches of Hohnstein-Lohra-Klettenberg (older line) and Hohnstein-Heringen-Kelbra (younger line) came into being (1373); the younger line split again into Hohnstein-Kelbra and Hohnstein-Heringen (1394). The former lived in Hohnstein Castle though the latter had some rights to the castle as well (2).

We need a little background here: Robber gangs had been a problem during the 14th century. Often they were mercenaries out of employ and sometimes minor nobles with a crumbling castle who thought getting some extra tax from merchants would pay to repair that leaky roof and the lord's dented armour. The counts of Hohnstein had to chase those reivers off their lands several times, or conquer a crumbling castle to deal with the resident robber baron. But in the early 15th century, the problem got worse. The mercenaries were augmented by starving farmers and begging day labourers due to a period of famine; and indebted minor nobles became more frequent as well. One band was becoming infamous, the Men of the Flail (Flegler, from the grain flail they had for banner) led by Friedrich of Heldrungen. They started to plunder monasteries and other insufficiently fortified places, until some leading nobles saw the military potential in that gang and employed them for their own purposes. This led to the so called Flail War.

Thuringia was governed jointly by Friedrich 'the Simple' (with his seat in the Wartburg) and his cousin Friedrich 'the Warlike' who resided in the eastern part, the Mark of Meissen. Friedrich the Simple had married a daughter of Count Günther of Schwarzburg who basically ran the country Wolsey-style. A number of leading nobles were not happy about that, and alliances were established on both sides. Some quarrel about inheritance claims brought Dietrich VIII of Hohnstein-Heringen - siding with Güther - up against Ulrich III and his son Heinrich IX of Hohnstein-Kelbra. Dietrich employed the Men of the Flail who harried the lands in possession of the Hohnstein-Kelbra family (3). They even managed to sneak into Hohnstein Castle and conquered it. Heinrich of Hohnstein escaped - out of a window, wearing nothing but his night shift, it is said - but the assailants took his father Ulrich captive (Sept. 1412). Friedrich of Heldrungen fortified the Hohnstein and held it with his band of rabblerousers.

Hohnstein Castle, the upper bailey

Heinrich of Hohnstein made it to Ilfeld Monastery where he got equipped with armour and a horse, and rode on hidden paths to join Friedrich 'the Warlike' of Meissen, since the other Friedrich ('the Simple') was of no use, being dominated by Günther of Schwarzburg who sided with the other Hohnstein branch. Friedrich in turn assailed the possessions of Friedrich of Heldrungen, conquered his seat, and relieved Hohnstein Castle (sorry for the many Friedrichs here). Friedrich of Heldrungen and some men escaped, but most members of the Flail gang were captured. The nobles had to abjure vengeance; the rest was executed; some of them flogged to death. Günther of Schwarzburg was forced to accept a council that curtailed his influence. The Heldrungen possessions were given to Heinrich of Hohnstein as recompense for the damage the robbers had caused on his lands.

Another shot of the palace interior, with a fire place to the left

Dietrich of Hohnstein first continued to protect Friedrich of Heldrungen, but eventually he was afraid to end up in a nasty dungeon if not dead, being on the losing side in the Fail War. He sold his share of the Hohnstein possessions, including his right to part of the main seat, to Count Botho of Stolberg, and vanished into obscurity (4). Friedrich of Heldrungen lived in the forests until he was killed by a member of his own gang (Sept. 1413).

Obviously, Count Heinrich IX of Hohnstein-Kelbra-Heldrungen (as he called himself after he got that fief as well) kept having financial troubles after the Flail War, since he sold his part of Hohnstein Castle to Count Botho of Stolberg some time between 1423-28, and started a new existence further east, in Brandenburg (5). Thus only the older line of Hohnstein-Lohra-Klettenberg remained in the southern Harz. That line died out in 1539 with the death of Ernest VII, the last Count of Hohnstein.

Interior of the Count's rooms

In 1428. Count Botho of Stolberg got invested with the fief of Hohnstein Castle after Duke Otto of Braunschweig-Göttingen had been confirmed as feudal lord of the castle, due to the ancient feudal relationship between the Welfen family and the castle of Hohnstein at the time of Heinrich the Lion. In fact, the fief had fallen back to the emperor after 1182, so the present feudal transaction was due rather to the political situation in the 1420ies than to actual feudal ties dating back to the 12th century. The position of the elected King Sigismund (last of the Luxemburg line; King of Germans since 1411, Emperor since 1433 (6)) was not strong enough. The post-Staufen elected kings were more dependant on the goodwill of the princes of the realm than their predecessors, often foreigners without large possessions on German soil and caught up in the quarrels of various parties. King Sigismund may have agreed to Duke Otto's claim to gain his support (7). This may explain the situation of Scharzfels Castle as well.


The counts of Stolberg are another case of badly documented origins that sprouted several theories. The most likely one is a descent from the counts of Hohnstein, likely from Heinrich, a son of Elger III. Heinrich of Hohnstein appears as count of Voigtstedt, which was an imperial fief given to the Hohnstein between 1198-1204 and since 1210 signed chartes involving Voigtstedt as Count of Stolberg. A Heinrich of Stolberg accompagnied Landgrave Ludwig IV 'the Saint' of Thuringia on the ill-fated crusade in 1127 where Ludwig died in Italy; and stayed with the emperor Friedrich II on the way to Jerusalem the following year. Since Ludwig had brought with him a contigent of Teutonic Knights, it could be the same Heinrich who appears on their lists as Heinrich of Hohnstein, or his son of the same name (8)

It also would make sense for the Hohnstein to sell the rights to the castle to someone who is somehow related to the family. Private feuds aside, it would mean that the lands remained within a limited group of nobles.

Another shot of the gate house and the Count's rooms from the lower bailey

The counts of Stolberg renovated the castle, adding 'modern' (late 16th century) defenses including an artillery tower, and a Renaissance palace. At that time the castle was one of the largest in the Harz mountains. They promptly got into debt and had to pawn out the castle in 1603. Well, they had another shiny palace in Stolberg.

The castle was destroyed during the Thirty Years War. Imperial troops under the Saxon major Christian Vizthum who garrisoned the castle, put it to fire after they were attacked by the Harz Shooters, a Protestant guerilla force that attacked Catholic mercenary troops and sometimes even castles and fortified positions, thus making the southern Harz almost impassable for the Catholic/Imperial armies. But the Shooters also set up a side trade as robbers and were hated by most local farmers. Yet Gustav Adolf of Sweden, who had come to the aid of the Protestant/anti-Imperial alliance, supported them. Vitzthum may have burned the castle down to avoid the fortified place to fall into the hands of the Protestant alliance (9). The remains of the castle were still used as administrative seat until the new palace was built in nearby Neustadt.

The Renaissance palace of the counts of Stolberg above the town,
on the site of the former Medieaval castle

The castle fell into ruins and for some reason never attraced the interest of people interested in picturesque ruins (like Scharzfels or Plesse). Some efforts to avoid further decay were made in the 19th century, but during the GDR-regime, the castle was left alone. A society to preserve - and research - the remains of Hohnstein Castle was founded in 1990, and since 2001 there's a little restaurant in a restored outbuilding.

Zoom in to the Renaissance palace in Stolberg

1) The website gives the date and event, but without further explanation. The involvement of the Hohnstein family in the Star Wars is the most likely reason; a number of nobles had joined the Star League.
2) It is not specified what those rights entailed, part of the income, residence for some limited time, or other ways to partake in the castle.
3) The Flail War is sometimes presented as a predecessor of the great Peasant War in the 16th century since some of the men were poor farmers looking for a better life. But destroying the land of other farmers to hurt the income of a nobleman is not the way to go for social justice.
4) He may have died a prisoner in Dringenberg Castle in 1417.
5) His son had been captured by the men of the flail during the attack on the Hohnstein. I could not find out what happened to the boy; maybe he was killed, which would explain why the father wanted to move away from a place full of bad memories.
6) Escpecially for Kasia (*wink*): He was also King of Bohemia since 1419. His mother was Elisabeth of Pomerania, granddaughter of King Kasimir III of Poland.
7) It is interesting that the claim of the landgraves of Thuringia was overruled esp. since Friedrich the Warlike rose to Prince Elector of Saxony under King Sigismund. Maybe some castle at the fringes of his lands didn't mean that much to him and he obliged Sigismund to consider it a homefallen imperial fief (which it had been at the time of Barbarossa, after Heinrich the Lion's fall).
8) We have seen several times how fluctuating naming was during the first years when a family took a new main seat.
9) A few years later Vizthum was found on the Protestant side at the battle of Wittstock (1636) where he led the Swedish reserve.

The town of Stolberg seen from the church hill
(It's a typical Harz town spreading along a valley between the mountains.)

Uwe Mosebach: Wo einst die Grafen von Hohnstein lebten. Clausthal-Zellerfeld, 1993
Bernd Schneidmüller: Die Welfen - Herrschaft und Erinnerung. Stuttgart, 2000
Wilfried Warsitzka: Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt, 2009


  Between Staufen, Welfen, and Thuringia - The Counts of Hohnstein (Part 2)

I have mentioned a few times that the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa and Duke Heinrich 'the Lion' of Saxony and Bavaria, cousins and close allies for a long time, eventually had a falling out that led to Heinrich's exile in England in 1182. Here is a - admittedly short; the events would cover more than one post of their own - introduction to what happened. The events will influence the feudal position of the Ilfeld-Hohnstein family, among others.

One of Barbarossa's main problems was Italy. The cities of Lombardy were technically vassals of the emperor but prefered to ignore that little detail whenever the emperor went back to Germany, Pope Alexander III had excommunicated Barbarossa in good old tradition (1)), and the Normans had conquered Sicily. Barbarossa crossed the Alps no less than five times between 1154 (when he was crowned emperor) and 1177 (when he had to submit to pope Alexander III) to try to sort out the messes. Success varied and overall, those wars cost a lot of money and men, esp. during the malaria epidemic in 1168. Heinrich the Lion had been a faithful follower in the first campaigns, bringing with him a great number of knights (2) and men, but when Friedrich Barbarossa called for the 5th time, he declined.

Hohnstein Castle, remains of the round tower

One reason was that Heinrich had his own interests in expanding his lands eastward (3) and in controlling the unruly Saxon nobility. Heinrich had snatched some rich heritages as homefallen fiefs (among them Stade and Winzenburg) and he continously tried to expand his power over nobles and bishops who'd have prefered imperial immediacy. Thus a veritable league against Heinrich developed, including the margrave of Brandenburg, the landgrave of Thuringia, the margrave of Meissen, the bishops of Magdeburg and Halberstadt, and more. Open war broke out in 1167, and Friedrich Barbarossa had to intervene to reestablish the peace. At that time he still fully supported his cousin Heinrich.

View into the Renaissance palace from one of the doors

Unlike Barbarossa, Heinrich had not much at stake in Italy (4) and he may also have worried what would happen if he left that coalition of enemies behind. Barbarossa had already left for Italy for the fifth time and faced so many problems that he retired halfway into the Alps, where he asked Duke Heinrich for succour. They met at Chiavenna in early 1176. According to some chronicles Heinrich asked for the silver mines of Goslar as reward for another military allegiance, but that was something Friedrich could not grant him; the income from the mines was too important. The famous scene where Friedrich knelt before Heinrich cannot be proven, though. It would of course have been a powerful gesture Heinrich should not have ignored, but it is a legend (5).

Great hall of the Renaissance palace

Well, Friedrich Barbarossa went to Italy without Heinrich and his host, and promptly lost the Battle of Legnano, barely escaping with his life. Barbarossa was then obliged to make peace with Pope Alexander III and submit to the pope to have his excommunication lifted (1177). Barbarossa might have put some of the blame for that on Heinrich whose men were sorely missed at Legnano.

But the pressure from the Saxon nobles and bishops, and other princes of the realm increased to a point Barbarossa could no longer ignore their complaints without endangering his own position.

Outer bailey

Another outbreak of an armed conflict started in autumn 1178. Heinrich was commanded to appear at the diet of Worms to defend himself against the accusation of breaking the king's peace, but Heinrich refused to attend because it would have meant that he acknowledged the accusation. He did not appear on further diets, either. According to feudal law, this was disobedience. So his fiefs were confiscated and redistributed among the nobles in opposition to Heinrich (6); he was also condemned to outlawry. Friedrich Barbarossa split the duchies of Saxony and Bavaria to avoid another accumulation of power. The princes of the realm got a very important concession out of the emperor: he promised that he would not receive Heinrich back in his grace, which was his right.

Between the curtain walls

The judgement was executed by military might, since Heinrich didn't stand idly by. After some initial success, the cards turned against him. Friedrich Barbarossa set the nobles an ultimatum: turn their allegiance to him or lose their fiefs. He picked a palatine seat in the Harz (7) for a purpose, I think. Most of the local nobles, including the counts of Regenstein, Scharzfeld and of Ilfeld-Hohnstein, swore their fealty to the emperor. Heinrich's support was crumpling rapidly, even a number of his ministeriales, who had a much closer personal bond than freeborn nobles, abandoned the former duke. In the end, Heinrich performed a deditio at the diet in Erfurt in November 1181. Friedrich Barbarossa returned his allodial possessions to him and likely put a time limit on the exile (8).

The well with the inner gatehouse in the background

So the Ilfeld-Hohnstein got out of the mess with their feudal obligation returned to the emperor (Ilfeld may have been an imperial fief since the time of Lothar of Süpplingenburg, before it came to Heinrich the Lion). What is interesting is that we can trace Elger of Ilfeld as witness on a charte by Ludwig III Landgrave of Thuringia in 1182.

The family kept their imperial fief during the troubles between Staufen and Welfen after the death of Barbarossa's son and successor Heinrich VI in 1197 (the time of the quarrel between the Heinrich's son Otto IV and Barbarossa's younger son Philipp of Swabia, and his successor Friedrich II) and the shift of Staufen interests towards Italy (9). Yet they may have kept an eye out for protection should things go amiss, and the landgraves of Thuringia had become a powerful family. Witnessing a charte is a sign of some sort of relationship.

Gate house and round tower

The Ilfeld-Hohnstein family had grown quite a bit since Elger II got the Hohnstein as fief from Heinrich the Lion in 1178. He and Lutradis had only one son, another Elger (who came of age about 1184, † 1219), but this Elger III had several children with his wife Oda of Magdeburg, who start to appear in local chartes since 1210. The oldest son, Dietrich, lived at the Hohnstein after his marriage. The second son, Heinrich, was a Teutonic knight and among the men who accomagnied the emperor Friedrich II to Jerusalem in 1228; a third son may be identical with the Elger, listed as deacon of Halberstadt, who died in 1237. A daughter, Lutradis, became abbess of Drübeck. Since the family had given up the castle of Ilfeld, the Hohnstein must have been pretty crowded since about 1200. There may have lived up to 60 people there; the family, their retainers and ministeriales, and the servants.

From the time of Elger III on the family took the name of Hohnstein alone. The family can only be glimpsed in historical records, but they seem to have done well in accumulating more land by marriage, and they became one of the powerful families in the southern Harz.

Outer gate seen from the inside

The connection with the landgraves of Thuringia remained: one Elger of Hohnstein, probably a son of Dietrich I, was the confessor of the last Ludowing landgrave, Heinrich Raspe. Heinrich Raspe had been named regent for the underage Konrad IV, son of Friedrich II, in Germany (while Friedrich was busy in Italy). But several years after Friedrich II got excommunicated a second time in 1239, Heinrich Raspe switched to the pro-papal and anti-Staufen coalition in 1245. It is difficult to find a reason for this (10) though maybe it was religious scruples due to the excommunication of Friedrich II (11). Heinrich Raspe was elected king, but by a clerically dominated group of nobles under leadership of the bishop of Mainz (who had changed sides as well), and by the support of the pope. Heinrich fought Konrad in one battle but died, maybe of a wound gotten in that battle, only 9 months after he became king, in February 1247.

Another view of the remains of the palace, seen from the outer bailey

Heirich Raspe had died childless. But there were several candidates from the female line who wanted the lands and the landgraviate. The result was the War of the Thuringian Succession (1247-1264) between the Margrave of Meissen from the Wettin family, Sophie of Brabant, and the archbishop of Mainz. In the end, Heinrich Margrave of Meissen got the landgraviate of Thuringia and the Thuringian / Saxon possessions, while Sophie's son, another Heinrich, got the newly created landgraviate of Hessia.

The Hohnstein family played their cards well. With the lack of Staufen protection and an array of elected kings who never even visited Germany (12), an imperial fief was prone to get snatched. They decided to stick with the landgraves of Thuringia and took the fief from the Wettin family. The counts of Hohnstein became one of the important vassals of the new line of Thuringian landgraves and gained a number of fiefs and rights during the second half of the 13th century, the peak time of the family.

Remains of a tower with round windows

1) I leave out the additional problems caused by a schism. The counterpopes (Victor IV and Paschalis III) supported Barbarossa, but in the end Alexander turned out the more powerful and Friedrich had to deal with him.
2) One source mentions 1,200 heavily armoured horse. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is clear that Heinrich's support was important.
3) His war against the pagan Slavic tribes had been given the full rights of a crusade in 1147.
4) He had a feudal claim on some Italian lands from his great grandfather (Welf aka Guelph IV), but that problem had been solved in 1154.
5) Complete with half a dozen contradictory variants. It only appears in chronicles that were written long after the event.
6) Heinrich lost his status as prince of the realm and was no more than a freeborn noble.
7) Werla, which no longer eixists.
8) After his promise to the nobles, that was about the best Barbarossa could do. While it has long be held in research papers that the emperor was glad to be rid of the second most powerful man in the realm and orchestrated Heinrich's downfall, newer books and essays see his role more moderate, victim of the nobles more than perpetrator. The concessions Barbarossa made towards the nobles and bishops indeed give an argument to the latter.
9) According to the Hohnstein website.
10) Kaufhold, p. 324 (see below).
11) One may wonder what role Elger of Hohnstein played in the affair. He was a highly educated cleric, had spent some time in Paris, and he could likely argue with the best of them. Heinrich Raspe was a religious man, so a confessor will have had a good deal of influence. The fact that Friedrich II could not agree to all claims of Pope Innocent IV during the peace negotiations cast a bad light on the emperor (though politically he was right to refuse).
12) Except for Richard of Cornwall, who at least spent some time in the towns at the Rhine.

The well

Odilo Engels: Die Staufer. 9th revised edition, Stuttgart, 2010
Karl Jordan: Heinrich der Löwe. Munich, 1979
Manfred Kaufhold: Die Könige des Interregnum - Konrad IV, Heinrich Raspe, Wilhem, Alfons, Richard (1245-1273), in: Bernd Schneidmüller/ Stefan Weinfurter (ed.): Die deutschen Herrscher des Mittelalters. Historische Portraits von Heinrich I. bis Maximilian I. (919–1519), Munich 2003, p. 315-339
Uwe Mosebach: Wo einst die Grafen von Hohnstein lebten. Clausthal-Zellerfeld, 1993
Ferdinand Oppl: Friedrich Barbarossa, in: Gestalten des Mittelalters und der Renaissance, Serie der WBG. Darmstadt, 1990
Bernd Schneidmüller: Die Welfen - Herrschaft und Erinnerung. Stuttgart, 2000
Wilfried Warsitzka: Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt, 2009

Next post see here,

  Lost Branches on the Family Tree - The Counts Hohnstein (Part 1)

After I mentioned the Hohnstein family a few times in my post about Scharzfels, I thought they would make a good topic for the next posts. The history of Castle Hohnstein (also spelled Honstein), situated on a promontory in the south-eastern Harz mountains, is better documented than Scharzfels Castle (1). The ruins are a veritable labyrinth with material for a lot of pretty photos. Most of the building material is local porphyry (like in the nearby Ebersburg), hence the lovely red colour.

Hohnstein Castle, the palace building on a rock

Since the castle had been turned into a palace by the counts of Stolberg, then in possession of the Hohnstein, in the 16th century, the remains show a mixture of Mediaeval castle and Renaissance palace features (for example the large windows in some buildings). Some buildings like the inner gate have been altered so often that they present a nice puzzle for historians and architects to disentagle. But some of the remains date back to the Romanesque period of the mid-12th century.

A veritable maze - remains of Hohnstein Castle

The beginnings of the castle and the family of Hohnstein have turned out a right mess. The prevalent information, including the guidebook (2) says that the castle was founded by Konrad of Sangerhausen, a grandson of Ludwig the Bearded, eponymous ancestor of the Ludoving landgraves of Thuringia, in the 1120ies. But the castle website states that this is a misinformation from the Chronica Reinhardsbrunnensis (covering the years 527-1338). The chronicle - named after the favourite monastery of the Thuringian landgraves since 1058 (3) - was only assembled in the 14th century and is a mix of older texts and some plain made up stories, and its reliability has lately been questioned. So I felt obliged to hunt down the geneaologies as far as the time I can spend on a blogpost would allow. There are indeed some nice contradictions.

Remains of the count's living quarters (Renaissance) and the gate tower to the left

Ludwig the Bearded had marrieed Cäcilia of Sangerhausen (~ 1040), and they had a bunch of sons, among them one Beringer (4), the father of Konrad of Sangerhausen. The name of Konrad's mother may have been Bertrada. Beringer died at some time before 1110 (5) when Konrad was still a minor. His uncle Ludwig the Leaper (1042-1123) acted as his guardian. Konrad of Sangerhausen seems to have sold his Sangerhausen possessions to Ludwig (between 1110 and 1116) and it is said he bought the land around the Hohnstein instead. Warsitzka, who is usually critical about the Chronicle of Reinhardsbrunn, confirms the sale of Sangerhausen in his monography about the Landgraves of Thuringia (6).

The inner gate

While the Chronica Reinhardsbrunnensis names the 'comes Conradus de Honsteyn (filius Beringeri di Sangirhusen)' as ancestor of 'all of the Hohnstein', the Iohannis Capitis Historia Monasterii Ilfeldensis, the History of the Monastery of Ilfeld, names one 'Elgerus secundus' as 'first count in the Hohnstein'. He is said to have obtained the castle from Reinvig, the widow of Esico of Hohnstein († about 1175). This Esico may be identical with Esico (Hesiko) of Orlamünde, a younger son of Hermann I of Weimar-Orlamünde, but I could not prove that for sure. As younger son, he might have taken the title after his wife's possessions. There is no proof that Reinvig, whose parents are not mentioned in the Historia Ilfeldensis, was the daughter of Konrad of Sangerhausen, or that he is indeed identical with the obscure Conradus de Honsteyn († 1145), but there is enough open space for a geneaological connection to be made in later centuries (7).

Remains of the great hall

Reinvig and Esico obviously had only a daugher, Lutradis, and she was married to the Elger 'secundus' (Adelger II) of Ilfeld mentioned above as the first Count of Hohnstein, according to the Historia Ilfedensis (8). He lived on the neighbouring hill, more or less. The marriage took place in ~1162.

The inner yard

The counts of Ilfeld can be traced back to a charte dating to 1128, in which the Archbishop of Mainz confirms a donation of property for the soul of one 'comes Adelgeri' who was the father of 'Elger who built castrum Yliburgk' (Ilburg, from which the family took the name Ilfeld). This Elger appears in a few chartes since 1154. He was married to a Bertrada (8); they were the parents of our Elger II. Elger I died in 1160; his wife in 1190. The county of Ilfeld may have been created as imperial fief by the emperor Lothar of Süpplingenburg (9).

The outer gate

Elger II of Ilfeld appears as witness in several chartes and accompagnied Duke Heinrich the Lion on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1172. Elger received the Hohnstein as fief from Heinrich the Lion in 1178 and from that time alternately used Ilfeld or Hohnstein as designation.

Remains of some outbuildings

It is said that Heinrich the Lion had got Hohnstein Castle as imperial fief from Friedrich Barbarossa (10). Whatever the early status of Castle Hohnstein, it seems to have fallen to the emperor with the death of Esico of Hohnstein. On the other hand it is said that Elger obtained it from Esico's widow Reinvig who in that case must have had the right to sell / give it. Things get even more complicated by the mention of one Burchard of Hohnstein who in 1178 signed a charte about a transfer of possessions between the Abbot of Fulda and one of his ministeriales. Among the bunch of witnesses is also an Adelger of Ilfeld, who must be identical with Elger II. Burchard obviously was a chatellain - his family would later spread and take the names of Arnswald and Aschenrode, though they continued to serve as chatellains on the Hohnstein. But who installed him? Esico, the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa, or even Elger II of Ilfeld?

The count's lodgings, seen from a higher level

The most likely scenario is that Reinvig had the right to live in the castle after her husband's death (while a chatellain ran the place for the emperor and later duke Heinrich). Her daughter probably lived in Ilfeld Castle with her husband, but he wanted to move to the Hohnstein, and that was Reinvig's to decide. Since Elger obviously had a good relationship with Heinrich the Lion, the duke gave the castle as fief to Elger (who kept Burchard as chatellain) (11)

Honstein Castle must have been larger and more comfortable than Ilfeld, since the latter was dismantled to build the Abbey of Ilfeld which Elger and Lutradis founded 'in gratitude for the safe return from pilgrimage' in 1184. Elger II died in 1191 (12).

Gate house (right) with round tower (left)

What we can say for sure after sorting out all those messes, is that the castle came to the counts of Ilfeld by the female line of whoever lived in Hohnstein before Elger II got the castle as fief from Heinrich the Lion in 1178. Since that time the counts of Ilfeld lived on the Hohnstein and took its name as their own.

Another view of the rock foundations and the remains of the palace

1) There is a bit more literature and a website about this castle which make a better starting point for research.
2) Mosebach, see below.
3) The monastery of Reinhardsbrunn no longer exists, there's a Baroque palace in its place.
4) The most famous of the sons is Ludwig the Leaper.
5) Konrad signed a charte in 1110, which means he must have been an adult at that date.
6) Warsitzka, p. 50 (see below).
7) Since the Chronica Reinhardsbrunnensis was written on behalf of the landgraves of Thuringia, it is well possible, that geneaological connections to places were established, in case of open claims to said possessions in the future.
8) Historia Monasterii Ilfeldensis. The name Bertrada, which is identical with the name of the wife of Konrad mentioned in the Chronicle of Reinhardsbrunn, may have added to the confusion about which widow was who. :-)
9) Jordan, p. 125 (see below). The timeline would certainly fit.
10) Heinrich the Lion tried to gather possessions in the Harz which were not already part of his allodial lands; mostly imperial fiefs which Friedrich Barbarossa gave him out of gratitude because Heinrich supported his claim to becoming emperor instead of pushing his own. Others lands he got by the way of exchange. Among the first group obviously was Hohnstein Castle.
11) In some cases, the new lord had to wait for the death of the widow to actually live in a castle, or - like in the case of the Plesse - try to have her move out.
12) Elger II and his son are also listed among the survivors of the Latrine Accident in Erfurt (1184) mentioned in the footnotes of this post

Remains of the round tower

Karl Jordan: Heinrich der Löwe. Munich 1979
Uwe Mosebach: Wo einst die Grafen von Hohnstein lebten. Clausthal-Zellerfeld 1993
Wilfried Warsitzka: Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt 2009

The further history of the counts of Hohnstein, and their successors, the counts of Stolberg, will be covered in another post. After that, I better move to something British or Roman else my readers will get scared by all those German geneaologies. :-)

Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.