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

  Between the Landgraves of Hessia and the Archbishops of Mainz: Castle Grebenstein

Castle Grebenstein, situated 15 miles north of Kassel, is another of those less well known castle ruins that dot the German landscape. Instead of the keep which is usually the main remaining - and often restored - feature, in case of Grebenstein the great hall, or palas is the best preserved building. And a pretty impressive one at that.

Grebenstein Castle, the palas building

The building is 37 metres long and 12 metres wide, with a cellar and three storeys, still about 13 metres high. One can see remains of the kitchen on cellar level, the solar, some fireplaces and scuncheons with seats (there is enough space for cozy seats in those three metres thick walls), and toilet oriels. It must once have been a pretty palas for a border castle that was mostly run by a chatellain (Burgmann). Though some additions were made when members of the family of the landgraves of Hessia actually lived in the castle at times in the 14th century.

Windows with scuncheon seats in the north wall

The castle stands on a basalt cone some 50 metres above the small town of Grebenstein. One can still see some traces of the trench, but the curtain walls, gate towers and outer bailey have all but disappeared when the ruins were used as quarry since the aftermath of the Thirty Years War. It is actually surprising that the walls of the great hall survived in considerably good shape.

The palas seen from the east (the fomer outer bailey)

There is no comprehensive essay about the history of the castle currently avaliabe, so I had to hunt down whatever information I could find on reliable websites (1). Grebenstein was one of those contested border castles in the area between Thuringia, Hessia and today's Lower Saxony, with bits of land belonging to the archbishop of Mainz, the bishop of Paderborn, or noble families with various feudal bonds (2), among them the Counts of Dassel and Everstein.

The northern palas wall from the outside

Castle Grebenstein is first mentioned in a charte in 1272, but as usual, the actual building of the castle may date further back. A villacatio (a manor) called Grawen is mentioned in a register about tithes owned the monastery of Helmarshausen dating to 1120. So there definitely was a settlement some 50 years prior to the charte; the existence of a fortified structure is therefore a possibility.

The palas seen from the west

The lord holding the castle in the charte mentione above is Count Ludolf V of Dassel, member of a noble family (3) whose main lands, Dassel, castle Nienover, and the Solling forest are some 40 kilometres north of Grebenstein, in close proximity of the lands held by the Everstein of Polle. There were several marriage connections between both families - Ludolf's mother was a Clementia of Everstein, for example.

Interior of the palas, facing west

I could not figure out how and at which feudal terms Ludolf of Dassel came in possession of either the castle or the land to build the Grebenstein, but it surely was a hot spot between the bishop of Paderborn and Landgrave Heinrich I of Hessia, as the charte from 1272 demonstrates. It tries to define the borders of the lands in the area, including the exact extent of those belonging to the Grebenstein, nor does it seem clear who held the feudal rights to which bits of land in some cases. It looks like Ludolf got caught in the middle, and the borders remained undefined for the time being.

Interior, facing east

There seems to have been trouble, though. An agreement between Otto of Rietberg Bishop of Paderborn and the archbishop of Mainz, dating to 1279, says that Otto would try to get Castle Grebenstein into his power so that it would cease to be a centre for "troubles against Mainz" (Otto got a castle in possession of the archbishop as thanks). It is not clear whether the next Ludolf in line (Ludolf VI, 1235-1290) was causing troubles for Mainz on his own account or whether he was acting in the interests of the landgrave of Hessia who was at cahoots with the archbishop Werner of Eppstein as result of the Hessian-Thuringian War of Succession. But despite the intrigues, battles (4) and a threat to have the curtain walls dismantled, Ludolf kept the castle (with the walls intact), though it obviously did indeed become a fief of Mainz, maybe as result of the peace negotiations.

Upper floors in the sunshine

Ludolf VI of Dassel sold several of his ancestral lands and castles. One wonders if he was in financial troubles, but he also had only one surviving daughter, Drudeke (Gertrud), and the line would die out with him, so maybe he didn't see any reason to keep everything for her husband to inherit.

Drudeke married Ludwig III of Everstein (1266-1312); the Grebenstein was one of the possessions she brought to the marriage. Their younger son Otto VIII of Everstein inherited the castle either after his mother's death in 1283 (5), or at a later point before 1293.

The upper floors with the solar

Otto of Everstein was in possession of the castle in 1293, because that year he opened all his castles to Landgrave Heinrich I of Hessia and became his chatellain (Burgmann) for the Grebenstein. In 1297 he sold the castle to Landgrave Heinrich and was replaced as chatellain. Otto of Everstein also renounced his rights to Kugelsburg Castle which he held from Cologne - probably glad to get out of the rivalries between both archbishops.

Since the Grebenstein was a fief of the archbishop of Mainz but there are no complaints about the transaction the sources know of, one can assume that it happend with the agreement of the archbishop. Gerhard II of Eppstein tried to establish a peace with the landgrave of Hessia, which unfortunately didn't survive under his successors.

The north wall seen from halfway up the staircase

Grebenstein Castle - and soon the fortified town as well - became a post of defense of Hessian interests in the area which was dominated by possessions in control of the archbishop of Mainz. Open feud flared up again in 1325 when the archbishop claimed town and castle as homefallen fief after the death of Landgrave Johannes of Lower Hessia, a son of Heinrich I, but his half-brother Otto who had inherited Upper Hessia (around the Lahn river) took over the lands and showed the archbishop the middle finger.

Another attempt to regain the castle was made in 1385 when the archbishop of Mainz laid siege to the Grebenstein, which ended in a defeat for Mainz. Landgrave Hermann II of Hessia had incresed taxes to refill the treasury which looked rather empty after the Star Wars. As a result, the town of Kassel rebelled and hooked up with Mainz.

The north-east angle with the kitchen

Landgrave Hermann II 'the Learned' was born in Grebenstein Castle in 1341. His father was Ludwig the Younger, son of the above mentioned Landgrave Otto. Ludwig's older brother, another Heinrich, became landgrave in 1328; the Grebenstein came into Ludwig's possession as paréage. Hermann was destined for a clerical career, but then all male heirs ahead of him died and he became landgrave in 1376.

It was probably during that time the palas of Grebenstein was expanded to the size and luxury whose remains we can still see today.

Mainz finally had enough and sold all rights to castle and town Grebenstein to landgrave Ludwig II of Hessia (a grandson of Hermann II) in 1463. The castle lost its strategical importance.

The north-west angle

A ledger from 1428 still lists as inhabitants: the bailiff, the treasurer, several servants (churls), 4 guardsmen, 1 porter, 1 wine steward, 1 cook and 1 scullion, 1 baker, 1 cooper, 1 donkey driver (the donkey was needed to carry water and firewood to the castle), 4 farm hands, 1 dairy maid, 1 herdsman and 1 swineherd. Another account lists some victuals that had been brought to the castle: 17 herring and dried cod (stockfish), 8 pounds of honey, 2 lot pepper and 1 lot ginger. The inhabitants - at least those of higher standing - liked their food well spiced.

The southen wall from the outside

Since 1471, the accounts only mention a scribe living in the castle ("one and a half shilling to make fast the window and make shutters for the scribe up in the castle"). About 1540 the castle was used as granary.

Castle and town were destroyed during the Thirty Years War; afterwards the castle was used as quarry to repain the town. The ruins have been preserved at the end of the 20th century. Castle Grebenstein is a hidden little jewel at the Hessian border to which few tourists find they way.

The palace seen against the light

1) In particular this website of a local researcher and the article about Grebenstein in Burgenlexikon.
2) For example Castle Krukenburg and Castle Sichelnstein.
3) The most famous member of the family was Rainald von Dassel (ca. 1115 - 1167), archbishop of Cologne and chancellor of the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa.
4) Particularly the Battle of Fritzlar 1280 where the archbishop was defeated by Landgrave Heinrich I:
5) The geneaology is a bit muddled here. Either Drudeke's date of death or the birth date of her eldest son Ludwig (both 1283) must be wrong since she had three more sons. Otto is the second. Ludwig died in 1322 which means that the Grebenstein must have been part of a portion of Drudeke's heritage that fell to Otto of Everstein. A Danish geneaology - the Dassel family had also married into the Danish nobility - gives 1283 for Ludwig as 'first mentioned' which makes more sense.

  Memories of Summer

Right now, the weather is dreary and grey, with rain and wind - no longer winter, but not yet spring. So I looked for some nice summer photos to cheer myself and my readers up.

View from Hanstein Castle

The German Central Uplands (Mittelgebirge) are a beautiful place to live, as the above vista shows. We got plenty of such views, a mix of mountains and valleys, forests and fields.

Gypsum cliffs in the southerns Harz

Sometimes those mountains show interesting geological features, like the gypsum cliffs in the Harz.

The Weser river

Rivers are especially lovely on a sunny summer morning. Above is the Weser near Bursfelde.

Old forest at the Weser (Sababurg Urwald)

The old forest near the Sababurg at the Weser is a former wood pasture that has been allowed to regrow naturally. One can almost see Hobbits walking there.

Bruchteiche near Bad Sooden-Allendorf

Another water photo, the Bruchteiche near Bad Sooden-Allendorf, a fomer reservoir for drinking water.

View from my balcony: dramatic sunset

The last one is not a summer photo but a recent one, but I wanted to share that wonderful, dramatic sunset.


  Winged Winter Visitor

There are winter days when the balcony and the garden below look like this.

Winter view from my balcony

It usually only lasts a short time, but this year we got a colder winter. Albeit there is not much snow in my area - the mountain areas got a lot more of the white fun.

Doesn't look like it's going to stop snowing any time soon

That weather attracts the birds visiting my feeder, but it is not easy to catch the wee flurries. For one it's usually twilight when they come, and most of them are more shy than the blackbirds.

There is that funny white stuff in my food

I get titmouses (blue and great tits) and bushtits, too, as well as red robins, and the occasional red jay or magpie, but those tend to fly off the moment I go near the balcony door with my camera, leaving only blurry shots and shed seed hulls behind.

I don't want ice cream, I want cereals

The blackbirds on the other hand, a male and a female, are not shy at all. I could come close to about a metre, with the balcony door open, and they just looked at me reproachfully as if the snow was my fault.

Do something about that, will you?

There is often a bunch of winged visitors in the early morning as well, but I like to sleep in and then there's not enough time to photograph birds before I have to go off to work. Animal photographing takes patience.

Rimfrost in the morning sun

But I got this pretty shot one morning when the light was just perfect. A lovely winter day.


  Revisiting the Weidelsburg

I've mentioned that we revisited Weidelsburg Castle in my 2016 summer travel post. I wanted to take photos of the place after the restoration work going on in 2008 was finished (1). Here is a bunch of them.

Weidelsburg, the east keep (left) and west palas (right)

I've posted about the history of the Weidelsburg here and the architecture here, so this post will be mostly photos, esp. of the parts that had been scaffolded in or were inaccessible in 2008.

The palas seen from the north

I've changed two or three photos in the old posts and added one to make the posts look better, but overall I want to keep the new stuff to its own post.

The east keep

I also got a new camera with a better wide-angle lens, therefore some shots of the castle are better now, like the above one of the east keep, or the outer bailey below.

Outer bailey, remains of the northern curtain wall

The photo below shows a closeup of the northern curtain wall with one of the half towers. One can also see support beams for the battlements. The different surface levels are not original but due to debris accumulating for centuries. The curtain walls had been excavated back in the 1970ies.

Closeup of the northern curtain wall

Besides the restoration work, the Friend's Association (2) in care of the castle has added some features to better explain the Mediaval look of the place. One of those is the portcullis at the entrance to the keep as additonal defense. Even with the castle taken, the keep could have held out, especially since it had its own well.

Entrance to the east keep with portcullis

It was a sunny and warm summer day; nice weather for a little hiking tour, but the sun glared off the freshly sandblased walls and created deep shadows on the other side, which made photographing a bit tricky.

The palas seen from the east

The most outstanding change to my first visit was the west palas - the great hall - which has been sandblasted and stabilised in 2008. Only the outer walls still exist, but those give a good impression of the size of the building.

Interior of the palas: staircase in the south corner

The palas has three storeys. One can still see the supports for the floor beams in the wall. A staircase towerlet led to the upper storeys.

Another interior shot of the palas

The ground floor was separated into a great hall and an anteroom which may have been used for household works or as the lord's office. The hall had several large crossbar windows with embrasures and benches.

Toilet oriel in the palas

One of the toilets remains, now high up in the air (with an outflow into the outer trench), but originally situated in the third storey which may have held the lord's and lady's chambers (3).

Great hall seen from the - now open - cellar

The cellar had two storeys. The upper one may have been used as kitchen. The other cellar was used for storage. The vault has been restored, but the second cellar is not open to the public.

Vault opening into another cellar

To give a better impression of what the castle would have looked like when it was still in use, a piece of the battlements has been reconstructed, albeit it is lacking a roof which would have protected the guards - and the powder of the arquebuses.

Reconstructed part of the battlements

As well as one of the many semi-circular half towers in the curtain walls. Those would have had several storeys separated by wooden floors and allowed shooting at the enemy from various angles.

Interior of a half-tower, partly reconstructed

As mentioned in the post about the architecture of the Weidelsburg, the addition of zwingers put the defenses of the castle on the threshold between Mediaeval and Renaissance features.

Gate tower leading into the east zwinger, seen from the zwinger

The south-eastern zwinger is the best preserved one, though at our first visit, it was overgrown with brambles and could only be glimpsed at through a door. Now it has been cleared out and the shrubs growing there are kept in check.

South-east zwinger

One can walk inside the zwinger and imagine how it may have felt to be stuck between two walls full of an angry castle garrison. But in our time it is a quiet and green spot if you can catch a moment without other tourists.

South-east zwinger, different angle

There is a little restoration snuck in between the keep and the eastern curtain wall. We had a glass of lemonade-beer mix callded Radler (it tastes better than it sounds) after the climb to the castle.

Southern part of the zwinger

1) It was finished in 2014. The County of Hessia gave about a million €, more money came in by private donations.
2) Link to their website, unfortunately only in German.
2) Today the toilets are in a timber barrack outside the curtain wall near the Naumburg Gate. Quite useful after all that cold lemonade-beer mix. :-)

  Happy New Year

I wish everyone a happy New Year.

Kiessee Lake with ducks and swans

Here are some winter and water photos for you. :-)

The Kiessee Lake - a flooded gravel pit which had been in use until 1955 - is a recreational park not far from my flat, so I do a bit of walking there frequently.

Closeup of the swan family

I brought my camera along today to get some winter photos from our New Year's walk I did together with my father. And a lovely sunny afternoon it was, too, albeit cold and rather windy. It didn't prevent a lot of other people walking along the lake as well, though I could photograph around them.

The lake from a different angle at the south shore

The temperature had been a bit below zero those last days and the lake starts to freeze over, though I would not recommend anything heavier than a swan to walk on that treacherous layer of thin ice.

Seen from the west shore

There are rare winters when the ice is safe for skating. In summer, the lake often swarms with canoes and other small boats. There is a parking lot at the north side of the lake - just well my father can park his car near my flat since the parking lot is always full.

Reeds and the lake against the low winter sun

The surface of the lake is 15 ha and the shores about 2 miles, but there are additional ways in the surroundings, for example along the Leine/Flüthe flood canal which is connected to the lake by a weir and several basins.

Compensation basin at the Flüthe rivulet

The weir, dam and canal system of Leine / Flüthe (an estuary of the Leine) and Kiessee lessens the danger of floods in the town of Göttingen, though the road running directly along the north side of the park still gets flooded when the Leine river rises too high.

Retention basin at the Leine/Flüthe flood canal

I took some spring photos of the Kiessee a few years ago, and I also got some summer photos of the lake and the canal in my archives.

The Lost Fort is a blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK and other places, with essays on Roman and Mediaeval history illustrated with lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes. You may also find the odd essay about geology or Mediaeval literature.

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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Location: Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)