The Local Nobility and Their Castles - Plesse
Here are some more pics and a bit of information about Plesse Castle.
Main keep in the centre and repaired hall to the left
As so often in the Middle Ages, we don't have an exact date when the first castle was erected on the Plesse mountain. The first mention in a charte dates from 1138 and names a Burggraf
(Lord Commander) Robert who was likely commanding the garrison on behalf of a Count Hermann who held the Plesse as fief, but the origins likely date back into the 11th century.
(Left: another view of the reconstructed Keep)
Mountain castles (Höhenburgen
) were a modern feature in the 11th century because they were more difficult to construct than the simpler motte and bailey castles protected by earth walls and ditches and maybe a partial stone wall, with an artifical hillock for the keep at best - the latter being a Norman feature and thus rarely found Germany.
Except for the flat land between Hannover and the coast, Germany is rich in hills and mountains, and so it was a logical step to use those natural defenses.
In case of the Plesse, a steep V-shaped ledge of 50 metres length that was separated from the main plateau to the east by an incline offered the best possible spot because it was already inaccessible from the two sides of the V, and it didn't take much to turn the incline into a moat. During the various changes and expansions of the castle, additional defenses were added and the eastern part with the moat and curtain wall broadened.
One disadvantage of the high situation was accessibility to water. Water veins can be found in a hundred metres' depth, but I'm not sure people had the technology to dig that deep through bedrock at least during the first periods of occupation of the Plesse. They would have relied on cisterns and probably got water from rivulets below in peaceful times. Not the favourite job for the servants, I bet.
The so-called Little Tower
The rise of the mountain castles falls into a period of internal struggles and changes in Germany. More than before, kings, nobility and high ranking churchmen got into conflicts with each other in the 11th century, which finally led to a stronger position for the latter two, and a weakened king. The quarrels Heinrich IV had with the Saxon nobles led by Otto of Northeim I've mentioned several times, fall into this period.
Castles were not only means of defense, but status symbols. Originally, only the king had the right to build castles; he then gave them to the nobles as fiefs or sometimes allodial possessions, but now whoever had the power and the means built castles. No wonder I have six of them within half an hours driving distance, lol.
(Right: Another shot of the Little Tower)
There are some dis-cussions about the liege of the Plesse counts. The most likeliest candidate is the bishop of Paderborn who also held the Krukenburg
, among others (source: Kleiner Plesse-führer, 1997).
The first 'owner' was Count Hermann of Reinhausen-Winzenburg (no, I didn't make that name up) who had bits of land spread over a rather large area around Göttingen / Kassel / Weser. The above mentioned Lord Commander Robert held the Plesse for him. Hermann died in 1152, at which time Robert had been replaced by one Bernhard of Höckelheim who received the Plesse as fief his own right. The family then called themselves Edelherren
von Plesse - Noble Lords of Plesse. They had land near Northeim as well, but in the 12th century the new name was used exclusively, though they kept their estate in Höckelheim besides the main seat Plesse.
The Plesse Lords began to accumulate other lands in the area between Hannover and Kassel, and at some point the connection to the liege lord, the bishop of Paderborn, seemed to have become defunct, because they claimed the Plesse to be an allodial possession (or the German variant thereof, a reichsunmittelbares Lehen
). In 1447 the family became vassals of the Landgrave of Hessia; probably because they needed a protector.
The Plesse Lords held the castle for 400 years and lived there most of the time. Most of the structures and buildings visible today, or reconstructed according to old paintings and other sources, have been added by that family.