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


9.3.08
  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.
 
Comments:
That's impressive for a "little" tower!
 
Yes, lovely towers - and wow for the storm. We got wind (lots) and rain. I suppose England bore the brint of the storm. We just caught the edge, and it was quite wild enough!
 
brunt, not brint.
And here I am trying to get a job as a proofreader, lol.
 
Great photos, and a very interesting piece. There's a very deep well in the rock Bamburgh Castle is built on, and the site is certainly very early (supposedly fortified by Ida in 547), though I don't know if the well is early. A water supply would be crucial if you expected to withstand a siege - otherwise all the enemy has to do is stand guard over the gates and wait a few days. Solid bedrock might be easier to dig a deep pit through than earth, because at least it's not going to collapse as easily.
 
Well, it is smaller than the keep. :)

Sam, so far the forecast has made more of the storm than it is, but it's not over yet and there seems to be a second one lurking over the Atlantic.

Carla, I'll have to check on the well problem. The guidebook mentions that the lack of a well was a problem of high castles, but it can well be they managed to dig one later. The Hanstein, situated on a similar geographical formation, has a deep well.
 
I love your pictures! Since it highly unlikely that I will ever make it to the UK or Europe I will have to live through those that have and take such beautiful pictures. Keep them coming!
 
Thank you for your kind words, Daphne. I'm glad I can share some of the great places I've seen online.

Digital cameras and the internet should have been invented earlier; I started going places when I was five and that's really some time back. But I kept a travel diary since I was eight and got my first camera. ;-)
 
The little tower reminds me of the Repunzel fairy tale.
I can imagine water would have been a problem if they were under seige. I'll be interested in your well findings. :)
 
Shelley, I bet the Rapunzel tale came into being when more of those towers were still standing and the villagers in the vales made up all sorts of stories about the lords on the mountains. :)
 
Good photos. I can imagine Rapunzel hanging out the window of the Little Tower, too. Let's hope she had a ready water supply. :)
 
Wow! When is some of your stuff going to escape into the wild?
 
Kirsten, I think the knight will have brought wine. :)

Zornhau, not the articles with photos, I'm afraid. That stuff is too expensive to produce for a publisher. As to my NiPs? Em, *cough* I will finish them, I promise. :)
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy 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 and Fantasy 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.


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