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


9.9.10
  The River Reivers of Bramburg Castle

The remains of the Bramburg are hidden in a beech wood on a promontory above the Weser river. The photos in this post are from a visit last summer.

The castle was first named in a chronicle from 1093 that mentions that Heinrich the Fat, the founder of Bursfelde Abbey, had the castle fortified in order to protect the nearby abbey, thus it must date further back than 1093.

(Bramburg Castle, the keep)

As usual, we can only get glimpses of the castle's history when it is mentioned in chartes and chronicles.

There's a connection with Corvey again. A charte from 1222 mentions that Abbot Hermann of Corvey gave half of the castle as fief to Heidenreich Count of Scharzfeld and his wife Beatrix, so the Bramburg must have belonged to Corvey at that time. Both the abbot and Count Heidenreich promise not to sell or destroy their part of the castle and the lands belonging to it; this is witnessed by thirteen ministeriales (a specific group of vassals in the German feudal system) on each side. Corvey had repaired the tower before this transaction took place, and Heidenreich of Scharzfeld accedes the income from his part of the Bramwald Forest timber rights to the abbey in return. Moreover he promises the fief will be returned to Corvey after his death (which is pretty much feudal standard).

But in 1245 Heidenreich sold his part of the Bramburg to Archbishop Siegfried III of Mainz (heh, Mainz is still busy collecting lands and castles) for 300 mark silver. Oops, didn't he promise not to sell the castle? Well, since 23 years have passed, the feudal possessions and contracts may have changed.

The next time the Bramburg appears in documents (1279, 1286), the castle has come into possession of the Welfen family. We don't know how and when it changed hands. In the 14th century, the lords of Stockhausen were hereditary chatellains (Burgmannen) on the Bramburg; they appear in several chartes and documents. The Stockhausen family are old Lower Saxon / Hessian nobility with possessions in the Göttingen area.

Bramburg Castle, trench

But in the 15th century, the Stockhausen chatellains on the Bramburg took to the somewhat more adventurous lifestyle of highway - well, high river - robbery. It was more profitable than pawning out lands, and the Weser river was an important trade route. They were not the only lords to misuse their power and the strategical position of their strongholds to rob travelers and merchants in the 15th-16th centuries. There's even a German word for them, Raubritter (robber knights).

The men in the castle used to span a chain across the Weser to stop the merchant ships and transport barges. The chain was connected to a rope that led up to the castle and a bell in the inner bailey, so the retainers of the Bramburg would be alerted of a new catch. They jumped onto their horses, one chronicle said, and rode down the incline to plunder the ship. That must have been quite a feast; the slope down to the Weser is really steep and I can't see what advantage horses could have offered in a fight on a ship.

I also suspect they didn't content themselves with plundering, but took prisoners for ransom on occasion. The Bramburg keep has a suitable dungeon. *grin*

View from the Bramburg to the Weser river

In 1458, Duke Wilhelm of Thuringia had enough. The attacks from the Bramburg and other places along the Weser and the roads to Thuringia affected the merchants who traveled to his lands. He gathered an army of 1200 men and marched towards the offending castles. The chatellain of Jühnde (near Göttingen) fled, but Lambert of Stockhausen decided to try to hold the Bramburg.

On July 10, Duke Wilhelm's army reached the village of Imbsen at the foot of the Bramburg where it camped. The way up to the castle is easier from that side since the slopes are less steep than the ones facing the river bend. The duke had his men cut down trees for easier access as well.

The next day 600 men marched up to the Bramburg, 'with a number of handheld cannons, (siege) equipment, and other arms' (1), the rest of the men remained in camp.

The defenders had dug a new trench around the castle, as well as erected bulwarks and obstacles. The castle garrison fought from behind the bulwarks, while one man shot at the attackers from a bay window in the keep with 'eyner bussen' (a handheld cannon with a matchlock - muskets were not yet invented) and caused 'great fear'. The assailants were without cover because the trees had been cut down. But then one of the duke's gunsmiths shot down the bay window on which the brave shooter stood. If the whole bay window blew up, that gunsmith must have managed to get a larger cannon in position.

After several hours of fighting, the defenders had to retire into the castle. When they brought one of their wounded leaders, Hans of Gladebeck, over the drawbridge, Duke Wilhelm's men pressed after, managed to get inside the castle and conquered it. The duke took captive Lambert of Stockhausen, Hans of Gladebeck, Johan Speigel and '51 more knights and men at arms'. If those were the entire garrison one has to admit that they had a lot of courage to defend the Bramburg against 600 men.

The interior of the castle was put to fire, but the buildings were not dismanteled. Duke Wilhelm brought his most prominent prisoners to Gotha, a town in Thuringia, where he kept them for a year.

Tree roots growing over some old stones

Lambert of Stockhausen and the other prisoners were released in 1459, but the family didn't learn their lesson. The river reiver business flared up again, and in 1494, Wilhelm II Duke of Braunschweig-Calenberg-Göttingen and his son Heinrich had to take the Bramburg again. This time the castle was badly damaged and has remained a ruin since then. But the lords of Stockhausen were allowed to keep the feudal possessions that came with the castle (several villages at the Weser, and the Bramwald Forest).


Bramburg, another view of the keep

Today only the keep (Bergfried), part of the trench, and tumbled and overgrown stones remain of the Bramburg. The keep is said to have been 34 metres high once, but today it's only 21 metres. Originally access was only possible several metres above ground, the room below served as dungeon and could be reached via a trapdoor. The ground floor door you can see on the photos has been added in more recent times. There are still three storeys left, the uppermost with a vaulted chamber, but the keep has become so unsafe it is forbidden to enter it.

There must have been a palas building once and the obligatory battlements, outhouses, and gate towers (a drawbridge is mentioned, see above), but today it takes a lot of imagination to see these in the few foundations still left.

The access is still almost as difficult as for Duke Wilhelm's army, only no one was shooting bullets from a bay window this time. *grin*

The way to the Bramburg, without a drawbridge across the trench these days

1) The source quoted on the castle website has 'mit itweilen bussen, radesschup unde anderer were' which is some old lower German dialect once spoken in our area which you can't find in any dictionary. I read radesschup (Gerätschaft?) as 'equipment', probably battering rams and cannons.
 
Comments:
fifty one men. Should have been enough.
 
Against 600 men who obviously had brought some cannons, plus another 600 in reserve in the camp? I don't think they could have held the castle during a prologued siege. Maybe they could have managed to escape down the steep slope (it's really almost vertical in places) to the river had not the duke taken advantage of the lowered drawbridge the first day.
 
Love that keep - looks incredibly solid! Great view over the river, too.
 
The siege and capture sounds like the climactic set-piece from a Sharpe novel :-)
 
Kathryn, it's a bit less solid, at least inside, or it would not be forbidden to enter the keep.

Carla, one of my writer friends already got a story idea out of this article. I should put a disclaimer on my blog: Writers, read at own risk, here be plotbunnies. :)
 
Love the view of the river. The terrain makes it an interesting attack. Not one I would want to undertake. :)
 
Oh well, you didn't mention the second six hundred. But OTOH, that's six hundred more people to feed. Six hundred more potential squabbles, six hundred more places you have to find to pitch a tent. Six hundred more potential sprained ankles, sun strokes and drunken brawls. Six hundred more reasons to say "stick that with a pin and lets head home".
So yeah...give me small groups over big groups, and if the small group has the fortified position, my money would be on the small group.
Fifty seems like a nice number actually...not too difficult to keep fed, fairly easy to house. Enough to provide two shifts of defenders. Would have to be in a really GOOD fortified position though...because I don't like the idea of every time I stick my head up over the walls, I become the target for 1200 arrows.
Reminds me of Fort Zinderneuf.
 
Constance, not from the river side at least. ;)

Stag, I agree that a smaller force can hold a fortified position against a larger one for some time, but I'm not sure they could hold out long enough for Duke Wilhelm to give up. He was far more powerful, in a way had more at stake - imagine the jokes if he had to run away from some 50 robber knights - and he would eventually have managed to haul some really heavy siege equipment up that hill. I also do not know how well provisioned the defenders were and if the castle had a well. In case they had to get the water from the river, that would have been a weak point. And the new built bulwarks make me suspect the curtain walls and original trenches were not in the best shape, either.
 
Yeah, I could turn that into a Conan story tonight. Heh.
 
Conan would have had fun with that place, I'm sure.
 
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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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