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
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.