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


5.3.11
  The Ebersburg - Part 1: The Landgraves of Thuringia

The Ebersburg was built by Hermann I Landgrave of Thuringia between 1181-1190. The family of the Ludowings (yeah, you'll have to learn a new name: Ludwig; there'll be a bunch of them in this essay) had risen from minor nobles to power and political eminence within a few generations, and the Ebersburg is only one of several castles they built on their expanding territory. The castle was once much larger than the remains make it seem today; there is a lot buried in the ground, or has completely fallen into decay. But the keep is still impressive.

This post will give a short overview over the Ludowing landgraves of Thuringia and the role they played in history. We'll meet again with some people we've met before like Heinrich IV, Friedrich Barbarossa and some of his sons, plus Heinrich the Lion and Otto IV.

Castle Ebersburg, the keep

The founder of the family is Ludwig the Bearded († 1080) who bought land near Gotha in Thuringia where he set up some villages after he had the forests cleared. He soon obtained the right to build a castle (almost no remains of the Schauenburg are left, though) and married a rich heiress, that way getting lands in the southern Harz foothills. His successors continued that politics and married into the surrounding nobiliy, gaining more land by dowries.

His son Ludwig the Leaper married Adelheid, the widow of the assassinated Count Palatine of Saxony and inherited the count's lands. His stepson Friedrich accused Ludwig of having had a hand in the assassination, and later legends presented this as a fact. Ludwig's nickname, der Springer, is a 15th century addition alluding to a legend that he jumped out of a castle tower where relatives of the murdered count held him captive, into the river Saale and thus escaped.

Historically, Ludwig was on the side of the Emperor Heinrich IV during the first years of his struggles with the Saxon nobles, and it was he who guided Heinrich to safety in Hessia on hidden paths after his escape from the Harzburg. Since Ludwig is named 'count' in chronicles soon thereafter, the title may have been a reward. But in 1085 we find him on the side of Heinrich's opponents, and Ludwig is again among the participants in the secret meeting in Lippoldsberg Abbey in 1099.

Inner curtain wall

At first, Ludwig got along well with Heinrich V (who, after all, had ousted daddy from his job), but Heinrich V managed to alienate the Saxon nobles just as well as his father, and Ludwig got involved in another rebellion. Heinrich put that one down, forced Ludwig to surrender the Wartburg in Thuringia that had become the main seat of the family, and ordered him to appear at the imperial diet in Mainz in 1114 (where Heinrich celebrated his wedding with Mathilde, daughter of Henry I of England) for a formal deditio. Heinrich had Ludwig put in chains and held him captive for more than two years. There are indications that Heinrich may have acted against prior agreements because the act seems to have been a reason - one of several aggravations, I assume - for another revolt, led by Lothar of Süpplingenburg Duke of Saxony who had been received back into the emperor's grace in Mainz after his deditio.

Ludwig's sons managed to capture some of Heinrich's leaders and Ludwig got exchanged for them; another peace was made which held for a change, and Ludwig also reconciliated with his stepson Friedrich. He received the Wartburg back as well.

Inner gate seen from the inner bailey

Ludwig's son, another Ludwig, was elevated to the position of landgrave at the diet of Goslar in 1131. Lothar of Süpplingenburg had become emperor by that time and there may have been an element of reward for former support and alliances.

The position of landgrave was an imperial fiefdom (comitatus patriae); the landgrave represented royal / imperial authority on behalf of the king throughout the realm. He held the right of high justice, had to preserve peace (which often included mediating between feuding nobles), he administered the royal regalia like the mints, tolls, the forest rights and the mines, he protected towns and monasteries with imperial immediacy status. A landgrave was closer in rank and power to dukes, and above the counts.

Landgrave Ludwig (now counted as Ludwig I) married Hedwig of Gudenstein, heiress of the Gison family, and gained a nice bit of land in Hessia. By the end of the 12th century the possessions of the landgraves stretched from the Saale/Unstrut rivers (in todays Saxony) to the Lahn (near Mainz), from the Leine (Göttingen, in fact) and the Thuringian Forest to the southern Harz. They founded several castles that were expanded into residences, that is, castles where the landgrave would actually live for some time during the year. The Ebersburg was one of those.

Their lands lay between the two dukedoms of Saxony and Bavaria the Welfen family held at that time. This may have been one of the major reasons why Ludwig sided with the Staufen Konrad against the Welfen Heinrich the Proud in the strife for power after Emperor Lothar's death. The landgraves of Thuringia would support the Staufen dynasty for the time coming.

View from the Ebersburg towards the Kyffhäuser

Ludwig II (son of the first landgrave) married Jutta, the half sister of Friedrich Barbarossa, in 1150. This connection would prove important: their sons are called imperatioris nepotes in a number of documents.

When the relationship between Barbarossa and Heinrich the Lion detoriated, those nephews supported the emperor. The eldest, another Ludwig, was installed as Count Palatine of Saxony and received lands at the Werra and Leine (including Göttingen) either 1179 or 1181. The lands and title of the Count Palatine of Saxony didn't not belong to Heinrich; the family who held it had died out in the male line and the fief had fallen back to the emperor. The first date would put the event before the battle of Weissensee and could be seen as an attempt by Barbarossa to further bind the Ludowings to his cause. The later date would set it after the battle (where Ludwig was captured by Heinrich the Lion and then ransomed), which would make the act a reward.

Heinrich the Lion Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, finally surrendered at the diet of Erfurt in 1181 and was exiled (he spent the years of his exile at the court of Henry II of England, his father-in-law). Friedrich Barbarossa redistributed the lands of the duke among the other nobles. Ludwig further gained the position as reeve of Nordhausen, and the Landgrave of Thuringia is the only one not a duke who is mentioned among the principes of the realm which proves the importance of his family. Some time between 1181 and 1190 he also built the Ebersburg on land he bought from the Hohnstein family to whom he was related.

Ludwig gave the honour and lands of the Count Palatine of Saxony to his younger brother Hermann and accompagnied Barbarossa on the ill-fated third crusade. Though he did not join the army marching overland; he led his troops via Italy and the Mediterranean Sea instead. Ludwig participated in the siege of Accon where he obviously caught a lingering fever. He died on his way back home, near Cyprus in October 1190.

Gate tower

After Ludwig III (they got numbers instead of nicknames when they became landgraves) died without male offspring, King Heinrich VI, the son of the deceased Friedrich Barbarossa, claimed that the fiefs had fallen back to him, but it had been a common practics of the Staufen feudal lords to allow younger sons to inherit after their brothers, and Hermann was more than a bit miffed about the royal claim. Since Heinrich needed the support of his vassals to sort out the mess in Sicily (he claimed the kingship there on behalf of his wife) where he was as unpopular as in Germany, he finally agreed to invest Hermann with the fiefs as rightful heir, and that way drag him out of an alliance opposing him.

Since the dukedoms of Saxony and Bavaria were no longer united in one hand and the noose around his lands broken up, and because of the disappointment in Heinrich's behaviour, Hermann no longer felt bound to the Staufen case the way his ancestors did. Instead, he played both sides in the ensuing conflict after Heinrich's death: Philipp of Swabia (another son of Barbarossa) and Otto IV, the son of Heinrich the Lion.

Hermann wanted to further strengthen the system of castles and towns on his lands and especially at its borders. To achive that, he tried to get imperial lands as fief, in particular the towns of Nordhausen (where his family already were acting as royal reeves) in the southern Harz, and Mühlhausen and Saalfeld in Thuringia. Otto IV granted him Nordhausen which Hermann conquered in 1198.

For some reason Hermann changed sides and joined Philipp of Swabia, asked Otto for all three towns if he was to return his allegiance to the Welfen side, and in 1203 received the three towns as fief (Otto must have been desperate for support to play along). But Philipp got the upper hand on the battlefield and Hermann was forced to surrender to him just a year later and lost the towns again. When Philipp was assassinated in 1208, Hermann returned to Otto's party only to switch back to the Staufen, probably because Otto didn't grant him the towns a second time (maybe he had enough at that point). In 1211, Hermann decided to support Barbarossa's grandson Friedrich II's efforts to become king of Germany against Otto. Wryneck (Wendehals) doesn't begin to describe that behaviour, Hermann must have had a screw thread for neck.

The keep, seen through the trees

Hermann of Thuringia also was one of the most cultured men of his time (he had grown up at the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine's ex, King Louis VII of France) and a keen supporter of arts, literature and troubadours (Minnesänger). His main seat Wartburg Castle became a centre of Mediaeval culture at his time.

Hermann died in 1217. His son Ludwig IV supported Friedrich II whom he joined in the 6th crusade. But the crusade would not bring him any luck; like his great uncle he died of a lingering sickness before he reached Jerusalem in 1227.

Ludwig IV of Thuringia is sometimes refered to as Ludwig the Saint, mostly due to his wife Elisabeth of Hungary who was canonised as St.Elisabeth in 1235, only a few years after her death. Ludwig had been 17 and Elisabeth 14 when they married in 1221; their marriage seems to have been a happy one. Ludwig could be quite ruthless as politician, but he obviously adored his wife (as far as we can trust the sources, but we probably can trust them more than the later legends that often presented Ludwig as opposed to his wife's piety and charity, which he wasn't).

Ludwig IV and Elisabeth both died rather young, leaving behind an infant son, Hermann, and a daughter, Sophie (who later would marry the Count of Brabant). Thus Ludwig's brother Heinrich Raspe IV acted as regent for little Hermann II.

Hidden remains of the outer gate

Hermann died without offspring at the age of 19 in 1241, and Heinrich Raspe IV inherited the landgraviate. There have been rumours that Heinrich poisoned his nephew. Emperor Friedrich II appointed Heinrich guardian of his own minor son Konrad and regent for the Staufen family in Germany in 1242. But after Friedrich was excommunicated, Heinrich changed sides and got himself elected king in opposition to Konrad. Because of the strong papal and clerical support he was called Parsons' King (Pfaffenkönig). But only a year later, in 1247, Heinrich Raspe died childless, and with him the male line of the Ludowings. The landgraviate of Thuringia went to the Wettin family.

I'll take a closer look at the history of the Ebersburg itself in the next post.


Sources:
Bernd Schneidmüller and Stefan Weinfurter (ed): Die deutschen Herrscher des Mittelalters, München 2003
Manfred Lemmer, Die Burgen und Städte der Landgrafen von Thüringen als Stützpfeiler ihrer Macht. In: Castrum Wiszense, Schriftenreihe der Vereins zur Rettung und Erhaltung der Runneburg in Weißensee Nr. 2/1993
Wilfried Warsitzka, Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt 2009
 
Comments:
They were tough nuts in those days!!!

"wryneck". Good descriptive phrase.
 
Looks very atmospheric, Gabriele!
 
Stag, Wendehals (wryneck) is what we call those people in the former GDR who were supportive of the system but after the fall of the Wall never had anything to do with the government or the Stasi. ;)

Simon,
you could do some knights when you've finished that Roman army. Staging fights in the baileys of some castle model could be fun. :)
 
Once again, a very informative post with great photos. Love the names - 'Ludwig the bearded' and 'Ludwig the leaper' :>
 
Heinrich had Ludwig put in chains and held him captive for more than two years. There are indications that Heinrich may have acted against prior agreements...

Yes, I would imagine so; Gerd Althoff and historians of his school would have us believe that one wouldn't go and undertake a deditio unless everything was arranged beforehand to allow peace to be resumed, so Henry was flouting the expectations of his court by not returning Ludwig to his favour (if those scholars are right). He really was his father's son, wasn't he...
 
Thank you, Anerje.

Jonathan, exactly (and cool to see Althoff mentioned here ;). It's not very likely that such a harsh treatment had been agreed upon in this case, esp. not since other rebels like Duke Lothar of Saxony were received back into grace, and Ludwig already had to surrender his main seat Wartburg Castle. It looks like Heinrich acted out some personal revenge.
 
Great post! I love Ludwig the Leaper. :-)
 
Boy, even back then it was who you knew. (Or who you married!)
 
Thank you, Kathryn. Yep, Ludwig the Leaper relly stuck as nickname though it's only a legend. But who can resist the story of some brave knight jumping out of a I-dunno-how-many-foot high tower into a river where his faithful servant was waiting with his equally faithful destrier named Swan. :)

So true, Constance.
 
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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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