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


26.11.11
  A Bastard, a Bartered Inheritance, and a Robber Baron - The Brandenburg, Part 2

Since I have some more photos of the Brandenburg, I looked for a connection to one of the series of history essays on my blog, using the pics as illustration for an essay, and the landgraves of Thuringia offer that connection. I've mentioned that Apitz, son of the landgrave Albrecht II, got the Brandenburg as fief and obviously lived there at times between 1288 - 1305. So, who was this Apitz?

(Another view of the West Keep)

We need to go back a bit. After the Ludowing landgraves of Thuringia died out in the male line, there was a whole bunch of contenders for the heritage, leading to the Thuringian War of Succession. In the end, Heinrich III 'the Illustrious' of House Wettin (1215-1288) managed to pick the largest piece of the cake with a pretty collection of land and titles: Margrave of Meissen, Margrave of the Lausitz (Lusatia), Landgrave of Thuringia, and Count Palatine of Saxony. It also helped that Heinrich backed up Emperor Friedrich II in his struggle with the pope (yeah, that has a long traditon, no German emperor ever got along with the popes since Heinrich IV's excommunication in 1076). So Heinrich got Thuringia as fief in 1242, and he also betrothed his son Albrecht with Friedrich's daughter Margaretha - an offspring from Friedrich's third marriage to Isabella of England, a daughter of King John. They married in 1255 and had three sons.

Heinrich the Illustrious was an educated man with many interests, a poet and troubadour (Minnesänger in German) of some renown, and he didn't want to spend all his time in that dusty old office governing lands that stretched from the Werra to the Oder and from the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) to the Harz mountains. So he gave his sons Dietrich and Albrecht a share in the responsibility early on.

Poor Albrecht (in English also: Albert) got stuck with the nickname 'the Degenerate' which is a bit unjust. Well, he did make war upon his father, imprisoned his son and cheated on his wife, but how is that different from at least half of the noble families at the time? Henry II of England would be a very good candidate for that same nickname. From what I learned about Albrecht, 'the Spendthrift', or 'the Incompetent' would have been more fitting - and that may be the difference; you get away with a lot if you're successful like Henry II.

Heinrich obviously missed to set out clear definitions of who was to rule what though officially Albrecht got the landgraviate of Thuringia and Dietrich the margraviate of Landsberg in 1265 (while Heinrich kept Meissen and the Lausitz) - the way the chartes are signed shows that all three men sorta shared duties and responsibilities which led to a number of disagreements. Moreover, Dietrich was miffed that Albrecht got the better bargain, while Albrecht was miffed that daddy Heinrich interfered with his rights. The whole situation was a mess, and at some point, Albrecht must have acted - unsuccessfully - against his father, because he had to promise 'not to make any more attempts to take his father prisoner or otherwise act against him and cause him harm.'

View to from the West Castle to the East Castle

At first, Albrecht seems to have gotten along well with his Staufen wife, but then he took a mistress, Kunigunde of Eisenberg, the daughter of a minor noble. Margaretha left her husband and died soon thereafter (1270).

For some time, her second son, Friedrich (born 1257), was the last claimant of the Staufen inheritance which included the titles King of the Germans and Holy Roman Emperor and lands from Thuringia to Sicily, but the papal party proved too powerful, and the seven prince electors found another candidate - Rudolf of Habsburg (well, they found a few before, but could never agree on one, so Germany got two foreign kings - Richard of Cornwall, a son of King John, at least visited Germany, Alfonso of Castile not even that).

Western bailey seen from the outside

Albrecht and Kunigunde had a son named Apitz (born 1270). They married in 1274. It soon turned out that Albrecht wanted Apitz to be the main heir and get the landgraviate of Thuringia, an idea his other sons didn't like one bit. So Friedrich and his brother Dietzman started a war against daddy, who in turn took Friedrich captive and imprisoned him in the Wartburg (1281). But that place is lacking a nice, damp, dark dungeon hewn into the bedrock, and Friedrich escaped out of some tower window. There's a wild story about a nightly flight involving knotted bedsheets and all sort of events you may find in a novel. A few years later the brothers forced their father to acknowledge their rights to the heritage - after Friedrich had captured daddy in turn (Treaty of Rochlitz, 1289).

Apitz got legitimised by King Rudolf in 1290 and received the estates and castles of Tenneberg and Brandenburg. He married a sister of Heinrich of Frankenstein, but their marriage remained childless. Apitz alternately lived in Tenneberg and the Brandenburg, obviously prone to play the robber baron, judging by several complaints of neighbouring villages and monasteries in chronicles. Though considering the political context and the unruly times, the borders between robbery and fighting enemies may get a bit blurred, and Albrecht kept backing his son (against his half-brothers?). Apitz also made some generous donations to religious estates.

View from the West Castle across the trench to the East Castle

The political landscape in Germany had changed somewhat. King of the Germans was now Adolf of Nassau, successor of Rudolf of Habsburg in 1292. Adolf had promised the prince electors the blue out of the sky; and since they didn't want a Habsburg dynasty by chosing Rudolf's son, they agreed. Heh, little did they know what they got into. Adolf was pretty ambitious and not inclined to keep his promises.

Let's take a little detour to England. We're at the time of King Edward I, him of the great territorial ambitions. He got into trouble with King Philippe IV France from whom he held Gascony as fief. Philippe had declared the fief forrfeit, because Edward had refused to appear at court to discuss some tavern brawl between French, Gascon, and English soldiers that ended with a bunch of captured ships and a sacked port (1294). Edward wanted to teach the French king a lesson and made a pact with Flanders, Burgundy and the King of the Germans, said Adolf of Nassau. Edward was going to invade Gascony from the sea, and the other armies were supposed to move in from the north. Adolf received 60,000 pound sterling for his efforts, a considerable sum.

Well, Adolf was going to keep that promise as little as he kept those he made to the prince electors; his army never put a foot into France. Edward was obliged to make peace in 1299.

(And especially for Constance: Trebuchet in the outer bailey, with East Castle in the background)

Back to Albrecht. He managed to get into financial difficulties all the time - which is why I'd call him 'The Spendthrift' - and in 1293 he sold Thuringia to Adolf of Nassau who paid with the money he got from King Edward. No wonder Adolf's succour for Edward never materialised.

Such a transaction was legitimate under feudal law. Albrecht formally renunciated his fief and the land would fall back to the crown after his death. Though his sons were very much not happy about it.

Moreover, Albrecht's brother Dietrich had died in 1291 and Albrecht's sons took possession of their uncle's lands in Meissen. But King Adolf claimned that fief as fallen back to the crown as well. Theoretically, he was right, but since the Wettin family had held those lands for generations, it would have been the common process to renew the feudal relationship.

Well, King Adolf had some money to spare and he hired an army of mercenaries who - instead of marching towards Gascony - mached towards Meissen. I won't go into the details of the war and the quarrels among Friedrich and his brother Dietzman, whose alliances, be it against their father or the king, always were fragile, and who were at each other's throat as often as working together. It proved difficult to find out where Apitz figured in that mess; he kept a life of minor feuds and highway robbery, but obviously didn't get involved in the big matters. Had he become content with his role as lord of some castles or did he still wish for a larger part of the cake, did he oppose or support his half-brothers in the war against the king, which may have made some of his acts politically motivated and not just pillaging? Impossible to say for sure.

In the end, Adolf won the war and Friedrich and his brother had to flee into exile (1296) while Apitz continued to live in Tenneberg and Brandenburg castles, so he must have made his peace with the king. He died in 1305.

View to the hills of the Werra Valley

After Adolf's death in 1298, Friedrich and Dietzman returned from exile. They made peace with their father who resigned Thuringia to Friedrich for an annuity (he died in 1314, no longer politically active). But troubles were not yet over. The new king, Albert of Habsburg, the son of King Rudolf, who got elected as Adolf's successor (looks like the princes no longer believed in empty promises made by obscure candidates) claimed both Thuringia and Meissen as homefallen fiefs. Albert had the towns mostly on his side because the burghers wanted more independence and hoped to gain from the king what the landgrave would not grant them - imperial immediacy.

At some point in the conflict, Friedrich and his family were besieged in the Wartburg by the citizens of Eisenach, the town at the foot of the rock. But again, Friedrich managed to escape (my guess is that someone in the town didn't agree with the official politics and looked the other way). Friedrich came back with an army and forced the townspeople to repair the damage they had caused during the uprising in Eisenach and the siege of the castle. Over time, he and Dietzman forced more towns into surrender, like Mühlhausen, and some followed of their own account. Finally, the brothers had collected enough of an army, albeit a somewhat ragtag one in parts, to face the forces of King Albert at the Battle of Lucka in 1307, which they won decisively. Albert had to give up any idea of snatching Thuringia and Meissen for the crown and thus himself.

Gate, curtain wall and cistern seen from eastern keep (in the background western tower)

King Albert was assasinated in 1308. A few months earlier, Dietzman had died as well, and Friedrich was now sole claimant to the lands held by his father and grandfather.

Albert's successor was Henri of Luxembourg, now Heinrich VII of the Germans. He made his peace with Friedrich who received his lands in an act of formal hommage in 1310 and again was officially acknowledged as Landgrave of Thuringia and Margrave of Meissen. King Edward I of England had spent a lot of money on a war that gained him nothing, neiner, neiner. Branches of the House Wettin exist until today. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who married Queen Victoria, came form the Ernestine branch of the family.

Source:
Wilfried Warsitzka, Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt 2009
 
Comments:
Castle ruins and castle destroying machinery? My day is complete!
 
The Degenerate, classic. :) Glad to see the English connection there, haha - I knew that Friedrich and Isabella's daughter lived long enough to marry and have children, but not who her husband was.
 
I knew you'd like that one, Constance. :)

Kathryn, Margaretha and Albrecht had five children, if I remember correctly. The oldest, another Heinrich, disappeared into obscurity at an early stage (it's odd, there's no date for his death, but neither did he sign any chartes or was otherwise active after a certain time), Friedrich, Dietzman (or Dietrich) and two daughters.

Albrecht also has at least two daughters with Kunigunde, besides the son Apitz (which is a nickname for 'Albrecht').
 
There's enough material here for a multi-volume family saga, without even needing to make anything up :-) If I remember rightly, Gruffydd ap Llewellyn tried the knotted bedsheet method for escaping from the Tower of London - I hope Friedrich was more successful...
 
Carla, German Mediaeval history is full of such stories. I really don't know why there are not more historical fiction sagas presenting, you know, some actual history. It's all about invented midwives and witches, and the odd girl who dresses up as man - and most of them not very well researched. ;)

Yes, Friedrich managed to escape safely.
 
Thanks for the info on the family, Gabriele - somehow it makes me happy to know that Edward II had cousins in Germany. :)

I would so love to read a saga about these people and their fascinating lives!
 
Kathryn, I wonder if there's any correspondence left between Edward I and Adolf of Nassau. I can imagine Edward wasn't happy that Adolf bought Thuringia instead of invading France to begin with, but he must have been really angry that he then kicked the grandsons of his aunt of their own lands. Edward probably had no army to spare, being busy in Scotland and Wales, or he might have sent Friedrich some aid.

I also wonder if Edward ever got involved - behind the screens - in the attempt of one Italian party and some German prince electors to put Friedrich of Thuringia on the imperial throne because of his Staufen heritage. I know Richard Lionheart supported Otto IV's claim.

It's fun to see that the Plantagenets has relations to both the Welfen (via Heinrich the Lion and Mathilde) and the Staufen (via Isabella of England) families. Those two were not exactly on friendly terms most of the time. ;)
 
Most definitely would like to see more stories involving these remarkable people. And a damned site "fewer" stories about magic and artificial "parallel" worlds. (Yes, I am looking at YOU Game of Thrones!!!!)

I would be okay with playing fast and loose with the character's um...character, that just makes for exciting facebook comments. So long as you are not truly flying in the face of established facts. But as you noted, much is not actually known about say, the heir apparent "Young Heinrich", so you can develop a really fun and interesting intrigue around his "lost later life" and why he did not go after the throne. A Wallace Simpson love story? A bitter feud between brothers? Was that him that ended up at the battle of Wisby...the big German Guy with the rings and German armour tumbled into the death pit with a bunch of peasants? See...lots you can do with such a character!

Did you read my short story about the King Harold in hiding in Chester Abbey? (shameless plug for my blog) That sort of thing.
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction 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 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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