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


19.11.11
  The Local Nobility and Their Castles - Castle Hardeg

I've covered the castle ruins in the surroundings of my hometown Göttingen in several posts (and I'm busy digging up more information because I sure have more photos, lol) but there are other remains of castles as well, those that were not abandoned but inhabited constantly over time. These castles often have been changed beyond recognition, but in some cases Medieaval buildings have survived, like the keep of Adelebsen Castle and the great hall of Castle Hardeg.

Hardeg Castle, the great hall from 1324

The first trace of the castle can be found in a charte by a Ludwig Lord of Rosdorf who is mentioned as dominus Castri Herdegessen (1266). Though the first castle on the rocky plateau may well date back to the year 1000, and settlement of the area goes back to the Neolithicum (finds of stone axes dating to 4500 BC and a bronze axe from 1500 BC) Later, members of the Germanic tribe of the Cherusci lived there during the Augustean time.

The Lords of Rosdorf (Edle Herren von Rosdorf), originating from a castle of the same name that was destroyed in 1319, had since 1250 acquired a nice little quilt of territorial estates in southern Lower Saxony and northern Thuringia from the Weser to Mühlhausen, and were connected by marriage to several other local noble families like the ones of Adelebsen, Hardenberg, and Plesse. Castle Hardeg became their main seat

The great hall or Mushaus, seen from the outer bailey

Dethard, Conrad, and Ludwig of Rosdorf, obviously three brothers, who are mentioned in several chartes, expanded Hardeg Castle into an impressive seat between 1321-24. They built the great hall, the Palas or Mushaus. It is the largest profane building of the time in Lower Saxony that still remains today, with a height of 35 metres, an outline of 23.5 x 13.5 metres, and walls of more than two metres in diameter.

The terminolgy is a bit tricky here. Regular readers will have come across the word palas which I use for the 'great hall' in German castles because it's the common term. But in parts of Lower Saxony, a local variant is used, Mushaus or Muthaus, which means 'dining hall'. Such buildings usually had a kitchen (located in the cellar), a dining room and an additional great hall for festivities - for which the building can still be rent today; it's a popular wedding set.

Mushaus, the side front

The cellar of the Mushaus has a Gothic cross grain vault. The building also has uncommonly large windows which points at a use only in summer. Moreover, there's only one fire place to heat the main hall. That must have been quite a luxury because the family would need a second, albeit smaller hall for the winter.

The entire castle at the time encopassed and area of 110 x 140 metres. The brothers added new curtain walls and a system of water-filled trenches and ponds. There also was a cistern (rediscovered i n 1992) to provide the garrison with freshwater.

Remains of the inner curtain wall

In the end, the Lords of Rosdorf overextended the financial means and had to sell the castle. The castle and the adjacent settlement of Hardegsen were purchased by Otto Duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg to Göttingen for 3000 mark silver in 1379.

Otto was also known as 'the Quarrelsome' (Otto der Quade, in local dialect) or the Mad Dog of the Leine Vale. This charming guy was a member of the Welfen family who after the reconciliation with the emperor had gotten their allodial possessions back and now took the name after the two main seats. In the generations after Heinrich the Lion († 1195), the family had split their possessions; one of those was the Principality of Göttingen which fell to Otto in 1367.

The other side of the Mushaus, already in shadows

Otto didn't get along with most of the towns in his realm, including Göttingen where he had his seat. He also dabbled in robber baron activities and got involved in more feuds than he could keep trace of, shifted sides and whatnot. In the end, the burghers of Göttingen kicked him out, and Otto's alliance of local nobles was defeated by the armies of several towns in an open battle near Rosdorf. Otto lost his possessions in Göttingen and retired to Castle Hardeg in 1387.

It had long been assumed that Otto had conquered the castle - a proof for his renown, surely. But recent discoveries of chartes clarify that it was indeed a financial transaction, albeit Otto wasn't rich, either, and all those feuds cost him a lot of money. The quarrel with the Lords of Rosdorf that gave reason for the rumour that Hardeg Castle had been assaulted, seems to have been one Otto actually managed to settle.

View into the former outer bailey

When he died in 1394, Otto left a ruined principality behind, and an excommunicated body (the archbishop of Mainz didn't like robber barons, esp. not those who threatened his own lands) that could not be buried in a churchyard. So Otto's remains were interred outside the monastery of Wiebrechtshausen until his widow Margarethe got the ban lifted.

The settlement below the castle, named Hardegsen, profited from Duke Otto spending a lot of time in the castle. He granted Hardegsen the rights of town and the income from market and tolls, and had its fortifications strengthened, though I wonder who paid for that - not the duke, I bet. Still, the burghers of Hardegsen may have been the only ones not the hate the Mad Dog. The presence of a ducal court meant an increase of purchase power, after all.

The Hagenhaus; the only other Medieaval building that still remains

Hardeg remained the summer residence of the Calenberg-Göttingen branch of the Welfen family after Otto's death until well into the 16th century.

Between 1725 - 1780, the castle was changed into a state property for agriculture. The keep and other buildings were broken down and the stones reused to build stables and granaries. Today only the Mushaus, the Hagenhaus, once probably the winter quarter of the chatellain, and parts of the curtain wall remain. One of the barns of the former domain houses a ltitle museum, another part a riding stable.

Another view of the great hall

The Lords of Rosdorf were still around for some more centuries. The cadet branch served as ministeriales and chatellains of the archbishops of Mainz; they held postions at the castles of Hardenberg and Hanstein since about 1250. Later, members of the family went on the crusades into the Baltic States; there are Rosdorf in Riga in the 16th century. Today the family has died out and the name only remains as that of a village near Göttingen.
 
Comments:
What a wonderful building! Here in Australia there are very few buildings of 115 years old, never mind 715!
 
I wonder how many stones have been removed from these places and used elsewhere? Like, where have they ended up?
 
What does the great hall look like inside? Is it a cavernous space?
 
Thank you, Satima.

Anerje, a batch of them went into the town house, for example.

Constance, the castle can be rent for festivities; there's the vaulted cellar and a hall avaliable. Unfortunately, the building is locked else and I'm not going to marry just to see the interior. ;)
 
Oh heck, I would!
 
Love those solid-looking buildings! Shame you have to get married to see inside them though, haha. :)
 
What a splendidly solid-looking building.

Have they got a brochure they hand out to prospective clients? That might have photos of the interior without having to get married :-)

How did the cistern work, by the way? Was it filled by rainwater or some other way, e.g. by a spring?
 
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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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