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
 


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.
 


8.11.11
  More Birds

And that's why I prefer to photograph castles and landscape. The photo below is the only decent shot I got during the eagle safari on my Hurtigruten tour in spring; all the others were blurred and out of focus.

Eagle in flight

The seagulls who also accompanied the ship thanks to some fishy baits, were an easier target. For one, they came closer, and while they are fast and elegant birds, they still don't match those eagles in speed.

Postcard motive

The misty weather didn't help, either, but the little exta tour was still worth it even without eagle photos. I got some good ones of the landscape, though. Nice material for some winter themed posts later on.

Seagulls in the Trollfjord

I didn't attempt black and white photos here; the dark rocks, dark water, snow and mist just make it look like that - certainly atmospheric.

A flight of gulls (or whatever it's called)

BTW, regular blogging - longer essay posts, that is - will probably still have to wait two or three more weeks, right now life is still getting in the way. I apologise to my readers who look forward to more castles and Romans, and some juicy stories about dysfunctional noble familes. :)
 


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 and Scandinavia.

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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