Border Castles and Conflicts - Otto the Quarrelsome and the Star Wars
No, not a sequel to a popular SF-series, but the war of an alliance called Sternerbund - Star League, led by Otto, against the landgrave of Hessia.
Otto the Quarrelsome* (Otto der Quade, 1340 - 1394), whose real name was Otto III Duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg zu Göttingen (or Otto I of Braunschweig-Göttingen), was a member of the Welfen family. His ancestor Heinrich the Lion had received back the allodial lands of the family after his reconciliaton with Emperor Heinrich VI in 1189, but not the Duchy of Bavaria and not the title Duke of Saxony; the family would call itself after their main seat Braunschweig (Brunswick) from that time on. During the next generations, the land was split between several sons, creating several branches of the Welfen dynasty. Otto ended up with Göttingen and surroundings.
Dankwarderode Castle in Braunschweig, main seat of the Welfen
Let's have a look at part of Otto's family tree which is another of those wonderfully tangled messes involving the nobility of half of Europe. We'll go back to our friend Heinrich the Lion, Duke of Saxony, one of the most interesting members of the Welfen dynasty. As some of you may remember, he was married to Mathilda of England, daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Their youngest son was Wilhelm (1184-1213), the later Duke of Lüneburg, also known as William of Winchester because he was born at the court of his father-in-law during Heinrich's exile.
Wilhelm married Helena of Denmark, a daughter of Valdemar the Great. They had a son named Otto (1204-1252; nicknamed 'the Child' to distinguish him from his uncle, the Emperor Otto IV). Otto married Mathilde of Brandenburg, a daughter of Albrecht II Margrave of Brandenburg and Mathilde (yes, I know *sigh*) of Lusatia - she brings a Polish connection into the mix since her mother was Ełżbieta of Poland, daughter of Miesko III of the Piast dynasty.
Sichelnstein Castle, one of Otto's border fortifications
I'm only going to follow the offspring that matters for the line leading to Otto the Quarrelsome, and that is Otto's and Mathilde's son Albrecht I of Braunschweig who married Adelaide of Montferrat and had a son named Albrecht as well, Albrecht the Fat (1268-1318). At that point the Welfen possessions had been split to provide for more than one son and thus he was known as Albrecht of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel-Göttingen, and he was the first to take his seat in Ballerhus Castle (no longer in existence) in Göttingen.
Albrecht married Rixa of Werle, a granddaughter of Earl Birger Magnusson of Sweden, and with her he sired a football team of kids. One of them was Ernst (1305-1367) of Braunschweig-Göttingen, who married Elisabeth of Hessia, daughter of Heinrich II Landgrave of Hessia and Elisabeth of Thuringia (who in turn, was a granddaughter of Albrecht of Thuringia and Margarethe of Staufen, mentioned in this post
). Otto the Quarrelsome was their son. The Hessian descendance of his mother will play a role for Otto later.
(Sichelnstein, view from the gate to the inside)
Otto had a problem for starters: the hodgepodge structure of his lands which consisted of disconnected bits from the Solling and Uslar in the north-west to Gandersheim in the north-east, Northeim in the centre, Göttingen and Hannoversch-Münden
in the south; plus a number of castles. Nor were his lands particularly rich; which may explain Otto's constant money problems - they may not always
have been due to his excessive feuding.
So of course Otto was looking for more and better lands. When landgrave Heinrich of Hessia's son, another Otto, died childless, Heinrich at first named Otto the Quarrelsome, who had a claim through his mother, as heir. According to the still active Salian law, allodial possessions could be inherited via the female line. But Heinrich changed his mind in 1367 and proclaimed his nephew Hermann as heir instead. Otto probably had made too true of his nickname, and the altered succession left him in a really foul mood.
Otto was not the only one who disliked the expansionist politics of the landgraves of Hessia. He joined up with a group of discontented nobles in the Star League (Sternerbund
), founded in 1370. The league was led by Otto and the Counts of Ziegenhain-Reichenbach
, Gottfried VII and his son Gottfried VIII, who were one of the main targets of the expanding landgraviate of Hessia. Among the members were a number of nobles, mostly from Hessia and the borderlands (including the Hanstein
family), and several ranking clerics, the highest among those Archbishop Johann de Ligny of Mainz who didn't want to lose his position of most powerful man in Hessia to Landgrave Heinrich.
The founding meeting took place in Ziegenhain Castle in 1369. The sign of the alliance, a six pointed star, derived from their arms. The league could call upon 2,000 men in arms and, among them, held some 350 castles. The Star League was only one among several alliances that were established among German nobles and knights at the time, but it's the one important for the area I'm writing about here.
Another view of the Sichelnstein
Otto's aim may not have been to get the entire landgraviate of Hessia (he was likely realistic enough to understand that his claim was less strong than Hermann's and he'd have needed support from inside the family), but he was at least looking to get the bits and pieces of Hessian possessions sitting between his own lands south of Göttingen, and create an united area between Leine and Werra. Moreover, his sister Agnes was married to Gottfried VIII of Ziegenhain, and Otto was still behind on paying her dowry. Acquisition of more land and income would have solved that problem. Though their union and shared command in the league shows that both men obviously got along despite the dowry issue.
(Sichelnstein, the north wall; with my father walking along it to compare size)
Landgrave Heinrich of Hessia didn't sit idly by while the Star Warriors charged their light sabers. He looked for allies in turn and found one in his nephew Friedrich of House Wettin, Landgrave of Thuringia and Margrave of Meissen (his father, another Friedrich, was the brother of Heinrich's wife Elisabeth of Thuringia; see above). Both families concluded a mutual protection and support alliance, and more important, a heritage confraternity. That meant that one family would inherit the possessions of the other if it died out in the male line. Since the families were related, there would always be some claim, and the confraternity now overrode all other claims. That of course, put an end to Otto's hope of inheriting any Hessian lands. It also gave Heinrich the military strength to face Otto's alliance succesfully.
The Star War broke out in 1372 with the usual tactics of destroying mutual properties and besieging / sacking a few castles, but there never was a pitched battle. Landgrave Heinrich's troops won a number of those encounters and eventually, the Star League began to lose its rays when nobles conducted separate peace negotiations with Heinrich.
In 1375, the emperor Karl IV confirmed the heritage confraternity, the allod of Hessia, and Heinrich's and his successors' entitlement to the fief of Thuringia, at which point Otto negotiated as well and renounced his claim to Hessia in exchange for some financial compensation (I wonder if he paid the dowry then). This was the end of the Star League. The position of House of Hessia was considerably strengthened by these developments.
The was another armed conflict between Otto and Hermann of Hessia in 1388 when Kassel seeked his - and the archbishop of Mainz' - aid against Herrmann's claim of supremacy over the town. During that conflict, Otto managed to conquer some of the land at the Werra, but the peace of 1390 again was to the advantage of Hessia. I wonder if Otto just wasn't good at negotiations.
The only remains of Sensenstein Castle; part of the wall and trench fortification
Two of the castles that were involved in the small scale fighting going on during those wars were the Sichelnstein
I already posted about, and the Sensenstein.
The above photos is pretty much all that remains of the Sensenstein today. While the Sichelnstein had been around for several centuries and was refortified by Otto, the Sensenstein was a new castle built by Hermann of Hessia, co-regent with his uncle Heinrich, in 1372. The name was a bit of a jibe - Sichelnstein
means Sickle-stone, and Sensenstein
is Scythe-stone. Hey, I got the bigger one. *grin*
Otto used to send out raiding parties from Sichelnstein Castle, and the garrison of the Sensenstein tried to prevent them form invading Hessian territory, but I didn't find any details about those raids except that they were connected with the Star Wars.
The next time Sensenstein Castle is mentioned in chartes includes a transaction with the family of Berlepsch, vassals of the landgrave of Hessia, in 1438, but the castle was returned to the landgrave in 1461; he used it as hunting lodge. But the castle fell into decline and in 1585, a manor was all that remained. So when it comes to survival, Sichelnstein Castle won, though Otto did not. ;-)
The monastery church at Wiebrechtshausen, burial place of Otto the Quarrelsome
The next post will be about Otto's involvement in the Lüneburg Succession War
and his feud with Göttingen.
* The name is sometimes translated as Otto the Evil but I think 'evil' is too strong a word to characterise him.
Edgar Kalthoff; Geschichte des südniedersächsischen Fürstentums Göttingen und des Landes Göttingen im Fürstentum Calenberg 1285-1584. Herzberg, 1982
Olaf Mörike, Göttingen im politischen Umfeld: Städtische Macht- und Territorialpolitik. In: Dietrich Denecke, Helga-Maria Kühn (ed.),Göttingen: Geschichte einer Universitätsstadt, Volume 1. Göttingen 1997; page 260-293