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


18.1.15
  Castle Plesse (Part 3) - Refuge of a Landgrave / Decline and Rediscovery / Architecture

Castle Plesse was founded some time before 1100 and in use until 1660. During those centuries, the castle underwent several changes to adapt it to the changing ways of warfare (like the addition of musket balistrarias). Most of these were done by the Lords of Plesse. Since often several members of the family shared in the inheritance of the castle and lived there together, we have some inventary lists of buildings and goods that allow to reconstruct the former look of the castle. Even more interesting are some pencil and ink sketches done by Landgrave Moritz of Hesse-Kassel in 1624 (see below). The architecture of the Plesse is thus well documented. Today mostly ruins are left except for the keep, the - partly reconstructed - great hall, and the so-called Little Tower. There are also substantial remains of the chapel and porter's house, and the curtain walls.

Outer curtain wall in the eastern part

Castle Plesse sits on a 300 metres high promontory overlooking the Leine valley and the main north-south running Heerstrasse (military road), a connection that has been in use basically since the Roman campaigns under Drusus in BC 11. Today the Highway 7 still follows the same route.

The V-shaped promontory of some 50 metres length is connected to the rest of the hill and the Plesse forest on the eastersn side. When the castle was active as a defense structrue, the natural incline between both parts of the plateau was turned into a moat that could be crossed by a drawbridge. During the various changes and expansions of the castle, additional defenses were added and the vulnerable eastern part with the moat and its curtain wall expanded. Today, the moat is partly filled by debris and shrubs, and the walls are ruins albeit pretty impressive ones.

More curtain walls with the remains of a corner tower

One disadvantage of the high situation was accessibility to water. Water veins can be found in a hundred metres' depth, and an inventory from the 16th century mentions a 'deep well', so at some time the residents had dug through the bedrock to reach water, but maybe the first inhabitants relied on cisterns.

That inventory also mentions - among others - a chapel (ruins of it still remain adjacent to the Little Tower), a windmill, a bathing room, a school room (probably for the children of the lord and higher ranking men like the steward), a brewery, and a donkey stable. Besides those, one can find the typical buildings of a castle: the great hall and the 'lord's hall', the scribe's room, kitchens and baking house; housings for the garrison, stables, granaries, the armoury, and a smithy. There is a dungeon, too (underneath the Little Tower; today inaccessible for the public).

Remains of the curtain wall with a breach near the gate

The keep or Great Tower is the oldest remaining building in the castle (for photos see the first post about Plesse Castle). It is 25 metres high and the walls are 4 metres thick. The entrance is now on ground level, but in former times it was on the second storey level of the main hall, ten metres above ground. Access was also possible from a now lost building which is supposed to have been the bower. There is no equally impressive keep in Lower Saxony in the 12th century.

The interior of the tower has been changed in the 19th century; the floors separating the storeys have been dismantled and there's a winding stair leading to the top platform.

(left: view through a small portal to the outer yard overlooking the valley)From inventories and landgrave Moritz's drawings we know the layout of the almond shaped inner bailey - situated on the outer part of the promotory - and its buildings in the 16th and 17th century. The inner bailey once was filled with various buildings along the curtain wall, forming a yard; a feature typical for most castles, though often only traces of all those buildings remain.

The great hall still exists, albeit partly restored. It was the only one constructed entirely of stone; the other buildings mostly had a first storey of stone and a second (or even third) of half timbered structure. The great hall actually had two halls on the second floor; the first floor held several smaller rooms the use of which can only be guessed at; likely some sort of lord's office among them. The house also had cellars for storage. It was once connected to the keep by a walkway on the second floor. Behind the keep were some timber buildings interpreted as storage places. The lists include some exotic foods and spices like stockfish, figs, cinnamon and others not of local produce.

To the right side of the great hall once stood another larger house with the bath room, guest chambers, and the solar - this was the most representative room judging by the number of shiny goblets of gold and silver, including some ceremonial daggers on display, that have been listed. The Plesse lords probably entertained their most important guests there instead of the larger but less comfortable great hall. Most of these features date to the 16th century; in earlier times the rooms were less well equipped and with smaller windows. Adjacent to the right (western) side of this house were the stables for the horses.

Opposite the great hall was the main kitchen with its storage rooms; a bit further west another house of rather representative architecture which started out as a house for a younger son who often lived in the castle with his family due to the joined heritage, but was renovated in the middle of the 16th century and then served as widow's seat. The bower seems to have come out of use at that time. Next to it is the porter's house (the outer wall still exists), followed by the chapel and the Little Tower, the baking house and a gate to an outer yard (maybe this was a quieter place for the women to enjoy the view), and then we're back to the stables.

Inner gate, seen from the way into the inner bailey

Sections of the curtain walls still exist. The inner gate leads to a way between curtain wall and the outer wall of ther porter's house as additional defense, before the inner bailey is reached.

There would have been buildings in the outer bailey as well, but no traces of those remain except for some foundations near a corner tower which is also partly preserved (see photo above). The tower covered the defense of the moat. The outer bailey spread over the inner part of the promontory which gently sloped upwards to the east. Interestingly, there was a set of walls that partitioned the ground into two areas, the bailey proper and an undefined ground. Maybe it was used as training ground for the quintaine and other knightly pursuits that would need more room than a bailey yard could offer.

The outer gate has been changed considerably during renovations in the 18th and 19th centuries. It once was a much more formidable defense structure.

Outer gate, seen from the upper bailey

When Dietrich IV of Plesse died without male heirs in 1571, the fief fell back to the landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. His clerks made a list of the goods and income of the castle which amounted to 4,000 thalers per annum. Dietrich's widow, who kept interfering with the business of the Hessian bailiff living on the Plesse, was married off (1). There were some troubles with Welfen claims as well which only enriched the lawyers, but the landgrave never agreed to any exchange with other castles offered by the Welfen dukes of Calenberg-Göttingen.

It would turn out to be a wise decision. Landgrave Moritz of Hesse-Kassel (Maurice the Learned, 1572-1632) who joined the Protestant party during the Thirty Years war, had to flee his lands and found refuge on the Plesse in 1624. It was at that time he made several ink sketches of the castle and plans for changes which never came to be. The castle was besieged in 1626; supplies were short, the place was crowded with refugees, the garrison sullen and badly paid. But the attackers did not succeed in taking the castle due to the lack of heavy artillery.

Negotiations between Moritz and the line of Hesse-Darmstadt (who, despite being Protestant had joined the Catholic army because of some inter-family feud) led to the abdication of Moritz in favour of his son, Wilhlem V; the garrison was granted free retreat (1627). They left behind 15 canons of unspecified size, 142 muskets, plus several barrels of powder and other ammunition.

Closeup of an embrasure in the arcades; a 17th century addition

Castle Plesse remained with the line of Hesse-Kassel but was finally abandoned in 1660; the seat of the bailiff moved to the village of Bovenden in the valley. As usual, it served as quarry for the surrounding villages.

The landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel became the Electorate of Hesse as result of the meditatization and secularization of landed possessions due to the recess of the Imperial Diet (Reichsdeputationshauptausschuss *grins*) in 1803. In 1817, the Plesse was given to the Kingdom of Hannover in exchange for other castles (2). In 1866, both the Electorate of Hesse and the Kingdom Hannover were annexed to Prussia after they lost the Austro-Prussian War.

Herbal garden behind the porter's house (3)

In the late 18th century, interest in the picturesque value of old ruins grew, and soon the Plesse became a favourite excursion destination for students from Göttingen (and proabably the place of some clandestine duels and secret political meetings as well). But it also attracted visitors from further away. An inn was established in 1830.

This interest put an end to the stone quarrying as early as 1780 when the landgrave of Hesse forbade any action that would further destroy the ruins by punishment of 5 thalers. First restoration work took place in 1821, and got a boost when the King George V of Hannover (aka Prince George of Cumberland, grandson of George III of the United Kingdom and Hannover) and his queen, Marie of Saxe-Altenburg, visited the place in 1853. Most of the present look of the castle goes back to the renovations undertaken at their request. Luckily, the job was done before Hannover was annexed, because Prussia would not have given the money.

Since 1945, the Plesse is in possession of the County of Lower Saxony; a Friend's Association exists since 1978. Archaeological surveys and renovation work go on until today.


Footnotes
1) and 2) Unfortunately, I could find neither the name of the widow's new husband, nor which other castle(s) were involved in the exchange.
3) This was not the original spot, which would have been closer to the kitchen, but the association decided to have one for the tourists, and the place has a good micro-climate.

Literature
U. Elerd, M. Last (editors): Kleiner Plesseführer, Bovenden 1997

 
Comments:
Thanks for the detailed tour of the interior. I always like knowing what sort of rooms and structures were involved in a castle.
 
You're right, Gaabrile, the ruins must have witnessed many a "clandestine duels and political meetings". Perfect setting for conspiracy :-)

PS Do you know where I could possibly find any additional info about Heinrich II the Saint? The one who was at a constant war with our first crowned king, Bolesław I Chrobry? ;-) I would be grateful for any tips ;-)

 
Thank you, Constance.

Kasia, some of the students and professors in Göttingen (the Hainbund) were pretty much involved in those revolutions and fights for an independent press in the first half of the 19th century, and they often met in the Plesse.

There's a section about Heinrich in a book about the Ottonians by Gerd Althoff, but that's in German. One of the chapters is titled, 'Rome, Italy, and always Boleslaw'. :-)
 
This is hilarious! I mean the title :-D :-D :-D I suppose Heinrich must have considered our Bolesław a real pain in the neck :-) Thanks, Gabriele, I'll keep looking for Heinrich the Saint, who wasn't that saint, if you know what I mean :-) But who really deserved all those soubriquets...
 
Gabriele, Gerd Althoff's book may not be published in English, the important thing is it's been published in Polish :-D Thank you so much for the recommendation!
 
That is cool, Kasia. Looks like I should mention the German books, just in case .... We got some more Heinrichs, after all. :-)

 
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The Lost Fort is a blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK and other places, with essays on Roman and Mediaeval history illustrated with lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes. You may also find the odd essay about geology or Mediaeval literature.

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 blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)


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