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  Between Staufen, Welfen, and Thuringia - The Counts of Hohnstein (Part 2)

I have mentioned a few times that the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa and Duke Heinrich 'the Lion' of Saxony and Bavaria, cousins and close allies for a long time, eventually had a falling out that led to Heinrich's exile in England in 1182. Here is a - admittedly short; the events would cover more than one post of their own - introduction to what happened. The events will influence the feudal position of the Ilfeld-Hohnstein family, among others.

One of Barbarossa's main problems was Italy. The cities of Lombardy were technically vassals of the emperor but prefered to ignore that little detail whenever the emperor went back to Germany, Pope Alexander III had excommunicated Barbarossa in good old tradition (1)), and the Normans had conquered Sicily. Barbarossa crossed the Alps no less than five times between 1154 (when he was crowned emperor) and 1177 (when he had to submit to pope Alexander III) to try to sort out the messes. Success varied and overall, those wars cost a lot of money and men, esp. during the malaria epidemic in 1168. Heinrich the Lion had been a faithful follower in the first campaigns, bringing with him a great number of knights (2) and men, but when Friedrich Barbarossa called for the 5th time, he declined.

Hohnstein Castle, remains of the round tower

One reason was that Heinrich had his own interests in expanding his lands eastward (3) and in controlling the unruly Saxon nobility. Heinrich had snatched some rich heritages as homefallen fiefs (among them Stade and Winzenburg) and he continously tried to expand his power over nobles and bishops who'd have prefered imperial immediacy. Thus a veritable league against Heinrich developed, including the margrave of Brandenburg, the landgrave of Thuringia, the margrave of Meissen, the bishops of Magdeburg and Halberstadt, and more. Open war broke out in 1167, and Friedrich Barbarossa had to intervene to reestablish the peace. At that time he still fully supported his cousin Heinrich.

View into the Renaissance palace from one of the doors

Unlike Barbarossa, Heinrich had not much at stake in Italy (4) and he may also have worried what would happen if he left that coalition of enemies behind. Barbarossa had already left for Italy for the fifth time and faced so many problems that he retired halfway into the Alps, where he asked Duke Heinrich for succour. They met at Chiavenna in early 1176. According to some chronicles Heinrich asked for the silver mines of Goslar as reward for another military allegiance, but that was something Friedrich could not grant him; the income from the mines was too important. The famous scene where Friedrich knelt before Heinrich cannot be proven, though. It would of course have been a powerful gesture Heinrich should not have ignored, but it is a legend (5).

Great hall of the Renaissance palace

Well, Friedrich Barbarossa went to Italy without Heinrich and his host, and promptly lost the Battle of Legnano, barely escaping with his life. Barbarossa was then obliged to make peace with Pope Alexander III and submit to the pope to have his excommunication lifted (1177). Barbarossa might have put some of the blame for that on Heinrich whose men were sorely missed at Legnano.

But the pressure from the Saxon nobles and bishops, and other princes of the realm increased to a point Barbarossa could no longer ignore their complaints without endangering his own position.

Outer bailey

Another outbreak of an armed conflict started in autumn 1178. Heinrich was commanded to appear at the diet of Worms to defend himself against the accusation of breaking the king's peace, but Heinrich refused to attend because it would have meant that he acknowledged the accusation. He did not appear on further diets, either. According to feudal law, this was disobedience. So his fiefs were confiscated and redistributed among the nobles in opposition to Heinrich (6); he was also condemned to outlawry. Friedrich Barbarossa split the duchies of Saxony and Bavaria to avoid another accumulation of power. The princes of the realm got a very important concession out of the emperor: he promised that he would not receive Heinrich back in his grace, which was his right.

Between the curtain walls

The judgement was executed by military might, since Heinrich didn't stand idly by. After some initial success, the cards turned against him. Friedrich Barbarossa set the nobles an ultimatum: turn their allegiance to him or lose their fiefs. He picked a palatine seat in the Harz (7) for a purpose, I think. Most of the local nobles, including the counts of Regenstein, Scharzfeld and of Ilfeld-Hohnstein, swore their fealty to the emperor. Heinrich's support was crumpling rapidly, even a number of his ministeriales, who had a much closer personal bond than freeborn nobles, abandoned the former duke. In the end, Heinrich performed a deditio at the diet in Erfurt in November 1181. Friedrich Barbarossa returned his allodial possessions to him and likely put a time limit on the exile (8).

The well with the inner gatehouse in the background

So the Ilfeld-Hohnstein got out of the mess with their feudal obligation returned to the emperor (Ilfeld may have been an imperial fief since the time of Lothar of Süpplingenburg, before it came to Heinrich the Lion). What is interesting is that we can trace Elger of Ilfeld as witness on a charte by Ludwig III Landgrave of Thuringia in 1182.

The family kept their imperial fief during the troubles between Staufen and Welfen after the death of Barbarossa's son and successor Heinrich VI in 1197 (the time of the quarrel between the Heinrich's son Otto IV and Barbarossa's younger son Philipp of Swabia, and his successor Friedrich II) and the shift of Staufen interests towards Italy (9). Yet they may have kept an eye out for protection should things go amiss, and the landgraves of Thuringia had become a powerful family. Witnessing a charte is a sign of some sort of relationship.

Gate house and round tower

The Ilfeld-Hohnstein family had grown quite a bit since Elger II got the Hohnstein as fief from Heinrich the Lion in 1178. He and Lutradis had only one son, another Elger (who came of age about 1184, † 1219), but this Elger III had several children with his wife Oda of Magdeburg, who start to appear in local chartes since 1210. The oldest son, Dietrich, lived at the Hohnstein after his marriage. The second son, Heinrich, was a Teutonic knight and among the men who accomagnied the emperor Friedrich II to Jerusalem in 1228; a third son may be identical with the Elger, listed as deacon of Halberstadt, who died in 1237. A daughter, Lutradis, became abbess of Drübeck. Since the family had given up the castle of Ilfeld, the Hohnstein must have been pretty crowded since about 1200. There may have lived up to 60 people there; the family, their retainers and ministeriales, and the servants.

From the time of Elger III on the family took the name of Hohnstein alone. The family can only be glimpsed in historical records, but they seem to have done well in accumulating more land by marriage, and they became one of the powerful families in the southern Harz.

Outer gate seen from the inside

The connection with the landgraves of Thuringia remained: one Elger of Hohnstein, probably a son of Dietrich I, was the confessor of the last Ludowing landgrave, Heinrich Raspe. Heinrich Raspe had been named regent for the underage Konrad IV, son of Friedrich II, in Germany (while Friedrich was busy in Italy). But several years after Friedrich II got excommunicated a second time in 1239, Heinrich Raspe switched to the pro-papal and anti-Staufen coalition in 1245. It is difficult to find a reason for this (10) though maybe it was religious scruples due to the excommunication of Friedrich II (11). Heinrich Raspe was elected king, but by a clerically dominated group of nobles under leadership of the bishop of Mainz (who had changed sides as well), and by the support of the pope. Heinrich fought Konrad in one battle but died, maybe of a wound gotten in that battle, only 9 months after he became king, in February 1247.

Another view of the remains of the palace, seen from the outer bailey

Heinrich Raspe had died childless. But there were several candidates from the female line who wanted the lands and the landgraviate. The result was the War of the Thuringian Succession (1247-1264) between the Margrave of Meissen from the Wettin family, Sophie of Brabant, and the archbishop of Mainz. In the end, Heinrich Margrave of Meissen got the landgraviate of Thuringia and the Thuringian / Saxon possessions, while Sophie's son, another Heinrich, got the newly created landgraviate of Hessia.

The Hohnstein family played their cards well. With the lack of Staufen protection and an array of elected kings who never even visited Germany (12), an imperial fief was prone to get snatched. They decided to stick with the landgraves of Thuringia and took the fief from the Wettin family. The counts of Hohnstein became one of the important vassals of the new line of Thuringian landgraves and gained a number of fiefs and rights during the second half of the 13th century, the peak time of the family.

Remains of a tower with round windows

1) I leave out the additional problems caused by a schism. The counterpopes (Victor IV and Paschalis III) supported Barbarossa, but in the end Alexander turned out the more powerful and Friedrich had to deal with him.
2) One source mentions 1,200 heavily armoured horse. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is clear that Heinrich's support was important.
3) His war against the pagan Slavic tribes had been given the full rights of a crusade in 1147.
4) He had a feudal claim on some Italian lands from his great grandfather (Welf aka Guelph IV), but that problem had been solved in 1154.
5) Complete with half a dozen contradictory variants. It only appears in chronicles that were written long after the event.
6) Heinrich lost his status as prince of the realm and was no more than a freeborn noble.
7) Werla, which no longer eixists.
8) After his promise to the nobles, that was about the best Barbarossa could do. While it has long be held in research papers that the emperor was glad to be rid of the second most powerful man in the realm and orchestrated Heinrich's downfall, newer books and essays see his role more moderate, victim of the nobles more than perpetrator. The concessions Barbarossa made towards the nobles and bishops indeed give an argument to the latter.
9) According to the Hohnstein website.
10) Kaufhold, p. 324 (see below).
11) One may wonder what role Elger of Hohnstein played in the affair. He was a highly educated cleric, had spent some time in Paris, and he could likely argue with the best of them. Heinrich Raspe was a religious man, so a confessor will have had a good deal of influence. The fact that Friedrich II could not agree to all claims of Pope Innocent IV during the peace negotiations cast a bad light on the emperor (though politically he was right to refuse).
12) Except for Richard of Cornwall, who at least spent some time in the towns at the Rhine.

The well

Odilo Engels: Die Staufer. 9th revised edition, Stuttgart, 2010
Karl Jordan: Heinrich der Löwe. Munich, 1979
Manfred Kaufhold: Die Könige des Interregnum - Konrad IV, Heinrich Raspe, Wilhem, Alfons, Richard (1245-1273), in: Bernd Schneidmüller/ Stefan Weinfurter (ed.): Die deutschen Herrscher des Mittelalters. Historische Portraits von Heinrich I. bis Maximilian I. (919–1519), Munich 2003, p. 315-339
Uwe Mosebach: Wo einst die Grafen von Hohnstein lebten. Clausthal-Zellerfeld, 1993
Ferdinand Oppl: Friedrich Barbarossa, in: Gestalten des Mittelalters und der Renaissance, Serie der WBG. Darmstadt, 1990
Bernd Schneidmüller: Die Welfen - Herrschaft und Erinnerung. Stuttgart, 2000
Wilfried Warsitzka: Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt, 2009

Next post see here,
Glad to see that my LJ connection to your blog has worked!
Let's hope it will continue to work, LJ being LJ. ;-)
Gabriele, is the Heinrich Margrave of Meissen the same man that was immortalized in the famous Codex Manesse?

Kasia, yes he was.
Complicated but interesting :)
Anerje, be glad you got the short version. The detailed version is even more complicated. *grin*
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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. :-)