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


6.1.16
  Dower of a Polish Queen, Wettin Stronghold, Martin Luther's Hideout - The History of Coburg Fortress

I have mentioned Coburg Fortress, the Veste Coburg in German, in this post where I also gave some tidbits of the geneaology of Queen Victoria of England. The Royal family was known as Saxe-Coburg-Gotha before they changed their name to Windsor, because both Victoria and her Consort Albert came from branches of that House. Today we'll have a look at the history of the fortress. The architecture will be covered in another post.

Coburg Fortress, curtain walls of the old castle
with the Blue Tower in the foreground and the Red Tower in the background

The fortress is situated on a hill 167 metres above the town of the same name. It measures 135 x 260 metres including its triple fortifications, their oldest part (the Romanesque stonework of the lower storeys of the Blue Tower) dating to 1230, the newest (one of its round towers can be seen on the photo below) to the early 17th century. Coburg is thus one of the largest fortresses in Germany.

Towers of the outermost zwinger walls

The castle of Coburg is first mentioned in 1226 (1), but the name itself first appears in a charte in 1056 wherein Queen Richeza of Poland donates her possessions in Saalfeld and Coburg (mons Coburg) to the archbishop Anno II of Cologne.

Here's an historical excursus for Kasia: Richeza of Lotharingia was the daughter of Ezzo Count Palatine of Lotharingia and Mathilde, a daughter of Emperor Otto II and the Byzantine Princess Theophanu. She was betrothed to Mieszko II Lambert, the son of Duke Bolesław Chrobry of Poland, at the congress of Gniesno in AD 1000.

During the congress, Otto III, Richeza's uncle, elevated Gniesno (German: Gnesen) to the rank of archbishopric and swore formal amicitia with Duke Bolesław (2), an act that was more a political symbol than a personal friendship, unlike the way we regard these relationships today. The betrothal served as additional tie of their relationship. The girl was about five at the time.

View through the outer gate, with the High House in the background

Unfortunately, Otto III died in January 1002, without male heirs. The crown was contested between Margrave Ekkehard of Meissen and Duke Heinrich of Bavaria from a sideline of the Liudolfing/Ottonian House (3).

Bolesław supported Ekkehard, and after the margrave was assassinated, used his chance to snatch some lands in Lusatia and Meissen. That brought him in conflict with King Heinrich II which lasted for years, including several battles and peace negotiations which never really held. All the time, Richeza was still betrothed to Mieszko. Finally, they were married during the peace negotiations in Merseburg in 1013.. Heinrich II also gave the lands of Saalfeld/Coburg to Richeza's father Ezzo of Lotharingia. I suppose they may have been intended as her dower in case of a divorce.

If Heinrich thought Bolesław would stop being a pain in the behind, he was wrong though. I leave it to Kasia to sort out the troubles the duke of Poland had with Heinrich and other eastern rulers like Duke Jaroslav of Kiev (allied with Heinrich) or the duke of Bohemia. When Heinrich died in 1024, Bolesław was crowned King of Poland (4). He died but a year later, and his son Mieszko II became king (ousting an older half-brother in the process).

Fortifications, with a view of the Blue Tower

Mieszko did not get along with Jaroslav of Kiev any better than his father. The relationship with Heinrich's successor Konrad II (5) was not exactly amicable, either. Mieszko also managed to alienate the nobles of his realm. He lost Lusatia to King Konrad, was replaced by his ousted half-brother Bezprym - supported by Jaroslav - for a while, but regained the kingship after Bezprym's death. When Mieszko died in 1034, the situation in Poland and the relationship with the nobility was so poisoned that Richeza and her children fled back to Germany.

Richeza was granted the lands of Saalfeld and Coburg for a living (6); Konrad II also allowed her to keep the title of Queen of Poland. Konrad's son, Heinrich III, supported Richeza's son Casimir to reclaim the throne of Poland (1041). Casimir managed to reconquer the land and reunite the nobility; he made peace with Jaroslav of Kiev and renewed the position of the Church; those feasts gained him the name of Casimir the Restorer.

Coburg Fortress, inner bailey with the palace and chapel (right)

Richeza, like so many widows at the time, became a nun when her her last surviving brother Hermann, archbishop of Cologne, died in 1056 (her other brother, count palatine Otto, had died in 1047), living solely for the memoria of the family, which included donations of land to the Church, so churches and monasteries could be build where prayers would be said for the dead. She gave both her Saalburg possessions and her share of the Ezzonian lands at the Rhine to the archbishop of Cologne. Richeza died in 1063.

Archbishop Anno, Hermann's successor, founded a chapel dedicated to St.Peter and Paul on the Coburg Hill in 1074, which was a filiation (Nebenkloster) of the monastery in Saalfeld. The chapel and a house for the provost are the first traceable buildings on the hill.

View into the inner bailey

The next time we can trace Saalfeld/Coburg, it is again part of the imperial lands in possession of the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa (1180). I would like to know how the lands got wrestled out of the paws of the archbishopric of Cologne, but I could not find any information.

The castle (translated as sloss, 'palace', implying there must have been a great hall) is mentioned as possession of the Dukes of Andechs-Merania in 1226 (7). The oldest buildings of which remains can still be found date from that time.

The dukes of Andechs-Merania were among the winners of the redistribution of lands after the fall of Duke Heinrich the Lion. His former duchies of Saxony and Bavaria were split - the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa did not want such a powerful and rich magnate in his realm again. Parts of Bavaria were thrown together with other lands, creating the new duchies of Bavaria (held by the Wittelsbach line), Styria, and Merania (8). The line of the dukes of Andechs-Merania died out in 1248 and the duchy became defunct.

The 14th century Gothic House, or High House

The Coburg and adjacent lands then came into possession of the counts of Henneberg, one of the ancient Franconian noble families who settled in Thuringia (documented since 1078). They soon split into several branches. Count Poppo IV of Henneberg (†1190) had married Sophia of Andechs-Istria, and the counts of Henneberg took their claim to Coburg from that connection.

Poppo's grandson Hermann I of Henneberg-Coburg not only gained those possessions but more lands in Thuringia when the Ludowing line died out, establishing the so-called New Lordship (Neue Herrschaft). His mother was Jutta of Thuringia who before had been married to the margrave of Meissen. The son from that marriage, Heinrich 'the Illustrious' founded the House Wettin. Hermann himself married the sister of William of Holland, who became King of the Germans in 1247.

The Coburg lands fell to Margrave Otto V of Brandenburg-Salzwedel of House Ascania, by marriage to Hermann's daughter, another Jutta (1291). But they came back to the Henneberg family in 1312 when their granddaughter Jutta (yes, I know *sigh*) married Heinrich VIII of Henneberg-Schleusingen.

The Mediaeval Steinerne Kemenate (bower or ladies' chambers)

Heinrich died without male heirs and the heritage was split between his widow - who got the New Lordship - and his younger brother. Part of the New Lordship, including Coburg, then went as dowry to House Wettin when Heinrich's daughter Katharina (born ~1334) married Friedrich the Severe, Landgrave of Thuringia and Margrave of Meissen, the grandson of of Friedrich the Brave. But the complicated heritage succession meant that Friedrich could only claim the lands after Jutta's death, something he did not seem particularly happy about. At least he wasted no time getting the fief confirmed by Emperor Karl IV in Prague but eight days after Jutta died (February 9, 1353).

Legend has it that Katharina was sent back to her mother for a time, because the dowry was not delivered, but that tale is more likely a result of her producing children only 20 years after the wedding night. Well, she spent most of her time in Coburg after her mother's death, while her husband traveled around in his lands, so it may have been a problem of logistics, lol. When Friedrich died in 1381, his sons were minors. Katharina acted as regent until her death in 1397, which meant that during the last years she ruled the lands together with her sons who were of age then (9). An unusual arrangement for what seems to have been an unusual woman.

Gatehouse with tower

Katharina's and Friedrich's eldest son, another Friedrich, nicknamed 'the Warlike' (der Streitbare), participated in the Hussite Wars (1419-1436) at the side of the emperor Sigismund, son of Karl IV. As acknowledgement of his assistance, Sigismund created Friedrich Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg - which made him one of the prince electors - and Count Palatine of Saxony (1425). From that time the name Saxony / Saxe (Sachsen) was used for all the lands in possession of the Wettin family.

His grandsons Ernest and Albert split the House in two lines (1485). Coburg fell to the older, the Ernestinian line. That line would later divide into several branches, among them Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Saxe-Altenburg-Gotha. And here we tie in with the geneaology presented in the post linked above.

I'll spare you the various Ernests, Eduards and Friedrichs and the changes of borders between inherited lands. The Coburg remained in possession of the Wettin family until 1918 when the fortress was taken over by the County of Bavaria.

Luther's chamber in the former bower

One incident is worth mentioning, though. Ernest's sons were stout supporters of Martin Luther and the Protestant movement. Friedrich the Sage, Elector of Saxony († 1525) had saved Luther by giving him shelter in the Wartburg in 1522, after the diet at Worms resulted in the Edict of Worms and the imperial ban for Luther. His brother and successor, Johann the Steadfast, gave Luther shelter in the Coburg during the diet of Augsburg in 1530, since Luther was still officially under ban, and it would have been too dangerous for him to appear in Augsburg.

Luther used the time to continue his translation of the Bible, and wrote letters to Philipp Melanchthon who was sort of his spokesman at the diet. Luther was involved in the composition of the Confession of Augsburg (Confessio Augustana) which stated the position of the Protestant Church and was signed by several German princes (among them the Elector of Saxony, the Landgrave of Hessia and the Duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg) and imperial towns like Nuremberg (10). The emperor Karl V refused to acknowledge the Confession, though, thus the Protestant duchies, counties, and free towns established the Schmalkaldic League in opposition to the emperor.

A view of the three layers of curtain walls

The Thirty Years War was the final result of these events. The guidebook says that Coburg Fortress was never taken by military force, but that it was conquered due to a forged letter which ordered the capitulation in the name of Duke Johann Ernest, after general Lamboy had laid siege to the fortress for five months in 1635. Well, Lamboy turned from supporter of Wallenstein to supporter of the emperor Ferdinand II while Wallenstein's body (assassinated by order of Ferdinand II) was still warm, so I would not put it beyond him to resort to tricks, but I could not find any proof aside from the guidebook. The duke got the Coburg back in the following year and strengthened the fortifications further. It was the last time the fortress played a military role.

More impressive curtain walls

Footnotes
1) There is a mention of a castrum Choburg from 1207 I found in an online timetable, but it is not backed up by the guidebook.
2) The - not exactly unbiased - Polish Chronicle of Gallus Anonymous says Bolesław was fratrem et cooperatorem imperii constituit and Otto put a diadem on his head. The act of swearing amicitia included the exchange of presents, but there is no implication that Otto indeed elevated Bolesław to king as some researchers assume. Bolesław was officially crowned as king in 1025.
3) Heinrich II was the son of Heinrich 'the Troublemaker' (der Zänker) Duke of Bavaria and Gisela of Burgundy. Heinrich the Troublemaker in turn was a son of Judith of Bavaria and Heinrich, a younger son of Heinrich the Fowler, the first Ottonian king. Heinrich had been installed as Duke in Bavaria by his brother, the emperor Otto I, after they finally reconciled. His grandson Heinrich II became king in 1002 and emperor in 1014.
4) The coronation was done by a papal legate. Bolesław had to wait so long for papal approval since Heinrich II always opposed his elevation to king.
5) Konrad II (990-1039), the first king and emperor of the Salian dynasty.
6) Richeza's father died about the same time she returned to Germany and received the lands of Saalfeld/Coburg; that coincidence blurs the question whether Saalfeld may have been her dower or her inheritance. Richeza's brother, Count Palatine Otto of Lotharingia, inherited the ancient family possessions at the Rhine; several sisters were abbesses of nunneries at the Rhine.
7) There is some genaological connection between House Andechs and the former margraves of Schweinfurt who had possessions around Saalfeld/Coburg before Richeza and Anno. It seems those old claims were brought up again.
8) Austria had been split off already in 1154 when Heinrich the Lion was granted Bavaria.
9) Friedrich was born 1370, Wilhelm 1371.
10) An English translation was presented to King Henry VIII of England.

Literature
Gerd Althoff: Die Ottonen. 3rd revised edition, Stuttgart, 2013
Egon Boshof: Die Salier. 5th revised edition, Stuttgart, 2008
Odilo Engels: Die Staufer. 9th revised edition, Stuttgart, 2010
Bernd Schneidmüller: Die Welfen - Herrschaft und Erinnerung. Stuttgart, 2000
Wilfried Warsitzka: Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt, 2009
Guidebook: Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg. Regensburg, 2008
 
Comments:
Sad to say, but even today Richeza is extremely unpopular in Poland. Personally I do not think it is well deserved :-) Nevertheless, because of her husband's failures, thier son Kazimierz [Casimir] had a chance to gain the sobriquet "the Restorer". Just as a note, all Polish rulers named Casimir gained favourable sobriquets: Kazimierz I Odnowiciel [the Restorer], Kazimierz II Sprawiedliwy [the Just], Kazimierz III Wielki [the Great].
 
What did poor Richeza do besides marrying Mieszko, and no one asked about her that, either, I think. Maybe it was the fact that she seemed to have kept good relationships with her relatives and the German court while her father-in-law and husband were at cahoots with the emperors Heinrich II and Konrad II. But both Richeza and Mieszko were present at the consecration of the cathedral in Bamberg, so at times there was peace.

Makes you wonder what had happend if Otto III (who died young) had lived longer and the friendship /alliance between him and Boleslaw had continued. Well, the problems between Heinrich and Boleslaw certainly were not the end of German girls named Richeza marrying into the Polish royal dynasty. :-)
 
Love the picture of the Gothic House - with the people for scale. I tend to think of places as smaller/shorter than they are. People let me know I'm often wrong. :) Do you have any idea how high the curtain walls are? Or the depth between them?
 
Danke für den Ausflug zur Veste Coburg - ein wirklich beeindruckender Bau. Schön auch, so ausführlichen etwas zur Geschichte dieser einmalig schönen Festungsanlage zu erfahren.
LG von der Silberdistel
 
Foreign queens often seem to get a particularly bad press, maybe because they are an easy focus for all the accumulated feuds and hatreds that the marriage was supposedy intended to heal. The Old Engish poem 'The Wife's Lament' alludes to the miserable situation of a woman facing the hostility of her husband's kinsmen; I imagine a fair number of queens who made diplomatic marriages would have recognised it all too well.
 
Constance, take the Corgi POV. :-) I can't say in metres how high the walls are and I didn't found any information in the guidebook. But the zwinger you can see from the bridge looks deep enough to break more than one bone if you happen to fall into it when the defenders push the scaling ladder over. :-)

Liebe Silberdistel,
vielen Dank für Deinen netten Kommentar. Ich versuche immer, etwas über die geschichtlichen Hintergründe zu erfahren und meinen Lesern weiterzugeben. Es ist schän zu wissen, dass dies auch auf Interesse stösst.

Carla,
I can imagine that's true. The Polish nobility must have been an unhappy bunch before, so now poor Richeza became a scapegoat for any problems between the king and the nobility, between Germans and Poles, and whatever conflicts were lurking under the surface.
 
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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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Location: Germany

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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