My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology

  Between the Landgraves of Hessia and the Archbishops of Mainz: Castle Grebenstein

Castle Grebenstein, situated 15 miles north of Kassel, is another of those less well known castle ruins that dot the German landscape. Instead of the keep which is usually the main remaining - and often restored - feature, in case of Grebenstein the great hall, or palas is the best preserved building. And a pretty impressive one at that.

Grebenstein Castle, the palas building

The building is 37 metres long and 12 metres wide, with a cellar and three storeys, still about 13 metres high. One can see remains of the kitchen on cellar level, the solar, some fireplaces and scuncheons with seats (there is enough space for cozy seats in those three metres thick walls), and toilet oriels. It must once have been a pretty palas for a border castle that was mostly run by a chatellain (Burgmann). Though some additions were made when members of the family of the landgraves of Hessia actually lived in the castle at times in the 14th century.

Windows with scuncheon seats in the north wall

The castle stands on a basalt cone some 50 metres above the small town of Grebenstein. One can still see some traces of the trench, but the curtain walls, gate towers and outer bailey have all but disappeared when the ruins were used as quarry since the aftermath of the Thirty Years War. It is actually surprising that the walls of the great hall survived in considerably good shape.

The palas seen from the east (the fomer outer bailey)

There is no comprehensive essay about the history of the castle currently avaliabe, so I had to hunt down whatever information I could find on reliable websites (1). Grebenstein was one of those contested border castles in the area between Thuringia, Hessia and today's Lower Saxony, with bits of land belonging to the archbishop of Mainz, the bishop of Paderborn, or noble families with various feudal bonds (2), among them the Counts of Dassel and Everstein.

The northern palas wall from the outside

Castle Grebenstein is first mentioned in a charte in 1272, but as usual, the actual building of the castle may date further back. A villacatio (a manor) called Grawen is mentioned in a register about tithes owned the monastery of Helmarshausen dating to 1120. So there definitely was a settlement some 50 years prior to the charte; the existence of a fortified structure is therefore a possibility.

The palas seen from the west

The lord holding the castle in the charte mentione above is Count Ludolf V of Dassel, member of a noble family (3) whose main lands, Dassel, castle Nienover, and the Solling forest are some 40 kilometres north of Grebenstein, in close proximity of the lands held by the Everstein of Polle. There were several marriage connections between both families - Ludolf's mother was a Clementia of Everstein, for example.

Interior of the palas, facing west

I could not figure out how and at which feudal terms Ludolf of Dassel came in possession of either the castle or the land to build the Grebenstein, but it surely was a hot spot between the bishop of Paderborn and Landgrave Heinrich I of Hessia, as the charte from 1272 demonstrates. It tries to define the borders of the lands in the area, including the exact extent of those belonging to the Grebenstein, nor does it seem clear who held the feudal rights to which bits of land in some cases. It looks like Ludolf got caught in the middle, and the borders remained undefined for the time being.

Interior, facing east

There seems to have been trouble, though. An agreement between Otto of Rietberg Bishop of Paderborn and the archbishop of Mainz, dating to 1279, says that Otto would try to get Castle Grebenstein into his power so that it would cease to be a centre for "troubles against Mainz" (Otto got a castle in possession of the archbishop as thanks). It is not clear whether the next Ludolf in line (Ludolf VI, 1235-1290) was causing troubles for Mainz on his own account or whether he was acting in the interests of the landgrave of Hessia who was at cahoots with the archbishop Werner of Eppstein as result of the Hessian-Thuringian War of Succession. But despite the intrigues, battles (4) and a threat to have the curtain walls dismantled, Ludolf kept the castle (with the walls intact), though it obviously did indeed become a fief of Mainz, maybe as result of the peace negotiations.

Upper floors in the sunshine

Ludolf VI of Dassel sold several of his ancestral lands and castles. One wonders if he was in financial troubles, but he also had only one surviving daughter, Drudeke (Gertrud), and the line would die out with him, so maybe he didn't see any reason to keep everything for her husband to inherit.

Drudeke married Ludwig III of Everstein (1266-1312); the Grebenstein was one of the possessions she brought to the marriage. Their younger son Otto VIII of Everstein inherited the castle either after his mother's death in 1283 (5), or at a later point before 1293.

The upper floors with the solar

Otto of Everstein was in possession of the castle in 1293, because that year he opened all his castles to Landgrave Heinrich I of Hessia and became his chatellain (Burgmann) for the Grebenstein. In 1297 he sold the castle to Landgrave Heinrich and was replaced as chatellain. Otto of Everstein also renounced his rights to Kugelsburg Castle which he held from Cologne - probably glad to get out of the rivalries between both archbishops.

Since the Grebenstein was a fief of the archbishop of Mainz but there are no complaints about the transaction the sources know of, one can assume that it happend with the agreement of the archbishop. Gerhard II of Eppstein tried to establish a peace with the landgrave of Hessia, which unfortunately didn't survive under his successors.

The north wall seen from halfway up the staircase

Grebenstein Castle - and soon the fortified town as well - became a post of defense of Hessian interests in the area which was dominated by possessions in control of the archbishop of Mainz. Open feud flared up again in 1325 when the archbishop claimed town and castle as homefallen fief after the death of Landgrave Johannes of Lower Hessia, a son of Heinrich I, but his half-brother Otto who had inherited Upper Hessia (around the Lahn river) took over the lands and showed the archbishop the middle finger.

Another attempt to regain the castle was made in 1385 when the archbishop of Mainz laid siege to the Grebenstein, which ended in a defeat for Mainz. Landgrave Hermann II of Hessia had incresed taxes to refill the treasury which looked rather empty after the Star Wars. As a result, the town of Kassel rebelled and hooked up with Mainz.

The north-east angle with the kitchen

Landgrave Hermann II 'the Learned' was born in Grebenstein Castle in 1341. His father was Ludwig the Younger, son of the above mentioned Landgrave Otto. Ludwig's older brother, another Heinrich, became landgrave in 1328; the Grebenstein came into Ludwig's possession as paréage. Hermann was destined for a clerical career, but then all male heirs ahead of him died and he became landgrave in 1376.

It was probably during that time the palas of Grebenstein was expanded to the size and luxury whose remains we can still see today.

Mainz finally had enough and sold all rights to castle and town Grebenstein to landgrave Ludwig II of Hessia (a grandson of Hermann II) in 1463. The castle lost its strategical importance.

The north-west angle

A ledger from 1428 still lists as inhabitants: the bailiff, the treasurer, several servants (churls), 4 guardsmen, 1 porter, 1 wine steward, 1 cook and 1 scullion, 1 baker, 1 cooper, 1 donkey driver (the donkey was needed to carry water and firewood to the castle), 4 farm hands, 1 dairy maid, 1 herdsman and 1 swineherd. Another account lists some victuals that had been brought to the castle: 17 herring and dried cod (stockfish), 8 pounds of honey, 2 lot pepper and 1 lot ginger. The inhabitants - at least those of higher standing - liked their food well spiced.

The southen wall from the outside

Since 1471, the accounts only mention a scribe living in the castle ("one and a half shilling to make fast the window and make shutters for the scribe up in the castle"). About 1540 the castle was used as granary.

Castle and town were destroyed during the Thirty Years War; afterwards the castle was used as quarry to repain the town. The ruins have been preserved at the end of the 20th century. Castle Grebenstein is a hidden little jewel at the Hessian border to which few tourists find they way.

The palace seen against the light

1) In particular this website of a local researcher and the article about Grebenstein in Burgenlexikon.
2) For example Castle Krukenburg and Castle Sichelnstein.
3) The most famous member of the family was Rainald von Dassel (ca. 1115 - 1167), archbishop of Cologne and chancellor of the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa.
4) Particularly the Battle of Fritzlar 1280 where the archbishop was defeated by Landgrave Heinrich I:
5) The geneaology is a bit muddled here. Either Drudeke's date of death or the birth date of her eldest son Ludwig (both 1283) must be wrong since she had three more sons. Otto is the second. Ludwig died in 1322 which means that the Grebenstein must have been part of a portion of Drudeke's heritage that fell to Otto of Everstein. A Danish geneaology - the Dassel family had also married into the Danish nobility - gives 1283 for Ludwig as 'first mentioned' which makes more sense.
Wieder so schöne und zugleich verlockende Bilder von einer Burg, die wir auch noch nicht kennen. Hoffentlich können wir die lange Burgenliste, die sich bereits vor uns aufgetürmt hat, in diesem Leben noch abarbeiten ;-) Danke auch für die interessanten Informationen.
Liebe Grüße von der Silberdistel
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The Lost Fort is a travel journal and history blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, as well as some geology, illustrated with photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

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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