The Lost Fort
My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times
The History of Ogrodzieniec Castle, Part 1: Beginnings unto the Boner Family
After the virtual tour of Ogrodzieniec Castle in Poland I posted in December, let's have look at the history of those fascinating ruins.
Ogrodzieniec Castle seen from the south
with outer wall, Footman's Tower (left), Hen's Leg, Beluard Bastion and Prison Tower
Regular readers will know that I always try to fnd out details about the history of the castles and other historical sites I've visited. It proves a bit more difficult with Czech and Polish castles, since I'm not as well acquainted with the history of the eastern central European countries as I am with Germany or the United Kingdom. But I'm busy reading up on the subject. Another problem is the lack of sources in languages I can read, especially in the case of local history (1).
Rock foundations of the Tall Castle
It had been assumed that a timber fortress mentioned in the sources preceeded the stone castle, but findings on the neighbouring Birów Hill now point at the first castle having been located there. Traces of earth and timber walls, at least two towers, and a domestic building have been found there, while no traces of timber works - like post holes - were discovered on the site of the present castle.
This first castle may have been called Ogrodzieniec as well, since the word means 'walled in area'. It had been built at the time of Duke Bolesław Wrymouth who ruled Poland from 1102 to 1138. Châtellenies, consisting of castles - usually still constructed of timber - surrounded by settlements were a typical feature of the Polish administration at the time; the lords of the castles organised the local economy and jurisdiction, and offered shelter in case of war.
Limestone formations in the outer yard
It likely was that first castle and the settlements which were destroyed during the invasion of the Mongols in 1241. The first Mongol invasion destroyed Volga Bulgaria and conquered several Russian principalities like Kiev and Vladimir. The Golden Horde reached central Europe in 1240. One of the three armies swept through southern Poland, culminating in the Battle of Legnica where the combined forces of several Polish duchies and members of the Teutonic Knights (2) were defeated on April 9, 1241. Duke Henryk II Pobožny ('the Pious'), one of the leaders, was killed. Another Mongolian army conquered Hungary at the same time. Only the death of the Great Khan Ögedei called the armies back.
Outer curtain wall with sally port
At that time, Poland had been divided into several duchies governed by members of the Piast dynasty. Bolesław Wrymouth († 1138) had produced a bunch of sons and decided to split the country between them, with the younger ones answering to the eldest, the dike of Krakow, according to the senioral principle. That didn't work out in the long run, of course; there was a lot of internecine strife and even some wars between the successors of those dukes.
Duke Henryk II Pobožny was the duke of Silesia, and since 1238 also Duke of Kraków and thus High Duke of Poland, as well as regent of the duchies of Sandomierz and Opole-Racibórz. He was the only son of Henryk the Bearded and Hedwig of Andechs, a comital house of Bavaria. Henryk Pobožny was married to Anna of Bohemia, of the Přemyslid dynasty.
With his death, the hope of a reunited Poland under his rule was crushed. Even his own Silesia was divided into several smaller duchies among his offspring and would eventually come under Bohemian supremacy in 1335.
The castle seen from the north
Another attempt to unite Poland was made under Przemysł II, a grandson of Henryk Pobožny (Przemysł's mother Elżbieta of Wrocław was Henryk's daughter) who became duke of Greater Poland, the ancient kernel of Poland around Poznań and Gniezno, which had later been replaced by Kraków. He added Pomerania to the realm and was crowned king in 1295.
But after his death followed another period of instability until Władysław I Łokietek (the 'Elbow-High'), from another branch of the Piast dynasty, managed to unite Poland. He became king in 1320. His son Kasimierz Wielki, Casimir III the Great (crowned 1333) would be one of the most important kings of Poland. He expanded the realm eastwards to include parts of what today is Ukraine; he founded the first Polish university at Kraków, furthered trade and the development of towns, and reformed the juridical system and the army.
It was under the rule of Casimir that the oldest part of present Ogrodzieniec Castle was built as part of the Eagle's Nests line of defense along the border to Silesia, now in Bohemian possession. Casimir gave the castle to Przedbórz of Brzezie, the marshal of the kingdom and obviously a close advisor of the king. Przedbórz first served as provincial governor of Sieradz, a former duchy in Greater Poland and important trade center. Unfortunately, I could not find out more about Przedbórz.
Since the oldest buildings in Ogrodzieniec, the Tall Castle (see virtual tour) offered quite some amenities, and included representative rooms, one can assume that Przedbórz lived in the castle at times. The Gothic style of the architecture must have looked very modern and even daring at the time.
Lord's Yard, view towards gate and south wing
The next time we can trace Ogrodzieniec Castle in the course of history is another feudal transaction. The castle obviously had fallen back to the crown with Przedbórz' death, because Casimir's successor, Władysław Jagiełło granted it - together with other estates - to Włodek of Charbinowice, the Cracow cup bearer, in 1385. This is confirmed by the chronicle of Jan Długosz; the only mention of this historical detail (3).
The Cup Bearer (cześnik) had been a court office in both Poland and Lithuania including the responsibility for the wine-cellar and service at the table. It became a honorary court title in both countries in the 14th century.
According to Długosz, Włodek of Charbinowice had been involved in the negotiations about the Polish-Lithuanian Union and the marriage to Jadwiga that would gain Jogaila/Jagiełło the crown of Poland. The castle could have been a reward.
The castle was still in possession of the Włodek family in 1454. A Bartosz Włodek of Ogrodzieniec was among the prisoners the Teutonic Knights took after the battle of Chojnice in northern Poland (September 1454). It was one of the battles fought during the Thirteen Years War between the Prussian Confederation and the Teutonic Knights (see post about the history of Danzig linked above). The battle was a defeat for the Prussian Confederation; several high ranking Polish nobles were killed, and a great number of nobles and minor knights taken captive.
Gate Tower, upper floors
Another name connected with Ogrodzieniec Castle is Jan Pilecki (4). He was the son of Elżbieta Pilecka-Granowska and Wincenty of Granowski. His mother later would become queen of Poland.
A bit of geneaology again: Jadwiga, Władysław Jagiełło's first wife died early, and he remarried three more times. The wealthy widow Elżbieta was already in her later 40ies, past childbearing, with scandal clinging to her name (5). Not the sort of wife the Polish nobility wanted their king - still without a male heir - to take. But the marriage seems to have been a happy one. Elżbieta died in 1420. Jagiełło, already aged 60something, then married the young Sophia (Sonka) of Halshany who gave him two sons: Władysław III King of Poland and Hungary, and Casimir IV Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland (from 1447).
Casimir strove to appoint men loyal to him and who would back his war against the Teutonic Knights to important offices. One of those was his half-brother Jan Pilecki, who became palatine of Kraków in 1459, which was a break of tradition according to R. Frost (there seems to have been a line for certain offices, and Jan got ahead).
It is likely that Jan Pilecki sometimes stayed at Ogrodzieniec Castle during his time as palatine. For one, he was responsible for the military defense of nearby Kraków, and it is also possible that Bartosz Włodek still languished in a prison of the Teutonic Knights, so Jan might have had to administer the castle and lands.
Hen's Leg (left), Beluard Bastion and Prison Tower
The Włodek family was back in Ogrodzieniec some time before 1470, but they got into financial troubles (maybe the ransom for poor Bartosz played a role in that) and had to sell the castle in 1470. The buyer were two rich burghers from Krakow: Ibram and Piotr Salomonowicz. The names of the buyers sound Jewish, but such a transaction was indeed possible under Polish law. The situation of the Jews in Poland was somewhat better compared to the western European countries (6).
The property the Włodek family sold included castle and town of Ogrodzieniec and a number of villages, as well as the titles to farms, manors, pastures, woods, etc. The sold everything for eight thousand Hungarian florins of pure gold, and renounced all rights and titles to the aforementined porperties.
The Salomonwicz brothers may have seen the purchase of Ogrodzieniec and the adjacent lands as an investment rather than a residence, since the owners / residents of the castle changed several times after 1482, and it's difficult to trace the net of sales and pawns of the castle and the lands in those years. Obviously, even the Włodek family got involved again and held Ogrodzieniec in the early 1520ies.
The Footman's Tower
In 1523, Ogrodzieniec Castle was bought by Jan Boner. He and his successors made a number of architectural changes to the castle. The enlarged the south wing, built the Renaissance style west wing that would later bear their name, changed the site of the entrance and added the gate tower.
Jan Boner's successors expanded the place by adding the Hen's Foot bastion and the Beluard (see also first post). The Boner familiy added a system of galleries and balconies to the main courtyard, in the style of the Wawel Castle in Kraków.
The final residence encompassed 32,00 cubic metres and was richly furnished with Flemish tapestries, mahogany furniture, crystal and silver tableware and other 16th century luxuries.
Reconstructed timber arcades in the Economic Courtyard
The Boner family originated from Landau, a town in what is today Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. The family moved to Wrocław in Bohemian Silesia in the 1460ies. Jan Boner - also known as Hans Boner - set up a business in Kraków in 1483, still a young man in his early twenties. He dealt in timber, livestock and spices, and founded branch offices in other towns in Poland, Germany, Hungary and Russia. Soon he delivered silver to the royal mints and got involved in loan operations. Jan Boner was elected to the city council of Kraków in 1498.
Boner also cooperated with the Polish kings John Abert (Jan Olbracht) and Alexander Jagiellon (Aleksander Jagiełłończyk), both sons of Casimir IV and Elisabeth of Austria of House Habsburg. They were succeeded by Sigismund the Old (King Zygmunt I Stary), another son of Casimir and Elisabeth, who ascended to the throne in December 1506.
View from Boner's Library
There's a connection with the Teutonic Knights, one of the topics that appeared several times on this blog (there will be more posts about them als well):
Sigismund's sister Sophia of Poland (Zofia Jagiełłonka) was married to Frederik Margrave of Brandenburg. One of their sons, Albert, became Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights and, after another war with Poland and the Lutheran secularization of the order, was created Duke of Prussia and accepted the former lands of the order as fief from his Uncle Sigismund in 1525, as result of the Treaty of Kraków.
Boner's Wing seen from the other side
Jan Boner fared exceedingly well under King Sigismund. He was granted Polish citizenship in 1514, and the following year became manager of the salt mines of Wieliczka near Kraków. The income from those mines made up a large part of the Polish economy, therefore the position showed a great deal of trust by the king. King Sigismund elevated Jan Boner and his familyto the polish nobility in 1520 and made him the royal governor of Kraków in 1522.
During the previous years, Boner - now one of the wealthiest men in Europe - had become the king's main banker. He strengthened the royal treasury with funds of his own and managed to recover it from the verge of bancruptcy. He also bought royal possessions (castles, villages etc.) out of debts and pawns. Most important, Boner separated the royal treasury from the state treasury, and persecuted misuse of funds, bribery and other corruption wherever he discovered it.
Boner also was a patron of scholars and artists, like so many rich Renaissance people. He died in 1523 and was succeeded by his nephew Seweryn, who inherited his uncle's financial talent and followed him as manager of the Wieliczka salt mines.
Boner's dining room
It was Seweryn Boner who put the most effort into the house makeover of Ogrodzieniec Castle. The castle later became the residence of one of Seweryn's sons, Stanisław, who had no heirs. So the castle came to his sister Zofia who had married Jan Firlej, the governor of Lubin and later Crown Marshal. Jan Firley added the Beluard Bastion and the dry moat in the 1560ies.
The next owner was their son and heir Mikołaj, the governor of Kraków. His son Jan had no children either, and gave the castle to his cousin Andrzej Firlej. Andrzej decorated the interior in the Baroque style (though few traces are left today) and built the marble hall on top of the Beluard Bastion.
It would be the last time of glory for Ogrodzieniec Castle. The following times saw the decline of the Jagiełłonian dynasty, wars with Habsburg and Sweden, and the destruction of parts of the castle. A second part about the later history of Ogrodzieniec Castle will follow.
Rooms in the Beluard Bastion
1) In this case I had to rely on the short history in the guidbook mentioned in the first post about Ogrodzieniec, and the following websites: Castles Today: Ogrodzieniec and the Medieval Heritage: Podzamcze website. The English Wikipedia site is unreliable. I did some cross-checks with the history books in my collection when possible.
2) The participation of military knights seems not to have been as important as some sites makes them. William Urban only says that there might have been a contingent of Teutonic Knights present at the battle. The presence of Templars, as Wikipedia states, seems unrealistic; they were probably confused with the Teutonic Knighs.
3) The Castles Today website considers the information reliable, only the exact date is unconfirmed. Długosz seemingly had a habit of playing lose with the dates (and he would not be the first).
4) The Castles Today plays lose with the dates as well, it seems: It dates the sojourn of Jan Pilecki in Ogrodzieniec Castle to 1492 which is impossible since Jan Pilecki died in 1476. I follow the information given by Robert Frost for my interpretation. (If there was indeed a Jan Pilecki involved in a financial transaction that included Ogrodzieniec castle in 1492, he can't have been the son of Elżbieta Pilecka-Granowska.)
5) She was married several times, but the exact number is disputed. There was an abduction involved, and she might have lived with one man without marriage.
6) While the Polish Jews were legally situated more equal to the Christians than in other countries, the situation was not perfect. There were local progroms in Poland as well (one of those forced the Jews of Kraków to resettle in the Kazimierz suburb in 1495 after a disastrous fire, for example) but most Polish kings strove to protect them. When the Jews were expelled from Spain, Austria and Germany in 1492, a significant number migrated to Poland in the following years.
Nora Berend, Przemysław Urbańczyk and Przemysław Wiszewski: Central Europe in the High Middle Ages. Bohemia, Hungary and Poland c. 900 - c. 1300; Cambridge Mediaeval Textbooks, 2013
Almut Bues: Die Jagiellonen. Herrscher zwischen Ostsee und Adria; Kohlhammer-Urban, Stuttgart 2010
Robert Frost: The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania, vol. 1, The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union 1385-1569; Oxford 2015, paperback ed. 2018
Eduard Mühle: Die Piasten. Polen im Mittelalter, München 2011
William Urban: The Teutonic Knights. A Military History, 2003; reprint by Frontline Publ. 2018
Mediaeval Stronghold, Renaissance Residence, Film Set - A Virtual Tour of Ogrodzieniec Castle in Poland
I got another filming location for you. The Witcher series, a Netflix production based on the novels of the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski and starring Henry Cavill in the lead role, will launch today. The series has been shot in Hungary and the Canary Islands, among others, but some scenes were produced in Ogrodzieniec Castle in Poland. Luckily, I visited that one during my spring journey, therefore I can give you a virtual tour of this spectacular ruin.
Ogrodzieniec is part of the so called Eagle Nest Trail, a series of castles situated on a ridge of limestone cliffs north of Kraków. Those castles were built mostly in the 14th century to protect the border to Silesia which then belonged to the Kingdom of Bohemia. Some limestone formations can be seen in immediate vicinity of the castle, which itself stands on a cluster of several large rocks on top of a hill.
Ogrodzieniec Castle from the south-east, with the Three Sisters rock formation to the left
The first castle was built by King Kazimierz the Great some time between 1350-1370, and granted to Przedbór of Brzezie, the Marshal of the Polish Kingdom. Later, King Władysław Jagiełło, the former Prince Jogaila of Lithuania who my regular readers have already met, granted the castle to the Włodek of Charbinowice family who held Ogrodzieniec from 1386-1470. At their time, Ogrodzieniec consisted of the Tall Castle and the Prison Tower, with the entrance situated between the rocks, which is today occupied by the Beluard Bastion.
The Tall Castle seen from the Gate Tower
The castle was sold several times in the years to follow, until the Kraków banker and mining official Jan Boner, whose family came from Germany, bought it in 1523. He and his successors built the west wing with rooms for the family in the Reanissance style. The gate tower and the Beluard Bastion were added in the 1550ies; they show traces of Baroque architecture.
Beluard Bastion Tower, with Prison Tower in the background
Ogrodzieniec was badly damaged by the Swedish army in 1655, but repaired by the Kraków castellan Stanisław Warszycki who added the outer curtain wall and fortified the gate house. But the castle fell into disrepair over time and had to be abandoned in 1810, after a ceiling collapsed. Today, the castle belongs to the Polish State. Repairs were undertaken in the 1950ies and 1960ies, and again in 2013-14.
Outer curtain walls
At the time when the castle was still occupied, the outer ward enclosed a number of buildings, among them a stable, a brewery and residential buildings for the staff; some foundations of those can still be seen below the main rock.
Rock formations in the outer walls
The scenic rocks are Jurassic limestone that had been formed 150 million years ago, when this part of Europe was a shallow, warm sea. The 100 kilometres long and 10-40 kilometres wide limestone ridge had once been a reef.
Closeup of the Three Sisters
The Three Sisters are a rock formation of three limestone pillars - though one can only see two pillars from this angle - in the outer ward. Behind the pillars is a grotto that has been expanded and converted into a torture chamber by Stanisław Warszycki.
Ogrodzieniec Castle, seen from the outer bailey
A smoke machine was spotted near the formation, so one might expect a mist veiled shot of the pillars and the iconic tree in some scene of the Witcher films, likely the battle of Sodden. Detailed information about the shooting can be found on this fan site.
The gate tower had been expanded in the early 16th century, at the time the Boners were in residence. It had five storeys back then, with rooms for the guards, storage of arms and ammunition, and a chapel on the 3rd floor. The tower starts out on square layout but changes to a rotund design above the chapel level. The rooms above the chapel were mostly used for defense purposes by archers and crossbowmen. The gate was protected by a moat and a wooden drawbridge.
The Lord's Yard, seen from the cellar
After passing the gate, visitors enter the so called Lord's Yard, an irregularly shaped yard, Its present shape dates to the 16th century. Before the Boner's Wing was added to the castle, the yard used the natural rock formations to enclose a number of smaller buildings, mostly utility and storage rooms, situated in front of the Tall Castle, the oldest part of Ogrodzieniec. The yard also included a cistern. In former times, wooden galleries running along the walls inside the yard gave access to the various rooms on different levels.
The tall castle, seen from the outside
The east wing, the so-called Tall Castle, dates back to the 14th century and represents the oldest part of Ogrodzieniec Castle. It is a three storey fortified residence tower with a hall, a smaller chamber, a solar, and storage rooms in the basement.
Tall castle, lower storeys
The basement can be accessed from the yard. Those rooms served for storage purpose, but for defense as well; they have windows with arrow and gun slits overlooking the way to the castle. Since the castle is built on a rock, the basement is actually several metres above the level of the outer ward.
Tall Castle, the upper storeys
Back in the 14th century, access to the hall had been by a wooden gallery in the courtyard. Today, we get a maze of stairs and metal bridges that bring the visitor to the different levels of the various parts of Ogrodzieniec Castle. Another residential building can be found on the south side of the yard; it had been altered after the addition of the Guard Tower in the 16th century.
View to the kitchen (middle); Boner's Wing to the right
Remains of the castle kitchen can be seen in the north wing building. Above it were several living rooms and guest chambers which benefited from the heat of the large hearth. The house was integrated into the bedrock which forms part of the outer wall. Beside the kitchen is the 16th century well that goes about 100 metres deep into the rock. Legend has it that it opened into a cave where the lord of the castle kept his treasure, but part of the well shaft has collapsed.
Boner's Wing, the library
To the west follows the so called Boner's Wing which was built by Jan Boner in the early 16th century and expanded by his successors. The rooms can be accessed via the level of the floor above the kitchen. The Boner family was very educated and collected books, hence they built a special library room.
The dining room
The room that can be reached by the stairs leading up from the library is today known as dining room or as 'Footman's Room'. The footman in Polish castles was the table steward who had in his responsibility the silver cutlery and command of the servants, and he announced and welcomed the guests. It was considered a trusted and high position in the lord's household.
The hall of Boner's wing
The official entrance to the Boner's Wing must have been via an upper level of the Gate Tower to access the Footman's room and the guest hall, since the more private chambers of the lord and his family, and the library, are to the other side (today the visitors following the tour will get there first).
The Prison Tower, or Tower of Convicts, started out as defensive tower built by the Włodek family in the 14th century to protect the gap between the rocks. It might have held some chambers in the rooms below the upper defense floor. At the time the Boner family expanded the castle, he tower was intergrated into the new layout and its basement was used as prison while a hall was built on the former defense platform.
The castle seen from the east, with the Prison Tower
The southern part of the castle was additionally strengthened by a bastion called Hen's Leg, a sturdy stone platform which could support the weight of cannons. It was added in the 1550ies and consisted of five storeys; the lower ones are particularly thick walled, with shooter's windows and artillery bays. The upper floor included the scribe's chamber and other rooms.
Cellar in the south wing
Cellar rooms in the Hen's Leg and under the south wing served as treasury, armoury and storage rooms. There is a little museum with arms and armoury in one of those, but it was closed in pre-season, as was the tavern in the Knight's Chamber above.
Another defensive structure was erected on the rocks to the south in front of the Prison Tower by the Crown Marshal Jan Firlej some time after 1561, called the Beluard Bastion. It is a triangular building that overlooks the outer ward on three sides, with crossbow and gun slits to be manned by the defenders.
Beluard Bastion with the Three Sisters in the background
Jan Firlej had inherited the castle by his marriage to Zofia Boner. His had no children, so his nephew Andrzej Firlej inherited Ogrodzieniec and built a splendid marble hall on the top of the Beluard Bastion. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by the Swedish army in 1655.
At the outer edge of the bastion are the remains of a rectangular tower, the Beluard Tower.
A leaked scene from the Witcher series may have been shot in the remains of the Beluard Bastion, but from an outside angle, not the view from above you can see on my photos.
Arcades in the utility yard
In a final step, the Beluard Bastion was connected to the Hen's Leg by another curtain wall which had four storeys of wooden galleries for the defenders; those have been reconstructed in 2013. The wall enclosed the Economic Courtyard or Utility Yard which contained a hen house and at least one workshop.
View from the Beluard Bastion to the Gate Tower
Ogrodzieniec Castle has a resident ghost. A black dog, much larger than an ordinary one, with burning eyes, is said to haunt the place, guarding the treasure in the cave under the well. It is said to either having belonged to Stanisław Warszycki, the lord of the castle who lived there in the 17th century and built the Torture Chamber, or it is said lord himself. Wonder if the Witcher ever met that dog during filming. *grin*
View from Beluard Bastion to the Tall Castle
Just for fun and because I have more photos to share, here are some views from the Beluard Bastion to other parts of the castle, and the outer ward with its limestone rock formations (below).
Curtain wall seen from the gate
The photo gives a good example of the way the manufactured stones fit in with the bedrock.
A more detailed post about the history of Ogrodzieniec Castle can be found here.
View across the outer bailey with the rock formations
Jerzy Pleszyniak: Castle Ogrodzieniec; published by Alatus. Guidebook avaliable on the site.
The various names for some of the parts of the castle are due to different translations of the Polish denominations.
I Won Nano Again
It is November, which means I'm participating in the National Novel Writing Month.
UPDATE: I wrote 50,000 words, with some days left to add a few more. It is the 6th time in a row. *grin* Blog updates will resume in December.
A Hansa Town between the Archbishop of Riga and the Teutonic Knights - The History of Mediaeval Riga
Archbishopric, seat of the Teutonic Knighs, and member of the Hanseatic League - Riga's Old Town has plenty of churches, a castle, and lanes and squares with pretty old houses. I spent a day there and managed to snatch a nice collection of photos to go with a post about Riga's Mediaeval history.
House of the Blackheads - one of Riga's iconic buildings
Settlement at a natural harbour 15 kilometres upriver from the mouth of the Daugava river (also known as Dvina; in Old Norse as Dúna ) dates back to the 2nd century AD. The settlers were Livs, a Finnic tribe, and the Baltic Curonians. Archaeological digs have shown traces of bone and amber craftsmanship, animal husbandry and fishing. The settlement likely was a minor trade centre at that time.
During the 5th and 6th centuries, the place, named Duna urbs in written sources, became part of the Viking trade route to Byzantium which followed the Daugava and Dnjepr river systems. Goods stored in the warehouses at the Daugava harbour were mostly corn, flax and hides. Amber and furs were traded as well, but not stored in larger quantities.
I already mentioned in the post about Tallinn that German interest in the Baltic increased in the 12th century. The first traders came to Livonia and the settlement at the Daugava via Visby, seat of the Gotland Corperation. They established a settlement of their own nearby, at the confluence of the Daugava with a minor river called Riga Brook, which would eventually lend his name to the town, in 1158.
Lane in the Old Town
The Curonians at the coast had developed a habit of piracy as side occupation; and a fat cog from Gotland or Lübeck made for a welcome booty. It was one of the reasons the Germans wanted to bring those people under Christian rule.
Some attempts at Christianising the Livs and Curonians had been made prior to the arrival of the Germans. Danish merchants had built a church in 1045, and Orthodox missionaries came in from Rutheinian Polotsk. A number of Livs and Curonians were baptised, but it was never a grand scale operation. That changed with the arrival of Meinhard of Segeberg, a German missionary from Gotland. Meinhard attempted to convince the Livonian tribes at the Daugava to convert - he taught them to build in stone in order to impress them, but it didn't really work.
Nevertheless, his superior, Archbishop Hartwig of Bremen - eager to expand the power of his diocese - consecrated Meinhard as bishop of Livonia with the see in Ikšķile (Üxküll in German - sorry, I didn't make that name up *grin*) at the Daugava, in 1186. But his attempts at converting the Livs and Couronians remained unsuccessful. Meinhard was a priest, not a warrior; moreover, the coastal tribes prevented him from getting reinforcements from Gotland. He died in 1196.
Mediaeval houses 'Three Brothers'
His successor, Berthold of Loccum (a monastery near Hannover), barely escaped death when the tribes didn't take well to his less gentle ways of conversion and he had to flee to Gotland. Berthold was more of a warrior than Meinhard and came back with a crusader army in 1198. But he managed to get himself killed in a battle the crusaders won - it is said that he rode ahead his army, was surrounded and hacked to pieces by the Livonians. Now the nothern crusades had their first martyr.
Berthold's successor Albert of Buxthoeven, a nephew of Archbishop Hartwig of Bremen, realised that it would need some sort of standing army to make the Livonians stay baptised, and created the Livonian Order of the Brothers of the Sword (for details see the post about Tallinn). According to official Church History of the time, the Livonians had been converted in 1206 after the battle of Turaida which was fought between the Sword Brothers and their allies (among them the Livonian prince Caupo who had been baptised already under Meinhard and even visted Rome) and the pagan tribes.
Town wall of Riga; remains
In 1201, Bishop Albert trasfered the espiscopal see from Ikšķile to Riga which was accessible by cogs. The date is considered the official foundation of the town. Albert introduced first the Visby, later the Hamburg law. His see was still under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Bremen, though.
Philipp of Swabia, king of Germany (though the position was contested by Otto of the Welfen family, the future emperor Otto IV) granted Bishop Albert Livonia with its capital Riga as fief and principality of the Holy Roman Empire. The land was divided between the Church and the Order of the Sword Brothers - they got a third of the land. That arrangement would lead to troubles in the future.
The Powder Tower from 1330 (originally called Sand Tower)
Albert also furthered the trade in Riga. He obtained papal bulls that obliged all German merchants to conduct their trade to the other Baltic and the Ruthenian towns, including Russian Novgorod , through Riga. He also managed to force the Prinicpality of Polotsk to grant German merchants free passage of the Daugava to reach the markets of Smolensk and Vitebsk as well as the overland route to Novgorod. This agreement also put an end to Livonian tribes - particularly the Latgalians living upriver - having to pay tribute to Polotsk.
Riga minted its own coin by that time. Due to the growing importance and wealth of the town, bishop Albert claimed independence from Bremen's jurisdiction; Livonia became an autonmous episcopal see in 1213.
The Swedish Gate, added 1698
But not everything went smoothly for Albert. Parts of the town were destroyed by a fire in 1215. Moreover, the citizens of Riga wanted greater autonomy from the bishop and ecclesiatic jurisdiction. They finally were granted exemption from paying taxes to the bishop, as well as the right to elect their own magistrates and adopt a city constitution in 1225. It seems that even the pope sided with the town against Albert.
Outside the town walls of Riga, troubles arose as well. The Livonian tribes were far from pacified; old inter-tribal feuds flared up, as did rebellions against the Christian occupants. Riga was protected by its walls, but all over the country, the Sword Brothers were kept quite busy.
In the end, bishop Albert was obliged to call King Valdemar of Denmark, who had shown an interest in the area, for help. Valdemar conquered the Estonian town Tallinn (Reval) at the battle of Lyndanisse in 1219, and the island of Saaremaa (Ösel) soon thereafter, but the Danes didn't want to work for others, so Albert had to acknowledge their rule of those lands.
It followed a time of rebellions and shifting alliances in Livonia and Estonia. King Valdemar was caught in between and unable to defend his conquests against the Sword Brothers. The reason those rebellions were not successful in the long run was the lack of centralised leadership of the Livonian tribes; they various people never united under one leader like the Lithuanians eventually would under their grand dukes (and they caused the Teutonic Knight a lot of trouble).
Bishops Albert reached an agreement in 1222 in which all Livonian lands were returned to his control (about the onging problems with the Sword Brothers who refused to return the lands enfeoffed to them see the post about Tallinn).
Riga Cathedral, the cloister (the cathedral itself was scaffolded in)
Bishop Albert fortified the town of Riga; some remains of the old town walls can still be seen. He laid the first stone to the cathedral in Riga 1211; the cathedral was consecrated in 1226 - those brick makers and masons had been pretty busy. The building has been alterend and expanded over the centuries, but retains its Romanesque nucleus. Albert also built St.James' Church for use of the Livonians outside the city walls. It was later expanded with Gothic elements.
Albert of Buxthoeven died in January 1229. One can say that he introduced the German hegemony over the Baltic states that would last for seven centuries.
St.James' Church, interior
In 1236, the remaining Sword Brothers merged with the Teutonic Knights who established a Livonian branch of their order. In 1346, they bought the Estonian lands from the King of Denmark and thus increased their power base.
Riga became archbishopric in 1253. The first archbishop, Albert Suerbeer, had been Primate of Ireland prior to his new position, which he took up against the will of the chapter. He got into conflict with the Livonian Order and was imprisoned until he acknowledged their authority.
We get to a problem typical for Riga: The conflicts between the town, the archbishop who also was a landed prince with vassals of his own, and the Teutonic Knights who also had land and vassals - and ambitions. Those three way problems didn't occur in Gdańsk which was no episcopal see, or in Tallinn where the bishop belonged to the Danish diocese of Lund (now in Sweden), held no lands and was thus less powerful.
Riga was a cornerstone in those conflicts. Despite their problems with the bishop, the citizens of Riga mostly sided with him against the Teutonic Knights since the episcopal tithes and regulations were less severe. Both the archbishop and the order also tried to gain support of the pope.
The citizens invited a Lithuanian garrison against the Teutonic Knights in 1298, after they had ousted the order and destroyed its castle in the town. The grand duke Vytenis of Lithuania, who wanted to keep up the trade via Riga, his country's main access to the Baltic Sea, gladly obliged. The garrison remained until 1313.
It would take until 1330 for Riga and its allies to capitulate. The Teutonic Knights built a castle outside the town walls of Riga - on the site of a former hospice - as seat of the Livonian Master, but they had learned to treat the town more carefully.
As result of the peace, the Teutonic Knights had a say in the election of the archbishop of Riga. Relations remained peaceful for a time, but eventually the order would meet with a man of strong character, like Archbishop Sylvester Stodewescher, originally a member of the order who worked with them against the threat of an alliance between towns and nobility - like the Prussian Confederation (see post about the history of Gdańsk) - against the Teutonic Knights. But after 1452, the relationship soured and Sylvester fought against the hegemony of the order in Riga. He failed to gain sufficient support of the chapter and citizens though, and ended up prisoner of the order (he died in 1479).
Another full scale war between the Teutonic Knights and Riga lasted from 1481-91. The castle of the order was destroyed during the fights, but after Riga lost the war, the citizens had to rebuild the castle. While the order was in slow decline after the battle of Grunwald (1410) in Prussia where it lost western Prussia to the Polish crown in 1466 and was ousted in 1521, it remained more powerful in Livonia where it lasted until 1561.
The Town Hall
Those wars and sieges may have interrupted trade for a while, but Riga remained an important trading town since it joined the Hanseatic League in 1282. Its situation at the Daugava was a central one with a river connection to Polotsk (which was an associated member of the Hansa for some time) and further on to Smolensk. Land routes led to Vilnius and Kaliningrad (Königsberg), and via Tartu (Dorpat) and Narva or Pskov to Novgorod, the easternmost Hansa kontor.
Goods that came from Russia and the Baltic lands were produces of the vast forests, like timber, furs, honey, and wax. Amber, hemp and tar were also on the list, and an important one: smoke-dried rye from the fertile areas of Livonia. The import trade consisted of cloth from Flanders and England, stockfish from Bergen, salt from Lüneburg, beer and wine, spices and other luxury goods.
Riga proved so powerful that it could forbid any foreign merchants - including those from Lübeck, the leading town of the Hanseatic League - any direct trade with its hinterland in 1459.
At the beginning, Riga also was the Lithuanian sea port, but its role was taken over by Gdańsk after the Polish-Lithuanian Union in 1392. Another temporary setback was the closure of the kontor in Novgorod during the war between that principality and the grand duke of Moscow (who would eventually conquer Novgorod) for several years in the late 15th century. But Riga continued to prosper.
The 14th century Great Guild Hall, meeting place of the German merchants
The Reformation made its way to Riga in 1522 with the sermons of the Luther follower Andreas Knöpken. After riots during which Catholic Churches were ransacked, the town council opted for freedom of religion in 1525. Parishes were established and the service held in Latvian. By the midde of the 16th century, the majority of the population of Livonia had converted to Lutheranism.
Riga came under Polish rule in 1582 (see below) and attempts were made to reintroduce Catholicism, though the Augsburg Confession was tolerated. In 1621, Riga was taken overn by Sweden and became again a Protestant town.
14th century House of the Blackheads, interior.
The Blackheads were an organisation of unmarried merchants.
Tsar Ivan IV ('the Terrible') started a war against Livonia in 1558, conquering Narva and Tartu. That war would last until 1583 and involve not only Russia and Livonia, but Denmark which still had interests in Estonia, Sweden, and the Polish-Lithuanian Union (later Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), all with different interests and shifting alliances.
The Livonian branch of the Teutonic Knights was dissembled after the order and the soldiers of the archbishop of Riga lost the battle of Ērģeme against Ivan's army in August 1560.
The city of Riga - which had been a Free Imperial City for twenty years during that war - concluded the Treaty of Drohiczyn with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in January 1581. It became part of the commonwealth, but retained most of its privileges.
Blackhead House, the cellar
The next war to afflict Riga (and all of Livonia) was the Polish-Swedish war. That war was basically caused by the fact that King Sigismund of Poland also claimed the Swedish throne through his mother Katarzyna Jagiełłonska. The Lutherian Swedes were not keen on a Catholic king who resided in Krakow most of the time, and ousted him in 1599, replacing him with Karl IX, though Sigismund made several attempts to regain his position. Karl was succeeded by Gustav II Adolf in 1611.
The war between Poland and Sweden - and some Russian intervention - about the possession of Livonia flamed up several times between 1600 and the Armistice of Altmark in 1629 where Sweden gained part of Livonia, including Riga, though the town retained most of its autonomy.
Riga Castle, different angle
Like Tallinn, Riga became part of the Russian Empire during the Great Northern War (1700-1721), that involved the Scandinavian countries, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Livonia, Prussia, the Russian Empire, Great Britain, and even the Ottoman Empire. Tzar Peter the Great besieged Riga in 1710; its capitualation led to the Peacy of Nystad. Riga became the capital of the Governorate of Livonia.
The Hanseatic League no longer existed at that time, but trade still played an important role. Riga kept a modicum of independence and flourished in the years to come.
Modern bridge across the Daugava river
Norbert Angermann, Karsten Brüggemann. Geschichte der baltischen Länder; Stuttgart 2018
Eric Christiansen. The Northern Crusades; 2nd editon. First published at Penguin Publ. 1997
Jörgen Brackler, Volker Henn, Rainer Postel (ed.). Die Hanse - Lebenswirklichkeit und Mythos; Lübeck 2006
William Urban. The Teutonic Knights. A Military History, 2003; reprint by Frontline Publ. 2018
The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.
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All texts and photos (if no other copyright is noted) are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.
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- Name: Gabriele Campbell
- Location: Goettingen, 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 still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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- Belgium and France
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Traces of a Failed Conquest
Romans at Lippe and Ems
Roman Exhibitions, Haltern am See
Varus Statue, Haltern am See
Romans at the Weser
The Roman Camp at Hedemünden
The Limes and its Forts
The Cavalry Fort - Barracks
The Cohort castellum
The Annex Fort
Shrine of the Standards
Temples and Memorials
Mithras Altars in Germania
Romans at Rhine and Moselle
The Villa Rustica in Wachenheim
Baths and Toilets
at the Moselle
The Villa Urbana in Longuich
Augusta Treverorum (Trier)
The Aula Palatina
The Imperial Baths
The Porta Nigra
The Roman Bridge
From Settlement to Fortress
Colonia Ulpia Traiana (Xanten)
History of the Town
The Amphitheatre in Birten
The Temple of Isis and Mater Magna
Belgium and France
Atuatuca Tungrorum (Tongeren)
Roman Remains in Tongeren
Frontiers and Fortifications
The Hadrian's Wall
Building the Wall
Wall Forts - Banna (Birdoswald)
The Dark Age Timber Halls
Wall Forts - Segedunum (Wallsend)
Museum, Viewing Tower and Foundations
The Signal Station at Scarborough
Temples and Memorials
The Mithraeum of Brocolita
A Roman Memorial Stone
Bath in the Fortress
The Romans in Wales
Roman Forts - Isca (Caerleon)
The Baths in the Legionary Fort
Mediaeval and Other Places
- Abbeys and Churches
- Reconstructed Sites / Museums
Lion Benches in the Castle Square
St. Mary's Church, Introduction
St.Mary's Abbey - An Austere Archbishop
St.Mary's Abbey - Reformation to Reunion
The Chapter Church
The Cathedral: Architecture
Cathedral: Richard Lionheart in Speyer
Jewish Ritual Bath
The Old Harbour
The Gothic House
Collected Posts about Towns
Towns in Thuringia
The Double Castle
Role of the Castle in Thuringian History
Coburg Fortress (Bavaria)
The History of the Fortress
Ebersburg (Harz Mountains)
Power Base of the Thuringian Landgraves
The Marshals of Ebersburg
Otto of Northeim
Heinrich the Lion and Otto IV
The Next Generations
Hardenberg (Lower Saxony)
Hardenberg Castle Gardens
Harzburg (Harz Mountains)
The Harzburg and Otto IV
Hohnstein (Harz Mountains)
Origins of the Counts of Hohnstein
The Family Between Welfen and Staufen
A Time of Feuds (14th-15th century)
The Counts of Everstein
War and Decline
Plesse (Lower Saxony)
Rise and Fall of the Counts of Winzenburg
The Lords of Plesse
Architecture / Decline and Rediscovery
Regenstein (Harz Mountains)
The Time of Henry the Lion
Scharzfels (Harz Mountains)
A Virtual Tour
The History of the Castle
The Castle After the Restoration
Collected Posts about Castles
Castles in the Harz Mountains
Castles in Northern Hessia
Sababurg and Trendelburg
Castles in Lower Saxony
Adelebsen Castle: The Keep
Grubenhagen: A Border Castle
Hardeg Castle: The Great Hall
Salzderhelden: A Welfen Seat
Castles at the Weser
Bramburg: River Reivers
Krukenburg: Castle and Chapel
Castle Polle: An Everstein Seat
Castles in Thuringia
Altenstein at the Werra
Castle Normanstein: Introduction
Abbeys and Churches
The Early History
Remains of the Monastery
The Gospels of Heinrich the Lion
The Exterior Decorations
The Early History
The Interior of the Church
From Monastery to Museum
Collected Posts about Churches
Early Mediaeval Churches
Göllingen Monastery: Traces of Byzantine Architecture
Lorsch Abbey: The Carolingian Gate Hall
Churches in the Harz Mountains
Pöhlde Monastery: The Remaining Church
Steinkirche (Scharzfeld): Development of the Cave Church
Churches in Lower Saxony
Wiebrechtshausen: Nunnery and Ducal Burial
Churches at the Weser
Fredelsloh Chapter Church
Vernawahlshausen: Mediaeval Murals
Reconstructed Sites / Museums
Palatine Seat Tilleda
Viking Settlement Haithabu
Haithabu and the Archaeological Museum Schleswig
The Nydam Ship
Open Air Museums
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen
Historical Guns, Coburg Fortress
Vintage Car Museum, Wolfsburg
Roman and Medieaval Chester
The Abbey - Introduction
The Old Gaol
The Guild Hall
The Minster - Architecture
Monk Bar Gate and Richard III Museum
The Old Town
Along the Ouse River
Malcolm III and the First Battle of Alnwick
Henry II and William of Scotland
Edward I to Edward III
From the Conquest to King John
From Henry III to the Tudors
From the Romans to the Tudors
From the Civil War to the Present
Views from the Castle
The Wallace Monument
A Virtual Tour of the Castle
The Early Stewart Kings
Royal Dower House, and Decline
Guarding the Sound of Mull
An Ancient MacDougall Stronghold
The Wars of Independence
The Campbells Are Coming
Robert the Bruce and Stirling Castle
Abbeys and Churches
Arriving at Inchcolm
Other Historical Sites
Picts and Dalriatans
Dunadd Hill Fort
Ring of Brodgar
Castle and Coast
The Smallest House in Great Britain
The Historical Context
Master James of St.George
The Castle Kitchens
From the Romans to the Victorians
Beginnings unto Bigod
From Edward II to the Tudors
Civil War, Restoration, and Aftermath
The History of the Castle
King Edward's Buildings
The Pleasantest Spot in Wales
The Caves Under the Castle
The Fram Museum in Oslo
Castles and Fortresses
Arkershus Fortress in Oslo
Akershus at the Time of King Håkon V
Defending the North for Centuries
The Vasa Museum
Gnisvärd Ship Setting
Impressions from the The Neva River
The History of Mediaeval Tallinn
The History of Mediaeval Riga
The Curonian Spit
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Gdańsk / Danzig
The History of Mediaeval Gdańsk
Mediaeval and Renaissance Gdańsk
Wrocław / Breslau
The Botanical Garden
The Wrocław Dwarfs
A Virtual Tour
From the First Castle to the Boner Family
Karlovy Vary / Karlsbad
Brief History of the Town
The Sedlec Ossuary
The Old Town
Roman and Mediaeval Remains
A Tour of the Town
A Tour of the Town
Hiking Tours and Cruises
The Baltic Sea Coast
The Flensburg Firth
Rugia - Jasmund Peninsula and Kap Arkona
Rugia - Seaside Ressort Binz
A Tour on the Wakenitz River
Harz National Park
Arboretum (Bad Grund)
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
Ilse Valley and Ilse's Rock
Views from Harz mountains
Nature Park Meissner-Kaufunger Wald
Nature Park Solling-Vogler
The Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Oberderdorla and Hainich National Park
Rivers and Lakes
The Danube in Spring
A Rainy Rhine Cruise
Vineyards at Saale and Unstrut
Weser River Ferry
Harz Falcon Park
Ozeaneum Stralsund: The Baltic Sea Life
Ozeaneum Stralsund: The North Sea Life
Spring in the Botanical Garden Göttingen
Spring at the 'Kiessee' Lake
Spring in the Rossbach Heath (Meissner)
Memories of Summer
Summer Hiking Tours 2016
Autumn in the Meissner
Autumn at Werra and Weser
Winter at the 'Kiessee' Lake
Winter Wonderland - Views from my Balcony
Mountains and Valleys
West Highland Railway
The East Coast
By Ferry to Newcastle
Highland Mountains - Inverness to John o'Groats
Some Photos from the East Coast
Scottish Sea Shores
Crossing to Mull
Mull - Craignure to Fionnphort
Castles Seen from Afar (Dunollie and Kilchurn)
Summer Days in Oban
Summer Nights in Oban
Wild Wales - With Castles
Views of Snowdownia
Views from Castle Battlements
-Tour / Norway
A Voyage into Winter
Along the Coast of Norway - Light and Darkness
Along the Coast of Norway - North of the Polar Circle
Norway by Train
From Oslo to Bergen
From Trondheim to Oslo
Dog Sledding With Huskies
Eagles and Gulls in the Trollfjord
The Baltic Sea
A Baltic Sea Cruise
The Curonian Spit in Lithuania
Beaches at the Curonian Spit
Geology of the Curonian Spit