Another Welfen Castle - Heldenburg in Salzderhelden
The castle today known as Heldenburg was first mentioned in chartes in the early 14th century as castrum soltho der helden which means 'the castle at the place near saltworks on a slope' (1). Salt had been extracted in the area since the 13th century and maybe earlier, so the castle likely dates back to the 13th century and served to protect the saltworks. Its founders were either the Welfen dukes or the counts of Dassel, one of the leading families of the area who also may have built Grubenhagen Castle.
The history of the castle is more easily to trace from the time it came into possession of Heinrich Mirabilis (2) Duke of Braunschweig. He was a great-grandson of Heinrich the Lion and Matilda of England, daughter of Henry II. In for a bit more geneaology? *grin*
Castle Heldenburg at Salzderhelden
When Heinrich the Lion was banned in 1182, he lost his titles and all his lands. Upon his second return from exile in 1189, he regained the possessions inherited from his mother, Gertrud of Süpplingenburg, the only daughter of Emperor Lothar - which was a considerable chunk of lands in northern Germany - but not the lands of his father Heinrich the Proud in Bavaria. The status of the Welfen family was a bit of a limbo. They had lost their titles as Dukes of Saxony and Bavaria (3) but on the other hand they were more than mere local nobility, because they could still marry into royal families and stand as candidates for the kingship.
Heinrich had three sons: Heinrich Count Palatine by Rhine, Otto, and Wilhelm / William of Winchester who was born in England in April 1184 during his father's exile. Wilhelm stood in as hostage for Richard Lionheart in 1193, and he would later support his brother Otto
, the only German emperor of the Welfen family, in his strife with the Staufen.
In the so-called Contract of Paderborn (May 1202) the alliodial possessions of the Welfen family were distributed between the brothers Heinrich, Otto and Wilhelm. Wilhelm got the lands around Lüneburg, calling himself Duke of Lüneburg. He died in 1213, leaving behind an underage son - Otto 'the Child' (born 1204) - with his wife Helena of Denmark, a daughter of King Valdemar I. But from this one boy the younger House Welfen descends.
Remains of the keep and the palas
Emperor Otto had died childless in 1218, and Count Heinrich lost his son and heir at a young age. So he decided to set up his nephew Otto, who never got rid of the nickname 'the Child' even when he was grown up, as heir for the entire Welfen allodial possessions. Since Heinrich had two married daughters who could claim the heritage for their offspring, he left some unhappy sons-in-law and future troubles behind when he died in 1227.
Otto also had problems with the town of Braunschweig (4) whose citizens would have preferred imperial immediacy, and with the bishop of Bremen. But Otto took up marriage negotiations with Margrave Albert II of Brandenburg from House Ascania, a former rival of the Welfen who now turned into a powerful ally and bullied the citizens of Braunschweig into submission. The date of the marriage to Mathilde of Brandenburg (for Kasia: her mother was Ełżbieta of Poland,) is not sure, it happened sometime between 1222 and 1227.
Heinrich the Lion's fall left a power vacuum in parts of northern Germany, esp. the lands he conquered from the Slavic tribes in Mecklenburg and Pomerania (5). The Danish kings pushed their power in these territories, which explains the marriage connections with the Welfen (6) that would support their claim. But since 1223, Valdemar II (a brother of Helena and thus an uncle by marriage to Otto) suffered some drawbacks, including captivity by the Count of Schwerin. After he was fred, he came back with an army, supported by Otto, but was defeated at the Battle of Bornhöved in July 1227 against an alliance of local nobles and towns of the Hanseatic Laegue. Otto was taken prisoner and was released only in 1229.
Curtain wall, remains on the side of the Princes' House
These tidbits don't have much to do with the castle at Salzderhelden, but they tie in with English history, so I've presented them in some detail. After his release from captivity, Otto traveled to England to establish a personal relationship with King Henry III. Those connections would pay off soon.
Emperor Friedrich II of Staufen had problems with his son, another Heinrich, and thus was interested in ending the still simmering feud with the Welfen. King Henry of England was one of the mediators in the negotiations. The alliances of Welfen / Plantagent and Staufen / Capetians had been broken by the marriage of Emperor Friedrich II to Isabella, a sister of King Henry III, in summer 1235, which started a new alliance of Staufen / Plantagenet.
The solution for the Welfen problem was presented at the diet in Mainz in August 1235, in attendance of most major nobles of the realm: Otto transfered his allodial possessions to Friedrich and by that to the realm (imperium
); Friedrich added some more imperial lands and created a new duchy of Braunschweig-Lüneburg which he then gave to Otto "and his sons and daughters in permanent heritage" as Fahnenlehen
(imperial fief; basically an allod). Otto now was a duke and prince of the realm, and the limbo of the Welfen status ended.
View to keep and palas from the Princes' House
Otto died in 1252. His sons Albrecht and Johann were supposed rule together, with Albrecht acting a regent for the young Johann (the other brothers took up a clerical career) but after Johann came of age, they could not manage a united rule, and the inheritance was split in 1269. Johann chose the lands around Lüneburg and Hannover (Older House Lüneburg) while Albrecht got the lands around Braunschweig and the area of Göttingen and Calenberg (Older House Braunschweig). The town of Braunschweig and the main seat of Dankwarderode as well as the cathedral St.Blasius were always shared by all branches of the family.
One of Otto's daughters, Elisabeth, married William Count of Holland who became German king by election after the House Staufen died out in 1252 (7), not least thanks to the support of the Welfen prince.
All heads of the Welfen branches from that time held the title of Duke of Braunschweig or Duke of Lüneburg, with the names for territoriies attached, until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 when their lands and titles were replaced by the kingdom of Hannover (the former Lüneburg lines) and the duchy of Braunschweig.
Gate with the Welfen arms
Albrecht had a bunch of sons with his wife Adelaide of Montferrat, so after his death in 1279 the possessions were split again, when all sons not chosing a career in the Church had come of age (1290). The oldest, Heinrich, got the lands in the Solling, around Einbeck, and the south-western Harz (Herzberg, Osterode, Duderstadt) and founded the new duchy that would later be called Braunschweig-Grubenhagen, though at his time he was mostly known as Duke of Braunschweig zu Salzderhelden.
Another son called Albrecht 'the Fat' got the lands around Göttingen and Calenberg as well as Hannover, and took his seat in Ballerhus Castle in Göttingen (8). The third son Wilhelm, chose the lands of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, creating that line of the House. A fourth son, Lothar, would become Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights.
Heinrich again had several sons. Some of them had to look for a living elsewhere. One (Otto) became a condottiere in Italy, and eventually Prince of Tarent; another (Heinrich) married into the Greek nobility. But still the already small duchy had to be split further during the next generations. Often the dukes were obliged to pawn out land and castles in order to keep up a noble lifestyle. Compared to the branches of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel and Lüneburg, they remained less important (9). The Grubenhagen line died out in 1596.
View to the Princes' House and the chapel
Duke Heinrich acquired the Heldenburg in 1291 and chose it as main residence. The situation of the castle near the saltworks and the town of Einbeck, famous for its beer, may have played a role in his decision. A great tournament was held in Salzderhelden in 1305, and some of the more splendid castle buildings like the Princes' House may date to Heinrich's time. He obviously spent more money than he should have, like so many nobles at the time. He also gifted land and money to chapters and monasteries; and he got involved in a few feuds.
Heinrich was pretty popular and received considerable support during the election of a successor to Rudolf of Habsburg as king of Germany, though in the end Adolf of Nassau won in 1291 (10). Maybe we'd have fared better with Heinrich of Braunschweig zu Salzderhelden. The landgraves of Thuringia would certainly think so.
Heinrich got the prestigious position of Count Palatine of Saxony instead. He was married to Agnes of Meissen, a daughter of Albrecht the Degenerate
(1282) with whom he had several children. Heinrich died on the Heldenburg in 1322.
Another view to the chapel (right) and Princes' House (left)
Thanks to the frequent presence of the Princes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen in the 14th and 15th centuries, the castle developed into a considerable structure for living and defense, with the great hall (palas
), Princes' House and chapel surrounding the rectangular yard, as well as further living quarters, stables, kitchens, magazines, armory, archive and scribes' room. The castle was surrounded by a mighty curtain wall but I could not find out if there existed anything in the way of an outer bailey, though there are traces of a trench.
Today the lower part of the keep and the outer palas
wall remain, as well as part of the Prince's House and the chapel, and one of the cellars. The location of the well is know but it's covered today.
The archive and scriptorium were neccesary because the dukes often held their courts of justice at the Heldenburg, negotiated contracts and other governmental acts. Interestingly, the castle also was the only mint outside a town in the duchy. Coinage was an important privilge; the coins from the Heldenburg had the inscription: monetanova salis Heldensis
The dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen had their family burial in the Chapter of St.Alexander in Einbeck, and members of the family held important positions there. Today only the church itself remains of the chapter; it's one of the largest Gothic stone churches in northern Germany. The second burial place was the church in Salzderhelden.
Great Hall, the outer wall that also served as curtain wall
Three of Heinrich Mirabilis' sons inherited the shared administration of the lands, but decided to split the territories (1324). The oldest, Heinrich, got the Eichsfeld which he pawned out to the archbishop of Mainz because he spent too much money traveling, and ended up in Greece for good (see above; maybe he liked the Greek wine better than the beer of Einbeck).
Ernst got the lands around Einbeck and Grubenhagen and took residence in the Heldenburg. But his younger brother died childless and Heinrich's offspring - if he had any; the sources are a bit garbled - never came to visit, so Ernst inherited the entire territory (minus the Eichsfeld) in 1351. He married Adelheid of Everstein, daughter of Count Heinrich II of Everstein
(1335) and established one of several connections between the Welfen and the lords of Everstein-Polle.
One of Ernst's sisters, Adelheid-Irene had married Andronikos III Palaiologos, future Emperor of Byzantium, in 1318, which may have triggered Heinrich's interest in Greece. But Irene died already in 1324 with no surviving child, which may have saved the Byzantine emperors from a few sons named Heinrich. *grin*
Ernst I of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen had several children. He died in 1361 and was succeeded by his son Albrecht I.
Princes House, inside view
Albrecht I of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen, already co-regent with his father Ernst, took over the duchy in 1361 and resided in the Heldenburg. His brother Friedrich got some lands near Osterode and Herzberg.
Albrecht was a partron of arts and science, but he also got involved in several feuds. One was with Otto Count of Waldeck who had married a daughter of the Lüneburg dukes of the Welfen line, and his son Heinrich claimed his mother's heritage - unsuccesfully in the end, so there may have been some family aspect to Albrecht's involvement. He was captured at the battle of Arnoldshausen in 1361 and had to abjure all vengeance.
The other major feud Albrecht seems to have started. For one, he likely was unhappy that his uncle had given the Eichsfeld to the archbishop of Mainz and wanted to do something about it. Invading the land and destroying property was the usual way to go, and while Albrecht and his vassals were at it, they destroyed some villages on the territories of the landgraves of Thuringia as well, border reiver style. Landgrave Friedrich III 'the Strict' was not happy about that and threatened to bring the war to Albrecht's land. "I will be able to keep my castles and if it was raining landgraves," Albrecht said, refering to the fact the Friedrich co-ruled with his two brothers.
So Friedrich gathered an army of 18,000 man (11) and invaded the lands of Albrecht, laying siege to the Heldenburg (1365). His men built a wooden siege tower and labouriously rolled it toward the keep of the Heldenburg. But Albrecht fired a cannon shot that destroyed the tower and filled the men with such fear that they abandoned the siege. It is said this was the first time a cannon was heard in these lands (12). But the troops of the landrave destroyed enough of the smaller castles and villages on Albrecht's territories that he in the end made peace with Landgrave Friedrich.
A little tidbit aside. Friedrich would have more troubles with another Welfen ruler a few years later, our friend Otto the Quarrelsome
Another view of the chapel
Albrecht was married to Agnes, a daughter of Duke Magnus Torquatus of Lüneburg
(keep it in the Welfen family, heh) who died of the wounds he got in a fight with the Count of Everstein during the battle of Leveste, one of the battles fought in the Lüneburg succession wars (1373). You can see how the connections of local nobility thicken.
After Albrecht's death 1383, the only son Erich was under the guardianship of his uncle Friedrich until he came of age in 1402 and took his residence in the Heldenburg. He too, did not escape the feuds among nobles. Most notably is the one with the Counts of Hohnstein
who had their main seat in the eastern Harz. The reigning count, Gunther, fell in the strive and his sons had to pay a ransom of 8,000 mark gold for their freedom (1415). For one, a feud turned out well for Braunschweig-Grubenhagen.
Erich married Elisabeth, the daughter of Otto the Quarrelsome of Braunschweig-Göttingen (before 1415). Two of their sons would succeed to the Braunschweig-Grubenhagen inheritance and live in the Heldenburg. Erich died 1427.
I'll spare you a bunch of more Heinrichs, Erichs and Albrechts who lived in Salzderhelden in the 15th century, and who usually didn't get along with someone else somewhere. :-)
After another split of the lands in 1481, the main seat of the family branch was moved to Herzberg in the Harz foothills, the eastern part of the duchy; the Heldenburg in Salzderhelden became a widows' seat. When the Grubenhagen line died out, the castle came into possession of the Lüneburg-Celle line of the Welfen.
Judging by an engraving, the castle still looked pretty representative in 1654, with half timbered upper storeys and most curtain walls remaining, but it was only used sporadically in the 17th century. The last person to live there, the Chief Master of the Hunt von Moltke was executed in 1692. Afterwards the castle fell into decay. The ruins were preserved in 1983-88; in 1999 the keep was partly restored and a staircase added so one can access the roof.
The castle seen from the town
1) I have to rely primarily on online sources for this one, and there are contradictions between the dates. Obviously, the castle came into possession of Heinrich Mirabilis in 1292 but appears in chartes under the name castrum soltho only in 1320.
2) One website translates Mirabilis as 'The Odd', meaning he was a few fries short of a Happy Meal, but since the word Mirabilis is also used in context of Jesus in Medieaval texts, I think the translation of 'The Exalted' is more fitting.
3) Count Heinrich kept using the title 'Duke of Saxony' in documents, while the Staufen just called him 'Heinrich of Braunschweig'.
4) The Welfen held only some land inside the town where Castle Dankwarderode and the cathedral are, the rest was possession of the town resp. its citizens; a problem that can be found in other towns as well.
5) Basically the counties of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
6) A second marriage connection between both families was the one between Knut (Canute), a son of Valdemar I and Gertrud, the daughter from Heinrich the Lion's first marriage to Clementia of Zähringen. They had no offspring.
7) He was named counter-king already during the time of Friedrich II and was crowned in Aachen in 1248, but his actual power did not extend beyond the Rhineland at the time. He died in a fight against rebellious Frisian nobles in 1256 and was succeeded by Richard of Cornwall, a son of King John.
8) Not traces of this castle remain today since the town razed it when the Welfen rulers were kicked out with Otto the Quarrelsome.
9) A fate they shared with the Göttingen-Calenberg line, see the ongoing financial problems of Otto the Quarrelsome.
10) He's the one who got a lot of money from Edward I to fight in France, but used it for an unsuccessful war in Thuringia instead.
11) If the sources don't exaggerate the number which they are likely to have done.
12) It is called 'bussen' (Büchse, which is old fashioned for gun) but in the context surely means something larger if it destroyed a siege tower. In case of the siege of the Bramburg, it was a handheld cannon with a matchlock, but I doubt that would have destroyed a tower.
Bernd Schneidmüller, Die Welfen: Herrschaft und Erinnerung 819-1252, Stuttgart 2000
Wilfried Warsitzka, Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt 2009