My History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times
Contested Imperial Fief, and A Lucky Escape - The History of Scharzfels Castle
I've briefly touched Scharzfels castle in the southern Harz back in 2009. I've now tried to find out a bit more about its history (1) to go with another set of photos.
Scharzfels Castle, view into the middle bailey
Mathilde, widow of Henry the Fowler and mother of the emperor Otto the Great, was given the monastery at Pöhlde as widow's seat in 952; twenty years later Otto granted the monastery the nearby lands and the village Scharzfeld. It is possible that there already was a castle on the promontory, but it is not specifically mentioned (2). Another mention I found online but can't prove, is said to be a charte or chronicle which names a knight Albrecht von der Helden as chatellain of Scharzfels castle in 1080.
Entrance to one of the caves
The castle comes into the focus of history when the emperor Lothar of Süpplingenburg got the castle - then called Scartveld - from the archbishopric Magdeburg in 1131 (which implies there had been a castle for some time, so maybe that chatellain Albrecht did exist). It was an official act - likely in exchange for other lands - taking place during an imperial diet in Goslar. Lothar made the castle into what is called a Reichsfeste
, an imperial fief, meaning a castle that belonged directly to the emperor (3). Lothar also seems to have extended the fortifications.
Remains of a sentinel gate in the upper (third) bailey
I could not reliably prove the information that the castle had been an imperial fief already in the 11th century when the emperor Heinrich IV gave it to one Wittekind of Wolfenbüttel in 1091. Wittekind died without male offspring, so the castle fell back to the realm in 1118 (4). A Wittekind is mentioned in Bruno's Bellum Saxonicum
as one of the Saxon nobles who joined the rebellion against the emperor, but I can't say for sure if it is the same person.
Remains of the curtain wall and battlements of the upper bailey
Lothar gave the castle and the bailiwick of Pöhlde as imperial fief to Siegebodo Count of Lauterberg-Scharzfels, probably the founder of the family of counts of Scharzfeld and Lauterberg (also spelled Lutterberg) - at least they took their name from those castles since 1132 resp. 1190. The counts of Scharzfeld died out in about 1297 (last mention in a charte), their cousins, the counts of Lauterberg held both castle as fief until 1372, when they too, died out.
Remains of a house in the upper bailey
The next confirmed information dates to 1157 when the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa gave Duke Heinrich the Lion of Saxony lands in the Harz as reward, as well as exchanging some imperial fiefs, among them Scharzfels, for other lands (all great nobles had a checkerboard of lands spread over a vast area and they were usually interested in getting large connected
bits, thus the excange). At that time Heinrich was one of the emperor's closest and most powerful allies. After Heinrich and Friedrich fell out and war began in spring 1180, the counts of Scharzfeld and other lords immediately sided with the emperor, thus the Scharzfeld kept the fief.
Way to the plateau of the uppermost bailey (fourth bailey)
Scharzfels Castle must have come back to the Welfen at some point after Heinrich the Lion had forfeited the fief and it was returned to imperial immediacy. When the lines of Lauterberg-Scharzfeld had died out, castle and likely the land as well were in possession of the Welfen line of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen
. In 1402 Erich I of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen pawned out the castle to the counts of Hohnstein
. It didn't keep the counts of Hohnstein from feuding with the duke, though (5).
The uppermost bailey (few remains, but lots of tree roots and rocks, and a steep cliff)
The counts of Hohnstein died out in 1593, and the castle fell back to the dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen who died out three years later, so the castle came into possession of Duke Heinrich Julius of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel who turned it into a hunting lodge. Later, the castle came to the line of Braunschweig-Lüneburg and was used as garrison and prison.
The northern curtain wall of the middle bailey from the inside
The castle played a - indirect - role in connection with the unfortunate Sophia Dorothea Electoral Princess of Hannover (1666-1726). She was married to her cousin, Georg Ludwig Duke of Braunschweig and Lüneburg, and King George I of England since 1714. The marriage obviously was not happy. Sophia Dorothea may have started an affair with the Count of Königsmarck; at least she confided in him by letters and planned an escape, which was to become her downfall. The Count of Königsmarck mysteriously disappeared when visiting her in Hannover, and Sophie Dorothea was accused of adultery, divorced, and exiled to spend the rest of her life in Castle Ahlden in 1694.
The natural curtain wall in the north from the outside
Her lady-in-waiting and confidante Eleonore of Knesebeck was imprisoned in Scharzfels Castle, confined to one room with only an elderly woman to wait on her. Her family strove to get her a proper legal process and offered a bail, but in vain. Finally they managed to convince the roof tiler Veit Rensch to help Eleonore to escape. He made a hole into the roof covering her chamber, drew her up with a rope and then both climbed down the 20 metres high, steep cliffs to firmer ground, where Eleonore's brother-in-law waited with some horses (1697). Eleonore fled to Vienna, obtained an imperial pardon, and eventually returned to Braunschweig where she led a quiet life. I could not find out what happened to the daring roof tiler; maybe he accompagnied her since he likely would have gotten in trouble staying at Scharzfels.
The dolomite rock with the 19th century staircase
During the Seven Years War between Prussia and Great Britain / Hannover on one side, and France, the Habsburg Monarchy, and Russia on the other, the castle was partly destroyed by a French army in 1761, after the garrison surrendered.
Luckily, King George V of Hannover and Duke of Cumberland was fond of old ruins and repaired part of the place, adding the new staircase in 1857. Most of his additions have now been dismantled, except for the stairs leading to the upper bailey.
View from the castle to the village of Barbis
1) Unfortunately, a guidebook to the castle is no longer avaliable, so I had to rely on online information. I've decided to only present the bits as fact which all sources agree upon, and mark information I could not crosscheck as such.
2) I stay with the more careful sources that mention the existence of a castle as possibility, not as fact.
3) This is something all sites agree upon.
4) That bit of information may have been copied from a badly edited website set up to sell a self-published book, with some more unproven 'facts' like the Counts of Lauterberg holding the castle from 969 until the 11th century. The family first took the name of Lauterberg in addition to Scharzfeld when the sons of Sigebodo I split their heritage and built a second castle on a hill above the town of Bad Lauterberg (1190).
5) There may have been a political rather than a feudal reason. See this post.
Vikings and Before
The second introductory post of my journey to Lübeck and Schleswig: The open air museum in Haithabu near Schleswig - on the peninsula that separates the Baltic Sea from the North Sea - has been on my list for some years. Because Vikings. *grin* Actually, the site is of historical interest beyond some reconstruced houses and shiny finds. King Heinrich the Fowler conquered the town, then in Danish possession, in 934, and his sons kept having trouble with the Danes in the years to come not least because of the importance of Haithabu.
The reconstructed Viking village of Haithabu seen from the wall
Haithabu, also known as Hedeby in ancient sources, was a major trade settlement from the 8th to the 11th century. A new settlement evolved on the other side of the river Schlei (the present day town of Schleswig) after the place was abandonend, therefore the remains of Haithabu have never been built over. Excavations take place since the early 20th century and recently some houses have been reconstructed as open air museum.
Open air musem Haithabu, seen from the entrance
There is an exhibition as well, and more finds are on display in the Archaeological Museum in Gottorf Palace in Schleswig. When I was there, some reenactors showed old arts like basket weaving, naalbinding and brass casting, as well as an archery demonstration. It was a lot of fun and half the people were even dressed in Viking garments. Schleswig is not far from the Danish border; and the Danes seem to be even more Viking crazy than the Germans.
Haithabu, interior of one of the houses
Haithabu's situation on an isthmus on the peninsula between the Baltic and the North Sea, with only 18 miles of land passage between ther rivers Schlei (flowing into the Baltic Sea) and Treene / Eider (entering into the North Sea), was an ideal spot for a trade center. Once the entire walled in semicircle was full of buildings. No wonder the place was contested between the kings of Denmark and Germany in the 10th century.
Danevirke, remains of Waldemar's Wall
The Danevirke was a set of walls across the isthmus. The first ones date to the 8th century or maybe earlier, while the latest addition was erected under Valdemar the Great in the 12th century, to protect the kingdom of the Danes. The interesting feature is that he used a double set of brick walls filled with ashlar. The wall was again used in the German-Danish war in 1864, when additional redoubts were built.
The famous Nydam Ship
We go back in time a bit. The famous Nydam ship dates to 320 AD. It has been discovered in a bog in the 19th century and is the oldest German seagoing ship to be found so far. It is very well preserved - as are other sacrificial finds in the same bog which can be seen in the museum. That one is a place to get lost in if you're interested in things from the Neolithic to the early Middle Ages. And photographing was allowed, yay.
Bog body; the 'child of Vindeby' (Museum Schloss Gottorf)
I remember that I was fascinated with the bog bodies when I visited the museum in Schleswig as kid (the Haithabu musem did not exist back then) and they are still pretty cool, though difficult to photograph because the room is so dark.The finds from the bogs of Nydam and Thorsberg date from the first millenium BC to the 3rd and 4th century AD and were discovered in the 19th century.
3rd century AD ornaments (Museum Schloss Gottorf)
A lot of weapons, ornaments, pottery, and whatever found their way into the bogs as sacrificial donations; for which modern archaeologists are grateful. This set of shiny stuff displays some 3rd century AD ornaments, fibulas, armrings, girdles and such. Some of them show a Roman influence on German arts.
Bronze Age swords (and some replica)
This set is older, dating to the Bronze Age. I won't even count the number of pointy things to be seen in the museum; there is an abundance of swords, daggers and spears to arm a king's host. And quite a bit of horse equipment as well. I had a field day in that musem.
Gottorf Palace (Schloss Gottorf)
Here's a photo of Gottorf Palace (Schloss Gottorf
), seat of the State Archaeological Museum and the State Art and Culture Museum. The palace dates to the late 17th century and had once been the seat of the dukes of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp until it fell into Danish possession in 1713. During WW2 it served as home for refugees; in 1948, the castle came into possession of the government of the county Schleswig-Holstein and was eventually turned into a museum.
The harbour in Flensburg
And because it's such a pretty town, here is a photo of Flensburg at the modern Danish border. It is a Medieaval town, but it never was a member of the Hansa League since it was part of the duchy of Schleswig that was held in vassalty by the King of Denmark. Because of its position, the town has seen quite a bit of warfare over time.
Hanseatic Towns and Brick Architecture
I finally found time to sort through my photos and write the obligatory introduction posts to my latest little journey to the Hanseatic towns of Lübeck and Wismar, and visiting some Vikings in the open air museum of Haithabu near Schleswig.
Lübeck, Holstentor Gate
IS sagging a bit due to a soft underground; that's not the fault of the photo. It is a fine example of representative brick architecture and shows that the merchants and town council had the money to build in grand style.
Lübeck, St. Mary's Church, main nave
Another building financed by the town is the Church of St.Mary. It was intended as competition to the cathedral that had been started by Duke Heinrich the Lion, and later became the church of the bishop. Both churches - as well as the other churches in Lübeck's old town - have been constructed of bricks.
Lübeck, the cathedral seen from the north side
While St.Mary is a purely Gothic church, the cathedral is a mixture of Romanesque elements and Gothic additions, with some Baroque altars and memorials thrown in for bad measure. Unfortunately, the weather was quite dreary the first day - brick architecture looks prettier in sunshine.
Lübeck, warehouses at the Trave
Those warehouses at the Trave river date to the high time of the Hanseatic League. Back then, they would not have had so many windows, though. Today, the buildings are used as appartments and offices.
Lübeck, the Castle Gate
The second remaining gate of the old town of Lübeck, the Burgtor
or Castle Gate, protected the northern side of the town. The castle which gave the gate ist name had been turned into a monastery already in 1227, but the gate - originally a set of three gates - remained in function long thereafter.
Wismar, St.Nicholas Church, apse
Another fine example of Gothic brick architecture is St.Nicholas Church in Wismar. It is late Gothic stlye, but much less flamboyant than churches of the same time in England or France. The flying buttresses you can see in the photo are more compact and sturdy, for example.
Wismar, St. George Church, interior
When I visited Wismar in 2004, the Church of St.George, which had been severely damaged during WW2, was still without a roof and in bad repair. I had promised I'd come back when they got the roof done and now I've fulfilled that promise. What I like about this church is the lack of furniture, because that way one gets a much better impression of the size of the interior.
Wismar, St. George, seen from the old harbour
The view from the harbour gives a good image of the size of the church. The planned tower had never been finished. I like the old harbour of Wismar, and I had luck with the sunny weather both times I've been there.
Schleswig cathedral, seen from the Baltic Sea firth
The cathedral in Schleswig got a pretty big tower, though. It is another example of Gothic brick architecture. Schleswig was not a member of the Hanseatic League but it was an important trade town after it took over from Haithabu in the 11th century, and see of a bishop.
I did a second tour in autum. An introductory post can be found here
For airborne piracy and theft of a prawn sandwich
Yes, this cheeky gull did steal the better part of a prawn sandwich I was eating in Wismar's old harbour. They sell them directly from the ships and the gulls know that.