The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


21 Jan 2018
  A Fake Death and a Secret Mistress - The Stauffenburg near Seesen / Harz

Today I'll show you another rather obscure castle in my surroundings: the Stauffenburg near Seesen in the Harz mountain range (1). The castle may have been built by a 'Gerberdus of Stouphenburch', a member or vassal - the sources are not clear about that - of the family of the Counts of Katlenburg who served as imperial reeves. Unfortunately, I must rely on online sources and thus got two contradictory dates for the first mention of the Stauffenberg family: 1050 or 1154. The 1154 date seems more likely since it is connected with a feudal transaction involving Duke Heinrich of Saxony, a rather well documented time. But it is likely that a castle was built much earlier, maybe around 1050. The castle protected the ore mines in the surroundings and the road to Nordhausen.

Stauffenburg, remains of the keep seen from the bailey

The nearby village is called Gittelde. It was in possession of the Billung family in 950, but may go back to an Iron Age Germanic settlement. The Billung family were important vassals of the Ottonian emperors; Margrave Hermann von Billung was administrator (procurator regis) in Germany for Otto I the Great when the latter was staying in Italy in 961-966 (2). The Counts of Katlenburg were likely vassals of the Billung family, or even related by marriage. They died out in the male line in 1130.

Remains of the main gate with one of the gate towers and curtain wall

The castle fell to Duke Heinrich the Lion of Saxony, but the Stauffenburg family, now ministeriales of the duke (3) still held the castle for him. Duke Heinrich pawned out the castle, and there are some stories about it becoming a stronghold of robbers which I could not confirm. That sort of legend gets attached to a lot of castles.

After Heinrich fell from power in 1180, the castle came into possession of the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa. When Heinrich returned from exile in 1189 and regained the former allodial possessions of his family, the Stauffenburg obviously was one of the contested places; there was a long legal shuffle between the emperor, the Welfen, and the archbishop of Magdeburg, though I could not figure out what rights the latter had to the castle. The emperor could at least claim the castle to have been built on former imperial land. It gets even more interesting since the emperor 1209-1218 was Otto IV, of the Welfen family. His successor was Friedrich II of Staufen. The quarrels shows that the castle must have been an important place in the late 12th to 13th century.

Remains of the curtain walls in the inner bailey

The Imperial Steward Gunzelin of Wolfenbüttel who held the castle for some time, managed to get along with both Otto IV and Friedrich II. His father had been a vassal of Duke Heinrich the Lion in the rank of ministeriales, but Gunzelin rose to the rank of higher nobility and expanded his possession to include allodial lands around Wolfenbüttel. The Stauffenburg was one of his responsibilites, and one of his younger sons would later take the name from it: 'Guncelinus de Stoyphonborg' (in 1254).

The gate tower seen from above

The Stauffenburg finally came into uncontested possession of the Welfen family in 1429. It served as widow's seat of Duchess Elisabeth of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel 1503-1522. The castle must have been at the height of comfort for that time, since a dowager duchess would likely not live in a draughty ruin with leaky roofs.

Elisabeth, born 1434, was the daughter of Count Botho of Stolberg; she was betrothed to Duke Wilhelm II of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel - one of the several branches of the Welfen family (4) - already as child and moved with him to Göttingen in 1454. During her time in the Stauffenburg she promoted the advancement of mining techniques for silver and iron in the mountains of the area. She was a busy old lady, and one can imagine the castle must have been a lively place in those years.

The keep

The next tidbit of history connected with the Stauffenburg involves Duke Heinrich II 'the Younger' of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (1489-1568; 5). He ruled at a time when the Reformation had split Germany into Catholic and Reformed / Lutheran principalities and duchies. Duke Heinrich was a stout Catholic - the last of the Welfen to remain so; his surviving son Julius would join the Reformation as other branches of the family had already done. Heinrich got involved in various conflicts with the Schmalkaldic League, a military alliance of Lutheran princes, led by the landgrave of Hessia and the prince elector of Saxony. But Heinrich had the support of the emperor Karl (Charles) V.

The Schmalkaldic League conquered Heinrich's lands in 1342. Heinrich fled to Bavaria, returned with an army, but was taken prisoner by Hessian troops in 1545. When Emperor Karl V and his Catholic allies, including forces from Spain, won the Battle of Mühlberg in 1547, Heinrich finally was released from captivity and restored to his duchy.

But what gained him the nickname Wild Hal (der wilde Heinz) were not his wars against Protestant Princes; it was his affair with Eva von Trott.

Zwinger between keep (left) and gate tower (right)

Eva von Trott was a member of the Hessian noble family Trott zu Solz. She came to Wolfenbüttel as the duchess' maid of honour in 1522, aged sixteen. Duchess Maria of Württemberg was Heinrich's first wife with whom he had eleven children.

But Wild Hal was more busy than that. Two years after her arrival Eva was pregnant by the duke. She said she wanted to visit her family, but traveled to the Stauffenburg instead where she delivered a boy. The kid was raised by trusted servants of Duke Heinrich. That was repeated two more times until pretty much everyone got suspicious. Both the duchess and Eva's family pressured Heinrich into ending the affair, and Maria sent the girl away. Eva came as far as Gandersheim chapter where she died of the plague and was duly buried.

Gate tower

But it was a ruse. A sculptor had carved a likeness of Eva's head which was attached to a straw puppet dressed in Eva's fine clothes. I suppose a few people were bribed into not looking too closely at the body in the sarcophagus. The girl herself dressed up as peasant and fled to the Stauffenburg where she lived from 1532 to 1541. Duke Heinrich liked the hunt near the castle and Eva got seven more children. To keep people from prying around, some scary ghost stories were told, including visions of a woman in a white shroud, and so Eva lived in the castle with her children and some trusted servants. Many of the buildings have been lost today, but they had a lot more living space than the remaining keep and gate house.

Remains of the curtain walls in the inner bailey, different angle

Duchess Maria died in 1541, but a marriage of Heinrich with Eva was not possible due to class distinction. When their affair and her survival became publicily know at the diet of Regensburg, and the Schmalkaldic League drove Heinrich from his lands, Eva fled the Stauffenburg in turn. Here whereabouts are difficult to trace. She spent some time in Halberstadt and in various castles. Duke Heinrich finally found her a place in the chapter of Hildesheim in 1558; she died there in 1567.

Heinrich obtained the title 'of Kirchberg' for his surviving children with Eva. He married again in 1556: Zofia Jagiellonka, the daughter of King Zygmunt (Sigismund) I of Poland.

More remains of curtain walls

The Stauffenburg was a widow's seat again 1569-1580 when the eldest daugher of Duke Heinrich, Margaretha of Münsterberg, lived there. Margaretha had been married to the Silesian Duke Johann of Münsterberg, who died after four years of a marriage which remained childless. She turned the castle into a hospital and spent her time caring for the poor. The castle must have been a much different place then than thirty years earlier when children played in the yard during Eva's time.

Another scandal took place in 1587. The Protestant abbess of Gandersheim chapter, Margarethe of Warberg, spent the rest of her - rather short - life as prisoner in the castle. It is said that she had murdered her baby, the result of an illicit affair (6).

Curtain walls on the cliff side

The Stauffenburg was used seat of the administration office and prison of the Welfen dukes since 1600. 1713 the office was moved to the domain in the valley and the castle lost its importance. It was used as quarry, like so many defunct castles in Germany.

The keep and one of the towers have been restored to the first floor level during renovation work, and the remaining parts of the castle are secured against further decay, but the place is one of the more obscure castles today, with only a few visitors even on a nice, warm autumn day.

Different angle of gate tower and curtain wall

An old hollow way leads to the steep-sided promontory on which the Stauffenburg is situated. The upper part of the way is framed by earthen walls which may have been part of the outer defenses. A trench which cut the promontory off the ridge once separated the way from the gate, but it has long been filled in. Remains can be seen in some places, though. The entire castle measured about 200x90 metres, the inner bailey 85x30 metres.

The gate house with its flanking tower has been partly reconstructed. The remains are still impressive. Foundations of another tower remain, as do considerable bits of curtain walls, though not up to their original heigth. Several more buidings, probably some in half timbered style, must have framed the large inner bailey.

Foundations of a round tower

The partly reconstruced keep was not particularly large, it measured 7x7 metres. Main living quarters of the castle was likely a great hall which has been lost when the stones from the castle were used to build the domain in Gittelde. I could not find any information about the original heigth of the keep; maybe it can no longer be estimated. The keep has a cellar which was used as prison (though not in case of the abbess Mathilde who was allowed to move around within the confines of the walls).

Cellar

Footnotes
1) The castle is not connected with the House of Staufen / Hohenstaufen which provided Germany with a dynasty of kings.
2) The story that the Stauffenburg was a favourite castle of Otto's father, King Heinrich I 'the Fowler' († 936), is a legend. The biography by Wolfgang Giese (Darmstadt 2008) doesn't mention either Gittelde or the Stauffenburg. We can't even be sure that Hermann Billung ever stayed in Gittelde; such settlements were mostly a source of income.
3) If they were ministeriales, the Stauffenberg were likely vassals of the counts of Katlenburg and not a branch of the family, who were freeborn nobility.
4) More about the various branches of the Welfen family can be found here
5) In English research literature he is also known as Henry V of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.
6) Her case is less well documented and subject to legend; the only proven fact is her captivity in the Stauffenburg.


View from the Stauffenburg

And finally a pretty view from the castle. One can imagine that dowager duchess Elisabeth stood here wondering how much ore was to be found in yonder mountains, that the unhappy abbess Margarethe tried to glimpse the tower of the church in Gittelde where she was eventually allowed to visit and pray, and Eva looked out for her lover Heinrich.
 
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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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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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Architecture
Roman Public Baths

Domestic Life

Roman villae
Villa Urbana Longuich
Villa Rustica Wachenheim

Everyday Life
Bathing Habits
Children's Toys
Face Pots


Other Times

Neolithicum to Iron Age

Germany

Development of Civilisation
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
The Hutewald Project in the Solling
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen

Neolithic Remains
Stone Burials of the Funnelbeaker Culture
The Necropolis of Oldendorf

Bronze Age / Iron Age
The Nydam Ship

Scotland

Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Bronze Age / Iron Age
Clava Cairns
The Brochs of Gurness and Midhowe - Their Function in Iron Age Society

Scandinavia

Bronze / Iron Age
The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd / Gotland


Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Explorers
Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Discoveries
Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)


Miscellanea

History in Literature and Music

History and Literature

The Weimar Classicism
The Weimar Classicism - Introduction

Theodor Fontane
Short Biography of Theodor Fontane
Fontane Ballads, translated by me
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Not so Serious History

Romans
Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Other
Rules for Writing Scottish Romances


Geology

Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs
Sandstone Formations: Daneil's Cave
Sandstone Formations: Devil's Wall
Sandstone Formations: The Klus Rock

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations
Salt Springs at the Werra

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite


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