Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


15.3.15
  Nunnery and Ducal Burial - Wiebrechtshausen

The church in the small village of Wiebrechtshausen near Northeim is another of those pretty Romansque churches you can find in off road corners in Germany. It is one of the sites where I got a bunch of photos but not much information to go with them, in this case likely due to the fact that Wiebrechtshausen never played a significant role in the great historical events.

Wiebrechtshausen, westwork

The most important event connected with the nunnery is the burial of Duke Otto of Braunschweig-Göttingen († 1394), first outside the church because he had been excommunicated. After his wife managed to get the ban lifted in 1400, a chapel connected to the church was erected over his tomb. The connection with House Hannover also helped in getting funds for repairs in later times, so the church is in a good condition today.

North side with the burial chapel of Duke Otto

Like in the case of other historical buildings from the earlier Middle Ages, the exact time of the foundation can not be traced; the first mention of a nunnery at Wiebrechtshausen dates from 1245. A hospice predates the nunnery; it is first listed in a charte of the archbishop Siegfried of Mainz for 1216. Dendrochronological dates of the remains of a window sill also point to a time between 1210 and 1240.

The church seen from the northeast with the main apse to the left

There may have been a hospice already in the 11th century, if the citation in Bishop Meinwerk of Paderborn's Vita of a 'Wicberneshusen' refers to a settlement close to the present day village. A hospice likely included a church, but the present one - dedicated to St.Mary - was built in the first half of the 13th century, on the threshold between the Romanesque and the Gothic style. It may have replaced an older building, though.

Interior, view to the altar

The founder of the nunnery was one Herewigus, but nothing more is known about him. The nuns and the abbess came from the nearby chapter in Northeim, as did most of the provosts. There is also no information about the lands given to the nunnery by Herewigus. Later, local nobles and rich burghers would donate lands so that the nunnery became an economic endeavour in its own right.

Interior, view to the nuns' gallery

The nuns in Wiebrechtshausen - on average twelve of them - followed the Cistercian rules which can be summarised by the famous ora et labora. Contrary to Cistercian monasteries like Walkenried, the nuns did not start out in the wilderness which they then cultivated. Instead, their houses were in places that already had a some sort of infrastructure, and they worked as scribes and illuminators. The hard work on the fields was done by lay servants. The nuns were well educated; a teacher is mentioned in 1318, and it is said they all had Latin (in a source from 1542).

Another interior view

In the late 14th century, the dukes of Braunschweig began to take a closer interest in the nunnery. The most visible remain of this interest is the St. Anna's chapel which was erected over the tomb of Duke Otto of Braunschweig-Göttingen. Contrary to the church itself, the style is purely Gothic; a single room of 7,80 x 4,70 metres with three high Gothic windows and a gross grain vaulted ceiling supported by two pillars with buttresses on the outer wall. The material is sandstone for the foundations and sills, and limestone for the walls.

The church seen from St.Anna's chapel

The church itself is mostly constructed of roughly hewn limestone ashlar; the defining elements like window frames, foundations and corner stones are red sandstone. The church has no tower or transepts, but three apsides in the east and a pretty massive westwork with an entrance hall. The Romanesque windows are small but the basilica style with additional windows in the upper main nave gives enough light. The large Gothic window of the chapel stands out from the outside (see photo above).

The main gate

The prettily decorated main gate already has a slightly pointed arch; a sign for the border between the Romanesque and Gothic style. But the overall impression of the interior is Romanesque with its alternating sturdy rectangular columns and more slender pillars supporting the vaulted ceiling. Some of the pillar capitals are decorated with flower and leaves tracework.

The church has a main nave and two lower side naves, but the view is drawn in more by details than by the whole because of the compartmentalisation of the architecture.

Interior, seen from the entrance arcades

The church measures 28,60 x 14,50 metres. The defining architectural elements like the frame of the vaults and windows, the vault support grains and the columns are again highlighted by red sandstone, the rest of the walls is today whitewashed. No traces of murals are mentioned, but there likely were frescoes in the Middle Ages. The westwork hall holds the nuns's gallery (see photo above) and here again you can see that the archs are already slightly pointed, while the apse windows in the altar room are still of the rounded Romanesque variant.

Southern side nave

The Wiebrechtshausen nunnery did well until the later 14th and 15th century when it faced periods of financial troubles, and sometimes had to pawn out land to keep afloat. Its last time of flower was under the provost Bertold Steinbuel (1475-1505) who managed to get the nunnery out of debt, reformed the agriculture and introduced new mills, barns and stables.

Closeup of a capital

In 1584, the Refomation was introduced, and the nunnery was finally secularised in 1615. The land fell to the dukes of Braunschweig who rented out the fields, mills and other sources of income. Today, Wiebrechtshausen is part of the Hannoverian monastery fonds and still a substantial agricultural endeavour. Most of the outer buidlings date to the 18th or 19th century but have been erected on older foundations. Part of the nuns' lodgings south of the west gate still retains some 13th century stonework, though the building has long been used as barn.

Wiebrechtshausen nunnery, outer buildings

Besides the remains of Duke Otto, the church is also said to hold the intestines of Duke Friedrich of Braunschweig-Lüneburg who was assassinated near Fritzlar in May 1400. He is buried in Braunschweig.

Literature:
Th. Moritz, G. Keindorf. Kloster St.Maria zu Wiebrechtshausen, Schriften der Klosterkammer Hannover; Berlin 2009

 


1.3.15
  Chepstow Castle 3: Civil War, Restoration, and Aftermath

We've seen that Chepstow Castle was still considered a fitting accomodation during the Tudor times, albeit with some added comfort. It also continued to be of strategially importance in controlling the crossing of the Severn.

While changes in Tudor times involved the living quarters, later alterations served to adapt the fortifications to modern warfare, like those made to the battlements in order to accomodate cannons.

Upper gatehouse, from a different angle

Chepstow was still in possession of the earls of Worcester at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. At the time it was held by Henry Somerset, the fifth earl (later created 1st Marquess of Worcester) who had converted to Catholicism and declared for King Charles. Henry supported the king - not at least thanks to his enormous wealth by rising regiments and such - while holding a low profile himself, but when King Charles escaped the battle of Naseby and sought shelter in Raglan, another Worcester castle and the earl's main seat, Henry Somerset got actively involved in the war.

(right: Interior of the south-west tower)

The Welshman Sir Thomas Morgan, one of Cromwell's commanders and governor of Gloucester since 1645, untertook to flush out the Royalist resistance pockets in Wales. He laid siege to Chepstow Castle - something another general, Sir William Waller, had tried in vain two years before. Morgan, who had brought some 900 men along, put up heavy artillery on the hill opposite the castle and managed to blow a breach into the curtain wall, though it took him three days of constant fire. The commander of the castle, Irishman Colonel Edmond Fitzmorris, and his garrison of about hundred men surrendered. Morgan likely welcomed the booty of 18 cannons, the barrels of gunpowder and other supplies in the castle storage.

Morgan then moved on to lay siege to Raglan Castle where he was joined by forces under general Fairfax. Henry Somerset Marquess of Worcester stayed at Raglan which he had refortified, but the additions were of no use against the artillery power Fairfax could mount up, so Henry surrendered. The garrison got away, but Henry himself was taken prisoner and died at Windsor shortly thereafter. The castle was partly dismantled and the library, containing some rare Welsh texts, destroyed.

King Charles meanwhile had escaped to Scotand, but he finally surrendered to a Presbyterian Scottish army besieging his last refuge in Newark in May 1646. The Scots unfortunately sold him out to Cromwell; King Charles was tried by a parliament cleansed of everyone not on Cromwell's side, and was executed in January 1649.

Henry's son, Edward Somerset 2nd Marquess of Worcester (also known as Lord Herbert, and as Earl of Glamorgan) was involved in Charles' unfortunate treaty with the Irish and later had to flee to France. His estates were forfeited. Edward returned to England in 1652 and was kept under arrest for some time, but the whole episode is pretty muddled (1). Obviously, he got off lightly albeit financially ruined. All during those events, Edward occupied himself as an inventor who developed a primitive version of a steam engine, among other engineering projects.

King Charles' capture led to another series of Royalist uprisings. We get another obscure bit of history in Sir Nicholas Kemeys, the 'Captor and Defender of Chepstow Castle,' as an epic poem by Dafydd Morgan (1881) styles him. Obviously, Kemeys managed to retake the castle from the Parlamentarians in May 1648 and held if for some months until Cromwell marched west to put an end to the resistance in south Wales centered at Pembroke. He left Colonel Isaac Ewer behind to deal with Chepstow. Ewer must have used the same tactics as Fitzmorris, bombarding the castle from the opposite hillock until he managed to breach a wall. The garrison surrendered and Kemeys was killed. The circumstances of his death are not clear (3).

Interior of one of the twin gate towers

After the war, Chepstow Castle came into Cromwell's possession. Parliament granted him £ 300 to repair the castle. It was converted into a military barracks and a prison for political dissidents. Despite two successful sieges, the castle obviously was still deemed a worthy bulwark to spend money on repairs and additional fortifications.

(left: Hall in the Great Tower with the niches probably built by William the Conqueror and remains of the arcades separating the hall (at the wall to the right) which were added under the Marshal sons; see first post)

Lordship and town of Chepstow were returned to the marquess of Worcester upon the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. But the castle remained in possession of the king who kept it as fort. The garrison was raised and commanded by the marquess' son, Henry Lord Herbert (he would succeed to the titles of his father in 1667, and in 1682 became the first Duke of Beaufort). Henry spent an additonal £ 500 on improving the fortifications. The south-west tower and one of the middle bailey towers were filled with earth so they could support cannons. Cannon platforms were also built on the main gatehouse; the southern curtain wall was lowered and thickened and equipped with lines of musketloops. An inventory from the time lists several hundred muskets, but not all of them were in working shape.

Chepstow Castle continued to serve as prison. The most famous of those was Henry Marten († 1680) one of the men who signed King Charles' death warrant, who got away lighly with lifelong imprisonment; most of the other men on the list were executed. Marten lived in the tower that would take his name quite comfortably with his mistress and servants, and he was allowed to visit the local gentry.

Duke Henry did not live in Chepstow, though, he prefered town houses and modern country manors like Badminton House. His wife liked Chepstow even less. The garrison was finally disbandend in 1685; everything of value, including floors and fittings, removed to Duke Henry's other places.

It was the end of the castle as castle and fort, as well as living quarters for a lord, but not the end of the use of the buildings in Chepstow Castle. Some of those were used as industrial estates in the 18th century. We can find a glass blower' retort to make wine bottles in the great hall, and a nail manufactory in the middle tower. The baileys were cluttered up with timber buildings for the workers; there were a malting kiln and dog kennels, and I suspect some not fully legal use of the sea gate to the Wye river.

Cellar vault under Bigod's hall

The late 18th century saw an increasing interest in the historical aspect of old castles. Visitors started taking tours of the remains of Chepstow Castle (the Marten Tower was still intact then and could be climbed to get nice view, though the parts of the castle not longer in use were overgrown) and nearby Tintern Abbey.

The 8th Duke of Beaufort († 1899) cleared out the industrial works and the shrubs and ivy, and turned the baileys into some sort of picturesque park with trees and rustic seats. The Beaufort Estate also began with the conservation of the remaining substance in the late 19th century. Chepstow Castle became the meeting place for Mediaeval pageants and set for films (the 1913 version of Ivanhoe, fe.). The last owner, the Lysagh family, gave the castle into guardianship of Cadw, the historic division of the Welsh Assembly Government, in 1953. Cadw maintains the place until today.

Great Tower seen from the vale

Footnotes:
1) I only did a brief research but found some contradictory information about Edward having spent time as prisoner in England either after a capture in Ireland 1646 (well, if he was commander of the Confederate forces in Ireland that date would not work at all, dear Wikipedia) or 1648, or from 1652-54 upon his return from exile in France. Some websites don't mention the captivity at all. The 1652 date seems the most likely though I wonder why he would return, with his lands confiscated and Cromwell still in power.
2) There is an ebook edition of the poem, and a book about Keymes from 1923, which also mentions a poem by one R. D. Morgan in the title, but I could not find out more about that obscure poet.
3) The memorial plaque in the castle says he 'was slain'. The Cadw guidebook has 'shot peremptorily'. Considering the fact Colonel Ewer was among the men to sign King Charles' death warrant, I won't put it beneath him to accept the surrender of Kemeys and then have him shot peremptorily.

 


15.2.15
  Chepstow Castle, Part 2: From Edward II to the Tudors

There are a few notes about historical events and persons connected with Chepstow Castle in the guidebook, so I've tried to find additional information to connect those local events with the larger historical picture. But this post still remains a collection of historical vignettes instead of an in-depth essay; most of it is just too far outside my areas of research (and book collections).

The double-towered main gate

Edward II gave Chepstow Castle to his half-brother Thomas of Brotherton in 1312. Thomas left the actual management of the pace to a constabler who disappeared for an unknown destination two years later, taking the money chest with him.

(left: Remains of Bigod's buildings)

Obviously, already Bigod had cared much more for his new, handsome lodgings than keeping the rest of the place in good repair, and Thomas' constabler didn't improve things by selling all sorts of moveable goods. Though it didn't look fully as bad as in this picture. :-)

Edward eventually gave Chepstow to his friend Hugh Despenser the younger in 1323, and say what you want about Hugh, but he made sure the castle was put in order. He repaired the buildings and leaky roofs, replenished the armoury and had new springalds (1) set up on the battlements (the ones Bigod had put there were in storage and no longer useable). Hugh garrisoned the castle with 12 knights and 60 footmen, and kept the larder well filled.

With Chepstow Castle, also known as Striguil at the time, Hugh Despenser got another nice chunk to add to his possessions in southern Wales where he already was Earl of Glamorgan and also held the lands of his wife, Eleanor de Clare, among them Caerphilly Castle.

The regarrisoned and refurbished Chepstow Castle would come handy when the marriage between King Edward II and Isabella of France turned sour and Isabella invaded England, where she gathered a rather large bunch of nobles who were unhappy with Edward and even more so with the influential Despensers. Edward and Hugh Despenser fled to Chepstow (while Hugh's father held another important castle with Bristol). They may have hoped for Welsh support, but the Welsh who might have been willing to support Edward, loathed Hugh, and I suppose that is the reason succour was slow in coming. So Edward and Hugh, accompanied by a few retainers, left Chepstow through the sea gate (on the photo in the first post), trying to sail for Ireland. Bad weather forced them to land at Cardiff and flee to Caerphilly Castle which was held by Hugh's son, another Hugh.

Edward and Hugh the younger were captured outside Caerphilly Castle when they returned from failed negotiations taking place in nearby Neath Abbey (2). Hugh was gruesomely executed as traitor (hanged, drawn and quartered) in November 1326; his father had already been hanged when Bristol was taken. Edward abdicated in favour of his son Edward III and died at Berkeley Castle September 21st, 1327 (3). Hugh Despenser the even younger survived.

(right: Interior passage in Bigod's quarters)

I could not find out anything about the castle in the years to follow until it passed to Thomas Mowbray 4th Earl of Norfolk. He was ordered to garrison the castle against an assault by the Welsh leader Owain Glyn Dŵr whose rebellion against King Henry IV of England had gathered considerable support. But Owain never came that far south.

Still it was a difficult time for Henry IV, after Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland and the Marcher Lord Edmund Mortimer joined the rebellion instead of fighting Owain. Not sure what exactly happened but likely King Henry had managed to alienate those men by not paying Mortimer's ransom when he was captured by the Welsh, and not paying his debts to the Percys, either (4) In 1403, Owain, Edmund Mortimer and Henry Percy of Northumberland negotiated the Tripartite Indenture where they basically split England among the three of them: Wales and the Welsh marches for Owain, southern England and the kingship for Mortimer, the north for Percy. Which didn't leave much for King Henry IV. :-)

At that time Thomas of Norfolk seems to have stood with the king, or he would not have been asked to fortify Chepstow. The rebellion failed, Henry Percy's son and leader of the rebel forces, Harry Hotspur, was killed in the battle of Shrewsbury, Mortimer fled with Owain back to Wales, Henry Percy lost his offices though he kept his lands. Owain Glyn Dŵr's rebellion in Wales lost impact, but it would still take several more years until it petered out.

Henry Percy of Northumberland was back to rebelling in 1405, and this time Thomas of Norfolk joined him and Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York, though I could not find out the reason. Norfolk and Scrope were captured - in disregard of safe conducts promised to join a parley- at Shipton Moor and beheaded in June 1405. Percy fled to Scotland; he died in another battle in 1408.

(left: Marshal's Tower)

Chepstow Castle keeps getting connected with rebels and fallen favourites. We're right in the midst of the War of the Roses this time: In May 1464, King Edward IV (House York) had married Elizabeth Woodville, daughter of Richard Woodville Earl of Rivers (he was Baron Rivers since 1448 and then still a supporter of the Lancastrian King Henry VI) who turned his cloak in time. The marriage made him earl and treasurer; his son John married Katherine Neville Duchess of Norfolk, about 45 years his senior, but with some nice lands and castles, Chepstow among them.

One family's rise is other families' loss, and in particular the Nevilles John Earl of Northumberland, and his brother Richard Earl of Warwick, were in a really bad mood (not the least because Warwick had tried to negotiate a marriage between Edward and a daughter of the King of France). They were joined by John de Vere Earl of Oxford, and George Duke of Clarence, a younger brother of King Edward IV, and did what discontent nobles liked to do: start a rebellion. John of Northumberland stirred trouble in the north while the others came to England via Kent. King Edward was at Nottingham at the time, awaiting reinforcements from the earls of Pembroke and Stafford, to deal with the troubles. But the rebels from the north marched south and met with the troops of Pembroke at Edgecote Moor in Oxfordshire (July 26th, 1469). Pembroke held the field in hope Devon, who was only some miles off, would join him, but when Warwick's army arrived from the south, morale broke and Pembroke's men fled. The earl and his brother were captured and executed; Devon met the same fate some days later. King Edward was taken prisoner.

Warwick partisans had already started to plunder Rivers' lands the year before. With the rebel victory at Edgecote, the star of the Woodvilles was falling. Richard and his son John were taken prisoners at Chepstow (obviously, the garrison handed them over to Warwick), and taken to Kenilworth where they were executed on August 12, 1469 (5). Chepstow as last refuge didn't seem to work out, its formidable fortifications nonewithstanding.

Warwick would not really earn the fruits of his rebellion. New skirmishes between Yorkists and Lancastrians broke out; Warwick could not get enough support in such unruly times and had to reinstall the popular King Edward, who pardoned him.

Lower bailey, view towards Marshal's gate and Bigod's house (left)

Charles (Beaufort) Somerset, the first earl of Worcester, rose to prominence under Henry Tudor, the later King Henry VII, and managed to keep his head and possessions under Henry VIII as well. He married Elizabeth Somerset (in 1492), daughter of William Herbert Earl of Pembroke, and Mary Woodville, sister to Elizabeth Woodville who had married King Edward II. She brought him Chepstow, together with the other lands of her father. Charles was made lord chamberlain by Henry VIII and was in charge of the negotiations with France, leading to the tournament at the Field of the Cloth of Gold on 1520.

(left: Marten's Tower)

Chepstow was not Charles' main seat (that was Raglan) but when he took a close look at the 200 years old Bigod buildings in the lower bailey, he found them outdated. He brought the whole set up to modern standards, with larger windows and more comfort, and turned the place into a great court suitable for a Tudor nobleman. He also added windows and new fireplaces to Marten's Tower. And for one, there are neither sieges nor beheadings to report.

That would change with the Civil War, of course. Chepstow was still well enough fortified to play a role in those fights, though it got damaged by canon fire. But I will leave that for another post.


Footnotes:
1) A springald is the unholy offspring of a small trebuchet and a large crossbow. They could fire bolts or in some cases rocks. They're best comparable with the portable, tripod-mounted torsion ballistae the Roman army used in the field.
2) Anerje recently wrote about the negotiation and flight from the abbey in her blog about Piers Gaveston and his time.
3) Kathryn Warner has written an article about the conspiracy to free Edward II from captivity at Berkeley Castle after his postulated death, and the possible inclinations of his survival. But whether or not he died in 1327, the red hot poker is definitely a myth.
4) There is a little video about the Percy family at Alnwick Castle (their main seat until today) where it is said that money definitely played a role in the growing dissatisfaction of the Northumberland earls with the king. Earl Henry and his son, nicknamed Harry Hotspur, had put a lot of effort into fighting raisings in Scotland and Wales and got less thanks and financial compensation than they expected.
5) That left the Duchess of Norfolk a widow for the fourth time; she would live to the ripe old age of 83 († 1483). As far as I know no one tried to foist another husband on her.


Middle barbican with a watch tower seen from the valley

There will be one last post to come, because I still have some cool photos left. :-)

Literature:
Rick Turner: Chepstow Castle, revised edition 2006. Part of the series of Cadw Guidebooks

 


1.2.15
  Chepstow Castle, Part 1: Beginnings unto Bigod

Chepstow Castle is one of the first generation Norman castles in Wales, built in the wake of William the Conqueror's conquest of England and what parts of Wales and Scotland he could snatch. The Welsh didn't like being snatched, though, and thus William had to erect a number of castles in the borderlands, the Marches, as defense as well as base for further conquests.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Chepstow was the administrative centre of the Marcher lordship of Striguil. During those years, the castle had been expanded and altered, but the first keep, the Great Hall, still stands.

Outer Gatehouse and Marten's Tower (to the left)

King William gave the task of organising the border defenses to William FitzOsbern lord of Breteuil, his childhood, friend, later his steward and his chief military strategist. FitzOsbern also led men of his own at the conquest.

Like most of the noblemen in William's entourage, FitzOsbern got lands in England and the title of Earl of Hereford; tasked with the defense of the border to Wales. In 1067, he started the construction of Chepstow Castle, situated on a limestone cliff above the river Wye.

Southern curtain wall with one of the round towers

FitzOsbern surely built the first defenses on the hill, but whether the Great Hall can be ascribed to him has been recently disputed. He died in battle in 1071, and Chepstow was not the only, nor the most major castle, in his possession. Moreover, the interior of the hall does not show a pattern typical for the living quarters of a lord; it is a more representative room.

FitzOsbern's son, Roger of Breteuil, rebelled against King William and was imprisoned (1075) and his lands forfeited. So the possible commissoner of the great hall can well have been King William - it follows the pattern of other representative halls or audience chambers he used for crown wearing ceremonies and such. He may have planned to stage submission ceremonies of Welsh lords there. William visited Chepstow Castle in 1081, but no grand events are recorded.

Chepstow Castle, the Great Hall

The hill between the Wye to the north and the steep slopes of the Dell valley to the south is about a hundred metres long and 20 metres wide; space enough for a big Norman whopper castle. Chepstow does not follow the typical Norman motte and bailey-style - like for example Cardiff - but makes use of the natural features of the hill. The first castle only occupied part of the plateau.

In building the great hall, the masons used some Roman stones, probably taken from the ruins of nearby Caerwent.

Interior of the Great Hall

Chepstow remained in possession of the royal family until Henry I gave it to Walter fitzRichard of Clare in 1115. Walter and his successors did not make any significant additions to the castle, but Walter founded nearby Tintern Abbey. The best known of the name is Earl Richard 'Strongbow', conquerer of the Irish province of Leinster († 1176). He left behind a son † (1185) and a daughter with his Irish wife Aiofe. The daughter, Isabel de Clare was a ward of King Henry II until he gave her - and the vast de Clare estates in Wales and Ireland - in marriage to William Marshal in 1189. You can find more information about this remarkable man who started out as knight of fortune and ended up as one of the most powerful magnates of the kingdom in the blog of Elisabeth Chadwick.

Upper Gatehouse at the west barbican with view to William Marshal's private quarters

William brought the outmoded 11th century castle up to date. He had the money and the experience to make Chepstow a formidable fortress. William had seen new features, esp. the round towers that were to replace the former square design in France and during his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Those would soon become fashion in English castles

William rebuilt the east and south walls as proper curtain walls, and added a gatehouse (1) with two round towers projecting outwards (see photo above). Those had arrow slits from where the defenders could cover the area directly in front of the wall. A second line of defenses was added between the lower and middle bailey, again with round towers. In a last step, the curtain wall of the upper bailey was heightened and William constructed a square tower for himself and his family to live in. Since it was located in the uppermost corner of the castle, it would have provided some privacy.

The middle bailey

William died in 1219 and was succeeded by his five sons in turn. His sons further improved the defenses and also the comfort of the interior lodgings. There is proof for several grants of 'good oak' by the king; those timbers would have been used to refine the interior of buildings (addition of walls and floors, for example). One of the more striking featues were the two elaborate arches dividing the hall in the great tower into a - somewhat smaller - hall and a more private chamber that could be used for more intimate meetings with trusted advisors. They also added another floor to the tower which was used as bedchamber.

Southern curtain wall seen from the Dell valley; from left to right:
southwest tower of the upper barbican, Marshal's Tower, Great Tower, a round tower of the middle bailey

King Henry III visited Chepstow several times. The second Marshal son, Richard, quarreled with Henry III, but withdrew to Ireland where he was killed in 1234. The third son, Gilbert, reconciled with the king. He added the southwest tower to the upper barbican. He died in a tournament in 1241.

William Marshal's last son, Anselme, died in 1245, and the estates were divided among the surviving five daughters or their heirs. Chepstow fell to Maud, the eldest, who had married Hugh Bigod (there is an essay by Elizabeth Chadwick here). Their eldest son was Roger Bigod Earl of Norfolk, who after Maud's death inherited Chepstow. He liked the place as hunting ground, but it would fall upon his nephew and heir, another Roger Earl of Norfolk (1245-1306; he inherited Chepstow in 1270), to bring the castle to its greatest splendour.

Bigod's Hall, interior

Roger Bigod II held the title of earl of Norfolk and the position of Earl Mashal for more than thirty years (1270-1306), a timespan that fell into the reign of King Edward I. At first, Roger Bigod and the king got along well; Roger raised an army to fight for the king in the Welsh wars 1276-77 and 1282-83 where Edward subdued Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Gwynedd; and in 1287 he led the king's armies in Scotland.

But Edward's increasing financial demands led to disagreement, and in 1297, open conflict broke out when Roger Bigod refused to join the king's muster and lead an army he had raised into Gascony. Edward I had to give in because the Scots caused trouble again thanks to a certain William Wallace, but the political victory broke Bigod financially. When Roger Bigod died childless in 1306, his estates were returned to the king.

One of Bigod's towers in the foreground, the Great Hall in the background; seen from the river

During the time he was still affluent, Roger turned Chepstow, which he used as main residence, into a palatial stronghold. He constructed a maginificient new hall (including the sea gate) on the cliff side of the castle to represent his status as one of the most powerful magnates of his time. That building included a cellar, kitchen, accomodation rooms, and the hall itself. Bigod also added another tower later known as Marten's Tower (you can lose count of those in Norman castles) that would provide suitable rooms for high ranking guests. King Edward and Queen Eleanor visited the castle ein December 1284. Bigod also added another storey to the Great Hall.

Chepstow Castle, the sea gate opening to the Wye river

After Edward I's death in 1307, the castle came to his son and successor Edward II. Edward seemed to have developed a liking for Chepstow. He would grant it to Hugh Despenser in 1323, but that tale I'll leave to Hugh's faithful scribess who has written an interesting blogpost about Hugh and Chepstow.

Remains of the Great Tower, seen from the Dell valley

Footnotes:
This is an extended version of a post from 2009.
1) The erection of the gatehouse had long been ascribed to William's sons, but dendrochronological dating of oak timbers from the doors shows that it has been built already in the 1190ies.

Literature:
Rick Turner: Chepstow Castle, revised edition 2006. Part of the series of Cadw Guidebooks

 


18.1.15
  Castle Plesse (Part 3) - Refuge of a Landgrave / Decline and Rediscovery / Architecture

Castle Plesse was founded some time before 1100 and in use until 1660. During those centuries, the castle underwent several changes to adapt it to the changing ways of warfare (like the addition of musket balistrarias). Most of these were done by the Lords of Plesse. Since often several members of the family shared in the inheritance of the castle and lived there together, we have some inventary lists of buildings and goods that allow to reconstruct the former look of the castle. Even more interesting are some pencil and ink sketches done by Landgrave Moritz of Hesse-Kassel in 1624 (see below). The architecture of the Plesse is thus well documented. Today mostly ruins are left except for the keep, the - partly reconstructed - great hall, and the so-called Little Tower. There are also substantial remains of the chapel and porter's house, and the curtain walls.

Outer curtain wall in the eastern part

Castle Plesse sits on a 300 metres high promontory overlooking the Leine valley and the main north-south running Heerstrasse (military road), a connection that has been in use basically since the Roman campaigns under Drusus in BC 11. Today the Highway 7 still follows the same route.

The V-shaped promontory of some 50 metres length is connected to the rest of the hill and the Plesse forest on the eastersn side. When the castle was active as a defense structrue, the natural incline between both parts of the plateau was turned into a moat that could be crossed by a drawbridge. During the various changes and expansions of the castle, additional defenses were added and the vulnerable eastern part with the moat and its curtain wall expanded. Today, the moat is partly filled by debris and shrubs, and the walls are ruins albeit pretty impressive ones.

More curtain walls with the remains of a corner tower

One disadvantage of the high situation was accessibility to water. Water veins can be found in a hundred metres' depth, and an inventory from the 16th century mentions a 'deep well', so at some time the residents had dug through the bedrock to reach water, but maybe the first inhabitants relied on cisterns.

That inventory also mentions - among others - a chapel (ruins of it still remain adjacent to the Little Tower), a windmill, a bathing room, a school room (probably for the children of the lord and higher ranking men like the steward), a brewery, and a donkey stable. Besides those, one can find the typical buildings of a castle: the great hall and the 'lord's hall', the scribe's room, kitchens and baking house; housings for the garrison, stables, granaries, the armoury, and a smithy. There is a dungeon, too (underneath the Little Tower; today inaccessible for the public).

Remains of the curtain wall with a breach near the gate

The keep or Great Tower is the oldest remaining building in the castle (for photos see the first post about Plesse Castle). It is 25 metres high and the walls are 4 metres thick. The entrance is now on ground level, but in former times it was on the second storey level of the main hall, ten metres above ground. Access was also possible from a now lost building which is supposed to have been the bower. There is no equally impressive keep in Lower Saxony in the 12th century.

The interior of the tower has been changed in the 19th century; the floors separating the storeys have been dismantled and there's a winding stair leading to the top platform.

(left: view through a small portal to the outer yard overlooking the valley)From inventories and landgrave Moritz's drawings we know the layout of the almond shaped inner bailey - situated on the outer part of the promotory - and its buildings in the 16th and 17th century. The inner bailey once was filled with various buildings along the curtain wall, forming a yard; a feature typical for most castles, though often only traces of all those buildings remain.

The great hall still exists, albeit partly restored. It was the only one constructed entirely of stone; the other buildings mostly had a first storey of stone and a second (or even third) of half timbered structure. The great hall actually had two halls on the second floor; the first floor held several smaller rooms the use of which can only be guessed at; likely some sort of lord's office among them. The house also had cellars for storage. It was once connected to the keep by a walkway on the second floor. Behind the keep were some timber buildings interpreted as storage places. The lists include some exotic foods and spices like stockfish, figs, cinnamon and others not of local produce.

To the right side of the great hall once stood another larger house with the bath room, guest chambers, and the solar - this was the most representative room judging by the number of shiny goblets of gold and silver, including some ceremonial daggers on display, that have been listed. The Plesse lords probably entertained their most important guests there instead of the larger but less comfortable great hall. Most of these features date to the 16th century; in earlier times the rooms were less well equipped and with smaller windows. Adjacent to the right (western) side of this house were the stables for the horses.

Opposite the great hall was the main kitchen with its storage rooms; a bit further west another house of rather representative architecture which started out as a house for a younger son who often lived in the castle with his family due to the joined heritage, but was renovated in the middle of the 16th century and then served as widow's seat. The bower seems to have come out of use at that time. Next to it is the porter's house (the outer wall still exists), followed by the chapel and the Little Tower, the baking house and a gate to an outer yard (maybe this was a quieter place for the women to enjoy the view), and then we're back to the stables.

Inner gate, seen from the way into the inner bailey

Sections of the curtain walls still exist. The inner gate leads to a way between curtain wall and the outer wall of ther porter's house as additional defense, before the inner bailey is reached.

There would have been buildings in the outer bailey as well, but no traces of those remain except for some foundations near a corner tower which is also partly preserved (see photo above). The tower covered the defense of the moat. The outer bailey spread over the inner part of the promontory which gently sloped upwards to the east. Interestingly, there was a set of walls that partitioned the ground into two areas, the bailey proper and an undefined ground. Maybe it was used as training ground for the quintaine and other knightly pursuits that would need more room than a bailey yard could offer.

The outer gate has been changed considerably during renovations in the 18th and 19th centuries. It once was a much more formidable defense structure.

Outer gate, seen from the upper bailey

When Dietrich IV of Plesse died without male heirs in 1571, the fief fell back to the landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. His clerks made a list of the goods and income of the castle which amounted to 4,000 thalers per annum. Dietrich's widow, who kept interfering with the business of the Hessian bailiff living on the Plesse, was married off (1). There were some troubles with Welfen claims as well which only enriched the lawyers, but the landgrave never agreed to any exchange with other castles offered by the Welfen dukes of Calenberg-Göttingen.

It would turn out to be a wise decision. Landgrave Moritz of Hesse-Kassel (Maurice the Learned, 1572-1632) who joined the Protestant party during the Thirty Years war, had to flee his lands and found refuge on the Plesse in 1624. It was at that time he made several ink sketches of the castle and plans for changes which never came to be. The castle was besieged in 1626; supplies were short, the place was crowded with refugees, the garrison sullen and badly paid. But the attackers did not succeed in taking the castle due to the lack of heavy artillery.

Negotiations between Moritz and the line of Hesse-Darmstadt (who, despite being Protestant had joined the Catholic army because of some inter-family feud) led to the abdication of Moritz in favour of his son, Wilhlem V; the garrison was granted free retreat (1627). They left behind 15 canons of unspecified size, 142 muskets, plus several barrels of powder and other ammunition.

Closeup of an embrasure in the arcades; a 17th century addition

Castle Plesse remained with the line of Hesse-Kassel but was finally abandoned in 1660; the seat of the bailiff moved to the village of Bovenden in the valley. As usual, it served as quarry for the surrounding villages.

The landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel became the Electorate of Hesse as result of the meditatization and secularization of landed possessions due to the recess of the Imperial Diet (Reichsdeputationshauptausschuss *grins*) in 1803. In 1817, the Plesse was given to the Kingdom of Hannover in exchange for other castles (2). In 1866, both the Electorate of Hesse and the Kingdom Hannover were annexed to Prussia after they lost the Austro-Prussian War.

Herbal garden behind the porter's house (3)

In the late 18th century, interest in the picturesque value of old ruins grew, and soon the Plesse became a favourite excursion destination for students from Göttingen (and proabably the place of some clandestine duels and secret political meetings as well). But it also attracted visitors from further away. An inn was established in 1830.

This interest put an end to the stone quarrying as early as 1780 when the landgrave of Hesse forbade any action that would further destroy the ruins by punishment of 5 thalers. First restoration work took place in 1821, and got a boost when the King George V of Hannover (aka Prince George of Cumberland, grandson of George III of the United Kingdom and Hannover) and his queen, Marie of Saxe-Altenburg, visited the place in 1853. Most of the present look of the castle goes back to the renovations undertaken at their request. Luckily, the job was done before Hannover was annexed, because Prussia would not have given the money.

Since 1945, the Plesse is in possession of the County of Lower Saxony; a Friend's Association exists since 1978. Archaeological surveys and renovation work go on until today.


Footnotes
1) and 2) Unfortunately, I could find neither the name of the widow's new husband, nor which other castle(s) were involved in the exchange.
3) This was not the original spot, which would have been closer to the kitchen, but the association decided to have one for the tourists, and the place has a good micro-climate.

Literature
U. Elerd, M. Last (editors): Kleiner Plesseführer, Bovenden 1997

 


4.1.15
  Castle Plesse (Part 2) - The Lords of Plesse

I've mentioned in this post, that Bernhard of Höckelheim replaced Robert as Lord Commander of Castle Plesse in about 1150. At that time he must have held the castle as fief from the counts of Winzenburg - first from Hermann and after his death in 1152 from Hermann's nephew Otto (the son of his brother Heinrich of Assel). When Otto died without surviving offspring in 1170, the fief fell back to the bishop of Paderborn. It was then granted directly to Bernhard and his brother Gottschalk of Höckelheim. They are called 'edelfrei' which means they were of free men of noble birth and not ministeriales (1) and carried the title comes de Plesse (2) since 1183. Today they are known as Edelherrn von Plesse - Noble Lords of Plesse.

Plesse, remains of the outer wall

The Höckelheim family was probably around longer, but documentary evidence can only be traced to the father of Bernhard and Gottschalk, Helmold von Höckelheim (1079-1144). His descendants moved their main seat to Castle Plesse from which they took the name, but the family retained the Höckelheim possessions (some 20 miles south of the Plesse) where they founded a monastery in 1247. But it were the lands around the Plesse, villages that today are in the commute distance of Göttingen, like for example Bovenden and Eddigehausen, that gave the family their main income. The lords of Plesse also began to accumulate other lands in the area between Hannover and Kassel which they mostly loaned out as fiefs. Overall, they seem to have done well money-wise.

The biographies of some members of the family can be traced in more detail, among them a son and a grandson of Bernhard of Plesse (1150-1190), and a son of Gottschalk of Plesse (1167-1190).

Another shot of the Little Tower

A connection with the von Plessen family in Mecklenburg is possible, but not proven; though the first of that name to appear there holds one of the main names of the family - Helmold of Plesse; he went east as vassal of Duke Heinrich the Lion some time before 1186.

Another founding candidate is a Helmold von Plesse(n) who appears in chartes in Mecklenburg 1247-1283 and was the custodian of the underaged sons of the Duke of Mecklenburg, though his geneaological relation to the Plesse family has never been firmly established. There was a connection to the east with the crusader Helmold II von Plesse (see below), and the family states the relation on their website (4). It is indeed curious that Count Gunzelin of Schwerin, of Mecklenburgian nobility, and the Lords of Plesse appear as witnesses on chartes side by side (fe. in Osterode in 1265).

Castle Plesse, the Great Hall

Helmold II (3) of Plesse, born 1191 as son of Bernhard of Plesse and Kunigunde of Hennenberg, can first be found in the retinue of Emperor Otto IV during his official ride through the realm as king and his subsequent journey to Italy (1209).

When several bishops, among them Bernhard of Paderborn, liege of the Plesse lords, started a crusade in Livonia in 1211, Helmold of Plesse led a contingent of Livonian Brothers of the Sword and fought in what is today Latvia and Lithuania to christianise the pagan tribes there. He also witnessed chartes involving the Hansa League in Gotland and their trade in Reval (today Tallinn).

Helmold II of Plesse died in 1236, likely in the Battle of Saule (against the Samogitians, Curonians and other Baltic tribes) which was the first large scale defeat of a German order in the east. So many of the Brothers of the Sword died in the swamps that day, their grand master Volkwin of Naumburg included, that the order was disbandend and merged with the Teutonic Knights. Helmold died childless.

Outer gate seen from the inside

Helmold III (5) was the son of Poppo of Plesse (1209-1255 ?), a brother of Helmold II. He established the family burial in the chapel of the monastery in Höckelheim, the ancient seat of the family. We don't know where the members of the family have been buried before, likely either the chapel in castle Plesse, or the village church in Höckelheim.

Helmold had quarrels with the monasteries in Osterode and Walkenried about rights to a forest and tithes from some villages. The juridical quarrel with Walkenried about the forest dragged on for almost 20 years and left behind a bunch of documents, but the Plesse family lost it in the end.

Helmold III also signed a Contract of Support with the dukes of Braunschweig, Albrecht I and Johann I (sons of Otto the Child) in April 1258. He got 30 marks silver in order to support the dukes - who were not his lieges and thus had to grant him some other advantage. The most interesting clause is Helmold's promise, or willingness, to support the dukes even against his relatives. Since the descendants of Bernhard and Gottschalk so far had ruled their possessions in union, those precautionary agreements may point at some political disagreement within the family (esp. with Gottschalk II from the younger line). In the long run, the pro-Welfen course continued and the lords of Plesse remained in the entourage of the dukes; later in particular the Calenberg line.

Remains of one of the buildings in the outer bailey

The son of Gottschalk and a (unnamed) wife of the Dassel family, Gottschalk II, married Benedicta of Everstein, adding another knot in the net of local family relationships I'm presenting on my blog. She was a granddaughter of Albert (Albrecht) II of Everstein who had married Richenza, cousin of the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa; her mother was Agnes of Wittelsbach. Gottfried of Plesse thus married into the high ranking nobility.

Their son, another Gottschalk (1238-1300) bought the parts of the heritage of the older line, the descendants of Bernhard, in 1284, thus his line would become the sole heirs of castle Plesse and the surrounding lands from that time on.

Outer curtain wall with remains of a corner tower

At some point the connection to the liegelords, the bishops of Paderborn, seemed to have become defunct, because the lords claimed the Plesse to be an allodial possession (a reichsunmittelbares Lehen). In 1447 the family - the brothers Gottschalk, Dietrich and Moritz (Maurice) - became vassals of the landgrave of Hessia for the Plesse and 'all adjoining lands and possessions belonging to it'; probably because they needed a protector in a time with increasing feuds along the borders between Hessia, Thuringia and the Welfen lands in Lower Saxony. Chosing Hessia over the prior Welfen connections also marks a considerable turn in political alliances. Paderborn didn't intervene.

The last member of the Plesse family, Dietrich IV of Plesse, died in 1571 and the fief fell back to the landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. The Mecklenburg line, if it is connected to the Lord of Plesse, survives until today.

The Plesse Lords held the castle for 400 years and lived there most of the time. Most of the structures and buildings visible today, or reconstructed according to old paintings and other sources, have been added by that family.

Curtain wall corridor with arcades, seen from the inner bailey

Footnotes
1) The status of the ministeriales, a group typical for the German nobility, is a tricky one. There are some discussions going on abbout their exact role and genesis. Here is a simplified version: They rose from a class of unfree people already in Merovingian times and held important offices (like steward or marshal). In Carolingian times a number of unfree men were given arms to join the heavy cavalry, or a fief to enable them to buy those arms. But compared to freeborn nobles, they had less rights. Their number and importance increased in the 12th century, where a lot of legally unfree people held fiefs and fought as knights (miles in Lartin sources). And because of that they were considered nobles as well - we have to distinguish between legal and social classes here. The king (that is, the realm), the Church, and an increasing number of great nobles had ministeriales. Ministeriales gained more rights, and some of them had more land and played a more important role than many freeborn noblemen. In the 13th century the border between freeborn nobles (Edelfreie) and ministeriales became blurred to an extent that both classes merged.
2) Latin comes was an administrative title, meaning a military commander, and is used more widely than the noble title of 'count'. Usually, the Plesse family is refered to as Edelherren - Lords of Plesse.
3) Not sure where the count as Helmold III on some websites comes from since there is only one other Helmold in the family prior to him, but the correct number is Helmold II.
4) http://www.v-plessen.de/index.html
5) He too, is misnumbered as Helmold IV.

Literature
U. Elerd, M. Last (editors): Kleiner Plesseführer, Bovenden 1997
Josef Fleckenstein: Rittertum und ritterliche Welt, Berlin 2002
Werner Hechelberger: Adel, Ministerialität und Rittertum im Mittelalter (Enzyklopädie deutscher Geschichte 72), München 2010
Detlef Schwennicke: Zur Genealogie der Herren von Plesse, in: Peter Aufgebauer (ed.) Burgenforschung in Südniedersachsen, Göttingen 2001; page 113–125.

 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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