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


26.5.15
  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, but it's interesting to note that obviously the Scharzfeld had kept the fief when it belonged to Heinrich and now played the political game right.

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 comes into focus once more 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 eldely 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

Footnotes
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) I suspect another blogpost to come. :-) At least I got some more information about the Hohnstein.

 


10.5.15
  Vikings and Before

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, so that 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 istmus 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.
 


9.5.15
  Hansa 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 Hansa towns of Lübeck and Wismar, and visiting some Vikings in the open air museum of Haithabu near Schleswig.

Lübeck, Holstentor Gate

The Holstentor 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 Hansa. 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 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 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 Hansa League but it was trade town nevertheless after it took over from Haithabu in the 11th century, and see of a bishop.

And finally....
WANTED


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.

 


22.4.15
  Two Fairy Tale Castles - Trendelburg and Sababurg

I'll be away on the little trip to the Baltic Sea I mentioned in the post below until the beginning of May. But I'll leave you with some photos of fairy tale castles connected to the stories collected and retold by the Grimm Brothers.

Castle Trendelburg, photographed on an autumn afternoon

The Trendelburg, situated on a promontory in the Reinhardswald Forest in the western Weser uplands, is connected with the story of Rapunzel or the Maiden in the Tower. The Grimm Brothers lived, studied and worked first in Kassel, later in Göttingen, and part of the oral traditon that was included in their fairy tale collection came from the area around these towns. So it is no surprise that some castles became connected with those tales. The local tourist management is grateful for that. *grin*

Castle Trendelburg, the keep, also known as Rapunzel -Tower

The Trendelburg dates back to the 13th century when it was in possession of the Counts of Schöneberg who lost it to the bishopric of Paderborn. Eventually, the castle fell to Heinrich I Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. (Yes, there's a longer post hiding in that fun bit of history). Another landgrave turned the castle into a hunting lodge in the 1650ies. In the 19th century, the castle held the offices of the forestry administration, and in 1901 it was sold into private hands. Today it is accomodates a hotel and restaurant. And sometimes you can spy Rapunzel walking around.

Rapunzel Tower and the great hall

The castle retains a number of its old features, like the 38 metres high keep and three other towers, the great hall, the main gate, and parts of the curtain wall. The battlements have been renovated, as well as parts of the towers and other buildings - already when the landgrave of Hessia used the place as hunting lodge, and again when the castle was turned into a hotel. A trench and a earthen wall as additional fortifications have mostly been flattened over time; in the Middle Ages, the main gate could only be reached by a drawbridge.

The bridge spanning the remains of the trench, and parts of the curtain wall

The Trendelburg still gives the impression of a Mediaeval castle, with its bulky towers and the formidable keep.

The Sababurg has been altered more, but even there you can find old parts. The Sababurg is the castle of the Sleeping Beauty (Dornröschen in German), and it too, is a hotel and restaurant today. Complete with a dressed-up prince whom I spotted when we had some smoked trout on the terrace on a sunny spring afternoon.

Sababurg, the castle of the Sleeping Beauty, in early spring

The Sababurg (its older name was Zappaborg) was built in 1334 to protect the pilgrimage church of nearby Gottsbühren, initiated by the bishop of Mainz. Now, the bishopric of Mainz was constantly at cahoots with the bishopric of Paderborn and the landgraves of Hessia, so the castle, while not involved in any military actions as far as I know, became a focus of the quarreling parties nevertheless, changing possession a few times. As a result, it was abandoned and basically a ruin in 1455.

Sababurg, inner bailey with remains of the palas to the left

Those landgraves liked their castle style hunting lodges. Landgrave Wilhelm I of Hessia erected one on the remains of the Sababurg in 1490. The palas which today is a ruin was finished in 1519. The landgraves planted a thorny hedge to protect their animal park (there is still an animal park today, quite a tourist attraction on a sunny spring day). After the Thirty Years War the castle fell into ruins and was so overgrown with brambles that is was easy to imagine it having been the castle of the Sleeping Beauty.

The remains of the palas seen from one of the towers

Well, another landgrave of Hessia, Karl, got rid of the brambles and repaired the castle. But it became less important over time, some of the buildings were taken down, and in the 19th century, it was but the lodgings of the local forester. Today the county of Hessia is charged with the repairs and restorations. The curtain walls and the palace are ruins, but some other buildings, including two of the towers, have been turned into a hotel with restaurant. Rose bushes have been planted in some spots which shall cover part of the walls in the years to come.

Another view of the inner bailey

The castles Trendelburg, Sababurg and Bramburg also feature in a tale not collected by the Grimm Brothers. A giant named Kruko (see Krukenburg) had three daughters, Saba, Brama and Trendula. Saba and Brama were Christians but Trendula remaind a pagan. Saba and Brama wept a lot for her sister, but to no avail; she stubbornly held to the old ways. In the end the sisters decided to build each their own castle. One day Trendula invited Saba for a visit and killed her; Trendula was struck by a lightning and died a grisly death. No prince anywhere in sight in that one.
 


4.4.15
  Happy Easter

I wish my readers a Happy and Blessed Easter.

Spring has been slow in coming, but now the first buds defy the cold nights and decided to sprout. And the pollen have started to attack innocent noses.

The first buds of spring at the Rhume springs

I haven't been out much yet because of the severe storms those last days that left too many unstable branches around in the woods which have to be cleaned out. And before, there always was rain on the weekends. The photo is an older one from my files.

The last traces of snow in the Harz

Though this year there is still considerably more snow left in the higher parts of the Harz mountains than the year I took this photo. Which means the place is also full of tourists who can't drive in winter conditions.

Spring at the Weser river

I plan for a short holiday at the end of April - along the Baltic Sea coast to escape the pollen attacks for a few days. Lübeck, Wismar and Schleswig (including the reconstructed Viking settlement at Haithabu / Hedeby) and whatever else I can squish into the itinerary
 


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

 


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.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Germany

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.


e-mail

Twitter