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


28.10.12
  Border Castles and Conflicts - Castle Reichenbach

OK, I admit the title sounds more Scottish than it is, but some castles along the borders of Thuringia / Hessia / Lower Saxony have seen a fair bit of action thanks to sitting at the borders of former feudal or allodial possessions. And since I live right in the corner where the three counties meet, I've been visiting some of those places.

Today we'll have a look at the Castle of Reichenbach. I already mentioned the church in this post, remains of a former - albeit shortlived - nunnery. What's left of the castle is mostly just the keep and that one has been partly rebuilt, too. But it sits at the top of a mountain above the village, like so many castles in Germany, so it made for a nice walk despite the paucity of motives.

Reichenbach Castle, the keep

The village of Reichenbach is first mentioned in 1098, but there is archaeological evidence for an earlier Frankish settlement. The first lord in the area who left a trace in the documents is Gozmar of Reichenbach, High Reeve of the Abbey Fulda, in 1062. Wikipedia mentions a Frankish comes (Gaugraf) Gozmar of Reichenbach in Carolingian times, but they can't even get the date right in two separate articles and I could not find any proof (*). The same goes for the castle which can be proven to date at the same time as the village, about 1050 - 1100. A Carolingian timber castle predating the stone fortress and the 5th century 'Chattian walled fort' are pure speculation at this point since no traces have been found (though archaeological research wasn't very thorough due to costs).

The position of high reeve of Fulda Abbey was hereditarily held by the counts of Reichenbach; several members of the family are mentioned in documents as such. During the next generations, the family expanded their territorial possessions in northern Hessia, and in 1144, Gottfried, the son of Gozmar II, moved his seat to Ziegenhain, leaving the Reichenbach possessions to his uncle Poppo I. The Reichenbach line died out with the death of Gottfried III in 1279.

The troubles started when Liutgard (Lukardis) of Ziegenhain, daughter of Gozmar III, the son of Gottfried I, married Friedrich of Thuringia, third son of Landgrave Ludwig I and Jutta of Swabia (a sister of Friedrich Barbarossa), in 1185. The Thuringian landgraves had already snatched nice bits of land in Hessia when Landgrave Ludwig I married Hedwig of Gudenstein, heiress of the Gison family, in 1110. Friedrich wanted to continue along that line. Since Liutgard's father Gozmar had died the year prior to their marriage during the Latrine Accident of Erfurt (**), Friedrich laid claim to the title Count of Ziegenhain and Gozmar's lands, including Reichenbach (though I wonder what his argument was since Reichenbach belonged to the junior line ***); he also became High Reeve of Fulda in 1229.

Gozmar's brother and successor Rudolf tried to fight Friedrich's claims, but he died already in 1188. His successor, another Gottfried, disappears from the sources (usually signed documents) in 1200 and his succession is a bit unclear since his only son was too young and his nephews Gottfried (number 5) and Berthold inherited only in 1229 - the same year Friedrich died.

But in all those fun messes between heritage claims and the ongoing troubles between the Ludowing landgraves of Thuringia on one side, and the archbishop of Mainz - who held a lot of land and feudal rights and/or claims (including the ones to Reichenbach) in Hessia - on the other, Reichenbach Castle saw a good deal of action.

Landgrave Ludwig IV conquered the castle after a prolongued siege in 1220, and in 1225, his brother Konrad Count of Gudensberg laid siege to the castle again, and again as result of a feud with the archbishop of Mainz (now Siegfried III). But in the end, Konrad decided for a diplomatic solution with the Ziegenhain heirs and formed an alliance with Gottfried and Berthold; they would keep their Ziegenhain possessions as allod from him but resign Reichenbach as fief, and they would all stay together against any enemy except the emperor (1233). The archbishop of Mainz probably wasn't happy about this since he considered Reichenbach as fief held from him, nor was Gottfried of the Reichenbach line who at the time was a prisoner of the archbishop (****).

With Heinrich Raspe's death in 1247, the Thuringian Succession War between the margrave of Meissen, Sophie of Brabant, and the archbishop of Mainz began, which lasted until 1264. Sophie - or more exactly, her troops - managed to conquer Castle Reichenbach in the name of her still under-aged son Heinrich in 1249. In the end, the margrave of Meissen got the landgraviate of Thuringia and the Thuringian / Saxon possessions while Heinrich got the newly created landgraviate of Hessia (the lands were still as fief from the archbishop of Mainz until 1292 when they became imperial allods).

The castle again played a role during the so-called War of the Star League (Sternerkrieg, 1370-73), a war of a group of nobles against the landgrave of Hessia which involved our dear friend Otto I of Braunschweig-Göttingen, aka Otto the Quarrelsome (as leader of the Star League), who deserves a post of his own. Other members of the alliance were Gottfried VII and VIII of Ziegenhain, and other local nobles.

The castle was inhabited until 1490, afterwards it fell into decline and was used as quarry by the locals. The east tower crumbled in 1820, so today there's only the keep left.

Another view of the keep

* The Saxon nobles turned refugees, Asic and Billing, mentioned in two chartes at the time of Charlemagne, who settled in the area, cannot be connected to the Reichenbach family with surety.

** The Erfurt Latrine Accident of 1184: King Heinrich VI used a diet in Erfurt to mediate between Landgrave Ludwig III of Thuringia and Archbishop Konrad of Mainz when the wooden floor of the hall in the seat of the provost of St. Mary in which the nobles were sitting, broke under the stress and a number of people crashed through the first floor which gave way as well, into the latrine in the cellar. About 60 people, among them several nobles of high standing, died of the fall or drowned in the shit. Ugh. King Heinrich survived because he sat in a projected window alcove with a stone floor and was saved by use of a ladder.

*** OK, this is just an assumption, but when Heinrich III of Reichenbach joined the Order of the Teutonic Knights (and obviously gave them a pretty share of his lands) in 1219, he left what remained to his younger sons Wigbert and Gottfried who still was a child. In the years to follow Gottfried fought with his brother, his maternal relatives, and the archbishop of Mainz for what he considered to be his heritage, and that sort of troubles may have left the door open for Friedrich's claim. Especially since the Thuringian landgraves always had open bills with the archbishops of Mainz.

**** Konrad would later become High Master of the Teutonic Knights (1239), while Berthold would change his pro-Staufen alliance to side with the Pope and proclaim Heinrich Raspe (another brother of Ludwig IV) anti-king to Conrad IV of Staufen.

Sources:
Wilfried Warsitzka, Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt 2009

 
Comments:
Yes, I thought it was going to be Scotland from thr title. What an amazing keep!
 
I love Otto the Quarrelsome. ;)

Oh dear, that accident sounds horrible. What a dreadful way to die. :-( It reminds me of that famous entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for AD978, I think, when some of the great men of England fell through a floor which gave way and were killed or injured, but the archbishop Dunstan was saved because of he was standing.
 
Anerje, we have our border reivers, too. *grin* Some of the local nobles took to highway or high-river robbery on occassion. Though there's no documented case for Reichenbach.

Kathryn, Otto der Quade (dialectal for Quarrelsome) is a character I keep coming across in my area. Last weekend I finally visted his burial at Wiebrechtshausen, a nice little Romanesque church with a Gothic annex where his tomb is - he had managed to get himself excommunicated and had to be buried outside the church, and only when the ban was lifted could a building be erected over his grave.
 
That keep looks like the sort of place one would think twice about attacking (!). Does the name have any connection with the Reichenbach Falls (of Sherlock Holmes fame)? Just wondering if it's one of those topographical names that means something really generic (like 'little river') and so turns up all over the place.

I thought of the accident involving (or not involving) St Dunstan as well, but I see Kathryn has beaten me to that :-) Fortunately that accident didn't feature a latrine (what a horrible way to go), so it could have been worse.

Do I deduce that Otto the Quarrelsome managed to quarrel with the church as well, hence the excommunication?
 
Carla, Reichenbach is a pretty common name. Bach means rivulet or brook; the etymologie of 'reichen' probably varies for different places.

Otto fought against the prince-bishop of Hildesheim at one point, and I suppose his quarrels with the landgrave of Hessia got him on the wrong side of the archbishop of Mainz as well, so he made enemies on that side. His widow managed to get the ban lifted.
 
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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.

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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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