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


7.4.13
  Border Castles and Conflicts - Otto the Quarrelsome and the Star Wars

No, not a sequel to a popular SF-series, but the war of an alliance called Sternerbund - Star League, led by Otto, against the landgrave of Hessia.

Otto the Quarrelsome* (Otto der Quade, 1340 - 1394), whose real name was Otto III Duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg zu Göttingen (or Otto I of Braunschweig-Göttingen), was a member of the Welfen family. His ancestor Heinrich the Lion had received back the allodial lands of the family after his reconciliaton with Emperor Heinrich VI in 1189, but not the Duchy of Bavaria and not the title Duke of Saxony; the family would call itself after their main seat Braunschweig (Brunswick) from that time on. During the next generations, the land was split between several sons, creating several branches of the Welfen dynasty. Otto ended up with Göttingen and surroundings.

Dankwarderode Castle in Braunschweig, main seat of the Welfen

Let's have a look at part of Otto's family tree which is another of those wonderfully tangled messes involving the nobility of half of Europe. We'll go back to our friend Heinrich the Lion, Duke of Saxony, one of the most interesting members of the Welfen dynasty. As some of you may remember, he was married to Mathilda of England, daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Their youngest son was Wilhelm (1184-1213), the later Duke of Lüneburg, also known as William of Winchester because he was born during Heinrich's exile at the court of his father-in-law.

Wilhelm married Helena of Denmark, a daughter of Valdemar the Great. They had a son named Otto (1204-1252; nicknamed 'the Child' to distinguish him from his uncle, the Emperor Otto IV). Otto married Mathilde of Brandenburg, a daughter of Albrecht II Margrave of Brandenburg and Mathilde (yes, I know *sigh*) of Lusatia - she brings a Polish connection into the mix since her mother was Ełżbieta of Poland, daughter of Miesko III of the Piast dynasty.

Sichelnstein Castle, one of Otto's border fortifications

I'm only going to follow the offspring that matters for the line leading to Otto the Quarrelsome, and that is Otto's and Mathilde's son Albrecht I of Braunschweig who married one Adelaide of Montferrat and had a son named Albrecht as well, Albrecht the Fat (1268-1318). At that point the Welfen possessions had been split to provide for more than one son and thus he was known as Albrecht of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel-Göttingen, and he was the first to take his seat in Ballerhus Castle (no longer in existence) in Göttingen.

Albrecht married Rixa of Werle, a granddaughter of Earl Birger Magnusson of Sweden and with her he had a football team of kids. One of them was Ernst (1305-1367) of Braunschweig-Göttingen, who married Elisabeth of Hessia, daughter of Heinrich II Landgrave of Hessia and Elisabeth of Thuringia (who in turn, was a granddaughter of Albrecht of Thuringia and Margarethe of Staufen, mentioned in this post). Otto the Quarrelsome was their son. The Hessian descendance of his mother will play a role for Otto later.

(Sichelnstein, view from the gate to the inside)

Otto had a problem for starters: the hodgepodge structure of his lands which consisted of disconnected bits from the Solling and Uslar in the north-west to Gandersheim in the north-east, Northeim in the centre, Göttingen and Hannoversch-Münden in the south; plus a number of castles. Nor were his lands particularly rich; which may explain Otto's constant money problems - they may not always have been due to his excessive feuding.

So of course Otto was looking for more and better lands. When Landgrave Heinrich of Hessia's son, another Otto, died childless, Heinrich at first named Otto the Quarrelsome, who had a claim through his mother, as heir. According to the still active Salian law, allodial possessions could be inherited via the female line. But Heinrich changed his mind in 1367 and proclaimed his nephew Hermann as heir instead. Otto probably had made too true of his nickname, and the altered succession left him in a really foul mood.

Otto was not the only one who disliked the expansionist politics of the landgraves of Hessia. He joined up with a group of discontented nobles in the Star League (Sternerbund), founded in 1370. The league was led by Otto and the Counts of Ziegenhain-Reichenbach, Gottfried VII and his son Gottfried VIII, who were one of the main targets of the expanding landgraviate of Hessia. Among the members were a number of nobles, mostly from Hessia and the borderlands (including the Hanstein family), and several ranking clerics, the highest among those Archbishop Johann de Ligny of the Electorate Mainz who didn't want to lose his position of most powerful man in Hessia to Landgrave Heinrich.

The founding meeting - in 1369 - took place in Ziegenhain Castle, and the sign of the alliance, a six pointed star, derived from their arms. The league could call upon 2000 men in arms and, among them, held some 350 castles. The Star League was only one among several like alliances that were established among German nobles and knights at the time, but it's the one important for the area I'm writing about here.

Another view of the Sichelnstein

Otto's aim may not have been to get the entire landgraviate of Hessia (he was likely realistic enough to understand that his claim was less strong than Hermann's and he'd have needed support from inside the family), but he was at least looking to get the bits and pieces of Hessian possessions sitting between his own lands south of Göttingen, and create an united area between Leine and Werra. Moreover, his sister Agnes was married to Gottfried VIII of Ziegenhain, and Otto was still behind on paying her dowry. Acquisition of more land and income would have solved that problem. Though their union, and shared command, in the league shows that both men obviously got along despite the dowry issue.

(Sichelnstein, the north wall; with my father walking along it to compare size)

Landgrave Heinrich of Hessia didn't sit idly by while the Star Warriors charged their light sabers. He looked for allies in turn and found one in his nephew Friedrich of House Wettin, Landgrave of Thuringia and Margrave of Meissen (his father, another Friedrich, was the brother of Heinrich's wife Elisabeth of Thuringia; see above). Both families concluded a mutual protection and support alliance, and more important, a heritage confraternity. That meant that one family would inherit the possessions of the other if it died out in the male line. Since the families were related, there would always be some claim, and the confraternity now overrode all other claims. That of course, put an end to Otto's hope of inheriting any Hessian lands. It also gave Heinrich the military strength to face Otto's alliance succesfully.

The Star War broke out in 1372 with the usual tactics of destroying mutual properties and besiegung / sacking a few castles, but there never was a pitched battle. Landgrave Heinrich's troops won a number of those encounters and eventually, the Star League began to lose its points by nobles conducting separate peace negotiations with Heinrich.

In 1375, the emperor Karl IV confirmed the heritage confraternity, the allod of Hessia, and Heinrich's and his successors' entitlement to the fief of Thuringia, at which point Otto negotiated as well and renounced his claim to Hessia in exchange for some financial compensation (I wonder if he paid the dowry then). This was the end of the Star League. The position of House of Hessia was considerably strengthened by these developments.

The was another armed conflict between Otto and Hermann of Hessia in 1388 when Kassel seeked his - and the archbishop of Mainz' - aid against Herrmann's claim of supremacy over the town. During that conflict, Otto managed to conquer some of the land at the Werra, but the peace of 1390 again was to the advantage of Hessia. I wonder if Otto just wasn't good at negotiations.

The only remains of Sensenstein Castle; part of the wall and trench fortification

Two of the castles that were involved in the small scale fighting actions going on during those wars were the Sichelnstein I already posted about, and the Sensenstein.

The above photos is pretty much all that remains of the Sensenstein today. While the Sichelnstein had been around for several centuries and was only refortified by Otto, the Sensenstein was a new castle built by Hermann of Hessia, co-regent with his uncle Heinrich, in 1372. The name was a bit of a jibe - Sichelnstein means Sickle-stone, and Sensenstein is Scythe-stone. Hey, I got the bigger one. *grin*

Otto used to send out raiding parties from Sichelnstein Castle, and the garrison of the Sensenstein tried to prevent them form invading Hessian territory, but I didn't find any details about those raids except that they were connected with the Star Wars.

The next time Sensenstein Castle is mentioned in chartes includes a transaction with the family of Berlepsch, vassals of the landgrave of Hessia, in 1438, but the castle was returned to the landgrave in 1461; he used it as hunting lodge. But the castle fell into decline and in 1585, a manor was all that remained. So when it comes to survival, Sichelnstein Castle won, though Otto did not. ;-)

The monastery church at Wiebrechtshausen, burial place of Otto the Quarrelsome

The next post will be about Otto's involvement in the Lüneburg Succession War and his feud with Göttingen.

* The name is sometimes translated as Otto the Evil but I think 'evil' is too strong a word to characterise him.

Sources:
Edgar Kalthoff; Geschichte des südniedersächsischen Fürstentums Göttingen und des Landes Göttingen im Fürstentum Calenberg 1285-1584. Herzberg, 1982
Olaf Mörike, Göttingen im politischen Umfeld: Städtische Macht- und Territorialpolitik. In: Dietrich Denecke, Helga-Maria Kühn (ed.),Göttingen: Geschichte einer Universitätsstadt, Volume 1. Göttingen 1997; page 260-293
 
Comments:
Great title and great information!
 
Enjoyed this post - I know so sillte about this period of history - am finding out such a lot - thanks!
 
Gabriele, I love the monastery church at Wiebrechtshausen. It's so beautiful. I must visit the place one day. Thank you for yet one more highly informative text, especially that I know very little about German history. A fascinating read!
 
Thank you, Kathryn and Anerje.

Kasia, I added the Polish marriage connections esp. for you. :-)
The church is beautiful. We got a lot of those medium sized Romanesque churches. Material for a few more posts. ;-)
 
Very interesting!
and thanks for the picture of your dad for scale at the Sichelnstein wall, I love that sort of thing. :)
 
Gabriele, I'm honoured :-) Those family ties are hard nuts to crack, especially with the irritating tendency towards using the same names within the noble families.
Mieszko III Stary and his brothers, and their conflicts remind me of the Angevins. Mieszko's father, Bolesław III Krzywousty was a great king, just like Henry II, and he too meant well for his sons, so before his own death he divided the country among them, but it proved as disastrous as in case of Henry's empire. Anyway, it was a fascinating period in Polish history :-)
 
With such a rich source for plot bunnies, fan fiction STILL abounds with stories of sparkly vampires.

I found an even dozen novels in this post alone! Twice that if I chose different but still plausible rabbit holes.

Bunny #1...What scoundrel masterminded the deal that cut Otto I out of his possessions in Bavaria, who was the scoundrel who took them over, and caused Otto II and III to turn their backs on H. VI, and take over land in Brunswick? And what did Otto do to get even?



Bunny #2....About those sons...any of them kill one another?

Bunny #3..... Oh, we all know about Mathilda...you can develop your own plot bunnies from this!

Bunny #4 ... Vlademar was called "the great" because.....

Bunny #5 .... what possessed Helena of Denmark to name her son Otto? It wasn't because she was running out of suitable names....grin!

Bunny #6.... Why "Albrecht the Fat? Every painting of him shows him to be slim as a rail?

Bunny #7 .... What political motive convinced a powerful Brunswick family to make ties with Sweden? Was Sweden rattling sabres or rattling coins? (trade)

Bunny # 8 .... Thuringia did not combine with Brunswick, so why was this a good alliance?

Bunny #9 Just how powerful was the Sternerbund? Would such a league not be declared to be illegal by the Landgrave? Did Heinrich play the various leagues off against each other?

Bunny #10 ... What back room politics were played to get members of the star league to fight each other? (A brief shining moment...now dashed! A whole novel right there!)

Bunny #11 .... When archbishop whathisname got involved, what influence was brought to bear by the RC church to discipline or support the stiff necked archbishop?

And Bunny #12.... What prompted Otto to get into a quarrel with
Gottigen?


 
Constance, I know. *grin* The walls had been even taller at the high time of the castle.

Kasia, I know little about Polish history - mostly only what influenced German history. Something I really need to remedy.

Stag, Bunny #10 is dangerous indeed; just well the 14th century isn't really my time. And #12 ... well, we'll get to that.
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy 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 and Scandinavia.

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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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