A Time of Feuds - The Counts of Hohnstein and Stolberg (Part 3)
This is the third part of the essay about the Counts of Hohnstein and their main seat, Hohnstein Castle (as well as a few shots of the palace in Stolberg).
(Left: View through a door, with remains of the outer curtain wall and the land beyond)
A number of feudal transactions that gave the Hohnstein family more land and rights (like bailiwicks) can be found in local chartes between 1250 and 1350, but I'll spare you the array of difficult to pronounce German names. :-)
What can be said is that the family accumulated a fair share of lands in the southern Harz and Thuringia, including parts of the fertile Golden Valley (Goldene Aue) between the Harz and the Kyffhäuser mountains. They also established connections - often by by marriage - with other important families; among them the Eppstein who provided Mainz with a number of archbishops (the archbishop who supported Heinrich Raspe was from that family). It's always good to have one of those on your side. *wink*
Not all lands were obtained peacefully. There was a feud with the counts of Klettenberg going on for some years, including the siege and conquest of Klettenberg castle, which resulted in the counts of Hohnstein gaining the Klettenberg fief from the bishop of Halberstadt in 1353. This is a clear sign that the counts of Hohnstein had the more powerful supporters in the feudal game. I could no find a reason for the feud but that is not unusual - those pesky chroniclers tended to leave out the bits historians want to know. Ask Kathryn.
The counts of Hohnstein also got involved in the quarrel between Albrecht the Degenerate and his sons in which they supported Friedrich who fought his father for his heritage. Adolf of Nassau, King of Germans, who had bought the landgraviate of Thuringia from Albrecht, sent troops but they only managed to harass the land without laying siege to the castle.
The family fared less well when another Friedrich (III, nicknamed 'the Stern'), Landgrave of Thuringia sieged and conquered the castle in 1380 (1). It looks like the Hohnstein had got involved in the Star Wars and ended up on the losing side when the landgraves of Thuriniga and Hessia allied against the Star League of disgruntled nobles. The official war had ended when their leader, Otto 'the Quarrelsome' of Braunschweig-Göttingen, made peace (1273), but pockets of resistance continued for some years, fighting for their own aims. They counts of Hohnstein may have been among those. Relations with the landgraves of Thuringia became more strained in the late 14th century.
(Right: Remains of a staircase tower)
The Hohnstein family split into branches a few times, and sometimes those branches were at cahoots. The line of Hohnstein-Sondershausen split off in 1312; when it died out in 1356, the possessions fell to the counts of Schwarzburg due to a heritage confraternity. A few years later the branches of Hohnstein-Lohra-Klettenberg (older line) and Hohnstein-Heringen-Kelbra (younger line) came into being (1373); the younger line split again into Hohnstein-Kelbra and Hohnstein-Heringen (1394). The former lived in Hohnstein Castle though the latter had some rights to the castle as well (2).
We need a little background here: Robber gangs had been a problem during the 14th century. Often they were mercenaries out of employ and sometimes minor nobles with a crumbling castle who thought getting some extra tax from merchants would pay to repair that leaky roof and the lord's dented armour. The counts of Hohnstein had to chase those reivers off their lands several times, or conquer a crumbling castle to deal with the resident robber baron. But in the early 15th century, the problem got worse. The mercenaries were augmented by starving farmers and begging day labourers due to a period of famine; and indebted minor nobles became more frequent as well. One band was becoming infamous, the Men of the Flail (Flegler, from the grain flail they had for banner) led by Friedrich of Heldrungen. They started to plunder monasteries and other insufficiently fortified places, until some leading nobles saw the military potential in that gang and employed them for their own purposes. This led to the so called Flail War.
Thuringia was governed jointly by Friedrich 'the Simple' (with his seat in the Wartburg) and his cousin Friedrich 'the Warlike' who resided in the eastern part, the Mark of Meissen. Friedrich the Simple had married a daughter of Count Günther of Schwarzburg who basically ran the country Wolsey-style. A number of leading nobles were not happy about that, and alliances were established on both sides. Some quarrel about inheritance claims brought Dietrich VIII of Hohnstein-Heringen - siding with Güther - up against Ulrich III and his son Heinrich IX of Hohnstein-Kelbra. Dietrich employed the Men of the Flail who harried the lands in possession of the Hohnstein-Kelbra family (3). They even managed to sneak into Hohnstein Castle and conquered it. Heinrich of Hohnstein escaped - out of a window, wearing nothing but his night shift, it is said - but the assailants took his father Ulrich captive (Sept. 1412). Friedrich of Heldrungen fortified the Hohnstein and held it with his band of rabblerousers.
Hohnstein Castle, the upper bailey
Heinrich of Hohnstein made it to Ilfeld Monastery where he got equipped with armour and a horse, and rode on hidden paths to join Friedrich 'the Warlike' of Meissen, since the other Friedrich ('the Simple') was of no use, being dominated by Günther of Schwarzburg who sided with the other Hohnstein branch. Friedrich in turn assailed the possessions of Friedrich of Heldrungen, conquered his seat, and relieved Hohnstein Castle (sorry for the many Friedrichs here). Friedrich of Heldrungen and some men escaped, but most members of the Flail gang were captured. The nobles had to abjure vengeance; the rest was executed; some of them flogged to death. Günther of Schwarzburg was forced to accept a council that curtailed his influence. The Heldrungen possessions were given to Heinrich of Hohnstein as recompense for the damage the robbers had caused on his lands.
Another shot of the palace interior, with a fire place to the left
Dietrich of Hohnstein first continued to protect Friedrich of Heldrungen, but eventually he was afraid to end up in a nasty dungeon if not dead, being on the losing side in the Fail War. He sold his share of the Hohnstein possessions, including his right to part of the main seat, to Count Botho of Stolberg, and vanished into obscurity (4). Friedrich of Heldrungen lived in the forests until he was killed by a member of his own gang (Sept. 1413).
Obviously, Count Heinrich IX of Hohnstein-Kelbra-Heldrungen (as he called himself after he got that fief as well) kept having financial troubles after the Flail War, since he sold his
part of Hohnstein Castle to Count Botho of Stolberg some time between 1423-28, and started a new existence further east, in Brandenburg (5). Thus only the older line of Hohnstein-Lohra-Klettenberg remained in the southern Harz. That line died out in 1539 with the death of Ernest VII, the last Count of Hohnstein.
Interior of the Count's rooms
In 1428. Count Botho of Stolberg got invested with the fief of Hohnstein Castle after Duke Otto of Braunschweig-Göttingen had been confirmed as feudal lord of the castle, due to the ancient feudal relationship between the Welfen family and the castle of Hohnstein at the time of Heinrich the Lion. In fact, the fief had fallen back to the emperor after 1182, so the present feudal transaction was due rather to the political situation in the 1420ies than to actual feudal ties dating back to the 12th century. The position of the elected King Sigismund (last of the Luxemburg line; King of Germans since 1411, Emperor since 1433 (6)) was not strong enough. The post-Staufen elected kings were more dependant on the goodwill of the princes of the realm than their predecessors, often foreigners without large possessions on German soil and caught up in the quarrels of various parties. King Sigismund may have agreed to Duke Otto's claim to gain his support (7). This may explain the situation of Scharzfels Castle
The counts of Stolberg are another case of badly documented origins that sprouted several theories. The most likely one is a descent from the counts of Hohnstein, likely from Heinrich, a son of Elger III. Heinrich of Hohnstein appears as count of Voigtstedt, which was an imperial fief given to the Hohnstein between 1198-1204 and since 1210 signed chartes involving Voigtstedt as Count of Stolberg. A Heinrich of Stolberg accompagnied Landgrave Ludwig IV 'the Saint' of Thuringia on the ill-fated crusade in 1127 where Ludwig died in Italy; and stayed with the emperor Friedrich II on the way to Jerusalem the following year. Since Ludwig had brought with him a contigent of Teutonic Knights, it could be the same Heinrich who appears on their lists as Heinrich of Hohnstein, or his son of the same name (8)
It also would make sense for the Hohnstein to sell the rights to the castle to someone who is somehow related to the family. Private feuds aside, it would mean that the lands remained within a limited group of nobles.
Another shot of the gate house and the Count's rooms from the lower bailey
The counts of Stolberg renovated the castle, adding 'modern' (late 16th century) defenses including an artillery tower, and a Renaissance palace. At that time the castle was one of the largest in the Harz mountains. They promptly got into debt and had to pawn out the castle in 1603. Well, they had another shiny palace in Stolberg.
The castle was destroyed during the Thirty Years War. Imperial troops under the Saxon major Christian Vizthum who garrisoned the castle, put it to fire after they were attacked by the Harz Shooters, a Protestant guerilla force that attacked Catholic mercenary troops and sometimes even castles and fortified positions, thus making the southern Harz almost impassable for the Catholic/Imperial armies. But the Shooters also set up a side trade as robbers and were hated by most local farmers. Yet Gustav Adolf of Sweden, who had come to the aid of the Protestant/anti-Imperial alliance, supported them. Vitzthum may have burned the castle down to avoid the fortified place to fall into the hands of the Protestant alliance (9). The remains of the castle were still used as administrative seat until the new palace was built in nearby Neustadt.
The Renaissance palace of the counts of Stolberg above the town,
on the site of the former Medieaval castle
The castle fell into ruins and for some reason never attraced the interest of people interested in picturesque ruins (like Scharzfels or Plesse
). Some efforts to avoid further decay were made in the 19th century, but during the GDR-regime, the castle was left alone. A society to preserve - and research - the remains of Hohnstein Castle was founded in 1990, and since 2001 there's a little restaurant in a restored outbuilding.
Zoom in to the Renaissance palace in Stolberg
1) The website gives the date and event, but without further explanation. The involvement of the Hohnstein family in the Star Wars is the most likely reason; a number of nobles had joined the Star League.
2) It is not specified what those rights entailed, part of the income, residence for some limited time, or other ways to partake in the castle.
3) The Flail War is sometimes presented as a predecessor of the great Peasant War in the 16th century since some of the men were poor farmers looking for a better life. But destroying the land of other farmers to hurt the income of a nobleman is not the way to go for social justice.
4) He may have died a prisoner in Dringenberg Castle in 1417.
5) His son had been captured by the men of the flail during the attack on the Hohnstein. I could not find out what happened to the boy; maybe he was killed, which would explain why the father wanted to move away from a place full of bad memories.
6) Escpecially for Kasia (*wink*): He was also King of Bohemia since 1419. His mother was Elisabeth of Pomerania, granddaughter of King Kasimir III of Poland.
7) It is interesting that the claim of the landgraves of Thuringia was overruled esp. since Friedrich the Warlike rose to Prince Elector of Saxony under King Sigismund. Maybe some castle at the fringes of his lands didn't mean that much to him and he obliged Sigismund to consider it a homefallen imperial fief (which it had been at the time of Barbarossa, after Heinrich the Lion's fall).
8) We have seen several times how fluctuating naming was during the first years when a family took a new main seat.
9) A few years later Vizthum was found on the Protestant side at the battle of Wittstock (1636) where he led the Swedish reserve.
The town of Stolberg seen from the church hill
(It's a typical Harz town spreading along a valley between the mountains.)
Uwe Mosebach: Wo einst die Grafen von Hohnstein lebten. Clausthal-Zellerfeld, 1993
Bernd Schneidmüller: Die Welfen - Herrschaft und Erinnerung. Stuttgart, 2000
Wilfried Warsitzka: Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt, 2009