My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology


15.3.15
  Nunnery and Ducal Burial - The Church in 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.

 


The Lost Fort is a travel journal and history blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, as well as some geology, illustrated with photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

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 blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)


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