850 Years of Fascinating History
Eltz Castle is considered the German knight’s castle par excellence. It has remained in the possession of the original family and was never destroyed. Its history is a wealth of myths and events, famous personalities and great art. A short portrait of the castle with the most important dates and facts as well as many interesting stories and information:
9th to 13th Century
The development of medieval castles, which we admire so much today because of their beauty and their fortifications, began in the 9th and 10th century. What used to be small manor houses surrounded by earthworks and palisades now became castles fortified with heavy walls. The prime period of castle construction was from the 11th to the 13th century – the period of the Stauffer dynasty. This eventful period also saw the first mention of the name Eltz.
The Year 1157
In 1157 Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa issued a deed of donation, which was signed and sealed by Rudolf von Eltz as one of the witnesses. At this time he resided in a small castle complex next to the Eltzbach. Parts of this first castle, such as the Romanesque keep Platt-Eltz and four storeys of the former Romanesque "pallas" (living quarter), today integrated in the Kempenich Houses, can still be seen today. The probably oldest painted chimney in Germany and a recently discovered painted window arch also date from this period.
Eltz Castle was erected in a strategically important position: It was built along a trade route that linked the Moselle River – historically one of the most important trade routes in the German Empire – with the Eifel and the fertile Maifeld.
The castle and its surroundings form a harmonious unity: surrounded on three sides by the Eltzbach, the castle towers on an oval rock – the castle’s foundation – which in itself is up to 70 metres high. The architecture follows the shape of the rock, which results in the unusual shapes of the different rooms.
The Year 1268
The brothers Elias, Wilhelm and Theoderich had a dispute and the family split up before 1268. This led to the castle and the estate being divided among the three branches of the family. Henceforth the castle was a so-called "Ganerbenburg", a castle inhabited by several lines of a family at the same time.
1300 and 1311
The tower-like keep today referred to as "Klein Rodendorf" to the north of the old keep was probably built for Theoderich zu Eltz "of the Buffalo Horns" between 1290 and 1300.
Johann zu Eltz, the son of Wilhelm, built the first five storeys of what is today called "Rübenach House" in 1311 for his line of the family, "Eltz of the silver Lion".
1331 to 1336
The lords of Eltz confronted the Archbishop of Trier, Balduin of Luxemburg’s expansion politics by forming an alliance with neighbouring castles, the so-called "Eltz Feud". In 1331 this confrontation saw the first documented canon attack north of the Alps. When this proved to be ineffective, Balduin erected a siege castle, the Trutzeltz, the ruin of which can still be seen today, from where he besieged Eltz Castle with catapults and heavy stone balls for many years. The knights of Eltz finally gave up in 1336. As a result of this defeat most of the fortifications had to be demolished, leaving the castle as no more than a fortified residence. This, however, was never destroyed. It was a lucky turn that the castle never saw any battle action after the Eltz Feud. This was not least owed to clever family politics, shrewd diplomacy and occasional support from neighbours.
The Year 1472
The top two storeys and the roof of the Rübenach House were added in 1442, while the staircase of this building was only completed in 1444. The magnificent murals in this house in the west of the castle complex were completed in 1472 under Lancelot and Wilhelm of the Silver Lion. Incidentally, the name "Eltz-Rübenach" goes back to the family’s estate Rübenach near Coblenz, which had been acquired by Richard of the Silver Lion.
With its multi-angular timber-frame turrets, the simple oriel resting on two basalt columns above the entrance and the charming late-Gothic chapel apse, the Rübenach House characterises the architectural variety of the central courtyard.
1490 to 1540
The Groß-Rodendorf House was erected between 1470 and 1520. The oldest part, dating from around 1470, is the Banner Hall with its magnificent late-Gothic net vault, once probably part of the chapel. Four more storeys were added above this room. Towards the courtyard there is a vaulted entrance hall resting on three pillars. The name Eltz-Rodendorf originates from the marriage of Hans Adolf zu Eltz with Katharine von Brandscheid zu Rodendorf in 1563. Through this liaison the family acquired the dominion of Rodendorf (Chateaurouge) in the Lorraine district of Bouzonville. Hans Adolf and his descendants henceforth adopted this name.
1510 to 1581
The Eltz Family was successful mainly in the electorates of Mainz and Trier. Each generation produced a number of family members who entered into clerical professions. In the archbishopric of Trier alone, there were more than 70 prelates and nuns in 400 years, the most prominent of whom was Jakob zu Eltz, who was born in 1510. He was one of the most important prince electors in the history of the archbishopric of Trier, occupying a number of important posts during his lifetime: After his studies in Löwen, Jakob zu Eltz first became canon of Trier on 15 December 1525 and later, on 13 October 1547, dean of the cathedral. From 1564 he was also rector of Trier University. In 1567 he was finally elected archbishop and prince elector by the chapter of the cathedral in Coblenz.
Jakob zu Eltz was a strong supporter of the Counter Reformation, who had his most important allies among the Jesuits. He had to spend most of his reign residing near Wittlich, as Trier was in the hands of the Lutherans and Calvinists. It was not until 13 years later, after intense negotiations and finally by force of arms, that he managed to move his court to Trier. On 27 May 1580 the town of Trier welcomed the Prince Elector on the market square and swore their loyalty to him. Jakob zu Eltz died on 4 June 1581.
1604 to 1661
Between 1604 and 1661 the family had one to three mostly timber-frame storeys added to the Romanesque hall range and its side buildings. This expansion affected the south-eastern sections of the castle, mainly what is today known as the Kempenich Houses. Their architectural composition and well-structured timber-frame construction round off the picturesque appearance of the inner courtyard. A cistern beneath the mighty stair tower supplied the entire castle with water.
The main entrance to the Kempenich Houses is sheltered by a gate hall supported by two basalt pillars linked by arches. Above it is the Oriel Chamber. The inscriptions on the arches "BERGTORN ELTZ 1604" and "ELTZ-MERCY" refer to the date construction began and the family members responsible for the modernisation and expansion of the Romanesque building.
The Thirty Years War disrupted building works and construction was only resumed and completed under Hans Jakob zu Eltz and his wife Anna Elisabeth von Metzenhausen. This is commemorated in the keystones of the groined vault of the gate hall (1651) with the coat of arms of the Eltz and Metzenhausen families. The magnificent early Baroque alliance coat of arms of 1661 also refers to this building phase. It is carved in yellow sandstone and mounted beneath the central windows of the oriel. The same coats of arms can be found on the wrought iron window grids of the lower hall of the Kempenich House and on a heraldic shield on the banister in the courtyard.
The construction period of the castle thus lasted for more than 500 years. The architecture of this castle unites all styles from Romanesque to early Baroque to form a harmonious ensemble. The castle developed into a "Randhausburg" with eight high-rise residential buildings grouped closely around the central courtyard. Up to 100 members of the family lived in the castle’s more than 100 rooms, together with approximately the same number of servants.
The Year 1624
Hans Jakob zu Eltz also held an important position in the electorate of Trier. On 15 July 1624 the Prince Elector granted him the hereditary post of "Erbmarschall". This meant that he and his descendants commanded the electorate’s troops in war times and had authority over all the knights of Trier.
1665 to 1743
The Eltz family’s greatest political influence came with Philipp Karl zu Eltz, Prince Elector of Mainz and arch chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations. Philipp Karl, born in 1665, joined the German-Hungarian College in Rome in 1686. By 1719 he had risen to dome cantor of Mainz and archdeacon of Trier and represented the Imperial interests in the election of Georg von Schönborn as Prince Elector of Trier. He was also canon in Mainz and Trier.
After the death of the Mainz Prince Elector, Philipp Karl zu Eltz was unanimously elected as his successor. Philipp Karl was thus a clerical leader and the most powerful clerical prince north of the Alps. As chancellor of the German Reich he later headed the Reichstag in Regensburg, where he was the highest-ranking imperial prince after the Emperor himself. His greatest achievement was the so-called Pragmatic Sanction, which enabled the Archduchess and later Empress Maria Theresia to inherit the entire Habsburg estate, even though a female succession was not provided for in Salian Imperial law.
During most of his reign Philipp Karl represented the interests of Charles VI of Habsburg. He formed a union against Bavaria together with the electorates of Hannover and Trier. In 1742, however, there was a break with the House of Habsburg. The reason for this was the Imperial election, where Philipp Karl was forced to vote for the Wittelsbach Karl Albrecht, the later Charles VII – not least because of pressure from Bavaria and France. The House of Habsburg saw this as treason. Philipp Karl suffered under this decision until his death in 1743.
1688 to 1689
Many castles in the Rhine region were destroyed during the Palatine Wars of Succession from 1688 to 1689. During this period Hans Anton zu Eltz-Üttingen played an important role in preserving Eltz Castle. As a high officer in the French army, he managed to delete the castle from the official list of buildings to be destroyed. An "unofficial" French raid of Eltz Castle was only prevented by brave intervention of the people of Müden, who lured the marauders into a ripe cornfield and then set fire to the field with their unwanted visitors.
The Year 1733
Because of their services during the chaos of the Reformation and the Turkish Wars, Emperor Charles VI awarded the family Eltz of the Golden Lion with the title "Reichsgraf" (Count of the Reich) in Vienna in 1733. Furthermore, the Eltz family was awarded the "Großes Palatinat", the privilege to act on behalf of the Emperor, to elect notaries, to legitimise illegitimate children, to award coats of arms with shield and helmet décor to ordinary citizens, to appoint public judges and scribes, to free serfs and many more.
The Year 1736
The house of Eltz owned extensive estates, mostly in the electorates of Trier and Mainz. The most significant estate, however, was on the Danube River in Croatian Eastern Slavonia. The Eltz family acquired the dominion of Vukovar in 1736. The counts von und zu Eltz had their main residence here until their forced expulsion in 1944.
1794 to 1815
During the French occupation of the Rhine region from 1794 to 1815 Count Hugo Philipp zu Eltz was treated as an emigrant. His estates on the Rhine and near Trier were confiscated. He himself was referred to as "Citizen Count Eltz". Eltz Castle and its estates were subordinated to the military command of Coblenz. It later turned out that Count Hugo Philipp had not emigrated, but remained in Mainz. Thus the revenues from his estates were re-allocated to him in 1797. In 1815 Count Hugo Philipp bought the Rübenach House and the estates of the Barons of Eltz-Rübenach. Since the Eltz-Rodendorf branch had ceased and their estates had passed to the Eltz-Kempenich branch in 1786, Hugo Philip was now the sole owner of the castle.
1845 to 1888
During the Romantic era in the 19th century and its rekindled interest in the Middle Ages, Count Karl zu Eltz began restoring his ancestral castle. The extensive measures lasted from 1845 to 1888, costing the substantial sum of 184 000 Mark. Today this would be the equivalent of about 15 Million Euros. Count Karl zu Eltz approached this undertaking with great care and consideration of the existing architecture. Unlike many similar projects in the 19th century, he did not alter the castle, but cleverly restored it – something that is still praised by expert viewers today.
1976 to 1982
From 1976 to 1982 Count Jakob and Countess Ladislaja zu Eltz had the badly damaged walls of the castle re-plastered and supported with the aid of work-providing measures.
1990 to 1998
After the new formation of the state of Croatia, Jakob Graf zu Eltz was a member of the Croatian parliament between 1990 and 1991 and in 1998. He was also a member of the Foreign Committee and the European Council and was the first member of the Eltz family to be appointed into the Order of the Golden Fleece. He died in 2006.
Eltz Castle Today
Eltz Castle has been in possession of the Eltz family for more than 800 years. The present owner of the castle, Dr. Karl Graf von und zu Eltz-Kempenich, alias Faust von Stromberg, lives in Frankfurt am Main.
With the help of the German Stimulus Program II and the German Foundation for the Protection of Monuments the castle could be extensively restored between 2009 and 2012. These measures included structural repairs, repairs to the roof and the timber-frame constructions as well as the renewal of the technical equipment in the Rodendorf and Kempenich Houses. The roof of Platt Eltz also had to be reconstructed.