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History from Castle & Family Eltz
The architectural chronicle of the castle
The castle next to the Eltzbach existed already when our forefather Rudolf took on the name of his fortified house “von Eltz” and was one of the signatories of a document issued by Emperor Barbarossa in 1157. His descendants divided the castle and the estate into three equal parts in 1268 and continued building for the next 500 years, mainly upwards, as space on the rock was so limited. They continued living there as ‘Ganerben” (joint heirs) until 1815, when the Barons of Eltz-Rübenach sold their share of the castle to the Counts of Eltz-Kempenich, who have been the sole owners until today.
Addition of two more storeys to Rübenach House (5).
Erection of a second Kempenich House (11)
Nine centuries House of Eltz
Eltz Castle is considered the epitome of a German knight’s castle. Throughout the centuries, 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:
Medieval castles, which we admire so much today because of their beauty and their fortifications, began to emerge in the 9th and 10th century. What used to be small manor houses surrounded by earthworks and palisades now became fortified castles surrounded by sturdy walls. The prime period of castle construction was from the 11th to the 13th century – the great era 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. He resided in what was then still a small castle complex next to the Eltzbach, a tributary to the Moselle. 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 a 70 m high oval rock which forms the castle’s foundation. The architecture follows the natural shape of the rock, which results in the unusual shapes of the different rooms.
Between 1257 and 1277 Elias of the Golden Lion built a four-storeyed pallas (keep) on the east side of the courtyard.
In 1266 a further crenellated story was added to the keep Platt-Eltz, which was owned by all three lines of the family in equal parts.
The Year 1268
The brothers Elias “of the Golden Lion”, Wilhelm “of the Silver Lion” and Theoderich “with the Buffalohorns” 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, each with their own coat of arms. Henceforth the castle was a so-called "Ganerbenburg", a castle inhabited by several lines of a family at the same time.
There was extensive building activity at the castle in the second half of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century. One can presume that this followed the rift in the family, which necessitated new residential buildings for each family.
The tower-like keep today referred to as "Klein Rodendorf" was probably built for Theoderich "of the Buffalo Horns" between 1299 and 1312.
Johann, the son of Wilhelm, built the first four storeys of what is today called "Rübenach House" in 1311-1312 for his line of the family "of the Silver Lion".
The oldest surviving codification of the Ganerben community, a so-called “Burgfriedensbrief” (castle peace deed). This was amended in 1430, 1581 and 1556 and remained the castle’s ‘constitution’ until 1815.
1331 to 1336 “The Eltz Feud”
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 conceded in 1333. A peace treaty was signed with Balduin 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 courageous support from neighbours.
1441 to 1472
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 in 1277. 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 in 1277.
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 castle’s central courtyard.
Construction of a second, also four-storeyed keep southeast of the Romanesque pallas for the line of the Golden Lion, today part of the Kempenich Houses.
1490 to 1515
The tower-like Groß Rodendorf House was erected between 1490 and 1515 just after the Klein Rodendorf House. The oldest part, dating from 1470, is the Banner Hall with its magnificent late-Gothic net vault, which was 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.
This is the only surviving example of a house built in the early Renaissance period around 1330 in the (retro) style of the high Gothic period. Unique is also that the patron Philipp zu Eltz and Pyrmont left the walls to the inner courtyard unrendered.
The Coach House and the Gatekeeper’s House below this house in the outer castle next to the gate to the inner courtyard were probably also built in this period.
The name Eltz-Rodendorf originates from the marriage of Hans Adolf zu Eltz and Katharine von Brandscheid zu Rodendorf in 1563. Through this liaison the family acquired the dominion of Rodendorf (Châteaurouge) in the Lorraine district of Bouzonville. Hans Adolf and his descendants henceforth adopted this name.
1510 to 1581: Jakob III zu Eltz, Prince Elector of Trier
The Eltz Family pursued their successful career mainly in the electorates of Mainz and Trier. Each generation produced family members who entered clerical professions. In the archbishopric of Trier alone, there were more than 70 prelates and nuns from the family over 400 years, the most prominent of whom was Jakob zu Eltz, who was born in 1510. He was one of the most important 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 elector by the chapter of the cathedral in Coblenz.
Jakob zu Eltz was one of the strongest supporters 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 Elector on the market square and swore their loyalty to him. Jakob zu Eltz died on 4 June 1581.
In 1573 Anton of the Golden Lion was awarded the fiefdom of Kempenich in the Eifel by Elector Jakob III and henceforth changed his family name to Eltz-Kempenich.
In 1580 Jakob III bestowed the title of Hereditary Marshal of his electorate to Anton of Eltz. This ensured his and his descendants’ vested right to the supreme command during wartimes and the command over the knights of Trier. This right only ceased with the end of the electorate state in 1803.
1604 to 1661
Between 1604 and 1661 the family had one and 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" are references to the date construction began and to 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. The last extensive measure was the construction of another four-storeyed keep to the southeast of the Kempenich Houses. The keystones of the groined vault of the gate hall (1651) bear the coats of arms of the Eltz and Metzenhausen families, thus commemorating the patrons of this construction phase. 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 in the lower hall of the Kempenich House and on a heraldic shield on the banister in the courtyard.
The entire construction 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 became a so-called "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, too, held an important position in the electorate of Trier. The Elector made him a Hereditary Marshall on 15 July 1624. This ensured his and his descendants’ vested right to the supreme command during wartimes and the command over the knights of Trier.
1647 to 1648
As the Elector of Mainz’ envoy in Münster, Friedrich zu Eltz was such a skilled negotiator, both for the elector and for the other clerical electorates, that Emperor Ferdinand III granted him 10.000 Guilders and confirmed the old family title, Noble Sir, for him and his family. Friedrich’s portrait hangs in the great hall of the Münster Town Hall alongside all the other men who negotiated the Peace of Westphalia in 1647-1648, which ended the 30-Years War.
1665 to 1743: Philipp Karl zu Eltz, Elector of Mainz
The Eltz family’s greatest political influence came with Philipp Karl zu Eltz, Elector of Mainz and Archchancellor 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 Choir Master of Mainz cathedral 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 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 erase 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 and 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 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 1818
During the French occupation of the Rhine region from 1794 to 1815 Hugo Philipp was erroneously treated as an emigrant. The estates of the “Burgher” Count Eltz along the Rhine and the Moselle were confiscated in 1795 and the castle and its estates were subordinated to the military command of Coblenz. In 1797 Hugo Philipp was able to prove in court that he never emigrated but had stayed in Mainz. His estates and the profits from his other sources of income on the left, formerly the French side of the Rhine, were subsequently returned.
The Year 1815
Hugo Philipp bought the Rübenach House and the estates of the Barons of Eltz-Rübenach in 1815. This signified the end of the Eltz “Ganerben” community. For the first time since 1268, Eltz Castle was now once again owned by one single family. The share of the castle and estates owned by the Eltz-Rodendorf family had already fallen to the Eltz-Kempenich family in 1786 after the Eltz-Rodendorf family had ceased. Hugo Philipp died in 1818 in Coblenz and was buried at Eltz Castle as was his final wish.
1811 to 1844
In 1811 Emmerich, Hugo Philipp’s eldest son renounced his German estates in Eltz and was given the dominion of Vukovar. He was a diplomat in the Emperor’s service. His best known mission was when he was tasked with officially escorting the Archduchess Leopoldina on her journey to Rio de Janeiro in 1817 where she was to wed Dom Pedro, who would later become the first emperor of Brazil. He also led the Austrian botanical expedition, the first of its kind in Brazil. Emmerich died in 1844 without a male heir. His Croatian estate went back to his brother Jakob.
In the above-mentioned division of the estate, Jakob, Emmerich’s younger brother, initially received the German and later upon request of his brother also the Croatian estates of the house. He was married to Anna Maria Baroness Wambolt von Umstadt. Like his father Hugo Philipp before him, Jakob divided his estate between his sons: the eldest son, Hugo, inherited Vukovar, the younger son, Karl, inherited Eltz Castle and the other German estates. Jakob and Emmerich both died in 1844.
The Year 1848
Hugo was married to Lidvine Countess Pejácsevich. He was murdered by Austrian border troops on his return journey to Vukovar during the Hungarian Revolt in 1848, as they believed him to be a Hungarian spy. As this murder remained unpunished, his brother Karl henceforth avoided the Imperial court in Vienna and focused more on Berlin. As Hugo had died without a male heir, the German and Croatian estates of the Eltz family once again fell into the hands of one person, Karl.
1844 to 1888
The rekindled interest in the Middle Ages during Romanticism inspired Karl to restore his ancestral castle. The extensive measures lasted from 1845 to 1888, costing the substantial sum of 184,000 Reichsmark, today’s equivalent of about 15 million Euros. Karl approached this undertaking with great care and consideration of the existing architecture. Karl’s extensive correspondence with the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, asking for advice concerning the restoration of the castle, shows his dedication and how seriously he took his responsibility. He particularly avoided altering the substance of the castle, unlike most other restoration projects in the 19th century. Instead, the restoration was expertly executed and is still praised today by visiting experts.
1848 to 1944
Following the death of his older brother Hugo in 1848, Karl moved the family’s main residence to Croatia. In 1853 he married his sister-in-law Lidvine, his brother’s widow.
Karl and his family still spent a considerable time at Eltz Castle and in Eltville on the Rhine to supervise the restoration of the castle and to fulfil his role as castellan of Bad Homburg in the service of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia. Lidvine, Karl’s wife, died in 1889, and Karl himself died after a dramatic coach accident in 1900.
Following Karl’s death, the family broke off their links with Prussia and turned towards the Danube Monarchy. This meant that, until their flight from Croatia in 1944, the family visited Eltz Castle and the Eltzerhof no more than a few weeks each year. During this period the castle and the estate in Eltville were managed by treasurers who were based in Moselkern. Castellans lived at Eltz Castle to look after the castle and to take visitors around. Visitors had to announce their visit in writing beforehand.
1900 to 1906
The short aegis of Jakob, Lidvine and Karl’s eldest son, saw the completion not only of the new chapel roof at the castle, but also a large annex to the Eltzerhof and a significant extension of the palace in Vukovar. Jakob died at only 46 in 1906, his wife Marie, nee Princess Lobkovicz died during her flight in 1945. As Jakob’s son Karl was still a minor when his father died, Jakob’s brother, Erwein, became his guardian and managed the Eltz estates until 1917.
1906 to 1922
Karl, the eldest son of Marie and Jakob, was only 10 when his father died. Erwein, Jakob’s brother became his guardian and managed the Eltz estates. Soon after coming of age, Karl married the 18-year-old Princess Sophie zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg. The couple had two children. Karl had a fatal accident in 1922 at the age of 26, which meant that the Eltz estate was once more placed under guardianship.
A chimney fire in 1920 destroyed parts of the Kempenich Houses as well as the roofs of Rodendorf and Platteltz. The reconstruction and restoration of the Castle took until the mid 1930s. The works took so long not least because the huge inflation rate had devalued insurance payments and there were strict currency restrictions in place, which made it impossible to transfer funds from Croatia.
1922 to 1982
Karl’s widow Sophie was the head of the family in Vukovar until their expulsion in 1944 and then in Eltville until 1953 when she became a Benedictine nun and entered the nunnery St. Hildegard. She looked after many refugees, warmly welcoming them in the Rheingau and helping them to settle there and was referred to as “queen of the refugees”. She was also a productive and much-read author, even after joining the convent. She died in 1982.
1944 to 1978
Jakob, the son of Sophie and Karl, lived in Vukovar and Zagreb until 1944. He was captured in 1945 by the Americans and kept as a prisoner of war in Salzburg, where he married Ladislaia, nee Baroness Mayr-Melnhof in 1946. They reached Eltville in 1947, where Jakob restored the family’s dilapidated vineyard and, by 1970, he had turned it into one of the leading Riesling producers in Germany. For many years he was the president of the wine-growing region of Rheingau and taught wine law at the University of Mainz. He sold his vineyards in 1978, a move which helped prevent the construction of a motorway along the Rhine at Eltville.
1976 to 1982
Between 1976 and 1982 Jakob and Ladislaia had the castle walls extensively renovated, secured and re-rendered. The Treasury was created in 1981 and furnished with an array of precious items from the family collections. Accessibility for visitors was significantly improved, and an increasing number of guests from near and far visited the castle to see the “castle on the 500 DM bank note”. This strategic repositioning and the ensuing success story of the castle is owed to a large extent to the castellans Dieter and Inge Ritzenhofen, the parents of the current castellan.
1990 to 2006
Following the re-establishment of the state of Croatia, Jakob was elected a member of the Croatian parliament in his hometown of Vukovar, where he was a member of the committee for foreign affairs until 1999. As one of the representatives of Croatia in the European Council he successfully advocated the international recognition of his home country. Among the many honours and medals he collected in the course of his colourful life, was also the Order of the Golden Fleece. He was the first member of the Eltz family to be awarded this prestigious order. He died in 2006.
2006 to today
Karl, Jakob and Ladislaia’s eldest son, and his wife Sophie, nee Countess Schaffgotsch, took over the management of Eltz Castle in 2006. At this time the building had been neglected and was in a precarious state. The general refurbishment of the castle began in 2009 with support from the German state, the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (State Office for the Preservation of Monuments) in Mainz as well as the Stiftung Denkmalschutz (German Foundation for Monument Protection). Structural issues were fixed, damaged roofs and timber-frame constructions repaired, and the inner courtyard, the MEP fit outs, the exterior wall masonry, the windows and the murals were restored. These were the most extensive restoration measures since those of Count Karl in the 19th century.
In 2018 Jakob, the eldest son of Sophie and Karl, was appointed to succeed his father as the manager of the estate. The castle is now in the hands of the 34th generation of the Lords and Counts von und zu Eltz. This line has been uninterrupted since the mid 12th century. The 21st century will continue to see Eltz Castle, a charmingly preserved museal gem of historic castle architecture, as one of the favourite German landmarks and a destination for art lovers from all over the world.