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The Eltz Family

Eltz portraits from six centuries

Further Information regarding – “The architectural chronicle of the castle” and “Nine centuries House of Eltz“– can be found in our History section. 

The family and its responsibility

Family, Church, the people and estates dependent on us or entrusted to us, the duties and responsibilities of a knight, and sustainability in our decisions and our actions have always been the central tenets and aspirations of the House of Eltz.

 “Family” has always played a central role at Eltz Castle during its nearly 900 years as the ancestral home of the Eltz family.  As a “Ganerbenschaft” (co-habitation of joint heirs), extended family and alliance with neighbours based on reciprocity, the House of Eltz successfully lived through the turbulences of history.Life in this community was regulated by formal contracts, the so-called “Burgfriedensbriefe”, (Castle Peace Deeds) which regulated life within the community and the joint responsibility to preserve Eltz Castle. 

The “Schutz- und Trutzbündnis” (an alliance to protect and defend the castle), which was in effect until the end of the Old Reich in 1806, was based on Christian family values and a reciprocal feudal fiduciary duty. The alliance protected all people seeking the protection of the lords of Eltz within and around the castle. 

Two members of the family, Jakob III zu Eltz (1510 to 1581), Elector and Archbishop of Trier, and Philipp Karl zu Eltz (1665 to 1743), Elector of Mainz and Imperial Archchancellor, were important figures in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, for the archdioceses of Trier and Mains, for the Eltz family and for Eltz Castle. Both were strongly committed to preserving their ancestral home. 

The lords and counts of Eltz have always had the duty to look after the important cultural heritage of Eltz Castle in order to preserve if for the family as well as for the public. Eltz Castle opened to the public around 1820. Many visitors, including many well-known personalities, have since visited this famous landmark and icon of Romanticism. 

Ever since the 12th century, it has always been the oldest son who was responsible for Eltz Castle. Today his name is Count Johann-Jakob zu Eltz. His parents, Countess Sophie zu Eltz and Count Dr. Karl zu Eltz had taken over the management of Eltz Castle in 2006 after the death of Karl’s father, and passed it on to their son Johann-Jakob in 2018. The castle is now in the hands of the 34th generation of the family. 

The Castle Team – A Success Story since the Middle Ages

The requirements of the cohabitation of three branches at the castle and the responsibilities set forth in the the constitution and law of the castle are the origin for an emergence of a highly qualified team at Eltz castle, which for centuries has played

Eltz Castle survived the centuries with a great deal of luck as well as clever family politics and diplomacy. The collaboration between the family and staff at Eltz Castle was officially regulated by the “Burgfriedensbriefe” (Castle Peace Deeds) and the medieval feudal order. Similar contracts existed in many other castles at the time, but none of them have survived. 

Neglect of medieval buildings in the 18th century led to the loss of thousands of fortified castles and residential buildings. Eltz Castle survived these times not least thanks to the contractual obligation to preserve and maintain the castle as stipulated in the “Burgfriedensbriefe” and also thanks to the commitment of all the staff members in the castle. 

Today, defending the castle is no longer an issue. We are now mainly concerned with the preservation of the walls and buildings and welcoming our visitors. As the family no longer uses the castle as their primary residence, they have delegated this task to the castellans, who represent the family in the castle and manage the castle buisinesses. 

They are supported by the Castle Team, which comprises around one hundred people working in management, the Treasury, the restaurants, the souvenir shop, on the shuttle busses and at the car parks. Most come from nearby towns and villages, some had parents or grandparents who worked at the castle already. 

Every one of them identifies with their home region and particularly with ‘their’ Castle, and they see themselves as an extension of the family in a wider sense. In this sense, all members of this large “Castle family” contribute to what has always made Eltz Castle so special: a particularly beautiful and welcoming place for everyone approaching in peace. 

Famous Visitors

During its almost 900 years of history many important guests have visited Eltz Castle, amongst them crowned or elected heads of state and important thinkers, poets and artists of their time.

The first famous visitor was an unwelcome guest: Prince Elector Baldwin of Trier, the brother of Emperor Henry VII and great uncle of Emperor Charles IV, came in 1331 and had the castle bombarded with cannons and catapults and finally built Trutzeltz as a siege castle. 

Later visitors luckily came with peaceful intentions. 

Just to mention a few of them: 

Emperor Wilhelm I and II as well as Crown Prince Friedrich – later to be called the “Emperor of 99 days”– who visited Eltz Castle frequently as a close personal friend of Count Karl zu Eltz. 

The Archduke and Archduchess of Luxemburg and the Princess of Liechtenstein as well as the German President Carstens were present at the opening of the Treasury of Eltz Castle. 

Victor Hugo, the great Romantic poet, came, saw and was “blown away” and wrote an enthusiastic report about his visit. 

William Turner, the British genius painter and discoverer of Rhine Romanticism, visited a few times and painted many vistas of Eltz Castle. 

The German Presidents Karl Carstens, Horst Köhler and Christian Wulff honoured Eltz Castle with their visits, as did the American First Ladies Bird Johnson and Rosalynn Carter. 

Most recently, the Swedish Royal couple Carl XVI Gustaf and Silvia visited Eltz Castle in 2019.  

Did you Know?

In this Section you can explore several interesting but not commonly-known stories, individuals and events – historical and more recent – which are connected to the Eltz Castle and amily.

The origin of the name “Eltz”  

Origin: The family and the castle are named after the stream Eltzbach. The word probably originates from the old German "Els" or "Else", both names for the black alder, a tree commonly found along rivers. The Romans named the stream "Alisontia", a reference to the probably old Celtic word for the same tree.  

The "500-DM Castle" 

Value: From 1961 to 1995 the German 500 DM banknote showed a view of Eltz Castle. 

The Castellans and their duties 

Charge: For centuries Eltz Castle, like other castles, has been managed by "castellans" (Latin: castellum – the castle), formerly also referred to as "wardens" or " constables". Until 1786 each of the three family branches had one castellan, then there were two castellans until 1815 and from then only one castellan for the Counts zu Eltz from the house of Kempenich. Angelika Nelius and Stefan Ritzenhofen are the present castellans. Together they manage the tourism business and take care of the preservation and curation of the historic Eltz ensemble.  

The Eltz Castle Stamp  

Postal service: The German post office published a series of stamps depicting castles (1977 to 1982). Eltz Castle was depicted on the 40 Pfennig stamp, then the postage required for postcards.  

The Jesters’ Heads  

Wisdom: The walls in the Knights Hall of Eltz Castle, the central gathering place of the Knights of Eltz, are decorated with jesters’ heads. They symbolise freedom of speech, as in the Middle Ages, jesters were allowed to say whatever they pleased, without having to fear any consequences. They are also a reminder not to overestimate one’s self-importance. The medieval perception of man saw wisdom and foolhardiness, virtue and vice in close proximity. 

The Rose of Silence 

Confidentiality: The Rose of Silence decorates the Knights' Hall and the canopy of the large bed in the Rübenach Bed Chamber. It symbolised the promise that the spoken word would not leave the room. 

The Eltz "Burgfriedensbriefe" (Castle Peace Deeds) 

Constitution: In 1268 the brothers Elias II, Wilhelm II and Theoderich divided the castle and their joint estates and established three lines of succession, which were named "with the Golden Lion", "with the Silver Lion" and "with the Buffalo Horns". The three families shared and lived together in the castle, forming a so-called "Ganerbengemeinschaft". This cohabitation was regulated in great detail by formal contracts, the so-called "Burgfriedensbriefe" (castle peace deeds) of 1323 and 1430 as well as the amendments of 1481 and 1556. 

This codex also listed punishments for any family member failing to adhere to the peace deed, for example: "If someone murders another person inside the castle or within the boundaries of the "Burgfrieden" (note by the author: The boundaries of the "Burgfrieden" include the castle as well as the entire estate owned by the "Ganerben"), the delinquent shall be expelled from the castle. He and his heirs shall lose all rights to Eltz Castle, they may never again enter the castle boundary, unless the victim’s closest family member declares that the murder has been vindicated." The consequences for other crimes or omissions were also regulated in great detail. 

As there were no hotels in those days, it was a nobleman’s obligation to provide accommodation for any guests arriving with good intentions. Such visits could not be entirely free of charge, however, as any visitors and their entourage had the right to stay for up to one year. There was a fixed tariff that was valid throughout the Empire which was also stipulated in the "Burgfriedensbrief". "A prince, who is granted permission to stay in the castle, shall, before entering, pay the castle builder a sum of forty "Oberländische" Guilders in Mainz currency for the upkeep of the castle and two good crossbows, which shall remain in the castle. He shall furthermore give the gate keepers one Guilder. A count or landlord shall give twenty Guilders and one good crossbow and one Guilder to the two gate keepers; a knight or servant shall give six Guilders and one Guilder to the two gate keepers. This money shall be used for joint upkeep of the castle." 

There were more than two dozen other rules regulating financial and organisational topics, which were amended on a regular basis. This joint constitution remained in effect until 1815, when the line with the White Lion sold their share of the castle and the "Ganerbengemeinschaft" was dissolved. Since the line with the Buffalo Horns, later the line Eltz-Rodendorf, had ceased in the 15th and 18th century respectively, and had transferred their shares to the Kempenich line, the house Eltz-Kempenich became the sole owner of the castle. 

Pragmatic Sanction 

Inheritance: The Pragmatic Sanction is a deed signed by Emperor Charles VI on 19 April 1713, which determined the unity and impartibility of the Habsburg estates, thus for the first time establishing a uniform order of distribution. This new Habsburg house law broke with the old Salian Succession Law, which only considered male successors, and established the so-called Legal Primogenitureship. While at first only male descendants were entitled to inherit, this was later changed to include female descendants in the order of their age. 

This abandonment of the old Imperial Law benefitted the later Empress Maria Theresia: she was permitted to take possession of the inherited estate, however, as a woman, she was not eligible to be elected empress. This was possible only through her husband, Franz of Lorraine, from 1745 Emperor Franz I. Maria Theresia was the dominant partner in this marriage, but her family was henceforth called Habsburg-Lorraine. 

During his reign from 1732 to 1743, the Imperial Arch Chancellor Elector Philipp Carl zu Eltz actively supported the enforcement of this Habsburg issue within the Empire. The Pragmatic Sanction was finally recognised after the end of the Habsburg War of Succession and the Peace of Aachen in 1748 and remained a constitutional right until the end of the Austrian monarchy in 1918.