Proud symbol of power
Freudenburg Castle sits high above the river Main and the city of Freudenberg, on the fringes of Franconia’s Odenwald. The castle is a geopoint in the Odenwald. Mountain Road geopark and a member of the Burgslandschaft association. Freudenburg is well-known among castle enthusiasts due to its remarkable fortified tower, known as a butter-churn tower. Its name is probably taken from the knightly virtue of ‘vröude’ or joy. A number of imposing castle complexes were constructed in the region on the behest of various rulers as territorial claims to regency, a means of creating a power base to counter other feudal lords and as personal demonstrations of social standing. The Würzburg Bishop Henry III. exchanged lands with the Cistercian Monastery in Bronnbach, which gave him dominion over the small settlement of Lullingescheit.
The diocese of Würzburg built its own castle in response to the rising power of the Dürn family in Wildenburg Castle, the steady expansion of the Diocese of Mainz and the construction of Henneburg Castle by Imperial Cellarer Schüpf-Klingenberg on the right of the river Main. It was important for the Diocese of Würzburg to demonstrate its own standing, and so Henry III commissioned the laying of a cornerstone for a castle keep at the start of construction, which, due to its gigantic size, left no-one in doubt as to Würzburg’s claim to power. The keep remains the most striking feature of Freudenburg Castle to this day. Bishop Henry III and Ruprecht von Dürn died in 1197, and the struggle for the coveted territory and regional primacy came to a halt. Construction of Freudenburg was stopped, and a provisional structure was deemed sufficient.
But times changed, and almost 30 years later the Bishop of Mainz started building Mildenburg Castle as a means of consolidating and strengthening his claim to power and influence around the river Main. The House of Dürn also became stronger under Konrad I, acquired new lands and financial resources and hence continued to expand Wildenburg Castle. The struggle for primacy on the river Main had entered a new phase, and so the feudal lords of Freudenburg Castle felt compelled to resume the abandoned work on the castle to protect their estates. Treaties from 1287 indicate that the counts of Wertheim already controlled Freudenburg Castle at that time. Like in many other places, a small settlement emerged at the foot of castle hill. It appears likely that the ‘construction workers’ who hailed from Kirschfurt or Lulingescheit were the first to put down roots here. Living in the shadow of the castle, ‘suburbium castri’, gave the people protection and security. Freudenberg was described as ‘civitas’ in 1287, and in 1333 it was granted city rights by the Bavarian King Ludwig. It was therefore permitted to maintain a marketplace and install lower courts.
Under Count Rudolph, the counts of Wertheim acquired new power thanks to a legacy from the House of Breuberg. They expanded Freudenburg Castle into a befitting residence in 1361. Freudenberg falls to Count Erasmus of Wertheim in 1497, who takes charge of the largest conversion and expansion measures. Asmus transforms the castle into a stronghold and commissions the construction of a magnificent Renaissance building. He resides in the castle and seeks to distance himself from his brother Michael, who inhabits Wertheim Castle as his epicentre of power – but the golden age of Freudenburg Castle is soon over. Erasmus of Wertheim, who also constructed the Freudenberg Town Hall, dies childless in 1509. Freudenburg Castle is returned to the estate of his brother. The line of the Counts of Wertheim dies out in 1556, and feudal power is restored to the Diocese of Würzburg, which shows little interest in the castle. The newly constructed Guildhall becomes the seat of administrative power. The city and the castle fall to the Löwenstein-Wertheim dynasty in 1581. Witches are also persecuted in Freudenberg. Over 150 residents of the city are subjected to humiliating interrogations and rigged investigations of their witchery, fearsomely tortured and then burnt to death at the public execution site. The prisoners were kept captive in the canon tower at Freudenburg Castle.
Freudenberg is acquired by the Princely House of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg during the process of German mediatisation in 1803. Freudenburg Castle fell into a ‘deep sleep’, as ivy, shrubs and thorns shrouded its walls and wanderers were warned from entering the grounds. The ‘Castle Initiative’ under Franz Hoffmann eventually came to the rescue. A native of Freudenberg, he joined with like-minded peers in a concerted attempt to preserve the castle, halt its dilapidation and to restore Freudenburg Castle as a means of attracting tourists, hikers and castle enthusiasts. After many thousands of hours of work, the castle was awarded the State Prize of Baden-Württemberg for exemplary restoration in 1987.
The castle was then transferred to the city on 2 July 1995. The former ruler Count Asmus was immortalised by Paul and Dr Gerda Pagel in 1987 as the protagonist in a play. In the piece, the authors paint the picture of a searching, desperate and also domineering castle lord who, as seems fair to assume, found himself constantly in conflict with the family Rüdt zu Kollenberg, hence establishing the connection between Kollenburg Castle and Freudenburg Castle. The first verses of the saga describe why this might have been the case:
Mr Kollenberg approached the beautiful cavalier’s daughter with a rose: “When the morning of the third day approaches, my heart will answer the answer the prayers of the hopeless.” Count von Wertheim also featured bearing gemstones and strings of pearls: “Let me, sweet maid, lead you to the altar as your groom. And when dawn broke on the third day, Mr Kollenberg came upon a steed; he kissed the lovely maid as his bride, capturing the most beautiful of all flowers. Count von Wertheim rode on by, but departed empty-handed; then he swore, by the order he served, to take revenge upon this proud robber of women.”
Freudenburg Castle is open to visitors all year round and is reached via the signposted footpath that starts at Town Hall, or via the Kreuzschleife from the forest car park.
Group tours of the castle are possible.
For more information, contact the Office of Tourism and Culture on +49 (0)9775-920090, firstname.lastname@example.org
Text: Caroline Becker M.A., Tourism & Culture in the City of Freudenberg
Source: Rainer Türk, Wanderungen um Freudenberg am Main, published by the City of Freudenberg Eugen Mai, Geschichte der Stadt Freudenberg. Bühl 1908, p.16-17, pictures: City of Freudenberg, Franz Hofmann