Castles and Rhine tolls on the Middle Rhine

Stahleck Castle, Bacharach
Stahleck Castle, Bacharach

In this post, we will have a look southward down the Middle Rhine, and speak about Castles and Rhine tolls.

Our region is located at the northern end of the Middle Rhine Valley. Speaking in medieval terms, it is on the southern border of the power of the archbishopric of Cologne. Here, four of the seven prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire held territories, namely the archbishops of Cologne, Mainz and Trier and the Count Palatine of the Rhine. Moreover, many more or less mighty local dukes had their say too. The empire’s map looked like a patchwork carpet.

The princes and dukes at the Rhine had discovered Rhine tolls as a source of revenue. Therefore, they had toll castles built to make sure that no ship could pass their territory without paying. A famous example is Pfalzgrafenstein castle at Kaub, built on an island in the Rhine.

Neither Drachenfels Castle, nor Wolkenburg Castle nor Löwenburg Castle were toll castles.

The nearest toll station was Bonn (strictly speaking, Bonn is no longer Middle Rhine). Since 1242, the archbishop of Cologne, Konrad von Hochstaden, was levying a toll here. Illegally, because it was a regal right and emperor Frederick II had not granted it. The archbishop, however, had long turned sides and supported the Pope in the so-called “final fight” between Pope and Emperor.

Throughout the following decades, the toll station at Bonn was disputed. Any candidate for the throne who needed the prince-archbishops’ vote granted them the right to levy tolls at Bonn, at least for a certain time. But when a king changed his policy or even set out to crush the prince-archbishops’ power, like King Albrecht I did, closing their toll stations was the first thing to do.

Eventually, the prince-archbishops had more pull. In the early 14th century, they obtained the right to levy tolls, unconditionally and forever. Until Napoleon.

Read more (German)

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