Late Middle Ages

Town gate, city coats of arms Königswinter and Bad Honnef
Town gate, city coats of arms Königswinter and Bad Honnef

The Rhineland aroung 1250. After the death of Count Heinrich III von Sayn in 1246/47, the power position of the Counts of Sayn got lost. Within a few years, the Löwenburg Castle fell to the Lords of Sponheim and Heinsberg. In 1271 Johann, a younger Heinsberg son, inherited the Löwenburg, he and his successors are called the “Lords of Löwenberg”. In the second half of the 13th century, probably under him, the castle whose ruins we see today was built.

A period of upheaval in the Empire and in our region

After the death of Frederick II, the Hohenstaufen Empire collapsed. His sons Manfred and Konrad and his grandson Konradin died in battle, fighting for their inheritance. Southern Italy was lost for ever. In the Holy Land , the end of the Crusader States became apparent. The Latin Empire in Byzantium collapsed already in 1261.In Germany, there were kings, sometimes several at once, but in name only, none of them could prevail countrywide. That would not be in the interests of the dukes who sought to increase their own power. Thus chaos ruled in the Empire until it was enough even for the Dukes: in 1273, they elected Rudolph of Habsburg (1273-1292). He became a very popular king because he fought to restore order and justice in the country. He also tried to regain former imperial territories (in German Reichsgut), and obtained the territories in Austria that a bit later formed the base of the power of the house of Habsburg.

Whereas in the Empire the true power was with the dukes, powerful monarchs without scruples ruled abroad. Edward I “Longshanks” of England, who fought the “Bravehearts” of Scotland, and Philip IV “the Fair” of France, who destroyed the Order to the Temple and even gave orders to assassinate the Pope. Soon, under the influence of the French King, the Popes left Rome and took their seat in Avignon (1309-1379).

Stones from the Drachenfels for the cathedral in Cologne

In art, the Gothic style now prevailed also in Germany. In 1248, Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden laid the foundation stone for the new Gothic cathedral in Cologne. A good time for the burgraves of Drachenfels began: the trachyte of the Drachenfels was the perfect stone. In 1273, the burgrave and the Cologne Cathedral chapter signed a treaty on quarrying trachyte from the Drachenfels for the cathedral – an enormous project that quickly brought the burgraves a considerable fortune.

Battle of Worringen

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Archbishops of Cologne were important political actors in the Empire and in our region. Here, however, their supremacy was more and more questioned by the Counts of Berg on the right side of the Rhine. In the city of Cologne, the mighty and wealthy wanted to get rid of the archbishop’s rule. After a terrible defeat in 1288 in the Battle of Worringen, the Archbishops of Cologne lost their predominance in the region. The Archbishop himself and his allies, the Counts of Drachenfels, Wolkenburg and Löwenburg were captured by the Count of Berg.

The Dynasty of Luxemburg

Under Charles IV, (1346-1378) the house of Luxembourg raised to be the most powerful in the Empire because he increased the lands of his own family (in German Hausmacht). Having his roots in Bohemia, he made Prague his capital, now the “Golden City” came into being with the Charles University in 1348, the first German university in the kingdom, the Charles Bridge over the Vltava River, the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral and the Castle Karlštejn. In 1356, the King legislated the so-called Golden Bull, in which he stipulated that the seven prince-electors elected the King, and guaranteed them the sovereignty and integrity of their territories.

The Black Plague stroke large parts of Europe, during the years 1347-1351 alone a third of the population died. There was no remedy, people were lost and thought that God had abandoned them. They had no more trust in the clergymen, because many of them led a life of luxury, even excesses, and they did not know what to answer the people in pain. In those apocalyptic times, the “flagellants” appeared, people who walked through the streets flagellating themselves, asking God for forgiveness and salvation from the black plague. With time, the authorities felt threatened by the flagellants and persecuted them.

Again the Jews were accused, persecuted and many people were killed. In the Middle Ages, the Jews were forbidden to do any business except lending money. Many people owed an enormous amount of money to them, debts that became null and void with the death of the Jewish lenders. A contemporary commented that “if the Jews had been poor, people would not have killed them”. Charles IV knew what happened, but he did not protect them, although he was obliged to do so because the Jews paid an enormous amount to the emperor for their safety.

The year that Charles IV died, the Western Schism occurred (1378-1417): there were two, later even three Popes, all with their obediences and political alliances, who fought one another. Also Charles’ sons ruled from Prague. Wenceslaus (1378-1400) was incompetent and tyrannical. The prince-electors deposed him and put the Palatine elector Ruprecht I (1400-1410) on the throne. He was a constraint king, but he had neither money nor luck and died shortly afterwards. His successor was Sigismund of Luxembourg (1410-1435), who had already fought against the Turks. After their victory over the Serbs of Kosovo in 1389 the Ottoman Turks ruled much of southern Europe. The Byzantine Empire was reduced to the city itself, and she was in danger. Sigismund and his army of crusaders were defeated at the Battle of Nicopolis 1396. Sigismund managed to summon the Council of Constance to solve the Western Schism. But they did not manage to reform the Church, and moreover, they accused the reformer priest Jan Hus of Prague of heresy, found him guilty and burned him on the stake. That caused a rebellion in Bohemia, and for some twenty years, the Hussite wars devastated large parts of the Empire (1419-1436).

Push and shove

In our region too those years were marked by armed conflict. The most powerful men the Counts, from 1380 onwards the Dukes of Berg, and they kept fighting against the Archbishops of Cologne over predominance. Again and again our region was raided by both sides. Back then, the town of Königswinter was fortified by a city wall, and the Löwenburg castle by an outer baily. Eventually, in 1484, the Löwenburg fell to the Counts of Berg.

Godard of Drachenfels

Most likely, the best known of the burgraves of Drachenfels was Godard. An anecdote says that he always wore a ring with a precious stone – a piece of trachyte of the Drachenfels! Godard was a very rich man, he had made a fortune with the trachyte from the Drachenfels. The Archbishop of Cologne was highly indebted to him, and in 1425 he had to pawn the Wolkenburg mountain with the castle on its top and the town of Königswinter to him.

The dynasty of Habsburg

After the Sigismund’s death, his son-in-law, Albrecht II of Habsburg (1438-1439) was elected. From that day on, the crown remained with the house of Habsburg. Albrecht II died already two years later in combat against the Turks. The Ottoman Empire continued expanding, in the battle of Kosovo 1389 they had defeated the Serbs, in 1396, in the battle of Nicopolis, had overcome a Christian army under Sigismund. Finally in 1453, the city of Constantinople fell to the Turks and the Byzantine Empire disappeared, giving way to the consolidation of the great Ottoman Empire. Only Hungary remained between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. At that time, the name of Holy Roman Empire of German Nation became popular.

The long reign of Frederick III (1440-1493) was marked by political stagnation. Nevertheless, he was quite a successful king, because he lived very long and could see his enemies die before him and inherit them. Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, had refused his approval to the marriage of his daughter Maria and Frederick’s son Maximilian. In 1474/75, when two rivaling Archbishops fought one another in the Archbishopric of Cologne, one party called Charles the Bold for help, and he besieged the city of Neuss for ten months. That brought Emperor Frederick III into the arena, he gathered a huge imperial army and marched with his army upon Neuss. Charles the Bold was forced to raise the siege and withdraw. On its way, the imperial army conquered the town of Königswinter, and also the burg grave of the Drachenfels capitulated. When Charles died in combat, Maximilian could marry Maria, and with her he gained Burgundy’s rich territories including the Netherlands. After his father’s death, Maximilian ascended the throne (1493-1515). His reign is a time of transition between the Late Middle Ages and the Modern Age. As first king, he became Emperor in 1508 without being crowned by the Pope.

The pictures of Gent and the town gate of Königswinter arefrom the German Wikipedia, public domain section.

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