Friday, May 2, 2008

Reifenberg during the Thirty Years War

Early History
Reifenberg (Riffenberg) is first mentioned in 1215 in conjunction with Cuno von Reifenberg who came from the Lahn region in the Westerwald or near Limburg. Cuno’s forbearer was Engelbrecht von Reiffenberg who was the first Grand Master of the order of the Teutonic Knights of Prussia when it was instituted in 1190. The Reifenberg castle was first occupied in 1331.
Plans, found in the last century, dated from the 17th century show that the castle was built on Roman foundations. Given the terrain, I suspect that these foundations are for a watchtower which acted as an advance post for the Kastel. The Roman Feldbergkastell is only a couple of kilometers away and was one of the primary entrances through the Limes in the Taunus region. So it is likely that the Roman foundations would have been for a watchtower of some type.
The original single tower castle, Hattstein, located on a rocky outcrop a few kilometers away, was the first fortress in the area and became too small as it could not be easily expanded and yet defended. This would have lead to the construction of the larger castle on the Roman ruins. The larger castle was built on an outcrop (Riffinberg). The crucial developments of an additional tower and Schildmauer occurred in the 14th Century. The Donjon is older.
The region has numerous small mountain villages. Velperhusen, mentioned in the chronicles in 1453, was the name of a small village located near the Sängelberg between Oberreifenberg and Sandplacken. This village was likely abandoned during the Thirty Years War along with other settlements, Feldberghausen and Weilsbergen, near Reifenberg.

During the Thirty Years War
The summer of 1622 saw the Thirty Years War make its presence felt through a military campaign in the Palatinate. Mid-June saw Tilly, the League commander and his Spanish ally, Cordoba, combine forces at Aschaffenburg. Christian of Brunswick, the Protestant commander, remained passive at Hoechst one of the chief crossings of the Main River. On June 20th, Tilly advanced to Sossenheim, a village near Hoechst straddling the fordable but difficult stream Sulzbach. There he found and attacked a Protestant blocking force. Brunswick had intended to withdraw his main force across the bridge at Hoechst while his blocking force held back Tilly. However, the withdrawal became disorganized and his forces were scattered by League cuirassiers pursing the remnants of the blocking force. While a fierce battle had raged within twenty kilometers of Reifenberg, only scattered remnants of forces would have been found foraging in the region.
Relative peace would have reigned until 1631, when Count Lippe, a League commander, with the support of Niederhessische troops occupied Reifenberg in anticipation of a Swedish invasion. After the Swedish victory at Breitenfeld, in December 1631, the Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, made his triumphant entry into the conquered town of Mainz fixing his quarters in the palace of the Elector. With that capture, eighty pieces of cannon fell into his hands and the citizens were obliged to pay 80,000 florins in contributions to avoid being pillaged.
Shortly before the capture of Mainz, the Landgrave of Hesse Cassel captured Falkenstein, Reifenberg, and the fortress of Königstein. With these captures, the Swedish king sent his secret writer, Schwalenberg, to Reifenberg. After the loss of Mainz, the Imperial forces, primarily Spanish, continued to experience problems along the Rhine and finally abandoned the region. It is at this time that the Rhinegrave, Otto Louis, one of the Gustavus's generals, defeated nine Spanish squadrons who were on their march to Frankenthal. This victory made him master of the most important towns along the Rhine - from Boppart to Bacharach. In rebuilding and rearming his forces in preparation for his 1632 campaign, Gustavus Adolphus sought many recruits to fill his forces which stripped many towns in the region of their young men as well as demanding contributions of forage and supplies for his forces. These actions would have also influenced Reifenberg.
Later in 1644, Reifenberg was occupied by Hans Schweikhard of the Waeller (Westerwaelder) side of the family. In the following year, the Imperial troops took the village driving out Philipp Ludwig von Reifenberg who only regained his lands with the Peace of Westphalia in 1652. The castle of Reifenberg was severely damaged in 1646 and was finally razed in 1689. Philipp Ludwig’s father-in-law, the Marquis de Villeneuve, begins the French influence in the region.

The ascent of Schmitten as the lead village in the region, overtaking Reifenberg, begins after the Thirty Years War. Prior to the war, the village was just a smithy called Hattstein. The war left the smithy and nearby castle abandoned and totally destroyed. In 1654, Philipp Ludwig von Reifenberg arranged an inventory that determined that the forging master Humbert re-establish a smithy at the present location of the Schmittener Pharmacy. Humbert, who can be found referenced in the church book as Himbergeroder Himberg, must have been a Frenchman. Graf Reifenberg had several Frenchmen documented in his service in the region including Jean Rosay in Schmitten and Batholome Estienne in 1675 in Arnoldshain.

With the 1686 death of Philipp Ludwig von Reifenberg, the Reifenberger (Witterauer line) expired. The Waeller (Westerwaelder) line had already died out in 1665. A relative of the family, Lothar Franz of Bassenheim took possession and built the Bassenheimer Schloss in the village of Oberreifenberg.