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The Count of Windeck

Updated: Jan 4



(Poetic treatment by Montanus Vol. 1 p. 310ff.)[1]

Even today, the monumental ruins of the former counts’ castle Windeck[2] can be seen on rocky heights in the district of Waldbrühl, close to the village of Rosbach in the County of Berg - though in its final days, it became little more than the residence of an administrator.[3] The last of the old count’s lineage of Windeck who inhabited this castle was Count Konrad. After he had been absent for a long time while joining the crusade in the Holy Land that was preached for by St. Bernhard,[4] he spent his days in quietude in the castle of his ancestors. His spouse had died some time ago, and only a single daughter remained from this union - a very beautiful girl named Bertha.

He intended to marry her off to someone of equal rank, and then bequeath the castle, county, and name to his son-in-law. Then, thanks to the influence of his sister - who was the abbess of Rheindorf[5] - he suddenly changed his mind. He decided to dedicate his daughter to the Lord[6] and - since he had no one to continue his family name - bequeath his possessions to the above-mentioned monastery.

However, he had not taken the heart of his daughter into account with this plan, as it had already made another choice. A young knight from the region, who was named Heinrich von Waldenfels,[7] had once been a very welcome visitor to the Count. Seemingly encouraged by the Count in his courtship of the Count’s daughter, he secretly became engaged with her. But when he stepped before the father and asked for the hand of the young Countess, he was disdainfully rejected. Furthermore, he announced to the girl that she would have to move into the monastery with her aunt very soon so that she would learn to forget her love for the young knight in the solitude of its walls. But the knight still managed to convey to his lover that he would come in the very next night in order to abduct her and thus keep her from the monastery which she feared so much.

In this manner, he climbed on his steed when the Sun had gone down. But strangely, it seemed to shy away from some unknown thing when it was supposed to stride along the often-trodden path. It did not want to walk over the bridge which united the shores of the Sieg river where his castle was with the other side where Castle Windeck was standing. He had to pull it over by force. But on the other side, he tied it up at the foot of the castle hill and then hurried up, into the arms of his Bertha. Initially she seemed to refuse to follow him, but finally she let herself be talked into agreeing to his plan and followed him down into the valley. There, he put her on his steed and hurriedly started back on the way he had come.

But although no danger was visible, the maiden was unable to master her fears, and constantly pushed her lover to accelerate their ride. He did so, but the closer they came to the Sieg river, the more unruly did the normally tame horse become. And when they now heard hoofbeats and could no longer doubt that the old Count was pursuing them and thus utmost speed became a necessity, the horse reared just up when they had reached the bridge. It became so violent and wild that the knight did not dare pass the bridge, but turned left between the trees and raced over crevices and thickets into the middle of the forest, hoping to elude the pursuers in this way.

However, this unfortified path also showed the latter the trail of the refugees. They hurried after them, and while their horses were still full of strength, the horse of the Knight of Waldenfels became visibly exhausted. In this manner, he had reached a cliff beneath which the Sieg river was rushing onwards. He could go neither backwards nor to the side, and thus hoped to save himself[8] through a jump into the depths. And when the pursuers were already within sight, he spurred his steed and flew with it into the waves.

When the Count had arrived on the same rock where the bridal couple had just stood, he stared down into the depths and hoped that the steed and the two riders would surface again. But he waited in vain, and only at noon did his servants pull two rigid corpses to the shore.

In sorrow, the Count retreated to his castle, and died on the third day. And his sworn servants carried his shield and helmet before the throne of Emperor Frederick II, who was in Aachen at the time (1174).[9] The latter then bestowed the orphaned county as a fief to Count Engelbert I von Berg.

But even today, Count Conrad supposedly sneaks around in the ruins of Castle Windeck every night as a silver-curled ghost, before searching his children along the Sieg river until he finally throws himself off the same rock cliff. For unfortunately, this Knight of Waldenfels had been his son, which he had sired with his mother in sin. He had discovered the knight’s blossoming romance with his daughter too late, and had shied away from telling the truth to the two that they were siblings. Instead, he wished to separate them under the pretext of devoutness. But he had failed to do so even in death.

 

Footnotes:

[1] This refers to the first volume of Vincenz Jacob von Zuccalmaglio’s “Die Vorzeit der Länder Cleve-Mark, Jülich-Berg und Westphalen”, published in 1837. The relevant passage can be found here. An alternate prose version can be found in a revised edition published in 1871 by Wilhelm von Waldbrühl.

[2] The earliest documentary evidence for Windeck Castle can be traced back to 1170, though it is likely older. No records are known to exist of the time before the von Berg dynasty took it over - thus leaving ample room for legend.

[3] The German term was Amtmann - an official who was tasked by his lord to run and supervise the local fief. Though the Amtmann was often a noble, the fief he supervised was not his own, and he could not bequeath it to his descendants.

[4] Likely Bernard of Clairvaux, who first preached for the undertaking of the Second Crusade, and later on blamed its failure on the sins of the crusaders.

[5] The date of founding for Graurheindorf Monastery is not known, and it was first mentioned in documents in 1230. It housed Cistercian nuns, and was dissolved in 1802 during the French occupation from 1798-1814.

[6] I.e. make her a nun.

[7] The identity of this “Heinrich von Waldenfels” is just as much of a mystery as that of the “Counts of Windeck”. There is a noble dynasty named “Waldenfels”, but its home was distant Franconia, not the Sieg river valley. There is a town named “Waldbröl about 10 km north of Windeck, but that doesn’t fit the narrative of the tale - the knight clearly had to cross the Sieg river to get to Windeck and back again, yet Windeck Castle is on the north side of the river as well.

[8] And hopefully saving his fiancée as well, I presume. With the survival of the horse being a bonus.

[9] Which was no small feat, considering that Emperor Frederick II was only born in 1190. In 1174, the emperor was Frederick I Barbarossa, who indeed gave the castle as a fief to Engelbert I, Count of Berg.

 

Commentary:

Poor communication kills, as is shown here. The reveal at the end explains why the Count was so adamantly opposed to the union, but this does not excuse his actions. He tried to cover up his sin by sending his daughter out of reach of her suitor, but only ended up causing the extinction of his line. And the knight, afraid of his life, recklessly endangered both himself and his fiancée during his wild flight - not knowing that he was fleeing from his own father.

And this revelation also explains the behavior of the horse. While it did not truly understand what was going on, in some way it sensed the wrongness of these events that the young knight and his lover did not. Alas, it was all for naught, and presumably it drowned in the river like its riders.

 

This is a translation of a German folktale contributed by Jürgen Hubert.

It is a part of our series, Folklore Worldwide. We are currently open to submissions from around the world, and you are welcome to send us your stories!

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