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The history of the Bentheim-Tecklenburg family
Only a few people still know today that the lordship of Rheda and the county of Hohenlimburg on the river Lenne with the fortress Hohenlimburg were once an independent state. The history of this region of Westphalia was closely linked over centuries to the house of Bentheim-Tecklenburg. The counts and later princes zu Bentheim-Tecklenburg were sovereign rulers in the Holy Roman Empire.  Through the centuries, the castles in Rheda and Hohenlimburg were alternatively used as the main and secondary family seat, from which they ruled. Since 1988 the princely family live, the present being the 24th generation, once again in Rheda castle. Fürst Moritz-Casimir and Fürstin Sissi, né Gräfin von Hardenberg, have greatly contributed to the cultural and economic development of their inheritance. Erbprinz Maximilian zu Bentheim-Tecklenburg and his wife Marissa, né Fortescue granddaughter of the late Earl Fortescue, lead the historic houses and the administration of the princely estates into the new millennium. The wealth of history of the small principality and the future of the princely house of Bentheim-Tecklenburg is described in this small-illustrated pamphlet.


History of the castle and the county of Rheda

The first Lord of Rheda was recorded by the name of Everwin who went down in the annals of history as governor of the monastery of Freckenhorst in 1142. His son Widukind is remembered as the founder in 1185 of the Cistercian monastery of Marienfeld. Through his family connections to the powerful Graf von Werl, who ruled over great expanses of northwest Germany and who was related many times over to the ruling houses of Germany, he built up an influential position at the court of Herzog Heinrich the Lion. Widukind had estates in Rheda, as well as governing and legal rights that he partly donated to the Cistercian monastery of Marienfeld. He died childless in 1195 at the battle of Acre while on a crusade in the Holy Land. His comrade in arms, Bernhard II zur Lippe (circa 1140-1224) , inherited the lordship of Rheda. In 1196 Bernhard laid down his arms and took up a career in the church. He became abbot of Marienfeld and later bishop of Semgallen in Latvia. The eldest of his numerous sons, Hermann II (died 1229), inherited the lordship and extended the castle making it the main ruling seat of the Lippe family. The imposing two-storey chapel in the tower of the castle contains the oldest example of the rose of the Lippe coat of arms that dates from the time of Hermann II reign. Seven generations of the lords of Lippe ruled over the Rheda territory. The Lippe rule ended in 1365 with the death of Bernhard V zur Lippe, who handed over Rheda to his eldest daughter Adelheid, whose inheritance through her marriage with Graf Otto V came the house of Tecklenburg. The last descendant of the Tecklenburg counts Konrad (1493-1557) took a stand in the religious issues of his time. As a convinced Protestant and firm believer, he established the Lutheran teaching in the lordship of Rheda.


The history of the fortress and county of Hohenlimburg

Hohenlimburg lies in the southern part of Westphalia on the border of the Sauerland, about 100 km away from Rheda. The history of Hohenlimburg begins with the assassination of the archbishop Engelbert von Berg from Cologne by Graf Friedrich von Isenberg.  Around 1240 his son Dietrich extended the fortress further as a result of his feud concerning his lost inheritance from his respected father. With the help of his uncle, the Herzog von Limburg, Dietrich acquired for himself a small part of his father’s inheritance. The Grafen von Isenberg-Limburg ruled from Schloss Hohenlimburg until the family line came to an end in 1511. The Grafen von Neuenahr inherited the fortress, which was enlarged to accommodate the needs of the new owners. In 1560 Graf Hermann von Neuenahr introduced the reformation of the county of Limburg. He supported the archbishop of Cologne, Gebhard Truchseß von Waldenburg, who converted to Protestantism in 1582. Gebhard’s successor as archbishop of Cologne, Ernst von Bayern became the bitter opponent of the Graf Hermann von Neuenahr. The childless successor of Hermann, Graf Adolf von Neuenahr, had to endure the siege and occupation of Hohenlimburg by troops from Cologne, which continued for a period after his death.


Graf Arnold unites the Bentheim territories

At the close of the 16th century, Graf Arnold von Bentheim united Hohenlimburg and Rheda. The rights to the county of Limburg with the fortress Hohenlimburg were inherited by Arnold in 1573 from his brother-in-law Adolf, the last Graf von Neuenahr. Rheda belonged to the Tecklenburg heir, which Arnold’s mother, the Gräfin Anna von Tecklenburg (1528-1582) in 1553 through her marriage to Graf Everwin III von Bentheim (1536-1562) brought into the family. As one of the most important sovereigns of the Holy Roman Empire, Graf Arnold ruled over the counties of Bentheim, Tecklenburg, Steinfurt, Gronau and Limburg, as well as the lordship of Rheda. He handled with great responsibility his important inheritance. Through founding schools, he supported science and education in particular. Graf Arnold was the first ruler in Westphalia who at an early stage banned witch-hunting.


The counts of Bentheim-Tecklenburg

In the same enlightened spirit, the successors of Graf Arnold ruled the Bentheim territories. The eldest son Adolf maintained Tecklenburg and Rheda. In 1618 he received the county of Limburg with Hohenlimburg from his younger brother Konrad-Gumprecht who died early. Therewith the base of the house of Bentheim -Tecklenburg was established. In the story of the Tecklenburg family branch, there were many decisive losses.  During the turmoil of the Thirty Years War, the six-year-old Graf Moritz had to accept the siege and occupation of Hohenlimburg by the commander Lothar Dietrich von Bönninghausen in 1633. The house of Bentheim-Tecklenburg also suffered earlier than other rulers from increasing power of Prussia. The occupation of the county of Tecklenburg by the then most important military power forced Graf Moritz-Casimir I in 1729 to agree to a settlement to the long-standing inheritance quarrel that had started in 1577. Because of the loss of the count’s residence in Tecklenburg, the court transferred to Hohenlimburg. The fortress was correspondingly expanded and built up for its representative use as the count’s court. At the start of the Seven Years War, Schloss Rheda was extended to a residence. A representative Baroque wing (1745-56) and a small court theatre (1780) were built. An important collection of musical manuscripts with original handwriting was put together, which were performed by the court orchestra.


Economic advantages

A serious loss of political power occurred as a result of the occupation of Westphalia by the Napoleonic army. In 1808, the lordship of Rheda and the county of Limburg was annexed to the Großherzogtum Berg (capital: Düsseldorf), a creation of Napoleon’s. After the collapse of the Napoleonic rule, Graf Emil Friedrich was not regiven his ruling rights. Rheda and Limburg were firstly put under the Prussian administration and then in 1815 once and for all made part of Prussia. This year was not only disadvantageous for the house of Bentheim-Tecklenburg, as the secularisation (= the secularisation of church property) meant the secular possessions of the monasteries and religious foundations went over to the rulers and his house. Moritz-Casimir II abolished the monasteries of Herzebrock and Clarholz in the lordship of Rheda in 1803. The home for gentlewomen run by nuns at Elsey near Hohenlimburg was secularised by Emil Friedrich according to the Großherzog Berg laws. Therewith ended centuries of conflicts of interest with the monasteries and their representatives in medieval politics, which until now has restricted the decision-making of the ruler.


The mediatized prince’s rights and duties

The house of Bentheim-Tecklenburg kept important sovereign functions from the sovereign ruler. Among them was the jurisdiction in the first hearing of a court case, local police, church and school supervision. On 20th July 1817, King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia elevated Graf Emil Friedrich zu Bentheim-Tecklenburg to the hereditary princely rank of Prussia. The house of Bentheim-Tecklenburg kept its regional rooting and responsibility for the welfare of the population. Fürst Moritz-Casimir I (1795-1872) recognised the building up of the rail network in Germany as key for regional development. He used his good connections with the royal court in Potsdam for the re-laying of the originally otherwise planned train route from the industrial Ruhr area to Berlin via Rheda. In the interest of the Rheda people and the local economic development, Fürst Moritz-Casimir put the property that was required for the building of the railway at the Prussian administration’s disposal. His wife Fürstin Agnes (1804-1866) played an active role in public good works. She started a religious foundation with the first hospital and nursery school in Rheda. Their successors continued to devote themselves public activities for the local population and made this their role in society. In 1872 Franz (1800-1885) succeeded as the third Fürst, to be followed by his nephew Fürst Gustav (1849-1909), who married Thekla von Rothenberg (1862-1941) in 1888.


A new age begins

As the only child of this marriage, Erbprinz Adolf (1889-1967) succeeded his father as the fifth Fürst. The Fürst saw the world of the Belle Époque of his youth go up in ashes. As a lieutenant of the Imperial Guards regiment, he fought in the First World War on the Russian front where he was taken prisoner by the Red Army. He managed to escape with great bravery. The majority of the princely privileges ended with the abolition of the monarchy in 1918. Nevertheless the sense of duty in the region and the local roots have remained. The period of the rebuilding of Germany after the Second World War brought new challenges to the family. Through the provision of settlement areas for the refugees from East Germany, Fürst Adolf encouraged the first growth in population in the then district of Wiedenbrück. The Fürst personally participated in the rebuilding of Germany through his co-founding of the furniture company COR. Fürstin Amelie (1902-1995) received the highest national decoration for service (“Bundesverdienstkreuz”) and the honorary decoration (“Ehrenabzeichen”) of the German Red Cross for her involvement with this charitable organisation.


Prinz Moritz-Casimir, who since the fatal accident of his father in 1967 is the sixth Fürst zu Bentheim-Tecklenburg, has followed in the footsteps of his parents. His main concern is the upkeep of the princely patronage in the church parishes in the districts of Iserlohn and Gütersloh. His full name makes clear the rooting of the house in tradition: Moritz-Casimir Widukind Gumprecht Fürst zu Bentheim-Tecklenburg, Graf zu Tecklenburg und Limburg, Herr zu Rheda, Wevelinghoven, Hoya, Alpen und Helpenstein, Erbvogt von Köln. The hereditary title is: Durchlaucht (His Serene Highness). Fürst Moritz-Casimir has been married to Gräfin Huberta von Hardenberg (born 1932), called Sissi, since 1958. The Fürstin was born in South Africa and was brought up as a diplomat’s daughter by her uncle Heinrich Graf von Hardenberg. She has played an active part in issues concerning the environment and protection of historic monuments. With her self-educated knowledge of the subject, the Fürstin has worked with Fürst Moritz-Casimir on the Rheda archive, written about the history of the princely house, assisted research projects and thereby laid down the basis of research on the house of Bentheim-Tecklenburg. The Fürstin was awarded the first assigned prize by the German foundation of the protection of historic houses for the careful restoration of the interior of Schloss Rheda. The musical tradition relived with the concert performances on historical original instruments played by pioneers of this musical interpretative direction. One further interest of the Fürstin is the support of fine art. She currently runs an art gallery, Galerie unter den Linden, in her new retirement home in Herzebrock, where she moved in 2001 with Fürst Moritz-Casimir.


The present

After the tragic fatal accident of his eldest brother Prinz Christoph (1966-1987), Erbprinz Maximilian (born 1969), the youngest of three brothers, has been in charge of the princely administration since 1999. The Erbprinz, who as an undergraduate at the university of Cambridge and post-graduate at the London School of Economics specialised in economics and with the secondary subject of art history, is devoted along with his wife Marissa to furthering the access to the public of the princely inheritance. As a graduate in theology from Oxford university and a post-graduate in art history at the Courtauld Institute in London, the Erbprinzessin, né Fortescue and granddaughter of the late Earl Fortescue, actively supports the reorganisation of the princely castles and gardens. Gardens are for the princely couple especially important. Together with local interest representatives, they have undertaken to restore monastery gardens in Clarholz and Herzebrock with local government support. The baroque terrace garden of the fortress Hohenlimburg has already been partly restored. Schloss Rheda is also being developed for the public benefit. In the Gartenhaus in the castle gardens, the Erbprinzessin has opened a café in which products she has chosen are for sale. At weekends, the general public and tourists can enjoy the beautiful view of the castle garden while sitting in the café. Tours of the castle and grounds without prior booking have also been recently introduced. In 2001 the Berlin Barocksolisten gave their first concert at Schloss Rheda on the occasion of the publication of a CD by EMI Classics with pieces by Telemann from the princely archive. The Erbprinz takes his responsibility of the upkeep of the listed buildings very seriously. Through the restoration of the Wesser renaissance façade of Schloss Rheda in 2001, the important building was protected and once more was made attractive for the public. The princely administration has a staff of workmen who are responsible for the regular repairs incurred, restoration and redevelopment work of the buildings. The Erbprinz finances through private means the high expense of the sustained maintenance and preservation of his historical inheritance. An efficient property administration and forestry in Rheda and Hohenlimburg support the cultural activities of the princely family. The visitors of the castle areas enjoy the results of private initiative of the princely house, which over centuries has been committed to a tradition of public interest.


The Rheda castle

The castles buildings should only be briefly dealt with here. Franz Mühlen has already produced in his booklet “Schloss and Residenz Rheda” a detailed account. Interested groups are taken on guided tours through the staterooms of the Schloss, the castle chapel and the stables. With the careful opening to the public of the castle area, the princely family has developed a wider access to the general public of their regional history. Starting by walking along the old “Steinweg” cobbled road, one reaches the bridge over the Ems river , sees on the left the oil mill and the grain mill (1722), goes by a gateway between the old castle guard-house (1780) and the comedy theatre (1780) and finds oneself in the lower courtyard of the castle.  In the buildings adjacent to the comedy theatre are situated the stables with a coach shed (1760/rebuilt 1834) and further farm buildings (1732) which are placed along the Ems river. Through the tower gate dated 1719, one reaches the large inner courtyard of the main fortress. The powerful Romanesque gate tower is situated on the west side, with the important double chapel. On the east side of the castle area is a domestic tower of the 14th century. Both towers are linked by the development of the only defensive walls followed by the Renaissance wing with a gallery (1612) and the sober Baroque wing (1745-56). The main highlights of the castle in terms of its architectural history are the chapel tower whose precise function is still subject to academic debate, the baroque wing with its exceptional panoramic wallpapers and the renaissance wing that is partly a museum. The picturesque Orangerie (Conservatory) in the castle gardens is on loan to the town of Rheda-Wiedenbrück and used for cultural activities. 


The fortress Hohenlimburg

 The museum Hohenlimburg is open to the public. The fortress lies high over the Lenne valley and is surrounded by the princely pinewoods. At the end of a winding approach, the visitor comes to a gate by way of a cobbled walk through the baroque entrance to the castle’s lower courtyard. Going past a coach shed (18th century), one passes through the gate of the “Nassauer Schlösschen” (14th century) up to the lower courtyard with timber frame buildings (18th century) and the castle restaurant. Through the upper gate (13th century), the castle visitors reaches the fortress’s inner courtyard, with its walkway along the battlements (13th century) on the upper ring walls, the tower (13th century), the main buildings and the hall (13th, 16th and 18th century) and the steward’s house (18th century).  The main features for visitors to the castle of Hohenlimburg are the black hand of a naughty young nobleman, which is exhibited in the castle, the princely hall and “Deutsche Kaltwalzmuseum”.



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