History Files


Central Europe

Giso Counts and Castle Hollende at Treisbach (Hesse)

translated and expanded from the original German text by Trish Wilson, 31 May 2015

The Gissones of Hessen
Part 1: The Gisones
Part 2: Giso I
Part 3: Giso II
Part 4: Giso III
Part 5: Giso IV
Part 6: Giso V

Author's Note: This feature is a direct translation of the German-language document entitled Grafengeschlect der Gisonen and die Burg Hollende bei Treisbach, by Kai-Hubert Weiss (KHW). While the translation is accurate, efforts have been made to correct any mistakes by the original author. Reasoning for such corrections has been provided, and extra information has been added where possible.

Following his election in AD 919 in Fritzlar, the first duke of Saxony to become king ascended the German throne. He took the title Heinrich I [Henry the Fowler], just 115 years after the Saxon Wars during which Charlemagne had forced the submission and conversion of the Saxon tribes.

Heinrich's son, Otto I the Great (936-973), succeeded his father onto the throne. His political goal, however, to curtail the wealth and power of his dukes and strengthen his own position led to considerable resistance. Even Duke Eberhard of Franconia, of the House of Conradine and lord of the Hesse region, rose up in revolt against him. In 939, near Andernach, he was attacked by those who were loyal to the king [Udo IV of the Wetterau and his nephew Conrad of Niederlahngau, both Hesse lands] and was killed, bringing the duchy to an end.

After that the last of the Conradines lost their counties (earldoms) and were replaced by royal administrators or official/quasi counts. This explains why in Hesse up to around AD 1000 there are no such dynastic records to hand.

It is not until 1008 that there is any mention of a Giso in 'Amena' in the county of Count Giso (in Comitatu Gisonis comitis). Likewise it is not until 1018 that a Count Richmund of Leidenhofen is mentioned, and in 1065 a Count Werner in Homberg appears, this latter actually being Werner III Count of Lower Hessen and Middle Lahn. So much is guesswork and one of those guesses takes us to the locality of Wetter.

According to long tradition, King Heinrich II and his consort, Kundigunde of Luxembourg, founded in 1016 (or 1015?) the monastery of the Virgin (Mary) within the royal court of Wetter which they endowed generously with royal estates. These included for the monastery's usage all the lands within the locality, the Wollenberg, and the western section of the Burgwald (Henseling ORO 25ff).

In the matter of ecclesiastical foundations royal or imperial founders appointed a vogt to act on behalf of their interests, to be in charge of worldly (secular) matters, and to be responsible for the military protection of said foundation and its territory. [4]

Der Vogt was in fact the official representative of a king or emperor, someone who himself also became a feudal overlord and, in medieval Germany, had to have the status of graf.

In the case of the Gisones they had more than one vogtei. As it was, when it came to ecclesiastical institutions the vogt had a very important role to play in secular matters, everything from representing his charge in the royal court to providing the necessary military assistance. [5]

Perhaps a better translation would be 'reeve', or more properly high-reeve, a title given to certain magnates in tenth and eleventh century England (from the Old English hēahgerēfa). Following the Norman conquest they became the shire-reeve (sheriff). A similar use can be found in Low Saxon (Germany) in hogref, a title taken by medieval judges in areas such as Westfalen (Westphalia) and Nieder-Sachsen (Lower Saxony). It is even possible that the term 'graf' derives from Old German given the Saxon word, 'gräfe', the equivalent of the Old English 'gerefa'.

That the Giso counts can be considered vögte of this monastery in Wetter is without dispute. They already had their family seat at Hollende which was already built before the first Giso is named (or at least mentioned in any surviving records), which at the same time was an imperial possession and consequently means that it was an imperial fief which was transferred to the Gisones. Further evidence for the legal status of Hollende can be found in the Burgenregal des Reiches (the imperial rule or law which applied to castles) of the eleventh century, a sovereign right which affected all fortifications. Thereafter they could only be allocated a fief not an actual family possession such as an allöd (a non-feudal possession which was directly owned).

So what has all of this to with Giso I? Namely that he became the vogt for the aforementioned monastery from 1015 onwards, which couldn't have happened if he'd been a complete nobody, particularly given the necessity to provide military protection.

The origins of the Giso dynasty are unknown. Diefenbach (?) suspects that they were not a hitherto local power in Hessengau but outsiders from the valley of the Ohm (a tributary of the Lahn), rather than from Lower Hessen. He demonstrates this through the close contact between Count Giso and Count Werner of Lower Hessen who together appear in documents covering decades and were close advisers and loyal followers of the Salian Emperors (Heinrich III-Heinrich V).

As it is, the existence of a county (effectively an earldom) of Giso has yet to be properly established. Prevailing opinion cannot accept that it existed owing to the lack of places which were designated as belonging to the county (earldom) of Giso. Furthermore, even official acts relating to the county are not on record (Diefenbach 115f). (This could mean one of two things - either they never existed or they are no longer extant.)

So where did the title of Count come from?

In the matter of classifying the Gisones it rests for the moment on the presumption of whether they were official or quasi-counts, given the lack of extensive family estates or allodial title. The view taken, given their close connection to the royal house, is that they only operated within the imperial service. At the same time they had acquired considerable property and disposed of the rights of others to their land which to their mind (perhaps?) allowed them to adopt a title whether official or not. The political and strategic importance of their domain is difficult to assess but at the same time their bailiwick (domain?) was worth a great deal which, owing to the social mores of the time, put them in a prominent position.

There are also problems in the matter of relationships with other governing county dynasties, as will be demonstrated below, matters that cannot be proven easily.

The Giso dynasty, a family chronicle

Research into families - genealogy - is concerned with the finding and recording of families and family connections. One can try to obtain important information by checking out the family name in parish (ecclesiastical) or civil (registry office) registers, checking out the dates of birth (or baptism in ecclesiastical records), marriages, and deaths (or sometimes funeral dates in ecclesiastical records), and through such data establish or try to establish genealogies and pedigrees so that family or clan extension and inheritance can be explained.

This is a far from being a simple matter when it comes to the Middle Ages. Family names (surnames) were unknown and so often it is only the Christian (first) names which are recorded when it comes to the desired information.

[4] The key word here is 'Der Vogt', meaning 'bailiff', in this context somebody appointed to keep an eye on things. As for its sister noun, 'Die Vogtei', this has been translated here as 'bailiwick', an antiquated term but one which is still in use today. For instance, in officially terms it's not the 'Islands of Jersey and Guernsey' but the 'Bailiwick of Jersey/Guernsey'.

[5] The word 'vogt' is similar to the Dutch 'voogd', Swedish 'fogde', Danish 'foged', and Polish 'wojt', originating in the Latin '(ad)vocatus' and from 'die vogtei', referring to the territory of responsibility for the vogt, from the Latin '(ad)vocatia'.


Main Sources

Meiborg, Christa - Die Hollende bei Wetter (Hessen)-Warzenbach. Führungsblatt zu der Burg der Grafen Giso im Kreis Marburg-Biedenkopf, Archäologische Denkmäler in Hessen, Heft 157, Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Hessen, Wiesbaden, 2003

Weiss, Kai-Hubert - Grafengeschlect der Gisonen and die Burg Hollende bei Treisbach

Dietrich, Christoph von Rommel - Geschichte von Hessen, Volume 1

Weller, Tobias - Die Heiratspolitik des deutschen Hochadels im 12. Jarhundert

Wencks, Helfrich Bernhard - Hessische Landesgescichte, Volume 3

Schmidt, Johannes Ernst Chistroph - Geschichte des Grossherzogthums Hessen

Verlag, Vittorio Klostermann - Hessen und das Stammesherzogtum Sachsen

Internet Sources

Dt.wiki - Die Gisonen

www.hoeckmann.de - Geschichte der Landgraftschaft Hessen, Kassel Teil 1

www.myheritage.com - Giso von Gudensberg



This new translation and expansion of Grafengeschlect der Gisonen and die Burg Hollende bei Treisbach by Kai-Hubert Weiss copyright © Trish Wilson. An original feature for the History Files.