County of Wernigerode

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County of Wernigerode
Grafschaft Wernigerode
State of the Holy Roman Empire
Duchy of Saxony
1121–1429 County of Stolberg

Coat of arms

Capital Wernigerode
Government County
Historical era Middle Ages
 •  Established 1121
 •  Vassals of Brandenburg 1268
 •  Vassals of Magdeburg 1381
 •  Inherited by Stolberg 1429
 •  Division into
31 May 1645

The County of Wernigerode (German: Grafschaft Wernigerode) was a county of the Holy Roman Empire, located in the Harzgau region of the former Duchy of Saxony, at the northern foot of the Harz mountain range. Its capital was Wernigerode, now in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It was ruled by a branch of the House of Stolberg from 1429 until its mediatization to the Kingdom of Prussia in 1806.


Wernigerode Castle, rebuilt in the 19th century

The territory belonged to the counts of Wernigerode who established themselves as relatively independent, aristocratic rulers in the North Harz, between the River Oker and the glacial valley of the Großes Bruch, for more than two centuries from the High Middle Ages. Their male line finally died out in 1429.

The body of source material gives no indication why, in the early 12th century Count Adalbert, who originated from Haimar near Hildesheim, who was mentioned for the first time in 1103 and who is named in 1117 as comes Adelbertus de villa Heymbere (Count Adalbert of the town of Heymbere), appears on just one occasion as Adelbertus comes de Wernigerode (Adalbert, Count of Wernigerode), where he is one of the witnesses (Zeugenreihe) to a document by Bishop Reynard of Halberstadt on 18 October 1121.

Threatened by the neighbouring Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, the counts of Wernigerode lost their imperial immediacy as early as 1268, when they chose to become vassals of the Ascanian margraves of Brandenburg and, subsequently, of the archbishops of Magdeburg in 1381. Nevertheless, the county remained in existence - with one short interruption - until the dissolution of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1918.

The counts of Wernigerode remained in possession of important property in the region between Hildesheim, Burgdorf and the Steinwedel Forest until the end of the 14th century. The extent of those estates has led to conjecture that the comital estate at the foot of the Harz in Wernigerode was even greater and more valuable still, encouraging the counts to abandon their old seat in Haimar and settle here.

Nevertheless, estimates of the size and wealth of the comital estate are always hampered by the difficulty of being able to compare it with any suitable benchmark or population figures. Consequently, it is also probable, that the centres of power of Wernigerode and Haimar existed alongside one another. Also the family seat of Wernigerode was located in the middle of imperial lands,[1] and according to the preface of the Sachsenspiegel the counts of Wernigerode were born in Swabia.[2] Since the Salian emperor, Henry IV, preferred to employ mainly free knights and ministeriales from Swabia as part of his "Saxon policy" (Sachsenpolitik), a delegation of former vassals of his noble family appearing on the northern edge of the Harz seems to make sense.[3] Furthermore the counts of Wernigerode owned the Steinberg near Goslar, demonstrably an imperial estate (Reichsgut), on the spur of which Emperor Henry IV had tasked Otto of Northeim. later his fiercest rival, to construct a castle. In understanding the background to the conflict between the emperor and Otto of Northeim and the political superiority of the pro-imperial nobility at the Harz after his death in 1083, it should be noted that there was a legal succession awarded to Count Adalbert I or to one of his ancestors, achieved by the allocation of estates, at the instigation of Henry IV.[4]

The first recorded mention of a count of Wernigerode in 1121 is also the first record of the clearing settlement of Wernigerode, whose beginnings, however, date roughly to a century earlier. Wernigerode Castle is first mentioned in 1213 as a castrum and was the seat of power of the subsequent County of Wernigerode.

Count Henry of Wernigerode was the last male representative of this aristocratic family. He demanded from Archbishop Günther II of Magdeburg the fief of the castle and town of Wernigerode for himself and his two Stolberg cousins, Henry and Botho, which he secured on 30 June 1414. The Archbishop of Magdeburg had first taken over feudal lordship of the town and county of Wernigerode in 1381, after a protracted dispute with the counts of Wernigerode about their castle of Pabstorf.

Previously, the stem county (Stammgrafschaft) of Wernigerode had been a fief of the March of Brandenburg. The counts of Wernigerode had hoped that, by submitting themselves as vassals to the Ascanian margrave, they would receive greater protection of the castle and town of Wernigerode against the overpowering pressure from their neighbours, particularly from the Duke of Brunswick. However, their expectations were not fulfilled in the long run. That part of their county's territory acquired in 1343 from the counts of Regenstein was a fief of the Bishopric of Halberstadt and the Stolbergs were issued with separate deeds of enfeoffment specially for this large region until the transfer of Halberstadt to the Electorate of Brandenburg.

One of the heirs chosen by the last Wernigerode count, Count Henry of Stolberg, died young. As a result, in 1417 Count Henry of Wernigerode had the people of the county swear fealty to Count Botho of Stolberg as the future owner of the lordship of Wernigerode. Count Botho had the fortune to become the sole heir of the entire County of Stolberg in the South Harz at that same time. This made it necessary, however, for him to establish his permanent seat of power in Stolberg. This was a setback for the further development of Wernigerode because, after the death of Count Henry of Wernigerode in 1429, no count resided permanently in the town. The demise of Wernigerode was reinforced by the fact that Count Botho started in 1438, to pledge the castle and its associated lordship. It was a very lucrative fief that included the spiritual fiefdom of the Monastery of St. George and St. Sylvester at Wernigerode, the abbeys of Himmelpforten, Ilsenburg and Drübeck, and the villages of Drübeck, Reddeber, Langeln with its Teutonic Order, Wasserleben with its nunnery, and Veckenstedt with its important aristocratic seat (Adelshof). The lordship of Wernigerode was thus much more significant than that of the stem county of Stolberg which did not have a single monastery within its borders.

The actual county reduced in size during the 16th century to the comital district (gräfliche Amt) of Wernigerode that, for example, had the following tax receipts (Schoss) in 1543/44:

  • Wernigerode Altstadt - 100 marks
  • Wernigerode Neustadt - 13 marks, 16 pieces
  • Drübeck - 30.5 marks
  • Wasserleben - 21.5 marks
  • Langeln - 22 marks
  • Silstedt - 5 marks
  • Ilsenburg - 2 marks
  • Darlingerode - 3 marks
  • For the abandoned village of Steinbruch near Drübeck - 4 Vierdung
  • Inheritance tax from Wernigerode, Veckenstedt, Silstedt, Langeln, Wasserleben and the chapter of St. Sylvester and George at Wernigerode etc.

In toto the Amtmann of Wernigerode collected 5,120 guilders in 1543/44, compared with just 4,247 guelders the year before. Against that the expenditure for the district was 3,456 guelders, leaving a profit of 1,664 guelders. That was a considerable sum, if one considers that in that year a new minting workshop had been built for 50 guelders.

When the comital family became extinct in 1429, Wernigerode was inherited by the Thuringian counts of Stolberg south of the Harz. For more than 200 years, both territories were ruled in personal union by the Stolberg (from 1548: Stolberg-Stolberg) line, until in 1645 the dynasty again divided the dominion and split off the Stolberg-Wernigerode branch.


Counts of Wernigerode[edit]

  • (1103) 1121-1133 Albert I of Wernigerode
  • 1134-1165 Albert II of Wernigerode
  • 1173-1214 Albert III of Wernigerode
  • 1217-1252 Conrad I of Wernigerode
  • 1217-1269 Gebhard I of Wernigerode
  • 1217-1231 Burchard of Wernigerode
  • 1254-1293 Conrad II of Wernigerode (in 1268 Wernigerode became a fief of Brandenburg)
  • 1268-1319 Albert V of Wernigerode
  • 1297-1339 Conrad III of Wernigerode
  • 1325-1370 Conrad IV of Wernigerode
  • 1358-1407 Conrad V of Wernigerode
  • 1375-3 June 1429 Henry IV of Wernigerode
    • in 1417 there was an inheritance arrangement with the counts of Stolberg, who ruled the county from 1429

Counts of Stolberg[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Albrecht Heine, Grundzüge der Verfassungsgeschichte des Harzgaues im XII. und XIII. Jahrhundert. Diss. Göttingen 1903, p. 49 f.
  2. ^ Anselm Heinrichsen, Süddeutsche Adelsgeschlechter in Niedersachsen im 11. und 12. Jahrhundert, Niedersächsisches Jahrbuch für Landesgeschichte 26 (1954), p. 24-116, here 86 ff.
  3. ^ Heinrichsen, Süddeutsche Adelsgeschlechter, p. 86 ff.; Walther Grosse, Aus der Frühgeschichte der Grafschaft Wernigerode. Vom Ursprung der ersten Grafen von Wernigerode, Zeitschrift des Harzvereins für Geschichte und Alterthumskunde 68 (1935), p. 126-135.
  4. ^ Jan Habermann, Verbündete Vasallen: Die Netzwerke von Grafen und Herren am Nordwestharz im Spannungsgefüge zwischen rivalisierenden Fürstgewalten (ca. 1250-1400). Norderstedt 2011, p. 43.


  • Köbler, Gerhard (1988). Historisches Lexikon der deutschen Länder (in German). Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck. p. 639. ISBN 3-406-33290-0. 
  • Schwineköper, Berent (1987). Handbuch der historischen Stätten Deutschlands, Band 11, Provinz Sachsen/Anhalt (in German). Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag. p. 644. ISBN 3-520-31402-9. 
  • Christian Friedrich Kesslin: Nachrichten von Schriftstellern und Künstlern der Grafschaft Wernigerode vom Jahre 1074 bis 1855. Commissions-Verlag von Gebrüder Bänsch in Magdeburg 1856. XII, 312 pp.
  • Jan Habermann: Die Grafen von Wernigerode. Herrschaftsprofil, Wirkungsbereich und Königsnähe hochadliger Potentaten am Nordharz im späten Mittelalter. Norderstedt 2008 - ISBN 978-3-8370-2820-1
  • Jan Habermann: Die Herrschaftsausweitung der Grafen von Wernigerode am Nordharz (1249 - 1369) digitalised