The Książ Castle, Wałbrzych
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The medieval castle of the dukes of Świdnica, subsequently incorporated into the newly-built, monumental Baroque residence of the von Hochberg noble family, standing tall on the summit of a large hill towering above the village of Książ, currently within the administrative boundaries of the city of Wałbrzych.

History and description

Researchers now believe that the Książ (Fürstenberg) Castle was first erected in years 1288 - 1291 by duke Bolko I, replacing an earlier earthen and wooden hillfort that had once stood on the same spot. The high castle was a stone structure designed on an elongated, irregular plan and surrounded by a dry moat that was hewn out of the solid rock below. The main sections of the castle were the quadrangular keep and the gatehouse. South of the high castle stood the lower castle, equipped with its own system of fortifications. The medieval complex has subsequently been incorporated into the new, Baroque residence, occupying the central part thereof.

The Książ Castle is currently located within the administrative boundaries of the city of Wałbrzych, perched on a tall hill that stands within the Pełczyca river meander. On the other side of the river there is another hill upon which rise the ruins of another medieval castle known as the Old Castle or Old Książ. Researchers believe that the Old Książ Castle was originally built back in the 13th century or perhaps in the early 14th century. The current theory is that the castle was erected at the initiative of Bolko I the Stern, the duke of Świdnica and Jawor, member of the Piast royal family; however, this hypothesis requires further research to prove its veracity. Today, the Old Książ Castle is in a state of ruin, its appearance very much in keeping with the aesthetic ideals of Romanticism. Much like the old castle, the existing Książ Castle also has Gothic roots, yet neither its beginnings nor the mutual relations between the two medieval castles have been convincingly explained thus far. The original castle complex was subsequently extended by Bolko II the Small, the grandson of Bolko I, born in 1309 or 1312). After he died without a heir in 1368, the Książ Castle, along with the entire duchy of Świdnica and Jawor, was inherited by his widowed wife, Agnieszka Habsburg. Later on, in 1392, the castle - part of the dowry of the niece of duke Bolko II - was incorporated into the Bohemian Crown, becoming the seat of the local aldermen. During the 120 years that followed, the castle changed hands on numerous occasions. In 1410, it was purchased by the local alderman (starosta) from the crown and then sold to John the Younger. During the Hussite Wars, the castle was ransacked and partially destroyed. From 1445 onwards, the building was the property of Hermann von Czettritz. In 1463, the castle was taken over by George of Poděbrady, the king of Bohemia. During the years that followed, the Schellendorf brothers are known to have held the castle as tenants. However, their rather unsettled, tempestuous lifestyle has ultimately prompted Matthias Corvinus - the king of Bohemia and Hungary - to intervene, sending the forces led by Jerzy von Stein and composed of troops from both Hungary and Wrocław to take over the castle. Having succeeded in doing so, von Stein became the local alderman, ruling over the castle for almost a quarter of a century and commissioning numerous extension and alteration works in the process. As a result, in the years 1483-1490, a number of changes were made, including the addition of the southern wing also known as “Matthias’ Wing”. Following the demise of king Corvinus, in the years 1491-1497 the Książ Castle remained in the hands of Vladislaus II of Hungary, member of the Jagiellon royal family, who later sold it to Jan von Scheilenberg. His son, Jerzy, entered into an exchange transaction with Piotr Haugwitz in 1503, swapping the Książ Castle for another castle located in Głubczyce. In 1509, the Książ Castle was sold to Konrad I von Hoberg.

Year 1509 is now considered to be the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the Książ Castle. The Hoberg noble family - which has later changed their name to Hochberg in 1714 - was one of the most influential and wealthiest families in Silesia. Having turned the Książ Castle into their family residence, they have been watching over it for 430 years, right until 1941. Konrad von Hoberg, the erstwhile administrator of the duchy of Świdnica which formed part of the Kingdom of Bohemia at the time, purchased a package of pledged crown lands consisting of Rogowiec, Radosno, Świebodzice, Boguszów as well as the Książ Castle along with the surrounding demesne. Konrad’s successors have tended to the family estate, expanding is as time went by as well as securing various important positions and honorary titles. The castle - originally very much a typical Gothic edifice - is believed to have gone through its first redesign in years 1548-1555, during the times of Konrad II. Later on, in 1605, Konrad III von Hoberg purchased all rights to the demesne by paying off his feudal obligations. Emperor Rudolf II confirmed the purchase of the Książ Castle as a freehold property of the Hoberg family. It was at that point that the imperial valuation committee prepared a detailed description of the castle. The main part of the so-called high castle was the medieval keep, with numerous residential buildings clinging to the old peripheral walls. Among them there was a house with a large drawing room and bedroom. The buildings surrounded an oval courtyard. In the so-called lower castle one could find the stables, the brewery, the forge and two bath houses. A French-style formal garden was located south of the castle. During the Thirty Years’ War (1618 - 1648), the castle was besieged, plundered and destroyed on numerous occasions. During those times, the castle remained in the hands of one of the most eminent representatives of the family - Jan Henryk I von Hoberg (1628-1669). A well-educated man, he also proved to be a skilled administrator who has managed to greatly expand his family fortune. In 1650, Jan Henryk I was granted the title of baron, followed by the title of count in 1666. Once the hostilities were over, the great reconstruction of the castle has begun; researchers believe that the process began in 1648 and was completed by 1655. It was at that point that the castle received its new, north-western wing. The outer fortifications were torn down and replaced by gardens. As a result, the former castle now became a representational residence. In 1683, Jan Henryk II von Hoberg (1669-1698) has managed to secure the hereditary title of Reichsgraf (Imperial count) for his family.

In 1705, Konrad Ernest Maksymilian von Hochberg (1705 - 1742) became the owner of the castle. It is to this cultivated and well-educated man that the family owes the change of its name from Hoberg to Hochberg. The transformation of the old family castle into a monumental, Baroque palace was likewise his initiative. The works were led by the architect Felix Antoni Hammerschmidt from Świdnica, who supervised numerous eminent artisans including the painter Feliks Scheffler, the stonemason Jan Szwibs, the sculptor J.G. Schenck, Ignacy Provisore - an expert in creating marble-like painted effects - as well as a man called Ramelli, who specialised in decorative plasterwork. A grand new wing, designed in the Baroque style, was added to the castle, its interiors including a number of notable rooms including the so-called Maximilian Hall, the Konrad Hall, a number of impressive drawing rooms (the White, Green, Chinese and Baroque drawing rooms), the Games Room as well as an imposing vestibule with great marble stairs. It is also during that period that a pair of residential outbuildings as well as the library building were built, the latter being flanked by two towers and incorporating the main gate which leads into the expansive cour d'honneur, thus forming a monumental complex of buildings which lead up to the castle itself. In the vicinity of the castle, a summer pavilion was erected on a mound known as Topolowe Wzgórze (Poplar Hill); later on, this building was converted into a family mausoleum. Later on, the library building was extended by Konrad Ernest, who also created a cabinet of curiosities where he collected various natural objects, valuable coins, works of art and antiques. The castle archives were likewise extended at his initiative. During the alteration works, what remained of the old, medieval castle harking back to the Piast era has largely been left intact. Konrad Ernest’s successor, Jan Henryk V von Hochberg (1764 -1782) converted the demesne into a fee tail estate (known as ordynacja in Polish) in order to prevent the land from being split up between different heirs; this was later confirmed in a royal charter dated 1772. The fee tail estate status resulted in a prohibition on dividing the estate, all of which would be inherited by the eldest son. As the 18th century was drawing to a close, the period of Romanticism has begun. Jan Henryk VI von Hochberg (1789 -1833) has decided to introduce some alterations of his own, following the principles of the style that was in vogue at the time. In addition, the remains of the Old Książ Castle on the other side of the Pełczyna river were rearranged in the same fashion, becoming a typical Romanticised ruin. In some of the surviving vaulted rooms, various family heirlooms were displayed. The tower rising above the chapel served as an observation deck. In addition, a tavern was erected right next to the ruins. The ruins remained a well-known local attraction throughout the entire 19th century. The land surrounding the castle was also deemed fit for a redesign, with the Hessian architect and painter Christian Wilhelm Tischbein being commissioned to helm the project. Towards the end of the 18th century, Jan Henryk VI von Hochberg married Anna Anhaltkothen, a member of an old ducal family, thus elevating the prestige of the House of Hochberg even further. The advantageous marriage allowed the Hochberg family to inherit the Free State Country of Pszczyna (Freie Standesherrschaft Pleß), with Jan Henryk X (1833 -1855) attaining the von Pleß ducal title in 1846. After 1855, alteration works were performed on the castle grounds, including the extension of the library building which doubled as the lower gate. During the times of the second duke von Pleß, Jan Henryk XI (1855-1907), the collection amassed at the Książ library was considered to be one of the greatest private collections anywhere in Silesia. During those times, the castle gardens were converted into an expansive English-style park. In 1891, Jan Henryk XV travelled to London to marry Maria Theresa Cornwallis-West De La Warr, also known as princess Daisy, who was related to the English royal family. A few years later, the honorary titles and the immense wealth of the von Hochberg family came into the hands of Jan Henryk XV, who commenced yet another redesign of the castle in 1908. An immense south-western section, designed in the Renaissance Revival style, was built, consisting of two wings topped with cylindrical corner turrets. Researchers now believe that this section of the castle was designed by Humbert Walcher von Moltchein, an architect from Vienna. The main castle tower received a bulbous cupola with a roof lantern. The castle terraces were extended, while the area in the immediate vicinity of the castle was redesigned. In the nearby village of Lubiechów, the palm house (a winter garden) was erected. The older sections of the castle were refurbished, with the apartments of the princess receiving a new décor. At the turn of the 20th century, the von Hochberg family remained one of the pillars of German and European financial community, with the Książ Castle reaching the highest point in its history. The guests who were known to have stayed in its magnificent interiors included the Russian tsar Nicholas, the future president of the United States of America John Quincy Adams, king Frederick William III of Prussia as well as Winston Churchill. Later on, however, the changes which followed the Upper Silesia plebiscite, the economic downturn as well as the extravagant lifestyle of the family and the accompanying marriage crisis have led to the gradual decline of the Książ castle as the family fortunes have begun to wane. In 1922, Jan Henryk XV finally asked his wife Daisy for a divorce. Later on, he moved to France, with the Książ Castle remaining in the hands of the princess right until 1943.

Following the death of Henryk XV in 1938 in Paris, his eldest son, Jan Henryk XVII, inherited his father’s title. However, the family fortune and estate were in such dramatic condition at the time that during the early days of World War II, a German national trust was established over the property. Henryk XVII left the country to settle in England, adopting the British citizenship and subsequently taking part in the war effort against the Germans. This decision has led to the castle being confiscated by the Nazi government. Princess Daisy continued to live in one of the mansions that stood in the surrounding park right until her death in 1943. Following the nationalisation of the estate, all valuable books, works of art, furniture and other precious objects were confiscated and removed from the castle. The castle was then adapted to serve as the offices of the Wrocław Directorate for National Railways. It was also used as the storage space for the collections of the Royal Prussian Library in Berlin. In 1943, the paramilitary Nazi organisation known as Todt has begun the process of adaptation of the castle to serve the needs of the so-called Project Riese. All the interiors were stripped bare so that they now resembled army barracks more than anything else, while underneath the castle, a complex of subterranean tunnels and chambers was constructed, with the prisoners of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp being used as forced labour. A number of protective zones were established around the castle, with the entire project being shrouded in mystery. Historians still argue as to the purpose that these underground structures were intended to serve; no consistent conclusions have been reached so far in this regard. The entire project has ground to a bitter halt as the Red Army took over the castle, with parts of the underground city being wired with explosives. The history of the castle during World War II is an issue which continues to generate huge controversy and remains the topic of many intense debates. When World War II came to an end, Książ became part of the Republic of Poland. The Soviet army remained stationed at the castle for a year and a half. In 1947, a description of the castle was drawn up at the request of the General Directorate for Museums and Monument Protection, revealing just how dramatic the situation was. Most of the windows were gone, and the leaking, damaged roof contributed to the rapid dilapidation of the castle interiors. However, despite the attempts to reverse the process, the immense size of the complex and the scope of the necessary works have meant that the gradual decay continued until 1956, with frequent ownership changes making it impossible for anyone to rise up to the challenge. It was only in years 1953-1956 when, at the initiative of the Regional Monument Inspector in Wrocław, the first comprehensive protective works have begun. The underground tunnels were cleared of explosives, allowing the cleanup and exploration to proceed. Later on, a series of renovation and conservation works were carried out in the castle interiors. In 1958, the castle was inscribed into the register of historic monuments. During the 1970s, comprehensive conservation and adaptation works have begun, continuing well into the present day. In 1991, the castle became the property of the local commune which continues to watch over the castle. The castle is now a museum, hotel and conference centre. Only a fraction of its immense interior space remains in use, however, with works continuing in the subterranean tunnels as well. The residence is surrounded by multi-tier terraced gardens; these are very well looked after and remain open to visitors. It is assumed that the Książ castle is the third-biggest castle in Poland today.

compiled by Iga Malawska, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland.

General information

  • Type: castle
  • Chronology: 1718 - 1724
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Wałbrzych
  • Location: Voivodeship dolnośląskie, district Wałbrzych, commune Wałbrzych
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland


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