Castle of the Month: Schoenburg

January 16, 2010


A majestic medieval castle sitting high on a hilltop overlooking the Rhine, sacked and burned by the French under Louis XIV, neglected and deteriorating for two centuries, then rescued and restored by a rich American with a special interest in the romance of castles. A movie story?

Maybe. Across the Rhine from the famed Lorelei Rock (below, where a Rhine maiden lured sailors to their destruction in the swift currents of the river) lies the medieval town of Oberwesel, dominated by its fortified castle, “auf Schoenburg”, one of the most imposing on the Rhine. Built from the 10th to 13th centuries on the site of a Roman fortress built by Julius Caesar, Schoenburg boasts a massive shield wall (seen in the photo above) and two large keeps.LoreleiFelsen_1968

Already controlling much of the territory west of the Rhine, in 1688 Louis XIV’s army captured all the Palatinate and middle Rhineland towns from Koblenz to Heidelberg, precipitating the War of the Grand Alliance. In the following year’s retreat from the League of Augsburg, the French army undertook a scorched-earth policy, which resulted in the destruction of many Palatinate towns, villages and castles, including Schoenburg, whose interior was gutted, while the war precipitated a massive emigration of Palatinate Germans to America (the “Pennsylvania Dutch”).

Despite the intentions of some wealthy patrons to restore the castle after 1825, little was done, and it continued to deteriorate. The picturesque town of Oberwesel attracted tourists in the 19th century, including one Thomas Jackson Oakley Rhinelander, a young member of a prominent New York family of real estate tycoons, whose Huguenot ancestors had lived in the area until the revocation by Louis XIV of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, when some members fled to New York.SchlossSchoenburg_1968

In 1883 the 25-year-old Rhinelander purchased the castle and over the next 30 years invested some $800,000 in its restoration. For many years Rhinelander spent two months a year living in his castle, until his death in 1946. The town of Oberwesel bought it from his son in 1950, and from 1957 it has housed a first-class hotel and restaurant, with fantastic views of the Rhine from its rooms, ramparts and terraces.

What is special about Schloss Schoenburg for the Staging Prince? It was the first castle in which I spent a night (as a tourist). After a cruise up the river from Remagen, my wife and I spent a romantic night at Schoenburg in 1968. The hotel garners rave reviews from visitors for its 22 charming guest rooms and and its excellent food and wines and has become a particular favorite of Americans.

Castle photos by Jerry White of The Staging Prince.

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