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Quedlinburg: Forgotten Royal Residence in Germany

by Lucas Dié on 23/05/10 at 4:58 am

The city of Quedlinburg lies in modern Germany in the state of Saxe-Anhalt. On request of his mother Matilda, Emperor Otto I invested the Damenstift (a religious community for women of the nobility) of St. Servatius, often referred to as Quedlinburg Abbey.

Quedlinburg became a Royal Residence of the German Kings (called a Pfalz or palatinate) with the ascent of Henry the Fowler as the first Saxon ruler in a Frankish Kingdom. Before that, it had housed the ducal court of Saxony. A palatinate was a residence where the Kings might hold their Easter or Christmas feasts together with their dukes and allies.

Queen Matilda, widow of Henry the Fowler, requested the investiture of a convent of her son, which he granted on behest of his wife Edith of Wessex. She headed the congregation without ever bothering to become its abbess leaving it to her granddaughter to become the first abbess.

Emperor Otto III made Quedlinburg a city by giving rights of coinage, market, and customs to his aunt Abbess Matilda. She would also act as regent during his absences due to his many military ventures. The double role of Quedlinburg as palatinate as well as home to an important convent gave rise to many ecclesiastical buildings from the 10th to the 12th century.

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In the convent, many important Vitae (biographies of saints) and the Quedlinburg Annals were compiled, written, and copied. The Annals are the first to mention Lithuania as a country. They continue the annals of Widukind of Corvey, a contemporary of Otto I, which he dedicated to Abbess Matilda.

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The waning of political importance was counterbalanced by an important role in Eastern European trade. The city grew rich and its citizens obtained freedoms for themselves from their ruler, the abbess. They went too far though, when they tried to expel Abbess Hedwig of Saxony. She called in the troops of her brothers Ernest Prince Elector of Saxe and Albert Duke of Saxe. After that, all freedoms were rescinded.

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In the Reformation, the city and the convent turned Protestant. The end of the 30 years war marked the beginning of a second period of riches for the city; most of the half-timbered houses existing today stem from that period. The protestant convent continued to exist until 1802, when it fell to the Kingdom of Brandenburg. The residing abbess and her ladies were guaranteed the incomes of their lands for life.

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The descent of Quedlinburg into obscurity after 1802 was responsible for it coming out of the war unscathed. It also saved it from being an unwilling recipient of Socialist Representative Building during the existence of East Germany as an independent state. Not that they didn’t try, though. The plan was to flatten the whole central town and replace it with modern buildings, but the state did not have the money to proceed to that atrocity. Quedlinburg is today a world heritage site of the UNESCO.

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