The 14th and 15th centuries were characterized by frequent social unrest. The period of unrest in Silesia, which followed the end of the Hussite wars, contributed to a decrease in the sense of security. At that time, the castle complex in Witków provided the necessary security for its inhabitants in the event of a sudden attack. It enabled easy and efficient defense with small forces. It was a symbol of power and prestige. It should be emphasized that in the Middle Ages only a small percentage of the population lived in brick buildings. That is why the use of a building material in the form of stone or brick raised the rank of the complex.
The vast majority of medieval buildings, for various reasons, have not survived to our times at all. Or it was rebuilt to such an extent that it cannot be described today as a castle due to the complete loss of its defensive character. In the case of Witków, from the moment of its construction to the present day, the architectural character of the castle’s foundation has remained intact.
Conflicts of war, looting, the use of bricks from the castle ruins for other purposes or simple reconstructions were the reason for the disappearance of the vast majority of castles over the centuries. The inability to maintain large castle buildings caused that in many places they were dismantled together with the walls or were treated as free warehouses of building material. Finally, there was the period of the People’s Republic of Poland in which the former landowners’ seats, taken away from their rightful owners for “social purposes”, in the vast majority simply destroyed them. The communes had neither funds, nor means or motivation to cultivate nationalised monuments in their area.
The knight’s castle in Witków belongs to a group of private castles, including both smaller knight’s castles and feudal residences built on a larger scale. Of the small and medium-sized defensive residences similar to Witków, the castles in Oporow (Łódzkie), Dębno (Małopolskie), Korzkiew Castle (Małopolskie), the castle in Rzemień (Podkarpackie) or the Halszki Tower in Szamotuły (Wielkopolskie) are worth mentioning. In this group of castles one can still notice a significant advantage of defensive elements over usually modest spaces used for residential purposes.
The knights’ towers themselves differed only slightly over the centuries. They were connected by such common features as a rectangular projection close to a square, side length usually from 10 to 20m, a small number of light openings/slots in the lower floors and tiny windows in the upper, residential areas. Above the last residential storey, the finials were made of lighter wooden shovel constructions. It was a proper defensive deck of the tower, wider than the tower itself, with the width of a shooting porch, usually supported on rafters. A common form of roof covering was tent roofs. The interior of the towers was accessible through a high entrance, accessible by wooden stairs. There were no vaults inside and wooden ceilings were used. As far as the wall was more than 2m thick, the stairs for communication in the interior were placed in the wall itself. Otherwise wooden ladders were used. Ground floor rooms, with a solid ceiling and no access to the floor, served as utility rooms. The middle floors were representative and residential, and from the blank deck, the highest one was fighting.
Therefore, the following dimensions of the Tower could be expected: 14.2m to the roof (currently 12m), and about 23.5m to the ridge (currently 18.5m). The crown of the defensive wall was probably about 70 cm higher than today. As far as the Gate Building is concerned, the metre-wide width of its wall made it possible to build the second storey on it. Similar buildings have a higher floor made of a lighter half-timbered wall.
The uniqueness of the castle complex in Witkowo consists of two things.
The first unique thing is the 15th century polychrome with a secular theme of a knightly ethos. The civil theme of polychrome (cycle about Lancelot) appears only in the princely tower in Siedlęcin (Jelenia Góra), and its priority in this respect should be given due to its size.
The second important thing is the state of preservation of the Witkowski ensemble in an almost unchanged form since its establishment in the 14th/15th century. It is still possible to reconstruct the spatial defensive system graphically at this moment, and to learn about one of the most interesting manifestations of the social system of the village of the late Middle Ages, as well as about the material culture of the knightly state of this period.
The Knight’s Tower from Witków itself, the oldest element of the complex, built mainly of field stones and bricks, is a basement building built on a plan similar to a square with a side of about 11m.
The width of the stone wall of the tower at the base is 120cm. Equipped with cellars and 2 storeys above ground topped with a roof. Initially it was surrounded only by a moat and a defensive rampart, and most probably a wooden palisade. The first floor was separated from the ground floor by a brick ceiling, so that the only access to the living area on the first floor was provided by external wooden stairs adjacent to the eastern wall. In case of danger, the stairs were simply burnt and the access to the tower and its defenders was cut off.
Later the complex was enriched with a stone wall with shooting holes and four stone towers. Similarly to other objects of this type, it is probable that there is a wooden defensive porch both between the towers and at the top of the tower itself, manned by the castle guard. Traces of crocsztyn resistance at the crown of the perimeter walls of the Castle Tower in Witków suggest that there was originally a wooden or so-called timber porch in this building. In the later century, as part of the Renaissance reconstruction, one more floor was added to the Tower, built of bricks. As the last one, at the beginning of the 16th century, with the use of a fragment of the defensive wall as an external wall, the Gate Building made of field stones and bricks was erected. When the western tower collapsed in the 17th century, part of it was used to extend the Gate Building. The entrance to the whole castle complex has been preserved from the south side. Originally through a bridge and an entrance gate, over which there was a living room with external stairs, probably for guards. In the 19th century the bridge was liquidated and a dyke was built in its place. As time went by, the towers and the entrance gate fell apart, and the defensive wall itself was ripened to the level of the courtyard, and only a larger part of it survived at the gate. The moat was overgrown with reed and the artificially built defensive wall was eroded.
During excavations carried out in 1978, under the supervision of Professor Edward Dąbrowski, the floor part of the 14th-century layer was examined. In 1982-1985 the research was continued by Prof. Robert Sachs, who dated the construction of the tower to the second half of the 14th century, as did Prof. Lech Kajzer, among others.
The aforementioned archaeological research revealed, among others, about 666 fragments of Renaissance tiles depicting the scene of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Numerous coins were also found. Next to the Silesian coins, the Teutonic button brakteat (ca. 1410-1525), the Polish denar of Jadwiga (1384-1386) or the Meissen penny of Frederick II (1440-1465) were found. Numerous dice objects such as a whistle, cubic dice or a pyramidal pendulum for board games were dug in. Clay figures of a secular character were discovered. The military presented: dice, walnut for crossbows, arrowheads and arrowheads, octagonal sword head or cord head (a handle of a small sword) in the shape of an irregular trapezoid, dating back to the first half of the 15th century (currently an exhibit in the Archaeological Museum in Świdnica).
A significant part of the objects excavated in Witkowo points to their luxurious character and high standard of living of the owners of Witkowo castle.
HISTORY OF WARNSDORFS
Who were the owners and residents of the castle in Witków? In 1346 the von Nechern family is mentioned as the owner of the Wittchendorf estate. However, the estate flourished at the time of the von Warnsdorf family, an old Lusatian-Silesian-Czech-Saxon noble family, known since the end of the 12th century. He was one of the oldest knightly families in Lusatia. According to legend, 24 husbands from this family during the reign of Frederick I were to go to war with Saracens, and after their return in 1190 for their bravery they were to be raised to the knightly state and given a coat of arms: a white crescent and a star on a blue background.
The family coat of arms of the Warnsdorfs was almost identical to the coat of arms of Leliwa, also in colour variations of the figures. The oldest representatives of the Lelivitas lived around 1287 in the vicinity of Cracow and Tarnów, creating there the Tarnowski family of great magnates (the Tarnowski Castle in Rzemień also resembles the knights’ tower in Witków). The Tarnau family lived in Silesia, which German researchers derived from the “ancient Silesian nobility” and associated with the Polish coat of arms of Leliwa.
The coat of arms of the Warnsdorfs, together with 60 coats of arms of other eminent Silesian noble families, can be seen on a stained glass window in one of the northern windows of the chancel of St. Mary’s Church in Legnica, the former court church. Stained-glass windows, made in 1905/6, commemorate famous people and families, as well as events from the history of religion, church and Silesia.
According to Małgorzata Stankiewicz, M.Sc., author of the unpublished monograph of the von Warnsdorf family, the family appeared in northern Silesia along with a wave of German, poor knights arriving here after the middle of the 13th century. Young people wandered then, most often unmarried, trying to get to one of the princely manors. Weddings with local maids from Polish families contributed to the Slavic character of some names, among the first Warnsdorfs it was e.g. the name Jeszko or a bit later Stibor. At that time, the Duchy of Żagań was still ruled by the Silesian Piasts, and the presence of Polish culture caused the inflow of people to undergo partial Polonization. The knights were particularly eager to settle in the Duchy of Glogow, and after its disintegration at the dukes of Żagańsko-Sprotawskie and Ścinawskie, where they served faithfully, receiving numerous awards and honors. The Warnsdorfs “getting involved” in the richer families belonging to the surroundings of Prince John II of Żagań, were present in the vicinity of Żagań, Szprotawa and Kożuchów, and belonged here to the oldest families next to the Nechernas, Nostitzes, Rechenbergs or Kittlitzes, with whom they were associated by marriage. During the 13th and 14th centuries they became one of the most influential and eminent Silesian and Lusatian families. Their last known male descendant of the Silesian line died in 1796.
A.D. 1379 The Warnsdorfs sold their property in Karczówka pod Żaganiem, it is possible that they used these funds to buy the village of Wittgendorf (Witków). Witków was probably owned by the Warnsdorfs before 1400. Initially it was owned by three brothers: Franczek, Nickel and Hans.
A.D. 1409 “Ritter Frantzko v. Warensdorff”, together with his brother Nickel, left for Pomerania to take part in the Teutonic Order’s war with Poland in 1409-1411. After the war he participated on the Teutonic Order’s side in negotiations with Poland on the issue of truce, unfavourable aspects of Toruń peace and payment of ransom for prisoners of war. The Toruń Commander-in-Chief informed on 26.XI.1410. Heinrich v. Plauen of the intention to start negotiations, together with Heinrich v. Plauen st. (cousin of the Master) and Franz v. Warnsdorf. In confirmation of the truce of December 9, 1410, they were listed among the advisors in the first places: Heinrich v. Plauen mł., Benesch v. Dohna, Peter v. Schellendorf and Francisco de Warnsdorf. The oldest known coat of arms stamp with the inscription “Franczko Warnsdorff” dates back to 1419. He was also one of the most famous and trusted imperial knights.
A.D. 1410 During the Battle of Grunwald, the Polish knights captured knights who fought as guests on the Teutonic Knights’ side, including Nikolaus de Vansdorf, one of the most outstanding of them. On December 7, 1410, a truce agreement was concluded between the Teutonic Order and Poland. Among the heavy guests of the Order, the guarantor of the Grand Master, Henryk von Plauen, was, among others, the knight Franczke von Warnsdorff from Witków, brother of the captured Nikolaus.
Nikolaus (Nickel) as his ransom in exchange for regaining freedom made “160 kop grosz”. Moreover, apart from other knights, “he promised never to fight on the Teutonic Knights’ side against Poland and Lithuania, moreover, he was to get one steel armour and two rifles”.
A.D. 1414 Warnsdorfs, being already permanently settled in Witkowo, acquired the estate in Gościszów / Giessmansdorf (Bolesławiec district) in 1414. Nickel handed over its part to Hans Guest and remained with Franz in Witkowo.
A.D. 1448 The son of Franz, Hans II from Witków, had on conscience the occupation of the castle in Kliczków in 1448, belonging from 1391 to the family v. Rechenberg. The Rechenbergs regained the Klitschko family after four years in 1452.
A.D. 1454 Caspar from Witków, together with his brother Nickel, was a fierce Teutonic Knights’ army commander in Lębork/Lauenburg. Both brothers found themselves in a fierce army led by the Dukes of Sailing Balthasar and Rudolph to the Teutonic Order’s war with Poland (“Thirteen Years War”, 1454-66). In 1455, Prince Baltazar of Sailing approved as deputies (ambassadors) to Grand Master Ludwig v. Erlichhausen: Botho v. Ileburg, Heinrich v. Haugwitz and Nickela v. Warnsdorf.
A.D. 1548 Nickel V died, the last of his family in Witkowo. Less than a month before his death, he drew up a will, in which he wrote everything to his wife (the marriage lasted 17 years), including: The last month before his death, he drew up a testament in which he wrote everything to his wife (the marriage lasted 17 years), including: “movable goods with silver, such as spoons or cups”. He died childless on July 30, 1548. His full-form tombstone has survived in its entirety and is embedded inside the Witkowski church, near the western wall of the presbytery.
A.D. 1550 After the death of Nickel V, the Warnsdorf family turned to Duke Moritz v. Sachsen with a request to give Witkowo in fief. Emperor Ferdinand I Habsburg himself, after taking over the Duchy of Sailing, unforgettable requests of the family, sold this land in 1550 for 10,300 thalers to Fabian v. Schönaich. This was the first hereditary property in the principality, which was sold by the superior lord of fief. Since then, Witkow never again came back into possession of the Warnsdorfs.
FURTHER FATE OF THE CASTLE IN WITKOWO
A.D. 1581 The protocol of the Imperial Commission, which on 1 October 1581 wrote down the Urbarz dób Witkowskich, states that the tower has three floors and is surrounded by a wet moat and a perimeter wall defended by four towers.
A.D. 1590 As a result of conjugal connections, Witków was taken over by the burgrave von Dohn, and after his death his daughter (married to members of the von Schulenburg and von Tschirnhaus families). During the reconstruction of the tower’s interior, the layout of the windows and the height of the storey were changed.
A.D. 1659 The Witkowski estate was taken over by Count von Redern.
A.D. 1683 From the description of 17 November this year, we learn that the four towers mentioned above had excellent rooms, but now two of them are in complete ruin, in one is a kitchen, in the other one room suitable for living, with three broken windows and a fairly good stove.
A.D. 1687 Count von Proskau became the new owner.
A.D. 1730 Due to the huge debt of the estate in Witków, the Proskau family were forced to sell it to the town of Szprotawa.
The further fate of the castle in Witków is little known. The tower was used as a residence for the employees of the local farmstead. Later, at the beginning of the 20th century, it housed a school or orphanage.
Historical records concerning Witkowo, information, cost estimates and drawings of the castle complex were located in the tower of the town hall in Szprotawa and disappeared as a result of the war turmoil after 1945. In principle, only their juxtaposition has survived. Hence the small amount of information concerning the object.
A.D. 1945 After 1945, the building was gradually devastated due to the lack of conservation projects for decades. The ground floor of the tower was used as a shelter for the crops of the local farm workers, and the Gate Building served as a pigsty. The building remained uninhabited.
A.D. 1976 After an earlier spontaneous collapse of ceilings and roofs in the early 1970s, the first attempts were made to rebuild the complex.
A.D. 1983 During conservation work, a Gothic polychrome with images of people and birds was discovered in the Tower, in recesses (previously walled up) and window frames. In the knights’ hall on the first floor, Renaissance polychrome beams from the destroyed palace in Szczaniec were installed under the ceiling. The interior of the Gate Building has been renovated. For utility reasons, the cellars of the Castle Tower and the Gate Building were connected through an underground passage. During the construction of this link, previously unknown barrel vaulted cellars were discovered, located outside the Castle Tower. They indicate the existence of another building with an unexplained function. The falling off plaster revealed the presence of ceramic jugs installed in the wall of the Castle Tower from the side of the gate, flattened with holes in the face of the outer wall. Their purpose was probably to amplify sounds coming from in front of the gate.
A.D. 1984 New shingled roofs were installed on both buildings, including the Steel Tower. The reconstruction of the complex was interrupted. The building remained without plaster on the facades, without Renaissance window treatments and without protected cellars. The renovation, during which many conservation mistakes were made, fortunately did not fundamentally distort the nature of the assumption.
A.D. 1997 The castle complex was taken over by a private person. Uninhabited, it gradually deteriorated over time. As a result of the lack of proper protection of the rafter framing and shingle during the last renovation in 1984, as well as any conservation works later, they managed to rott practically all both roofs together with the shingle, and as if not covered roofing paper was destroying under the pressure of rain and wind. There were rainwater leaks and moisture inside. Some of the plasters in the interiors were dampened. Lack of ventilation contributed to the appearance of mould inside on some walls in both buildings.
A.D. 2017 The castle gained a new private owner.
A.D. 2018 The first renovation works were undertaken under the supervision of the Lubuskie Monument Conservator. Shrubs and bushes were removed from the ground. Old reeds overgrown with a moat were removed. The entire area was cleared of long-lasting rubbish.
Architectural research on rafter framing and roofing as well as research on interior plasters were completed. Roof designs have been developed and renovation has been initiated. The wooden elements of the roof trusses were completely replaced, new formwork and roofing with roofing paper was installed. In the interiors of the castle and the outbuilding the partition walls of the hollow brick were removed. Wet plaster in the interiors was torn off. Renaissance stone decorations were restored in the window openings of the gate building. The shape of the defensive wall covered so far was determined. The relics of four towers were discovered, their size, shape and location were determined.