Castel of Wiltz
A Short Historical Survey of the Manor of Wiltz
Its central and strategically very advantageous location in the middle of the rough, earthy landscape op the Luxembourg Ardennes - the Oesling as they are called in this country - is one of the reasons why people settled down very early in the Wiltz catchment area. The inhabitations of the small picturesque tourist and festival town, situated at a distance of 54 km from the capital, can therefore look back with some pride on an interesting and eventful past.
Thus the history of the tower dean’s church goes back to Roman times, an traces of secular outbuildings from the eleventh century illustrate the medieval development of the locality, which was favoured by the fact that it was ideally positioned at the trade routes towards the Belgian Ardennes-towns and from there on to the Flemish an Dutch trade centres. During the 13th century, the lords of Wiltz looked for an appropriate site for their residence; they ended up building a new castle on a rocky protrusion; this new castle was at the origin part of the town which today is called Oberwiltz. In 1388 the French besiegers set fire to the castle and the village which, however, were reconstructed shortly afterwards. Around the middle of the fifteen century, when the Oesling nobility had to defend themselves against the troops op Philip from Burgundy, the place was destroyed a second time (1453).
The oldest parts of today’s manor are the legendary witches’ tower on the eastern side of the manor’s garden and the square tower on the north-western side. The witches’ tower was built in 1573 and has since been restored a couple of times. The roof of this tower which is several floors high, has been adorned since the nineteenth century by the sculpture of the legendary count Jan, who was declared the eternal guardian of the town by the population of Wiltz. He is shown as a knight in armour, holding his shield and sword. The name of the tower goes back to dark times. According to the legend, women accused of witchcraft where held prisoners inside this tower until they were condemned and cruelly executed.
The square tower from the thirteenth century served as the entrance to the first castle and was reached by wooden drawbridge. On the right of the castle’s bridge stood the judicial lime-tree which gave the place its name of “Lannepesch” which is still in use today.
The Building’s History
The Wiltz poet Franz Binsfeld (1891-1956) is the author of a kind of literary monument in honour of count Jan (John VI of Wiltz):
„Grof Jan kuckt voam Hexenturem sou schwaarz an sou daïschter erof, ëm d’Maueren duddert de Sturem a rëselt a rabbelt um Grof.“
The veneration of count Jan is not due to chance: it was under his sovereignty of (1607-1648) that the construction of the manor which still exists today, was started in (1631).
The Thirty Years War, sieges, famines an epidemics delayed work for nearly a century, so that the reconstruction of the main building was not finished until around 1720. The chapel of the manor dates from 1722, an in 1727 the monumental outside staircase leading down to the manor’s garden was built. This staircase, together with the imposing front of the manor, serve as the magnificent backstage to the worlds-famous Wiltz Festival since 1953. When some renovation work was done in the back part of the manors’s court in 1956, the foundation of the first castle from the thirteenth century were discovered.
Chronicle of the Lords of Wiltz
The lords of Wiltz belonged to the original nobility of the country, and their line of ancestors goes back to the late eleventh century.
The first lords of Wiltz had been given to the provost of Arlon, which allows for the conclusion that the sovereignty of Wiltz had been given to the provost of Arlon as a feudal tenure. Together with Godfrey of Bouillon, the lords of Wiltz took part in the first crusade. Amadeus of Wiltz was one of the high ranking guests at the marriage of countess Ermesinde with Walram of Limburg in 1214.
The oldest still existing seal of the lords of Wiltz goes back to 1256 and can be found on a document written under Walter III. Together with the reigning count Henry VI fighting against Brabant, the lords of Wiltz took part in the battle of Worringen (1288), which was fought over the succession in the House Of Limburg. Many Luxembourg knights were killed in this bloody battle, and Walter IV of Wiltz was incarcerated by the enemy after he had wounded the duke of Brabant in the arm.
In 1437 the town charter was renewed by Godart IV of Wiltz.
Under Hartard of Wiltz the House of Wiltz became a barony in 1536, and in 1598 John V carried the proud title of “Baron of Wiltz, Stadbredimus, Buzy, fellow-lord of Clervaux, Councillor of the Spanish King, Captain and Provost of Diedenhoven”. Under his son count Jan VI, Wiltz became a county in 1629. Count Jan VI was created a governor of the duchy of Limburg in 1640. In 1656 his niece Marie-Marguerite married the French count Christophe de Custine d’Auflance, and took possession her inheritance in Wiltz after the death of her uncle and her two brothers.
The last count of Wiltz, Théodore François de Paule de Custine, left Wiltz in 1793 at the approach of the french Revolution troops and died in Bamberg in 1799. All his possessions were confiscated, declared national property, and sold by public auction in 1798.
When his will was read in 1801, the descendants of the sister of the last count, Marie-Thérèse-Victoire de Custine and her husband Innocent-Marie, count of Vassinhac d’Imécourt, claimed the inheritance of their uncle. After the manor had been in private possession for over a century and had a partly served as boarding-school run by the Nuns of the Christian Doctrine until after W.W.II, the building was bought by the Luxembourg state in 1951.