Die Grafen von Rietberg im Harlingerland:
The Counts of Rietberg in the Harlingerland
(translation by Doug Bradley)
After the death of the young squire Balthasar of Esens in the year 1540, the rule of Esens, Stedesdorf, and Wittmund fell to his sister Onna, who was married to the Westphalian Count Otto of Rietberg. Since then, the fortunes of the Harlingerland for a long time were closely linked to the County Rietberg, located on the upper Ems River. [See Wikipedia article on Rietberg.] From this period come the oldest sources, which are very important for the story of farms in the Harlingerland. Outside of the farm registers of the Amts Esens and Wittmund, it is above all the Weinkaufs records of the Amt Esens. [For the Weinkauf record of the Wittmund Amt, see Heyken, Die Einwohner des alten Amtes Wittmund (The Inhabitants of the old Wittmund Amt).] Since these contain many references to personalities who in the Rietberger time held high positions, we should go over in brief this period of history in the Harlingerland.
Later Count Johann von Rietberg, a son from Onna’s marriage to Otto von Rietberg, took over the government of the Harlingerland from his mother. From this period dates the earliest Bauernregister (farmer census) that still survives, the Sielgeldregister of 1556. In certifying this, Johann, “graf zu dem Rißborgh” [Count of Rietburg], with his own hand signed that on Wednesday after Pentecost, in the year 1556, from Josten [Wetter], “1620 Reichstaler, 13 Schaf [a coin], 7 pennies, with the Taler calculated at 15 Schaf,” had been delivered to him as Sielgeld.
[The Sielgeld literally would be money designated for maintaining the Siels, the flood gates that let inland streams run out through the North Sea Dike, but that are closed at time of storm or flood tide to keep out the rising sea. The whole region benefited from having a dike system in place and maintained, and the Sielgeld was probably at least meant to maintain the dikes as well as the flood gates. It may have been used for other local projects as well.]
A little older, though, is the oldest “Weinkauf Boek funfzig funf uf Michaelis angefangen” (Weinkauf book 55 started by Michael [?]) [Rep. 4 B IV n 190]. The earliest Weinkauf is from 17 October 1554.
Johann spent the last years of his life in Cologne, where they held him captive as a peace breaker. [See his Wikipedia entry for more details.] He died in 1562. During this time, Onna led the government until her death (1560). Then Johann’s wife followed her, Agnes of Bentheim.
At his death, Johann of Rietberg left behind two daughters, still young, Armgard and Walpurgis. [Armgard was to inherit Rietberg, and Walpurgis was to inherit the Harlingerland.] Now when Armgard, the heiress of the County of Rietberg, in the year 1571 gave her hand to Count Erich of Hoya, Agnes of Bentheim laid down the regency [of the Harlingerland] and transferred it to her son-in-law. The task that Erich had undertaken was not easy, for the country, especially the Amt Esens, suffered grievously from the effects of the All-Saints Flood [Allerheiligenflut] of [Wednesday} November 1, 1570. The losses from this flood in Amt Esens were then recorded [Emder Jahrbuch, 1942, pp. 24-66].
With great enthusiasm Erich took on the dike system. For the dikes that had washed away in many places, to restore them as quickly as possible, he had workers come from his County of Hoya [see Wikipedia article on Hoya] to support the local dike wardens. After a relatively short time the work was done. By Palm Sunday 1573 (15 March), a new dike book was published [Rep. 4 B II p 99 No. 1].
In 1575, on the eve of the fourth Sunday of Lent (12 March), “Laetare Jerusalem,” Erich von Hoya died. After this, his brother Otto von Hoya, the second husband of Agnes, took over guardianship of the regency [of the Harlingerland] for the still underage Walpurgis. About this too the Weinkauf book reported:
After this Otto, Count of Hoya and Bruchhaußen, was established as guardian and thereupon began the regency, receiving the written Weinkauf [?], and the Taler was bought with good Reichtalers. [?]
The Weinkauf book closes with the year 1581. For the Harlingerland this year is of special significance, because on 19 January 1581, Enno, the eldest son of Edzard II of Ostfriesland, married Walpurgis, the heiress of the Harlingerland. Three years later, Armgard died, leaving no heirs. With that, the County Rietberg fell to her sister Walpurgis. But she was the proprietress of Rietberg for only a short time, because she died on 26 May 1586. Two daughters, Sabina Katharina and Agnes, survived her.
The Harlingerland and County Rietberg were now under Enno’s stewardship, but he had control of the two lands only for so long as his two daughters were underage. But in order to secure the permanent possession of the Harlingerland for the House of Cirksena, since the title [?] could also fall to a daughter, he made an agreementone year after the death of his father, Edzard II, in 1599as Enno III, with his daughters. In this so-called Treaty of Berum, dated 28 January 1600, Enno waived his income from Rietberg County and let it pass to his daughter Sabina Katharina, while Agnes was to be compensated with gold coin. [It turned out that things didn’t go quite according to plan.] Now the Harlingerland could be inherited as Enno’s property by his male descendants from his second marriage.
The Harlingerland as it was incorporated into Ostfriesland continued to enjoy its own distinct legal situation. It retained its own administration. Privileged ranks, through which the power of the Count and later rulers were concentrated, had never existed here. The local administration alone decided the authority of the sovereigns. And legal differences remained unresolved. Thus up to the 19th century in the Harlingerland, the Weinkauf was still collected, which was unknown in the rest of Ostfriesland. State law was merely a “personal union” with Ostfriesland, through the person of the sovereignthe Harlingerland was not thus far part of Ostfriesland. And so each Count or Prince of Ostfriesland until 1744, and even the Prussian kings, as the successors to the Ostfrisian house of Cirksena after 1744, carried the special title of “Lord of Esens, Stedesdorf, and Wittmund.”