Knights in Shining Armor Joust at Lowenburg Castle

Where did little German boys long to be taken for a day trip in the 1830s?  The castle of Lowenburg in Kassel, the capital of Hesse.

What was so special about Lowenburg, which wasn’t even a real military fortification, in a country dotted with imposing and beautiful castles?


Lowenburg as it is today.

Lowenburg was something of an architectural folly, built between 1793 and 1801 by one of the richest men in Europe at that time.  William IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, later Prince-Elector of Hesse (1743-1821), commissioned architect Heinrich Christoph Jussow to build him a brand new ancestral pleasure palace that would look like a medieval castle from a distance.  Jussow was sent to England to look at romantic ruins of abbeys and study the latest trends in garden design.  Lowenburg was built complete with imitation Roman aquaducts, Greek temples, and ruins and surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge, in the picturesque Wilhelmshoheberg park.  The high Baroque interior was furnished with medieval altars, tapestries, stained glass, armor and weapons.


Contrast the previous view of the castle with this one from the 1830s, before it was modified, bombed to the foundations, and rebuilt. Das Ritterwesen oder die Reise nach der Lowenburg (ca. 1833).

A tourist destination long before 1975 when the Deutsche Marchenstrasse, or German Fairytale Route, was created, it was just the kind of cultural site to be proudly promoted in books for little tarry-at-home travelers.  The production of these kinds of books were a minor industry in Britain, but don’t seem to be anywhere as common in France or Germany.  One of those books was recently acquired by Cotsen: Das Ritterwesen, oder die Reise nach der Lowenberg zur Unterhaltung and Belehrung fur die reifere Jugend [Chivalry, or The Trip to Lowenburg for the Entertainment and Information of Older Children] published by G. H. Renner & Schuster in Nurnberg around 1833.


The added engraved title page.

In the frame story, the brothers Fritz and Karl are on a walking tour with their tutor. They are delighted to learn that the tutor has planned a side trip to Lowenburg, where they will learn everything there is to know about the noble tradition of German knighthood.


The tutor and boys, hats in hand, at Lowenburg.

The author of Ritterwesen unceremoniously dropped the dialogue between characters after four pages, which would have made the account more lively, but the illuminated illustrations are more than adequate compensation.


An installation from the 1830s featuring armor and weapons from the castle’s collection.

 Here is a plate illustrating  knights in different styles of armor.


And another of fair ladies….


And a folding plate of knights jousting.


And a fun fact to close: Lowenburg was the model for Disney castles…



Marcus French Licks His Algebra Anxiety

pathex news showing pictures

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, January 9, 1927. Marcus as projectionist. He’s chosen a film of a boxing match to show.

Marcus is back, with more letters to his big sister Eleanor this week.  Most days in Amsterdam, New York, were school days, not holidays, and buried in some of his bulletins  (aka the “Pathe newsreels”), were hints that things weren’t going well in algebra.


A page of equations from an algebra text in use during the 1920s.

The first sign is in his letter of November 22, 1925, when he was eleven.  The pet stories always came before any other news.  His dog Jock had started raiding trashcans for food, while Dixie the cat disgraced himself by leaping on the dining room table at dinner to steal a piece of rabbit off a plate.  After an anecdote about the Sunday school teacher, Marcus announced, “I’m getting on in school pretty good here’s my marks.”  He received a gentleman’s C in English, writing, arithmetic, junior business training, printing, and textiles.   No absences, no tardies, but not exactly a stellar academic record that marking period  (the symbol scrawled down for his grades in spelling, history, science, and music is undecipherable and highly suspicious).

report card

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor dated November 22, 1925.

Nothing much about algebra until January 9th, 1927.  It was a pretty good day, all things considered.  Dixie had been given a dose of catnip after he was caught eating the house plants.  “For an hour and a half,” reports Marcus delightedly, “he was an insane cat.”   catnip-banned-uk

Another hot tidbit was that Father had brought home three new films–two two-reelers “Castor Oil” and “Big Business” starring Our Gang and a one-reeler “Suds” featuring Stan Laurel, making Marcus the proud possessor of ten reels of film.


Lobby card for the Little Rascals’ short “Big Business.”

Then he drops the bombshell: “Miss Bartley is giving me 3 extra hours every week in algebra.  No more news.”

movie reels and extra algebra

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, January 9, 1927. Surely Miss Bartley did not actually whack him over the head to make him do his homework…

By the 30th of January, the increased homework was paying dividends.   After telling Eleanor that Dixie had discovered the catnip’s hiding place in the pantry and sat in front of the cupboard yowling until given a dose, Marcus crowed, “I passed another algebra test 85%.”


Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, January 30, 1927.

Things had really improved by mid-March.  There was a long account of Jock’s returning home covered in blood with a crushed paw (he had probably gotten run over again) before Marcus gleefully announced, “I passed an Algebra test!!” (That made three for the academic year.)

an algebra test!

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor March 13, 1927.

On the next page, he drew himself fainting when Miss Bartley handed back another exam marked 85% with the encouraging words, “Good work.”  What is going on in the paper he drew in the upper right hand corner???  It looks as if he got all five questions right…

help Im fainting

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, March 13, 1927. He appears to be wearing sunglasses, which surely can’t be right, and knickerbockers.

We may never know the answer to that question, because the ice floes rushing down the creek behind the barn was a lot more interesting, when it came right down to it.


Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, March 13, 1927. Marcus has drawn himself on an ice berg saying “Haw, haw, what fun.”