Książ – Castles in Poland

The beautiful castle Książ is located north of the Polish city Wałbrzych in Lower Silesia and is the third largest castle in Poland (Polish: Zamek Książ, German: Schloss Fürstenstein). Pronouncing the castle’s Polish name is half the fun! Książ is easily reachable from Görlitz (156 km) and is therefore just one of the many beautiful places one can go for a day or weekend trip.

Situated in a landscape park and protected area in the Waldenburg Mountains, Góry Wałbrzyskie, part of the Central Sudetes, the castle is distinctive not only for its size and blend of architectural styles, but also for its setting, perched on a rock face 395 meters above sea level and overlooking a beautiful forest and river. When you first approach Książ, you view it from across the river gorge, a fairy tale castle in the distance, in shades of pink.

“The house is said to have five or six hundred rooms; I don’t know as I never counted them. What I do know is that from every window it commands superb views over the world-famous Waldenburger Gebirge, one of nature’s masterpieces. The Fürstenstein, that is the Prince’s rock, itself rises three thousand feet above sea level and the views from the castle towers are wonderful. The wild, spacious land of this part of Silesia is indescribably beautiful.” – Maria Theresa (Daisy) Hochberg von Pless

The castle was first built by Silesian Duke Bolko I the Strict in the 13th century and was known as Książęca Góra, or “The Prince’s Heights”, selected for the beauty and security of its location in the heart of the forest.

The castle changed hands several times over the centuries and, just like the region, belonged to many different states until 1509 when the Hochberg family was entrusted with the estate. Beginning in the mid 16th century, thanks to this powerful Silesian family, the castle was rebuilt in a lavish Renaissance Style. The castle stayed in the possession of the Hochberg family from 1509 until the 1940s.

Visiting the castle Książ, we first decided to try hiking down the gorge to look for a good vantage point for photos. It’s a beautiful area and we got lost in the wilderness trying to find a path back up. While out there, we stumbled across the ruins of an earlier fortress at the same location.

After climbing back up we realized there is only one way to approach the castle, this was obviously intended as a form of defense. When you approach the castle you are met by imposing statues and carefully manicured lawns. There is no doubt that the castle is striking and beautiful, but it also comes across as a bit stark and vacant. Most of the furnishings were looted by the Nazis or the Soviets and so the castle today stands mostly empty and can seem a bit cold and impersonal as a visitor. It is hard to imagine someone living out their lives in its giant, empty halls with ornate ceilings.

What really brought this castle to life for me was learning about the fascinating people and the lives that inhabited it over the years. In my opinion, the best part of the castle tour is the photo exhibition. Many of the photos are from an extraordinary collection of family photos taken by the castle chef from 1909-1926. Louis Hardouin was in charge of the kitchen in the castle and lived there, along with his family and thousands of other staff. The Frenchman enjoyed photography and took many photos of his wife and his children, who were playmates to the the sons of Hans Heinrich and Princess Daisy. He also photographed many of the servants who lived and worked in the castle, offering a look into the lives of the many people behind the scenes. Thanks to his passion for photography, one is able to get a sense for the more personal side of the history of the castle and its inhabitants.

Some of the photos on display by the castle chef Louis Hardouin

Perhaps the most intriguing resident of the castle Książ and the one who receives by far the most attention is Princess Daisy. She was born Mary Theresa Cornwallis-West. The daughter of a British politician, Daisy was renowned for her beauty. Because she published her diaries in a memoir in 1928, we know quite a bit about her life at the castle.

Princess Daisy (Source: Wikipedia)

Although her family was well-connected, they were not wealthy and Daisy had a fairly ordinary childhood (if you can call it ordinary to be acquainted with the royal family). She was encouraged by her parents to “come out” early and it was expected that she would marry someone of rank or money.  She met Hans Heinrich XV, a Hochberg and current heir to the castle Książ, and they were married in 1891. She was very young, and quite a bit younger than her husband. There were also many cultural differences that came along with marrying into a German family like the Hochbergs. Although they had three sons, it was not a happy marriage – Daisy and Hans Heinrich had very different interests and priorities in life.

“I told Hans I did not love him. He said that did not matter ; love came after marriage. Perhaps it does sometimes, but I fear not often.” -Princess Daisy

As Prince and Princess of Pless and Baron of the Castle, the couple owned large estates and coal mines in Silesia, bringing them enormous fortune and affording an extravagant lifestyle, and one filled with scandal and eventually disaster.

It was not easy for Princess Daisy to adjust to life in the castle. She was constantly surrounded by hundreds of servants who opened doors for her and turned down her covers. She had very little freedom and her husband’s family cared a great deal about tradition and proper etiquette for someone of their class.

 “I soon found the etiquette was unbelievably boring. I knew no German and could not make my wishes known. When I wanted to leave one room for another a bell was rung, a servant opened the door and a footman walked in front of me to wherever I wished to go…one of the first things I did was to learn enough German to tell them that this ceremony was no longer necessary. This my husband disapproved of and, all our lives together, we had constant corroding bickerings about what he called interfering with the servants” – Princess Daisy

Daisy was a beautiful woman who attracted a lot of attention from men. She was also a foreigner who never really learned the language well. As a result, rumors and gossip followed her wherever she went. Her husband gifted her the famous Pless pearls – at 6.7 meters long, it was one of the most expensive necklaces in the world. Because people love gossip & intrigue it was later said that the pearls were cursed by the diver who died while collecting them – attributing the misfortunes in Princess Daisy’s life to this curse.

Although she struggled to come to terms with her strange new life and her disappointing marriage, Princess Daisy tried to make the best of it. She spent lots of time tending to her gardens and raising her sons. She took an interest in the welfare of the people who lived and worked around the castle, many of them having difficult lives working in the family’s coal mines. She fought to improve their working and living conditions. She also campaigned for the rights of lace makers in Silesia who were being exploited, and petitioned the government to regulate and clean up the nearby river that was being polluted by industry. She frequently met with Emperors, Czars and Princesses and sought to use her influence and relationships with these powerful people to encourage peace between her home country and her adopted one. Her close relationship with Kaiser Wilhelm II was the source of much gossip.

While the local people loved her, she was viewed with suspicion and dislike by other high-ranking German families who saw her social work as criticism of her own class. Her social engagement was viewed as overly “progressive” and she was seen to have overstepped her bounds as a women and as a foreigner.

In 1907 after his father died, Hans Heinrich began a massive renovation of the castle, spending lavish amounts of money to expand, redecorate and fill it with treasures. Around the time that WWI began, economic hardships and a decadent lifestyle started to take its toll on the family’s wealth – they amassed large debts. Princess Daisy was met with even more suspicion as an Englishwoman in Germany during the war. Nevertheless, she became a nurse and spent her time tending to wounded soldiers and prisoners of war.

Finally, in 1922 Hans Heinrich divorced Princess Daisy and a few years later married a Spanish noblewoman named Clotilde de Silva y Gonzales de Candamo. They had two children, but this marriage also ended in disaster with the couple divorcing in 1934 and Clotilde marrying her ex-husband’s (and Daisy’s) son, Bolko.

With the rise of National Socialism, Daisy supported the opposition. She was active in charities that supported prisoners of the nearby concentration camp Gross-Rosen. Viewed as an enemy of the Reich, she was removed from the castle and it came under the ownership of the Nazis.

It is said that perhaps she sold her famous pearl necklace to free her son who was being interrogated by the Gestapo. Divorced, with her ex-husband’s family deep in debt, Princess Daisy died penniless and alone in Wałbrzych in 1943. Her remains were moved several times to prevent her body being looted, and for many years there were rumors about its whereabouts and the location of the famous pearls. Many people have searched, but her final resting place remains a secret kept by the family.

During WWII, the inmates of the concentration camp Gross-Rosen were forced to labor at the castle, building a vast complex of tunnels through the rock beneath it. The purpose of the tunnels is unknown, but it is said that perhaps the castle was being prepared as a future residence for Adolf Hitler. During this time, parts of the castle were destroyed and its many treasures vanished. If anything was left of the castle’s treasures after WWII, it was looted later by the Red Army.

Recently, rumors of a Nazi gold train being discovered in the tunnels under the castle have caused treasure hunters and tourists to flock to the region. Some believe that the train might contain the famous Amber Room which has been missing since WWII.

Shrouded in mystery, scandal and intrigue, the castle Książ draws many visitors today not just for its beautifully restored exterior and rooms. The lives of the people who inhabited these walls remains far more intriguing and a trip to the castle will surely reward you with not only a beautiful and impressive view, but a very interesting story!

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