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From arsenal to Princely Armoury

In a partition treaty of the Schwarzburgian counts from 1453, the first known name of a chamber of armour ("Harnasch kamer") is found in Schwarzburg Castle. It was used to store the count's armour and equipment.

The field armies increased, more and more heavy field and fortress weapons were purchased. The previously used armoury became too small. Soon a separate building was built for the storage, maintenance and provision of military consumer goods (called "Zeug"). The first mention of the princely armoury of Schwarzburg, roughly at the same time as the first mentions of the armouries of Graz, Dresden or Kassel, can be found in an inventory of Schwarzburg weapons to be dated around 1550/60. This is entitled "Zeugkhause" and shows a type of arsenal that was used at that time as a pure arsenal. The building was located west of the castle gate, above the moat and at the same time fulfilled a fortified, defensive function. The construction of the building, whose master builder is unknown so far, shows the mixture of a military and civil storage building, which was customary at that time. The main function was to house the cannons on the ground floor; the storeys above served until the 19th century as fruit or granary floors, the stock of which could be advantageous in the event of siege.

For the period from 1613 to 1707, a picture of the furnishings and fittings of the Zeughaus can be made on the basis of different inventories.  An inventory has the character of an inventory list of objects and furnishings and does not necessarily provide information about the origin or ownership as well as about the exterior or interior design of a building. They were made in the course of changing ownership conditions, e.g. by division of estates after death, reconstruction work, change of responsibilities or catastrophes, such as fires or wars. In the period from 1613 to 1707, a total of four inventories were made:

  • 1613 - on the occasion of the division of the country among the three sons of Count Albrecht VII, who died in 1605  
  • 1647 - in connection with the events of the Thirty Years War
  • 1656 - on the occasion of the transfer and control of the Schwarzburg inventory to the Burgvogt Daniel Bergner
  • 1664 - in view of threatening Turkish invasions

Extract from the inventory of 1613

A big fire fairy of brass and skewers,
A whole Kartaune of other Singerin or Wallbreaker genand,
A whole snake, three half snakes, a quarter snake,
Four Ten Whole Falckonet, Six Whole Falckonet Without Charge
and it's the same one unduty and mutable [in need of repair],
Half Falckonet, two halves Falckonet without charge,
Four Scherpetiner uf wheels, Two Scherpetiner uf pocken [bucks] and Mucken 

From the 18th century onwards, the military use of the arsenal became less important. The weapons stock was now presented as a princely display collection with an almost museum-like character, which was looked after by specially hired gunsmiths. Since the middle of the 19th century, no more usable weapons were brought into the armoury, but the collection was expanded by estates of the respective princes and by the rifle chamber of the Rudolstadt Heidecksburg.

Prince Günther von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt made a fortunate decision for the history of the Zeughaus collection after taking office in 1891. He was able to persuade Carl Anton Ossbahr, secretary and later director of the Leibrüstkammer Stockholm, to take an inventory of the collection for the first time from a scientific point of view. His uncle, Baron Thure von Cederström, who had served as the Princely House’s advisor in all matters concerning the purchase and restoration of works of art since 1891, was helpful in the mediation process.

Ossbahr, who could only be on site for a few days or weeks between 1891 and 1895, carried out the inventory, reorganization and purchase of new weapon racks in collaboration with Court Marshal Adolf von Klüber, Leibjäger Ferdinand Herms and Zeughausverwalter Carl Christian Spiess. In addition, Ossbahr dismantled several weapons into their individual parts in order to make an exact determination. At the age of 32, Ossbahr was already a widely travelled man who had visited many European weapon collections and had considerable knowledge of comparative pieces in other armouries.

Completion of the cataloguing

Completion of the cataloguing, and decisive for the following public perception, was the publication of the inventory in book form. In the catalogue, Ossbahr was able to describe most of the objects in detail, classify them and comment on them with regard to comparative pieces or special features of the lock systems. The forging marks and engravings were also to be depicted. Here von Cederström, who created the drawings, helped. When the weapons were catalogued, they were given an inventory number which is still valid today and which was affixed to the weapons as blind embossed brass stamps. Ossbahr recorded a total of 2,735 positions, whereby larger groups of the same type, such as bullets or crossbow bolts, were grouped together under one inventory number. The actual number of items at this time was 5,458. The final register refers to 132 identified gunsmiths.

In a print run of 1,000 copies, the work could be printed in 1895 at the expense of the Rudolstadt Court Marshal's Office at Knorr & Hirth in Munich. The distribution took over the publishing house of the Müller´schen bookstore in Rudolstadt.

The change of ownership after the abdication of Prince Günther von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and Schwarzburg-Sondershausen in 1918 represented a major change in the collection history of the Schwarzburg Zeughaus. At first, the weapons collection was excluded. According to the princely decree of 22 November 1918 on the establishment of a "Günther Foundation", unlike the castles of Heidecksburg and Schwarzburg, it remained the property of the prince, continued to be presented to the public, and was only to fall to the foundation after his death. By a law of 29 March 1923, however, the newly founded state of Thuringia became the legal successor of the "Günther Foundation" and was now responsible for the preservation of the castles and the facilities within them. When Prince Günther died in 1925, a legal dispute between the Princely House and the State of Thuringia over the ownership of the Zeughaus Collection lasted for many years, with Anna Luise von Schwarzburg, represented by Court Marshal Gustav Adolf von Halem, denying the legality of the State's ownership of the weapons collection. It was not until the treaty of 6 July 1928 that legal peace could be established between the parties. The ownership of the Zeughaus collection and its museum presentation was decided in favour of the State of Thuringia. The lifelong right of residence of Princess Anna Luise to the castles of Schwarzburg and Sondershausen remained unaffected for the time being. The arsenal was officially handed over to the state on April 3, 1929.

The arsenal administrator Paul Fischer, who had been employed since 1904, could continue to live with his family in the Schwarzburg gatehouse directly adjacent to the arsenal. He was responsible for maintaining the arsenal, opening it regularly, charging entrance fees and selling postcards.

In 1940 Adolf Hitler decided to convert Schloss Schwarzburg into a Reichsgästehaus. The arsenal and the gatehouse were also affected by the planned conversion and demolition work. The gatehouse was demolished to allow passage to the castle grounds. The arsenal was cleared and was to serve as a garage for the motor pool.

The weapons collection reached the Heidecksburg in Rudolstadt and were stored in the cellars of the castle until the end of the war. The Russian occupation troops confiscated the collection after 1945 and prepared the transport to the Soviet Union. Due to fortunate circumstances, however, this never happened. In 1949 the weapons were found at the freight station in Rudolstadt and were returned to Heidecksburg Castle. Since that time, the Museum Heidecksburg has been the owner of this collection on behalf of the State of Thuringia. Since 1962 about 300 of the most important objects have been shown in a permanent exhibition in the vaulted hall in the north wing.

The weapons collection after the Second World War

After the end of the Second World War, the Zeughaus remained an empty ruin, which was only provisionally secured over the next decades to prevent it from collapsing. In 1974 the northeastern half-shell tower of the armoury collapsed, but was rebuilt in the 1950s. A wide variety of use concepts from the 1970s onwards in connection with the revival of the castle as a hotel, guest or holiday home, restaurant or cultural centre, however, failed due to the enormous costs of repairs.

The entire Schwarzburg palace complex including Main building and Kaisersaal passed into the ownership of the newly founded Foundation of Thuringian Palaces and Gardens in 1994. In 2007 there was hope for the armoury for the first time. Thanks to the extraordinary commitment of the Förderverein Schloss Schwarzburg e. V., which sparked off the project with a donation of € 50,000.00, and the private foundation for Heidecksburg Castle and Schwarzburg Castle in the former Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, the Thüringer Schlösser und Gärten Foundation was now in a position to begin a renovation program lasting several years and to save the armoury from final decay.

2009 saw the breakthrough: With funds from the economic stimulus program of the federal government and the Thuringian Foundation for Palaces and Gardens, it became possible to secure the existence of the Zeughaus building both inside and out. The construction project that followed was the reconstruction of the gatehouse that had been demolished in 1940 and that immediately adjoined the arsenal.

In 1994 the annual general meeting of the "Deutsche Gesellschaft für Heereskunde" took place at the Heidecksburg. The princely weapons collection once again became the focus of public attention throughout Germany. The most frequently asked question at that time was: How can the collection of more than 5,000 weapons be presented to the public again?

In order to enable the return of the collection to the Zeughaus in Schwarzburg, it was of fundamental importance that the objects stored at Heidecksburg be restored by restorers to an exhibitable condition after thorough examination. This costly and protracted process of restoration collection, which was classified as "nationally significant", was only managed through the cooperation and considerable financial resources of the Kulturstiftung des Bundes and the Kulturstiftung der Länder, the Land of Thuringia and the Landkreis Saalfeld-Rudolstadt in the period from 2008 to 2011.