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The East Frisian chieftains

dornum wasserschloss

In the course of the 14th century, the Redjeven constitution began falling apart, and other events like the pestilence and great flood catastrophes resulted in a destabilization of the area. Some influential families took advantage of the situation and created a governmental system by usurping as the power over great parts of the region as “Häuptlinge” (hovedlinge/chieftains). But they continued the tradition of not establishing a feudal system as seen in other parts of Europe, but more a system of followers, a reigning system similar to older forms of government in German cultures in the North; here, the inhabitants of each power region stood in a dependent relation to the chieftain and were obliged to him, but other than that, they kept their liberty and were able to settle down somewhere else.

A time followed which was characterized by a permanent dispute between the chieftains concerning areas of power, influence and dominance, and which did not end until around 1430. Edzard Cirksena succeeded in becoming the chieftain of an alliance of freedom. Ulrich Cirksena, who belonged to one of the last influential chieftain families, was elevated to the rank of an Imperial count by the Emperor Friedrich III. and was empowered with Ostfriesland as “Reichsgrafenschaft” (Imperial county). It belonged to the circle of the Lower Rhine-Westphalia.

The reign of the counts of Ostfriesland (Cirksena)

Under the reign of the house Cirksena, which  later elevated to the rank of a prince, Ostfriesland developed well in terms of social and economic areas. The greatest plus the county achieved was under Edzard the Great, the most important governor of the Cirksena-family, under whose governance the extension of the reformation in Ostfriesland began. He also planned the ostfriesische Landrecht (provincial law). At that time (1547-1625), Ubbo Emmius lived, the most important Ostfriese humanist and historian, founding director of the Groningen University. But the counts were unable to succeed in establishing a strong reign of nobility like in the other states of the Empire. This was because the Friesian estates widely knew how to keep and to defend their liberty rights.

During the Thirty Year War, Ostfriesland suffered great pain inflicted by troops of count of Mansfeld. The only exception was Emden, because the ramparts finished just in time protected the town against the invasion of foreign troops.


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