Family CrestThe von Huene Family

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History of the Family and its Baltic Homeland
Adaptation of a lecture given by cousin Heiner of the house Alt-Ottenhof
at the Family Day on June 6, 1970 in Castle Höhnscheid, (Free translation by R.v.H.)

When a clan of related persons who bear the same name and who are all descendants of one person - of one progenitor in the male line, is pictured in visual form it invariably resembles a tree, which is called the family tree. For our family a family tree has been produced a hundred years ago in a manner which seems to me very attractive and which my father has completed to the 14th generation. Photocopies of it are available. With the help of this family tree one can observe how our clan first of all divides into trunks and then gradually branches into smaller and ever smaller twigs. All of us who sit here occupy single top twigs of this tree and as one can see, are all more or less related to each other. How much the relation to each other has changed after the world wars and the loss of our homeland becomes evident when we see that we are dispersed over the entire world, speak a variety of dialects and in some cases do not even master the German language, follow a variety of occupations and live under various conditions. In contrast to this our forbearers occupied and lived in one common homeland, which they together with other clans governed independently for centuries on the basis of certain privileges and thus molded it and on the other hand were molded by it. In our days we have little time to look back on the common past of our clan in genealogical as well as historical regard and also little interest and opportunity to do so. We are too much occupied with the problems of the present and the worries of the future. The only thing which we have absolutely in common is our family name. But even this regrettably in a variety of forms. I will deal with this later. The common name alone however will not be the only reason for gathering here, but also the more or less conscious feeling of belonging together, of being members of one clan and especially among the older generation of originating in one homeland. These three factors which unite us - history, our clan and our homeland - will be the theme of my talk which I dedicate particularly to those among us for whom this is a new matter.

The uninterrupted genealogy of our clan begins with "Johann von Hoynge(n) genant Hu(e)ne" who is mentioned documentarily in 1500 and 1501 when he was invested with a fief in Kurland. His great-grandson Barthold stated in 1620, when he registered in the Knighthood of Kurland, that the father of Johann was Jobst who immigrated from Germany and settled in the establishment (Stift) of Dorpat. Also on the so called "Kadvelsche Ahnentafel" a genealogy which Martin, a brother of Barthold, ordered painted on canvas in 1646, Jobst is designated as father of Johann. The original of this genealogy is in the possession of my father in Glücksburg. However, there are no further proofs of this connection. It is not necessary to doubt it since some other persons of other families have claimed Jobst and Johann as their predecessors when they registered at the office of the Knights of Kurland. Such registry was made under oath and was carefully checked by the Court of the Knighthood.

Any connection with the numerous nobility clans in the region of the Rheinland and Westfalia with the same or similar name - which in the meantime have died out - could not be established. Particularly Anselm - of the House Ehrenbreitstein (1917 - 1882) and Edgar - of the House Echmes (1878 - 1969) have searched for the origin of Jobst for decades and also for all clans with similar names with which a connection could exist. However, there can be no doubt that our ancestor Johann was of noble origin, since the name, the striking simplicity of the Coat of Arms, and his position as a vassal of the German Order are indicating this. (Footnote by R.v.H.: In the feudal system a fief was a landgrant, bestowed as a reward for services. Originally the land did not become the property of the one receiving the fief; it was only loaned for the lifetime of the recipient. All land theoretically belonged either to the King or Church. The King would bestow upon a Duke a fief, which the Duke would divide into fiefs for Counts and they in turn divided their fiefs for Vassals, that is lower nobility - Barons and those noblemen with only "von" in front of their names. The vassals had their own soldiers with which they supported their Lord when called upon. Peasants were serfes, owned and subject to the holder of the fief. Citizens of towns, except those of free cities, were subject to the lord of the fief. Coat of Arms were bestowed only on nobility. The rank of nobility was indicated by the prongs in the crown in the coat of arms. Von - 5 prongs, Baron - 7 prongs, Count - 9 prongs.)

The state in which our family settled around 1500, where it branched out and flourished for 400 years and became one of the most numerous clans of the land, belonged at that time to the German Order (Deutscher Orden - an order of crusaders established about 400 years earlier). Through it, it belonged to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. This state originated through the two main motives of medieval expansion; Extension of economy and expansion of church power. The founder of this state was Bishop Albert, who founded the city of Riga in 1201 and established in 1204 the "Schwertbrüder Orden" (translated - sword brother order). He recruited crusaders on may journeys to Germany for a crusade to this country with was dedicated by the pope to the virgin Mary. The Knights, who came from Lower Saxony and Westphalia, were joined by priests, merchants and tradesmen, who changed the country into a German colony. In 1246 the Schwertbrüder Order was decisively beaten in battle by the native Lives and Kures. The only salvation was to join the German Order, which in a short time before had settled in Prussia. During the 13th century the country succeeded to fortify in continuous battles against the internal and external enemies.

At that time there were 4 ranks in the country. The highest was the Bishop of Riga and other bishops. The second the Knights of the Order and their master. The third the vassals or Knighthoods. Finally as the 4th the citizens of the large towns. In a civil war which followed the fortification of the country, the Order succeeded to break the power of the archbishop and conquer Riga.

Very soon however the Order had to face great external dangers. The neighboring countries had become strong, and were coveting to win the country. First Poland united through marriage with Lithuania in 1386 and became a great power. After Poland-Lithuanian had conquered the Order in Prussia, the situation of the Order in Livonia became hopeless. In 1410 at the battle of Tannenberg the German Order was decisively beaten. In 1466 the Order even had to submit to the supremacy of Poland over Prussia. In the East the Grandduke of Moscow, Ivan III had started to unite the small states and had become an important power. And finally Sweden had grown to be one of the great powers.

The situation had become extremely dangerous around 1500, when our ancestor settled in our country. The reason why the German Order succeeded to stay independent longer in our country than in Germany was due to the master of the Order, Wolter von Plattenberg. In 1502 he decisively beat Ivan III with a small force. Under Plattenberg most likely our ancestor fought as vassal of the Order, because it was from him that he had received his fief in Kurland in 1500 and 1501.

The Order was severely shaken by the reformation, which spread rapidly in the country. The Order ended completely in 1561 when it was not able to defend itself against the enemies who attacked it from all sides.

Now the hour of the third rank had come. The vassals had united into Knighthoods. The Huenes also belonged to these.

The vassals had come into the country following the Order and had received fiefs as rewards. In the beginning inheritance of the fiefs was limited to male descendants only. Later, however, they succeeded to make inheritance possible also to the female descendants and even relatives up to the fifth generation. In this way they felt closely tied to the land. Since, besides that, there was a strong feeling of belonging together and since they had strongly organized for the defense of their country and their interests, they became the most important and dominant element in the country. When the Order disintegrated they emerged as the only representative body of the country. They were the ones who negotiated with the enemies who came into the country. It was no longer the question of the farthest outpost of the Holy Roman Empire to which the Order had belonged, but who was to rule the Baltic Sea. The country had lost its independence and had become the playball of several great powers. Whoever possessed this country ruled over the Baltic Sea and through it became a great power in Europe as we can even see today.

First Poland and Sweden divided the country among themselves. Estonia became Swedish, the rest was under Polish dominion except for the Order as fief dukedom. The grand duke of Russia, Ivan IV, also wanted to conquer the coutnry and undertook several expeditions against it. However, in 1582 Poland and Sweden succeeded in pushing him back. After this a war between Poland and Sweden started. In the beginning Poland had some success but in 1620 King Gustav Adolf of Sweden could make the Baltic Sea a Swedish lake. Except for the fief dukedom of Kuronia the country belonged to Sweden. Finally, in the Nordic war, Peter I of Russia succeeded in fulfilling Russia's dream and took possession of the seashore which was so important for Russia. This opened the window to Europe and Russia followed Sweden as the great power. Since 1710 - Kuronia since 1795 - until today the Baltic provinces belong to Russia except for the 20 years of the existence of the republics of Estonia and Latvia between the two world wars.

During the time of foreign domination the Knighthoods had just as hard a time as the Order had during the time of independence. In the year 1561 King Sigismund August of Poland gave to the Knighthood of Livonia certain guaranteed privileges called through the years "privilegium Sigismundi Augusti". These privileges secured the use of the German language, the evangelical religion, government and jurisdiction by native according to German law. These privileges were also granted to the Estonian Knighthood by the King of Sweden. The privilegium Sigismundi Augusti became the foundation of the self government of Livonia. The existence of the state depended on it and, therefore, the preservation of these privileges became the chief objective of the Knighthoods. With much pains in the Knighthoods succeeded in saving these privileges against the attacks of the Poles, Sweden and Russians without much change into the 20th century.

The Polish dominion brought the counter-reformation, which endangered the evangelical religion. Toward the end of the 17th century Sweden infringed on the privileges granted to the Knighthoods by confiscating the manors and giving them as rewards to Swedes during the long-lasting wars. A delegation to the king, which protested the confiscation was arrested and condemned to death. The speaker of this delegation was Reinhold von Patkul. He succeeded in escaping and became the main initiator of the coalition of Russia, Poland and Denmark, which conqured Sweden int the Nordic war. When, in 1710, Peter I of Russia conquered the country he granted the Privelegium Sigismundi Augusti to the Knighthoods. Only Kurland remained a Polish fief dukedom until the second division of Poland in 1795. All of Peter's successors acknowledged the privileges when they ascended the throne. The first to deny them was Alexander III (1881 - 1894). Instead he declared to the Knighthoods that he considered the Baltic provinces part of Russia. Measures were taken to make the country Russian. Russian jurisdiction was introduced, the self-government abolished, the Russian language ordered for governmental business and the German educational institutions destroyed. Toward the end of the 19th century the difficult situation became almost untenable. The differences between the Germans and the native Letts and Estonians, who were stirred up by the Russians, increased. This difference became already apparent during the revolution of 1905 and became disastrous for the Germans when, after the revolution of 1917, the republics of Estonia and Latvia were created. In 1920 these republics expropriated the estates leaving a small remnant farm to the owners. The Knighthoods as governing bodies ceased to exist.

Four different Knighthoods influenced by the geo-political situation developed in the country. (This was in the days of self-government. R.v.H.) These were Estonia, Livonia, Kuronia and the Island of Oesel. Each district was administered by elected representatives of the Knighthood of that district. They served without compensation. The elections were held every three years at the diet to which every owner of a manor had to appear. According to the Privilegium the business of the diet was everything which had to do with the rights, welfare and the institutions of the country or Knighthood. For instance, such things as matters of the church, education, jurisdiction, establishment of new estates, acceptance of new members into the knighthood. In order to fortify the feeling of belonging together the Knighthoods created registers of nobility - the so called "Ritterbanken" - around the middle of the 18th century - Kurland already in 1620-. Only persons and clans registered in these could participate in the administration of the country and exercise the duties and rights of the Knighthoods.

Although the Huenes are not the oldest or most prominent clan they are one of the most numerous and wide-spread of the Baltic nobility. All of the now living bearers of the name descended from Heinrich (Dec. 1597). He was the owner of the estates Aahof and Sessau which constituted the fief given to his grandfather and our ancestor, Johann in 1507. Heinrich had also acquired the estate Feldhof. When the registry of nobility was established in Kurland in 1620 his sons Barthold, Heinrich and Martin and their descendants were registered. In this way the entire clan is matriculated in Kurland.

Through the descendants of Martin who, in 1646, ordered the painting of the Kadvelsch Ahnentafel and who accompanied the courtmarshal Duke Wilhelm of Kurland to Estonia the family became resident in Estonia. There his great grandson, Karl Friedrich of Heimar, with his descendants, was accepted in the Estonian knighthood in 1729 and was entered into the Estonian register of knighthood when it was established in 1746. The descentants of his son Johann Georg (1765 - 1935) and Wilhelm (1772 - 1851) remained in Estonia. The established the house Adila which became extinct in the male line with the death of Professor Friedrich (1875 - 1969) and the house of Kelp which became extinct earlier. An older son of Karl Friedrich, Berend Johann (1755 - 1796) became the founder of the house Kadvel which was immatriculated in 1785 in the knighthood of Oesel. Although this house became extinct in the male line after the death of Edward (1874 - 1969) it was the origin of the flourishing and numerous houses of Altottenhof, Rawlitz and Marienheim which were immatriculated in 1905 in the knighthood of Livonia. These houses belong to all four knighthoods.

The descentants of a brother of Martin (the one who went to Estonia) Christof (Dec 1645) settled in neighboring Lithuania and were in Polish military service. Through the sons of his great grandson Otto Ewald (Dec. 1763) this line divided into three branches. George (Dec. 1784) founded the line Waimastfer which is perhaps today still flourishing in the Soviet Union. This line was immatriculated in the Estonian knighthood. It's members lived mainly in Russia where they occupied high administrative and military positions during the time of the czars. Ernst Friedrich (1720 - 1802) originated the branch Ehrengreitenstein. He went to Prussia already at the end of the 18th century. His grandson Wilhem (1790 - 1858) directed as civil engineer and Prussian lieutenant-General the building of the fortress Ehrenbreitenstein near Koblenz. The descendants of Wilhelm used the spelling "Hoiningen". They were given the permission to resume the title "Freiherr" in 1863. The third son, Otto Eberhard (1730 -1788) settled in Estonia and was immatriculated in the Estonian knighthood. His son Herman (1772 - 1845) acquired estates in Livonia and was immatriculated there in 1818 in the Livonian knighthood. He founded the line Fehsen-Nawast-Lelle. Otto Eberhard's other son Alexander Georg (1766 - 1810) became the originator of the house Lechts which is extinct in the male line. However, from it sprang the lines Paulsruhe, Rocht (extinct.) Schemes and Matzal.

The only thing which we have in common with each other is our name. However, if we would compare the names in our passports we would find that not all of us carry the same civil, legal name. In some it will be Freiherr, in others - Baron and in many - neither one. In some, even the "von" is omitted because of the opinion that the "Baron" precludes the "von".

The descendants of the Prussian Lieutenant-General Wilhelm write the "Hoyningen" with "i" instead of "y" as most others. This spelling is justified and is well known. In some passports the "Hoyningen" will be omitted. The "gen." Only very few ill carry as part of the name. Only when we come to "Huene" one finally sees unity. At least we carry this part of the name jointly. If these name forms and spelling would have come about in the course of centuries as it is in some other families one could understand it. In our family this came bout in short time - about two generations. It came about through negligence, carelessness and disrespect of the name. I know one case in which the father and his three sons do not have the same name when one is particular about details.

The correct official name which we carry or should carry is "Freiherr (Baron) von Hoyningen (Hoiningen) gen. Huene". Our family enters the first legal documents of 1500 and 1501 with the name "v. Hoynge gen. Hu(e)ne". From this the form of the name used today developed with which our family is entered into the records of the Baltic knighthoods and in may genealogical works, among others the "Geneologische Handbuch des Deutschen Adels". The title "Freiherr" is based on the Russian acceptance for using the title "Baron" according to the senate ukas No. 2823 of April 3, 1862 and the Prussian approval to resume the title "Freiherr" of August 12, 1863 for the descendants of Lt.-Gen. Wilhelm.

According to the entry in the records of the knighthood of Kurland not only the descendants of Wilhelm but all the bearers of the name are entitled to use the title "Freiherr". Today, however, the former nobility titles "Baron and "Freiherr" are only parts of the name. Since 1818 they are no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the nobility but to the civil jurisdiction. Some branches have become citizens in Germany after the first world war witht the title "Freiherr".

It is obvious that our official name is too long to be used in daily life. That is not only so today but has been that way before. The part of our name to use in daily life is "huene". Up to the beginning of this century our name in daily use was "Huene" in the Baltic Provinces where the full family name was well known.

Since, however, the name is not known in the Bundesrepublic and still less in other countries, and since the official registrars are particular about the correct name, one no longer can just use "Huene" unless one is in danger to lose part of the name for oneself and one's descendants. How we call ourselves in daily life, if "Hoyningen" or "Huene" is immaterial. On the other hand, we should beware of carelessness, laziness or modesty when ssports, identificaton or othe rdocuments are issued. It may save time and bother at the t moment but we should insist on correctness for the future. A "Mr. Mueller" will watch that his name iss pelled with two "l's". Likewise, we should be watchful to preserve our name unchanged and complete. It should be an obligation toward our ancestors, our descendants and the family in general to do this.

Fifty years ago, the knighthoods ceased to exist as civil-legal corporations when as aftermath of the Russian revolution the republics of Latvia and Estonia were established. In particular most of the nobility was forced to leave the country which their ancestors had developed and administered because their estates had been confiscated. Only a few returned after World War I to manage the so-called "Rest-Gueter". In 1939 these also had to leave our homeland. The knighthoods have united after the second world war into the "Verband der baltischen Ritterschaften E.V" which belongs to the largest and most active association of nobility to the "Vereinigung der deutschen Adelsverbaende". Our association is divided into regional groups and the historical knighthoods.

Everyone of us belongs to one or more knighthoods through birth or marriage and when he is over 18 years old can become a member of the association. It should be self-evident to every one of us to be a member and so far as possible, participate in its activities.

Fifty years ago, after the first world war, or thirty years ago in the resettlement of all Baltic Germans, the Huenes also left their homeland. Thus, the common "Lebensraum" was lost. In a few decades the family disbursed over the entire world. The bearers of the name today belong to different worlds, nations and societies.

The forces which tend to separate us are powerful. In view of that we should cling together and make it our goal to overcome these forces. In the pluralistic society in which we live today it is useful and important for each of us to belong to communities which help and assist each other. I believe there is no other community more suitable for this as a family like ours into which we have been born and to which we belong as long as we live. We should endeavor to extend this family consciousness not only to parents, brothers and sisters but to all bearers of the name and to let our family become a living community. A condition for this is that all births, marriages, deaths and changes of address are communicate to the genealogist of the family so that the family tree, mentioned initially, can grow and get new twigs. Still more important is that we remain in contact with each other, visit and learn to know each other and that we are not only concerned with our undoubtedly unique past but help each other to cope with the great and little problems of today and the future.

The von Huene Family

Last Updated March 10, 2000
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