The Story behind the two spellings of the Family Name Sponneck/Sponeck.

Many people have asked why our name is spelt with one and by others with two ‘n’s, so I feel the time has come to explain how this came about historically.  We, as a ‘house’ are still very closely connected, as on numerous occasions we came near to extinction even in our brief 300 year history as a high aristrocratic family.

The story begins in Silesia when it was still German, many centuries ago and in the ancient town of Liegnitz.  Here, back in 1240 our original family name of ‘Hedwiger’ or ‘Hedewiger’ and in days of yore, even ‘Hedwicher’ were first recorded as knights of the early dukes of Liegnitz.  They took part in the great and famous, but lost ‘Battle of Liegnitz’ fought on the 9th April 1241, when Duke Henry II of Lower Silesia and his brave knights and soldiers fought a pitted battle against the invading Mongol forces of the great khan Ogadei.  Unfortunately for the Duke and Knights of which many, as well as the Duke, lost their lives, the battle was lost to them, but that the Mongols did not invade further into Europe, at that time, was solely due the death of the great khan, and that his two sons leading the armies of the kahn, had to return to Karakorum for the election of the next ruler!  They never did return to fight in Europe.  For the next three hundred years, some ten generations passed with the ‘Von Hedwiger’ branch, being lower nobility and land owners and also known as knights of the Holy Roman Empire in their ancestoral home of Liegnitz (Polish Legnica) in south western Poland.  How do we know this is true?

Simply because of our family ‘coat-of-arms’ which has past up to us to this day.  A copy can be seen on our ‘Coat-of-Arms’ photo album on my facebook page and also herewith.  These Von Hedwiger Arms clearly indicate a number of things to us, also by the laws and rules of heraldry, about our family.  Firstly, the fact that they were Arms bearing indicates that they were a Knightly family. The use of arms by the peasants had not yet filtered through to the burger population. Secondly, the form of the arms and the barrel helmet are clearly, by the rules of heradry, of the 13th Century, and indicative of a knightly family. These helmets’ shapes changed with the ages. Thirdly, the Von Hedwiger shield bears the golden lion rampant and ‘crowned’, which is a distinction from many other lions on shields of that time.  A further distinction from many other lion ‘charges’ on other shields is the fact that its tail is doubled which is called ‘queueforched’ in heraldic language, these making it almost unique to us.  The lion is also the most chosen heraldic symbol and was also chosen by Von Hedwiger because of its symbolism to bravery and strength of the knight. The lion is gold on a red shield.  Red is the most popular colour used in Polish heraldry!

Our first recorded ancestor appears in 1510 with the birth and recorded history of BATHAZAR VON HEDWIGER who was too firstly a soldier and a knight still, as those early recorded ancestors. Our personal record of his life is written in a letter by his great-great grandson, Georg Wilhelm to the Emperor, Leopold I, the original which is in the Austrian archives and a copy in my hand. Here we read that Bathazar was a young knight fighting against the Turks together with and under the command of no less than Charles V.  His commander gave young Bathazar a particularly dangerous job of swimming across the Danube near Vienna to Reconnoiter the enemy and report back.

As a result of this successful operation, Charles V’s forces, we are told by Georg Wilhelm, were able decisively to do much damage to the enemy forces.  In his later years, this same Balthazar von Hedwiger, we are told in this letter,  became privy councillor (no mean feat) to Maximilian II (Holy Roman Empeoror), who instructed that this noble ‘deed’ be included in his Coucillors recongised family arms with a ‘swimming fish in a sliver stream’, illustrating the swimming of the Danube and a ‘star’ and ‘moon’ as recognised emblems of the Turkish empire!  These were confirmed in the coat-of-arms of the family four generations later for Georg Wilhelm von Hedwiger in his elevation as created ‘Reichsgraf’ (Count-of-the-Empire) by the Holy Roman Emperor,  Leopold I in 1701.

The next three generations are named in this same document. Firstly, Balthazar’s son, Carl von Hedwiger is recored as being a privy councillor to Heinrich Duke of Leignitz (1539-1588). Carl died in his 44th year, so started early his career as a courtier. His only son also died young. He was Christoph von Hedwiger, recorded here as privy councillor in his turn to Johan Christian Brieg von Liegnitz (1591-1639). Christoph died at 42 years of age so had an early career at court as well. Carl’s son and father of Georg Wilhelm and Johann Rudolph (German branch forefather) is given as being an Army Officer with the rank of Captain in the Wuerttemberg-Oels Regiment. Captain Johann von Hedwiger had 7 children. Of the three children of his first wife, there were two sons and one daughter. The eldest son was Johann Heinrich von Hedwiger. He was stated in the Danmarks Adels Aarbog, 1916 edition, as Adjutant-General to the Emperor, thus showing his high standing in court. This line became extinct in the third generation through the two nephews who both died in military actions at early ages and without heirs.

We now come to the saga of the Spon(n)eck.  How did the Von Hedwiger from East Germany come to get the name ‘Sponeck’ which was a castle belonging to the Von Wuerttemberg House on the Rhine river in south west Germany?  For this we must consider some history of the time.  The French King, Louis XIV, was at war with his Austrian cousins.  The Dukes of Wuerttemberg, who owned Burg Sponeck, were at this time also in posession of the State of Montbeliard within French territory on the west side of the Rhine river. They had inherited it by marriage. In German it is known as ‘Moempelgard’.  Thus, this branch of the Wuerttemberg family were knows as Dukes of Wuerttemberg-Mompelgard.  The French forces had however driven them out of Montbeliard (town and state) and the family had fled to the East to the Duke’s daughter who had married a cousin and was known as Duke of Wuerttembeg-Oels, in Oels, for sancturary.  Of course this had been close enough to Silesia and the Von Hedwiger family.  The sister of our Georg Wilhelm von Hedwiger, who was at this time a military captain (officers were by far from the noble classes) was also at court of the Dutchess von Wuerttemberg-Oels as a ‘lady-in-Waiting’ on her ladyship.  Again, a position held by the young ladies and gentlemen of the noble classes, as it is still in the monarchal courts of Europe.  So this all belies the early records that she was the daughter of a ‘baker’ and another that states her father as a ‘rope’ maker.  Hardly, when he was an army officer of good rank, as declared in Georg’s letter to the emperor.  So it was that the youngest child and son of Duke von Wuerttemberg-Mompelgard came into contact with the Von Hedwiger children.  The young duke, Leopold Eberhard von Wuerttemberg-Mompelgard soon struck up a relationship with the court lady-in-waiting, the beautiful Anna Sabina von Hedwiger and thus also made friends with her three brothers who were all in the military services of the emperor.  One was to die early in battle without a wife or offspring. He was Johann Christoph von Hedwiger.

In 1695 the young Duke married morganically the lower nobled Anna Sabina von Hedwiger.  She gave him four children of which two died in childhood. Unfortunately for the Duke, his line died out in 1831 in the third generation.   By the year 1698 the Austrian and French war was over, with the defeat of the French forces and as repatriation, the State of Montbeliard was returned to the Dukes of Wuerttemberg.  Unfortuantely for the elder Duke, he died about this time and his young 29 year old son inherited his lands and possessions.  Thus it was that the young duke and his wife and children with the dowager wife of the Captain, returned to Montbeliard (Moempelgard) as ruler.  Duke Leopold Eberhard then invited his brother-in-law and good friend to accompany him and take up position as governor for him of the State of Mompelgard.  This Georg Wilhelm von Hedwiger did, leaving the miltary and taking up rank and career in the Court of Moempelgard (Montbeliard).  This was in 1699.  This position, Georg Wilhelm,  my direct 5th great grandfather, held until 1703.

In the year 1701, very possibly with the prompting of Duke Leopold Eberhard, Georg Wilhem von Hedwiger undertook to write to the then Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, and in so doing gave us most of the story above.  In the letter he respectfully requests that the honourable title of Reichsgraf be confered also upon his two younger brothers – Johann Christoph and Johann Rudolph – and upon his only sister and the wife of the Duke, Anna Sabina von Hedwiger.  No doubt, encouraged by the Duke, Georg Wilhelm, in a personal letter to the Emperor, Leopold I, gave his family credentials and requested the title for his sister and two brothers.  Georg Wilhelm had also married a Polish noble woman in Anna Sophie Bojanowa von Bojanowski.  I have found records of this family in the German nobility.  This too may have been a motivation to enhance his personal status from knight to that of count, and he was also inclined well to make mention, in what I call his ‘motivational letter’, the fact that he was by the good graces of the Duke of Wuerttemberg-Mompelgard also ruler of his estates, Province and cities of Moempelgard.  This letter, the original copy, is also still filed in the Vienna Historical Archives together with the original title grant with emperors seal, with which I was presented on my enquiry at the Archives during a visit to Vienna a while ago.

In the documents of the Austrian State Archives in Vienna, which I visited in 1998, I was able to peruse by appointment the catchment documents and file of the creation of the family Von Hedwiger to the high and well born title of Counts-of-the-Empire of the Holy Roman Emperor.  In a lengthy legal document of some eighteen pages drawn up by a jurist, one Meyer, and signed and sealed by the Emperor Leopold I the four sibblings were together elevated and created ‘Reichsgrafen’ with the Castle Sponeck as their title name!   On payment of a fee of 60 Deutchmark + postage, very kindly paid for by Hans-Henning von Sponeck, a copy was eventually sent to me.  I could find nobody able to read this ancent German handwriting until we found someone working in ancient documents who could transpose it into more understandable legable German.  It is this transposed copy that is to be found in the back of my book ‘The Sponneck Saga’ (of which I still have a few copies available for sale) and which is reproduced  on our family website at:

Extract from ‘The Sponneck Saga’ –  Letter of Introduction from Emperor Leopold I to Electing Bishops of Trier & Mainz.

Notifikation, Schreiben an Chur Maintz, und Chur Trier als Cammerrichter für Georg Wilhelm, Johann Christoph, Johann Rudolph gebrüder und dero Schwester Anna Sabina von Spoñeck.
Wir den 4.Juni 1702
Meyer Exc.
Leopold yê:
wir mögen ewiglich löblich und nämlich Freund gnädiglich und nicht verbergen, weßgestalten wir in gnädigster Betrachtung der uns dem Heiligen Röm. Reich und Ungarn löblich Ertzhaus Österreich geleister und noch leistand civil- und militärdiensten Georg Wilhelm, Johann Christoph, Johann Rudolph sämbtlich Gebrüder und dero Schwester Anna Sabina von Hedwicher mit Hinzulegung des Prädicats Hoch- und Wohlgeboren und denomination von Spoñeck in den Stand, Ehr und Würde unserer und des heil. Röm. Reiches auch unserem Erbkönigreich, Fürstentum und Landen, Grafen samt drei ehelich descendenz 2.Aug. 1701 guds erhoben haben; Besuchs demnach ewiglich löblich ………gnädiglich.

und jetzt bei ihrer Cantzlei die gehörige Verordnung zu tun, daß von demselben gnädigen Grafen und Gräfin von Sponneck und deren Descendenz diese Standeserhöhung und prädikat gebührlich angedeyen möge.
Gegeben, den 4. Juli 1702

Bei unserem Kaiserlichen
Cammergerichts Cantzlei

Now, as stated the Castle or Burg Sponeck has been spelt with a single letter ‘n’ since 1333, once the name had finally developed into this style of use.  Still today, the castle is spelt in this way.  However, in a second document in these state files (Reichs Akten) dated 1702, in a letter of introduction to the Elector Bishops of Trier and Mainz, the Emperor introduces Georg Wilhelm and his sibblings very clearly as the Grafen von Sponneck!  He uses the ‘n’ with a hyphen (-) on top of it, which is the old way of showing a double letter then once with Sponneck written clearly with two ‘n’s.  This is the first encounter of the Sponneck as in our branches form.   Now, with the understanding of German, one would know that this, unlike in English, changes the pronounciation of the name from a long ‘o’ in Sp o neck to a short ‘o’ in Sp o nneck, as is the rule in German.  For us Anglicized family and English speaking peoples, we would know that whether you spell it with one or two ‘n’s, the pronouciation really stays the same for English!  In fact, the double ‘n’ really just complicates the spelling from the English pronounciation of the name.  Say your name for someone to write, and they will not spell it correctly the first time!  However, thats the way it is.

But the story does not stop there!  It is interesting that in 1701 the Sponeck letter ‘k’ in the documents mentioned, was followed by an ‘h’ like this: Sponeckh !    If someone could explain that I would be glad?   I do know that we have an unregistered branch of family in Norway who suppliment the ‘k’ for an ‘h’ – hence ‘Sponich’ .  Also an ‘i’ for the ‘e’ and then go on to the double ‘n’ making it ‘Sponnich’.  I too thought this was then pronounced as in ‘spinach’ (the green leaved vegetable) but subsequently learned that in Norwegian the ‘ch’ is pronounced as ‘ck’ with the ‘silent’ ‘h’.  Hence pronounced ‘Sponic’.   Interestingly enough, a branch of this family who emmigrated to America did in fact change the ‘h’ back to ‘k’ to make it Sponnick, no doubt to improve the silly English speakers from the same mistake.  So is this branch now unique in America all coming from a single emmigrant two or three generations back from Norway.  How this Norwegian branch came about is another family saga!

In following the family tree of my direct ancestor, Georg Wilhelm, he left Duke Leopold’s service in 1703 to take up a post as Colonel in charge of the Danish expeditionary forces, which were seconded to the Austrian Emperor Leopold I to add to the emperors’ forces against Louis XIV once again, with Prince Eugene of Savoy and this time also the English, under command of John Spencer Duke of Marlborough, to fight in the War of the Spanish Succession.  So it was that Colonel Georg Wilhelm Reichsgraf von Sponeck entered Danish service.  He went on to the rank of full general in Copenhagen and ultimately to be awarded the highest decoration in Denmark; to be made a Knight of the Order of the Elephant.  After the war he moved to Copenhagen with his wife and two or three children at that time.  In Denmark Georg Wilhelm used the form ‘Sponeck’ and in the Danish Adels Aarbog of 1916 his 9 children are all given as ‘Sponeck’.  However, his grandchildren are then listed from the later 1700’s as Sponneck.  Why they should have reverted to the double ‘n’ remains a mistery to me, other than it was also given in this form in the emperors introductory letter of 1702 to the Bishops of Trier and Mainz!  On top of this the now ‘Danish’ family continued to use the ‘von’ until the Danish King Christian IX empowered the family to the Danish form of the German ‘Reichsgrafen’ as ‘Rigsgreverne’ (Danish – Rige = Realm) on the 7th July 1889 and from this date it appears they dropped the use of the ‘von’ as well, for the first time!  I have also noticed that in the original title grant, the ‘supporters’ of the Achievement -of-Arms are missing but appear in the 1916 Danmarks Adels Aarbog, which leads me to believe they were given to the Sponneck as a grant by the Danish King with the 1889 Danish Noble Naturalisation. These are to two Lion Rampant Guardant on either side of the shield and supporting the shield.

The youngest brother, Johann Rudoph Reichsgraf von Sponeck, on the resignation of his eldest brother, Georg Wilhelm, then resigned a commission in the Danish army, according to the record at this time and in 1703 went to join Duke Leopolds’ court at Moempelgard as governor in his Dukedom of Moempelgard.  He was 23 years of age at this time. This shows something of the close relationship the Sponeck family had with their brother-in-law, Duke Leopold Eberhard von Wuerttemberg-Moempelgard.  This also comes to the fore when one sees how many and how far down the family line the names of Leopold Eberhard are used for the children in the male and female forms in the family, the House of Sponeck.  The German branch of the said Johann Rudolph have never had a problem with the form Sponeck and have remained the Grafen or Reichsgrafen von Sponeck to this day.