The Cirksena are noble East Frisian
East Frisians
East Frisians are, in the wider sense, the inhabitants of East Frisia in the northwest of the German state of Lower Saxony. In the narrower sense the East Frisians are the eastern branch of the Frisians, a Germanic people and belong, together with the Danes, Sorbs, Sinti and Romanies to the...

 family descended from a line of East Frisian chieftains
East Frisian chieftains
The East Frisian chieftains assumed positions of power in East Frisia during the course of the 14th century, after the force of the old, egalitarian constitution from the time of Frisian Freedom had markedly waned.- Early history :...

 from Greetsiel
Greetsiel is a small port on the bight of Leybucht in western East Frisia, Germany that was first documented in letters from the year 1388. Since 1972, Greetsiel has been part of the municipality of Krummhörn, which has its administrative seat in Pewsum...


The Cirksena in East Frisia

In 1439 in the wake of clashes between different lines of chieftains, the town of Emden
Emden is a city and seaport in the northwest of Germany, on the river Ems. It is the main city of the region of East Frisia; in 2006, the city had a total population of 51,692.-History:...

 was first placed by Hamburg under direct rule and then, in 1453, finally given to the Cirksena. The family administered and ruled the town until 1595.

The Cirksena gained strength and succeeded the chieftain line of the tom Brok
Tom Brok
The tom Brok family were a powerful East Frisian line of chieftains, originally from the Norderland on the North Sea coast of Germany. From the second half of the 14th century, the tom Broks tried to gain control of East Frisia over the other chieftain families...

s, after their opponent Focko Ukena
Focko Ukena
Focko Ukena was an East Frisian chieftain who played an important part in the struggle between the Vetkopers and Schieringers in the provinces of Groningen and Friesland...

 was defeated and expelled by several allied chieftains
East Frisian chieftains
The East Frisian chieftains assumed positions of power in East Frisia during the course of the 14th century, after the force of the old, egalitarian constitution from the time of Frisian Freedom had markedly waned.- Early history :...

, led by Edzard Cirksena
Edzard Cirksena
Edzard Cirksena was an East Frisian chieftain at Greetsiel, Norden, Emden and Brokmerland .His father Enno Edzardisna and he had married the last two heiresses of the great family of Syardsna from Berum; Edzard married Frauwa Cirksena; his father married her aunt Gela Cirksena...

. Ulrich Cirksena (d 1466) was elevated to the rank of imperial count
Imperial Count
Imperial Count was a title in the Holy Roman Empire. On the one hand, it was used to designate the holders of a imperial county, that is, a county that was a fief directly from the emperor, rather than from a duke; on the other hand, the owner of the title of "Count" could be elevated to...

 by Emperor Frederick III
Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick the Peaceful KG was Duke of Austria as Frederick V from 1424, the successor of Albert II as German King as Frederick IV from 1440, and Holy Roman Emperor as Frederick III from 1452...

 and enfeoffed with the Imperial County of East Frisia.

The most important rule from the House of Cirksena was Edzard the Great (1462–1528), under whose leadership the Imperial County of East Frisia reached its greatest extent. During his reign the Reformation spread throughout East Frisia
East Frisia
East Frisia or Eastern Friesland is a coastal region in the northwest of the German federal state of Lower Saxony....

. In 1654 the Cirksena were elevated to princes by the emperor. Charles Edzard
Charles Edzard, Prince of East Frisia
Charles Edzard was the last prince of East Frisia. He ruled from 12 June 1734 until his death...

, the last ruler from the House of Cirksena, died without issue during the night of 25/26 May 1744 (reportedly from a glass of buttermilk, which is said to have drunk after a hunt). Immediately thereafter, the state was taken over by Frederick the Great.

The Cirksena in Rietberg

The Cirksena provided the rulers of the County of Rietberg from 1581 to 1699. This initially happened as a personal union
Personal union
A personal union is the combination by which two or more different states have the same monarch while their boundaries, their laws and their interests remain distinct. It should not be confused with a federation which is internationally considered a single state...

 with East Frisia, after Count Enno III had married Rietberg's daughter-heir, Walburg von Rietberg. In the Treaty of Berum
Treaty of Berum
The Treaty of Berum was one a treaty concluded on 28 January 1600 at Berum Castle between the Count Enno III of East Frisia and the County of Rietberg, which regulated the sale of the Harlingerland to East Frisia.- Background :...

 (1600) however he ceded the County of Rietberg to his daughters.

In 1601 Enno's brother, Count John III
John III of Rietberg
John III of Rietberg was a member of the Cirksena family. He founded the Catholic side line of the Cirksena in the Westphalian County of Rietberg, the so-called house of East Frisia....

, married his niece, Sabina Catherine
Sabina Catherine of East Frisia
Sabina Catherine of East Frisia or Sabina Catherine Cirksena was a Countess of Rietberg.- Life :...

, Enno's daughter and heiress of Rietberg, with papal dispensation
Dispensation (Catholic Church)
In the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, a dispensation is the suspension by competent authority of general rules of law in particular cases...

. Both were converted to Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 and so founded the Catholic branch line of the House of Cirksena. The last male descendant of the House of East Frisia in Rietberg, Count Ferdinand Maximilian, died in 1687. His heiress, Maria Ernestine Francisca, married Maximilian Ulrich of Kaunitz in 1699.

Coat of arms

The coat of arms of the family of Cirksena displays a crowned, golden harpy
In Greek mythology, a harpy was one of the winged spirits best known for constantly stealing all food from Phineas...

 (or angel) on a black field. This motif appears in a variety of successor coats of arms. For example in the final comital coat of arms of East Frisia, which Count Rudolf Christian
Rudolf Christian, Count of East Frisia
Rudolf Christian of Ostfriesland, Count of East Frisia, was count of East Frisia, and the second son of Enno III of East Frisia and Anna of Holstein-Gottorp. During his reign, foreign troops participating in the Thirty Years' War began retreating into and quartering in East Frisia...

 adopted in 1625. Here the harpy is in the upper left of the shield. This coat of arms is still used today as the emblem of East Frisia.

The upper half of Emden's coat of arms also depicts the Cirksena harpy. Until the Emden Revolution in 1595, the Cirksena resided in the town of Emden. Even the Dutch town of Delfzijl
Delfzijl is a municipality and city in the northeast of the Netherlands. It is situated on the left bank of the river Ems estuary, which forms the border with Germany.-Population centres:...

 opposite Emden has the incorporated the Cirksena coat of arms into its own. This goes back to the rule of Edzard the Great in Groningerland
Groningen (province)
Groningen [] is the northeasternmost province of the Netherlands. In the east it borders the German state of Niedersachsen , in the south Drenthe, in the west Friesland and in the north the Wadden Sea...

. Likewise the harpy is part of the coat of arms of Aurich district, albeit in a different colour, something which also goes back to the Cirksena. Even the present day municipality of Krummhörn, in which the ancestral homeland of the Cirksena lay, has the family's coat of arms in its municipal shield.

After the Cirksena had taken over the reins of power in the County of Rietberg, their emblem was also found in Rietberg's coat of arms, between the coat of arms of the old ruling family and that of the Harlingerland
The Harlingerland is a strip of land on the North Sea coast of East Frisia. Whilst, today, the whole of the district of district of Wittmund is usually described as Harlingerland, historically it is specifically used to refer to the northern part of the present district, which formed the old...

. It was later supplemented by the Kaunitz family's coat of arms.

Through the link between East Frisia and Rietberg the Cirksena harpy is still part of the coat of arms of the Principality of in Liechtenstein, albeit in the reverse colours (black and gold), at the bottom right (heraldic: bottom left). Gundakar of Liechtenstein
Gundakar, Prince of Liechtenstein
Gundakar of Liechtenstein was a member of the House of Liechtenstein and as such the owner of a large estate. He also served the Habsburg dynasty.- Family :...

 had married Agnes Cirksena, the second daughter of Count Enno III and Walburgis of Rietberg
Walburgis, Countess of Rietberg
Countess Walburgis of Rietberg was 1565-1576 and 1584-1586 Countess of Rietberg.Walburgis was the second daughter of Count John II of Rietberg and Agnes of Bentheim-Steinfurt in Rietberg. After the birth of John Edzard, her youngest child and only son, Walburgis needed tot recover and moved from...

, and had a claim to Rietberg as a result.

Origin of the name

The name Cirksena is of Frisian origin and is still a widespread family name in East Frisia today. It probably goes back to the old forename Tzirk (Cirk). Enno Attena
Enno Edzardisna
Enno Edzardisna was a chieftain of Norden, Greetsiel, Berum and Pilsum in East Frisia. He was the son of the chieftain Edzard II of Appingen-Greetsiel and his wife Doda tom Brok...

took over the respectable name on the occasion of his marriage to the daughter-heir, Gela Syardsna of Manslagt.


  • Hobbing, Hans Heinrich (1915). Die Begründung der Erstgeburtsnachfolge im ostfriesischen Grafenhaus der Cirksena. Aurich(Abhandlungen und Vorträge zur Geschichte Ostfrieslands, 19)
  • Reimers, Heinrich (1925) Ostfriesland bis zum Aussterben seines Fürstenhauses. Bremen
  • Esselborn, Ernst (1945). Das Geschlecht Cirksena. Berlin

External links

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