Category Archives: Barons of Attinghausen

Where Was the Castle Zumbrunnen?

A number of Swiss history books all recount the story that Werner, the Baron of Attinghausen, owned a castle named Schloss Zumbrunnen in the early 1200s which he gave to his son Walter in the year 1209. Walter adopted the name of the castle as his own surname. But where was this castle that became the namesake of the Zumbrunnen family?

Schloss Zumbrunnen is long gone now, and its site is uncertain, but there are two leading possibilities for where it might have stood.

Option 1: On a Hill in Brunnen, Switzerland

A number of books about the town of Brunnen, Switzerland, say that the Castle Zumbrunnen once stood upon a small hill close to the shore of Lake Lucerne. The town of Brunnen is also identified in Hans Jacob Leu’s 1750 Swiss lexicon. The site is not hard to find today, and is circled in the aerial photo below. For many years, the site was the location of a hotel called the Park-Hotel Hellerbad (you can find many historic postcards of the hotel online). Today, the site is the the location of the Aeskulap Seeklinik, an upscale lake-side clinic where people go to relax for treatment of stress-related illnesses such as burnout, depression and sleep disorders.


Aerial photo of the village of Brunnen, Switzerland. Some sources say that the Castle Zumbrunnen was located atop the small hill circled in red, where a tuft of trees is growing.
via Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-2.0

Here’s the location on Google Maps:

Brunnen map

A journal article from 1906 on the morphology of Brunnen said of this hill:

According to tradition, a castle was said to have stood here, the castle and courtyard of the noble Zumbrunnen family, which in 1209 was held by the family of Attinghausen through inheritance. [The historian] W. Oechsli mentions the site in 1891 in his book “The Beginnings of Switzerland” but gives no corresponding evidence. In a discussion of the Zumbrunnen family from Liebenau, the hill in Brunnen as a castle site is not mentioned. If such had existed, it should be expected on the dominant hill of the time. On the southern entrance of the Park-Hotel, on Gersauer Street, for quite a distance behind the houses there is large rubble, which could have been taken from the castle hill. According to the present owner of the castle hill …more than 1000 cubic meters of rock have been demolished in three periods.

So it seems that, if indeed a castle once stood here, many of its stones have been carried away, used in the construction of other buildings and retaining walls and the like.

An old drawing of this spot from the year 1833, before the hotel was built and before the big shorefront buildings were constructed, shows that the hill was once quite a bit more pronounced. Even at the time of this drawing, the Castle Zumbrunnen that once stood at this location had likely been abandoned for hundreds of years, perhaps 500 or even 600.


The hill on the right, with a large house and barn, is associated with the site of the Castle Zumbrunnen.
via the Swiss National Library

The stone rubble upon a hill is good and logical evidence that a castle once stood here, but it’s not certain that this was the same castle as Castle Zumbrunnen. For one thing, if the family possessed a mighty castle here, why were all their feudal lands and other early historical evidence place the family in the Canton of Uri?

Uri and Brunnen are not far from each other. The castle was originally passed to Walter Zumbrunnen, but Walter’s son Burkhard became a leader in Uri. This is just speculation, but perhaps Burkhard moved to Uri to work with his uncle Werner II, Baron of Attinghausen, and this is how Burkhard became a leader of the people of Uri. Perhaps at some point, they sold the Zumbrunnen Castle to acquire more lands in Uri.


Brunnen (bottom left circle) and Uri (top right circle) are not far from each other, and can be reached via a quick sailing trip on Lake Lucerne, or via a roughly 9 mile trail along the edge of the mountains.

Option 2: Near a Fountain in Uri

While it’s fun to imagine a mighty castle upon a hill in Brunnen, the other possibility is that the “Schloss Zumbrunnen” was a more modest stone house near one of the fountains in Uri. (This location was cited in an 1830 book on Swiss castles.) The name “Zumbrunnen” is somewhat more suggestive of this possibility. “Zum” means “to the” and “Brunnen,” in addition to being the name of a village, also means “fountain” or “town well.” If the name referred “to Brunnen” the town, then in German it would typically be rendered “Zu Brunnen” rather than “Zum Brunnen.”

We also know the Zumbrunnen family in Uri associated their name with fountains. They used a picture of a fountain on their coat of arms. When they were in Italian speaking regions, they even sometimes translated their name to Fontana, the Italian word for fountain. (This is not definitive proof, however, as many Swiss liked wordplay and puns.)

There are a number of ancient fountains in the town of Altdorf, Uri. These would have been logical sites for a stone house too, and make sense as a division of inheritance, as they are across the river from the Attinghausen Castle. Here’s an old fountain near the hospital in Altdorf, Uri. A number of the Zumbrunnen were later involved with the hospital in Uri.


A fountain outside the hospital in Altdorf, Uri.
Roland Zumbuehl via via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The most likely candidate, however, is the old fountain in the main town square of Altdorf. A famous status of William Tell was built next to the fountain. This fountain has since been moved, but you can see it in this old postcard. It closely resembles the fountain that the Zumbrunnen family later used in their coat of arms.


The fountain in the town square of Altdorf, next to a monument to William Tell.

If the Zumbrunnen Castle was, in fact, a more modest stone residence in Altdorf, it would explain why the earliest historical records of the family all point to Altdorf. One site in particular is a possibility: there is a road called Zumbrunnenweg, only about 1,200 feet from the town square, that could have been the location of this stone residence.


This is likely not the last word on the Castle Zumbrunnen. Future research may be able to shed some light on these two locations. If the castle was located in Brunnen then what became of it? Why did it leave the family and when was it ruined? Did some members of the Zumbrunnen family stay in Brunnen? If not for a historic Zumbrunnen residence, then why is the street in Altdorf, not far from the fountain, known as Zumbrunnenweg?


  • “To the Morphology of Brunnen, in Canton Schwyz” by J. Früh. Published 1906 in the Swiss journal Eclogae Geologicae Helvetiae.
  • Zumbrunnen entry in the “General Helvetic, Confederate or Swiss Lexicon” by Hans Jacob Leu. Published in 1750.
  • “History of the Canton Schwyz” by Thomas Fassbind. Published in 1832.
  • “The Swiss in Their Knightly Castles and Mountain Castles” by Johann Jakob Hottinger and Gustav Schwab. Published in 1830.
  • The Ancient Necrologies of the Zumbrunnen and Attinghausen Families

    One of the ways we know for certain that the Zumbrunnen were an important family even in the 1200s and 1300s is through their appearance in ancient church books, where they were memorialized for their donations to the church.

    In the Middle Ages, when a wealthy person died they (or their family) would often make a donation of property or wealth to the Catholic Church. The churches, in return, would record the names of these beneficiaries in large beautiful books, where each donor was assigned a day of the year. These books, which were zealously protected by their churches over the centuries, were known as Jahrzeitbuch (in German) and liber anniversarum or martyrologium (in Latin). In English, they are often called Necrologies or simply Yearbooks.

    In exchange for these large donations, the priests of the church would consult the Necrology throughout the year and pray for the benefactors on their designated date. It is in part through this practice of donating land in exchange for a place in the necrology that the Catholic Church came to own the rights to huge swaths of land across the Holy Roman Empire. Below is a scan of one of the pages from the Necrology for the Monastery of the Order of St. Lazarus, to show what they looked like.

    The necrology of the Monastery of the Order of St. Lazarus

    Sadly, no Zumbrunnen are on the page I’ve found an image of! A full facsimile of this beautiful book is available at some European libraries. It’s quite difficult to make sense of, isn’t vigilant about spelling, was clearly added to over time, and is written in a sort of German-Latin pidgin (for example, the Zumbrunnen sometimes have their names as “Zum Brunnen” or “Zem Brunnen” or “Ze Dem Brunnen” or even translated literally into Latin as Ad Fontem meaning “to the fountain”). One name you can clearly make out in fairly large letters, on the seventh line from the bottom, is “Frat. Egloff de Atighuse”

    Read more …

    William Tell and the Zumbrunnen Family

    The town center of Altdorf includes this famous sculpture of William Tell

    The market place of Altdorf features this famous sculpture of William Tell.
    H. Grob via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

    The Zumbrunnen family originates from the Swiss towns of Attinghausen and Altdorf, in the Canton of Uri, and if you’d ever heard of these towns before it’s very likely because of William Tell, whose famous story takes place in Altdorf. Read more …

    The Origin of the Barons of Attinghausen

    The Zumbrunnen family descends from the Barons of Attinghausen. As already discussed, the first Zumbrunnen in history was Walter Zumbrunnen, who had been born into the Attinghausen family and changed his name to Zumbrunnen in the year 1209.

    But who were the ancient Attinghausens? There are some undisputed facts, and then two basic theories about their origin. It’s unlikely the answer can ever be fully known, with just too much lost in the mists (and fires) of time. Read more …

    The Oldest Genealogy of the Zumbrunnen by Gabriel Bucelin

    The Benedictine monk Gabriel Bucelin, who published a genealogy of the Zumbrunnen family in 1678

    The Benedictine monk Gabriel Bucelin, who published a genealogy of the Zumbrunnen family in 1678 via Wikimedia Commons

    In the mid-1600s, a Benedictine monk named Gabriel Bucelin compiled numerous genealogies of prominent German-speaking families. I had seen references that Bucelin wrote a genealogy of the Zumbrunnen family, but it took me quite awhile to find it (Bucelin wrote in Latin and I can’t read Latin).

    One of Bucelin’s works is called “Germania topo-chrono-stemmato-graphica sacra et prophana” published in 1678, containing thousands of genealogical entries. Each volume of the sprawling work runs for hundreds of pages. I finally located the Zumbrunnen entry in Volume 4, page 48. There’s no copyright for works this old so I’ll just post the page in its entirety, as there’s actually a sort of beauty in manuscripts this old.

    Read more …

    Burkhard Zumbrunnen and the 1251 Alliance with Zurich

    Walter Zumbrunnen was the first man to adopt the Zumbrunnen surname. So his eldest son Burkhard Zumbrunnen must have been the second man in history with this name.

    Burkhard would have been born in the late 1100s or early 1200s. He was the grandson of Werner, the Baron of Attinghausen, but Burkhard was not nobility himself. While many junior branches of Medieval nobles disappeared into obscurity, this was not to be the case with Burkhard. We know Burkhard through two interesting records that show he was an early participant in institutions that became Democracy, and was a key figure in the establishment of Switzerland as a nation.

    Read more …

    Translating the Von Schweinsberg and Der Frauen entry in the Nobiliaire Militaire Suisse

    The Schweinsberg Castle in Attinghausen

    The Schweinsberg Castle in Attinghausen
    Roland Zumbuehl via Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-3.0

    The entry on the Attinghausen family in the Nobiliaire Militaire Suisse also contains a genealogy of the Barons of Schweinsberg and the Der Frauen.

    Like the Zumbrunnen, the Von Schweinsberg family and the Der Frauen family descend from the Barons of Attinghausen, although they broke off from the main branch of the family several generations after the Zumbrunnen did. Diethelm von Schweinsberg, at the beginning of this genealogy, would have been a second cousin of Burkhard Zumbrunnen II. The Der-Frauen are even more distant cousins.

    The Schweinsberg Castle, seen here, is located in Attinghausen only about a quarter mile away from Attinghausen Castle. The Von Schweinsberg used the name of this castle, even though they relocated to the town of Signau which is a little bit east of Bern. (For a map of these locations, see here.)

    Read more …

    Translating the Attinghausen entry in the Nobiliaire Militaire Suisse

    The title page

    The title page

    The Nobiliaire Militaire Suisse was an incredibly ambitious effort by an Abbot named Jean-François Girard in the 1700s to compile genealogies of aristocratic Swiss military families. Too ambitious in fact. The first volume, published in 1787, was over 700 pages. It documented 50 families from Aa-Ayent in extensive detail.

    Sadly for families B-Z, the author never finished even the second volume, let alone all 26. But luckily for us, he did document our ancestors because (in a rare example of our family benefiting from alphabetical order) he included them in the entry for the Attinghausen family, from which the Zumbrunnen family originated.

    This work is an especially important source because just a dozen years after its original publication, a major fire devastated the town of Altdorf in 1799, destroying many of the records to which Girard had access. Had he not written down this information in excruciating detail (and had Google Books not recently digitized it!) it’s likely that the full story of the Zumbrunnen and Attinghausen family would have been forever lost to time.

    Read more …

    The Origin of the Surname Zumbrun/Zumbrum/Zumbrunnen

    Fountain Bern

    A distinctive octagonal Swiss Fountain.
    Nikolai Karaneschev via Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-3.0

    The most direct and literal translation of the name Zumbrunnen is “to the fountain.” Zum is a German contraction that means “to the” and Brunnen is the German word for “fountain.” Zumbrun, Zumbrum and Zumbrunn have no other meaning, they are simply a shortening of Zumbrunnen.[1]

    This German word Brunnen is especially used for a distinctive type of Swiss fountain that served as the town well, often located in a central square. These fountains typically had a basin in the shape of a hexagon or octagon. In their center was a pillar with multiple spouts. The top of the pillar would typically have a decoration at the top. (The fountain at the right has a sculpture of Samson killing a lion.)

    The earliest members of the Zumbrunnen family used a drawing of the distinctive Swiss fountain on their coat of arms.

    There is, however, a very specific story about the original adoption of the Zumbrunnen surname that has never before been shared in English (but exists in a number of old Swiss history books).

    Read more …