As far as the origins of Wasserburg Zelem are concerned one can presume that it was built as a Franconian bulwark against the Dutch invaders at around the turn of the century.
A substantial amount of land was developed all over the Lower Rhine region between the 10th and 13th Century. The Wasserburg [castle and moat] as a fortification and commercial unit represented a special protection against enemies marching through this flat landscape.
The first reliable historical record of Burg Zelem can be found in the archived documents of Echternach Abbey which are familiar from numerous publications. In a manuscript dating back to the 12th Century, which today is located in the Paris National Library, it is listed there among the assets of the abbey as the property of the comes de Selheim (I a9), comes de Selceim (I c20), greef von Zelem.
One of its early owners, Dietrich von Horn, was descended from the powerful family of the pledgees of Kranenburg who fought for the independence of Kranenburg in the war of succession with Kleve. Dietrich himself was pledgee of Kranenburg during the period from 1347 to 1368. At the same time he was also enfeoffed with the property of Zelem.
Although he called himself "Lord of Kranenburg" he did not however exercise the sovereign rights which were still held by Kleve. His undisputed achievements however are the introduction of the dyke privilege of Kranenburg.
The exact ownership circumstances can be determined from the first half of the 14th Century to date. In 1377 the existence passed to Hermann von Eyl as open house [Offenhaus] of Kleve.
When a noble lord declared his castle, which was a free holding, to be an open house towards a more powerful lord (mostly rulers), he submitted himself to his sovereignty and granted him the right to ride into his castle at any time and use this in his feuds. Contracts of this kind were associated with corresponding considerations (feoffs).
The Palant family carried out the biggest conversion work on the Wasserburg. Elbert von Palant was marshal with hereditary rights in Kleve. This is immortalised in the inscription over the portal. There it states that Graf [Count] von Alpen built this castle and Elbert Freiherr [Baron] von Palant restored the castle and decorated it in the style of his era. He renovated and finished the castle in the Renaissance style after the middle of the 16th Century.
In order to be able to conduct their business in the town, the family owned a town house in Kleve, the so-called Palantsturm. The Palantsturm, which was owned by the family since 1527, was also called Zelemshaus until the middle of the 17th Century. The Palant family is subsequently followed here as the Zelems by the Wylich family. The Palant family also made a substantial contribution to the founding of the first Evangelical church parish in Kranenburg. The first Evangelical church service was held in Kranenburg in 1648, at the time the parish comprised 40 to 50 members.
The castle remained in the possession of the Palant family for more than 200 years. The original document dating back to 1570 is a deed of purchase.
A map from 1654 which today can be found in the Berlier copper engraving cabinet shows Burg Zelem behind the town view of Kranenburg as well as on the atlas of the Netherlands, which was printed in Brussels in 1573.
The Wylich family was also one of the most influential families on the Lower Rhine. Adolf von Wylich is already mentioned as Landdrost [Chief Magistrate] for the lands of Kleve and Kranenburg in 1396. Dietrich Karl von Wylich-Winnenthal had declared himself the representative of the rebelling Kleve estates in order to go to the Regensburg regional parliament to refuse to pay taxes to the autocratic governing Kurfürst [Elector], to demand exemption from all encumbrances and announce their refusal to participate in the warlike acts of their Elector.
On the return journey from Regensburg, where he was pretty successful before the regional government, Dietrich von Wylich was apprehended by riders of the Elector, who had recognised for a long time already that the estates in Kleve-The Mark Brandenburg could not be won over with the feather, and imprisoned in Kleve. He was accused of high treason by the governor, Johann Moritz von Nassau, the estates thus gave up their resistance and after being imprisoned for one year von Wylich entered service with the Bishop of Münster.
The Wasserburg Haus Zelem frequently also draws the attention of artists. Thus evidence also exists of what it looked like in the times before there was any photographic documentation. Drawings and paintings of views in and of towns, villages, churches and castles reached their climax in the 18th Century. At that time the demand for such drawings was so great as people had begun to create atlases of the most varied regions to a large extent. In order to record regions cartographically and create illustrated books of these regions, they had to rely on the drawings of wandering artists.
Jan de Beyer, a pupil of Pronk, also primarily worked in the region around Kleve, Gelderland and Amsterdam. From 1747 he worked exclusively in the Netherlands. He worked with great attention to detail and popular motives of his drawings are the castles with moats around Kleve. In 1740 he produced a charming, very detailed drawing of Zelem. On this you cannot just see the magnificent expansion of a castle with a moat to a three-storey Renaissance castle with ancillary buildings, but also the wide moat which surrounds the castle.
At the beginning of the 19th Century the Renaissance expansion of the castle complex was reduced substantially. The exact circumstances are not known. It could have fallen victim to a conflagration. Subsequently Burg Zelem was restored to its original condition. The political circumstances had changed after the French revolution. With the emerging middle classes the citizens dispensed with excessive country estates to a large extent and turned to strict forms of classicism. In the 19th Century the importance of Wasserburg Haus Zelem is returned to a large-scale landed property. The present farm buildings emanate from this period and are built on the foundations of the old south west wing.
Burg Zelem survived the warlike confusion of the 20th Century without any damages owing to its hidden location and therefore is still preserved as a mediaeval castle in its basic substance today. It is in private ownership and is not accessible to the public.