Monarchies of Europe

The German Kingdom (including Principalities and Duchies)

It was not until the establishment of the kingdom of Prussia in 1701 that there was a German King reigning over German land. The other German kingdoms of Bavaria, Hanover, Saxony and Württemberg were established a little over a hundred years later.

Besides these Kingdoms there were some hundreds of lesser states comprising duchies and principalities.

The number of German states were reduced in number from 390 (other sources quote 350) down to 39 (some sources provide a list of the states which is greater than 39) when the Congress of Vienna established the German Confederation in 1815. There were in fact 38 until Hesse-Homburg joined the Confederation in 1817

The number of states were gradually reduced during the period between the establishment of the German Confederation and it's ultimate replacement by the German Empire in 1871.

When the German Empire was established in 1871,Germany comprised 26 (one source shows 25) states,with the King of Prussia as Kaiser (Emperor).

On 9 November 1918 Germany became a republic and all the Kings and other lesser rulers were forced to abdicate.

Prussian Kingdom

The first King of Prussia was Friedrich I (1657-1713) Elector and Margrave of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia. He assumed the title of King in Prussia on 18 January 1701 (amended to King of Prussia on 13 September 1742), receiving royal recognition in exchange for a promise of military aid to the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I.

King Wilhelm I (1797-1888) of Prussia was proclaimed Emperor of Germany on 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, this being just ten days before the signing of the armistice following the ending of the Franco-Prussian War.

The last King of Prussia was Wilhelm II (1859-1941) who abdicated on 28 November 1918

After the war between Prussia and Austria in 1866 over Schleswig-Holstein which was won by Prussia in 7 weeks, Schleswig-Holstein,Hanover, Hesse-Cassel,Frankfurt and Nassau were annexed by Prussia.

The present head of the Royal House of Prussia is Prince Georg Friedrich (1976- ) of Prussia.

Bavarian Kingdom

The first King of Bavaria was Maximilian I Joseph (1756-1825) Elector of Bavaria who having sided with Napoleon was granted the title of King on 26 December 1805.

The last King of Bavaria was Ludwig (Louis) III (1845-1921) who was deposed by a Communist uprising on 7/8 November 1918

The present head of the Royal House of Bavaria is Duke Franz (1933- ) of Bavaria.

Hanoverian Kingdom

The first King of Hanover was George III (1738-1820) who was also King of Great Britain. He assumed the title of King of Hanover on 12 August 1814 following negotiations at the Congress of Vienna.

Hanover remained united to the British Crown until 1837 when King William IV died and Queen Victoria succeeded to the British throne. As women were barred from the Hanoverian succession King William IV was succeeded in that country by his brother Ernst August, Duke of Cumberland (1771-1851).

The last King of Hanover was George V (1819-1878) who was deposed on 20 September 1866 when Prussia annexed Hanover having taken the side of Austria in their war with Prussia over the administration of Schleswig-Holstein.

After the death of King George V his son Prince Ernst August (1845-1923) took the title of Duke of Cumberland, Duke of Brunswick and Lüneburg on 11 July 1878. Duke Ernst August declared his right of succession to the Duchy of Brunswick on the extinction of the premium branch of this Duchy following the death of his distant cousin Duke Wilhelm (1806-1884) on 18 October 1884. This succession was denied by the Federal Council of the German Empire which was later reversed when Duke Ernst August renounced his rights on 24 October 1913 in favour of his son Prince Ernst August (1887-1953) who ascended the Duchy of Brunswick throne on 1 November 1913.

Duke Ernst August abdicated his throne on 8 November 1918.

The present head of the Royal House of Hanover is Prince Ernst August (1954- ) of Hanover.

Saxony Kingdom

The first King of Saxony was Frederick Augustus (1750-1827) Elector of Saxony. He assumed the title of King of Saxony on 11 December 1806.

The last King of Saxony was Friedrich Augustus III (1865-1932) who was forced to abdicate on 13 November 1918.

The present head of the Royal House of Saxony is Alexander de Afif-Gessaphe (1954- ) (Margrave of Meissen). However the headship is disputed within the Saxony family

Württemberg Kingdom

The first King of Württemberg was Friedrich I (1754-1816) Elector of Württemberg,who having sided with Napoleon was granted the title of King of Württemberg on 1 January 1806.

The last King of Württemberg was Wilhelm II (1848-1921) who abdicated on 29 November 1918 being the last of the German Kings to do so.

The present head of the Royal House of Württemberg is Duke Wilhelm (1994- ) of Württemberg.

Hesse-Cassel and Hesse-Darmstadt Duchies

Hesse was originally part of the landgraviate (territory over which nobleman or noblewoman held jurisdiction) of Thuringia.

However following the death of Henry Raspe the Landgrave of Thuringia (1204-1247) in 1247 without any descendants there was conflict between Sophia of Thuringia (1224-1275) wife of Henry,Duke of Brabant (1207-1248) and her cousin Henry III called the Illustrious (1215-1288), Margrave of Meissen over the rights in Thuringia.

Sophia of Thuringia was the daughter of Ludwig IV Landgrave of Thuringia (1200-1227) elder brother of Henry Raspe (Henry had succeeded Ludwig IV's son Herman II as landgarve in 1241).

Henry III, Margrave of Meissen was a son of Jutta of Thuringia (1182-1235) a sister of Ludwig IV and Henry Raspe the respective Landgraves of Thuringia.

This conflict between the two cousins led to the War of the Thuringen Succession (1247-1264).

Henry III, Margrave of Meissen secured the rights to Thuringia whilst his cousin Sophia was compensated with the landgraviate of Hess for her son Henry "the child" of Brabant (1244-1308) who thus became the first Landgrave of Hesse in 1265 (some references show 1263 or 1264).

Following the death of Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse (1504-1567), Hesse was divided between his four sons. One son Wilhelm (1532-1592) founded Hesse-Cassel and another son Georg (1547-1597) founded Hesse-Darmstadt branches. The other two sons founded Hesse-Marburg and Hesse-Rheinfels branches which became extinct and were absorbed by the surviving branches.

Two sons of Landgrave Wilhelm VI (1629-1663) of Hesse-Cassel divided into two branches Hesse-Cassel and Hesse-Philippsthal. One son Charles I (1654-1730) becoming the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel and the other son Philip (1655–1721) becoming the first Landgrave of Hesse-Philippsthal.

Two sons of Landgrave Phillip (1655-1721) of Hesse-Philippsthal divided into two branches Hesse-Philippsthal and Hesse-Philippsthal-Barchfeld. One son Charles (1682–1770, becoming the Landgrave of Hesse-Philippsthal (which itself became extinct in 1925 with the death of Landgrave Ernst (1846 - 1925). The other son William (1692–1761) becoming the first Landgrave of Hesse-Philippsthal-Barchfeld.

Hesse-Darmstadt was also further subdivided into Hesse-Homburg which became extinct with the death of Landgrave Ferdinand (1783 - 1866). The territories of Hesse-Homburg passed to Hesse and by Rhine, but were annexed by Prussia later the same year

Wilhelm I (1743-1821), the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel assumed the title of Elector on 27 April 1803. His grandson Elector Friedrich-Wilhelm I (1802-1875) took the side of Austria in their war with Prussia in 1866 and as consequence the domain of Hesse-Cassel was added to those of Prussia. On the death of Friedrich-Wilhelm I the representation of Hesse-Cassel passed to his second cousin Friedrich Wilhelm (1820-1884) who ceased to use the title of Elector.

Ludwig I (1753-1830), the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt assumed the title of Grand Duke in 1806 and by the Congress of Vienna he was further recognised as the Grand Duke of Hesse and the Rhine. Hesse and the Rhine was incorporated into the German Republic in 1918. The last reigning Grand Duke was Ernest Ludwig (1868-1937) who died in 1937 and was succeeded by his son Hereditary Grand Duke Georg Donatus who along with his wife, two sons and mother Princess Eleoner died in an aeroplane accident later in the same year. The end of the Hesse and the Rhine line came with the death of Prince Ludwig of Hesse and the Rhine in 1968. By a family pact made in 1902 it was arranged that in the event of the direct line of Hesse and the Rhine becoming extinct the succession should pass to the Hesse-Cassel line. Prince Ludwig had previously adopted his distant cousin Landgrave Moritz of Hesse-Cassel

The present head of the House of Hesse is therefore Landgrave Heinrich Donatus of Hesse-Cassel (1966- )

Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,Saxe-Altenburg, Saxe-Meiningen and Saxe-Weimar Duchies

The families of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,Saxe Altenburg,Saxe-Meiningen and Saxe-Weimar belong to the same line as that of the Kings of Saxony (House of Wettin).

Freidrich IV, The Belligerent or The Warlike (1370-1428) of Wettin was created Duke and Elector of Saxony by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund on 6 January 1423, Freidrich IV calling himself Freidrich I on his elevation.

Freidrich I was succeeded by his son Friedrich II the Gentle (1412-1464).

On the death of Friedrich II, his territories were jointly rules by his two sons Albert (1443-1500) and Ernest (1441-1486). However in 1485 the two sons agreed a formal division of the territories with Albert becoming Duke of Saxony and Ernest becoming Elector of Saxony.

The Ernestine branch retained the Electoral rank until 1547 but following participation of the War of Schmalkalden League were forced to sign this away to the Albertine branch. The Schmalkaldic League was an alliance formed in 1531 at Schmalkalden by Protestant princes and delegates of free cities in response to the threat (1530) by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to stamp out Lutheranism.

Ernest's grandson Johann Friedrich (1503-1554) was a member of the Schmalkalden League whilst Albert's grandson Maurice (1521-1553) supported Emperor Charles V. The success of Charles V supported by Maurice in the Schmalkaldic War culminating in the battle at Mühlberg at 1547 led to the Ernestine branch losing their Electoral rank. The Albertine branch thus assumed the Electoral rank in 1547 and in 1806 were elevated to Kings of Saxony.

Further division of the Ernestine branch occurred in 1605 with the death of Duke Johann of Saxe-Weimar.

Two main branches descend from him,namely Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Gotha.

Following the death of Duke Ernst I of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (called "The Pious") (1601-1675) Saxe-Gotha was further divided by his sons into seven minor duchies.

  1. Duke Friedrich I (1646-1691) founded the Duchy of Gotha (incorporating Altenburg)
  2. Duke Albrecht (1648-1699) founded the Duchy of Coburg
  3. Duke Bernhard I (1649-1706) founded the Duchy of Meiningen
  4. Duke Christian (1653-1707) founded the Duchy of Eisenberg
  5. Duke Henry (1650-1710) founded the Duchy of Romhild
  6. Duke Ernst (1655-1715) founded the Duchy of Hildburghausen and
  7. Duke Johann Ernst (1656-1729) founded the Duchy of Saalfeld

Saxe-Coburg, Saxe-Eisenberg and Saxe-Romhild became extinct in 1699,1707 and 1710 respectively following the deaths of three of the brothers.

Duke Johann Ernst inherited the Duchy of Coburg on the death of his brother Duke Albrecht.

With the deaths of the three brothers their lands were apportioned producing the duchies of
  1. Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg
  2. Saxe-Meiningen
  3. Saxe-Hildburghausen, and
  4. Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
The Saxon Duchies were reorganised in 1826 following the extinction of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg with the death of Duke Friedrich IV of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (1774-1825). The heir to Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg was his niece Princess Luise (1800-1831) the mother of Queen Victoria's husband Albert.

  1. Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld became Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
  2. Saxe-Meiningen became Saxe-Meiningen-Hildburghausen, and
  3. Saxe-Hildburghausen became Saxe-Altenburg

The present Head of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha is Prince Andreas of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1943- )

The present Head of the House of Saxe-Meiningen is Duke Johann Friedrich-Konrad of Saxe-Meiningen (1952- )

The present Head of the House of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach is Prince Michael-Benedict of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1946- )

The Saxe-Altenburg line is now extinct following the death of Prince George Moritz of Saxe-Altenburg in 1991

Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz Duchies

The separate families of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz can be traced back to Duke Adolphus Friedrich I of Mecklenburg-Schwerin who died in 1658.

His son Duke Friedrich I continued the Mecklenburg-Schwerin line and in 1701 his other son Adolphus Friedrich II (1658-1708) founded the geographically much smaller Mecklenburg-Strelitz branch.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 both branches were made Grand Duchies and were incorporated into the German Republic on 14 November 1918.

The Mecklenburg-Schwerin line is now extinct following the death of Hereditary Grand Duke Friedrich Franz VI (1910-2001) in 2001.

The direct male line of Mecklenburg-Strelitz came to an end with the suicide of Grand Duke Adolf Friedrich VI. His heir and first cousin once removed was Duke Karl Michael who never assumed the title of Grand Duke having renounced the succession. He adopted his nephew Count Georg Carlow who assumed the title Duke of Mecklenburg.

The present head of the Mecklenburg-Strelitz family is Duke Georg Borwin of Mecklenburg (1956-)

Oldenburg,Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and Holstein-Gottorp Duchies

Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and Holstein-Gottorp derive from the Oldenburg family.

The Counts of Oldenburg can be traced back to Count Egilmar (died 1108) apparently first mentioned in a document dated 1088 . Count Christian of Oldenburg (1425-1481) was elected King Christian I of Denmark (on 20 August 1448) by the Danish Nobility becoming King of Norway (on 29 July 1450) and later King of Sweden (in 1457).

Christian I was succeeded as King of Denmark by his son John (1455-1513) and later by his other son Frederick I (1471-1533).

Frederick I was succeeded as King of Denmark by his son Christian III (1503-1559).

Schleswig and Holstein were acquired by Christian I from his mother Heilwige or "Hedwig" (sister and heiress of Count Adolph VIII of Holstein and Duke of Schleswig) and in 1460 he issued a declaration that Schleswig and Holstein should always be united even though Schleswig was a Danish province whilst Holstein was technically part of The Holy Roman Empire. Holstein was elevated to a Duchy on 14 February 1474.

From 1544 Christian III togther with his younger half brothers John the Elder (1521-1580) and Adolphus (1526-1586) jointly ruled the two Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein.

John the Elder who became the Duke Schleswig-Holstein-Haderslev died childless and his territory was divided between his brother Adolphus and his nephew Frederick II (1534-1588) son of Christian III.

Adolphus founded the Holstein-Gottorp line and a descendant Duke Karl Friedrich of Holstein-Gottorp (1700-1739) married Grand Duchess Anna of Russia (1708-1728) (daughter of Emperor Peter I of Russia) and their son became Emperor Peter III of Russia.

Frederick II allocated his brother John (1545-1622) a part of Schleswig and he founded the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg line.

Sub-division of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg took place with Duke Johann's grandson Ernest-Gunther (1609-1669) assuming Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg and his brother of Duke August Phillip (1612-1675) assuming Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.

Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg became King Christian IX (1818-1906) of Denmark on 15 November 1863 on the death of King Frederik VII of Denmark (1808-1863) who had no male line.

Christian I (1425-1481) assigned Oldenburg to his brother Gerhard who's line became extinct following the death of Gerhard's childless great great grandson Anthony Gunther in 1667.

After lengthy quarrels over the succession, King Christian V of Denmark became ruler of Oldenburg in 1676.

On 1 July 1773, however, King Christian VII of Denmark surrendered Oldenburg to the future Emperor Paul of Russia, in consideration of the latter's renunciation of the sovereignty of Holstein-Gottorp (which had been acquired via Duke Karl Friedrich of Holstein-Gottorp).

Grand Duke Paul of Russia in turn transferred Oldenburg to his cousin Frederick Augustus of Holstein-Gottorp (died 1785) on 14 December 1773 who thus became Count of Oldenburg in 1773 and Duke of Oldenburg on 22 March 1777.

Following the death of Friedrich August, the line of Oldenburg passed via his brother George (died 1763).

Oldenburg was elevated to Grand Ducal status on 9 June 1815.

The present Head of the Ducal House of Oldenburg is Duke Christian Nikolaus of Oldenburg (1955- )

The Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg branch is now extinct following the death of Duke Albert (1869-1931) in 1931.

The present Head of the Ducal House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg branch is Prince Christoph (1949- )

The Schleswig-Holstein Question

As mentioned earlier the two provinces of Schleswig and Holstein were possessions of the King of Denmark.

King Christian VIII (1786-1848) whose son Frederick (1808-1863) was childless announced in 1846 that Schleswig was governed by the same rules of succession as Denmark (descent allowed through the female line) but voiced some doubts about Holstein.

Frederick VII succeeded his father in 1848 and revolutions took place in the two Duchies as they refused to recognise descent in the female line and supported the claim of Duke Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg (1798-1869) to succeed to the Duchies.

Denmark and Prussia went to war over the Duchies and peace was finally declared in July 1850. The London Protocol in May 1852 which was attended by the Great Powers resolved that Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (1818-1906) would reign in Denmark and the two Duchies and Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg suspended his own claim on payment of a large sum of money.

A Royal Proclamation by Frederick VII on 30 March 1863 which in substance was to annexe the Duchy of Schleswig to Denmark was a breach of the 1852 London Protocol. Frederick VII died on 15 November 1863 just days before he was due to sign a new constitution for Schleswig, he was succeeded as King by Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg who under some pressure from the Eider Danes (the name given to the nationalists who wanted the annexation of Schleswig by Denmark) signed the new constitution.

The following day, Duke Friedrich (1829-1880) the son of Duke Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg proclaimed himself the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, as he maintained that his father had not formally signed away his rights to the two Duchies.

In February 1864, Austria and Prussia invaded Schleswig and occupied the whole of the Duchy within two weeks. After various truces and fighting and following the Treaty of Vienna on 30 October 1864, the Duchies of Schleswig, Holstein and the smaller adjacent Duchy of Lauenburg were handed over to joint rule by Austria and Prussia.

Prussia were unsympathetic to the claim of Duke Friedrich of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg which was a source of friction between Austria and Prussia. This friction culminated in the Gastein Convention of 14 August 1865, whereby Austria would administer Holstein and Prussia would administer Schleswig, the Duchy of Lauenburg would go to Prussia in return for a money payment to Austria.

Continuing support for Duke Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg by Austria worsened relationships between Austria and Prussia. Prussia sent her troops into Holstein on 7 June 1866 Prussia withdrew from the German Confederation on 14 June 1866 followed on 15 June 1866 by a request to the other German states to ally themselves with Prussia against Austria. Saxony , Hanover and Hesse-Cassel gave unsatisfactory responses and were invaded by Prussia on 16 June 1866, this being the start of the seven week war between Austria and Prussia. Prussia were victorious and the war ended with the signing of the Preliminary Peace at Nikolsburg on 26 July 1866 and the Definitive Treaty of Prague on 23 August 1866. The Preliminary Peace at Nikolsburg included the annexation of Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, Hesse Cassel, Frankfurt and Nassau by Prussia.

Further reading on Mediatised Houses - by William Addams Reitwiesner

Last Updated on 04 May 2023
By Allan Raymond
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