European Royalty: German States

Figure 1.--I was not sure just which German royal family is pictured here. Our readrs inform us that the photo is of Prince Oskar with family. The photograph was probably taken about 1925. Note the button-on sailor suits and strap shoes. A HBC reader tells that Prince Oskar was Kaiser Wilhelm's fifth son.

The royal lines of the huge multiplicity of German states is very complicated. The two major royal lines are the Hapsburgs (Austria) and the Hohenzollerns (Prussia). There are many other German states of course, some of which have played a major role in European history. A Hannovarian, for example, assumed the English throne as George I. Many other German lines have married into royal families and served as Czarinas, Kings, Queens, and Emperors throughout Europe, not to mention Maximillian's ill-fated attempt to establish a Mexican monarchy. These families participated in the ruling of Germany and Europe as a whole into modern days. It should not be forgotten that as late as the 1910s, almost the entire world was ruled by monarchy. While some connstitutional monarchies had evolved in Western Europe, many monarchies in the 1910s were still absolutists (Russia) or yielded power that approached absolutism (Austria and Germany). The number of republics of any significance could be counted on one hand (primarily France and the United States). The German royal families were swept away with the maelstrom of World War I. Monarchies in many other European countries were to follow them in the aftermath of World War II. It was not just Wilhelm II who lost his crown as a result of World War I. After a disastrous final campaign, the German armies collapsed in the early fall of 1918. On November 11 German representatives signed the armistice. Three days prior to capitulation, revolutionary movements exploded throughout the country and the German empire quickly disintegrated. Most of the information I have collected so far is on the Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns, but we have begun to colllect unformation on Bavaria and other German principalities. The story of the royal families of the other German states is fascinating and will yield some information on fashionable boys' clothes during various historical periods. While I have little information so far, I hope to significantly expand this chapter of our European Roylaty site. Please let me know if you have any information.


The German royal houses represent a complex list of dynasties and principalities. The range from the important Austrian and Prussian families to one family that was not even a ruling family, the dukes of Turn und Taxis. At first glance many seem rather unimportant. Even some of the smaller states are important, however, because they provided the ruling families not only for Austria, England, (Imperial) Germany, and Russia as well as many smaller countries as well. A Dutch reader writes, "I find this very interesting. I just finished reading the book by Jerrold M. Packard, Victoria's Daughters (New York, 1998). It was amazing how German the British royal family was during Queen Victoria's reign. All of her five daughters (except one) married Germans. Two of her sons married Germans, the two others sons had "Danish" and "Russian" wives, who in reality were just as German as the rest, since Germany supplied nearly all of the European royal houses with princes and princesses. Queen Victoria used to speak often in German with her husband, Prince Albert, and all of their children knew the language. But no royal family has been as German as the Dutch. The Orange-Nassaus have been solidly German for six generations. Finally our crown prince married an Argentinian and a Catholic to top it off." HBC points out that there were so many German royal families because Germany was not unified. Actually there were a lot more German royal families before Bismarck got started in his effort with William I to unify Germany. Many ruling families were deposed in Prussia's drive to unify Germany. Of course the remaing families were deposed in the aftermath of World War I. Our Dutch reader is quite right about Victoria (and Britain in general). The history of the Anglo-German relationship is an especially interesting one. The British for most of the 19th century were much more favorable disposed to the Germans than the French. This only began to change with the invasion of Denmark--making Queen Alexandra an implacable foe. She had a considerable impact, but it was Wilhelm II that turned the British against Germany. Not only his bluster, but the decision to build a highseas fleet. Even so, if the German army had not invaded France through Belgium, the British might not have joined France in World War I.

Medieval German Dynasties

The dynastic history of Medieval Europe in many ways begins with Clovis and the Merovingian dynasty, but even more with Charlemagne and his successors. Charlemagne founded the first empire after Rome. His grandson Louis II became the first King of Germany. The Saxon King Otto I founded the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire is of course a misnomer. It was not Holy, although the pope crowned the emperor, nor was it Roman. It was essentially a Germanic empire encompassing much of Western Europe and later was named by historians the First German Reich. The Salian Dynasty under Henry II became involved in the struggle netween Church and state with the sucessive emperors pitted against various popes. The Empire was rocked by the Investiture Controversy in the 10th century and the strggle climaxed with the confrontation between Emperor Henry II and Pope Gregory VII. Although the Emperor established the principle of civil power, regional leaders used the controversy to significantly weaken the authority of the emperor within Germany and was a major reason that no centralized German state emerged as was the case in many other countries (England, France, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden) during the Medieval era. Several different dynasties ruled Germany during the Medieval Era. The first was the Merovingian dynasty founded by Clovis. It was the Hapsburgs that would lead Germany out of the Medieval Era and dominate Germany until after the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century.

German Principlalities

The first German state or Reich was the Holy Roman Empire. Unlike other nationalities, the Germans failed to coalese into a powerful, centralized state. Within the Empire, poweful barons in some cases gaining the status of kings, struggled to gain effective indeoendence from the Emperor. This process was aided by the Investiture Contrioversy which pitted the Emperperor a nd Pope. The Emperor never succeeded in the Middle Ages of establishing control over German lands. Rather than the move toward centralization in other countries, the Emperor was compelled to gradually ceede power to the individual states within the Empire. This process was well established in the 12th century and the soverignity of major German states was completed with the Peace of Westphalia (1648). The larger German states are well known. There importance and territorial extent has varied over time. The number of German principalities, however, is quite large, in part because many were very small. Besides small duchies, there were also Church jurisdictions as well as free city states. We have collected some information on most of the larger principalities. Hopefully our German readers will help us expand this list.

German Nobility

Germany before unification was an enormously complex patch-work quilt of principalities. The importannce of these principalities varied over time. There were several kingdoms, but a wide range of other jurisdictions, including duchies, bishoprics and other church jurisfictions, and free cities. There were also some very small fiefdoms and principalities, in some cases goverened by counts. It is not quite correct to call these individuals royals, but they were the ruling damily. A German reader suggests that a discussion of German nobility is needed. The German term is “Adel”. The initial definition was "privileged due to being fit for war". Gradually it became principally a matter of ancestry and history. Our reader writes, "Some individuals were raised to the nobility for outstanding success in administrative offices (personal). In Germany there is besides the old German “Geburtsadel” (by birth, inherited from before history began) of the “Edelinge” or “Edelfreien” (noble) a “Dienstadel”, established before and around AD 1000 for service to the Emperor. Note that the Germans had various royal and imperial families such as the Bavarian, the Franken, the Staufen, the Suebian/ Württemberg, the Hessen, the Sachsen, the Prussian, the Habsburg, who owned big parts of (former) “Heiliges-römisches Reich deutscher Nation”, Germany, now “states” in the Federal Republic and in Austria – with a fief given by the Emperor or one of the royals. The latter became in the Middle Ages the “Ritterstand” (knights). The plain knights, including the not free “Dienstmannen”, formed the “niederer Adel” (gentry), partially “reichsunmittelbar” (as the Castells) the socalled “Reichsritterschaft”, or partially “landsässig” under a princely/royal sovereign. On the other side, from the noble descent came into existence the ”hoher Adel” with rights of sovereignity; beginning in the 16th century they got membership in the “Reichsstandschaft” with seat and vote in the “Reichstag” (remember the Reichstag in Worms with Martin Luther as founder of the Protestant religion). Already beginning in the 14th century the “Adelsbrief” (patent of nobility) was conferred by the Emperor, since 1806 by all sovereigns (the socalled “Briefadel” in contrast to the “alter Adel” of descent traceable back 1350). All privileges (taxfree, jurisdiction, preference in state and military service et al.) were stepwise removed between 1789 to 1919 (they may now in Germany only use and inherit their traditional names, owning their personal resources, e.g., castles and small agricultural and forestaral estates, called “Domäne”). The levels were “Herzog” (duke), “Fürst” (prince), “Graf” (earl/count), “Freiherr”/”Baron” (baron), “Ritter” (knight), “Edler” (noble man), and the simple “von”. For HBRC it may be of interest that a noble boy in the Niederer Adel was called “Knappe” (page) till he became knight by the “Ritterschlag” (dubbing); other regional names are “Junker” (“junger Herr”) mostly in the northern and eastern parts."

European Wars

The history of the German states is very complicated. Some like Prussia and Austria are well-known and were at the heart of European history for centuries. Other smaller principalities are virtually unknown outside of Germany. The territory and ruling families were determined in large part by the major as well as many lesser-known military engagements. The German states were in particular affected by the Napoleonic Wars (1800-15), the German Civil War/Austro-Prussian War (1866), Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), and World War I (1914-18). World War I resulted inj the removal from office of almost all of the German ruling families.


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Created: June 6, 1998
Spell checked: 5:26 AM 5/9/2005
Last updated: 1:29 AM 5/18/2005