German Royalty: Reuss

Figure 1.--This is Prince Hans Georg with his mother Princess Johann Georg Reuss zu Schoenaich-Carolath of the Elder Line. The photograph is undated, but looks to have been taken just before or even during World War I (1914-18)

Germany was composed of a large number of principalities of various sizes. Two ofthe smallest smallest were Reuss-Greiz and Reuss-Schleiz-Gera. They were the two smallest states of the German Confederation, located nearly in the center of Germany, east of Thuringia, on the western boundaries of the former Kingdom of Saxony. Prince Henry XXII within the Empire, was an outspoken critic of Chancellor Bismarck and developments within the Empire. He was the most outspoken of all the German princes and remained until his death (1902) an implacable enemy of Prince Bismarck and of the conditions created in Germany by the foundation of the Empire. In the aftermath of World War I in 1918, both principalities were incorporated into Thuringia. The daughter of Prince Henry XXII of Reuss, Princess Hermine married the former Kaiser II soon after this wifes's death in 1922.


The two principalities of Reuss were the two smallest states of the German Confederation. They are an example of just how fractured Germany was. Thectwo principalities were located nearly in the center of Germany, east of Thuringia, along the western boundaries of the former Kingdom of Saxony. Their combined area was only 440 square miles. Reuss alterer Linie (Reuss Senior Line), also known as Reuss-Greitz, was the smaller, totaled 122 square miles and had a population of over 70,000 people in 1905 before World War I. Reuss jüngerer Linie (Reuss Junior Line), or Reuss-Schleiz, totaled 318 square miles and had a population of nearly 145,000.


The population of both Reuss-Greiz and Reuss-Schleiz-Gera was strongly Lutheran. About 2 percent of the population was Catholic and there were a small number of Jews.

Early History

The present Principality of Reuss and the surrounding areas of central Germany as a result of the disastrous Roman defeat in the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD) were never incorporated into the Roman Empire. The area was populated in early medieval times by Slavonian races who were finally converted to Christianity by the German Emperor Otto I (936-73 AD).


Once in German hands, the area was made nominally part of the Margraviate of Zeitz. For relious matters, the the region was incorporated into Diocese of Zeitz (founded in 968), which was a dependency of Magdeburg. Pressure from the Slavs pushing west forced the Church to move the residence of the Bishop of Zeitz Naumburg in 1028, and the Diocese was remamed Naumburg-Zeitz.


Emperor Otto III, soon after the German conquest, about As early as the year 1000, however, allowed the region along the eastern boundary of Thuringia to be administered by appointed imperial vogts, who might be called bailiffs (advocati imperii). Theregion thus became known as Vogtland (Terra advocatorum). The term is sometimes still used today and to a large degree is the area that became known as Reuss. Although initially an appointed position, in Feudal Germany, the office gradually became a hereditary position. The modern princes of Reuss are in fact descended from the vogts of Weida. The first clearly established heriditary ruler was Erkenbert I (1122). Erkenbert and his successors gradually acquired almost the entire territory of the original Vogtland by military force or marriage making it a not unimportant part of the German Holy Roman Empire. Much of that territory, however, was lost to the encroachments eastward of the much larger Kingdom of Saxony (Saxe-Meissen) during the 14th and 15th centuries.


All the male members of the Reuss dynasty have been named Henry since the late 12th century. This was in honor of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI (1190-7) to whom they owed their positioin and dynastic standing. The last imperial vogt, Henry IV, in 1244 entered a monastery. Henry's sons divided his territory into three principalities: Gera, Weide, and Plauen. The royal line governing from Weide became extinct in 1535. That governing from Gera became extinct in 1550. The Plauen branch was further divided into an elder line that expired in 1572 and a younger line. Henry who founded the Plauen line (12??-circa 1300) because he visited Russia was given the name "der Reusse" (Ruthenus). As a result, his principality came to be called Reuss.

German Political and Religious Struggles

Reuss's close commercial and political ties with Saxony resulted in the rapid adoption of Lutheranism in the 16th century. Reuss joined the Smalkaldic League to oppose the German emperor and as a result of military reversals the Ruuss dynasty were deposed with the loss of their territory, but subsequent military action enabled them to recover their territory. The devestating military campaigns and political persecutions of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation destroyed Catholicism in Reuss. Only in the 19th century were the small number of Catholics in Reuss allowed to freely practice their religion.

Modern Princes

We do not have a lot of information on the modern princes of Reuss. We do know than Henry XXII (Heinrich XXII) was a strong critic of Kaiser Wilhelm and Bismarck. But Reuss was not large enough to have any major impact on Germany. Hopefully we will over time learn more about the royal family.

Current Status

In the aftermath of World War I in 1918, both principalities were incorporated into Thuringia.


"Reuss", The Catholic Encyclopedia.


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Created: July 4, 2003
Last updated: 10:45 PM 7/15/2007