Bavaria ~ Detailed History ~ Wittelsbach gains and partitions


Bavaria ~ Detailed History ~ Wittelsbach gains and partitions

Early Coat of arms of the House of Wittelsbach.

Early Coat of arms of the House of Wittelsbach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second Wittelsbach Duke, Louis I, received another great office, with its attendant territory.   In 1214 he was appointed Count Palatine of the Rhine and his infant son was betrothed to the sister and heiress of the previous Count Palatine, who had reigned briefly and died in youth.   It brought territory on the Middle Rhine and lower Neckar, in the region where Franconia and Lotharingia met.   In itself, the office was of great prestige, because it was in the Rhineland that there had been much imperial property, to large degree an inheritance from the Carolingians.    During the 13th century, as the idea quickly and firmly took hold that the election of the German King should be carrried by a few Electors, there was no doubt that the Count Palatine should be of that select band.

The Wittelsbach Dukes also significantly increased the territory that they held within the bounds of their Duchy.   Partly this was by purchase, but the Wittelsbachs were lucky in that several of the leading families died out in the male line during the first century and a quarter after 1180, and the Dukes gained much of their territory in the absence of a male heir.   Much of the Nordgau came under the control of the Dukes when first the last Landgrave of Stefling died in 1196 and then the last Margrave of Cham and Vohburg in 1204, and much later more came from the inheritance of the Counts of Sulzbach when their relatives and heirs, the Counts of Hirschberg, died out in 1305.

In eastern Bavaria, between the Danube and Bohemia, the last Count of Bogen, uterine brother of the Duke, died in 1242.  The Dukes twice made gains from their 1180 rivals, the Counts of Andechs and Dukes of Meran.   In 1208 some of the Andechs clan got embroiled in the murder of King Philip II;  Duke Louis I gained some of their lands, though some was later returned as the family was rehabilitated.   Some more of the Bavarian lands came when the last Duke of Meran died young in 1248.  The Dukes also acquired territory on both sides of the traditional border along the River Lech between Bavaria and Swabia, together with certain rights in the Nordgau and elsewhere, when Conradin, the last of the Hohenstaufen, was executed in distant Naples in 1268.   Conradin’s mother was the sister of Louis II of Bavaria, who took over the lands, the remnants of the once mighty Staufer lands, which he was already administering for his nephew.   Without these various acquisitions the Wittlesbachs would have been modest territorial princes with a grand ducal title, like Henry the Lion’s Ascanian successors as Duke of Saxony.   As it was they were among the most powerful princes in Germany.

As no single family replaced the fallen Hohenstaufen, the throne of Germany became open to several families, and, given the consolidation of the Duchy, it is not surprising that Duke Louis IV (Louis the Bavarian) was elected as German King in 1314, and eventually crowned Emperor in 1328, though only by the anti-Pope that he had raised up…

But there were weaknesses in the Wittelsbach position.   The pattern of German history had come to favour the lands on the eastern borders, from which  Bavaria had been progressively cut off.   In 976 Carinthia and the northeastern Italian marches completely and the Ostmark and Nordgau partially had been separated from Bavaria.   In 1156 the Ostmark, long full grown in Austria, was completely severed and Bavaria’s border retreated further westwards with the elevation of Styria in 1180.   In the north, though Bohemia was largely Slav in population, it had become a major player within the Holy Roman Empire by the end of the 12th century, with the rank of a Kingdom.   Even in the south the lands that straddled the Brenner Pass were becoming consolidated, and so Tirol, permanently linked with the Austrian lands from 1363, blocked Bavaria’s access to Italy.    It was not simply that Bavaria was separated from the eastern and southern boundaries of Germany:  the Babenbergs, extinct in 1246, the temporary ascendancy of Otakar of Bohemia, 1251-1276, then the arrival of the Habsburg Dukes in 1282, all meant that Bavaria had a powerful neighbour on its eastern doorstep.   Austria was more exposed to danger, but it had more opportunities to play a powerful part than what had become an insular Bavaria.

Bavaria was also weakened by partition.   The first two Wittelsbach Dukes had only one  son each, but Otto II had two.   When he died in 1253 Louis II and Henry I shared in the rule of the Duchy, but Henry had a great gift for quarrelling with his neighbours and in 1255 the two brothers split the Duchy.   There was a problem in this.   While the allodial lands of a family could be partitioned a Duchy was not supposed to be partible:  the ducal office could only be intact.   So due form was observed by using the legal device of usufruct:  Henry had the use of the lands of Lower Bavaria as though they were his own, provided he did not damage them.   But in practical terms a duchy had been partitioned;  those of Saxony and Brunswick were shortly to follow suit.   At the time there was no effective King, nor was to be for eighteen years.   Kings had split duchies up for their own reasons, but the dynastic convenience of the ducal families was not among them.   Louis II was to have two sons, who at first ruled jointly and then divided Upper Bavaria.   Henry had three, and Lower Bavaria became a place of bitter disputes.

The two Dukes of Upper Bavaria added an extra dimension to their own family quarrels.  Both could claim to be Count Palatine of the Rhine.   After the death of the Emperor Henry VII in 1313 there was a double election.   Rudolf, the elder brother, voted for the Habsburg candidate, Louis, the younger brother, for himself.   In the end it was Louis who made good his claims, in the course of which he expelled his brother in 1317.   Eventually in 1329 he did a deal with his two surviving nephews.   They received the Palatinate, together with much of the Bavarian Nordgau as their share of Upper Bavaria (it became known as the Upper Palatinate).   The Emperor kept the rest of Upper Bavaria while the two lines would share turn and turn about the Electoral rights.   In 1340 the Emperor Louis IV further enhanced his position when the last of the quarrelsome posterity of Duke Henry I died young and Lower Bavaria was reunited with Upper.   Louis had already made a significant gain for his family when he gave his eldest son the vacant Margraviate of Brandenburg, one the principalities that was reckoned to be an Electorate, in 1323. but, though three of his sons were to reign there over the next fifty years, they never gained full control.

The Emperor Louis’s reign began with a rival King, saw quarrels with the Papacy during its course, and ended contending with another anti-King.   He died from a fall while hunting in 1347, leaving six sons.   They tried ruling jointly, but from 1349 they partitioned the lands and not until a century and a half had passed were most of the lands reunited and there was one Duke of Bavaria again.

The failure to hold on to the German Kingdom and Empire was made the more galling by the fact that the Emperor Charles IV, the anti-King in the last year of Louis’s reign, settled the question as to who were the Electors of the German King in 1356.   He overturned Louis the Bavarian’s compromise with the Counts Palatine.   The senior Bavarian Wittelsbach Duke would not alternate with the Count Palatine as Elector;  the Count Palatine alone would have the right of election.   Charles IV did recognise the Bavarian Margrave of Brandenburg as Elector but he was the eldest son of Louis’s second marriage and his grip on Brandenburg was feeble.   On the matter that had divided opinion for years, as to whether the King of Bohemia or the Duke of Bavaria should be Elector, Charles IV allowed not only his anti-Wittelsbach policy but also the fact that he was the King of Bohemia himself to help determine the outcome.   Had the Duke of Bavaria become an Elector he would have been obliged under the rules made by the Emperor to set aside certain of his lands as the Electoral lands and these would then have had to be transmitted intact by primogeniture.   As it was the Dukes could go on dividing and sub-dividing their lands as they wished.

Had they been able to hold on to the gains which they had made outside Bavaria partition would have been easier, with more to play with, but they could not.   The Emperor’s eldest son, Louis V, had acquired Tirol through marriage in 1342, but when he died in 1361 he left one surviving child, a son who died two years later, so that Tirol passed to the Habsburgs.   Louis V had given up Brandenburg in 1351 but neither of the younger half-brothers who took his place could gain control, and the second of them, whose nickname was Otto der Faule, the Feeble, languidly gave Brandenburg up to his father-in-law, the Emperor, who passed it to his eldest son in 1373.   The County of Holland, the inheritance of the second wife of Louis the Bavarian, remained with her male descendants until they died out in 1425.   Their heiress failed to gain the inheritance and it passed to the Valois Dukes of Burgundy.

By 1445 there were two Bavarian Dukes left, reigning in Landshut and Munich.   The last two Landshut Dukes were known as der Reiche, the Rich, but in 1503 the second of them, Duke George, died, leaving an only daughter.   Her husband was a son of the Elector Palatine;  her dying father and her father-in-law, the senior Wittelsbach, were determined that she should succeed to the Duchy.   Duke Albert IV of Bavaria-Munich was equally determined that he should reunite the Duchy as the male heir, and fighting followed.  During that war both the heiress and her husband died, leaving two infant sons.   Albert IV gained the military backing of the Emperor Maximilian I, and by 1505 had won.   Mondsee, now in Oberösterreich, and Kitzbuhel, Kufstein and Rattenburg, in Tirol, were the Emperor’s reward.   The two little princes were given Sulzbach and Neuburg in the Landshut Duchy as compensation.

With his victory Albert IV decided to introduce primogeniture in 1506 to ensure that the Duchy should not be partitioned again.   Cunigunda, his Habsburg widow, did not approve the arrangement and as her two eldest sons were still young she was able to secure joint rule for them when Louis, the younger, came of age in 1516 (the youngest son made his career in the Church).   It merely delayed the implementation of Albert’s decision, however, because Louis did not marry, so when he died in 1545 no new junior line had been founded.

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