English: principal shield of counts of Benthei...

English: principal shield of counts of Bentheim (1589); 1: county of Bentheim; 2: county of Tecklenburg; 3: county of Lingen; 4; county of Steinfurt; 5: county of Limburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Former Imperial County (Grafschaft) in northwestern Germany;  the town is now in southwest Niedersachsen, lying between the town of Rheine, which is on the River Ems, and the Dutch border.   The southwestern Landkreis in the region of Weser-Ems in present-day Niedersachsen is called Grafschaft Bentheim.   It lies on the border with the Netherlands.

The County appeared in the first half of the 12th century, when it was held by a member of the family of the Counts of Salm, whose wife was an heiress of the original Counts of Brunswick.  Some of the Brunswick Counts had also been Margraves of Frisia;  Bentheim itself lay on the fringes of that region.   Bentheim passed in 1150 to the Counts of Holland and was held by a cadet line of that family, who also acquired the County of Tecklenburg, to the east of the Ems, in 1262.   Tecklenburg was then a powerful County and was held after 1277 by the senior line of the Holland Counts of Bentheim until it passed away from the family through an heiress.

The junior line retained Bentheim until 1421, when its heiress brought it to a family called Götterswick, who had recently inherited the lordship of Steinfurt, to the south of Bentheim.   The Götterswick Counts of Bentheim in their turn acquired Tecklenburg – in 1557 – but it was much weakened, and finally passed out of the hands of Bentheim in the late 17th century.

The senior line of the Counts of Bentheim continued to call themselves Counts of Bentheim-Tecklenburg, and to hold Rheda, ESE of Münster, which they had acquired with Tecklenburg in 1557.   The junior line of the family divided into two lines, Bentheim-Bentheim and Bentheim-Steinfurt, the former dying out in 1803, though Bentheim itself had been mortgaged to the Electors of Hanover since 1752.

The County belonged to the Lower Rhenish/Westphalian circle;  in the Diet the Count sat in the Westphalian Grafenbank (Bench of Counts).

In 1806 Bentheim became part of the Grand Duchy of Berg and in 1810 was annexed to the French Empire.  In 1815 Bentheim was added to the Kingdom of Hanover and, with that Kingdom, became Prussian in 1866;  it is now in Niedersachsen.   Steinfurt and Rheda became part of Prussia in 1815 and are now in Nordrhein-Westfalen.   The heads of the two branches of the former Counts became Prussian Princes in 1817 and their lines survive.

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