The arms of the Duchy of Brunswick

The arms of the Duchy of Brunswick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A County in early medieval Germany and a Duchy from 1235;  the city of Brunswick is north of the Harz Mountains, ESE of Hanover, and stands on the River Oker, a tributary of the Aller and ultimately of the Weser.

It was founded, or said to be, by Brun, Duke of Saxony – it means Brun’s settlement.  He belonged to the Liudolfing family in eastern Saxony (his nephew, Henry the Fowler, became the first Saxon King of Germany) and was killed in conflict with the Danes in 880.   His heirs, the Brunonen, held the region around the city and died out in the male line in 1090.  Their County of Brunswick was one of several territories in eastern Saxony that came to the great family of Welf during the first half of the 12th century.   The Welfs held lands in southeastern Swabia and had been, with interruptions, Dukes of Bavaria since 1070.  Duke Henry the Proud of Bavaria was made Duke of Saxony in 1136 by his father-in-law, the Emperor Lothar III, a title of which he was deprived in 1138 and to which his son, Henry the Lion, was restored in 1142.   When he himself was deposed by his cousin, the Emperor Frederick I, in 1180, he was allowed after a while to recover his allodial lands and they descended to his heirs.

These lands were extensive, and included much of the land between the lower Elbe and the Weser and in and around the northern and western Harz.   One of their centres was Lüneburg, which was near the lower Elbe and looked towards Holstein and Mecklenburg, another was Brunswick, which was north of the Harz and looked eastwards towards Magdeburg, and and a third was Göttingen, which was southwest of the Harz and looked towards Hesse and the centre of Germany.   Theirs was a vaster territory than the Ascanian successor of Henry the Lion as Duke of Saxony could boast.

In 1235 the Emperor Frederick II sought reconciliation with the Welfs and bestowed on Henry the Lion’s grandson, Otto the Child, the Duchy of Brunswick & Lüneburg.   The mechanics of the matter involved, firstly, Frederick’s recovering Brunswick itself for Otto from his cousins, the heiresses of his uncle, Henry the Count Palatine;  and, secondly, Otto’s surrender of his allodial lands, whch he then received back as the Duchy of Brunswick, an Imperial fief.     That should in theory have kept the territory intact, because, while allodial lands were usually parcelled out among the male heirs, Imperial fiefs were not, as they were in theory offices which could not be divided.   The theory was no longer working.   Most German noble families at that time carved up their inheritance among the male heirs, if they could, regardless of the origins of the property.   The opportunities to do so were increased in the mid-13th century because of the clash between Frederick II and the Papacy, which led on to the Interregnum with no King who commanded the loyalty of more than a few of his potential subjects.

Duchy of Brunswick 1914

Duchy of Brunswick 1914 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So it was with the Brunswick family.   After Otto’s death in 1252, his two sons held the lands jointly until 1267, when they partitioned the Duchy and never thereafter were all the lands held together again.   The Brunswick inheritance was divided, then subdivided, and when a line died out, divided up again among the survivors.   Primogeniture, the principal method of inheritance by which property remained concentrated, was only introduced late into the House of Brunswick.

There were three main partitions of the Duchy.   The first was in 1267 between the two sons of Otto the Child.   The elder, Albert, took Brunswick, the younger, John, took Lüneburg and the two branches were subsequently known as the Old Houses of Brunswick and Lüneburg.   John’s line died out in 1369, with the death of Duke William.   For twenty years the Dukes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and the Electors of Saxony, contested the succession to Lüneburg, and even after Lunebürg was successfully retained by the Welfs no permanent settlement was made between the Brunswick Dukes of the Wolfenbüttel branch until 1428.

In that year the aged Duke Bernard I received Lüneburg and his younger brother’s son Wolfenbüttel:  their lines were later called the Middle Houses of Lüneburg and Brunswick.  The latter died out in 1634.

By 1636 a new settlement had been reached between two of the surviving lines of the Middle House of Lüneburg.   The Danneberg and Celle lines became the New Houses of Brunswick and Lüneburg.   The latter became Electors of Hanover from 1692, and Kings from 1815.   The Electors/Kings were also Kings of Great Britain and Ireland, 1714-1837.   The New House of Brunswick died out in 1884, but the New House of Lüneburg still survives, though it ceased to reign in 1866.   After the Seven Weeks’ War between Austria and most of the German states, on the one hand, and Prussia, on the other, Hanover was annexed by Prussia.

Besides these three major partitions, there were sub-partitions:  details of the various Brunswick Duchies can be found in the following articles. (BRUNSWICK-BEVERN, BRUNSWICK-CALENBERGBRUNSWICK-CELLE, BRUNSWICK-DANNENBERGBRUNSWICK-GIFHORN, )

The town of Brunswick had a great deal of freedom and was one of the towns that belonged to the Hanse.   Its government was scattered among five districts, which weakened it.  By the end of the middle ages the Dukes were in control, but the Dukes who held Brunswick resided at Wolfenbüttel, which lay some miles to the south, and were generally called the Dukes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.   By 1752, when there were only two Welf rulers, the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was using the title Duke of Brunswick pure and simple;  his kinsman was Elector of Hanover and King of Great Britain.

As stated in the last years of the Holy Roman Empire the Dukes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel simply called themselves Dukes of Brunswick.    They were implacable oppponents of France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, two of the Dukes dying in battle.   Not surprisingly their lands were taken from them to form part of Jerome Bonaparte’s Kingdom of Westphalia.

The Duchy was restored and entered the German Confederation in 1815, the North German Confederation in 1867, and the German Empire in 1871.   The last Duke died in 1884, and with his death the Brunswick lands would have been united had not Prussia annexed the Kingdom of Hanover in 1866.   The Prussian government was not willing to see the former Crown Prince of Hanover, whose family remained bitter about the loss of the Kingdom, become Duke of Brunswick and so from 1884 until 1913 the Duchy was ruled by Regents.

In 1912 the heir of the former Crown Prince was killed in a car crash on Prussian soil, and the Kaiser was represented at his funeral by two officers.   The new heir was dispatched to thank the Kaiser.   This slight thaw in relations promptly intensified into a heat-wave:  the prince and the Kaiser’s daughter fell in love.   The result was marriage, and also, after the former Crown Prince had renounced his claims, the succession of his heir to the Duchy of Brunswick in 1913.   His reign was brief:  the defeats of 1918 swept all the German monarchies away.

Brunswick became a Land in the new Weimar Republic;  in Nazi Germany it and Anhalt shared a governor.   In the division of Germany in 1945, the Blankenburg exclave became part of the Soviet Zone, whilst the remainder of the Duchy was in the British Zone and from 1946 in the Land of Niedersachsen, where it formed an administrative region (Regierungsbezirk).   In 1978 the Regierungsbezirke in Niedersachsen were redrawn to form regions less historical and more rational.    The new southeastern region was called Braunschweig.

This entry was posted in Austria, Germany and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s