CLEVES KLEVE (Ger); Clèves (Fr).
County, later Duchy, in the Holy Roman Empire. There is now a Landkreis of Kleve in Nordrhein-Westfalen, with territory on both banks of the lower Rhine, in the area where the river is about to leave Germany. The city stands to the south of the river.
The county appeared in the 11th century in the northeastern corner of the Duchy of Lower Lotharingia, which was in process of breaking up. In 1368 it was inherited by the heir to the County of Mark, which lay to the east and southeast but was separated from Cleves by ecclesiastical territories.
The two Counties were then held by members of the Mark (or Marck) family, separately at first, then by the same ruler from 1461. Count Adolf II of Cleves became a Duke in 1417. He was a brother-in-law of the Duke of Burgundy, who was steadily building up an extensive territory in the Netherlands, on which Cleves bordered. Adolf’s younger son held the County of Ravenstein, an enclave within the Netherlands, and for a time was Governor of the Netherlands after the death of Charles the Rash of Burgundy in 1477.
The Dukes were members of the Lower Rhenish/Westphalian Imperial Circle from 1500. In 1511 the wife of the heir to the Duchy of Cleves inherited the Duchy of Jülich. When the last Duke of the combined Duchy of JÜLICH-CLEVES died in 1609 there was a disputed succession, though in 1614 the inheritance was partitioned as an interim measure (made permanent in 1666). The Elector of Brandenburg, son-in-law of the eldest sister of the last Duke, acquired Cleves, Mark and Ravensberg. With the acquisition of Cleves the Electorate of Brandenburg reached the Rhine for the first time.
The Kingdom of Prussia (as Brandenburg had become) lost the Rhenish left bank lands, including the town of Cleves, in the 1790s to France (formally ceded in 1801). Part of the right bank of the Rhine passed to the Batavian Republic in 1803 and the rest was ceded to France in 1805, which transferred its share to the new Grand Duchy of Berg in 1806, except the fortress of Wesel at the confluence of the Rhine and the Lippe.
In 1813-5 the Cleves lands were recovered by Prussia. In 1815 they became part of the province of Jülich-Kleve-Berg, which was united with the province of Niederrhein to the south in 1824 to form the Rheinprovinz.