Electoral Palatinate

Electoral Palatinate
County Palatine of the Rhine
Pfalzgrafschaft bei Rhein
State of the Holy Roman Empire


Flag Coat of arms
Map of the different Oberämter of the Electoral Palatinate in 1789
Capital Heidelberg;
Düsseldorf, from 1690
Mannheim, from 1720
Language(s) German
Religion Catholicism;
Calvinism (from 1559);
Catholicism again (from 1685)
Government Principality
(Count palatine)
 - 1085–95 Heinrich II of Laach (first Pfalzgraf)
 - 1156–95 Conrad of Hohenstaufen
 - 1353–90 Rupert I the Red (first Elector)
 - 1799–1803 Maximilian Joseph, Duke of Zweibrücken (last Pfalzgraf; died 1825)
Historical era Middle Ages
 - Demotion of County
    Palatine of Lotharingia
 - Confirmed as Electorate 1356
 - Peace of Westphalia 1648
 - Subsumption by Bavaria 1777
 - Annexation by Baden 1803
 - Abolition of the Holy Roman Empire July 12, 1806

The County Palatine of the Rhine (German: Pfalzgrafschaft bei Rhein), later the Electoral Palatinate (German: Kurpfalz), was a historical territory of the Holy Roman Empire, a palatinate administered by a count palatine. Its rulers served as prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire from "time immemorial", were noted as such in a papal letter of 1261, and were confirmed as electors by the Golden Bull of 1356.

The Electoral Palatinate was a much larger territory than what later became known as the Rhenish Palatinate (Rheinpfalz), on the left bank of the Rhine, and is now the modern region of the Palatinate in the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate and parts of the French region of Alsace (bailiwick of Seltz from 1418 to 1766). The Electoral Palatinate also included territory lying on the east bank of the Rhine, containing the cities of Heidelberg and Mannheim.



County Palatine of Lotharingia

The Palatinate emerged from the County Palatine of Lotharingia, which came into existence in the 10th century. During the 11th century, the Palatinate was dominated by the Ezzonian dynasty, who governed several counties on both banks of the Rhine. These territories were centered around Cologne-Bonn, but extended south to the Mosel and Nahe Rivers. The southernmost point was near Alzey.[1]

Early history

From about 1085/86, after the death of the last Ezzonian palatine count, Herman II of Lotharingia, the Palatinate lost its military importance in Lotharingia. The territorial authority of the count palatine was reduced to his counties along the Rhine, from then-on called County Palatine of the Rhine.

The first hereditary Count Palatine of the Rhine was Conrad of Hohenstaufen who was the younger brother of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The territories attached to this hereditary office started from those held by the Hohenstaufens in Franconia and Rhineland (other branches of the Hohenstaufens received Swabian lands, Franche-Comté, and so forth). Much of this was from their imperial ancestors, the Franconian emperors, and a part from Conrad's maternal ancestry, the Saarbrücken. These backgrounds explain the composition of Upper and Rhenish Palatinate in the inheritance centuries onwards.

In 1195, the Palatinate passed to the House of Welf through the marriage of Agnes, heir to the Staufen count. In the early 13th century, with the marriage of the Welf heiress Agnes, the territory fell to the Wittelsbach Dukes of Bavaria, who were also dukes and counts palatine of Bavaria.

During a later division of territory among the heirs of Duke Louis II of Upper Bavaria in 1294, the elder branch of the Wittelsbachs came into possession of both the Rhenish Palatinate and the territories in the Bavarian "Nordgau" (Bavaria north of the Danube river) with the centre around the town of Amberg. As this region was politically connected to the Rhenish Palatinate, the name Upper Palatinate (Oberpfalz) became common from the early 16th century in contrast to the Lower Palatinate along the Rhine.

With the Treaty of Pavia in 1329, the emperor Louis IV, a son of Louis II, returned the Palatinate to his nephews Rudolf and Rupert.


In the Golden Bull of 1356, the Palatinate was recognized as one of the secular electorates, and given the hereditary offices of archsteward (German: Erztruchseß, Latin: Archidapifer) of the Empire and imperial vicar (Reichsverweser) of Franconia, Swabia, the Rhine, and southern Germany. From that time forth, the Count Palatine of the Rhine was usually known as the Elector Palatine (German: Kurfürst von der Pfalz, Latin: Palatinus elector).

Due to the practice of dividing territories among different branches of the family, by the early 16th century junior lines of the Palatine Wittelsbachs came to rule in Simmern, Kaiserslautern, and Zweibrücken in the Lower Palatinate, and in Neuburg and Sulzbach in the Upper Palatinate. The Elector Palatine, now based in Heidelberg, adopted Lutheranism in the 1530s and Calvinism in the 1550s.

When the senior branch of the family died out in 1559, the Electorate passed to Frederick III of Simmern, a staunch Calvinist, and the Palatinate became one of the major centers of Calvinism in Europe, supporting Calvinist rebellions in both the Netherlands and France.

Thirty Years' War

In 1619, Frederick V accepted the throne of Bohemia from the Bohemian estates. He was soon defeated by the forces of Emperor Ferdinand II at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, and Spanish and Bavarian troops soon occupied the Palatinate itself. Called "the Winter King", because his reign in Bohemia only lasted one winter. In 1623, Frederick was put under the ban of the Empire. Frederick V's territories and his position as Elector were transferred to the Duke of Bavaria, Maximilian I, of a distantly related branch of the House of Wittelsbach. Although technically Elector Palatine, he was known as the Elector of Bavaria. From 1648 he ruled in Bavaria and the Upper Palatinate alone, but retained all his Electoral dignities and the seniority of the Palatinate Electorate.

By the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Frederick V's son, Charles Louis was restored to the Lower Palatinate, and given a new electoral title, also called "Elector Palatine", but lower in precedence than the other electorates.

Later history

In 1685, the Simmern line died out, and the Palatinate was inherited by Philip William, Count Palatine of Neuburg (also Duke of Jülich and Berg), a Catholic. During the reign of Johann Wilhelm (1690-1716) the Electoral residence was moved to Düsseldorf, before being moved back to Heidelberg in 1718 and then to Mannheim in 1720.

In 1742, the Palatinate was inherited by Duke Charles Theodore of Sulzbach. Charles Theodore also inherited the Electorate of Bavaria when its ruling line became extinct in 1777. The title and authority of Elector Palatine were subsumed into the Electorate of Bavaria, Charles Theodore and his heirs retaining only the single vote and precedence of the Bavarian elector. They continued to use the title "Count Palatine of the Rhine" (German: Pfalzgraf bei Rhein, Latin: Comes Palatinus Rheni).

Charles Theodore's heir, Maximilian Joseph, Duke of Zweibrücken (on the French border), brought all the Wittelsbach territories under a single rule in 1799. The Palatinate was dissolved in the Wars of the French Revolution. First, its left bank territories were occupied, and then annexed, by France starting in 1795; then, in 1803, its right bank territories were taken by the Margrave of Baden. The Rhenish Palatinate, as a distinct territory, disappeared. In 1806, the Holy Roman Empire was abolished, and all the rights and responsibilities of the electors with it.

After the Empire

In 1806, Baden was raised to a grand duchy and parts of the former Palatinate including Mannheim became part of the new grand duchy. At the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and 1815, the left-bank Palatinate — enlarged by other territories such as the former Bishopric of Speyer and the free imperial city of Speyer — was returned to the Wittelsbachs and became a formal part of the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1816 in exchange for Tirol, which Bavaria ceded to Austria. After this time, it was this region that was principally known as the Palatinate. The area remained a part of Bavaria until after the Second World War, when it was separated and became a part of the new state of Rhineland-Palatinate, along with former left bank territories of Prussia and Hesse-Darmstadt.

Coat of arms

The full coat of arms of 1703[2]

In 1156 Conrad of Hohenstaufen, brother of emperor Frederick Barbarossa became count palatinate. The old coat of arms of the House of Hohenstaufen, the single lion, became coat of arms of the palatinate. By marriage, the Palatinate's arms also became quartered with those of Welf and later Wittelsbach.[3] The arms of Bavaria were also used with reference to the elector's holdings in Bavaria. This was extended to quartering of the lion and the Bavarian Arms upon the ascension of Maximilian I to the position of elector of the Palatinate in 1623, used concurrently with the arms shown. The orb represented their position as Arch-Steward of the Holy Roman Empire.

See also


  1. ^ Kohnle, Armin (2005). "Mittelalterliche Grundlagen; Pfalzgraftenamt, Territorialentwicklung und Kurwürde" (in German). Kleine Geschichte der Kurpfalz. Regionalgeschichte-fundiert und kompakt (First Edition ed.). Karlsruhe: G. Braun Buchverlag. pp. 17. ISBN 3-7650-8329-1. 
  2. ^ Siebmacher, Johann (1703). Erneuertes und vermehrtes Wappenbuch.... Nürnberg: Adolph Johann Helmers. pp. Part I Table 2. 
  3. ^ Diemer, Klaus (2007). "Der Pfälzer Löwe". http://www.klaus-diemer.de/019b6194f20a12711/019b6194f21220b43/index.html. 

External links

Coordinates: 49°30′00″N 8°01′00″E / 49.5°N 8.01667°E / 49.5; 8.01667

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