History of Württemberg

History of Württemberg

Württemberg developed as a political entity in south-west Germany, with the core established around Stuttgart by Count Conrad (d. 1110). His descendants managed to expand Württemberg, surviving Germany's religious wars, changes in imperial policy, and invasions from France. The state had a basic parliamentary system that changed to absolutism in the 18th century. The state was recognised as a kingdom in 1806–1918 and is now a part of the state of Baden-Württemberg. Württemberg was often spelt Wirtemberg or Wurtemberg in English.



The former Württemberg Castle in an 18th century print

The origin of the name Württemberg remains obscure: scholars having universally rejected the once popular derivation from "Wirth am Berg". Some authorities derive it from a proper name: Wiruto or Wirtino; others from a Celtic place-name, Virolunum or Verdunum. At all events, from serving as the name of a castle near the Stuttgart city district of Rotenberg it extended over the surrounding country, and as the lords of this district increased their possessions so the name covered an ever-widening area, until it reached its present denotation. Early forms of it include Wirtenberg, Wirtembenc and Wirtenberc. Wirtemberg was long current, and in the latter part of the 16th century Würtemberg and Wurttemberg appeared. In 1806 Württemberg became the official spelling, though Wurtemberg also appears frequently and occurs sometimes in official documents and even on coins issued after that date.

Württemberg's first known inhabitants, the Celts, preceded the arrival of the Suebi. In the 1st century A.D. the Romans conquered the land and defended their position there by constructing a rampart (limes). Early in the 3rd century the Alemanni drove the Romans beyond the Rhine and the Danube, but in their turn they succumbed to the Franks under Clovis, the decisive battle taking place in 496.

For about four hundred years the district formed part of the Frankish empire, being administered by counts, but in the 9th century the German Duchy of Swabia subsumed it.

Counts of Württemberg to 1495

Arms of the counts of Württemberg
Eberhard III in Council

The Hohenstaufen family controlled the duchy of Swabia until the death of Conradin in 1268, when a considerable part of its lands fell to the count of Württemberg, the representative of a family first mentioned in about 1080, a certain Conrad von Beutelsbach, who took the name from his ancestral castle of Württemberg.

The earliest historical details on a Count of Württemberg relate to one Ulrich I, Count of Württemberg, who ruled from 1241 to 1265. He served as marshal of Swabia and advocate of the town of Ulm, and had large possessions in the valleys of the Neckar and the Rems, and acquired Urach in 1260. Under his sons, Ulrich II and Eberhard I, and their successors, the power of the family grew steadily. Eberhard I (died 1325) opposed, sometimes successfully, three German kings; he doubled the area of his county and transferred his residence from Württemberg Castle to the "Old Castle" in today's city centre of Stuttgart.

His successors were not perhaps so prominent, but all added something to the land area of Württemberg. In 1381 the Duchy of Teck was bought, and marriage to an heiress added Montbéliard in 1397. The family also divided its lands amongst collateral branches several times, but in 1482 the Treaty of Münsingen reunited the territory and declared it indivisible and united it under Count Eberhard V, called im Bart (The Bearded). This arrangement received the sanction of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, and of the imperial diet, in 1495.

Unusually for Germany, from 1457 Württemberg had a bicameral parliament, the Landtag, known otherwise as the "Diet" or "Estates" of Württemberg, that had to approve new taxation.

In 1477 Count Eberhard founded the University of Tübingen.

The Duchy of Württemberg (1495–1805)

The dukedom survived mainly because it was larger than its immediate neighbours. However, it was often under pressure during the Reformation from the Catholic Holy Roman Empire, and from repeated French invasions in the 17th and 18th centuries. Württemberg happened to be in the path of French and Austrian armies engaged in the long rivalry between the Bourbon and Habsburg dynasties.

Medieval dukedom and Austrian rule

Eberhard V proved one of the most energetic rulers that Württemberg ever had, and in 1495 his county became a duchy. He now was Duke Eberhard I.[1] At his death in 1496 his cousin, Duke Eberhard II succeeded for a short reign of two years, terminated by a deposition.

The long reign (1498–1550) of Duke Ulrich, who succeeded to the duchy while still a child, proved a most eventful period for the country, and many traditions cluster round the name of this gifted, unscrupulous and ambitious man. The extortions by which he sought to raise money for his extravagant pleasures excited a rising known as that of the arme Konrad (Poor Conrad), not unlike the rebellion in England led by Wat Tyler. The authorities soon restored order, and in 1514 by the Treaty of Tübingen the people undertook to pay the duke's debts in return for various political privileges, which in effect laid the foundation of the constitutional liberties of the country. A few years later Ulrich quarrelled with the Swabian League, and its forces (helped by William IV, Duke of Bavaria, angered by the treatment meted out by Ulrich to his wife Sabina, a Bavarian princess), invaded Württemberg, expelled the duke and sold his duchy to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, for 220,000 gulden.

Charles handed over Württemberg to his brother, the German king, Ferdinand I, who served as nominal ruler for a few years. Soon, however, the discontent caused by the oppressive Austrian rule, the disturbances in Germany leading to the German Peasants' War and the commotions aroused by the Reformation gave Ulrich an opportunity to recover his duchy. Aided by Philip, landgrave of Hesse, and other Protestant princes, he fought a victorious battle against Ferdinand's troops at Lauffen in May 1534, and then by the treaty of Cadan he again became duke, but perforce duke of the duchy as an Austrian fief. He subsequently introduced the reformed religious doctrines and proceeded to endow Protestant churches and schools throughout his land, and founded the Tübinger Stift seminary in 1536. Ulrich's connection with the Schmalkaldic League led to another expulsion, but in 1547 Charles V re-instated him, albeit on somewhat onerous terms.

Reformation period

The total population during the sixteenth century was between three and four hundred thousand. Ulrich's son and succeesor, Christopher (1515–1568), completed the work of converting his subjects to the reformed faith. He introduced a system of church government, the Grosse Kirchenordnung, which endured in part into the 20th century. In this reign a standing commission started to superintend the finances, and the members of this body, all of whom belonged to the upper classes, gained considerable power in the state, mainly at the expense of the towns.

Christopher's son Louis, the founder of the Collegium illustre in Tübingen, died childless in 1593 and a kinsman, Frederick I (1557–1608) succeeded to the duchy. This energetic prince disregarded the limits placed to his authority by the rudimentary constitution. By paying a large sum of money he induced the emperor Rudolph II in 1599 to free the duchy from the suzerainty of Austria. Thus once again Württemberg became a direct fief of the Empire.

Thirty Years War

Unlike his predecessor, the next duke, Johann Frederick (1582–1628), failed to become an absolute ruler, and perforce recognised the checks on his power. During this reign, which ended in July 1628, Württemberg suffered severely from the Thirty Years' War, although the duke himself took no part in it. His son and successor Eberhard III (1628–1674), however, plunged into it as an ally of France and Sweden as soon as he came of age in 1633, but after the battle of Nordlingen in 1634 Imperial troops occupied the duchy and the duke himself went into exile for some years. The Peace of Westphalia restored him, but to a depopulated and impoverished country, and he spent his remaining years in efforts to repair the disasters of the lengthy war. Württemberg was a central battlefield of the War; its population fell by 57% between 1634 1655, primarily because of death disease, declining birthrates, and the mass migration of terrified peasants.[2]

Attempts at absolutism

Ludwigsburg Palace and Baroque Gardens, near Stuttgart

During the reign of Eberhard Ludwig (1676–1733), who succeeded as a one-year-old when his father Duke William Louis died in 1677, Württemberg made the acquaintance of another destructive enemy, Louis XIV of France. In 1688, 1703 and 1707 the French entered the duchy and inflicted brutalities and sufferings upon the inhabitants. The sparsely populated country afforded a welcome to fugitive Waldenses, who did something to restore it to prosperity, but the extravagance of the duke, anxious to provide for the expensive tastes of his mistress, Christiana Wilhelmina von Grävenitz partly neutralised this benefit.

In 1704 Eberhard Ludwig started to build Ludwigsburg Palace to the north of Stuttgart, in imitation of Versailles.

Charles Alexander, who became duke in 1733, had become a Roman Catholic while an officer in the Austrian service. His favourite adviser was the Jew Josef Süss Oppenheimer, and suspicions arose that master and servant were aiming at the suppression of the diet (the local parliament) and the introduction of Roman Catholicism. However, the sudden death of Charles Alexander in March 1737 put an abrupt end to any such plans, and the regent, Charles Rudolph of Württtemberg-Neuenstadt, had Oppenheimer hanged.

The New Castle, Stuttgart

Charles Eugene (1728–1793), who came of age in 1744, appeared gifted, but vicious and extravagant, and he soon fell into the hands of unworthy favourites. He spent a great deal of money in building the "New Castle" in Stuttgart and elsewhere, and sided against Prussia during the Seven Years' War of 1756–1763, which was unpopular with his Protestant subjects.

His whole reign featured dissension between ruler and ruled, the duke's irregular and arbitrary methods of raising money arousing great discontent. The intervention of the emperor and even of foreign powers ensued, and in 1770 a formal arrangement removed some of the grievances of the people. But Charles Eugene did not keep his promises, although in his old age he made a few further concessions.

French revolutionary period

Duke Frederick II Eugene

Charles Eugene left no legitimate heirs, and was succeeded by his next brother, Louis Eugene (d. 1795), who was childless, and then by another, Frederick Eugene (d. 1797). This latter prince, who had served in the army of Frederick the Great, to whom he was related by marriage, and then managed his family's estates around Montbeliard, educated his children in the Protestant faith and as francophones. All of the subsequent Württemberg royal family were descended from him. Thus, when his son Frederick II became duke in 1797, Protestantism returned to the ducal household, and the royal house adhered to this faith thereafter.

During Frederick Eugene's short reign the French Republic invaded Württemberg, and compelled the duke to withdraw his troops from the imperial army and to pay reparations. Though he ruled for only two years, Frederick II Eugene effectively saved the independence of the dukedom. Through his children's marriages he had made remarkable connections across Europe, including the Russian, Austrian and British royal families.

Frederick II (1754–1816), a prince who modelled himself on Frederick the Great, took part in the war against France in defiance of the wishes of his people, and when the French again invaded and devastated the country he retired to Erlangen, where he remained until after the conclusion of the peace of Lunéville on 9 February 1801. By a private treaty with France, signed in March 1802, he ceded his possessions on the left bank of the Rhine, receiving in return nine imperial towns, among them Reutlingen and Heilbronn, and some other territories, amounting altogether to about 850 square miles (2,200 km²) and containing about 124,000 inhabitants. He also accepted from Napoleon in 1803 the title of elector. The new districts were not incorporated with the duchy, but remained separate; they were known as "New Württemberg" and were ruled without a diet. Other areas were acquired in 1803–1806 as part of the German Mediatisation process.

In 1805 Württemberg took up arms on the side of France, and by the Treaty of Pressburg in December 1805 the elector received as reward various Austrian possessions in Swabia and other lands in the area.

The Kingdom of Württemberg (1806–1918)

Kingdom of Württemberg as it existed from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the end of World War I. From 1815 to 1866 it was a member state of the German Confederation and from 1871 to 1918 it was a federal state in the German Empire
The royal crown of Württemberg
Flag of Württemberg

Confederation of the Rhine, 1806–1813

On January 1, 1806 Duke Frederick II assumed the title of king as King Frederick I, abrogated the constitution and united old and new Württemberg. Subsequently he placed church lands under the control of the state and received some formerly self-governing areas under the "mediatisation" process. In 1806 he joined the Confederation of the Rhine and received further additions of territory containing 160,000 inhabitants; a little later, by the peace of Vienna in October 1809, about 110,000 more persons came under his rule. In return for these favours Frederick joined Napoleon Bonaparte in his campaigns against Prussia, Austria and Russia, and of 16,000 of his subjects who marched to Moscow only a few hundred returned. Then, after the Battle of Leipzig (October 1813), King Frederick deserted the waning fortunes of the French emperor, and by a treaty made with Metternich at Fulda in November 1813 he secured the confirmation of his royal title and of his recent acquisitions of territory, while his troops marched with those of the allies into France.

German Confederation, 1815–1871

In 1815 the king joined the German Confederation, but the Congress of Vienna made no change in the extent of his lands. In the same year he laid before the representatives of his people the outline of a new constitution, but they rejected this, and in the midst of the commotion Frederick died (October 30, 1816).

At once the new king, William I (reigned 1816–1864) took up the constitutional question and after much discussion granted a new constitution in September 1819. This constitution, with subsequent modifications, remained in force until 1918 (see Württemberg). A period of quietness now set in, and the condition of the kingdom, its education, its agriculture and its trade and manufactures, began to receive earnest attention, while by frugality, both in public and in private matters, King William I helped to repair the shattered finances of the country. But the desire for greater political freedom did not entirely fade away under the constitution of 1819, and after 1830 a certain amount of unrest occurred. This, however, soon died, while the inclusion of Württemberg in the German Zollverein and the construction of railways fostered trade.

The revolutionary movement of 1848 did not leave Württemberg untouched, although no actual violence took place within the kingdom. King William had to dismiss Johannes Schlayer (1792–1860) and his other ministers, and to call to power men with more liberal ideas, the exponents of the idea of a united Germany. King William did proclaim a democratic constitution, but as soon as the movement had spent its force he dismissed the liberal ministers, and in October 1849 Schlayer and his associates returned to power. By interfering with popular electoral rights the king and his ministers succeeded in assembling a servile diet in 1851, and this surrendered all the privileges gained since 1848. In this way the authorities restored the constitution of 1819, and power passed into the hands of a bureaucracy. A concordat with the Papacy proved almost the last act of William's long reign, but the diet repudiated the agreement, preferring to regulate relations between church and state in its own way.

In July 1864 Charles (1823–1891, reigned 1864–1891) succeeded his father William I as king and had almost at once to face considerable difficulties. In the duel between Austria and Prussia for supremacy in Germany, William I had consistently taken the Austrian side, and this policy was equally acceptable to the new king and his advisers. In 1866 Württemberg took up arms on behalf of Austria in the Austro-Prussian War, but three weeks after the Battle of Königgratz (3 July 1866) her troops suffered a comprehensive defeat at Tauberbischofsheim, and the country lay at the mercy of Prussia. The Prussians occupied the northern part of Württemberg and negotiated a peace in August 1866; by this Württemberg paid an indemnity of 8,000,000 gulden, but she at once concluded a secret offensive and defensive treaty with her conqueror. Württemberg was a party to the St Petersburg Declaration of 1868.

German Empire, 1871–1918

The end of the struggle against Prussia allowed a renewal of democratic agitation in Württemberg, but this had achieved no tangible results when the great war between France and Prussia broke out in 1870. Although the policy of Württemberg had continued antagonistic to Prussia, the kingdom shared in the national enthusiasm which swept over Germany, and its troops took a creditable part in the Battle of Worth and in other operations of the war. In 1871 Württemberg became a member of the new German Empire, but retained control of her own post office, telegraphs and railways. She had also certain special privileges with regard to taxation and the army, and for the next ten years Württemberg's policy enthusiastically supported the new order. Many important reforms, especially in the area of finance, ensued, but a proposal for a union of the railway system with that of the rest of Germany failed. After reductions in taxation in 1889, the reform of the constitution became the question of the hour. King Charles and his ministers wished to strengthen the conservative element in the chambers, but the laws of 1874, 1876 and 1879 only effected slight reforms pending a more thorough settlement. On October 6, 1891 King Charles died suddenly; his cousin William II (1848–1921, reigned 1891–1918) succeeded and continued the policy of his predecessor.

Discussions on the reform of the constitution continued, and the election of 1895 memorably returned a powerful party of democrats. King William had no sons, nor had his only Protestant kinsman, Duke Nicholas (1833–1903); consequently the succession would ultimately pass to a Roman Catholic branch of the family, and this prospect raised up certain difficulties about the relations between church and state. The heir to the throne in 1910 was the Roman Catholic Duke Albert (b. 1865).

Between 1900 and 1910 the political history of Württemberg centred round the settlement of the constitutional and the educational questions. The constitution underwent revision in 1906, and a settlement of the education difficulty occurred in 1909. In 1904 the railway system integrated with that of the rest of Germany.

The population in 1905 was 2,302,179, of whom 69% were Protestants, 30% Catholics and 0.5% Jews. Protestants largely preponderated in the Neckar district, Roman Catholics in that of the Danube. In 1910, 506,061 people worked in the agricultural sector, 432,114 in industrial occupations, and 100,109 in trade and commerce. see Demographics of Württemberg

Post-Royal Württemberg

Weimar-era Württemberg coat of arms

In the course of the revolutionary activities at the close of World War I in November 1918, King William II abdicated on 30 November and a republican government ensued.

Württemberg became a state (Land) in the new Weimar Republic. After the excitements of the 1918–1919 revolution, its five election results between 1919 and 1932 show a decreasing vote for left-wing parties. From 1934 the Gau of Württemberg-Hohenzollern added the Province of Hohenzollern. After World War II in 1945, Württemberg was split between Württemberg-Baden in Bizonia, and Württemberg-Hohenzollern in the French zone. Both of these finally became part of the land of Baden-Württemberg in 1952.

See also

Further reading

  • Blackbourn, David G. "Class and Politics in Wilhelmine Germany: The Center Party and the Social Democrats in Wurttemberg," Central European History Sept 1976, Vol. 9 Issue 3, pp 220–49
  • Diephouse, David J. Pastors and Pluralism in Wurttemberg, 1918–1933 (1987) 393pp
  • Franklin, R. W. Nineteenth-Century Churches. The History of a New Catholicism in Wurttemberg, England and France (1988) 556pp
  • Fulbrook, Mary. Piety and Politics: Religion & the Rise of Absolutism in England, Wurttemberg & Prussia (1984) 215pp; covers 1500 to 1699
  • Medick, Hans. "The unique industrial development of Wurttemberg: A review essay," Business History Review, Autumn 1993, Vol. 67 Issue 3, pp 439–47
  • Stephenson, Jill. Hitler's Home Front: Wurttemberg under the Nazis (2006) 512pp
  • Tolley, Bruce. Pastors and Parishioners in Wurttemberg during the Late Reformation, 1581–1621 (1995)
  • Vann, James Allen. Making of a State: Wurttemberg, 1593–1793 (1984) 321 pp; covers 1593 to 1793
  • Warde, Paul. "Subsistence and sales: the peasant economy of Württemberg in the early seventeenth century," Economic History Review, May 2006, Vol. 59 Issue 2, pp 289–319
  • Wilson, Peter H. War, State and Society in Württemberg, 1677–1793 (Cambridge U.P. 1995)

External links


  1. ^ This type of sovereign royal duke was known in Germany as a Herzog.
  2. ^ Peter Wilson, The Thirty Years War: Europe's tragedy (2009) p 789


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