History Files


European Kingdoms

Central Europe




AD 1567 - 1806

The west German duchy of Hesse was a single, unified, and enlargened state from 1500. The main body of its territory was comprised of various regions east of Nassau, and between the River Lippe to the north and just below the Maine in the south. Formerly the Chatti tribe of the first century AD, the Hessians formed a semi-independent territory out of the collapse of the much larger stem duchy of Franconia. They gained a landgraviate in the thirteenth century and a duchy in 1500. From 1509, Duke Philip the Magnanimous was the single most influential figure in the history of all of the various Hessian territories. One of the political leaders of the Reformation, it was during his reign that Hesse played a role of great importance in the Reich, meaning 'empire' - in this case the Austrian-dominated Holy Roman empire which covered most of central Europe. Hesse's city of Frankfurt-am-Main was for a long time a free imperial city, serving as the location in which German emperors were crowned.

Following Philip's death, Hesse was divided into the regions of Hessen-Kassel, Hessen-Marburg, Hessen-Rheinfels and Hessen-Darmstadt, one each for Philip's four sons. Hessen-Darmstadt was formed out of the Obergrafschaft ('upper county') of the former 'Imperial Immediacy' of the county of Katzenelnbogen, an 'immediacy' being a district which answered directly to the Holy Roman emperor rather than a local overlord or prince. Having been created in 1095 to comprise the Obergrafschaft ('upper county') and Untergrafschaft ('lower county'), it witnessed four centuries of rule by its own Katzenelnbogen counts before the line died out in 1497. It was inherited by Hesse thanks to the 1458 marriage between Henry III of Upper Hesse and Count Philipp's daughter, Anna of Katzenelnbogen.

The rulers of Hessen-Darmstadt continued to hold the title of landgraf ('landgrave' in English), although they formed the most junior of the four branches and, along with Rheinfels, the smallest of the four Hessen divisions, gaining just an eighth of the previous duchy's land. Darmstadt's territory was located in the south of Hesse, formed around the city of Darmstadt. Also located within Hessen-Darmstadt was the city of Frankfurt-am-Main, while the area to the south of Frankfurt is heavily forested, especially in the area of the Odenwald (the Forest of Odes, to the south of Darmstadt), which leads to the famous Black Forest and onto the Alps. The city of Darmstadt is also very close to the ruins of Frankenstein Castle.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Coercion, Capital, and European States, Charles Tilly, 1992, and from External Links: Euratlas, and Historical Atlas of Germany.)

1567 - 1596

George I

Fourth son of Philip I of Hesse. First landgrave in Darmstadt.

1596 - 1626

Ludwig V / Louis V the Faithful

Son. Numbering continued from Hessen-Marburg.


Ludwig's younger brother, Philipp, forms the short-lived cadet branch of Hessen-Butzbach.


The Ydulfings of Hessen-Marburg die without producing a successor, its only ruler being Ludwig's uncle, Ludwig IV. Maurice of Hessen-Kassel claims back the title and attempts to impose Calvinism upon its subjects, contrary to the rules of inheritance. This causes disagreements between him and his cousin, Ludwig V of Hessen-Darmstadt, which evolve into armed conflict between the two in the Thirty Years' War from 1618. These issues are not resolved until the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.


Ludwig V gains his title - 'the faithful' - from his attachment to the Holy Roman emperor. Darmstadt is sub-divided so that the minor principality of Hessen-Homburg can be created for Ludwig's youngest brother, Frederick.


Upon the death of Ludwig V, Hessen-Darmstadt is again sub-divided. His eldest son becomes George II, landgrave of the main portion of Hessen-Darmstadt. George's younger brother, Johann, becomes head of the short-lived cadet branch of Hessen-Braubach.

1626 - 1661

George II

Eldest son. Hessen-Braubach went to his brother.

1644 - 1648

The Marburger Succession Conflict between Kassel and Darmstadt is a result of Kassel claiming back both Rheinfels and Marburg (the latter in 1604) and attempting to impose Calvinism there against the rules of inheritance. An enemy of Kassel during the Thirty Years' War, Hessen-Darmstadt fights some of its bitterest battles against its neighbour. Darmstadt gains power after the war and the Peace of Westphalia (1648), along with a portion of Upper Hesse, the former Benedictine territory of Hersfeld, and part of Hessen-Marburg.


Landgraf Johann of Hessen-Braubach has produced no offspring, so with his death the Hessen-Braubach line also dies and presumably is reintegrated back within Hessen-Darmstadt.

1661 - 1678

Ludwig VI

Eldest son. Hessen-Darmstadt-Itter went to his brother.


Upon Ludwig's accession, the cadet line of Hessen-Darmstadt-Itter is formed for his younger brother, George.

1671 - 1673

Landgrave George Christian of Hessen-Homburg, a confirmed adventurer if ever there is one, sells Homburg to two of his biggest creditors, Johann Christian von Boyneburg and a banker by the name of Johann Ochs from Frankfurt. Wanting to realise the value of their newfound asset they sell Homburg to Ludwig VI of Hessen-Darmstadt in 1673.


Although Landgraf George of Hessen-Darmstadt-Itter has become the father of two daughters, neither apparently marries so the line dies out. The title and any lands are reintegrated back into Hessen-Darmstadt.


Ludwig VII

1678 - 1739

Ernst Ludwig

Son of Ludwig VI.


The territories of Homburg and Bingenheim are reunited along with their titles by Frederick II. Upon his accession he becomes the landgrave of a Hessen-Homburg which now has no sub-divisions. Unfortunately he soon has to sell Bingenheim to Landgrave Ernst Ludwig of Hessen-Darmstadt in exchange for monetary compensation.


Hessen-Darmstadt gains Hanau-Lichtenberg upon the end of the line of counts of Hanau.

1739 - 1768

Ludwig VIII


Ludwig VIII has decided to reclaim Hessen-Homburg for himself. His troops march in and Ludwig claims to be the legal guardian of Landgrave Frederick IV, despite the latter already being twenty-three years of age. Frederick is an adult in the eyes of the law and is also married by now. The Holy Roman emperor and the Aulic Council review the case, although Frederick IV dies of a 'chest disease' in the meantime. His three year-old son succeeds him as Frederick V.  The emperor confirms his mother as his regent, despite Ludwig's protestations (Ludwig is ordered out of the landgraviate in 1756).

1768 - 1790

Ludwig IX

1790 - 1806

Ludwig X

1793 - 1801

Hessen-Darmstadt fights against France as part of the Holy Roman empire. It is forced into neutrality in 1799. Along with a defeated Austria, Hessen-Darmstadt makes peace at Luneville in 1801.


Hessen-Darmstadt is enlarged by a sharing out of previously imperial free towns and church states to compensate for land lost on the west bank of the Rhine to France (a few districts in Baden and Nassau have also been lost). It gains Kurmainz, Kurpfalz, and the Kurkolinsche duchy of Westfalen (Westphalia) from the Catholic Church.


Hessen-Darmstadt is made a member of Napoleon's French-controlled Confederation of the Rhine (Rheinbund). In return it receives all remaining imperial possessions within its borders (including the grafschaft of Erbach and the landgraviate of Hessen-Homburg), but loses Katzenelnbogen. Landgrave Ludwig X is elevated by Napoleon to the status of grand duke, with Hessen-Darmstadt becoming a Grand Duchy.

Grand Dukes of Hessen-Darmstadt (and the Rhine)
AD 1806 - 1918

Elevated by French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806. Ruler held the title of grand duke (grossherzog).

(Additional information from Das frühere Kurhessen - Ein Geschichtsbild, Otto Bähr, from Geschichte des Landes Hessen, Karl Ernst Demandt, from Kurfürstentum (Kassel Lexikon), Ewald Grothe, from Kurhessens Ministerialvorstände der Verfassungszeit 1831-1866, Harald Höffner, from Die Kurhessen im Feldzuge von 1814: Ein Beitrag zur hessischen Kriegsgeschichte, Carl Renouard, from Die Kurhessische Verfassung von 1831 im Rahmen des deutschen Konstitutionalismus, Christian Starck, and from Louis and Victoria: The Family History of the Mountbattens, Richard Hough (Second Edition, 1984).)

1806 - 1830

Ludwig I

First Grand Duke of Hessen-Darmstadt. Formerly Ludwig X.


Darmstadt gains three Hessian domains of the German Order, the Fulda domain of Herbstein, and the estates of the Order of Malta in Hesse.

Map of Confederation of German States AD 1815
Following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte 1814, the Congress of Vienna took on board much of his vital restructuring of the German principalities, with the result that a map of the new Confederation of German States in 1815-1817 looked very different to maps of the previous century (click on map to view full sized)


Napoleon loses control of Germany. The short-lived kingdom of Westphalia is dismantled and Hessen-Kassel is restored by the allied armies. The kurfürst gains the Nieder-Grafschaft of Katzenelnbogen, and the prince-bishopric (grand duchy) of Fulda, which connects his Hessian lands with those in Hanau. At the Congress of Vienna, William's request to be recognised as king of the Chatti is refused. Hessen-Kassel remains an electorate despite the lack of an empire because being known as the 'Electorate of Hesse' differentiates it from the duchy of Hessen-Darmstadt, the junior of the two states which is now superior in rank thanks to its title.

1814 - 1815

In 1814 the Congress of Vienna makes further changes to Hessen-Darmstadt's borders, with the former county of Katzenelnbogen which had been annexed by the French in 1806 now being passed to Nassau-Weilburg. Ludwig becomes Grossherzog von Hessen und bei Rhein. He exchanges Westfalen with Prussia for Isenberg-Birstein, Worms, Alzey, and Bingen. The landgraviate of Hessen-Homburg is re-established in 1815, its independence being recognised by Hessen-Darmstadt (under duress).  The latter is recognised as a member of the German Confederation in 1817, while Hessen-Homburg is its smallest sovereign state.

1830 - 1848

Ludwig II

Son. Second son founded Hessen-Battenberg branch.

1848 - 1877

Ludwig III

Son. No heir.


Prussia fights the Austro-Prussian War against Austria, essentially as a decider to see which of the two powers will be dominant in Central Europe. As an officer who has been serving in the Austrian army, Alexander of Hesse (father of Prince Louis of Hessen-Battenberg) holds a senior position in Hessen-Darmstadt's much smaller army during the war. Prussia gains the newly-created kingdom of Italy as an ally in the south and several minor German states in the north. Austria and its southern German allies are crushed in just seven weeks (giving the conflict its alternative title of the Seven Weeks' War), and Prussia is now unquestionably dominant.

Bismark oversees the seizure of four of Austria's northern German allies, the kingdom of Hanover, the electorate of Hessen-Kassel, and the duchy of Nassau-Weilburg, along with the free city of Frankfurt. Prussia also subsumes Schleswig and Holstein, although the former has technically been Prussian since 1864, and forces Saxe-Lauenberg into personal union (annexation in all but name, which turns into fact in 1876). Many of these gains ensure that Prussian territories in the east and west are now connected through the Rhineland and Westphalia.

Austro-Prussian War 1866
Austria's slow-moving forces were outpaced by Prussia's fully modern army during the Austro-Prussian War, which decided the power balance in Central Europe, as shown in this oil by Georg Bleibtreu

The new, Prussian-dominated North German Confederation gains members in Anhalt-Dessau, Bremen, Brunswick, Hamburg, Lippe-Detmold, Lübeck, Mecklenburg-Schwerin Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz Neustrelitz, Oldenburg, Reuss, Saxe-Altenburg, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, the kingdom of Saxony, Schaumburg-Lippe Bückeburg, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt Rudolstadt, Schwarzburg-Sondershausen Sondershausen, and Waldeck-Pyrmont Arolsen. Furthermore, Prince Karl Eitel Frederick of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen is invited to rule the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia.

Hessen-Darmstadt, despite being a supporter of the defeated of Austria in the Austro-Prussian War, only loses some territory (Hessen-Homburg, regained for a few months following the death of its last landgrave, and the northern urban district of Biedenkopf, on the River Lahn) but retains its independence. Hessen-Kassel has been absorbed into Prussia, so, as the sole remaining Hessian state of note, Hessen-Darmstadt is now usually known as the duchy of Hesse.


Prince Louis Alexander of Hessen-Battenberg is aged fourteen when, influenced by Princess Alice, wife of his cousin, Prince Louis/Ludwig of Hesse (the later Grand Duke Ludwig IV), and daughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, he joins the Royal Navy. In doing so he also becomes a naturalised British subject.


Hesse becomes a member state of Prussia's German empire.

1877 - 1892

Ludwig IV

Nephew. Grandson of Ludwig II. m Alice dau of Victoria of Britain.


Alexander, son of Ludwig II, had concluded a morganatic marriage with Julia Hauke, thereafter know as Princess Julia of Battenberg. For this act he had effectively been barred from acceding to Darmstadt's title. As the daughter of John Maurice Hauke, a high ranking officer of German origin in the army of Congress Poland, Julia had not been considered worthy of the lineage of Hesse, so this special title has been created for her and her descendants. It is now that her son, Prince Louis Alexander, succeeds his father and becomes the first male head of the House of Hessen-Battenberg.

1892 - 1918

Ernst Ludwig

Brother of Czarina. Ancestor of Lord Louis Mountbatten.

1919 - 1933

Hesse is proclaimed a republic after the fall of the German empire, and is recreated as a constituent part of the new federal Germany. The grand dukes maintain their status and title as hereditary dukes of Hesse but with no power or position in the new state.

Hereditary Heirs of Hesse (and the Rhine)
AD 1918 - 1968

Following the collapse of the German empire at the end of the First World War, Hesse was proclaimed a republic and was recreated as a constituent part of the new federal Germany. The grand dukes maintained their status and title as hereditary dukes of Hesse but with no power or position in the new state.

The modern Federal German State of Hesse is divided into three federal administrative districts. These are the southern district of Hessen-Darmstadt; the middle district of Hessen-Giessen (for most of its history part of Hessen-Darmstadt); and the northern district of Hessen-Kassel (old Casl and Cassel).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Prince Louis of Battenberg: Admiral of the Fleet, Mark Kerr (Longmans, Green and Co, 1934), and from External Link: The London Gazette Issue 30374, 9 November 1917.)

1918 - 1937

Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig


Germany adopts the democratic 'Weimar constitution' following the abolition of the German empire. This new Germany consists of the former German kingdoms and duchies, all of which have now been abolished, which include Baden, Bavaria, Hesse, Lippe, Saxony and Württemberg.

Unfortunately, personal property in Hesse which belongs to the former Prince Louis of Hessen-Battenberg (now Louis Mountbatten of Milford-Haven) becomes worthless as the mark collapses amid massive political instability in Germany. Louis and his wife are forced to sell their home in Kent in England and also Louis' service medals to make ends meet.

1933 - 1945

Adolf Hitler suspends the constitution.


Grand Duke Georg Donatus

Son. Killed in plane crash with wife, two sons and mother.

1937 - 1968

Grand Duke Ludwig (V)



The occupying US forces combine Prussian Hessen-Nassau and the republic of Hesse to form the federal state of Hesse. In the process, some of the Hessian regions are to be relinquished, but this - in spite of the 'foreign' influence involved - more or less resembles the mergers of the nineteenth century, making Hesse a consistent geographical, cultural and historic unit since the thirteenth century.


The ducal house of Hessen-Darmstadt comes to an end with the death of Ludwig. In 1960, Ludwig had adopted his distant cousin, Moritz, son of Landgrave Philipp of Hessen-Kassel, and by a family pact (made in 1902) Moritz's still-living father becomes inheritor of the ducal title of Hesse and the Rhine. All subsequent inheritors to the ducal titles are shown on the Hessen-Kassel page.