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European Kingdoms

Central Europe




Hessen-Rheinfels / Hessen-Rotenburg / Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried
AD 1567 - 1869

Duke Philip the Magnanimous or Generous 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 the duchy of 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. This division was to ensure all four Ydulfing sons had lands of their own but all it did in reality was weaken his once-powerful duchy. Each of the rulers of these divisions continued to hold the title of landgraf ('landgrave' in English), although those of Rheinfels and Darmstadt formed the most junior of the four branches (respectively), and the smallest of the four Hessen divisions, gaining just an eighth each of the previous duchy's land.

Rheinfels was a new entity for hesse, one that was situated near the Rhine in the west of Hesse. Its castle had been built in 1245 by Count Diether V of Katzenelnbogen. It soon developed into one of the mightiest fortresses in the Middle Rhine region. Only ten years passed before it successfully withstood the onslaught of a strong army sent by the League of Rhenish Cities and it resisted the ensuing siege for more than a year. Over the next few centuries, the original customs castle was turned into an increasingly important administration centre for the counts of Katzenelnbogen. They became one of the leading families along the Middle Rhine. After the construction of Neukatzenelnbogen Castle (today simply known as 'Katz') on the other side of the Rhine in the fourteenth century, Rheinfels Castle became even more important, as the counts were now able to block the river valley. In 1479, when the line of Katzenelnbogen counts died out at the height of their territorial power, ownership of the castle passed to the House of Hesse.

Granted as a cadet territory in 1567, its initial ruling line died out quickly. The title remained empty for forty-four years before being granted to Ernst, one of the younger brothers of William V of Hessen-Kassel. Upon the death of another of the brothers, Hermann, Ernst was able to unite Rheinfels with Rotenberg and then ensure that his increased holdings were again sub-divided upon his death. The minor title of Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried was created for his younger son, Karl, who nevertheless remained a subject of elder brother William, landgrave of Hessen-Rheinfels.

(Additional information from External Links: Euratlas, and Historical Atlas of Germany.)

1567 - 1583

Philip II

Third son of Philip I of the duchy of Hesse.


The Ydulfing line of Hessen-Rheinfels dies without a successor. Philip's elder brother, William of Hessen-Kassel, claims back the land and properties but the title remains vacant for the time being.

Burg Rheinfels
Burg Rheinfels (Rheinfels Castle) was the seat of the landgraves of Hessen-Rheinfels, as shown in this painting of 1607 by Renier Roidkin, and was built in 1245 by Count Diether V of Katzenelnbogen


Landgrave Maurice has lost much of Hessen-Kassel's territory to the Imperial army and Hessen-Darmstadt during the turmoil of the Thirty Years' War and the family are in financial straits. He steps down in favour of his son, William V, and Hessen-Eschwege is created for one of Maurice's younger sons (out of a total of at least six sons). Hessen-Rheinfels is recreated along with a new creation, Hessen-Rotenburg, as cadet branches for two further sons while William succeeds to the landgraviate of Hessen-Kassel and retains overlordship rights over his younger (half-) brothers. Hermann is granted Hessen-Rotenberg while Ernst gains Hessen-Rheinfels.

1627 - 1658


Hessen-Rotenberg. Son of Maurice. No heir.

1627 - 1693


Hessen-Rheinfels. Brother. United Rheinfels & Rotenberg.

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). 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), a portion of Upper Hesse, the former Benedictine territory of Hersfeld, and part of Hessen-Marburg.


The Rheinfels and Rotenbergs revert to Catholicism.


The Rotenberg title is united with that of Rheinfels.


Castle Rheinfels is the only fortress on the left bank of the Rhine that is able to defend itself against attacks by the French troops that have been sent by Louis XIV.


Ernst's elder son, William, continues to govern the House of Rheinfels-Rotenberg. His second son, Karl, is created Landgrave of Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried (which title survives between 1693-1731).

1693 - 1725


Hessen-Rotenberg. Son of Ernst.

1693 - 1711


Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried. Younger brother.

1725 - 1749


Hessen-Rotenberg. Son of William.

1711 - 1731


Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried. Son of Karl.


William of Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried dies without having produced an heir to his title. The title lapses.

1749 - 1778


Hessen-Rheinfels-Rotenberg. Son of Ernst.


'Rheinfels' is removed from the family title, simplifying it as Hessen-Rotenberg.

1778 - 1812

Karl Emanuel


1792 - 1796

The turbulent history of Rheinfels Castle comes to an end in 1794, when it is handed over - without a struggle - to the French revolutionary army. In 1796 or 1797 the exterior walls and the castle are blown up. Today the castle survives as a ruin.


The Rheinfels territory is lost to the revolutionary French.

1812 - 1834

Victor Amadeus

MapSon. Also Duke of Ratibor & Prince of Corvey.


Victor produces no legitimate offspring, so the Hessen-Rotenberg male line dies out.

1834 - 1869

Marie Adelheid



Marie had married Karl August, Prince of Hohenlohe-Bartenstein in 1811, so with her death, the title passes out of Hessian descent.