The Lippe-Detmold Question
by Jackie Speel, 2 February 2013
The Lippe-Detmold Question is a now obscure dispute over the
succession in one of the states of the German empire which flared up
intermittently between 1895 and 1905. Its significance lies in the
way it highlighted certain weaknesses within the administrative
structure of the German empire.
Background to the Lippe-Detmold Question
Italy and Germany in the mid-nineteenth century were more
geographical expressions than political entities - though there were
various movements towards unification.
The Holy Roman empire was a complex congeries of states and other
entities, whose total number, it has been said, was never accurately
calculated: domains could exist in several scattered parts divided
by other geographical entities. Napoleon dissolved the Holy Roman
empire, and rearranged the structure of the states somewhat,
introducing, inter alia, the process of mediatisation, whereby the
sovereignty of the rulers of lesser states was transferred to other
states. After Napoleon's downfall a number of the princes who had
been affected requested a reversion to the previous situation. This
was not pursued at the various peace conferences, and both further
mediatisation and regional grouping continued with the establishment
of bodies such as the North German Federation and the Zollverein.
The administrative structures and lines of succession were
complex and, to later eyes, could be seen as somewhat bizarre. States
could be divided among several successors (or agnates) in a fashion
that would preserve the historic rights of the original ruler, the lines
of succession could exclude branches on various grounds, including
so-called morganatic marriages, or descent through the female line.
There were various 'house laws' governing succession, and other
local preferences - the Reuss principalities had the habit of naming
all male heirs Heinrich, distinguishing them by numbers in strict
birth order, reset at intervals, and other names.
Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, the German
empire was established in 1871, with the king of Prussia assuming the post
of German emperor.  Prince Bismarck, who was to become the imperial
chancellor, had much work to create a system that was acceptable to the
other states involved. In 1873 a Military Convention was agreed, defining
the relationship of the federal rulers with the troops stationed in
A Federal Council was also established, whose members were
allocated according to a formula: its role vis-à-vis the internal
affairs of the various states, including succession crises and
similar matters was not clearly defined in the initial framework.
The Lippe-Detmold Question (1895-1905)
The rulers of the state of Lippe enhanced their title from a
lordship to a prince of the Holy Roman empire in the eighteenth century.
Three lines, or agnates, developed from the heirs of Simon VI, and
this was to provide the origin of the problem.
The lordship, and later county and principality, of Lippe
occupied a central western location in the German territories of
the Holy Roman empire, and it was remarkably compact when
compared to the patchwork nature of many other Germanic states
A Brief History of Hesse
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Lippe National Library Detmold
This created the Second Reich
in Germany, essentially a modernised version of the Holy Roman
empire (the ) which concentrated its control over a
now-unified Germany. Adolf Hitler's was an attempt to legitimise a dictatorship by
claiming continuity from the previous two empires.
In December 1875 Prince Woldemar succeeded his elder brother.
Having no sons, his heir was his brother, Prince Alexander, who was
incurably insane: a regent had therefore to be appointed, and the
succession determined. Having fallen out with the two nearer
branches of the royal family, Woldemar came to an arrangement,
several years before his death, with Prince Adolph of Schaumburg-Lippe,
who would take on the regency until the matter was resolved. Some
time after this Adolph married Princess Victoria of Prussia, sister
of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
This caused concern, given that Prussia might thereby gain a
greater level of influence on the Federal Council while the inhabitants of
Lippe-Detmold were unhappy with the possibility of their state being
merged with the principality of Schaumburg Lippe.
Prince Woldemar died in 1895 and Prince Adolph duly took on the
regency. The Lippe parliament passed a law accepting the situation
retroactively, but there was much uncertainty and debate on the
subject. Prince Louis of Bavaria (a state at that point also under a
regency), in Moscow for the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II, stated
that the German sovereigns were Wilhelm's allies, not his vassals.
The current imperial chancellor, Prince Hohenlohe, was invited to
contribute to the resolution of the crisis. It was eventually agreed
to put the matter to arbitration and a commission was set up under Albrecht,
king of Saxony (a cousin of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef).
The commission decided in 1897 to award the regency to Prince
Ernst of Leopold-Biesterfeld. He duly took office and Adolph departed for
There was some uncertainty as to whether the Federal Council was
competent to deal with such matters. In early January 1898 it
declined to get involved, although it acknowledged that there was no
mechanism for dealing with such issues. In January 1899 it declared that
it was competent to deal with succession issues under Article
76 of the imperial constitution. The decision the Council came to
was in some senses merely a delaying tactic, postponing the
resolution of the question until after the regent's death.
Towards the end of 1898, the keeper of the state archives,
in Bückeburg, the capital of Schaumburg-Lippe, Herr Berkemier, was
suspended from his office, as documents which the Schaumburg-Lippe
government had requested had disappeared. Herr Berkemier argued that
they were private papers which he had a right to dispose of: he had
been appointed while Prince Adolph was regent of Lippe-Detmold. It
appears that he had been using his position to leak information to the
Köln Gazette against the family of Count Ernst.
Prince Ernst died in 1904 and the succession dispute flared up
again. It was provisionally decided that Prince Ernst's son Leopold
should succeed to the regency, but the Schaumburg-Lippe branch
claimed that the two more senior branches were incapable of holding
the crown because of mesalliances with women of lower (but still
noble) rank. Kaiser Wilhelm intervened, sending a telegram
forbidding the local garrison from taking the oath until the
succession was resolved, which gave rise to much discussion. The
imperial chancellor then in office, Count von Bülow, involved in
setting up the arbitration process, argued that the emperor had
merely been acting as warlord of the empire.
Another commission was appointed. It was accepted that Leopold
should remain as regent pro tem, even should Alexander die, (which
occurred January 1905), before a settlement was reached. There was
much discussion on the subject, with Herr Berkemier being accused
of leaking various papers to the press. He was subsequently arrested.
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Prussia and the German empire inspects his
troops on the eve of war in 1914, a war that Lippe had no chance
The compromise that was to be reached by the Chancellor had to keep
the other rulers placated, be consistent with the claims of the
regent, and prevent the emperor from perceiving that he had sustained
a defeat. He was praised by members of the Federal Council for his
tactful handling of the situation.
There were various claims and counter claims - including that the
Schaumburg claimants had offered large sums of money and an
advancement in rank to the Weissenfeld branch to get them to
renounce their claims, which were declined. It was argued that the
German dynasties would be acting contrary to their own interests if
they submitted to Federal Council-appointed courts of arbitration rather
than making use of strict constitutional practices.
In the end the marriages were declared valid as the head of state
had agreed to them at the time, (and it was shown that the
Schaumburg line also had such an ancestress), and Leopold succeeded
to the throne, holding the office until 1918, when the reigning
rulers of Germany were excluded from office en masse.
Leopold died in 1949 and was succeeded as head of the family by
Armand, his son by his second marriage (there being surviving sons
of the first marriage). Leopold's nephew was Bernhard, consort of
Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.
Issues raised by the Lippe-Detmold Question
The Lippe-Detmold Question was one of a number of disputed
successions in the period (others included Bavaria, Saxe-Meiningen,
and Oldenburg) and involving various problematic relationships.
These included morganatic marriages and other lines of descent seen
as being of insufficiently high standing to be appropriate for a
state ruler - or involving links to the emperor's relatives.
While the development of the Question was by its nature somewhat
intermittent - with the immediate succession to Prince Woldemar and
then upon the deaths of Prince Leopold and Prince Alexander - the
issues raised by or touched upon, on these occasions, and in
connection with similar unclear successions were not resolved.
The possibility of two or more crowns becoming united
or sufficiently linked to act in tandem - with the possible
implications for the balance of power between the states and within
The extent to which the rulers of the several German
states, and the emperor could intervene in the internal affairs of
each other's states - including the way smaller states could affect
The relationship between the German emperor and the states and
their rulers and the capacity of the rulers to intervene
in foreign affairs (as with the Kruger telegram).
It was not clear at the time how much the emperor had
to rely on the advice of his advisors and ministers or could act
upon his own account.
Popular support for the German empire or for loyalty to
the specific state ('particularism') - in part due to the relative
newness of the empire, but a general issue in states of a composite
The role of the Federal Council on such issues -
whether it was merely a body of representatives of the several
states or whether it had the authority to intervene.
The discussions on the above were raised repeatedly - and the
issues were not resolved by the time the First World War occurred, with the
subsequent departure of kings, princes and other rulers.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition
(available online via the Love to Know site)
The Times - an extensive sequence of articles
from 1895 to 1905
Wikipedia - brief biographical articles on Woldemar,
prince of Lippe, Prince Adolph of Schaumburg-Lippe, Leopold IV, prince of
Lippe, last prince of Lippe, and his son Armin, prince of Lippe, and on
Text copyright © Jackie Speel. An original feature for the History Files
based on an earlier text for Wikiinfo by the author.