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European Kingdoms

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The Chatti of the first century AD gradually became the Hessi of the Middle Ages (Medieval Latin 'Hassia'). The first recorded entry of a location within Hesse's territory dates from AD 782. The town mentioned was Eberstadt, then called Eberstadt im Rheingau, where a certain Walther, along with his wife, Williswinde, gave their entire property to the Lorsch Convent (Eberstadt has since been absorbed by the city of Darmstadt). The first mention of Kassel is from AD 913, where it was referred to as Cassala (originating from the Latin Castellum Cattorum, meaning 'Castle of the Chatti').

The territory was divided during the period of the Frankish empire into several gaue, meaning 'districts' in English, these being Saxon Hessengau, Frankish Hessengau (Fritzlar and Kassel, to the south of the Saxon Hessengau), Buchonia, and Lahngau (to the south and south-west of the Hessengau), and these were ruled over by counts (grafen). Under the weakened successors of Charlemagne the counts gradually become less responsible officials and more feudal lords, and the Frankish family of the Conradines played an important role in the early development of Hesse, especially in the Lahngau. Records are patchy in places, making it hard to reconstruct the story of early Hesse's rise, but all of the important dates have been included here. The church acquired much landed property in the region, and secular Hesse became parcelled up into numerous pockets of territory.

FeatureMost prominent amongst the Hessian nobility in the tenth and eleventh centuries were the Gisos, the counts of Gudensberg. The daughter of the fourth Giso count married Count Louis I of Thuringia (1122). In 1130 he was raised to the rank of landgrave and recognised as overlord by the Hessians, uniting Hesse and Thuringia between 1130-1247. The male line of Thuringia became extinct with Henry Raspe (the brother-in-law of St Elizabeth of Thuringia) in 1247, so the Hessians selected Henry of Brabant (grandson of Elizabeth) as landgrave. Hesse was separated from Thuringia and after struggling against rival claimants, it was recognised as independent.

FeatureThe English form of the name is Hesse, while the German form is Hessen. For sake of clarity, the English 'Hesse' is used here to refer to the state in its singular form, while the divided states hold their German-form names. The Lahngau which forms the earliest domains of the eventual rulers of Hesse was a medieval territory which comprised the middle and lower Lahn river valley (now in the German states of Hesse and part of the Rhineland-Palatinate. This area was traditionally known as Loganahe Pagus or Pagus Logenensis. This betrays the region's Roman influence, as the descriptive Latin pagenses was the Roman equivalent of a district council. In at least one case this was adopted as the name of a post-Roman territory, the Paganes of Britain.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Trish Wilson, from Historisches Lexikon der deutschen Länder (Historical Dictionary of German States), Gerhard Köbler, 1995, from Die Hollende bei Wetter (Hessen)-Warzenbach. Führungsblatt zu der Burg der Grafen Giso im Kreis Marburg-Biedenkopf, Christa Meiborg, Archäologische Denkmäler in Hessen, Issue 157, from The Annals of Fulda (Manchester Medieval Series, Ninth-Century Histories, Volume II) Timothy Reuter (Trans) 1992, and from External Links: Grafengeschlecht der Gisonen und die Burg Hollende bei Treisbach (Giso Counts and Castle Hollende at Treisbach) (available from Wanderfreunde Treisbach), and Saints, and Fab Genealogy, and Pastoraler Raum Dietkirchen (in German - dead link).)

c.750? - 779?


Unnamed. Count in the Lahngau at some point in this period.


Adaltrud is the widow of the unnamed count in the Lahngau (which at this time is in Rhenish Franconia). At some point between the two dates given above she grants to Fulda Abbey various plots of land in Buchen, Meinlinten, Neistenbach, and Selters. If this occurs close to 779 then the act probably takes place after her husband's death, given the fact that Conrad is count in the Lahngau in 772.

River Lahn
The River Lahn ran through the gau or district of the same name, forming an important part of the origins of medieval Hesse even though, in the eighth century it was part of Rhenish Franconia (western Franconia)

772 & 773


Count in the Lahngau on these dates. Conradine founder.


The first recorded entry of a location within Hesse's territory dates from this year. The town mentioned is Eberstadt, called at the time Eberstadt im Rheingau, where a certain Walther, along with his wife, Williswinde, give their entire property to the Lorsch Convent. 'Rheingau' would mean the Rhine district, a 'gau' being an official term for the various districts within Frankish Germany at this time. Each gau is administered by a count ('graf'). One Heimrich is count in the Rheingau around this time (or soon after), and it is his grandson who becomes Count Poppo I in the Grapfeld (Grabfeld) of north-eastern Franconia.

? - 795

Heimrich / Heimo

Count in the Lahngau. Count in the Upper Rheingau. Killed.


Heimrich, count in the Upper Rheingau and in the Lahngau, is one of Charlemagne's generals in his wars against the Saxons. However, he is killed at the Battle of Lüne and the Elbe against the Obotrite Slavs in this year. His grandson is Poppo I, count in the Grapfeld of north-eastern Franconia between 819-839.

fl 800

Robert II of Worms

Count of Hesbaye, Worms, and the Rheingau.

? -821


Count in the Lahngau.


Mentioned only once, Adrian is otherwise a mystery. His death in 821 means that he is succeeded by Udo the Elder and that his widow, Waltrat, grants property in Bermbach, Feldum, and Stetim. The grant is almost certainly to an abbey and is made with the consent of a certain Uto (could this be a misreading of Udo, the new count?).

Map of the Frankish Empire in AD 800
Under Charlemagne's leadership, the Franks greatly expanded their borders eastwards, engulfing tribal states, the Bavarian state and its satellite, Khorushka, and much of northern Italy, with the Avars now an eastern neighbour (click or tap on map to view full sized)

821 - 826

Udo the Elder / Udo / Eudes I

Son of Count Odo of Orléans? Count in the Lahngau.


Udo's time as count of Lahngau ends in 826, and in 828 he succeeds his father as count of Orléans. However, before that happens, he could in fact be the solution of a mystery which surrounds the first count in Franconia. There, the mysterious Bogo has been impossible to identify in any form, but there is a strong possibility that he is Udo the Elder, count in the Lahngau, a powerful figure in western Franconia at this time. The Lahngau later forms part of the Hessian state, so he is shown here, but as his successors in Franconia (of which the Hessian lands are a part) are Eberhard I (Gebhard of Logenahe?) and Udo (Udo of Logenahe?), it seems likely that the names shown there as his successors are in fact the counts of the Lahngau shown here.

826? - 879

Gebhard of Logenahe

Son? Count of Nieder-Lahngau. Eberhard I of Franconia?

? - 860?

Conrad I of Logenahe


? -834

Robert III of Worms

Son of Robert II. Count of Worms and the Rheingau.


Robert may be something of an outsider in Hessian terms as his principle seat is in Worms, to the south-west of Darmstadt, but he also holds the Rheingau at this time. His claim to fame is the fact that he is the father of Robert the Strong, dux & missus dominicus of the Breton March and later count of Nantes, grandfather of Odo and Robert I, both kings of the Western Franks, and great-great-grandfather of Hugh Capet, founder of the Capetian dynasty of France.

Tremazan Castle, Finistere
One of the Breton fortresses (although perhaps not involved in the events of AD 818) would have been the medieval Tremazan Castle (its modern ruins are shown here), which later belonged to the Breton du Chastel family and was built near the shore of Nord-Finistere in Brittany


Gebhard is a 'leading man of the [Eastern] Franks' and brother-in-law to Ernest, margrave of the Bavarian Nordgau. He may also be the son of Odo I, count of Orléans if he is identical with Udo the Elder, count of the Lahngau until 826. However, given the dates, he may instead be Odo's grandson.

In this year, 838, he becomes allied to Poppo, count in the Grapfeld of Franconia and Archbishop Otgar of Mainz against the rebellious Louis the German. The intention is to support Frankish Emperor Louis 'the Pious', a cause which is largely successful.

841 - 845

Along with the rest of the Hessi lands, the Lahngau has been governed by the Franks since their conquest of the Alemanni in 496. Following this the Frankish Conradine family had established themselves here, later becoming important political players. Around the time of their arrival the only existing monastery had been that of St Lubentius in Dietkirchen (probably founded in the sixth century). Its first written mention dates to 841, when it is described as being a 'monasterium' (a hermitage). The church's own information gives a date of 730 for the founding of the first stone church and its extension in 838 to take the bones of St Lubentius.

In 845 Count Gebhard founds the St Severus Abbey in the Kettenbach which, later in his own lifetime, moves its base to Gemünden.

Map of the Frankish empire at the Treaty of Verdun AD 843
This map shows the division of the Carolingian empire according to the Treaty of Verdun in AD 843 (click or tap on map to view full sized)


The first count of Franconia appears, one Bogo. The new territory of Franconia is one of several stem duchies which forms out of the slow but inevitable collapse of the Carolingian empire.


The death of Louis the German results in his territory being divided between his three sons. This is something which he had already foreseen, and portions of territory had been appointed to each of them in 865. Now in a peaceful succession, Carloman inherits Bavaria and the Ostmark, Louis the Younger gains Franconia (which includes the Hessi territories), Saxony, and Thuringia, while Charles 'the Fat' succeeds to Rhaetia and Alemannia (Swabia). As the oldest son, Carloman also retains de facto dominance over the Eastern Franks as a whole.

This could be the point at which Saxon Hessengau passes to Franconia. It is also the point at which a clear nobility begins to emerge in the future Hesse. For now the concept of a single state by that name does not exist - instead the region is a patchwork of minor lordships and counties. The most important in terms of their descendants are the Hessians of the Wetterau, the counts of the Lahngau.

St Lubentius Dietkirchen Church
The modern St Lubentius Dietkirchen Church is largely a tenth and eleventh century rebuild of the original eighth and ninth century stone church

881 - 882

Charles 'the Fat' succeeds as titular head of the Frankish empire, holding the position as Emperor Charles III. He is crowned by Pope John VIII. In the following year, 882, Louis the Younger dies and Charles, as the last remaining of the three brothers, inherits his territories of Bavaria, Franconia, Saxony, and Thuringia, thereby reuniting East Francia following its division in 876.

? - 886?

Udo / Eudes II of Logenahe

Son of Gebhard. Count in the Lahngau (including Franconia?).

Berengar of Neustria

Brother. Count in the Hessengau.


Brother. Abbot of St Maximin.


Brother. Archbishop of Trier.

886 - 906

Conrad the Elder

Son of Neustria's Udo. Count of Oberlahngau. Duke of Thuringia.

886 - 906

Conrad the Elder, duke of Thuringia (temporarily from 892) is the son of Udo of Neustria. His mother is most likely to be a daughter of Conrad I of Logenahe (832-860). Conrad also becomes a count of the Oberlahngau in 886, Hessengau in 897, Gotzfeldgau in 903, Wetterau in 905, and Wormsgau in 906. In gaining all these titles he unites all of the lands of the Hessi and their immediate neighbours under a single political control, creating a bastion of the duchy of Franconia and an entity which will evolve into the landgraviate of Hesse.

Fritzlar in Hesse
The Conradine success at the Battle of Fritzlar in Frankish Hessengau saw them reach the peak of their power, although this depiction of Fritzlar dates from the seventeenth century

In 906 the Conradines defeat the Babenberg counts at the Battle of Fritzlar and establish themselves as dukes of Franconia. Conrad the Elder is killed in the battle. His son, Conrad the Younger succeeds him.


Lahngau is divided into the Upper and Lower Lahngau (which, in the original German, are the Oberlahngau and Niederlahngau  - or Unterlahngau - respectively). The date is unclear, although it happens by about 900, but Conrad the Elder's acquisition of the county of Oberlahngau in 886 could be when it takes place, either divided for him or because of him.

The exact boundary line between Oberlahngau and Niederlahngau has not survived. Theory suggests that it lay approximately around the watershed between the Solmsbach and Weil rivers to the east of Weilburg. In 1894 Christian Spielmann noted that 'Weilburg lay in the Niederlahngau. It extended from about the Nister to the Pfahlgraben and from the Gelbach and Aar westwards to the Ulmbach and eastwards to Weil'. Others have suggested that the border lay more to the west of Weilburg, perhaps around the watershed between the Kerkerbach and Elbbach.

? - 910

Gebhard of the Wetterau

Son of Udo. First Count of the Wetterau? Duke of Lotharingia.

903 - 910

Gebhard of the Wetterau is confirmed as duke of Lotharingia by Louis the Child, king of Germany, in 903. He is killed in 910 in battle against the Magyars, somewhere in the region of Augsburg. His eldest son is Herman, who becomes duke of Swabia in 926. His younger son succeeds him as count of the Wetterau (from 914) and succeeds Eberhard as count of Oberlahngau (presumably in 918).

Berengar of Friuli
The determined Berengar of Friuli not only controlled the march territory between Italy proper and the Avars and Magyars to the east, but also claimed the Italian throne no less than three times during his eventful life

910 - 914

Other Conradine ecclesiastical foundations follow the creation of the St Severus Abbey in 845, these being St George in Limburg in 910, St Walpurgis Abbey in Weilburg in 912, and St Mary's Abbey in Wetzlar in 914/915. The last, at Wetzlar, may at least be to honour the slain Gebhard, especially as it is founded by his son, Udo IV.


The first mention of Kassel dates to this year, where it is referred to as Cassala, the name originating as Castellum Cattorum, the 'castle of the Chatti'. The location defends a crossing on the River Fulda. A Hessian nobility is also beginning to emerge by this time, although it apparently plays no major role in the region's politics until the twelfth century.

914 - 949

Udo IV of the Wetterau / Eldo / Othon

Son of Gebhard. Count of Wetterau (914) & Oberlahngau (918?).

918 - 939


Brother of Conrad the Younger. Count of Oberlahngau.

918 - 939

FeatureThe precise line of succession for Oberlahngau and Wetterau is far from clear. Records are patchy in places and often only dates of death are known. It seems that the main Conradine line holds sway while it survives, with both Conrad the Younger and Eberhard holding titles before giving way to a more minor branch of the family in the form of the descendants of Gebhard of the Wetterau. Eberhard is count of Hessengau and Persgau from 913, becoming count of Oberlahngau in 918. He also becomes a margrave in 914-918, and duke of Franconia until 939.

The Wetterau formed an important part in the creation of early Hesse, although it lay to the north, immediately beyond Frankfurt and outside the core Hessian lands

939 - 949

The rebellious dukes Gilbert II of Maasgau, duke of Lorraine, and Eberhard of Franconia loot the counties of Udo IV of the Wetterau (or Odo) and his nephew Conrad of Niederlahngau. Their force is so large that Udo and Conrad are unable to resist them. But then the rebel dukes re-cross the Rhine at Andernach on 2 October in order to return to Lorraine and Udo and Conrad take the opportunity which has been presented to them.

The Battle of Andernach takes place with Gilbert and Eberhard still on the east bank of the Rhine and the bulk of their forces already across. Udo and Conrad attack and defeat them, killing Eberhard while Gilbert drowns when trying to escape. Their deaths allow Otto I, king of Germany, to restore order and show his favour to Udo. He succeeds Conrad as count of Niederlahngau in 949.


The lands of the Gisonen and their immediate ancestors, beginning with Udo IV, are mainly in the upper Lahn area (Oberlahngau in German), which seem to have increased since the time of Eudes of Lahngau. They rule small areas of Hesse alongside the far more powerful counts of Lower Hesse - this becomes northern Hesse. The latter are shown in green to differentiate them from the Gisonen.

Charlemagne unified all the Frankish states under one ruler and created an empire which stretched deep into modern Germany, something the Romans had never managed - but this vast domain was too big to endure long as a single entity after his death



Origins unknown. Mention as Count of Oberlahngau in 975.

? - 978?


Son of Udo IV. Count of Oberlahngau.

MapThe records make it hard to be certain, but it seems that Count Meginfred marries Kunigunde or Cunigundis de Vermandois. She is the daughter of a Carolingian noble called Herbert or Hubert, otherwise known as Herbert I, count of Soissons, Meaux, and Vermandois until his murder in 902.

? - 987?

Thiemo / Tiemo

Son. Count of Oberlahngau.



Mentioned as Count of Oberlahngau. Count of Niederlahngau?

? - c.1000?

Werner I

Count of Lower Hesse.


FeatureFollowing the death of Count Werner of Lower Hesse (an area of northern Hesse), the Gisonen inherit his significant amount of territory. This makes them a powerful regional family which takes over as the county's titular heads, largely based at their ancestral seat of Hollende Castle. While they are often referred to as the Hollenden counts thanks to the castle's name, they are more correctly known as the Gudensberg counts (the 'Comes de Udenesberc' in Latin).

They seem to be descended from the Conradines, but are not themselves of that house, suggesting a connection by marriage or a change of name for this branch due to circumstances, perhaps the marriage of Meginfred to the daughter of a Carolingian noble. Giso I is also referred to as having been 'Count of Maden', with a family seat in Odernburg (Gudenberg near Fritzlar, within Frankish Hessengau). The names of the counts are largely known, but their order of succession is relatively unclear. They become advocates of the HRE thanks to Emperor Henry II in 1015.

A general view of Gudensberg, with the Castle Hill prominent, and Fritzlar in the background from the Sciographia Cosmica, printed between 1637-1678 - all within what would become northern Hesse but which was right now still within western Franconia

? - 1008?

Giso I

Son of Thiemo. Count of Oberlahngau & Gudensberg (c.1000?).



Mentioned as Count of Oberlahngau. Count of Niederlahngau?


With the death of Holy Roman Emperor Henry II, the empire is administered by his widow, Cunigunde (Kundigunde) of Luxemburg. She has long been politically active at Henry's side and now, with the assistance of her brothers, Dietrich and Heinrich, she manages the regency period for about two months until the vacancy on the throne is filled by Conrad the Salian. Cunigunde hands over the imperial jewels to Conrad as a symbol of her legitimacy in office before retiring to Kaufungen Abbey, which she had previously founded in Wetter in Hesse.

? - 1040

Werner III of Maden

Count of Maden? Count of Gudensberg.

FeatureDetails surrounding the next two counts of Gudensberg seem to be confused and, indeed, confusing. They may be father and son, or brothers, and they may rule separately or together. The latter is possible, although there is otherwise a large gap between Giso II and Werner IV.

al 1049 - 1073?

Giso II

Son or grandson of Giso I? Count of Gudensberg.

1070 - 1073

Duke Otto II of Bavaria is intent on extending the duchy. This brings him into conflict with HRE Henry IV who covets the same lands on his southern border. A dubious charge of plotting to assassinate the emperor is levelled against him by Count Giso II and Adalbert of Schauenburg, probably with the emperor's full knowledge. Otto is deposed as duke of Bavaria, deprived of his Saxon lands, and pronounced an outlaw. At Pentecost in 1071 he submits to Henry who has him arrested until July 1072. Then he is released and his personal domains returned to him - but not his extensive fiefs. In 1073 his followers murder Count Giso and Adalbert.

Burg Hollende
A sketch of Burg Hollende (dated 1247), the family seat and probable home of Hessen's Giso dynasty, showing what was probably the complete castle


Giso III

Son or brother? Count of Gudensberg.

FeatureCould Giso III be the son of Giso II? It seems likely, but the fact that Giso III is succeeded by Werner, count of Maden, suggests that his own son, Giso IV, is either displaced or perhaps is too young to govern in his own right. According to local historian, Helfrich Bernhard Wencks, the wife of Giso III is the daughter of Count Udo and her name is Mechtildis (ie. Mathilde). However, Mathilde could also be the wife of Giso II, given that she lives in Burg Hollende following the death of her husband (she later remarries) before relocating to the village of the same name before her death in 1110.

? - 1121

Werner IV of Maden

Count of Maden & Gudensberg. Died without a male heir.


FeatureAs the Imperial standard-bearer, the future Giso IV marries Kunigunde, daughter of Count Rugger II (Ruckers) of Bilstein. Through this union he gains widespread property and vogtship (advocate) rights from the counts of Bilstein. His first mention in history occurs in 1099 as the son of Countess Matilda in her first marriage (either to Giso II or Giso III, although which is unclear). He often acts in close collaboration with the current count of Maden and Gudensberg, Werner IV. Giso succeeds Werner, probably on the basis of his marriage to Kunigunde.

1121 - 1122

Giso IV

Son of Giso II or III. Count of Gudensberg & Upper Lahngau.


Still most prominent amongst the Hessian nobility in the tenth and eleventh centuries are the Gisos, the counts of Gudensberg. It is at this time (1121) that the town of Gudensberg itself receives its first direct mention in history. Wotan mountain can be derived from this mention, an indication of the worship of the Chatti's chief god. A castle had been built here, on Castle Hill, which had already become the seat of the Hessian counts.

Gudensberg and Castle Hill
To contrast with the seventeenth century illustration of Gudensberg and Castle Hill (see above), this modern photo shows the area not too greatly changed

The daughter of Giso IV is Hedwig of Gudensberg (1098-1148). She now marries the soon-to-be Count Louis III of Thuringia. The widowed Kunigunde of Bilstein, Hedwig's mother, remarries, this time to Henry Raspe I (younger brother of Louis).

1122 - 1137

Giso V

Son, but this is arguable (a minor). Count of Gudensberg.

1122 - 1123

Kunigunde of Bilstein

Mother and regent. Remarried to Henry Raspe I.


FeatureFollowing the death of Giso V, Landgrave Louis I of Thuringia inherits his title and lands thanks to his marriage to Giso's sister, Hedwig, and his brother's marriage to Hedwig's mother, Kunigunde of Bilstein. Louis effectively becomes the most powerful Hessian noble as a result.

He holds the position of bailiff of Hersfeld Abbey, and territory which includes a large proportion of the lordship of Bilstein; the bailiwick of Wetter and the Gisonen lands to the north of Marburg; and the inherited territories of the counts of Werner (Lower Hesse) following the end of their line in 1121. The Werner lands also include the county of Maden-Gudensberg, and the position of bailiff of the abbeys of Breitenau and Hasungen, and Fritzlar Cathedral. It seems likely that Henry Raspe I administers his brother's Hessian lands from this point onwards, having already done so as regent for Giso V.

Ahnaberg Abbey
Ahnaberg Abbey was founded in Kassel in 1148 and demolished in 1878 (although one online source states the early twentieth century), with only the north wing shown here in a 1928 German language publication surviving for more secular use

? - 1140

Louis I

Landgrave of Thuringia (1130) & Count of Gudensberg.


Henry Raspe I

Younger brother. Administrator for Hessen territories?


Count Louis III is raised to the rank of landgrave as Louis I, and his Thuringia is recognised as overlord by the Hessians. This unites Hesse and Thuringia from 1130-1247, clearly to the detriment of Hesse's traditional link with Franconia.

1140 - 1172

Louis II the Iron

Landgrave of Thuringia & Count of Gudensberg.


Henry Raspe II

Younger brother and administrator for Hessen territories.


While acting as regent for her son, Louis II of Thuringia, Hedwig of Gudensberg founds Ahnaberg Abbey in Kassel. Support for this act comes from her younger son, Henry Raspe II, who is managing the administration of Thuringia's holdings in Hesse.

1172 - 1190

Louis III the Mild

Landgrave of Thuringia & Count of Gudensberg.

? - 1217

Henry Raspe III

Younger brother and administrator for Hessen territories.


A deed which is dated to this year confirms that the growing settlement of Kassel has gained city rights at an unknown point after 913.

Fritzlar in Hesse
The Conradine success at the Battle of Fritzlar in 906 in Frankish Hessengau saw them reach the peak of their power, although this depiction of Fritzlar dates from the seventeenth century

1190 - 1216

Herman I

Landgrave of Thuringia & Count of Gudensberg.

1196 - 1247

Franconia gradually collapses, along with large swathes of other German stem duchies. It is broken up into several smaller states which include the semi-independent Hesse and Nassau, with the district administrators, the counts (grafs), assuming more and more regional responsibility and authority.

1216 - 1227

Louis IV the Pious

Landgrave of Thuringia & Count of Gudensberg.

1227 - 1241

Herman II

Landgrave of Thuringia & Count of Gudensberg.

1231 - 1241

With the death of St Elizabeth of Thuringia, Louis' widow, Henry Raspe is able to assume unquestioned control of Thuringia as its regent. His nephew, the young Herman II, dies ten years later, never having ruled himself. Henry is numbered IV as he follows three previous uncles as (joint) count of Gudensberg with their respective brothers. While the latter had fulfilled the role of landgrave of Thuringia, the Raspes had always administered the family's Hessian lands.

1241 - 1247

Henry Raspe IV

Brother-in-law of Elizabeth of Thuringia. No male heir.

1241 - 1234

Conrad Raspe

Younger brother and administrator for Hessen territories.


The male line of Thuringia becomes extinct with the death of Henry Raspe (the brother-in-law of St Elizabeth of Thuringia). Henry's younger brother, Conrad, has already relinquished his own titles in Hesse to join the Teutonic Knights (in 1234) and become their head (in 1239). Hesse is guided by his niece, Duchess Sophia, but his death triggers the War of the Thuringian Succession.

Duchess Sophia of Brabant
Duchess Sophia led the fight to secure the various Hessian lands as a unified landgraviate for her son, Henry of Brabant, otherwise known as Henry the Child due to his young age

1247 - 1263

Duchess Sophia of Thuringia

Niece of Henry Raspe. Established landgraviate from 1247.

1247 - 1263

With the death of Henry Raspe, Duchess Sophia, his niece, now steers Hesse towards becoming a semi-independent landgraviate. The Hessians are able to select Henry of Brabant (grandson of Elizabeth and son of Sophia and her husband, Henry II of Brabant) as their first landgrave, but following a heavy defeat at Besenstedt (near Wettin) in October 1263, Sophie has to admit failure in securing the remainder of Thuringia for her son. That passes to the March of Meissen, and through this it eventually becomes part of the electorate Saxony when the Wettins gain the ducal title (1423). Hesse is separated from Thuringia and is eventually recognised as independent.

Landgraves of Hesse
AD 1263 - 1500

Ruled by the Ydulfings, the capital of this new landgraviate was usually Marburg, with a co-ruler or sub-ruler based in the lesser town of Kassel. This was at a time when German knights were crusading not only on the Holy Land but also against the Baltic tribes in Eastern Europe, as shown by the origins of the first grand masters of the Livonian Knights.

Until the middle of the thirteenth century, Hesse had firmly been part of the landgraviate of Thuringia. The death of the last of the Ludowinger dynasty of landgraves, Henry Raspe, gave his niece, Sophie of Thuringia, the opportunity to gain the title for her own son. Sophie's own brother, Herman II, should have been landgrave himself but had been dominated by Henry Raspe. He had died young, without having assumed power. Sophie did her best to secure all of Thuringia between 1247-1263 and, once it became clear that she would be unable to gain the core of Thuringia itself, she was able to steer Hesse towards becoming a semi-independent landgraviate in its own right. The Hessians were able to select Sophie's son, Henry of Brabant, as their first landgrave and Thuringia was effectively split in two. Hesse was eventually recognised as being independent.

While Sophie had familial links to the early governors of Hesse's various districts, through her marriage her son had direct paternal links to one Reginar of Maasgau (a district formed inside the hook of the Maas around the modern Dutch-Belgian border), who commanded Lotharingia between 911-915. His own son became Reginar II, count of Hainaut (890-932), and the line had descended through the counts of Leuven in the tenth to twelfth centuries, and then through Brabant to reach the first landgrave of Hesse, Henry of Brabant, otherwise known as Henry the Child.

(Information by Peter Kessler, from Historisches Lexikon der deutschen Länder (Historical Dictionary of German States), Gerhard Köbler, 1995, from Medieval Lands: Thuringia, Charles Cawley, from Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vol 11 (1880, in German), from Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987, R McKitterick (Longman, 1983), and from External Link: Landgraves of Hessen (in German).)

1263 - 1298

Henry I the Child 'Prince of the Empire'

Son of Duchess Sophia. First head of the House of Ydulfing.

1264 - 1265

The division of Thuringia is accepted by Sophie's cousin and main rival for the landgraviate, Henry the Illustrious, margrave of Meissen. The other main rival, the archbishop of Mainz, also accepts Henry the Child as landgrave of Hesse in the Treaty of Langsdorf but maintains his own position of supremacy over Henry. Henry acquires part of the county of Gleiberg with Giessen (Gießen) from the counts palatine of Tübingen. In later Hesse, Giessen forms a central region between Kassel in the north and Darmstadt in the south, but for now Hesse is centred around its capital at Marburg and the town of Kassel.

Alte Schloss, Giessen, Hesse
Hesse gained Giessen as part of the settlement of 1265, and construction of the Alte Schloss (the old castle) began in 1350 with the building surviving to the present day


Henry gains the title 'Prince of the Empire' (reichsfürst) from Holy Roman Emperor Adolph of Nassau-Weilburg. This makes Hesse an imperial principality, part of the empire itself, and frees it from the control of the archbishops of Mainz. Henry is entitled to vote in the Reichstag, although his title of landgrave places him in the sixth rank of princes, below the king, grand dukes, dukes, margraves, and counts in order of superiority.

Along with his new position, Henry gains Eschwege (later to be hived off as the short-lived subsidiary landgraviate of Hessen-Eschwege) and the Boyneburg (with Sontra), increasing Hesse's landholding. With the use of some wily diplomacy he subsequently adds to this the cities of Grebenstein, Immenhausen, Kaufungen, Reinhardswald, Sooden-Allendorf, Staufenberg, Trendelburg, Wanfried, and Witzenhausen.

Unfortunately, Henry's second marriage in 1274 now leads to conflict. His new wife demands an equal inheritance for her sons by him, John and Louis. Henry's sons by his first marriage, Henry the Younger and Otto, object, unwilling to divide their own inheritance. This leads to a rumble of civil war which lasts for the rest of the landgrave's lifetime.


Henry dies with the succession problem still unresolved. He is buried in St Elisabeth's Church in Marburg, which will be used by his successors for several more centuries. A resolution is finally reached by means of division. Hesse is sub-divided into its two main constituent parts, with Otto gaining the principle section around Marburg as Oberhessen (Upper Hesse) and John gaining the secondary seat around Kassel as Niederhessen (Lower Hesse). Holders of subsidiary territory are shown in green.

St Elizabeth's Church, Marburg
St Elizabeth's Church in Marburg became the traditional location for internments of the rulers of Hesse from the thirteenth century onwards

1298 - 1328

Otto the Elder

Son. Landgrave in Oberhessen, based at Marburg (until 1311).

1298 - 1311


Brother. Landgrave in Niederhessen, based at Kassel.


John is required to conquer the city of Gudensberg after Hesse's mortgaging of it to the duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Duke Albert II of Brunswick-Göttingen is forced to accept John's repayment of the debt. Subsequently, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII of Luxemburg appoints him protector of the free imperial cities of Goslar, Mühlhausen, and Nordhausen, but Margrave Frederick I of Meissen views this as an intrusion into Thuringia which he now rules. Frederick goes mobilises his forces to prevent this perceived intrusion, and John is forced to retire to Kassel.


John dies of plague, allowing Otto to reunite the two halves of Hesse. He now rules over Alsfeld, Giessen, Grünberg, Marburg (all within Oberhassen), Eder, the region south of Fulda, Homberg (Efze), Kassel, Melsungen, Rotenburg an der Fulda, Schwalm, Werra, and the upper Weser (all parts of Niederhessen). Otto now divides his time between Marburg and Kassel.

1328 - 1377

Henry II the Iron

Son of Otto. Landgrave in Oberhessen.

1328 - 1343

Ludwig / Louis I (II) the Junker

Brother. In the castle and district of Grubenstein.

1328 - 1367

Herman I the Elder

Brother. In the castle and district of Nordeck.


Otto the Younger

Son of Henry II Predeceased his father.

1377 - 1413

Herman II the Learned

Son of Ludwig II. Adopted by Henry II at his father's death.

1413 - 1458

Ludwig / Louis II (III) the Peaceful

Son. Landgrave in Niederhessen at Kassel.

1425 - 1427

The electorate of Mainz claims that it should control Hesse. The claim quickly results in open conflict until Archbishop Conrad III of Mainz suffers a decisive defeat at Fulda in 1427.

St Martin and St Stephen, Mainz
The archbishopric of Mainz from its seat in the spectacular six-towered Catholic Cathedral of St Martin and St Stephen (seen here in 1840) claimed supremacy over Hesse thanks to its dominance of the region prior to the landgraviate's creation


In the eighth century, the town of Treise (modern Treysa) had been owned by the abbots of Hersfeld. The counts of Cigenhagen had been named in a document for the first time in 1144, and in 1186, the counts had gained Treise and fortified it. The town had been granted town rights at some point between 1229-1270, and the same rights had been bestowed upon the neighbouring town of Ziegenhain in 1274. Now, following the death of the last count, the county passes to Hesse.


Hesse is greatly enlarged following a division of territory within the Holy Roman empire. It is now centred on the city of Kassel. The new ruler, Ludwig, creates a sub-landgraviate for his younger brother, Henry who, in this year, marries Anna of Katzenelnbogen, daughter of the ruling count. This new sub-langraviate is based around the old capital at Hessen-Marburg which has now been relegated in importance. Ludwig remains the senior landgrave in Hesse.

1458 - 1471

Ludwig / Louis III (IV) the Frank

Son. Niederhessen in Kassel (now without Hessen-Marburg).

1471 - 1493

William I the Elder

Son. Landgrave of Niederhessen in Kassel. Died 1515.

1471 - 1500

William II the Intermediate

Brother. Landgrave of Niederhessen. Elevated to duke.


The line of counts of Katzenelnbogen die out with the death of the last of their number. Still at the height of their territorial power and controlling the Middle Rhine valley for its lucrative customs tax revenue, their castle of Rheinfels now passes into the hands of Hesse (eventually to form part of the territory of Hessen-Darmstadt).

1491 - 1493

William the Elder goes on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On his journey he contracts an illness (possibly syphilis). He abdicates his title in favour of his co-ruling brother and lives in self-imposed exile in the town of Spangenberg in north-eastern Hesse.

Ancient Jerusalem
The ambitious Ophel excavation in Jerusalem has produced many finds, but precious little before the tenth century BC, while fifteenth century AD finds are probably almost as rare


William III the Younger of Hessen-Marburg dies without having produced a male heir. With his cousin dead, William the Intermediate is now sole landgrave in all of Hesse. He reunifies Hesse's divided territories to form a single, elevated duchy of Hesse.

Dukes of Hesse
AD 1500 - 1567

Founded as a landgraviate in the mid-thirteenth century, the western Germanic state of Hesse had been stabilised and expanded by its first independent ruler, Henry the Child. Following a division of territory within the Holy Roman empire in 1458, it expanded even more, and gained a new focus with Kassel replacing Marburg as the capital. However, Landgrave Ludwig III set a local precedence by dividing part of his territory so that his younger brother, Henry, would have something to govern. In this case, Hessen-Marburg would be a short-lived splinter state which was returned to central control in 1500, but this splintering would be repeated time and time again, successively weakening Hesse (and many other German states which followed the same practice).

For now, though Hesse was a single, unified and enlargened state which had just been elevated to a duchy and which was becoming a powerful player in German politics. The main body of its territory was comprised of various regions to the east of Nassau, and between the River Lippe to the north and just below the Maine in the south. The duchy's greatest leader was Philip I, one of the political leaders of the Reformation. This is the only time in which Hesse played a role of great importance in the 'Reich' (the 'empire' - in this case the Austrian-dominated Holy Roman empire which took in much of Central Europe. Hesse's city of Frankfurt-am-Main had for a long time been a free imperial city and the place where German emperors had been crowned).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Coercion, Capital, and European States, Charles Tilly, 1992, from Historisches Lexikon der deutschen Länder (Historical Dictionary of German States), Gerhard Köbler, 1995, from Medieval Lands: Thuringia, Charles Cawley, from Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vol 11 (1880, in German), and from External Links: Euratlas, and Historical Atlas of Germany, and Genealogy.eu.)

1500 - 1509

William II the Intermediate

Formerly Landgrave William II. Died 1515.

1500 - 1503

Called 'Intermediate' to differentiate him from his father, the 'Elder', and his cousin, William III 'the Younger', William II has yet to produce a surviving heir. In the same year in which he becomes duke of a reunified Hesse he also remarries, to the fifteen year-old Anna of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. She bears him three children, the last of which is a boy, Philip, thereby securing the succession. William's only other notable act in these years is in fulfilling Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian's commission to execute a ban on Elector Philip of the Palatinate in 1503.

1509 - 1567

Philip I the Magnanimous / Generous

Son. Acceded aged 5. Hesse divided between his four sons.

1514 - 1519

Anna of Mecklenburg-Schwerin

Mother and regent.

1514 - 1519

It has taken Anna six years of struggling to be recognised as her son's regent by the clergy and nobility of Hesse, but even then the disagreements continue. To put an end to it, Philip is declared an adult in 1518, at the age of fourteen, and begins to rule in his own right in 1519.

Philip I the Magnanimous of Hesse
Philip the Magnanimous played a leading role in the progression of the Protestant Reformation in Germany, dissolving monasteries and other religious foundations within his own lands for the betterment of the cause


Philip is largely won over by the arguments of Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms but, largely due to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the Edict of Worms on 25 May 1521 condemns Martin Luther as an outlaw and heretic.

1524 - 1525

Embracing Protestantism in 1524, Philip still plays a part in suppressing the German Peasants' War in which poorly-armed peasants strive for greater freedoms which appear to be in line with Protestant rhetoric. In the end they are no match for Germany's well-armed and battle-experienced nobility, and their cause is largely unrewarded.

Nevertheless, Philip strives to introduce the Protestant Reformation to Hesse. With help from key allies, such as the staunchly anti-Catholic former Franciscan, François Lambert of Avignon, monasteries and other religious foundations are dissolved and given over to other purposes, such as for newly-founded places of learning or for charitable purposes. The University of Marburg is founded in one such establishment (in 1527).


Many of the empire's princes and lords are organised by Elector John of Saxony and Duke Philip to form the Schmalkaldic League when meeting at the town of Schmalkalden in Thuringia. Both have seen increasingly that there are moves by the Catholic leaders to provide a unified response to what they see as the Protestant 'threat', and they realise that the Protestant leaders need to be similarly unified in their response.

River Main at Wurzburg
This photo shows the River Main passing under Würzburg's oldest bridge - and its only bridge until 1886 - sitting under the watchful gaze of Marienberg Fortress, originally within Thuringia


Philip alienates much of his personal support and weakens his position as a leading reformer when he enters into a bigamist marriage with Margarethe von der Saale. He is forced to pursue a middle-ground route, negotiating with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to ensure that Hesse is not attacked in the even of a war against the Protestants, but refusing to harm the interests of the leading Protestants or the Schmalkaldic League.

1546 - 1547

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sees the tide of conversions to Protestant rites as a move by the many princes and lords of the empire to gain more autonomy from imperial governance. Now that Charles has returned from his war in Italy, the two sides concentrate their forces, with Charles intent on destroying the Protestant league.

Elector John Frederick of Saxony is distracted by his cousin, Duke Maurice of Saxe-Meissen, invading his lands in Ernestine Saxony, and ultimately the league is defeated in the Schmalkaldic War. John is captured and forced to sign the Capitulation of Wittenberg, losing both his status as an elector and some of his lands to Maurice. Philip is also imprisoned until 1552.

Religious Colloquium of Marburg 1529
In 1529 Philip paid host to Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli at the Religious Colloquium of Marburg, accompanied by some of their followers including Melanchthon (as shown in this wood carving of 1557)

1552 - 1567

For the rest of his years, Philip concentrates on restoring order to Hesse and finding a middle ground between Protestant and Catholic extremist views, and between Calvinist and Lutheran Protestants who are now also fighting against each other. The baton of leadership of the Reformation passes to other, younger leaders. Philip secures friendly relations with Catholic France and Protestant England (the latter laying the foundations for centuries of closer military cooperation between the two states).

Following Philip's death, Hesse is divided into the regions of Hessen-Kassel, Hessen-Marburg, Hessen-Rheinfels and Hessen-Darmstadt, one each for Philip's four sons. The first of these is the senior branch, while the second and third are short-lived. The final one, Darmstadt, emerges as a long-lived sister-state to Kassel which also incorporates the former Katzenelnbogen county. Like most of the moderate North German states, Hesse is now firmly embedded within the Protestant faith, Kassel becoming Calvinist, Darmstadt Lutheran.

Map of German states AD 1560
This map displays the imperial 'circles' in 1560, with these being the main administrative divisions of the empire (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Further sub-division of Kassel and Darmstadt eventually leads to splinter states such as Hessen-Homburg, Hessen-Rumpenheim, Hessen-Philippsthal, Hessen-Philippsthal-Barchfeld, Hessen-Eschwege, Hessen-Rheinfels, Hessen-Rheinfels-Rotenburg, Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried, Hessen-Butzbach, Hessen-Braubach, Hessen-Darmstadt-Itter, Hessen-Marburg, and Hessen-Hanau (which continues to be led by its own line of counts until 1736), and ultimately to political obscurity for all of Hesse by the eighteenth century.

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