History Files

 The History Files needs your help

The History Files is a non-profit site. It is only able to support such a vast ad-free collection of information with your help, and your help is still needed. Please click on this message to make a small donation via PayPal. That way we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your incredible support really is appreciated.

Target for May 2022: £0  £120

European Kingdoms

Central Europe


MapChatti (Hessians) (Germans)

Hesse's earliest recorded ancestors were the Chatten or Chatti, a Germanic folk who were in existence by the first century BC. They, along with the Cherusci, were the masters of Germania following the expulsion or absorption of the Celtic tribes and before Roman domination. They originated from Germanic migrants who had settled along the upper banks of the River Visurgis (Weser), the Moenus river valley (the modern Main), and the wooded Taunus highlands in between. This roughly covers areas of the modern German states of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate.

Providing a definitive breakdown for the tribe's name is difficult because a precise definition for letter pronunciation shifts cannot be provided. The Edward Dawson model says that, with the Latin suffix of '-i' removed, the Chatti or 'Chat' name is really 'Khat'. The 'kh' corresponds to the modern German and Scottish 'ch' sound, as in 'ich' and 'loch' respectively. The word means 'anger' or 'hate'. So the tribe would have been 'the haters' or 'the angry'. The tribe may have been involved in some sort of feud or revolt against oppressors, perhaps, to have gained such a name.

But here is where the alternatives come into play. Vladimir Orel has *xataz ~ *xatez sb.m./n., which filters through as the Goth 'hatis', meaning 'hatred, anger', and many similar examples including the Old English 'hatr', all meaning hate or anger, with a relation to destruction. (The 'x' is the voiceless velar fricative.) Trish Wilson prefers an explanation that involves a change occurring through a second lingual shift, from 'c' to 'h' as in these examples from Latin/Germanic: 'captus/haflting', meaning 'prisoner' and 'pisces/fisch', so it's clear that there has been a shift from 'p' to 'f'. Such a double change can also be seen in the 'l' to 'i' shift, 'flumen' to 'fiume', and 't' to 'z', used in Florentia becoming Fi(o)renze and in (Adriatic) Veneti becoming Veneziano.

The problem with providing a firm definition and also in showing how Chatti became Hessi revolves around how the 'c' (or 'ch') of Chatti (Catti) was pronounced. Was it a 'ch' as in much of Latin? Or a 'k' sound like some Latin and all Celtic? Or was it a 'kh' sound such as is used in modern German 'ch' and also in Scottish 'loch'? The shift is not tightly defined so. until it is, the precise meaning of Chatti must remain relatively conjectural. However, Dawson also offers an option which could fully explain the basis of the tribe's name and subsequent shifts in how that name was given. As with many other Germanic tribes during the early phases of contact between them and the Gauls, the Chatti may have taken their name via Celtic language influence. It may be derived from the Celtic 'cat', meaning 'battle or fight', being adapted to mean 'fighters'. This would mean that the 'c' was pronounced as a hard 'k' sound, and it would quickly have changed into the Germanic 'kh' sound which would have turned 'Cat' into 'Chat', with 'Chatti' being the plural form. The meaning of 'fighters' would seem to have been extended over time in Germanic to become 'the haters, the angry'.

The Chattuarii may have been a branch of the Chatti (along with the Mattiaci). Their name breaks down into 'chatti' plus 'uari', which is the Gaulish word 'wiros' for 'man', the plural being 'wiri' which was adopted by German tribes. So Chattuari means 'Chatti men'. 'Chatti' gradually became 'Hessi', from which originates the modern state's name. The 't' to 'ss' shift occurs often enough in German, and can also be seen in the Boiocasses tribal name.

By the first century BC, a division of the Chatti had formed following an internal squabble (according to Tacitus). This splinter group became known as the Batavi, and it migrated to settle around the mouth of the Rhine, in the northernmost reaches of Celtic Belgae territory (in the modern Netherlands). Also noted both by Julius Caesar, they supplied several units to the Roman army. The Chatti themselves were not mentioned by Caesar by name, simply being lumped into the general Suevi collective. That collective became much stronger after Caesar's time, going on to become one of the most powerful opponents of the Romans during the first century AD. They defeated the powerful Cherusci and the other neighbouring tribes. In the second century AD, they were located close to the east bank of the Rhine, which became their traditional homeland. They were generally bordered to the east by the Hermunduri, and to the south by various other elements of the Suevi. Together with these groups they formed the Herminones, one of the five original groups of Germanics.

The capital of the Chatti was named by Roman writers as Mattium. It lay beyond the River Adrana (the modern Eder) and was destroyed by Germanicus in his campaigns of 12-9 BC. Despite being described by Tacitus its location was lost to history. General opinion believes it to have been located around modern Fritzlar, in the Schwalm-Eder district of northern Hesse, to the north of the Eder, but there are several potential sites in the region.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson and Trish Wilson, from A Handbook of Germanic Etymology, Vladimir Orel, from The Barbarians: Warriors & Wars of the Dark Ages, Tim Newark (Blandford Press, 1985), and from External Link: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

1st century BC?

Tacitus mentions the Batavi as a constituent part of the Chatti who are divided from them following an internal dispute. They migrate westwards before the first century AD, settling in what becomes the central Netherlands.

12 - 9 BC

Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, stepson of Emperor Augustus, is appointed governor of the Rhine region of Gaul. He launches the first major Roman campaigns across the Rhine and begins the conquest of Germania. He starts with a successful campaign that subjugates the Sicambri. Later in the same year he leads a naval expedition along the North Sea coast, conquering the Batavi and the Frisii, and defeating the Chauci near the mouth of the Weser.

Teutoberger wald
The decimation of three legions in the Teutoberger wald was a massive humiliation for the Roman empire and caused the abandonment of plans to conquer Germania Magna

In 11 BC, he conquers the Bructeri, Usipetes and Marsi, extending Roman control into the Upper Weser. In 10 BC, he launches a campaign against the Chatti and the resurgent Sicambri, subjugating both. The following year he conquers the Mattiaci, while also defeating the Marcomanni and Cherusci, the latter being taken care of near the Elbe. He is killed in a fall from his horse during his fourth campaign, and his death deprives Rome of one its best generals.

fl AD 9 - 19


King of the Chatti.

AD 9

Adgandestrius is part of the coalition of tribes which is led by Arminius of the Germanic Cherusci and which decimates three legions under Roman Governor Publius Quinctilius Varus. The disaster is a tremendous blow to Roman plans for expansion into Germania Magna, something from which they never entirely recover.


The Marsi role in resisting the Romans is short-lived. They are massacred by General Germanicus at the start of his invasion of northern Germany and an area of fifty Roman miles of Marsi territory is laid waste. Much of this land is later occupied by the Chatti and their Hessian descendants.


Adgandestrius asks for poison from Rome so that he might kill the Cherusci leader, Arminius. The request is refused on the grounds that it would be unsportsmanlike, although Rome is quite capable of being unsportsmanlike whenever it suits its own ends.


Strabo mentions the little-known Chattuarii as neighbours of the Chatti, placing them immediately to the east of the lower Rhine for the subsequent four centuries. The tribe's origins are unknown, and they seem not to be particularly migratory..

Citadel of Namur
The Meuse valley, shown here at the citadel of Namur, formed the western border for the Chattuarii following their crossing of the Rhine, taking territory from the fading Roman administration


As recorded by Tacitus, the Hermunduri and Chatti fight a great battle. Each of them is vying for control of the rich salt-producing river which flows between them. Besides their passion for settling everything by force, Tacitus says, they hold a religious conviction that this region is close to heaven so that men's prayers receive ready access. In the battle, the Chatti are defeated with a disastrous result. In the event of victory, both sides have vowed their enemies to the gods Tiu (Tyr) and Wotan (Wodan). The vow implies the sacrifice of the entire defeated side with their horses and all their possessions. Similar German post-battle rituals have been discovered in first century AD Jutland.

69 - 70

Gaius Julius Civilis leads a Batavian insurrection against a Rome which is distracted by the events of the Year of the Four Emperors. He is supported by the Bructeri, Canninefates, Chauci, Cugerni, and Tencteri, while the Sinuci are also mentioned as a people who live in the region (although their involvement in the revolt is uncertain). The tribes send reinforcements and Civilis is initially successful. Castra Vetera is captured and two Roman legions are lost, while two others fall into the hands of the rebels. In AD 70 the Chatti, Mattiaci, and Usipetes join in, besieging the legionary fortress at Mogontiacum (modern Mainz).

Eventual Roman pressure, with aid from the Mediomatrici, Sequani, and Tungri, forces Civilis to retreat to the Batavian island where he agrees peace terms with General Quintus Petilius Cerialis. His subsequent fate is unknown, but the Batavi are treated with great consideration by Emperor Vespasian. During the revolt, the Roman fortress ceases to be used (for obvious reasons) and the Oppidum Batavorum is razed.

The Gaulish and Germanic Batavian revolt of AD 69-70 was a major contributor to the instability experienced in the Roman empire during the 'Year of Four Emperors'


Around this year, Rome establishes two provinces on the border territory between Gaul and Germania Magna, calling them Germania Superior and Germania Inferior. The latter has contained Roman settlements for over a century, and had previously formed part of Gallica Belgica. Cities such as Aachen, Cologne, Mainz, Speyer, Trier, and Worms are all founded within these provinces by Rome and all of them become important medieval cities. Domitian also antagonises the Germanic tribes by driving back the Chatti from these new provinces at the River Taunus. All this appears to do is stir up the tribe to provide further opposition to the Romans on their western flank.


Two legions of Domitian's armies in Germania Superior at Mogontiacum (Mainz) revolt under L Antoninus Saturninus, for reasons that are largely lost to history (thanks to the later destruction of Saturninus' personal documents). The revolt is supported by the Chatti tribe. It is quite plausible that the officers involved rebel against Domitian's rather strict moral policies. Whatever goal Saturninus has is completely unknown and there seems to be little indication of a plan. The Roman governor of Germania Inferior puts down the revolt, seemingly before it even begins.


The Roman writer Tacitus mentions a large number of tribes in Greater Germania, which includes the Chatti. He states that their settlements begin at the Hercynian Forest (known to the Greeks as Orcynia - the modern Black Forest forms its western part), where the country is not so open and marshy as in the other cantons into which Germany stretches.

Hercynian Forest
The Riesengebirge was part of the once-vast Hercynian Forest which spread eastwards from southern Germany and which proved a serious impediment to Roman expansion

The Chatti are to be are found on the edges of the forest, and are 'noted for their hardy frames, close-knit limbs, fierce countenances, and a peculiarly vigorous courage. For Germans, they have much intelligence and sagacity; they promote their picked men to power, and obey those whom they promote; they keep their ranks, note their opportunities, check their impulses, portion out the day, entrench themselves by night, regard fortune as a doubtful, valour as an unfailing, resource; and what is most unusual, and only given to systematic discipline, they rely more on the general than on the army.

Their whole strength is in their infantry which, in addition to its arms, is laden with iron tools and provisions. Other tribes you see going to battle, the Chatti to a campaign. Seldom do they engage in mere raids and casual encounters. It is indeed the peculiarity of a cavalry force quickly to win and as quickly to yield a victory. Fleetness and timidity go together; deliberateness is more akin to steady courage'.

By this time, Cherusci numbers and fighting ability have been dented through unsuccessful warfare against the Chatti. This point signals their eclipse and eventual absorption by other tribes.

162 - 170

The Chatti continue to trouble the Romans, raiding Roman territory in 162 and 170. This is during a period of continued border trouble for Rome. From AD 166 the first invasion takes place of Germanic peoples across the Danube, under the leadership of the Marcomanni, which also includes elements from many other tribes.

Roman defensive tower
Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had concentrated on defining the Roman empire's borders, defending the territory they had. That would have included building watch towers along the limes in the Danube region which the Marcomanni managed to break through

3rd century

By now elements of the Ampsivarii, Batavi, Bructeri, Chamavi, Chatti, Chattuarii, Cherusci, Salii, Sicambri, Tencteri, Tubantes, and Usipetes have formed the Franks, one of several West Germanic federations. They are largely to be found occupying territory on the Lower Rhine Valley, on the east bank, in what is now northern Belgium and the southern Netherlands), a region that has come to be known as Francia. The main body of Chatti remain located along the eastern bank of the Rhine, from where they mount yet another raid into Roman territory in 213.


In the late fourth century, Sulpicius Alexander writes a history of Germanic tribes that has since been lost but which has been quoted by Gregory of Tours. One of those quotes relates that Arbogast, the Frankish-born magister militum of the Western Roman empire, attacks the Franks across the Rhine, wreaking havoc amongst them. While there he sights on a distant hill a force containing Ampsivarii and Chatti under the control of Marcomer, king of the Salian Franks. The two forces do not engage.


FeatureThe formal partition of the Roman empire into the Eastern and Western sections is undertaken by Honorius and Arcadian. An official register of all the offices, other than municipal, which exist in the Roman empire at this time is compiled in the Notitia Dignitatum. A formation of Ampsivarii are mentioned as the Ampsiuarii unit of Palatine auxiliaries. This appears to be the last mention of the tribe in history before they appear to be subsumed by the Franks as a whole and by the Chatti in particular, probably with elements in both camps.


The main body of Chattuarii have probably remained to the east of the Rhine until this period. They are still neighboured to the east by the Chatti and to the south of the Bructeri. At this point they cross with the bulk of the Franks and settle between the Meuse and the west bank of the Rhine.

Roman town gates of Metz
The fairly insignificant Mosan Franks settled the area between Soissons and the Alemanni, taking the Roman town at Moguntiacum (Metz or Mainz) the gates of which are shown here

496 - 505

MapThe Franks conquer the Alemanni at the Battle of Tolbiac in 496, although the victory is a narrow one. An Alemannic uprising in 505 is defeated and the kingdom is drawn directly within the Frankish kingdom. Any independence the Alemanni may have enjoyed after 496 is now lost. The region comes to be known by the less tribal and more formal name of Alemannia.

These events probably cause some Alemanni to drift south-eastwards where they form part of the Bavarii confederation. Back at home, the hilltop settlements of the Alemannic nobility are abandoned and their cemeteries fall into disuse, and it is this Alemannic drift that effectively removed the Chatti from their confederation. At the same time, strategically situated settlements of Frankish warriors and their entourages emerge in the sixth and seventh centuries, as the Franks impose their own governance on the region.

The Frankish Conradine family establishes itself as a leading noble house in the Lahngau (later a key location in the founding of Hesse). The Conradines maintain close familial relationships with the later Carolingians and Robertians (the latter of whom also play a role in early Hesse, with Robert III being count of Worms and Rheingau until 834). The early church also plays a key role in the management of the Lahngau. At this time the only existing monastery is that of St Lubentius in Dietkirchen (probably founded in the sixth century), although its first written mention is only in 841.


The Germanic Chattuarii appear to be named in both of the Old English texts, Beowulf and the Widsith list, as the Hætwerum (Hetwaras). They are bordered on their eastern flank by the Chatti. This group has been largely anonymous to Roman writers since the late third century, prompting some speculation that they have merged with other groups to form the Alemanni. This is possible, of course, but the fact that the Chatti re-emerge later (as the Hessi) suggests that they retain their identity within any such groupings.

River Main
The River Main area of Western Germany became the new homeland of the Alemanni following their migration from the Baltic Sea region


St Boniface of the church at Canterbury, 'Apostle of the Germans', fells the sacred oak of the Thuringians at Gaesmere (modern Geismar) to symbolise the abolition of their paganism, and they are converted to Christianity en masse. The Chatti are included amongst this group of Germans to be so converted, perhaps better known by now as Hessi.


A letter is written by Pope Gregory III which is sent to 'Bonifatius', St Boniface. In the letter, the pope refers to the populous as Hassiorum, the 'folk of Hessen'. That folk of Hessen are emerging into history as a series of small counties that are eventually joined together to form Hesse.


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 that 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 Pagenses 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 that 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.


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.

Map of the Frankish empire at the Treaty of Verdun AD 843
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, while the upper image is a map showing 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 death of Louis the German results in his territory being divided between his three sons. This is something that 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.

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 that 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).

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 that 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.



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 that 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 that 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 that 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 that 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 that 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 that 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 that 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.

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).

Map of German states AD 1560
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), while above is a map of the imperial 'circles' in 1560 (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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 the Protestant faith, Kassel becoming Calvinist, Darmstadt Lutheran.

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.

Landgraves of Hessen-Kassel
AD 1567 - 1803

Created from the division of the duchy of Hesse in 1567, the landgraviate of Kassel was the largest and most senior of the four new Hessen states. It was also the dominant partner, and owner of approximately half the former duchy's lands. It inherited the region of northern Hesse (Lower Hesse) which had originally belonged to Werner I, count of Lower Hesse around AD 1000, the most powerful of Hesse's early nobles during its medieval emergence from dark age obscurity. The other three divisions of Hesse were Hessen-Marburg, revived following the lapse of the title in 1500, Hessen-Rheinfels, a new title with lands situated near the Rhine in western Hesse, and Hessen-Darmstadt, also a new title which was centred on the southern Hessian city of Darmstadt.

From the capital at Kassel (which is often shown as Cassel, its more usual pre-twentieth century spelling), the rulers of northern Hesse continued to hold the title of landgrave. They built up strong connections with the Netherlands and, through them, with England. Troops were provided to England on numerous occasions, not least during the American War of Independence.

(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.)

1567 - 1592

William IV the Wise

Eldest son of Philip the Magnanimous of the duchy of Hesse.


In the thirteenth century, the central area on the Weser (formerly part of Angria) had become the nucleus of the county of Hoya. It is part of the Holy Roman empire (now in the German state of Lower Saxony). Now the county is partitioned after the death of the last, childless, count of Hoya, Otto VIII. The majority goes to the principality of Calenberg, with the rest passing to the duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg and the landgraviate of Hessen-Kassel.

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


All of the properties belonging to Hessen-Rheinfels are claimed back following the death of the childless Philip, one of William's younger brothers. The title itself is not included in that reclamation and remains vacant.

1592 - 1627

Maurice the Learned

Son. Became Calvinist in 1605. Abdicated in favour of his son.


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



Son and hereditary prince. Predeceased his father aged 22.


Ludwig V of Hessen-Darmstadt gains his title 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.


Maurice has lost much of 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 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. Maurice dies in Eschwege in 1632.

Bad Homburg Castle
The official residence of the landgraves of Hessen-Homburg was Bad Homburg Castle, originally constructed from the twelfth century but largely pulled down and rebuilt under the direction of Landgrave Frederick II in the 1670s-1680s

1627 - 1637

William V

Brother. Died.


William has not been able to stem the flow of territorial and financial loss during the war. His death after just ten years as landgrave leaves Kassel in a precarious position. His infant son inherits the title, with the boy's mother, Amalie Elizabeth von Hanau acting as regent. She provides sterling service for William VI and Kassel, regaining large areas of the lost territory through alliances and battle. France and Sweden both provide support and assistance, and parts of the small duchy of Westphalia are also held by Kassel.

1637 - 1663

William VI

Son. Came of age in 1650.

1637 - 1650

Amalie Elizabeth von Hanau

Mother & landgravine, acted as regent who regained Kassel.

1640 - 1643

When Count Otto V of Holstein-Schaumburg dies in 1640 without having produced an heir, the county of Schaumburg is divided (in 1643) between Brunswick-Lüneburg, Hessen-Kassel, and Lippe. Count Philip I of Lippe-Alverdissen (who is married to Sophie, daughter of the late Landgrave Maurice of Hessen-Kassel) is able to found the Schaumburg-Lippe line of the House of Lippe to incorporate the expanded territory that comes to him. Hessen-Kassel holds the lion's share, including the county of Schaumburg itself, minus various territories, and retains some feudal rights over Schaumburg-Lippe at first, along with control of many institutions that Schaumburg-Lippe has to share.

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 ally of Sweden during the Thirty Years' War, Hessen-Kassel fights some of its bitterest battles in the final four years of the war against Hessen-Darmstadt. Part of Hessen-Marburg is ceded to Darmstadt to end the quarrel over land.

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, having been built in 1245 by Count Diether V of Katzenelnbogen


The cadet line of Hessen-Philippsthal is created for one of William VI's younger sons, Philip. The act largely involves a minor transfer of territory, but no real power. It suggests that Hessen-Kassel is on the road to recovery. In the same year, Frederick of Hessen-Eschwege is killed in battle at Kosten on 24 September without having producing a surviving male heir. Eschwege is added to the territories held by Ernst, landgrave of Hessen-Rheinfels.

1663 - 1670

William VII

Son of William VI. Acceded as an infant, died young.

1663 - 1677

Hedwig Sophie von Brandenburg

Mother and regent.


William VII contracts a fever while in Paris and the subsequent treatment probably does more to kill him than the fever itself. His brother Charles succeeds him, but he is still a minor so his mother continues her role as regent until 1677. The late William's fiancée, Maria Amalia of Courland (daughter of Jacob Kettler), marries Charles instead.

1670 - 1730

Charles / Karl (I)

Brother of William VII. First to hire troops to foreign powers.


Charles' son, Frederick, is married to Queen Ulrika Eleonora of Sweden. Having renounced the rights of absolute monarchy in return for being confirmed as queen, she now abdicates in favour of her husband. She had preferred the idea of a co-monarchy in the style of England under Mary II and William III, but this has not been allowed in Sweden since the fifteenth century. Parliamentary rule is reinstated in Sweden with the monarchy greatly limited in power.

1730 - 1751

Frederick I

Son. Also king of Sweden (1720-1751) by marriage.

1735 - 1736

Having already acquired Rheinfels from Constantine of Hessen-Rotenberg in 1735, Frederick I has also joined Hessen-Kassel to Sweden in personal union for his lifetime. In addition, he now gains Hanau-Münzenberg following the death of the last of the counts of Hanau. However, the bulk of the last count's lands pass to Hessen-Darmstadt in the form of Hanau-Lichtenberg, because Ernst Ludwig's son is the count's grandson.

1745 - 1746

In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie lands at Eriskay in the Hebrides, Scotland, to lay claim to the British throne. He is backed by the French, who are at present heavily embroiled in the Austrian War of Succession against Britain. Fighting in his still-living father's name, he raises his standard at Glenfinnan, Scotland on 19 August, igniting the Second Jacobite Rebellion. On 21 September, his Jacobite forces defeat English forces at the Battle of Prestonpans but in December Landgrave Frederick's nephew, the future Landgrave Frederick II, lands on the Scottish coast with 6,000 troops to support his father-in-law, George II.

The Battle of Culloden
The Battle of Culloden saw the destruction of the clans in Scotland at the hands of Britain's modern army, with England being reinforced by troops from Hessen-Kassel

The following year, in the last battle fought on British soil, the Jacobites are routed by the duke of Cumberland at Culloden. The Jacobite cause effective dies, but Charles Edward's claim is passed on, first through his brother, Henry, in 1788, and then the Savoyard kings of Sardinia from 1807.


One of the things for which Count William of Schaumburg-Lippe is noted during his reign is the comparatively large standing army that he maintains. A thousand men for such a small territory is quite unusual, but he is prompted by security fears in relation to his share of the productive Bückeberg mines and the possibility (however remote) that the dominating force in the county of Schaumburg, Hessen-Kassel, might attempt to seize total control of them.


Frederick dies without having produced an heir. In Hessen-Kassel he is succeeded by his brother, William VIII, who has already governed the landgraviate during Frederick's absences in Sweden. Sweden itself elects as king Adolphus Frederick, son of Christian August of Holstein-Gottorp and Margravine Albertina Frederica of Baden-Durlach.

1751 - 1760

William VIII

Brother. Represented Frederick in Kassel during his rule.

1756 - 1763

The Seven Years' War - the first truly 'global' conflict - erupts as Britain declares war on France. Troops of Hessen-Kassel serve under British command, led by William VIII. As part of the eventual peace settlement, Britain gains New France from the French, renaming it the province of Quebec as part of their colonies in the Americas.

1760 - 1785

Frederick II



Frederick II had reverted to the Catholic Church in 1749. When this becomes known (probably around the time of his accession to the title), his father, the Hessian estates, Prussia, and Hanover all demand that he neither appoint any Catholics to public positions nor permit Catholic worship. Frederick is forced to agree, but his reign is not always shown in Hessian lists, his father's reign being extended to 1785 in his place.

War of the Spanish Succession
The War of the Spanish Succession at the beginning of the century was fought to avoid a shift in the balance of power in Europe with the proposed unification of the Bourbon kingdoms of Spain and France

1776 - 1783

With Frederick II being the son-in-law of King George II of Britain (thanks to his marriage to Princess Mary), he leases troops to the British to fight in the American War of Independence. Approximately 15,000 to 20,000 Hessians or Hessian-led mercenaries are supplied and turn out to be some of the hardest-fighting troops in the war.

1785 - 1803

William IX

Son. Elevated to Kurfürst William I in 1803.

1793 - 1795

Hessen-Kassel takes part in the fight against revolutionary France by supplying troops to the English crown. Peace between Kassel and France is declared at Basle in the same year that the French Directory is established and peace is also agreed with Prussia and Spain. However, the turbulent history of Rheinfels Castle has already come to an end in 1794, when it had been handed over - without a struggle - to the French. In 1796 or 1797 the exterior walls and the castle are blown up. Today what remained of it after that demolition work survives as a ruin.


The state is enlarged by a sharing out of previously imperial free towns and church states to compensate for land lost to France (including Rheinfels). The landgraviate is elevated by Napoleon Bonaparte, with William securing the coveted title of Kurfürst (prince elector of the Holy Roman empire).

Kurfürsts of Hessen-Kassel (zu Rumpenheim) / Kingdom of Westphalia
AD 1803 - 1866

The landgraviate of Hessen-Kassel was elevated to the status of an electorate by the Holy Roman Emperor in 1803. The title was never resigned, even after the dissolution of the empire in 1806. Unfortunately for Hessen-Kassel, its own statehood was dissolved by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1807. Following this, its territory was held by a new creation, the kingdom of Westphalia, until Napoleon's expulsion from German lands in 1813. Official reconstitution of Hessen-Kassel was effected by the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815.

A minor district of Hessen-Kassel was Rumpenheim, situated near Offenbach, in Rheinland-Pfalz (in 1802, and probably gained during the sharing out of territory in 1803). Rumpenheim Castle in Kassel was named after it, and during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the rulers of Hessen-Kassel attached this name to their title, without their being any apparent division of the territory between cadet branches. Rumpenheim remained part of Hessen-Kassel after its absorption by Prussia in 1866. It continued to be claimed at least until 1880.

The kingdom of Westphalia was a new entity that was created by Napoleon Bonaparte out of his conquest of German territories in 1805-1806. Some of the German states refused to accept the fact that the French empire now dominated Germany rather than the dismantled Holy Roman empire and continued to resist. In late 1806 and early 1807, following the conclusive destruction of the Prussian army, Napoleon deposed several German princes and merged their territories into a new state - Westphalia - which he gave to his youngest brother, Jerome. Situated in the north of Napoleon's Confederation of the Rhine, it lasted for as long as Napoleon held power and then was swept away, the previous states being restored.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with 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, and from Die Kurhessische Verfassung von 1831 im Rahmen des deutschen Konstitutionalismus, Christian Starck.)

1803 - 1806

William / Wilhelm I

Formerly William IX. First kurfürst of Hessen-Kassel.

1806 - 1807

Wilhelm partially mobilises his army while France's Napoleon Bonaparte is destroying the Prussian army in October. The following month Bonaparte takes his revenge by occupying the state and, in 1807, dissolving it and incorporating its territory into his younger brother's newly created kingdom of Westphalia. The lands of Hessen-Philippsthal suffer the same fate. Kassel becomes the capital of the new kingdom.

Cavalry of Landgrave Frederick II of Hessen-Kassel
Like many of the German states, Kurfürst William I of Hessen-Kassel inherited his father's eighteenth century military forces and they remained largely unchanged by 1806, far from ready to be able to resist the new and overwhelmingly efficient military tactics being employed by the French empire

Apart from Hessen-Kassel, the new kingdom includes the duchy of Magdeburg (on the western side of the Elbe), and the Brunswick-Lüneburg territories of Hanover and Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. William I's palace at Kassel, Wilhelmshöhe, is renamed Napoleonshöhe for the duration of the new kingdom's existence.

1807 - 1813

Jerome Bonaparte

King of Westphalia / Westfalia.

1813 - 1815

MapNapoleon loses control of Germany. Westphalia is dismantled and Hessen-Kassel 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 grand duchy of Hessen- Darmstadt, the junior of the two states which is now technically superior in rank thanks to its title. Hessen-Kassel, along with a great many of its peers, joins the newly-formed German Confederation of the Rhine.

1813 - 1821

William I

Restored. Refused to accept progressive values. Died 27 Feb.


Once all the changes have been implemented at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, William possesses a large number of titles (in common with many of his German peers). He is now elector and sovereign landgrave of Hessen-Kassel, grand duke of Fulda (first mentioned in connection with the early Hessians in 772), prince of Hersfeld (a holding which has belonged to the senior branch of the House of Hesse in various forms since 1137), and prince of Hanau (first connected through the marriage of Landgrave William V and Amalie Elizabeth von Hanau in the early 1600s).

He is also prince of Fritzlar (possibly the very heart of the original territory of the Chatti), and Isenburg (seat of the family of Princess Sophie von Isenburg, mother of the current heir to the Hohenzollern throne of Germany), graf of Katzenelnbogen (Hessian since 1479), Nidda (a town in the Wetterau in Hesse which has played an active part in Hessian politics since at least 876), and Schaumburg (Hessian since 1643), plus count of Dietz (inherited from Nassau) and Ziegenhain (inherited in 1450), along with lesser titles.

The town of Fritzlar lay at the heart of the original territory of the Chatti, a Roman empire-era tribe whose territory evolved into the early Hessian states

1821 - 1847

William II

Son. A profligate ruler. Retired in 1831. Died 20 Nov.

1830 - 1831

Following the July Revolution in Paris, a similar uprising occurs in Kassel, which has endured fifteen years of having the clock turned back to the late eighteenth century. William II is compelled to give the land a constitution which ensures every man complete liberty of conscience and freedom to practice his religion. William retires to Hanau, appoints his son as regent and takes no further part in public affairs. A new constitution is drawn up in 1831 to try and address some of the complaints of the revolutionaries. It ends up being one of the most democratic constitutions in Europe, and results in the formation of the Hessian estates assembly. Unfortunately these changes are soon tarnished by interference and back-pedalling by Frederick William.

1831 - 1847

Frederick William

Son and regent. Succeeded to the throne in 1847.

1847 - 1866

Frederick William I

Regent until 1847. A tyrant. Deposed by Prussia.

1850 - 1851

The lack of democracy in the state following the reversal of the 1830 revolution's successes brings matters to a head. As his control over the state is weakened, Frederick William is persuaded to leave Kassel along with the head of his administration. Austrian and Bavarian troops march into the electorate and remain there into 1851, in a direct challenge to Prussian supremacy in the area. Although Frederick William returns, Hessen-Kassel is governed by the reconstituted federal diet.


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. 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.

In Hessen-Kassel, Frederick William is made a prisoner in Stettin. The electors continue to hold their title as Hereditary Heirs, but no real power. Hessen-Darmstadt is the only surviving major Hessian state from this point forwards, although it also loses its northern urban district of Biedenkopf, on the River Lahn. Hessen-Kassel is combined with Hessen-Homburg and renamed Hessen-Nassau. Both territories remain part of Prussia until the divided Germanies are formed at the close of the Second World War.

Hereditary Heirs of Hessen-Kassel / Hessen (and the Rhine)
AD 1866 - Present Day

Although the original heartland of Hessen-Kassel was occupied by and absorbed into the kingdom of Prussia in 1866-1867, it continued to live on as an administrative district. In 1871, following its humiliating defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, Prussia announced the founding of the German empire. Hessen-Kassel remained part of its direct holdings rather than being ranked alongside the various federated sub-kingdoms and states (which included Hessen-Darmstadt and Saxony). The junior title of Hessen-Philippsthal-Barchfeld survived, and with marginally increased land holdings at Hessen-Kassel's expense. Unfortunately for the sub-kingdoms, they were dismantled following the German submission at the end of the First World War. Their princes retained their titles, but they held no power.

Following the German defeat at the end of the Second World War, the modern 'Federal German State' of Hesse was formed, 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). To this day the nineteenth century title for Hessen-Kassel - Kurhessen - is still used as a regional name, not least by the Evangelical Church of Kurhessen-Waldeck (the continued use of the now-extinct county of Middlesex by the Post Office and eponymous cricket club in England is very similar).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with 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, from The First World War, John Keegan (Vintage Books, 2000), and from External Link: Prince Philip Funeral (The Guardian).)

1866 - 1875

Landgrave Frederick William I

Retained title but lost the landgraviate of Hessen-Kassel.


Thanks to the morganatic marriage between Landgrave Frederick William I and Gertrude Falkenstein (who had been born in Bonn on 18 May 1803 to one Johann Gottfried Falkenstein), his offspring are excluded from the succession. Instead, Frederick William George Adolphus of Hesse-Kassel is selected. He becomes head of the House of Hessen-Kassel as Frederick William II.

Landgraf Frederick William I of Hessen-Kassel
Landgrave Frederick William I (in German, Landgraf Friedrich Wilhelm) assumed the title in 1847 as the head of the western German principality, had it taken away from him by the Prussians in 1866, and saw out the next nine years as the head of his now-powerless house

1875 - 1884

Landgrave Frederick William II

Son of William I.

1884 - 1888

Landgrave Frederick William III

Son. Never married. Died after falling overboard at sea.

1888 - 1925

Landgrave Alexander Frederick

Brother. Renounced title. Died 28 May 1940, in Kassel.


Alexander, son of Ludwig II of Hessen-Darmstadt, 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.


The German empire moves swiftly to support its ally, Austria-Hungary, in a long-anticipated Great War (later more readily known as the First World War, or World War I). At the start it is successful against the Russian invasion of Prussia, routing their army at the Battle of Tannenberg, and in the west its armies reach the northern outskirts of Paris (occupying Luxembourg along the way) before they are stopped by the armies of Britain and France, together with the small Belgian army.


Following the resolution of its own pro-Czarist civil war, the parliament of Finland contemplates creating a monarchy for the country. A crown is offered to Frederick Charles, brother of the visually-impaired Landgrave Alexander. However, although he is recorded as being the country's King Vaino between 7 October to 4 December 1918, he declines the offer. Instead, in 1925, he succeeds his brother to the title of landgrave of Hessen-Kassel.


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, including Baden, Bavaria, Hesse, Lippe, Saxony and Württemberg.

Spartacist Uprising of 1919
The Spartacist Uprising of radical socialists in 1919 was a general strike which began on 4 January and lasted for nine days as the last act of the German Revolution

1925 - 1940

Landgrave Frederick Charles

Brother. m Margarethe, younger sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

1933 - 1945

The Third Reich ('third empire' of Germany, which claims the first (Holy Roman) and second (German) empires as its forebears in order to attain a level of legitimacy) is established under Adolf Hitler's dictatorial Nazi rule, sweeping away the Weimar republic. The Nazi invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 is the trigger for the Second World War. With both France and Great Britain pledged to support Poland, both countries have no option but to declare war on 3 September. Hitler subsequently commits suicide in his bunker on 30 April 1945 as Soviet Russian forces overrun Berlin. Nazi Germany surrenders unconditionally on 7 May to the Allies at General Eisenhower's HQ at Rheims in France.

1940 - 1980

Landgrave Philipp

Son. Ducal houses of Kassel & Darmstadt merged in 1968.

1943 - 1945

Having joined the Nazi Party in 1930, Philipp had been governor of Hessen-Nassau between 1933-1943. However, having subsequently fallen out with the Nazis, he is now arrested and placed in a concentration camp, not to be rescued until he and his fellow survivors are liberated by US forces in 1945.


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 Grand Duke Ludwig (V). Ludwig had already adopted his distant cousin, Moritz, son of Landgrave Philipp of Hessen-Kassel (in 1960), and by a family pact (made in 1902) Moritz's still-living father now becomes inheritor of the ducal title of Hesse and the Rhine.

1980 - 2013

Landgrave Moritz

Son. Prince and landgrave of Hesse. Died 23 May.

1989 - 1990

With the weakening of the Soviet Union and increased calls for reform, the Berlin Wall is pulled down by the people of both halves of the divided city, the border guards taking no action to stop them. The following year, the two Germanies are reunited on 3 October.

Fall of the Berlin Wall
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was a popular move that was generally people-driven and spontaneous, following the general collapse of the Soviet empire which backed East Germany's police state

2013 - Present

Landgrave Heinrich / Henry Donatus

Son. Born 17 Oct 1966.


The passing of Landgrave Moritz means that his son, Heinrich Donatus Philipp Umberto Prinz und Landgraf von Hessen, commonly known as Donatus, landgrave of Hesse, succeeds him as the head of the house.

In the same year, the marriage between George Frederick, current Hohenzollern heir to the Prussian kingdom, and Sophie von Isenburg produces George's own promised heir, plus a spare in the form of his twin. Carl Friedrich Franz Alexander is the elder by a few minutes and becomes next in line to inherit the titles that belong to this lost northern German throne.


With the death of Philip, duke of Edinburgh, son of the late Prince Andrew of Greece and closely related to the hereditary heirs of Hessen through his Mountbatten mother, Alice of Hessen-Battenberg, the current representatives of the House of Hessen are of course involved in his funeral. The head of the house, Henry Donatus, will represent the German side of the family while the Mountbattens will attend from the English side.

Invitations are limited due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain also invites Philip's carriage-driving companion - one of his closest confidantes - Countess Mountbatten of Burma, the sixty-seven year-old wife of Norton Knatchbull, Earl Mountbatten, grandson of Philip's beloved late uncle, Louis Mountbatten.

Prince Moritz

Son and hereditary landgrave. Born 26 Mar 2007.