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European Kingdoms

Central Europe


Landgraves of Hesse
AD 1263 - 1500

The Germanic tribe of the Chatti in Europe gradually became the German Hessi of the Middle Ages, first noted in historical records in AD 782. The Hessian town mentioned was Eberstadt, while the first mention of Kassel is from AD 913, where it was referred to as Cassala. The territory was divided under the Frankish empire into gaue, meaning 'districts' in English, and these were ruled over by counts (grafen).

FeatureUnder the successors of Charlemagne the counts gradually become less responsible officials and more feudal lords. Records are patchy in places, making it hard to reconstruct the story of early Hesse's rise, but all of the important dates are known. Most prominent amongst the Hessian nobility in the tenth and eleventh centuries were the Gisos, the counts of Gudensberg (see feature link).

After the death of the last of the Ludowinger dynasty of landgraves, Henry Raspe, the Hessians selected Henry of Brabant as their landgrave in 1247. Following that act, Hesse was separated from the Thuringia of which it had been part and, after struggling against rival claimants, his territory was recognised as the independent 'Landgraviate of Hesse'. In 1500 it became the 'Duchy of Hesse'.

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 at which 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.

Sophia, niece of Henry Raspe, 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 which had been formed inside the hook of the Maas around the modern Dutch-Belgian border), who commanded Lotharingia between 911-915.

Reginar's 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'.

Burg Frankenstein

(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 Duchess Sophia'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


FeatureHenry 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 (see feature link for more on imperial organisation at this time).

Henry is entitled to vote in the Reichstag, although his title of landgrave places him in the sixth rank of princes, below the king, grand dukes, dukes, margraves, and counts in order of superiority. Along with his new position, Henry gains Eschwege (later to be hived off as the short-lived subsidiary landgraviate of Hessen-Eschwege) and the Boyneburg (with Sontra), increasing Hesse's landholding.

With the use of some wily diplomacy he subsequently adds to this the cities of Grebenstein, Immenhausen, Kaufungen, Reinhardswald, Sooden-Allendorf, Staufenberg, Trendelburg, Wanfried, and Witzenhausen.

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

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


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.

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.

Luxembourg around 1900
A postcard view of central Luxembourg City which was produced around 1900, at the dawn of the grand duchy's first period of true independence


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-landgraviate is based around the old capital at Hessen-Marburg which has now been relegated in importance. Ludwig remains the senior landgrave in Hesse.

Emperor Charles IV releases his Golden Bull
Towards the end of 1355 and in early 1356 Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV agreed with his prince electors a new treatise which regulated the emperor's position and the right of succession amongst all the princes

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.

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