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European Kingdoms

Central Europe


Hessen-Marburg (Oberhessen) (Hesse)
AD 1458 - 1500 / 1567 - 1604

The process of dividing and sub-dividing the German territorial duchies in Europe and electorates was one which eventually served to weaken all of the Holy Roman empire's states, save Austria. Some of these divisions were never undone by succeeding generations. In fact, there could sometimes be as many landgraves or dukes as there were heirs.

The complicated divisions and swapping of territory and names are sometimes tricky to cover in detail, with much of the more intricate details rarely being covered by English language publications. Each of the rulers of these divisions usually continued to hold the title of landgraf ('landgrave' in English).

FeatureThe Hessian 'Landgraviate' had been elevated to the 'Duchy of Hesse' in 1500, after which it had been heavily involved in the Protestant Reformation and its various conflicts (see feature link). The death of the commanding figure of Philip 'the Magnanimous' in 1567 would splinter the duchy into four, one of which was Hessen-Marburg. Subsequent generations would only increase that splintering.

Marburg in what is now western Germany was one of Hesse's key cities. It is situated in what was central Hesse, located on the River Lahn, and had usually served as the capital of the early duchy before Kassel superseded it. The landgraviate was now centred on the city of Kassel and in 1458 the new ruler, Ludwig III (IV), created a sub-landgraviate for his younger brother, Henry.

This was based around Marburg, capital of the Oberhessen half of the state (Upper Hesse), which had now been relegated in importance. Ludwig remained the senior landgrave in Hesse, which meant that he largely took care of state matters while Henry concerned himself with local governance, at least in theory.

This first creation of the landgraviate of Marburg ended in 1500 when William 'the Younger' died without having produced a male heir. Very soon afterwards, Duke Philip 'the Magnanimous' acceded to the senior title at the age of five. He soon became the single most influential figure in the history of all of the various Hessian territories.

One of the political leaders of the Protestant Reformation, it was during his reign that Hesse played a role of great importance in the Reich (meaning 'empire' - in this case the Austrian-dominated Holy Roman empire). Hesse's city of Frankfurt-am-Main was for a long time a free imperial city, serving as the location in which German emperors were crowned.

Following Philip's death in 1567, Hesse was divided more permanently into the regions of Hessen-Kassel, Hessen-Marburg (recreating this division anew), Hessen-Rheinfels, and Hessen-Darmstadt, one each for Philip's four sons.

Thanks to its previous status, Marburg was the secondmost senior branch of this new division of territory. Its share of the former duchy's total land holdings amounted to fully a quarter, but its ruling line again died out quickly and a disagreement broke out about its future. In the end it was divided between Hessen-Kassel and Hessen-Darmstadt and effectively ceased to exist as a territory in its own right.

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 Coercion, Capital, and European States, Charles Tilly, 1992, and from External Links: Euratlas, and Historical Atlas of Germany, and History Learning Site, and Landgraves of Hessen (in German).)

1458 - 1483

Henry III 'the Rich'

Brother of Landgrave Ludwig III (IV). Ruled Oberhessen.


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.

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


Son. Predeceased his father (in 1478).


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, landgrave of Hesse, 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, William the Intermediate, who becomes Landgrave William II. William the Elder lives in self-imposed exile in the town of Spangenberg in north-eastern Hesse.

1483 - 1500

William III 'the Younger'

Brother. Landgrave of Oberhessen. Died without an heir.

1500 - 1567

William dies without having produced a male heir. Landgrave William II of Hesse therefore reunifies Hesse's divided territories to form a single, elevated duchy of Hesse. During this period, Marburg Castle pays host to the Marburg Colloquy, in which Duke Philip fails to get the two main divisions of Protestantism to agree a united front in the face of Catholic opposition.

Following Philip's death in 1567, Hesse is divided into the regions of Hessen-Kassel, Hessen-Marburg, Hessen-Rheinfels and Hessen-Darmstadt, one each for Philip's four sons.

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)

1567 - 1604

Ludwig / Louis IV

Second son of Philip I of Hesse. Died without an heir.


Ludwig of the House of Ydulfing and landgrave of Hessen-Marburg dies without producing a successor. Landgrave Maurice of Hessen-Kassel claims back the land and attempts to impose Calvinism upon its subjects, contrary to the rules of inheritance.

This causes disagreements between him and 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. Part of Hessen-Marburg is ceded to Darmstadt in order to end the quarrel.

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