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European Kingdoms

Central Europe


Hessen-Rheinfels / Hessen-Rotenburg / Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried (Hesse)
AD 1567 - 1583 / 1627 - 1869

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. Subsequent generations would only increase that splintering.

Duke Philip 'the Magnanimous' was 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 the duchy of 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, Hesse was divided into the regions of Hessen-Kassel, Hessen-Marburg, Hessen-Rheinfels, and Hessen-Darmstadt, one each for Philip's four sons. This division was to ensure all four Ydulfing sons had lands of their own but all it did in reality was weaken his once-powerful duchy.

Rheinfels was a new entity for Hesse, one which was situated near the Rhine in the west of Hesse. Its castle had been built in 1245 by Count Diether V of Katzenelnbogen and it soon developed into one of the mightiest fortresses in the Middle Rhine region. Only ten years passed before it successfully withstood the onslaught of a strong army sent by the League of Rhenish Cities and it resisted the subsequent siege for more than a year.

Over the next few centuries, the original customs castle was turned into an increasingly important administration centre for the counts of Katzenelnbogen. They became one of the leading families along the Middle Rhine. After the construction of Neukatzenelnbogen Castle (today simply known as 'Katz') on the other side of the Rhine in the fourteenth century, Rheinfels Castle became even more important, as the counts were now able to block the river valley.

In 1479, when the line of Katzenelnbogen counts died out at the height of their territorial power, ownership of the castle passed to the House of Hesse. Granted as a cadet territory in 1567, its initial ruling line died out quickly. The title remained empty for forty-four years before being granted to Ernst, one of the younger brothers of William V of Hessen-Kassel.

Upon the death of another of the brothers, Hermann, Ernst was able to unite Rheinfels with the eponymous Rotenberg (Rodenberg, today's Rothenberg) of Hessen-Rotenberg, and then ensure that his increased holdings were again sub-divided upon his death. The minor title of Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried was created for his younger son, Karl, who nevertheless remained a subject of elder brother William, landgrave of Hessen-Rheinfels, who himself remained a subject of the landgrave of Hessen-Kassel.

Burg Frankenstein

(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 - 1583

Philip II

Third son of Philip I of Hesse (numbering continued).


With the death of Philip II, the Ydulfing line of Hessen-Rheinfels has no successor and is extinct. Philip's elder brother, William of Hessen-Kassel, claims back the land and properties but the title remains vacant for the time being.

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


Landgrave Maurice has lost much of Hessen-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 a new creation, 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. Hermann is granted Hessen-Rotenberg while Ernst gains Hessen-Rheinfels.




1627 - 1658


Hessen-Rotenberg. Son of Maurice. No heir.

1627 - 1693

Ernst (I)

Hessen-Rheinfels. Brother. United Rheinfels & Rotenberg.

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 enemy of Kassel during the Thirty Years War, Hessen-Darmstadt fights some of its bitterest battles against its neighbour.

After the war and the Peace of Westphalia (1648), Darmstadt gains power over a portion of Upper Hesse, the former Benedictine territory of Hersfeld, and part of Hessen-Marburg.

1652 - 1654

The Rheinfels and Rotenbergs revert to Catholicism at the start of 1652. This is despite Ernst having been brought up a Calvinist and his effective sovereign, Hessen-Kassel's William V, refusing him permission to convert his territories to match his own family's method of worship.

A compromise is reached under the terms of the Treaty of Ravensburg in 1654 wherein Ernst is permitted to create three Catholic parishes within his holdings.

Landgrave Ernst of Hessen-Rheinfels-Rotenberg-Wanfried
The landgraviate of Hessen-Rheinfels, the title having fallen vacant in 1583, was recreated in 1627 and handed to Ernst (seen here), to be enlarged with the addition of Hessen-Eschwege in 1655, and united with Hessen-Rotenberg upon the death of his brother in 1658 - only to be divided again at his own death

1655 - 1658

Frederick, landgrave of Hessen-Eschwege is killed in battle at Kosten on 24 September 1655 without having producing a surviving male heir. Eschwege is added to the territories held by Ernst, landgrave of Hessen-Rheinfels. The death of Hermann in 1658 allows Ernst to reunite the Rotenberg title with that of Rheinfels.


Castle Rheinfels is the only fortress on the left bank of the Rhine which is able to defend itself against attacks by the French troops which have been sent by Louis XIV.


Ernst's death in 1693 leads to further division of Hessian territories. His elder son, William, continues to govern the lands and House of Rheinfels-Rotenberg. His second son, Karl, is created landgrave of Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried (a title which survives on an independent basis until 1731).

1693 - 1725


Hessen-Rotenberg. Son of Ernst.

1693 - 1711


Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried. Younger brother.

1725 - 1749

Ernst (II)

Hessen-Rotenberg. Son of William.

1711 - 1731


Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried. Son of Karl.


William of Hessen-Rheinfels-Wanfried dies without having produced an heir to his title. That title now lapses and the Hessen-Rheinfels territory is reunited under Ernst initially, until his death in 1749, and then his son, Constantine. Wanfried passes to William's brother, Christian, as the minor holding of Hessen-Wanfried.

The Battle of Culloden
The Battle of Culloden in 1745 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

1731 - 1755


Hessen-Wanfried. Brother of William.

1749 - 1778


Hessen-Rheinfels-Rotenberg. Son of Ernst.

1754 - 1755

'Rheinfels' is removed from the family title because the lands have already been acquired by Hessen-Kassel (in 1735). The title is now simplified as Hessen-Rotenberg. In the following year Christian, brother of William, dies without an heir so Wanfried reverts to Constantine as has previously been agreed by the family.

1778 - 1812

Karl Emanuel

Hessen-Rotenberg. Son.

1792 - 1796

The turbulent history of Rheinfels Castle comes to an end in 1794, when it is handed over - without a struggle - to the French revolutionary army. 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 of Hessen-Kassel 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 IX securing the coveted title of Kurfürst (prince elector of the Holy Roman empire).

1812 - 1834

Victor Amadeus

Son. Also duke of Ratibor & prince of Corvey.


In compensation for lands on the west bank of the Rhine having been lost to France under the terms of the Peace of Lunéville in 1801, and now with territory also being lost to Prussia as part of the Congress of Vienna, Victor Amadeus is compensated with the estate of the abbey of Corvey (which carries the title of prince), and the Silesian duchy of Ratibor.

Map of Confederation of German States AD 1815
Following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte 1814, the Congress of Vienna took on board much of his vital restructuring of the German principalities, with the result that a map of the new Confederation of German States in 1815-1817 looked very different to maps of the previous century (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1834 - 1869

Marie Adelheid

Sister. Held the title during her lifetime.


Victor Amadeus produces no legitimate offspring, so the Hessen-Rotenberg succession through the males of the family comes to an end. Victor's sister, Marie Adelheid, inherits the title but, as she had married Karl August, prince of Hohenlohe-Bartenstein, in 1811 the title passes out of Hessian descent.

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