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European Kingdoms

Central Europe

 

Saxe-Ratzeburg (Saxony)
AD 1305 - 1689

Following several divisions and reductions of Saxony's overall territory, in 1212 the rules governing inheritance within the Ascanian dynasty meant that the territory was further divided. Some of those divisions fell outside of what was now considered to be Saxony, so being lost to it. In 1260, these remaining Saxon lands were again partitioned. At first the division was largely theoretical, but it appeared to take firm effect from or soon after 1272, and was further affirmed in 1296. Saxe-Lauenburg was formed in the western section while the east was rebranded as Saxe-Wittenberg. The latter eventually succeeded in gaining permanent use of the title, 'Elector of Saxony'.

During this same period, the three jointly-ruling electors of Saxe-Lauenburg were gradually sorting out the eventual official division of their own lands. This division was confirmed in 1305, creating Saxe-Mölln and Saxe-Ratzeburg. It was the eldest of the three brothers, John II, who commanded the senior Lauenburg line from Saxe-Mölln, while Eric and Albert, his two younger brothers, formed the junior Lauenburg line in Saxe-Ratzeburg. John also commanded the electoral privilege for the three of them. He gained Bergedorf shortly before his death in 1321, from Eric. The name was appended to that of Saxe-Mölln to give the domain its familiar title.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), from Albrecht der Bär, Lutz Partenheimer (Böhlau Verlag, 2003, in German), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and from Encyclopaedia.com, and Cranach Digital Archive (in German and English), and Special Collections (University of Arizona).)

1305 - 1308

Albert III of Saxe-Lauenburg

Former co-duke of Saxe-Lauenburg. Died.

1305 - 1308

Eric I of Saxe-Lauenburg

Brother & co-duke. Ruled jointly until his brother's death.

1308

The untimely death of the young Prince Albert III gifts Eric with the majority of his share of territories within Saxe-Ratzeburg. Part of this gain includes Bergedorf which he passes on to John II of Saxe-Mölln in 1321, shortly before that brother also dies. Albert's widow, Margaret of Brandenburg-Salzwedel, retains some of Albert's lands until her own death, following which they also revert to Eric.

Bergedorf Castle in Saxony
Bergedorf Castle played an important role in the identity of the Saxe-Mölln division of Saxe-Lauenburg, with John III gaining it in 1321 and his successors losing it through their own desperate need for money in 1363

1308 - 1361

Eric I of Saxe-Lauenburg

Former co-ruler, now alone. Abdicated some responsibilies?

1355 - 1356

Emperor Charles IV issues his Golden Bull at the end of 1355. It lays down the redrafted laws for the Holy Roman empire, one of which stipulates the role of primogeniture, ensuring that only the eldest son or the valid next in line succeeds to a title and its territory.

Rudolf I and Saxe-Wittenberg are confirmed as the elector and electorate of Saxony respectively. Saxe-Lauenburg in its currently-divided format as Saxe-Mölln-Bergedorf and Saxe-Ratzeburg now formally loses any right to the role, along with the privileges it confers. Rudolf dies in March 1356, but his son is able to succeed him as prince-elector of Saxony.

1361 - 1368

Eric II of Saxe-Lauenburg

Son. May have largely assumed command from 1338.

1361

The first two rulers in Saxe-Ratzeburg to use the name Eric are the first Saxon rulers at all with that name. The third of their number is accounted for by the duke of Saxe-Mölln-Bergedorf, with the later Eric IV continuing the joint numbering.

1368 - 1401

Eric IV of Saxe-Lauenburg

Son. Ruled a reunited Saxe-Ratzeburg-Lauenburg from 1401.

1401

The senior line of Saxe-Lauenburg's dukes in Saxe-Mölln-Bergedorf ends with the death of Eric III. With no direct heir, his territories revert to Eric IV and the next most-senior duke. Eric IV is able to enjoy a fully reunified territory which is generally referred to as Saxe-Ratzeburg-Lauenburg.

Duchy of Saxe-Ratzeburg-Lauenburg / Saxe-Lauenburg
1401 - 1689

The once great duchy and kingdom of Saxony had been gradually reduced over the centuries. It came to be focussed over what is now eastern Germany and areas of western Poland and Czech Republic. But even then the act of sub-dividing the remaining territory between siblings did not cease. Division into the two halves of Saxe-Lauenburg and Saxe-Wittenberg was confirmed in 1296. The latter eventually succeeded in gaining permanent use of the lucrative and important title, 'Elector of Saxony'.

During and after this same period, the three jointly-ruling electors of Saxe-Lauenburg were gradually sorting out the eventual official division of their own lands. This division was confirmed in 1305, creating Saxe-Mölln and Saxe-Ratzeburg. It was the eldest of the three brothers, John II, who commanded the senior Lauenburg line from Saxe-Mölln, while his two younger brothers formed the junior Lauenburg line in Saxe-Ratzeburg. When John's ruling descendant died in 1401 without a suitable heir, his surviving lands and titles reverted to the heirs of the junior branch, in the form of Eric IV of Saxe-Lauenburg. He recombined them in the form of Saxe-Ratzeburg-Launenburg as it was generally known, although the 'Ratzeburg' could often be dropped in favour of 'Saxe-Lauenburg'.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), from Albrecht der Bär, Lutz Partenheimer (Böhlau Verlag, 2003, in German), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and from Encyclopaedia.com, and Cranach Digital Archive (in German and English), and Special Collections (University of Arizona), and Saxe-Lauenbergers (Geneanet).)

1401 - 1412

Eric IV

Former duke of Saxe-Ratzeburg. Co-ruled with his sons.

1401

One of Eric's first acts following the death of his cousin, and his own rightful acquisition of those lands and titles as the acknowledged successor, concerns territories which had effectively been pawned by Albert VI (V) and Eric III of Saxe-Mölln-Bergedorf. Eric and his two sons capture by force those areas which had been pawned, before the city of Lübeck is able to take possession of them.

Lubeck city gates
The medieval Hanseatic town of Lübeck was rich and powerful, and seemingly more than a political match for Saxe-Lauenburg in its various attempts to raise funds or expand its territory

Lübeck acquiesces and Saxe-Ratzeburg-Lauenburg is now fully reunited. However, the co-dukes have their own share of money problems, and various parcels of the territory have to be pawned over the lifetime of Eric IV.

1412 - 1436

Eric V

Son. Joint ruler with his father. Ruled alone from 1414.

1412 - 1414

John IV

Brother. Ruled jointly with brother and father. Died aged 36.

1414

John IV dies just two years into his joint rule of Saxe-Lauenburg alongside his brother. His numbering continues from that of John III of Saxe-Mölln-Bergedorf. The fact that he is 'only' a joint ruler (and a younger brother too) means that not all sources recognise him as a duke at all. In such cases the numbering for successive dukes with the same name ignores this John IV and puts John V in his place. Correct numbering is shown below, with the reduced numbering shown in parenthesis.

1420

Eric attacks Frederick I, elector of Brandenburg, with the result that the now-established enemy of Saxe-Lauenburg - Lübeck - gains Hamburg in an alliance in support of Brandenburg. Forces from both cities open a second front which sees them swiftly capture Bergedorf, along with Riepenburg Castle and the toll station on the River Esslingen.

Eric is forced to agree the Peace of Perleberg on 23 August 1420. All of those areas which he and his father have pawned, including those which had been recaptured by force in 1401, are now irrevocably lost to Hamburg and Lübeck.

1422

Albert of Saxe-Wittenberg has ruled the impoverished electorate for just three years before a hunting accident now kills him. He is the last of the Ascanians. With no heir, the emperor cedes the electorate to Margrave Frederick I of Meissen, creating a Wettin electorate of Saxony. This is protested by Eric V in the hope that he can regain the electorate for his branch of Saxony's royalty, but to no avail.

The Hussite wars
As a staunch supporter of Emperor Sigismund, king of Bohemia, Frederick the Warlike, the new Wettin prince-elector of Saxony, found himself caught up in the Hussite wars

1436 - 1463

Bernhard II (IV)

Brother. Co-ruler with Eric from 1426.

1436

The numbering for Bernard II continues from that of Bernard III (II) of Saxony, previously Bernhard I, count of Anhalt and Ballenstedt. This numbering ignores the earlier two Bernards of the Billung dynasty of Saxon rulers, although the territory of Saxony at that time had been notably greater, extending farther north and west. In one source he is (correctly) shown as Bernhard IV.

1463 - 1507

John V (IV)

Son.

1499

As regent of the Saxon region of Hadeln, Magnus, son of John V, had failed in 1484 in his attempted conquest of the rich land of Wursten, a Frisian de facto autonomous region in the Weser estuary, roughly midway between Denmark and the northern border of the Netherlands.

Now a renewed attempt to conquer Wursten is undertaken. The ongoing opposition to the Saxe-Lauenburgers immediately unites, in the form of the prince-archbishopric of Bremen, Ditmarsh, and the cities of Bremen, Buxtehude, Hamburg, and Stade. Suddenly the attempt is going disastrously wrong, with high casualties for Saxe-Lauenburg. A mediated peace is agreed by 1500.

1507 - 1543

Magnus I

Son. Became Lutheran in 1531.

1531

Many of the empire's princes and lords are organised by Elector John and Duke Philip I of Hesse 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.

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)

1543 - 1581

Francis / Franz I

Son. Briefly stepped down in favour of Magnus II in 1571.

1570

Signed in 1570, the Stettin Peace Treaty stipulates that Sweden is supposed to return to Denmark its holding of Maasi Castle in the duchy of Ösel, along with its surrounding territory, but the act is delayed. John III of Sweden fails to respect the peace treaty.

In 1575 he gives Maasi Castle to 'Duke Magnus of Saxe-Lauenburg', who is allied to Sweden (a problematical assertion as Franz I is the current duke. His son, the future Magnus II, is the probable candidate here). Magnus arrives on Ösel in the same year, promptly taking over Maasi Castle and, somewhat later, the neighbouring Muhu island as well. While there, he imprisons the Danish Praetor Claus (Klaus) von Ungern but soon releases him and leaves Ösel.

As a response, Ungern surrounds the Swedish-held Maasi Castle. A few days later the city's defenders surrender thanks to a large fire breaking out in the castle. As the Swedes had easily been able to capture it not once but twice, the castle is blown up in 1576 upon the orders of Frederik II of Denmark.

Map of German states AD 1560
Introduced in 1560, the system of imperial states replaced the now-outdated feudal system, with an imperial circle ('reichskreis') being a regional grouping of the imperial states (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1581 - 1585

Magnus II

Son. Briefly held Maasi Castle on Ösel. Died 1603.

1581 - 1585

Having been duke in 1571-1573 when his father had briefly stepped down, Magnus now asserts his right to rule. Francis, his younger brother, is the designated heir, going against the rules of primogeniture. It takes until 1585 to get an imperial ruling on the matter, which sides with Francis in return for certain promises and obligations. Magnus is soon captured and imprisoned until his death in 1603.

1581 - 1612

Maurice

Brother. Ruled jointly with Magnus and then Francis.

1585 - 1619

Francis / Franz II

Younger brother. Sole ruler from 1612.

1619 - 1656

August

Son. Outlived all his own sons.

1630 - 1632

Sweden enters the Thirty Years' War in summer 1630, albeit without Saxe-Meissen or Saxe-Lauenburg taking part. August does, though, have to billet foreign troops who pass through his lands, as well as caring for their sick and wounded. The financial burden this places on the duchy, never rich anyway, is considerable.

French troops during the Thirty Years War
The onset of the Thirty Years War was marked by the newly-elected Holy Roman emperor, Ferdinand II, imposing religious uniformity on all his lands, which meant that all Protestants would have to covert - an impossible demand

1656 - 1665

Julius Heinrich

Half-brother. Attempted to prevent territorial fragmentation.

1665 - 1666

Francis / Franz Erdmann

Son. Died without an heir.

1666 - 1689

Julius Franz

Half-brother. No male heir. Duchy passed to daughter.

1689

The death of Julius Franz without a male heir has been planned for, despite the male Ascanian line now being extinct. However, two of his daughters and one of their cousins all contest the succession. In the end the duchy passes out of Saxon hands to the descendants of Saxony's own former Welfs, in the form of Georg Wilhelm, duke of Brunswick, elector of Hanover, and father of the future George I of England. He invades and captures it, dispossessing the daughters. The takeover is imperially legitimised in 1728.

1814

Brunswick has lost control of Saxe-Lauenburg during the various administrative changes wrought by Napoleon Bonaparte during the Napoleonic Wars period. Now the Brunswick-descended heir, Prince George, prince regent of Great Britain, agrees to pass on Saxe-Lauenburg to his cousin in Denmark as part of the new German Confederation.

1866

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. Austria is crushed in just seven weeks (giving the conflict its alternative title of the Seven Weeks' War), and Prussia is now unquestionably dominant.

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

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, along with the free city of Frankfurt. Prussia also subsumes Schleswig and Holstein, and forces Saxe-Lauenburg into personal union (annexation in all but name, which turns into fact in 1876).