Friday, December 31, 2010

Tudoring Angevin Normans on Dynastology (England)

Today completes my series of fifty-one dynastology posts, begun long ago at the beginning of 2010. Through this series, I have presented dozens of different dynasties from around the world, terms that help describe dynastic politics, and theories that explain the importance of dynastology today. It has been fun, but the reason I am ending is because it has also become work. With me working nearly 35 hours a week, taking 6 units of classes, doing daily exercises, volunteering once a week at the SLV Museum, helping and going to church and youth group weekly, hosting a game night every Tuesday, and publishing a Zam Wesell comic each week, I just don't have the time any more to do these posts. They take up quite a bit of my time once a week and, while they are informative, I want to have a little bit of my free time back. I still will post a dynastology every once in a while when I'm in the mood, but the weekly posts cease after this.

Sorry for those of you who really enjoyed them. I still have plans for the posts. First and foremost, I want to go back and republish these posts on a Blogger blog I've set up. It still needs some work, but after doing this for a year, I feel I can probably go back and expand and edit the posts to be more consistent with my theories and terminology. Also, it will allow me to add more images to all the posts, which I don't think anyone will object to. Second, at some point I hope to publish a book on my theories. This is probably a very long-term goal but it's something I feel strongly about. If I ever go for a PhD, dynastology in some form or another will be my dissertation topic and the focus of my studies. Finally, if I ever get the opportunity to teach at a university, I want to teach a special interests class on this topic. I don't even need to be published to do it since there are already numerous books on the topic I could use. I've even done up a syllabus for a fictional class on dynastology (it is for my resume).

But, let's be honest, you are reading this post because you want to hear about dynastology, not my hopes and dreams for the future. Therefore, I am ending on the highest note I can think of: the triple dynasties of the Normans, Angevin-Plantagenets, and the Tudors. The three of them encompass over 500 years of English history, from the Norman Conquest to the personal union with Scotland. But the three also encompass a period of English history that, although separated into dynasties, is almost continuous with the same ruling styles and goals. I will explain more of this as we survey these three houses and their monarchs.

The House of Norman
The Normans were newcomers to Europe. They emerged as Christianized Vikings who settled down in northern France along the English Channel. The first such Norman dukes spread out from northern France and ended up conquering about a quarter of Gaul before settling down and plotting further expansions. England became their prime target, although Brittany, Aquitaine, and Gascony were all on their minds as well.

Harold II, last Anglo-Saxon king of EnglandThe political situation in England shattered following Cnut's Danish conquest of the early 1000s. While he reorganized the government and centralized it, he didn't live long enough to reestablish order. His son, Harald, took over England and ruled ruthlessly for a short time following Cnut's death. Harthacnut, Harald’s half-brother, followed after and restored some of the order. He also returned England to local rule after his death. Edward the Confessor, who lived at the Norman court for many years, became the first Anglo-Saxon king of England in two decades. His pacifist reign gave much power to the Anglo lords and decentralized the government once again. But England was united mostly and when Edward died in 1066, Harold II, his brother-in-law and former chief minister, came to rule the country. The problem: Edward had promised the throne to William the Bastard, duke of Normandy, during his stay at the Norman court, and Harold had promised to back that claim when he was shipwrecked and stranded in Normandy some years later. William was not happy when Harold took the English throne, and so came the Norman Conquest.

William the Conqueror, first Norman king of EnglandThe Norman Conquest was brief and decisive. Harold, weakened by a Norwegian invasion in the north, was unable to gather enough forces to defeat William in the south. He was killed at the Battle of Hastings. The Anglo Wittengot (an early parliament) elected the young Edgar to replace Harold, but William forced Edgar to step down almost immediately. William restructured the English state. He invited his conquering followers and their families to England, gave them large estates throughout the country, and slowly but surely pushed the Anglo-Saxons to the background. Within 50 years, there were almost no Anglo-Saxon lords left in England, although many of their titles had passed to Franco-Norman lords. The Doomsday Census recorded the entire population of England, including parts of southern Scotland and the Welsh marches. It changed the balance of the early House of Lords decisively in favor of the Normans. The House of Norman became firmly established as the ultimate rulers of England.

William II Rufus, king of EnglandWhen William died, a succession dispute arose over the next king. This would be the first of many that would infect the English monarchy over the next 500 years. William the Conqueror was succeeded by William Rufus ("the Red"), but his reign was in conflict constantly with his brother, Robert Curthose, who ruled in Normandy. When William was assassinated, his youngest brother, Henry I, became the next king. According to an agreement between Robert and William II, Robert should have inherited England following William's death.

Henry I, king of EnglandBut Henry was in England at the time and Robert was on crusade, so Henry seized the English crown and later invaded Normandy, taking it from his quarrelsome elder brother. In 1106, Henry defeated his brother and placed him in prison for the rest of his life. Henry annexed Normandy to the English crown in perpetuity. William Clito, Robert's son, never was able to reclaim either of his ancestral lands, but did receive the duchy of Flanders for year in return for services rendered to the French king. With Clito's death, the English monarchy was completely in Henry I's hands.

Stephen of Blois, king of EnglandSo, naturally, another problem had to develop. In 1120, the "White Ship" sank in the English Channel, killing Henry I's only legal son and two of his illegitimate sons. His daughter, Matilda, became his heir, but she would have become the first reigning queen of England. Instead, the English barons supported the cause of Stephen of Blois, a nephew of Henry I, son of Henry's sister Adele. Stephen was the count of Boulogne, the second son of Stephen, count of Blois. His elder brother, Theobald, had no desire to be the English king, so Stephen volunteered himself and usurped the throne from Matilda. His reign began peacefully enough, with only the typical Scottish and Welsh revolts to quell. By 1139, though, Matilda had landed in England and begun a period of English history known as The Anarchy. The clergy had deserted Stephen and the barons were split between him and Matilda.

Matilda, Lady of the EnglishStephen was imprisoned in 1141 and Matilda was the de facto Queen of England for a few brief months. But politics forced her to trade Stephen for her lieutenant, the Earl of Gloucester, and Stephen reclaimed the throne. Matilda was forced to escape England but a few years later, the two came to an agreement wherein Matilda's son, Henry, would inherit the throne following Stephen's death. Stephen's sons were passed over in the succession but one became the next count of Blois.

The House of Anjou, commonly known as the House of Plantagenet
Henry II, king of EnglandMatilda had married into the rival Angevin family, which fought constantly with the Normans during much of the 11th and 12th centuries. With the succession passing to Henry II, however, Anjou and Normandy were reconciled and placed under one ruler. The Angevin family was quite influential in French and Crusader politics. Henry II's grandfather, Fulk V, had fathered multiple lines of descent. His eldest, the counts of Anjou, became the kings of England. The next line became the counts of Maine. The younger two sons became kings of Jerusalem, with the youngest holding that line for a few generations. All-in-all, the House of Anjou was already prestigious before Henry II ever became the first Angevin king of England.

Richard the Lionheart, king of EnglandThe Angevins are probably the best-known kings of England. Henry's sons provide the background setting for the myths around Robin Hood, for example. Richard the Lionheart was Henry's immediate successor, although Henry had an elder son, also named Henry, who died just a month before the king's death. Richard was a rebellious prince and a greedy king, who sought harsh taxes on the English people to fight losing wars against Muslims in the Holy Land. He left the country under the authority of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, a woman famous for bringing concepts of French chivalry to England. Eleanor had also brought considerable lands to the English crown, with Aquitaine joining Anjou and Normandy.

John Lackland, king of EnglandWhen Richard died, John took the throne, being the elder and more experienced of the two possible heirs. But his young nephew, Arthur, who was the only son of his elder brother, Geoffrey, was proclaimed count of Anjou, Maine and Brittany. Philip II of France fought against John on behalf of Arthur but the young prince failed to gain any lands for long. But John failed to uphold his dues to his various French possessions and Philip declared all his French lands except Gascony forfeit. John immediately declared war on France and a long war ensued. Arthur was eventually captured and probably murdered by John in 1203. John also imprisoned his niece, Eleanor, sister of Arthur and heir to Brittany. After many years of high taxation and and conflict with France and the Catholic church, the barons rebelled against John. In 1215, English barons with their Welsh and Scottish allies surrounded John's forces and forced him to sign the Magna Carta (Great Charter) which established the modern House of Lords with 25 lords. John immediately contacted the pope and renounced the Magna Carta, claiming he signed it under duress. But the barons rebelled again and staged the First Barons' War, which saw Prince Louis of France (later Louis VIII) become King Louis of England in opposition to John. Two thirds of the barons, one third of the English countryside, and the king of Scotland all paid homage to Louis. John died soon after and the barons decided they'd rather have John's young son Henry III be king rather than the French heir.

Henry III, king of EnglandLouis renounced his claim the next year and is generally not regarded as king in English king lists. Henry III spent the first decade of his life under a regency that saw baronal power expand exponentially. He spent the remainder of his reign trying to figure out just how much power he had left. He failed completely to retake Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine from France, and he was forced to call his first parliament in 1264 which saw almost the complete abolition of the English monarchy. The House of Commons was unofficially founded in this time when Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, expanded parliament to include local communities. Despite a rocky relationship with his son, Henry III was succeeded by Edward I without opposition, the first such transition of power since the Norman conquest.

Edward Longshanks, king of England and Lord Protector of ScotlandEdward Longshanks is yet another well-known English monarch thanks to his participation in the Scottish War of Independence. Edward spent the first decade of his reign ending independent Welsh rule and balancing the parliament-monarch relationship into something that would work for the next three hundred years. Next, he decided that the succession problem in Scotland provided a perfect opportunity to take over the northern kingdom. Scotland’s child queen, Margaret, had died on her voyage from Norway in 1285. That left the kingdom with plenty of claimants and no legal heirs. Edward was invited to help in the selection but instead claimed lordship over the kingdom. He supported the selection of John Balliol as king but the Scots rebelled and Edward deposed John in 1296. Scotland remained a rebellious province of England until 1308 when it finally asserted its full independence from England with the coronation of Robert the Bruce. Edward died a year earlier, however, leaving England in the hands of his incompetent son, Edward II.

Edward II, king of EnglandThe reign of Edward II was so disastrous that it hardly merits mention in this history. He began his reign losing all control of Scotland. He failed to subdue Welsh and Scottish revolts. His probable homosexuality forced his wife and children away from him, and when they returned, they deposed the king. Isabella, his wife, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, earl of March, returned to England in 1326 and forced Edward out of London. Edward was eventually captured, imprisoned, and forced to abdicate in 1327. His son, Edward III, replaced him on the throne with a regency established by Isabella and Mortimer. Edward II was secretly murdered a few months later, probably under the direction of the regents.

Edward III, king of England and pretender to FranceEdward III's regency lasted only as long as it had to. As soon as Edward was competent enough to manage the government himself, he tossed off his mom and her lover and had Mortimer thoroughly executed. Edward transformed the legislature into much the system we see today, although the House of Lords remained dominant. In 1338, Edward declared himself the true heir to the Kingdom of France due to conflicts he had with the country and his place in France's primogeniture line of succession (the French, meanwhile, decided to follow Salic Law). This claim prompted the 118-year Hundred Years War. Over the course of his reign, he reconquered much of Normandy, Aquitaine, Brittany, and the rest of France in a lightning campaign that returned England to the glories of William the Conqueror. His only major failure was dying before his grandson could reach maturity.

Richard II, king of EnglandRichard II was the son of Edward the Black Prince of Wales. Edward had predeceased his father while on campaign in France and Richard was too young to rule on his own. A council of regents was selected because otherwise, his uncle John of Gaunt would have been the only logical regent. Gaunt still controlled the government for much of Richard's early reign. Richard's personal rule was generally peaceful but the final two years undid everything. He took revenge on some of his former regents, having many executed, and his most disastrous action was disinheriting Gaunt's son, Henry, from the throne in 1399. Henry invaded England later that year and deposed Richard II, crowning himself Henry IV instead. Richard died in captivity the following year under suspicious circumstances.

Henry IV Bolingbroke, king of EnglandHenry IV was the first in a line of kings that would be known as theHouse of Lancaster. They were in reality just the line of Edward III's third son, John of Gaunt. His second son, Lionel of Antwerp, had died many years earlier but survived through a grandson, Edmund Mortimer, and his sister, Anne. This line stayed in the background for many years but would reemerge. Most of Henry's reign was spent quelling rebellions, including that of an upstart prince in Wales and a rebellion led by Henry's son. He also spent considerable time trying to continue the fight in France, where things had stalemated since Richard's reign. His son, Henry V, succeeded him.

Henry V, king of England and FranceHenry V was the only king of England that could actually claim to be king of France as well. His short ten-year reign saw almost all victories in the war against France. In 1417, the Treaty of Troyes saw Henry V become the heir and regent of France, with the king marrying Catherine of Valois, the daughter of the French king. Unfortunately, Henry V died two months before the French king, leaving the future of both England and France in the hands of an infant, Henry VI.

Henry VI, king of England and FranceHenry VI, despite his age, was crowned king of France at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1431. This was done in opposition to Charles VII, who was crowned two years earlier at Rheims Cathedral. Joan of Arc had made significant military advances against France and, although Henry VI was the legal king of France, the French were beginning to rally around Charles VII. Internal intrigue began to infect the House of Lancaster during this time: fights between the earls of Somerset, illegitimate descendants of John of Gaunt, and the dukes of York, descendants of Edward III's fourth son, came to the forefront of politics. Henry's favoritism toward his Somerset cousins was a bad mistake that ultimately cost England France. Because of these politics, by 1453 the Hundred Years War was over and Calais remained the only French possession in English hands. Henry fell into insanity and York took over the government. Despite Henry's return to sanity, York had convinced many that his claim to the throne was stronger than Henry's. Richard of York, you see, was the son of Anne Mortimer, descended from the line of Edward III's second son Lionel of Antwerp. Richard was killed in 1460, but his son, Edward, took on the cause and deposed Henry VI in 1461.

Edward VI, king of EnglandEdward IV ruled an England in chaos for nine years. In 1470, the forces of Henry VI briefly kicked Edward IV off the throne and reclaimed the country for Lancaster, but it was short-lived. Henry VI was killed and Edward IV returned to power. When Edward reclaimed the throne in 1470, the House of York returned to business as usual. Things went smoothly until 1483 when Edward IV fell fatally ill and left the country in the hands of his ambitious brother, Richard III.

Richard III, king of EnglandTechnically, Edward V followed Edward IV to the throne. Edward V, though, was a minor and was sent to the Tower of London soon after he became king and was never seen again. His uncle, Richard III, took the government upon himself, but the people of England did not trust Richard and saw him as a murderer and liar. In 1485, a rebellion began led by Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond. At the Battle of Bosworth Field, Richard III died in open combat and Henry took the crown as Henry VII.

The House of Tudor
So, we come to the last dynasty of this trilogy. How exactly is the House of Tudor part of the overarching Norman-Angevin-Tudor dynasty? Quite simply, it is because Henry VII was more Angevin than Tudor. His wife, Elizabeth of York, was Angevin, and so all his children were 1/2 Angevin. His mother was a Beaufort, the daughter of John Beaufort, duke of Somerset, of the illegitimate line of John of Gaunt. Thus he was 1/2 Angevin. And what of his father, Edmund Tudor? Edmund was the result of a illegal liaison between Owen Tudor, a Welsh soldier, and Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry V of England and one-time regent of Henry VI. Thus, Henry VII was 1/2 Angevin and 1/4 French royalty. That makes Henry VIII 3/4 Angevin and 1/8 French royalty. So, you see, although the male-line of the Tudors descends from a Welsh soldier, all the female lines are royalty supreme. Did I forget to mention that Edmund Tudor's father may have actually been another duke of Somerset, thus making Edmund Tudor an Angevin, rather than Tudor, instead? Well, that is a strong possibility as well since Catherine of Valois had a number of possible lovers at that time. Not the best formula for a king, but it definitely worked for the Tudors.

Henry VII Tudor, king of EnglandAnd so Henry VII set off to establish his dynasty. He made sure that his mother's line was emphasized so that he would be seen as the legitimate English monarch in spite of his marriage to Elizabeth of York. And he had to use this twice because he had to fight in 1487 against armies supporting Lambert Simnel, a boy claiming to be a Yorkist heir. Simnel was pardoned and became a servant in the royal kitchens. Another upstart in 1490, though, was less lucky. Perkin Warbeck also claimed to be a Yorkist heir and persuaded people in France and Scotland to invade England for his cause. But Henry captured the upstart in 1497 and had the bloke executed. Two years later, Henry executed the last remaining true Yorkist heir, the Earl of Warwick, and the male line of the Angevin family ended at last. The remainder of Henry's reign went well, although he lost his heir, Arthur, in 1502. Henry died in 1509 and Henry VIII took over.

Henry VIII, king of EnglandHenry VIII is famous for many things, but his wives usually take the cake. Henry married his brother's widow Catherine of Aragon, sister of Queen Juana of Castile. Despite stereotypes, Henry was actually a very well-built and attractive king until his later years and he stayed loyal to Catherine for more than 20 years before temptation drove him away. He also remained a Catholic even after he broke away from the church, even persecuting Calvinists and Lutherans. Henry very hesitantly broke with the Catholic Church in 1532, using the break mostly to nationalize church property and make divorce a state issue. He divorced Catherine and married Anne Boleyn, the sister of his former mistress Mary Boleyn. When Anne proved incapable of producing a male heir (she birthed Elizabeth soon after their marriage), Henry waited until Catherine of Aragon had died and then had Anne executed as a traitor. The same year, Henry married Jane Seymour who died in childbirth giving Henry his only surviving son, Edward. At the same time, Henry annexed Wales to England permanently, a state in which Wales still exists today. Henry married Anne of Cleves by proxy soon after Jane's death, but when Anne arrived he had the marriage annulled since Anne didn't look much like her portrait. In 1540, Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, but Catherine soon after had an affair with another courtier and Henry had her executed two years later. His last wife, Catherine Parr, was a liberal church reformer who cheated death only by outliving her husband. Henry VIII died in 1547, having been reconciled to his two daughters not long before his departure.

Edward VI, king of EnglandEdward VI, Henry's son, never truly ruled England. He came to the throne as a child and died a teenager, still under a regency. The regency was first headed by his uncle, Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, but Seymour was eventually deposed and replaced by John Dudley, duke of Northumberland. England remained in turmoil over the reformation crisis Henry VIII had caused. The Church of England had yet to be standardized and organized and Edward's regents took it upon themselves to do so. Thomas Cramer published the Book of Common Prayer during Edward's reign, the only real lasting legacy of this short time period. Edward died in 1553, leaving the succession, under coercion, to his cousin Jane Grey, a Protestant descendant of his great aunt.

"Bloody" Mary I, queen regnant of EnglandJane Grey's reign lasted no more than thirteen days. She became queen upon Edward's death, but Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, stormed into London and imprisoned the teenage queenling. Mary's reign was marked with Catholic reprisals against England's move toward Protestantism. Anyone who was intelligent feigned Catholicism during her reign, but some, such as Cramer, still suffered execution under her orders. Mary had married the Catholic king of Spain, Philip II, who became England's only King Regent. Philip, however, was disinterested in English politics and thus rarely visited England. Mary's biggest failure, although rarely remembered, was losing Calais at last to the French, the last fragment of an empire that once claimed the throne of France. Mary died in 1558, only five years into her reign, leaving England in the hands of its last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth I "the Virgin Queen" of EnglandElizabeth I needs no introduction. She is as famous as any monarch in English history, and for good reason. Over the course of her forty-five year reign, she established the Church of England as the ultimate religious authority in England. She restored the order that had fallen apart under her father by rebuilding parliament into a system that could survive royal successions and decide matters of state. She also began the most famous period of the English Renaissance by supporting theatre, arts, and culture throughout her kingdom. By the 1580s, she was pursuing imperial expansion beyond the seas toward the New World, rather than focusing on France as her predecessors all had. Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe during her reign. Shakespeare wrote many of his plays for her court. Raleigh established the first short-lived colony in Virginia (named after Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen). Her death in 1603 ended an era established in 1066 by William the Conqueror. The throne passed to the Stuarts of the Kingdom of Scotland, and English history would never be the same again.

By the reign of Elizabeth I, England had come full circle. In 1066, William had conquered England for his native land of Normandy. By 1603, England was the powerbase with no lands left in France but sights set on another continent entirely. English was the language of the state, not French. The Catholic Church had left England while in 1066 England was Catholic to its core. The Norman-Angevin-Tudor progression is atypical of other European dynasties which saw consolidation during this time but not multiple generations of civil and succession strife. Yet somehow England survived it all and the chaos that began the era ended with a single unified state that encompassed not only England, but Wales and Ireland as well. This period of English history is a testament to the study of dynastology and everything dynasties can achieve over time.

Conclusion
With that I end my study of dynasties. Thank you for spending your time reading all of these posts. I know this last one was probably my longest, but I also enjoyed writing it a lot. Please check back for future posts as I may write some more when my mind wanders. Have a Happy New Year and God Bless!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Many Varied Dynasties of the First Two German Reichs (Germany)

There is a whole lot to cover today, so I am going to change my formatting around a little bit for this penultimate dynastology. Today I will be covering the various dynasties that ruled the Holy Roman Empire and German Empire from the rise of the Ottonians to the fall of the German Empire in 1918. I will not in any way be able to cover everything and in many places, I will be quickly summarizing. This is intentional. I want to cover the dynastic history mostly and am leaving much of the history out of this post. Hopefully it will be both enjoyable and enlightening. Now, on to the dynasties!
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The Holy Roman Empire at its Height, c. 970
The Ottonian Dynasty
Founder: Liudolf, Count of Saxony before 866 

Most Famous Monarch: Otto I the Great, Holy Roman Emperor 962 – 973 

Ruled: Saxony, Bavaria, the Holy Roman Empire 

Claim to Fame: The Ottonians restored the Roman Empire that Charlemagne had founded 150 years earlier. The Carolingian line had died out many years prior to the reign of Henry the Fowler, the first King of Germany of the Ottonian line. Otto the Great was instrumental in the unification of the Eastern Frankish states into a single entity, which became known soon after as the Holy Roman Empire.  

Last monarch: St. Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, who died in 1024 (Henry II was also the only German Emperor to ever be canonized) 

What Happened? The dynasty simply died out because Henry II had taken a vow of chastity. The line passed to the Salian Dynasty, which were distant cousins of Henry II. 
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The Salian Dynasty
Henry IV, Holy Roman EmperorFounder: Conrad the Red, duke of Lorraine until 955

Most Famous Monarch: Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor 1084 – 1106

Ruled: Lorraine, Carinthia, Speyer, the Papacy, the Holy Roman Empire

Claim to Fame: The dynasty linked the Holy Roman Empire closely with the Catholic Church, which caused a lot of problems with the next dynasty. The Investiture Controversy  was a conflict between the Pope and Emperor over who had true control over appointing (investing) religious leaders in Imperial land. Oddly, the end result wasn't just the loss of control over much of Italy, but a loss of control over vassal states within the Empire itself.

Last monarch: Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor 1111 to 1125

What Happened? Henry V died in combat. He had no legitimate heirs so the line died out. His designated heir was Frederick II of Swabia, his nephew, and so the line passed to him.

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 The House of Hohenstaufen
Frederick I Barbarossa, Holy Roman EmperorFounder: Frederick I, duke of Swabia until 1105

Most Famous Monarch: Frederick I Barbarossa ("the Red Beard"), Holy Roman Emperor 1155 – 1190
Ruled: Swabia, Sicily, the Holy Roman Empire

Claim to Fame: Barbarossa was known as a ruthless fighter who spent his entire life in war and accomplished virtually nothing for it. He invaded Italy with a huge army only to be slowly pushed back. His traditional allies in northern Italy worked against him and, despite being crowned emperor by the pope, he never managed to assert imperial authority over the Catholic Church or the Empire itself. Barbarossa ended up dying in the Holy Land while on crusade, leaving his family squabbling over its ruins.

Last monarch: Conradin, king of Sicily until 1268 and titular Holy Roman Emperor

What happened? Conradin was executed as a traitor after being excommunicated by the pope. The Kingdom of Sicily was divided between the Angevins and Aragonese, Swabia disintegrated and was incorporated into several neighboring states, and the Holy Roman Empire fell into nineteen years of civil war. The emperor never had absolute power again.

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The House of Este-Welf, commonly known as Guelph
Founder: Welf I, duke of Bavaria until 1101

Most Famous Monarch: Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria until 1195

Ruled: Bavaria, Saxony, Brunswick, Great Britain, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Hanover
Lands of the Guelph dynasty, c. 1165
Claim to Fame: The Welf family has many claims to fame, but I will only discuss two. The first is that of Henry the Lion. Henry tried desperately to conquer and unify Saxony and Bavaria, two of his ancestral duchies. If completed, it would have made him the most powerful monarch in Germany. Henry failed, though, by alienating pretty much everyone else in Germany. When Frederick Barbarossa came around, Henry lost everything. He was exiled to Normandy as a landless royal in 1180 but returned three years later to secure some vestige of his short-lived empire. Henry was exiled again and only returned once Barbarossa was dead. He ravaged his former lands for a few years before contenting himself with the small duchy of Brunswick, which would remain the family's core unit until 1866.

Last Monarch: Ernst August III, duke of Brunswick until 1918

What happened? Power shifted from Hanover to the United Kingdom in the 18th and 19th centuries, leaving Hanover poor and neglected. When attention did return to the duchy, it was too late and the German Empire took it over. Wilhelm II granted Brunswick to one last Welf in 1913, but the empire fell soon after. The dynasty still continues, but no longer rules any country.
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The House of Luxembourg
The Seven Imperial Electors voting for Henry VII of LuxembourgFounder: Waleran I, count of Limburg from 1065 – 1082

Most Famous Monarch: Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor 1355 – 1378

Ruled: Limburg, Lorraine, Bohemia, the Holy Roman Empire

Claim to Fame: It was Charles IV who promulgated the Golden Bull of 1356, setting in place the rules of the election of future emperors. He also was one of the most well-recognized emperors in Imperial history. He was elected King of the Romans twice: the first time was as an anti-emperor against Louis IV; the second was to confirm the earlier election after Louis died. He was crowned King of Italy and Holy Roman Emperor. He also was crowned King of Burgundy, something that was rarely done by the 14th century.

Last Monarch: Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor 1433 – 1437

What happened? Sigismund didn't produce any sons and so all his territories passed to his daughter, Elisabeth, who married Albert von Habsburg and helped empower the Habsburgs to take control of the empire a few decades later.
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The House of Vaudemont, commonly divided as Habsburg-Lorraine and Hesse

Charles, Emperor of Austria and King of HungaryFounder: Adalbert, duke of Upper Lorraine from 1047 – 1048

Most Famous Monarch: Francis Ferdinand, Archduke and Heir of Austria 1889 – 1914

Ruled: Metz, Lorraine, Bar, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Hesse

Claim to Fame: The fame of the House of Vaudemont is that people who DIDN'T rule are more famous than those who did. Like Marie Antoinette, the queen of Louis XVI of France who probably did not say "Let them eat cake!" when French protesters were laying siege to Versailles and who lost her head a few years later. Yeah, she's not exactly the most important historical figure but I can guarantee you most people know her more than the name of her father, Francis I of Austria. Another famous Vaudemont was Franz Ferdinand, the most common answer to "Whose assassination caused World War I?" Franz wasn't even close to being Austrian emperor yet and no one knows the name of royal heirs in history. He is only important because his death led to a massive world war. I'd like to know more about the Hessians...and not just their participation as mercenaries in the American Revolutionary War...

Last Monarch: Charles, Emperor of Austria 1916 – 1918; Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse(-Darmstadt) 1892 – 1918

What happened? The same fate that befell the German Empire befell the two distant branches of the House of Vaudemont. Ernest Louis was forced to abdicate after serving for four years in the German military. The Hesse grand duchy quickly joined the Weimar Republic. Charles likewise didn't abdicate, but he did step down from being the head of state of both Austria and Hungary, leaving the decision of his abdication to the people. After Austria & Hungary declared themselves republics two months later, Charles and his family left. Both the Hessian and Habsburg-Lorraine lines continue to provide pretenders to the thrones, the current pretender to Austria being the now-ancient Dr. Otto von Habsburg, who just turned 98 years old.
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The House of Wettin

Leopold I, King of the BelgiansFounder: Dietrich I, count in Liesgau until c. 982 

Most Famous Monarch: Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland since 1952 

Ruled: Thuringia, Saxony, Poland, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Bulgaria, Belgium 

Claim to Fame: Perhaps the most interesting thing about the House of Wettin is that it never became an imperial dynasty. Indeed, it was one of the most powerful and influential families in Germany for many centuries, yet never succeeded in obtaining the imperial throne. The family's two branches both led interesting lives—one as imperial electors right up to the end in 1806 when they declared Saxony a kingdom, and one that continued to subdivide until magically the family began ruling the United Kingdom, Portugal, Bulgaria, and Belgium...in addition to all the small territories in Germany.

Last Monarch: There isn't one! Elizabeth II still rules in the United Kingdom and Albert II still rules in Belgium. Pretenders from Saxony and Bulgaria still exist from the Wettin line as well, although the Portuguese Wettins died out not long after the last monarch was deposed.

What happened? All Wettin holdings in Germany were ended in 1918 and integrated into the Weimar Republic. Many lines survive to this day outside of Germany.
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The House of Hohenzollern

Founder: Burkhard I, count of Zollern until 1061 

Most Famous Monarch: Frederick II the Great, King in Prussia & Elector of Brandenburg 1740 – 1786

Ruled: Nuremberg, Ansbach, Brandenburg, Prussia, Hohenzollern, Germany, Romania

The German Empire, 1871 to 1918
Claim to Fame: Like the Wettins, the Hohenzollerns never made it to the imperial throne, though they were electors from the start. But they did get quite bold. After ending the line of Grand Masters of the Teutonic Knights in Prussia, the Hohenzollerns incorporated the lands into their sprawling domain. The problem was Poland was right in the way between Brandenburg (in Germany) and Prussia (in northern Poland-Lithuania). So the Hohenzollerns spent the majority of their career trying to take those lands from Poland, all the while picking up pieces of everyone else's land. By the late 19th century, they just decided to take it all and declared the German Empire (Second Reich). It was short-lived but the unity stuck.

Last Monarch: Michael I, king of the Romanians 1927 – 1930, 1940 – 1947

What happened? After Germany's defeat in World War I, Germany declared the Weimar Republic and the Hohenzollerns (and all the other vassal monarchs) got the boot. The dynasty continued in Romania until 1947 when the communists overthrew the king and declared the People's Republic of Romania. Both Germany and Romania still have pretenders to the throne from the Hohenzollern line.
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The House of Württemberg

William II, King of WürttembergFounder: Conrad I, count of Württemberg

Most Famous Monarch: Ulrich, duke of Württemberg 1498 – 1550

Ruled: Württemberg

Claim to Fame: Württemberg really has no claim to fame. It remained one of the largest of the small states in Germany and it was lucky in that it rarely divided itself, thereby avoiding spreading its resources thin. Ulrich led the march to convert the state to Protestantism after Martin Luther posted his theses in Saxony. The conversion stuck and Württemberg became the second state in Germany to become Protestant. When his line died out in the 18th century, a rival Catholic line took control, but they converted to Protestantism a few generations later. Napoleon upgraded the duchy to a kingdom in 1806 and no one told them otherwise after Napoleon fell. It became the smallest of the German kingdoms when the Hohenzollerns created the German Empire in 1871.

Last Monarch: William II, king of Württemberg 1891 – 1918

What happened? Actually, bad luck happened. Unlike William II in Germany and many of the other German monarchs, William II of Württemberg was pretty popular. The only explanation for his downfall is that the people of Württemberg were caught up in the moment with the rest of Germany and simply deposed him. He was the last of his line, but another cadet branch of the family still survives as pretenders to the Württemberg throne.
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There are many other dynasties in German history but there is no way I can go through them all. Above are the most important; those dynasties that contributed the most to German history. Other dynasties of note are the House of Mecklenburg, the House of Zahringen, the House of Supplinburg, the House of Lippe, the House of Schwarzburg and the House of Waldeck. They all contributed to the history of Germany. Also, you cannot forget the dynasties I have already covered in great detail: Habsburg, Oldenburg, Wittelsbach, and more. They, too, are important. Each helped for the modern German state and regional identities, and each still remains suitable candidates for royal marriages. Indeed, we may well see some of these families on thrones again one day...assuming they aren't already on a throne...

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