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!
|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.
The Salian Dynasty
Founder: 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.
The House of Hohenstaufen
Founder: 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.
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.
The House of Luxembourg
Founder: 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.
The House of Vaudemont, commonly divided as Habsburg-Lorraine and Hesse
Founder: 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.
The House of Wettin
Founder: 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.
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.
The House of Württemberg
Founder: Conrad I, count of Württemberg
Most Famous Monarch: Ulrich, duke of Württemberg 1498 – 1550
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.
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...