Germany in the 19th century


The Confederation of the Rhine

See also a page on the Holy Roman Empire.

The Confederation of the Rhine was created under the influence of Napoleon, Emperor of the French, to group together the German states willing to take sides with France against Austria and Prussia.  The Confederation was formed in July 1806, before the demise of the Holy Roman Empire, but its very appearance precipitated the dissolution of the Empire.

The Confederation was formed by a treaty of 12 July 1806 between the Emperor of the French (who was made "Protector of the Confederation") and 16 Princes of the Holy Roman Empire (German text):

  • king of Bavaria (king since 20 Dec 1805)
  • king of Württemberg (king since 20 Dec 1805)
  • Elector Arch-Chancelor (made Prince-Primate, with predicate Most Eminent Highness, art. 4; successor appointed by the Protector; turned in 1810 into Grand-Duke of Frankfurt)
  • Elector of Baden (made Grand-Duke with royal rank, art. 5)
  • Duke of Berg
    (Joachim Murat, by decree 15 March 1806, made grand-duke, art. 5; Napoléon Louis, nephew of Napoléon, 1809-13)
  • Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt (made Grand-Duke, art. 5)
  • Prince of Nassau-Usingen (made Duke of Nassau, art. 5)
  • Prince of Nassau-Weilburg
  • Prince of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen
  • Prince of Hohenzollern Hechingen
  • Prince of Salm (until 1810)
  • Prince of Salm-Kyrburg (until 1810)
  • Prince of Isenburg-Birstein
  • Duke of Arenberg (until 1811)
  • Prince of Lichtenstein
  • Count of Leyen (made Prince, art. 5)
The treaty gave the style of 'Majesty' to the two kings, 'Imperial Highness' to the grand-duke of Berg, and 'Most Serene Highness' to all others.

By the treaty, 21 princes, 25 counts, 3 barons and a number of Knights were mediatized.  Of the mediatized princes, none were  altfürstlich (princes before 1586),  7 were neufürstlich (created princes between 1586 and 1803): Orange-Nassau, Fürstenberg, Schwarzenberg, Lobkowicz, Thurn-Taxis, Auersperg, Dietrichstein; 14 had been made princes between 1803 and 1806.

A declaration of 31 July 1806 signed by 10 members of the Confederation declared that the bonds between the various members of the German state had in fact been dissolved.  A note delivered by the French ambassador to the Imperial Diet on 1 August 1806 announced that France ceased to recognize the existence of the Holy Roman Empire (which it called 'la confédération germanique') and recognized the 'full and absolute sovereignty' of the 16 princes of the Confederation.  On August 6, the Emperor drew the conclusions and proclaimed the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire.

Other states later joined the Confederation:

  • 25 Sep 1806: the Grand-Duke of Tuscany as prince of Würzburg, made Grand-Duke of Würzburg (HRH the Archduke Grand-duke, art. 2)
  • 11 Dec 1806 (Treay of Posen): the Elector of Saxony, made king (art. 3)
  • 15 Dec 1806:

  • the Dukes of
    • Saxe-Weimar,
    • Saxe-Gotha,
    • Saxe-Meiningen,
    • Saxe-Hildenburghausen,
    • Saxe-Coburg
  • Apr 1807 (Treaty of Warsaw):

  • the dukes of
    • Anhalt-Bernburg,
    • the princes of Anhalt-Köthen and Anhalt-Dessau (made dukes)
    the princes of
    • Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt
    • Schwarzburg-Sondershausen
    • prince of Lippe-Detmold,
    • count of Schaumburg-Lippe (made prince),
    • prince of Waldeck
    • the four branches of Reuss (as two members, Reuss-Greitz and Reuss-Schleitz)
  • 7 Dec 1807: the king of Westphalia (Jérôme, brother of Napoleon)
  • 18 Feb 1808: the duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
  • 22 March 1808: the duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

Among the main German states, only Prussia did not join; nor did Denmark, Sweden, Russia for the various territories they owned in the former Empire.  Sundry remaining former members of the Empire did not join (Oldenburg, Orange-Nassau, Stolberg-Wernigerode, Schönburg-Waldenburg, Kaunitz, Nesselrode, Bentinck, Grote, and the free cities of Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck). The duchy of Brunswick-Wolffenbüttel was abolished on 23 Oct 1806, the Electorate of Hesse-Cassel on 4 Nov 1806, both incorporated into the kingdom of Westphalia along with the territories of the prince of Nassau-Orange, the prince of Kaunitz and the count of Stolberg-Wernigerode. The former electorate of Hanover divided between Westphalia, Prussia and French occupation. The Teutonic Order was suppressed within the Confederation by Napoleon on 24 April 1809, confirmed by the Treaty of Pressburg on 14 October 1809.  On 13 Dec 1810, Napoléon annexed to France Bremen, Hamburg, Lübeck, the territories of Salm-Salm, Salm-Kyrburg, Arenberg, and Oldenburg, as well as parts of Berg and Westphalia.

The Confederation was recognized by Austria in 1806, and by Russia and Prussia at the treaty of Tilsit of 7 July 1807.

The end of the confederation of the Rhine, 1813-15

By the declaration of Kalisch on 25 Mar 1813, Prussia and Russia deounced the Confederation of the Rhine as a "trügerische Fessel" and declared their intent to dissolve it: "die Auflösung dieses Vereins nicht anders als in [Ihre Majestäten] bestimmten Absichten liegen könne."

The first members to defect were the duchies of Mecklenburg soon after; Bavaria left on 8 Oct 1813 (treaty of Ried), followed by Württemberg on November 2 (treaty of Fulda) and Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Nassau, Saxe-Coburg, Saxe-Gotha, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Hildburghausen, and the two Schwarzburgs (accessions of Frankfurt, Nov 20, 23 and 24).  The treaty of Paris of 30 May 1814 announced that the German states would be "independent" and united in a new federation, thus confirming the end of the Confederation of the Rhine.

The map of Germany was redrawn by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. This consisted of two steps:

  • deciding who, of the former immediate entities of the Holy Roman Empire, would survive as fully sovereign states
  • what the boundaries of the surviving entities would be.

Because so many German states had been allied with France and had profited from the territorial changes made since 1803, relatively little change took place in 1815. The general principle of the Congress of Vienna was to avoid recreating anything that had been abolished, except for the politically significant entities. Thus, Hanover (as a kingdom), Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, the electorate of Hesse (Hesse-Cassel), the duchy of Oldenburg, and the cities of Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck were recreated. The other states mediatized in 1806 or abolished afterwards were not recreated.

On the other hand, all members of Napoleon's Confederation of the Rhine did survive after 1815, with the exceptions of:

  • the states held by Napoleon's relatives (Westphalia, Berg); the grand-duchy of Frankfurt, held by the Primate Dalberg with reversion rights to Napoléon's stepson Eugène de Beauharnais, survived as a free city;
  • the princes of Isenburg and van der Leyen, deemed too closely allied to Napoleon;
  • Würzburg, because the grand-duke of Tuscany recovered his Italian lands;
  • Salm, annexed in 1810;
  • Arenberg, mediatized by Napoléon after the annexation of Holland and various German territories surrounding those of Arenberg (11 Feb 1811).

Thus, although a few boundaries were redrawn in 1815 (notably those of Saxony, punished for its steadfast alliance with France), the ultimate composition of the German Confederation of 1815 and the shape of its territories had largely been decided by Napoleon in 1806.

Germany in the Nineteenth Century

Germany's history from 1815 to 1918 saw two distinct phases:
  1. Deutsches Bund from 1815 to 1866, the German Confederation (Deutsches Bund), created by the Vienna Congress. During this period, Prussia, which was already the largest, most populated and most powerful German state, grew in size and assertiveness. A succession of wars (against Denmark in 1864, Austria and her German allies in 1866, and France in 1870-71) led to territorial gains for Prussia and finally the foundation of the German Empire (Deutsches Reich) in 1871.
  2. Deutsches Reich from 1871 to 1918, the king of Prussia was also German Emperor (Deutsches Kaiser), in charge of foreign policy, the army and various other national matters. The states existing in 1871 continued to exist, each with their king, grand-duke, duke, or prince, and their local government.

The states making up Germany varied greatly in size and importance, although their numbers had been radically cut down when compared to the pre-1806 Holy Roman Empire (see the table of size and population).

Deutsches Bund (1815-1866)

The Deutsches Bund was created by a treaty of 8 June 1815 (Deutsche Bundesakte), which was included in the final act of the Congress of Vienna of the next day. (See the original text in German).

The 36 founding members were:

  • the emperor of Austria,
  • the kings of
    • Prussia,
    • Denmark (as duke of Holstein, until 30 Oct 1864),
    • Bavaria,
    • Saxony,
    • Netherlands (as grand-duke of Luxemburg),
    • Great-Britain and Hannover,
  • the Elector of Hesse (style adopted 28 Apr 1815),
  • the grand-dukes of
    • Hesse (Darmstadt),
    • Sachsen-Weimar (grand-duke since 6 Apr 1815),
  • the dukes of
    • Sachsen-Gotha (extinct 1825),
    • Sachsen-Coburg-Meiningen (Sachsen-Meiningen-Hildburghausen after 1826),
    • Sachsen-Hildburgshausen (Sachsen-Altenburg after 1826),
    • Sachsen-Coburg-Saalfeld (Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha after 1826),
    • Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel,
    • Holstein-Oldenburg,
    • Mecklenburg-Schwerin,
    • Mecklenburg-Strelitz,
    • Anhalt-Dessau (Anhalt-Dessau-Cöthen after 1853),
    • Anhalt-Bernburg (extinct 1853),
    • Anhalt-Cöthen (extinct 1847),
  • the princes of
    • Hohenzollern-Hechingen (until 1849),
    • Hohenzollern-Siegmaringen (until 1849),
    • Nassau,
    • Liechtenstein,
    • Schwarzburg-Sondershausen,
    • Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt,
    • Waldeck-Pyrmont,
    • Reuß of senior line,
    • Reuß of junior line (consisting of R-Schleiz, R-Lobenstein-Lobenstein and Lobenstein-Ebersdorff; the second became extinct 1824, the third ceded his rights to the first in 1848),
    • Schaumburg-Lippe,
    • Lippe (Detmold),
  • the free cities of
    • Lübeck,
    • Frankfurt,
    • Bremen,
    • Hamburg.
There were very few modifications afterwards. Württemberg and Baden joined shortly thereafter (26 Jul and 1 Sep 1815). Hesse-Homburg, previously under sovereignty of Hessen-Darmstadt, joined 7 Jul 1817. Of the former members of the Rheinbund that were still in existence at the time of the Vienna Congress, only the princes oF Isenburg and von der Leyen did not retain their sovereignty, but became subjects of Austria (in large part because of their relation with Napoleon).

Several members disappeared through extinction: Saxe-Gotha was divided on 12 Nov 1826, Anhalt-Cöthen became extinct on 23 Nov 1847, and the princes of Hohenzollern-Hechingen and Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen ceded their soverignty to Prussia on 7 Dec 1849.

The count of Bentinck tried unsuccessfully to join as member by virtue of his possession of the lordhip of Kniphausen. A compromise reached on 8 June 1825 in Berlin with Austria, Prussia and Russia led to the count of Bentinck being awarded sovereignty over Kniphausen in the same relation with Oldenburg as it was with the former Empire and Emperor; Oldenburg represented Kniphausen within the German Bund. This partially sovereign status disappeared on 1 Aug 1854 when Kniphausen was formally ceded to Oldenburg.

In 1839, as a result of the secession of Belgium and part of Luxemburg from the Netherlands, part of the Dutch province of Limburg was declared to be held by the king of Netherlands as grand-duke of Luxemburg, with reversion rights to the agnates of the house of Nassau as for Luxemburg (treaty of London, 19 Apr 1839, art. 3: "[...] there shall be assigned to HM the king of the Netherlands, Grand Duke of Luxemburg, a territorial indemnity in the Province of Limburg"; art. 4: "...HM shall possess, either to be held by him in his character of Grand Duke of Luxemburg, or for the purpose of being united to Holland, those territories [etc]" which represent the modern Dutch province of Limburg, less Maastricht; art. 5: "HM the King of the Netherlands, Grand Duke of Luxemburg, shall come to an Agreement with the Germanic Confederation, and with the Agnates of the House of Nassau, as to the applications of the stipulations contained in articles 3 and 4 [...]"; see Hertslet, vol. 2, p. 983; the Confederation ratified the treaty on 5 Sep 1839 and the agnates of the house of Nassau signed a convention on 27 June 1839; ibid., p. 1001).

After the "War of the Duchies" Denmark lost Holstein and Schleswig (30 Oct 1864) and effectively ceased to be a member.

The Confederation survived until it was torn apart by the conflict between Prussia and Austria. On 14 June 1866, the Prussian government declared the Confederation to be dissolved and declared war on Austria. The ensuing war resulted in a rapid and crushing victory for Prussia. Austria was defeated and signed the peace of Prague (23 Aug 1866) recognizing the end of the Confederation. The king of Prussia annexed Hanover, Electoral Hesse, Nassau and Frankfurt (bill submitted to the Prussian Landtag on 16 Aug 1866, ratified by same on 20 Sep 1866). Later, it formally annexed Holstein and Schleswig, Hesse-Homburg (whose landgraves had become extinct in male line on 24 Mar 1866), and portions of Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt (24 Dec 1866). Limburg returned to its former status as integral part of the Netherlands (treaty of London, 11 May 1867).

North German Confederation (1867-71)

The North German Confederation (Nord-deutsches Bund) was formed by treaty of 14 June 1867. (See the original text in German). It included Prussia, Saxony, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Oldenburg, Braunschweig, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Altenburg, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Anhalt, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Schwarzburg-Sonderhausen, Waldeck-Pyrmont, Reuß elder line, Reuß younger line, Schaumburg-Lippe, Lippe-Detmold, Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg.

German Empire (1871-1918)

Announcements of renunciations in the Deutsche Reichsanzeiger (from Martin Schumacher: Weimar-Index, Droste Verlag, 1988 Dusseldorf):
Date ruler state issuedate
11/11Friedrich AugustOldenburg26812.11
11/11Heinrich XXVIIReuß j. L.26812.11
12/11Joachim ErnstAnhalt26913.11
14/11Karl EduardS-C-G27115.11
14/11Friedrich FranzMecklemburg-Schwerin27115.11
22/11Friedrich IIBaden27825.11
28/11Wilhelm IIPrussia28330.11

Size and Population of German states in 1867

The following table gives a sense of the relative sizes of these states as of 1867.
State  Population  Size

(thousands) (km2)
Preußen (ante 1866)  19,303  280,194
Hannover  1,924  38,546
Schleswig-Holstein  960  17,545
Kur-Hessen  737  9,518
Nassau  466  4,685
Frankfurt  89  100
Hessen-Homburg  27  261
Boundary adjustments  80  1,260
Preußen (post 1866)  24,039  352,201
Norddeutscher Bund
Sachsen  2,423  14,967
Mecklenburg-Schwerin  561  13,441
Oldenburg  315  6,400
Hamburg  305  409
Braunschweig  303  3,690
Sachsen-Weimar  283  3,635
Hessen-Darmstadt (Oberhessen)  257  3,314
Anhalt  197  2,320
Sachsen-Meiningen  180  2,476
Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha  169  1,969
Sachsen-Altenburg  141  1,321
Lippe-Detmold  111  1,134
Bremen  109  257
Mecklenburg-Strelitz  98  2,725
Reuß (jüngerer Linie)  88  829
Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt  75  968
Schwarzburg-Sonderhausen  67  860
Waldeck-Pyrmont  57  1,121
Lübeck  48  286
Reuß (älterer Linie)  44  274
Schaumburg-Lippe  31  443
Bayern  4,824  75,836
Württemberg  1,778  19,450
Baden  1,434  15,284
(Starkenburg, Rheinhessen) 
566  8,392

Prussia accounts for 62% of the German population (50% before 1864). Prussia, Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg and the kingdom of Saxony account for 89% of the population.

Zipf's Law and pre-unification German states

Zipf's law relates rank with frequency.  Take the words of the English language, rank them by their frequency of occurrence, and compare that rank n with the actual frequency with which they do occur Pn.  Zipf's law states that Pn ~ 1/na where a is close to 1.  A general version of Zipf's law relates rank with size.

The law holds pretty well for the German states, but only for n>2.

size-to-rank relationship for German states

Intriguing, eh?

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François Velde

Last Modified: Jan 23, 2021