Kingdom of Westphalia

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Kingdom of Westphalia
Royaume de Westphalie (fr)
Königreich Westphalen (de)
Client state of the French Empire
Coat of arms
Coat of arms
Character und Aufrichtigkeit
"Character and Honesty"
The Kingdom of Westphalia in 1812.
Capital Kassel
Languages German, French (official)
Low German (regional)
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Constitutional monarchy
 •  1807–1813 Jérôme I
Prime Minister
 •  1807–1813 Joseph Jérôme
Legislature Reichsstände
Historical era Napoleonic Wars
 •  Treaty of Tilsit 9 July 1807
 •  Constitution adopted 7 December 1807
 •  Battle of Leipzig 19 October 1813
 •  1809 37,883 km2 (14,627 sq mi)
 •  1810 63,652 km2 (24,576 sq mi)
 •  1812 45,427 km2 (17,539 sq mi)
 •  1809 est. 1,950,724 
     Density 51/km2 (133/sq mi)
 •  1810 est. 2,612,000 
     Density 41/km2 (106/sq mi)
 •  1812 est. 2,065,970 
     Density 45/km2 (118/sq mi)
Currency Westphalian frank
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Electorate of Hesse
Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Electorate of Hesse
Kingdom of Prussia
Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Today part of  Germany

The Kingdom of Westphalia was a kingdom in Germany, with a population of 2.6 million, that existed from 1807 to 1813. It included territory in Hesse and other parts of present-day Germany. While formally independent, it was a vassal state of the First French Empire and was ruled by Napoleon's brother Jérôme Bonaparte. It was named after Westphalia, but this was a misnomer since the kingdom had little territory in common with that area.[1]

Napoleon imposed the first written modern constitution in Germany, a French-style central administration, and agricultural reform. The Kingdom liberated the serfs and gave everyone equal rights and the right to a jury trial. In 1808 the Kingdom passed Germany's first laws granting Jews equal rights, thereby providing a model for reform in the other German states. Westphalia seemed to be progressive in immediately enacting and enforcing the new reforms.

The country was relatively poor but Napoleon demanded heavy taxes and payments, and conscripted soldiers. Few of the men who marched into Russia with Napoleon in 1812 ever returned. The Kingdom was bankrupt by 1812. When Napoleon was retreating in the face of Allied advances in 1813, the Kingdom was overrun by the Allies and (in 1815) most of its territories became Prussian ruled. Most of the reforms, however, remained in place.[2]


Location of the Kingdom of Westphalia within the Confederation of the Rhine, 1812.

The Kingdom of Westphalia was created in 1807 by merging territories ceded by the Kingdom of Prussia in the Peace of Tilsit, among them the region of the Duchy of Magdeburg west of the Elbe River, the Brunswick-Lüneburg territories of Hanover and Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and the Electorate of Hesse. Hesse's capital Kassel then fulfilled the same function for Westphalia, and the king kept court at the palace of Wilhelmshöhe, renamed Napoleonshöhe. The state was a member of the Confederation of the Rhine.

Since it was intended as a Napoleonic "model state", a constitution was written and enacted by King Jérôme on 7 December 1807, the day after he had arrived in Kassel, making Westphalia the first monarchy in Germany with a modern-style constitution. The constitution made all male residents citizens with equal rights. Thus serfs were liberated and Jews emancipated, and soccage was abolished. The Napoleonic code was enacted, doing away with guilds and providing for the right of capitalism. A metric system of weights and measures was introduced.

The organisers used French terms to designate the regional territories within the kingdom: departments received names based on watercourses (Elbe, Saale, Weser, Fulda, Leine, Oker) and mountains (Harz), regardless of their traditional names. These departments were generally composed of territories taken from a number of petty states. Compared to the departments of France itself the Westphalian departments were relatively small and sparsely populated.[3]

While administrative divisions (departments, districts and cantons) were certainly less unequal than the previous territorial divisions, uniformity does not appear to have been a determining factor in their creation. The desire to break from the past, and not just from the random territorial divisions of the former manorial justices, especially influenced the cantonal distribution.[4] Just as before the conquest, freedom of expression remained curtailed and censorship was instituted. In 1810 the coastal and northern départements North (capital: Stade) and Lower Elbe (capital: Lunenburg) had to be ceded to the French Empire.


Following the French example, Jewish congregations were reorganised and a Consistory (he) supervising them was established. The former Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel merchant and man of letters, Israel Jacobson, became its consistorial president, assisted by a board of officers. Jacobson did his best to exercise a reforming influence upon the various congregations of the country. He opened a house of prayer in Kassel, with a ritual similar to that introduced in Seesen. Napoléon's inglorious so-called décret infâme, again restricting the rights of many French Jews, did not apply in Westphalia.

Russian conquest

A significant burden on the kingdom was the requirement to supply troops and financial support for the Napoleonic wars. Large numbers of Westphalian troops fought in the Russian campaign of 1812; the Westphalian Guards heroically but unsuccessfully charged the Raevski Redoubt during the Battle of Borodino.

In September 1813, Russian troops surrounded Kassel, defeated the French completely and retook the city. By October 1 they had conquered the whole Kingdom, but three days later Jérôme returned with French soldiers and managed to recapture Kassel. The Elector of Hesse-Kassel arrived soon after and the Russians besieged the city again. After France lost the Battle of the Nations on 19 October 1813, the Russians dissolved the Kingdom and restored the status quo of 1806 except for Kaunitz-Rietberg and Stolberg-Wernigerode, with Prussia regaining control.

Coat of arms

Grandes Armes Jérôme Bonaparte (1784-1860).svg

The arms reflect the incorporated territories. The first quarter shows the silver horse of Westphalia; the second the lion of Hesse over the counties of Diez, Nidda, Ziegenhain and Katzenelnbogen; the third was newly designed for non-specified territories around Magdeburg; and the fourth combined Brunswick, Diepholz, Lüneburg and Lauterburg. Around the shield are the Order of the Crown of Westphalia and the French Grand Aigle of the Légion d'honneur. Above is Napoleon's star. Typical of Napoleonic heraldry are the crossed sceptres.

See also


  1. The kingdom rather covered territory once considered as Eastphalia.
  2. Connelly (1966)
  3. Todorov, N.P., The Napoleonic Administrative System in the Kingdom of Westphalia, in: "The Napoleonic Empire and the New European Political Culture", ed. By Michael Broers, Peter Hicks and Agustin Guimera, p.175
  4. Ibid.

Further reading

  • Connelly, Owen. Napoleon's Satellite Kingdoms (1966) ch 6
  • Todorov, Nicola P., The Napoleonic Administrative System in the Kingdom of Westphalia, in: "The Napoleonic Empire and the New European Political Culture", (2012) ed. By Michael Broers, Peter Hicks and Agustin Guimera,Palgrave Macmillan,ISBN 978-0-230-24131-2, p.173 - 185

External links

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