Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg

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Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Herzogtum Braunschweig-Lüneburg
State of the Holy Roman Empire
Brunswick-Lüneberg as part of the Holy Roman Empire, c. 1648
Capital Brunswick,
Government Principality
Historical era Middle Ages
 •  Henry the Lion defeated; Saxony divided; Henry reinvested with Welf allod 1180

 •  Allod elevated to Duchy of Brunswick and Lüneburg 1235
 •  Partition into Lüneburg and Brunswick 1269
 •  Grubenhagen formed 1291
 •  Göttingen formed 1345
 •  Brunswick splits into Wolfenbüttel & Calenberg 1432
 •  Joined Electoral Rhenish Circle
 •  Elevated to Electorate 1806
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Duchy of Saxony Duchy of Saxony
Electorate of Hanover
Duchy of Brunswick

The Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg (German: Herzogtum Braunschweig-Lüneburg), or more properly Duchy of Brunswick and Lüneburg, was an historical ducal state from the late Middle Ages until the late Early Modern era within the North-Western domains of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, in what is now northern Germany.

The dukedom emerged in 1235 from the allodial lands of the House of Welf in Saxony and was granted as an imperial fief to Otto the Child, a grandson of Henry the Lion. Its name came from the two largest towns in the territory: Brunswick and Lüneburg. The duchy was divided several times during the High Middle Ages amongst various lines of the House of Welf, but the rulers all continued to be styled as the "Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg" in addition to their various particular titles. The individual principalities making up the duchy continued to exist until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Following the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15, the territories became part of the Kingdom of Hanover and Duchy of Brunswick.


Otto the Child is enfeoffed with Brunswick-Lüneburg by Emperor Frederick II, Lüneburg Sachsenspiegel, 1448

When the imperial ban was placed on Henry the Lion in 1180, he lost his titles as Duke of Saxony and Duke of Bavaria. He went into exile for several years, but was then allowed to stay on the (allodial) estates inherited from his mother's side until the end of his life.

At the Imperial Diet of 1235 in Mainz, as part of the reconciliation between the Hohenstaufen and Welf families, Henry's grandson, Otto the Child, transferred his estates to Emperor Frederick II and was enfeoffed in return with the newly created Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, which was formed from the estates transferred to the Emperor as well as other large areas of the imperial fisc. After his death in 1252, he was succeeded by his sons, Albert the Tall and John, who ruled the dukedom jointly.

In 1269 the duchy was divided, Albert receiving the southern part of the state around Brunswick and John the northern territories in the area of Lüneburg. The towns of Lüneburg and Brunswick remained in the overall possession of the House of Welf until 1512 and 1671 respectively. In 1571 the Amt of Calvörde became an exclave of the Duchy. The various parts of the duchy were further divided and re-united over the centuries, all of them being ruled by the Welf or Guelph dynasty, who maintained close relations with one another—not infrequently by marrying cousins— a practice far more common than is the case today, even among the peasantry of the Holy Roman Empire, for the salic inheritance laws in effect, encouraged the practice of retaining control of lands and benefits. The seats of power moved in the meantime from Brunswick and Lüneburg to Celle and Wolfenbüttel as the towns asserted their independence.

History of the subordinate principalities

Territorial division of the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg and dynastic relationships within the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg and to the Kingdom of Great Britain.

The subsequent history of the dukedom and its subordinate principalities was characterised by numerous divisions and reunifications. The subordinate states that were repeatedly created, and which had the legal status of principalities, were generally named after the residence of their rulers. The estates of the different dynastic lines could be inherited by a side line when a particular family died out. For example, over the course of the centuries there were the Old, Middle and New Houses (or Lines) of Brunswick, and the Old, Middle and New Houses of Lüneburg. The number of simultaneously reigning dynastic lines varied from two to five.

Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel

In 1269 the Principality of Brunswick was formed following the first division of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg. In 1432, as a result of increasing tensions with the townsfolk of Brunswick, the Brunswick Line moved their Residence to Wolfenbüttel into a water castle, which was expanded into a Schloss, whilst the town was developed into a royal seat. The name Wolfenbüttel was given to this principality. Not until 1753/1754 was the Residence moved back to Brunswick, into the newly built Brunswick Palace. In 1814 the principality became the Duchy of Brunswick.

Principality of Calenberg - later Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg

In 1432 the estates gained by the Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel between the Deister and Leine split away as the Principality of Calenberg. To the north this new state bordered on the County of Hoya near Nienburg and extended from there in a narrow, winding strip southwards up the River Leine through Wunstorf and Hanover where it reached the Principality of Wolfenbüttel. In 1495 it was expanded around Göttingen and in 1584 went back to the Wolfenbüttel Line. In 1634, as a result of inheritance distributions, it went to the House of Lüneburg, before becoming an independent principality again in 1635, when it was given to George, younger brother of Prince Ernest II of Lüneburg, who chose Hanover as his Residenz. New territory was added in 1665 in the vicinity of Grubenhagen and in 1705 around the Principality of Lüneburg. In 1692 Duke Ernest Augustus from the Calenberg Line acquired the right to be a prince-elector as the Prince-Elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Colloquially the Electorate was also known as the Electorate of Hanover or as Kurhannover. In 1814 it was succeeded by the Kingdom of Hanover.

Principality of Lüneburg

The Principality of Lüneburg emerged alongside the Principality of Brunswick in 1269 when the inheritance of the Duchy was divided. After the death of Duke George William of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1705, King George I inherited the state of Lüneburg with his wife, the Duke's daughter, Sophie Dorothea, later known as the "Princess of Ahlden". It was united with the Principality of Calenberg, which had been elevated in 1692 into the Electorate.

Principality of Göttingen

The southernmost principality in the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg stretched from Münden in the south down the River Weser to Holzminden. In the east it ran through Göttingen along the River Leine via Northeim to Einbeck. It emerged in 1345 as the result of a division of the Principality of Brunswick and was united in 1495 with Calenberg.

Principality of Grubenhagen

From 1291 to 1596 Grubenhagen was an independent principality, its first ruler being Henry the Admirable, son of Albert of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. The state lay ran from the northern part of the Solling hills and the River Leine near Einbeck and north of the Eichsfeld on and in the southwestern Harz. After being split in the course of the years into smaller and smaller principalities it Grubenhagen finally returned in 1596 to Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.

Other branches

Other branches that did not have full sovereignty existed in the Dannenberg, Harburg, Gifhorn, Bevern, Osterode, Herzberg, Salzderhelden and Einbeck.

While a total of about a dozen subdivisions that existed, some were only dynastic and not recognised as states of the Empire, which at one time had over 1500 such legally recognized entities. In the List of Reichstag participants (1792), the following four subdivisions of Brunswick-Lüneburg had recognized representation:

By 1705 only two Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg survived, one ruling Calenberg, Lüneburg and other possessions, and the other ruling Wolfenbüttel.

From Lüneburg to Hanover

One of the dynastic lines was that of the princes of Lüneburg, who in 1635 acquired Calenberg for George, a junior member of the family who set up residence in the city of Hanover. His son Christian Louis and his brothers inherited Celle in 1648 and thereafter shared it and Calenberg between themselves; a closely related branch of the family ruled separately in Wolfenbüttel.

As a latter day development, what became the Electorate of Hanover was initially called the Elector of Brunswick-Lunenberg when the Holy Roman Emperor appointed Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick-Lunenberg an Elector in 1696 (two years before his death) in a somewhat controversial move to increase the number of Protestant electors—thereby offending the entrenched interests of the extant prince-electors who would no longer be so few. As with most matters in Europe during these times, this was part of the centuries-long religious unrest accompanied by outright warfare (see Thirty Years' War) triggered by the zealous advocates on either side of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

The territories of Calenberg and Lüneburg-Celle were made an Electorate by the Emperor Leopold I in 1692 in expectation of the imminent inheritance of Celle by the Duke of Calenberg, though the actual dynastic union of the territories did not occur until 1705 under his son George I Louis, and the Electorate was not officially approved by the Imperial Diet until 1708.

The resulting state was known under many different names (Brunswick-Lüneburg, Calenberg, Calenberg-Celle; its ruler was often known as the "Elector of Hanover". Coincidentally, in 1701 the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg found himself in the line of succession for the British crown, later confirmed in 1707 by the Act of Union, which he subsequently inherited, thereby creating a personal union of the two crowns on 20 October 1714.

After a little over a decade, the matter of the disputed electorate was settled upon the heir, and the new Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (acceded as duke on 23 January 1698), George I Louis was able to style himself the Elector of Brunswick and Lüneburg from 1708. It was not just happenstance but similar religious driven politics that brought about the circumstance that he was also put into the line of succession for the British crown by the Settlement Act of 1701— which was written to ensure a Protestant succession to the thrones of Scotland and England at a time when anti-Catholic sentiment ran high in much of Northern Europe and much of Great Britain. In the event, George I succeeded his second cousin Anne, Queen of Great Britain — the last reigning member of the House of Stuart, and subsequently formed a personal union from 1 August 1714 between the British crown and the duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg (electorate of Hanover) which would last until well after the end of the Napoleonic wars more than a century later—including even through the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the rise of a new successor kingdom. In that manner, the "Electorate of Hanover" (the core duchy) was enlarged with the addition of other lands and became the kingdom of Hanover in 1814 at the peace conferences (Congress of Vienna) settling the future shape of Europe in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars.

History of the relationship to the British Crown

The first Hanoverian King of Great Britain, George I of Great Britain, was the reigning Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and was finally made an official and recognized prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire in 1708. His possessions were enlarged in 1706 when the hereditary lands of the Calenberg branch of the Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg merged with the lands of the Lüneburg-Celle branch to form the state of Hanover. Subsequently, George I was referred to as Elector of Hanover.

In 1700 and 1701, when the English Parliament had addressed the question of an orderly succession, with a particular religious bias toward a Protestant ruler, from the childless ruling Queen Anne (House of Stuart), it passed by the provisions of the Act of Settlement 1701 to Sophia of Hanover, granddaughter of James I. Sophia predeceased Queen Anne by a few weeks, but her son and heir, George I, succeeded as King of Great Britain when Anne, his second cousin, died in August 1714. Great Britain and Hanover remained united in personal union until the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.

George I was followed by his son George II and great-grandson George III. The last mentioned retained the position of elector even after the Holy Roman Empire was abolished by its last emperor in 1806. George III contested the validity of the dissolution of the Empire and maintained separate consular offices and staff for the Electorate of Hanover until the peace conferences at the war's end. After the fall of Napoleon, George III regained his lands plus lands from Prussia as King of Hanover, whilst giving up some other smaller scattered territories.

After the Congress of Vienna

After the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, Calenberg-Celle and its possessions were added to by the Congress of Vienna ending the Napoleonic war, being born anew under the name of Kingdom of Hanover (including Brunswick-Lüneburg). During the first half of the 19th century, the Kingdom of Hanover was ruled as personal union by the British crown from its creation under George III of the United Kingdom, the last elector of Hanover until the death of William IV in 1837. At that point, the crown of Hanover went to William's younger brother, Ernest, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale under the Salic laws requiring the next male heir to inherit, whereas the British throne was inherited by an elder brother's only daughter, Queen Victoria.

Subsequently, the kingdom was lost in 1866 by his son George V of Hanover during the Austro-Prussian War when it was annexed by Prussia, and became the Prussian province of Hanover.

Duchy of Brunswick

The Wolfenbüttel Line retained its independence, except from 1807 to 1813, when it and Hanover were merged into the Napoleonic Kingdom of Westphalia. The Congress of Vienna of 1815 turned it into an independent state under the name Duchy of Brunswick. The Duchy remained independent and joined first the North German Confederation and in 1871 the German Empire.

When the main line of descent became extinct in 1884, the German Emperor withheld the rightful heir, the Crown Prince of Hanover, from taking control, instead installing a regent. Decades later, the families were reconciled by the marriage of the Crown Prince's son to the Emperor's only daughter, and the Emperor allowed his son-in-law to assume rule (his father having renounced his own right).

Dukes of Brunswick and Lüneburg

The following dukes ruled the entire duchy before it was sub-divided:

Name Rule Remarks
Otto the Child, (1204–1252) 1235–1252 Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
John, (1242–1277) 1252–1269 Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Ruled jointly with Albert.
Albert the Tall, (1236–1279) 1252–1269 Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Ruled jointly with John.

All the Welf lines continued to bear the title of "Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg" from the division of the dukedom in 1269 to the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. This was in addition to their actual territorial lordship e.g. as the "Prince of Lüneburg".

Chronology of Brunswick-Lüneburg

Duchy of Saxony 7th century – 1180
Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg 1235–1269
Principality of Brunswick 1269–1291 Principality of Lüneburg 1269–1705
Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Principality of Göttingen
Principality of Grubenhagen
Principality of Calenberg
Principality of Calenberg-Göttingen 1495–1692 went to Lüneburg in 1617,
then to Calenberg in 1665
went to the Electorate in 1705
~ Electorate of Hanover 1692–1814
Duchy of Brunswick 1814–1918 Kingdom of Hanover 1814–1866
Province of Hanover 1866–1946
Free State of Brunswick
Province of Hanover 1866–1946
State of Hanover 1946
State of Lower Saxony 1946–present

See also

External links