History of Baden-Württemberg

The German southwest at the end of the 18th century

The German southwest at the end of the 18th century

The map of the old German Empire before 1800 offers a many-colored picture, a picture of disunion. There were only a few large, more or less unified and enclosed territories like Brandenburg-Prussia, the Electorate of Saxony and the Electorate of Bavaria. A showpiece of disunion was the German southwest. It is not possible to enumerate here all of the approximately 350 territories and to put their names on the map. They cannot be compared with today's administrative districts, counties or government districts. No, individually or in groups they were of the same rank as one of today's federal states in the large framework of the German Empire. France could serve as an example of the opposite of disunion. In Alsace there were still a couple of sprinklings: the Württemberg county of Horburg and the domain of Reichenweier or the Hessian county of Hanau-Lichtenberg; yet all came under the sovereignty of the King of France. He resided in Paris, his capital. In southwestern Germany there were countless "residences" (Heidelberg -> Mannheim, Durlach -> Karlsruhe, Stuttgart -> Ludwigsburg). Thus the German southwest offered all of the forms of sovereignty that there were in the German Empire.

The Emperor and King ruled directly in the (anterior) Austrian territories in the South. The Prince Elector of the Palatinate ruled the Rhine-Neckar region and the Palatinate. Württemberg had been a duchy since 1495. The Badeners held the title of Margrave since 1061. All of the named rulers since days of yore had the rank of prince. The extensive territories of the Fürstenbergs had been designated a principality since the 18th century. The individually enclosed areas lay in the Baar, around Messkirch, Heiligenberg and Stühlingen as well as in the Kinzig valley. The Residence had been Donaueschingen since the 17th century. The princely house of Fürstenberg remained protected from partition.

The counts and arch incumbents of Limpurg had constructed their sovereignty in the Swabian-Franconian Forest on the Kocher. Well before the family died out around 1700 the county had broken up into many lines. Even the Malefizschenk (arch incumbent of law) was a count.

Of equal status with the high nobility were the clerical territories. With bishops, we must distinguish between the ecclesiastical domain (dioceses) and the domains of temporal rule (bishoprics). The Bishop of Speyer did not reside in the imperial city of Speyer, but in Philippsburg from 1371 and since the 18th century in Bruchsal. The largest part of the territories of the bishops lay on the right of the Rhine.

On the same level stood the territories of many monasteries, e.g., a large princely priory like Ellwangen. Even a small abbey like Petershausen near Constance had legal independence.

The approximately 25 imperial cities were important members, even if not of the rank of high nobility, and their sovereignty was sometimes limited to just the city (e.g., Buchau), but could also extend to a larger territory as in the case of Überlingen or Ulm.

A special group who, like the imperial cities, emphasized their direct relationship to the emperor, were the imperial knights from the lower nobility; the could assert their independence especially on the edge of the great territories, e.g., in the Kraichgau between the Electorate Palatine and Württemberg. The barons of Bodman sat on the western end of Lake Überlingen, for example.

The imperial knights are an example that the small powers had need of the amalgamation. There were the Franconian, the Rhenish and the Swabian knight county, within which there were from time to time so-called cantons, like the Canton Kraichgau or the Canton Ortenau. The monasteries organized themselves into communities within the order, such as the Premonstratesians, into a Swabian Zirkarie (district).

An attempt to bring order to this multiplicity which had prevailed since the end of the Middle Ages was the formation of imperial districts. Even this attempt remained piecemeal in the southwest, while next to the Frankish and the Swabian district, actually even within it, an Austrian district was formed. Just as the imperial knighthood remained outside the division of the empire.

Nevertheless the district legislatures as well as the imperial diets offered a possibility of regulating matters in dispute. Much was left over from the trials before the imperial courts, which often lasted decades.

The revolution in France and one man, Emperor Napoleon, changed the picture of the southwest. Which of the approximately 350 independent sovereignties would survive? Hardly the clerical sovereignties, as they had been judged to be antiquated decades ago. The cities as well could hardly maintain themselves, since even the largest of them at the latest since the Thirty Years War had suffered a loss of vitality. Which of the larger territories? Baden, Fürstenberg, Hohenlohe, the Electorate Palatine, Anterior Austria, Württemberg?

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© 10/2000 by Mike Pantel