Bishopric of Würzburg

For the modern diocese, see Roman Catholic Diocese of Würzburg.
Prince-bishopric of Würzburg
Fürstbistum Würzburg
State of the Holy Roman Empire

Coat of arms

The twin prince-bishoprics of Würzburg and Bamberg
Capital Würzburg
Languages East Franconian German
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Elective principality
    (founding Bishop)
St Burchard I
    (first Prince-Bishop)
Herold von Hochheim
    (Prince-Bishop to 1803)
Georg Karl von Fechenbach
Historical era Middle Ages
  Bishopric founded 743
   Raised to prince-bishopric 1168
  Prince-Bishops styled
    Dukes in Franconia
  Ecclesiastical Prince
    of Franconian Circle
   Secularised and
     annexed by Bavaria
February 25, 1803 1803
  Ceded to Ferdinand and
     raised to Grand Duchy
30 September 1806
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Duchy of Franconia
Electorate of Bavaria

The Prince-Bishopric of Würzburg was an ecclesiastical principality of the Holy Roman Empire located in Lower Franconia west of the Prince-Bishopric of Bamberg. Würzburg had been a diocese since 743. As definitely established by the Concordat of 1448, bishops in Germany were chosen by the canons of the cathedral chapter and their election was later confirmed by the pope. Following a common practice in Germany, the prince-bishops of Würzburg were frequently elected to other ecclesisatical principalities as well.[lower-alpha 1] The last few prince-bishops resided at the Würzburg Residence, which is one of the grandest baroque palaces in Europe.

Bishop Friedrich Carl von Schönborn making a solemn entry on the grounds of his new residenz, still under construction

As a consequence of the 1801 Treaty of Lunéville, Würzburg, along with the other ecclesiastical states of Germany, was secularized in 1803 and absorbed into the Electorate of Bavaria. In the same year Ferdinand III, former Grand Duke of Tuscany, was compensated with the Electorate of Salzburg. In the 1805 Peace of Pressburg, Ferdinand lost Salzburg to the Austrian Empire, but was compensated with the new Grand Duchy of Würzburg, Bavaria having relinquished the territory in return for the Tyrol. This new state lasted until 1814, when it was once again annexed by Bavaria.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Würzburg was reestablished in 1821 without temporal power.

Duke of Franconia

In 1115, Henry V awarded the territory of Eastern Franconia (Ostfranken) to his nephew Conrad of Hohenstaufen, who used the title "Duke of Franconia." Franconia remained a Hohenstaufen power base until 1168, when the Bishop of Würzburg was formally ceded the ducal rights in Eastern Franconia. The name "Franconia" fell out of usage, but the bishop revived it in his own favour in 1442 and held it until the reforms of Napoleon Bonaparte abolished it.

The arms of one Bishop (left) and a map from 1740 showing the area (right)

Coat of arms

The charge of the original coat of arms showed the “Rennfähnlein” banner, quarterly argent and gules, on a lance or, in bend, on a blue shield. In the 14th century another coat of arms was created. The coat of arms represents the holism of heaven and earth. The three white pikes represent the trinity of god and the four red pikes, directed to earth, stand for the four points of the compass, representing the whole spread of earth. The red colour represents the blood of Christ.

The Prince-Bishops used both within their personal coat of arms. The Rechen and the Rennfähnlein represented the diocese, while the other (usually two) fields showed the personal coat of arms of the bishop’s family. The coat of arms showed the Rechen in the first and third field, the Rennfähnlein in the second and fourth field.[1]

Bishops of Würzburg, 743–1808

Prince-Bishop Lorenz von Bibra
Friedrich Karl von Schönborn (1674-1746), Bishop of Bamberg and Würzburg (1729–1746), Vice Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire

In 741 or 742 the first bishop of Würzburg was consecrated by Saint Boniface.

Secular power lost in 1803. Territory ceded to Bavaria until 1805.

See also


  1. For instance, Johann Franz Schönborn was first elected prince-bishop of Würzburg in 1642, then elector of Mainz in 1647, and finally prince-bishop of Worms in 1663.


  1. Peter, Bernhard (2007). "Besondere Motive: Der Fränkische Rechen". Bernhard Peter. Retrieved 2007-10-10.

Further reading

Coordinates: 49°47′N 9°56′E / 49.783°N 9.933°E / 49.783; 9.933

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