Duchy of Württemberg

For other uses, see Württemberg (disambiguation).
Duchy of Württemberg
Herzogtum Württemberg
State of the Holy Roman Empire
Flag Coat of arms
The Duchy of Württemberg (in yellow) and the other territories of Swabia. This map is an oversimplification since there were about 80 distinct territories within the Circle of Swabia and hundreds of enclaves and exclaves. Published by Mattäus Seutter, circa 1750.
Capital Stuttgart
Languages Swabian German
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Feudal monarchy
Duke of Württemberg
   1797–1803 Frederick I of Württemberg
Historical era Modern Ages
   Raised to Duchy 1495
  Diet of Worms 1495
   Raised to Electorate 1803
Preceded by
Succeeded by
County of Württemberg
Electorate of Württemberg
Today part of  Germany
Topographical single sheet map of the duchy Württemberg in southern Germany from circa 1619 A.D.
Ludwigsburg palace, "Baroque in Bloom", interior courtyard
Boundary-Stone between Baden and Württemberg

The Duchy of Württemberg (German: Herzogtum Württemberg) was a state in south-western Germany. It was a member of the Holy Roman Empire from 1495 to 1806. The dukedom's long survival for nearly four centuries was mainly due to its size, being larger than its immediate neighbors. During the Protestant Reformation, Württemberg faced great pressure from the Holy Roman Empire to remain a member. Württemberg resisted repeated French invasions in the 17th and 18th centuries. Württemberg was directly in the path of French and Austrian armies who were engaged in the long rivalry between the House of Bourbon and the House of Habsburg. In 1803, Napoleon raised the duchy to be the Electorate of Württemberg of the Holy Roman Empire, and when he abolished the Empire in 1806, the Electorate was elevated as the Kingdom of Württemberg.[1]


Duke Eberhard I

Eberhard V proved to be one of the most energetic Württemberg of rulers. In 1495 his county became a duchy, and he was now Duke Eberhard I.[2] At his death in 1496 his cousin, Duke Eberhard II succeeded him for a short reign of two years, ending when he was terminated by a deposition.

Duke Ulrich

The long reign (1498–1550) of Duke Ulrich, who succeeded to the duchy while only a child, proved to be a most eventful period for the country, and many traditions cluster round the name of this gifted, unscrupulous and ambitious man. His extortions to raise money for his extravagant pleasures excited a rising known as the arme Konrad (Poor Conrad), which was similar to the rebellion in England led by Wat Tyler. The authorities soon restored order, and in 1514 under the Treaty of Tübingen, the people agreed to pay the duke's debts, but only in return for various political privileges, thereby forming the foundation for the constitutional liberties of the country.

Ulrich quarreled with the Swabian League, resulting in its forces invading Württemberg, expelling the duke and selling his duchy to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, for 220,000 gulden. Charles then gave Württemberg to his brother, the German king, Ferdinand I, who served as nominal ruler for only a few years. The discontent caused the combination of the oppressive Austrian rule, the disturbances in Germany leading to the German Peasants' War and the commotions aroused by the Reformation, soon gave Ulrich an opportunity to recover his duchy.

In May 1534, aided by Philip, landgrave of Hesse, and other Protestant princes, Ulrich fought a victorious battle against Ferdinand's troops at Lauffen that ended with the treaty of Kaaden, when he again became duke, he became perforce duke of the duchy as an Austrian fief. He subsequently introduced the reformed religious doctrines and endowed Protestant churches and schools throughout his land. He founded the Tübinger Stift seminary in 1536. Ulrich's connection with the Schmalkaldic League led to a second expulsion, but in 1547 Charles V re-instated him, albeit on somewhat onerous terms.


Duke Christopher

Ulrich's son and successor, Christopher (1515–1568), completed the work of converting his subjects to the reformed faith. He introduced a system of church government, the Grosse Kirchenordnung, which endured, in part, into the 20th century. In this reign a standing commission started to superintend the finances, and the members of this body, all of whom belonged to the upper classes, gained considerable power, mainly at the expense of the population, which at the time, numbered between three and four hundred thousand persons.

Duke Louis

Christopher's son Louis, the founder of the Collegium illustre in Tübingen, died childless in 1593 and a kinsman, Frederick I (1557–1608) succeeded to the duchy. This energetic prince disregarded the limits restricting his authority under the rudimentary constitution. In 1599, he induced emperor Rudolph II to free the duchy from the suzerainty of Austria. Austria, at that time, controlled large areas around the duchy, known as "Further Austria". Once again Württemberg became a direct fief of the Empire, securing its independence.

Duke Johann Frederick

Unlike his predecessor, the next duke, Johann Frederick (1582–1628), failed to become an absolute ruler, and perforce recognized the limits to his power. During this reign, which ended in July 1628, Württemberg suffered severely from the Thirty Years' War, although the duke himself took no part in it.


Duke Eberhard III

Frederick's son and successor Eberhard III (1628–1674), however, plunged into the war as an ally of France and Sweden as soon as he came of age in 1633. After the battle of Nordlingen in 1634, Imperial troops occupied the duchy and the duke went into exile. The Peace of Westphalia restored him, but to a depopulated and impoverished country, and he spent his remaining years in efforts to repair the disasters of the lengthy war. Württemberg was a central battlefield of the War; its population fell by 57% between 1634 and 1655, primarily because of death, disease, declining birthrates, and the mass migration of the terrified peasants.[3]

Duke Eberhard Ludwig

During the reign of Eberhard Ludwig (1676–1733), who succeeded as a one-year-old when his father Duke William Louis died in 1677, Württemberg met another destructive enemy, Louis XIV of France. In 1688, 1703 and 1707 the French entered the duchy, inflicting brutalities and sufferings upon the inhabitants.

The now sparsely populated country welcomed fugitive Waldenses, who gave great effort to restore it to prosperity, but the extravagance of the duke, anxious to provide for the expensive tastes of his mistress, Christiana Wilhelmina von Grävenitz partly neutralized this benefit. In 1704 Eberhard Ludwig started building Ludwigsburg Palace, to the north of Stuttgart, in imitation of the Versailles.

Duke Charles Alexander

Charles Alexander, who became duke in 1733, had become a Roman Catholic while an officer in the Austrian service. His favourite adviser was the Jewish Josef Süss Oppenheimer, and suspicions arose that master and servant were aiming at the suppression of the diet (the local parliament) and the introduction of Roman Catholicism. However, the sudden death of Charles Alexander in March 1737 put an abrupt end to any such plans, and the regent, Charles Rudolph of Württtemberg-Neuenstadt, had Oppenheimer hanged.

Ruin and decline

Duke Charles Eugene

Charles Eugene (1728–1793), who came of age in 1744, appeared gifted, but vicious and extravagant, and he soon fell into the hands of unworthy favorites. He spent a great deal of money building the "New Castle" in Stuttgart, and sided against Prussia during the Seven Years' War of 1756–1763, which became unpopular with his Protestant subjects.

His whole reign featured dissension between ruler and ruled, and the duke's irregular and arbitrary methods of raising money arousing great discontent. The intervention of the emperor and even of foreign powers ensued, and in 1770 a formal arrangement removed some of the grievances of the people. Charles Eugene did not keep his promises, although in his old age he made a few concessions.

Duke Louis Eugene

Charles Eugene left no legitimate heirs, and was succeeded by his next brother, Louis Eugene (d. 1795), who was childless, and then by another, Frederick Eugene (d. 1797). This latter prince, who had served in the army of Frederick the Great, to whom he was related by marriage, had managed his family's estates around Montbéliard and educated his children in the Protestant faith as francophones. All of the subsequent Württemberg royal family members are his descendents.

Duke Frederick Eugene (1795–1797)

During Frederick Eugene's short reign French Republican troops under General Moreau invaded Württemberg (1796), compelling the duke to withdraw his troops from the imperial army and to pay reparations of 8 million francs. Though he ruled for only two years, Frederick II Eugene effectively saved the independence of the dukedom. Through his children's marriages he had remarkable connections across Europe, including links to the Russian, Austrian and British royal families.

Duke Frederick II

Louis Eugene's son, Frederick II, became duke in 1797. Protestantism returned to the ducal household, and the royal house adhered to the Protestant faith thereafter.

Frederick II (1754–1816), a prince who modeled himself on Frederick the Great, took part in the war against France in defiance of the wishes of his people, and when the French again invaded and devastated the country he retired to Erlangen, where he remained until after the conclusion of the peace of Lunéville on 9 February 1801. By a private treaty with France, signed in March 1802, he ceded his possessions on the left bank of the Rhine, receiving in return nine imperial towns, among them Reutlingen and Heilbronn, and some other territories, amounting altogether to about 850 square miles (2,200 km²) and containing about 124,000 inhabitants.

He also accepted from Napoleon in 1803 the title of Prince-elector. The new districts were not incorporated with the duchy, but remained separate; they were known as "New Württemberg" and were ruled without a diet. Other areas were acquired in 1803–1806 as part of the German Mediatisation process. In 1805 Württemberg took up arms on the side of France, and by the Treaty of Pressburg, in December 1805 the elector received various Austrian possessions in Swabia and other lands in the area as a reward.


  1. "Germany, the German Confederation". Friesian.com. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
  2. This type of sovereign royal duke was known in Germany as a Herzog.
  3. Wilson, Peter (2009). The Thirty Years War: Europe's tragedy. Cambridge: Belknap Press. p. 789. ISBN 978-0-674-03634-5.

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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