Principality of Erfurt

Principality of Erfurt
Fürstentum Erfurt  (German)
Principauté d'Erfurt  (French)
Imperial state domain of the First French Empire

Coat of arms

Principality of Erfurt highlighted in yellow within the First French Empire (coloured in blues), shown with 1812 borders
The French Empire and sphere of influence in 1812.
  French Empire in 1804
  French acquisitions after 1804
  French satellite states
  French sphere of influence
Capital Erfurt
50°59′0″N 11°2′0″E / 50.98333°N 11.03333°E / 50.98333; 11.03333Coordinates: 50°59′0″N 11°2′0″E / 50.98333°N 11.03333°E / 50.98333; 11.03333
Government Principality
Historical era Napoleonic Wars
  Capitulation of Erfurt 16 October 1806
   Principality established by Napoleonic decree 4 August 1807
  Congress of Erfurt 27 Sept – 14 Oct 1808
  Battle of Leipzig 16–19 October 1813
   Siege of Erfurt 28 October 1813 – 5 May 1814
  Congress of Vienna Sept 1814 – June 1815
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Prussia
Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Province of Saxony
Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Today part of  Germany

The Principality of Erfurt (German: Fürstentum Erfurt; French: Principauté d'Erfurt) was a small state in modern Thuringia, Germany, that existed from 1807 to 1814, comprising the modern city of Erfurt and the surrounding land. It was subordinate directly to Napoleon, the Emperor of the French, rather than being a part of the Confederation of the Rhine. After nearly 3 months of siege, the city fell to Prussian, Austrian and Russian forces. Having been mainly Prussian territory before the Napoleonic Wars, it was mainly restored to Prussia by the Congress of Vienna.

Background and establishment

In the wake of the French Revolutionary Wars and the Treaty of Lunéville, the Holy Roman Empire underwent a process of substantial territorial reorganisation known as the German mediatization, under which Erfurt, since the 10th century a subject of the Electorate and Archbishopric of Mainz, was transferred to the Kingdom of Prussia, to compensate for territories Prussia lost to France on the Left Bank of the Rhine.[1][2]

Fearing the rise in the power of Napoleon's First French Empire after their defeat of Austria and establishment of the French-sponsored Confederation of the Rhine, Prussia and Russia mobilized for a fresh campaign, and Prussian troops massed in Saxony as a part of the War of the Fourth Coalition. The twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt were fought on 14 October 1806 on the plateau west of the river Saale, between the Grande Armée and the forces of Frederick William III of Prussia. The decisive defeat suffered by the Prussian Army subjugated Prussia to the French Empire until the Sixth Coalition was formed in 1812.[3]

After Jena and Auerstedt, a large number of refugees appeared at the Prussian fortress of Erfurt. At first they were refused entrance, but later the gates were opened and soon the city thronged with at least 12,000 demoralized soldiers. Attempts were made by some officers to return the troops to their regiments, but the men refused to cooperate. Joachim Murat, Marshal of France, sent French Colonel Claude de Préval into Erfurt under a flag of truce.[4] The Frenchman demanded an immediate surrender, which the Prussian commandant initially refused. Karl August, Duke of Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Eisenach, waited near Erfurt in the hope that large numbers of troops would join the retreat; when few did so, he withdrew toward Langensalza.[4] Without support from Prussian Generalfeldmarschall Möllendorf, collapsed from injuries suffered at Auerstedt, the fortress commandant signed articles of capitulation; included in the terms were the surrender of the Petersberg Citadel (Zitadelle Petersberg) and large quantities of gunpowder and munitions. Altogether, about 12,000 Prussian and Saxon troops under William VI, Prince of Orange-Nassau, became prisoners and 65 artillery pieces were captured.[4] At the time of the capitulation, Murat had about 16,000 troops near Erfurt.[5] Historian Francis Loraine Petre remarked that Erfurt was the first of a series of "pusillanimous capitulations" by Prussian fortress commanders, writing that Napoleon's plans might have been delayed had the city held out for just a few days. Instead, the French emperor was able to immediately launch the entire army after his fleeing enemies.[4]

French rule

L'entrevue d'Erfurt, oil on canvas by Nicolas Gosse, showing the Congress of ErfurtNapoleon (centre) is receiving Baron Vincent, ambassador of Austria, (left) with Talleyrand behind the table and Tsar Alexander I side-on, to the picture's right.
Die Napoleonshöhe im Steiger bei Erfurt, painted by Nikolaus Dornheim in 1812. Inaugurated in March 1811 to celebrate Napoleon's birthday, this Greek-style temple with grotto, flowerbeds and fountain in the Stiegerwald was burned in November 1813 and completely destroyed by Erfurters and their besiegers in 1814.

Erfurt was administered by a civilian and military Senate[6] (Finanz- und Domänenkammer Erfurt)[7] under a French governor, based in the Kurmainzische Statthalterei, previously the seat of city's governor under the Electorate.[6] Napoleon first visited the principality on 23 July 1807, inspecting the citadels and fortifications.[6]

On 4 August 1807, Napoleon attached the Saxe-Weimar territory of Blankenhain and declared the Principality of Erfurt to be directly subordinate to himself as an "imperial state domain" (French: domaine réservé à l'empereur), separate from the Confederation of the Rhine (nominally a French protectorate set up to replace the now-defunct Holy Roman Empire), which the surrounding Thuringian states had joined.[7]

On 27 September 1808, Napoleon was ceremonially presented the keys to the city at the Brühler-Tor before going to meet Tsar Alexander I on the road to Weimar to re-enter the city with the tsar.[7] Between 27 September and 14 October 1808, Napoleon hosted the Congress of Erfurt in the principality, intended to reaffirm the alliance with Tsar Alexander I concluded the previous year with the Treaties of Tilsit following the end of the War of the Fourth Coalition. The meeting became a great conference involving an array of kings, princes, dukes, barons and notables from all over Europe, including the kings of Saxony, Bavaria, Württemberg and Westphalia (the last being Napoleon's brother Jérôme).[8] The resulting convention recognised the Russian conquests of Finland from Sweden and the Danubian Principalities from the Ottoman Empire and stated that, should France go to war again with Austria, Russia should make common cause,[9] though the tsar's support in the War of the Fifth Coalition was minimal.[10]

During their administration, the French introduced street lighting and a tax on foreign horses to pay for maintaining the road surface.[7] The Peterskirche suffered under the French occupation, with its inventory being auctioned off to other local churches — including the organ, bells and even the tower of the Corpus Christi chapel (Fronleichnamskapelle) — and the former monastery's library being donated to the University of Erfurt (and then to the Boineburg Library when the university closed in 1816).[7] Similarly the Cyriaksburg Citadel (Zitadelle Cyriaksburg) was damaged by the French with the city-side walls being partially dismantled in the hunt for imagined treasures from the convent, with workers being paid from the sale of the building materials.[11]

In 1811, to commemorate the birth of the Prince Imperial, a 70-foot (21-metre) ceremonial column (Die Napoleonsäule) of wood and plaster was erected on the common, on the instigation of the French administration (the Domänenkammer) and funded by the city treasury.[7][12] Inaugurated on 20 March 1811; it was burned and destroyed by the citizenry on 6 January 1814 when the Sixth Coalition finally entered the city after over 2 months of siege.[7][12][13] Similarly, the Napoleonshöhe — a Greek-style temple topped by a winged victory with shield, sword and lance and containing a bust of Napoleon sculpted by Friedrich Döll[7][12][14] — was erected in the Stiegerwald woods on the direction of the senate-president (Kammer-Präsident) von Resch; the design included a grotto with fountain and flower beds, using a large pond (lavoratorium) from the Peterskirche.[12] Inaugurated with ceremony on 14 August 1811 after extravagant celebrations for Napoleon's birthday,[7] with a eulogy on Napoleon being given by Resch to little celebration from the citizenry, the French administration commissioned a painting of the temple from Nikolaus Dornheim in 1812, but it was burned on 1 November 1813 and completely destroyed by Erfurters and their besiegers in 1814.[7][12] The celebrations of Napoleon's birthday were repeated in 1812, with a concert in the Predigerkirche, conducted by Louis Spohr.[7]

Siege and fall

The former Benedictine monastery buildings of Peterskloster within the Petersberg Citadel (Zitadelle Petersberg), as seen from the northeast in 1800. These buildings were damaged in the siege by the Sixth Coalition; in green is the Peterskirche, blue is the Corpus Christi chapel (Fronleichnamskapelle) and red is the Chapel of Saint Anne.

After his disastrous invasion of Russia, Napoleon briefly rested the remnants of the Grande Armée in Erfurt on 15 December 1812, on their way back to France proper.[7]

With the Sixth Coalition forming after French defeat in Russia, on 24 February 1813 Napoleon ordered the Petersburg Citadel to prepare for siege, visiting the city on 25 April to inspect the fortifications, in particular both Citadels.[7] The French authorities banned all burials in city cemeteries from 26 June 1813, setting up a single central cemetery in Johannesplatz, an arrangement that continued until 9 December 1816 after the city had been restored to Prussia.[7] After the imposition of martial law on the Petersberg Citadel in 1813, the Peterskirche was used as a warehouse and the counts of Gleichen were reburied in Erfurt Cathedral.[15]

On 10 July 1813, Napoleon put in charge of the defences of Erfurt brigadier general Alexandre d'Alton, baron of the Empire. However, when the French decreed that 1000 men would be conscripted into the Grande Armée, the recruits were joined by other citizens in rioting on 19 July that led to 20 arrests, of whom 2 were sentenced to death by French court-martial;[7] as a result, the French ordered the closure of all inns and alehouses.[16]

With the Sixth Coalition's decisive victory at Leipzig (16–19 October 1813), French troops head to Erfurt; Napoleon visited on 23 October, Erfurt being his only major weapons and storage depot east of the Rhine.[17] Within a week of Leipzig, however, Erfurt was besieged by Prussian, Austrian and Russian troops under the command of Prussian Lt Gen von Kleist.[7][18] Coalition shelling of the Petersberg Citadel on 6 November caused substantial damage to districts to the north of the cathedral and the destruction of much of the monastery buildings and the Peterskirche.[7]

After a capitulation signed by d'Alton on 20 December 1813 the French troops withdrew to the two fortresses of Petersberg and Cyriaksburg,[18] allowing for the Coalition forces to march into Erfurt on 6 January 1814 through the Schmidtstedter Gate, to jubilant greetings;[19][20] the Napoleonsäule ceremonial column was burned and destroyed as a symbol of the citizens' oppression under the French.[19] After a call for volunteers 3 days later, 300 Erfurters joined the Coalition armies in France.[19]

Finally, in May 1814, the French capitulated, with 1,700 French troops vacating the Petersberg and Cyriaksburg fortresses.[19] During the two and a half months of siege, the mortality rate rose in the city greatly; 1,564 Erfurt citizens died in 1813, around a thousand more than the previous year.[20]

After the Congress of Vienna, Erfurt was restored to Prussia on 21 June 1815, becoming the capital of one of the three districts (Regierungsbezirke) of the new Province of Saxony, but some southern and eastern parts of Erfurter lands joined Blankenhain in being transferred to the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach the following September.[19] Although enclosed by Thuringian territory in the west, south and east, the city remained part of the Prussian Province of Saxony until 1944.


  1. "Hauptschluß der ausserordentlichen Reichsdeputation" (in German). 25 February 1803. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  2. The full text of Hauptschluß der außerordentlichen Reichsdeputation vom 25. Februar 1803 at Wikisource
  3. David G. Chandler (2009) [First published 1966]. The Campaigns of Napoleon. Simon & Schuster. pp. 479–506. ISBN 978-1-439-13103-9.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Francis Loraine Petre (1993) [First published 1907]. Napoleon's Conquest of Prussia 1806. Lionel Leventhal. pp. 194–95. ISBN 1-85367-145-2.
  5. Digby Smith (1998). The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. Greenhill. p. 226. ISBN 1-85367-276-9.
  6. 1 2 3 "Kurzer historischer Überblick" [Brief historical overview]. Napoleon's Fürstenkongress Erfurt (in German). Euratibor. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 "1806–1814: Erfurt unter französischer Besetzung" [1806–1814: Erfurt under French occupation] (in German). Erfurt Stadtverwaltung [Erfurt city administration]. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  8. "Erfurt". Allgemeine Militair-Encyclopädie (in German). Webel. 1869. pp. 324–25. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  9. "The Erfurt Convention". The Napoleon Series. 1995. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  10. Alexander Mikaberidze (2011). "Non-Belligerent Belligerent Russia and the Franco-Austrian War of 1809". Napoleonica. La Revue. 1 (10): 4–22. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  11. Gerhard Robert Walter von Coeckelberghe-Dützele (1834). Ruinen oder Taschenbuch zur Geschichte verfallener Ritterburgen und Schlößer (etc.) [Ruins, or: A pocketbook on the history of dilapidated knights' castles] (in German). Mich. Lechner. p. 21. Retrieved 23 January 2016. Nach der unglücklichen Schlacht bei Jena und dem Rückzuge der Preußen, wurde sie durch Kapitulation den Franzosen übergeben, und erhielt anfangs eine ziemlich starke Besatzung; doch wurde sie in der Folge so von ihnen vernachläßigt, daß in einer gewissen Epoche der Marketender Sturm mit seiner Familie und ein alter Unteroffizier ihre ganze Garnison ausmachten. Damals war es, wo der Intendant Devismes und der Domainen-Direktor Gentil in der nach der Stadt zugekehrten Seite der Mauer einen Schatz suchen ließ, der noch aus den Zeiten des ehemaligen Benedektiner-Nonnenklosters hier versteckt seyn sollte, ohne zu bedenken, daß zufolge der oben angeführten, an der Mauer befindlichen Inschrift, kein Schatz von 1478 her in einer Mauer versteckt seyn konnte, die über 100 Jahre darnach erst erbaut worden war; aber die Habsucht eilte hier jeder nähern Untersuchung vor. Bei dieser Gelegenheit wurde auch die alte Burgkapelle demoliert und aus den verkauften Baumaterialien die Arbeiter bezahlt, die beim Schatzgraben hilfreiche Hand geleistet hatten. [After the unfortunate battle of Jena and the retreat of the Prussians, it was handed over by capitulation to the French, and was initially fairly strongly garrisoned; but was subsequently so neglected that at one time the whole garrison consisted of the sutler Sturm with his family and an old sergeant. At that time, Intendant de Vismes and Domain-Director Gentil searched in the city-side walls for treasure hidden since the times of the former Benedictine nunnery — without considering that an inscription located on the wall above showed that it had been built just over 100 years later, so no treasure could have been hidden there in 1478, but greed hastened this before any closer investigation. On that occasion the old chapel was demolished, and the workers who had helped dig for treasure were paid from the sale of the building materials.]
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 "Denkmale Erfurts 1806–1814" [Monuments of Erfurt 1806–1814] (in German). Thüringer Naturbrief. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  13. Frank Palmowski (2015) [First published 2013]. Die Belagerung von Erfurt 1813–1814 [The Siege of Erfurt 1813–1814] (in German). Sutton Verlag. p. 25. ISBN 978-3-954-00604-5. Retrieved 17 January 2016. Preußische Truppen marschieren in der Stadt ein. Auf dem Anger kommt es zu Jubelszenen. Der Napoleon-Obelisk wird zerstört. [Prussian troops march into the city. On the village green this leads to scenes of jubilation. The Napoleon obelisk is destroyed.]
  14. Frank Palmowski (2015) [First published 2013]. Die Belagerung von Erfurt 1813–1814 [The Siege of Erfurt 1813–1814] (in German). Sutton Verlag. p. 82. ISBN 978-3-954-00604-5.
  15. Frank Palmowski (2015) [First published 2013]. Die Belagerung von Erfurt 1813–1814 [The Siege of Erfurt 1813–1814] (in German). Sutton Verlag. pp. 16, 73. ISBN 978-3-954-00604-5. ... Gruft der Grafen von Gleichen in der Peterskirche öffnete man am 19. August 1813 und überführte den Grabstein zum Dom. [... Tomb of the Counts von Gleichen in the Peterskirche to be opened on 19 August 1813 and transferred the gravestone to the Cathedral.]
  16. Willibald Gutsche, ed. (1989). Geschichte der Stadt Erfurt [History of the city of Erfurt] (in German) (2nd revised ed.). Weimar. ISBN 3-7400-0095-3. Cited within Belagerung von Erfurt (1813) on the German Wikipedia.
  17. Karl Bade (1841). Napoleon im Jahre 1813 : politisch-militairisch geschildert, Band 4 [Napoleon in the year 1813: the political and military situation described, volume 4]. Altona: G Blatt. p. 234. OCLC 16891036. Cited within Belagerung von Erfurt (1813) on the German Wikipedia.
  18. 1 2 Christoph Wilhelm von Koch (1838). Histoire abrégée des traités de paix entre les puissances de l'Europe depuis la paix de Westphalie, Volume 3 [Abridged history of the peace treaties between the powers of Europe since the Peace of Westphalia, Volume 3] (in French). Meline, Cans et Compagnie. Le général Kleist assiégeait Erfurt. Par suite d'une capitulation signée le 20 décembre, le générale français d'Alton se retira dans les deux forts de Petersberg et Cyriacsbourg, et la ville fut remise aux Prussiens le 6 janvier 1814. [General Kleist laid siege to Erfurt. As a result of a capitulation signed on 20 December, the French general d'Alton withdrew to the two forts of Petersberg and Cyriaksburg, and the town was handed over to the Prussians on 6 January 1814.]
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 "1814–1850: Erfurt im preußischen Staat" [1814–1850: Erfurt in the Prussian state] (in German). Erfurt Stadtverwaltung [Erfurt city administration]. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  20. 1 2 Georg Friedrich Hühn (1839), Kurzgefasste Nachricht von der Belagerung, Blokade und Einzug der Königlich Preußischen Truppen in Erfurt. Vom 21sten Oktober 1813 bis zum 8ten Januar 1814. In einem Briefe als ein Journal abgefasst, und an einen vertrauten Freund abgesendet. Bei Gelegenheit der 25jährigen Jubelfeier neu abgedruckt [Concise news of the siege, blockade and entry of the Royal Prussian troops into Erfurt. From 21 October 1813 to 8 January 1814. In a letter as a journal written and sent to a trusted friend. Reprinted on the occasion of the 25th jubilee], Erfurt. Cited within Belagerung von Erfurt (1813) on the German Wikipedia.

Further reading

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