Principality of Göttingen

Principality of Göttingen
Fürstentum Göttingen
State of the Holy Roman Empire

Coat of arms

Capital Göttingen
Government Principality
Historical era Middle Ages
   Albert II the Fat
    Duke of Brunswick
    Prince of Göttingen
  separated from
  Line extinct, annexed
    by Calenberg
   Merged to Calenberg 1495
Preceded by
Succeeded by

The Principality of Göttingen was a subdivision of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg in the Holy Roman Empire with Göttingen as its capital. It was split off from the principality of Brunswick in 1286 in the course of an estate division among members of the House of Welf. In 1495 it was incorporated into the Principality of Calenberg, with which it stayed united until the end of the Duchy.


H. Bünting: Göttingen from the west, woodcut, 1585

After the death of the first Brunswick duke Otto the Child in 1257 AD, his sons Albert I of Brunswick (the Tall) and Johann inherited their father's territories. Duke Albrecht I first governed for his brother, a minor. Subsequently the brothers agreed to divide the territory between them in 1267, effective 1269. The southern territories around the cities of Wolfenbüttel and Göttingen went to Albert I, and were inherited by his sons Henry the Admirable, Albert II the Fat and William in 1279. In 1286 the brothers again divided their heritage, Albert II chose Göttingen as his residence and moved into the Welf residency, which he rebuilt into a fortress. After his brother William had died in 1292, he was also able to acquire the subdivision around Wolfenbüttel against his elder brother Henry, who only retained Grubenhagen.

After Albert the Fat's death in 1318, Göttingen passed to his eldest son Otto the Mild, who governed over both the "Principality of Göttingen" (German: Fürstentum Göttingen) and the territory of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. These dukes joined Göttingen and surrounding towns in battles against aristocratic knights in the surroundings of Göttingen, in the course of which the citizens of Göttingen succeeded in destroying the fortress of Grone between 1323 and 1329 AD, as well as the fortress of Rosdorf. Since Otto the Mild died in 1344 without leaving children, his younger brothers Magnus the Pious and Ernest divided the land between themselves. Ernest I received Göttingen, the poorest of all the Welf principalities, which was to remain separate from Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel for centuries. At this time, the territory consisted of the regions formerly owned by the Counts of Northeim, the towns of Göttingen, Uslar, Dransfeld, Münden, Gieselwerder at the border with Hesse and half of Moringen. Not much is known about the rule of Duke Ernest I but it is generally assumed that he continued to fight against aristocratic knights.

Ernest I was succeeded after his death in 1367 by his son Otto I of Göttingen (the Evil; German: der Quade) (d 1394), who initially lived in the city's fortress and attempted to make it a permanent Welf residency. The epithet the Evil came from Otto I's incessant feuds. Breaking with the policies of his predecessors, he frequently aligned himself with the aristocratic knights of the neighborhood in battles against the cities, whose growing power disturbed him. Under Otto the Evil Göttingen gained a large degree of independence. After losing control of the provincial court at the Leineberg in to Göttingen in 1375, Otto finally tried to impose his influence on Göttingen in 1387 AD, but with little success. In April 1387 Göttingen's citizens stormed and destroyed the fortress within the city walls. In retaliation, Otto destroyed villages and farms in the town's surroundings. However, Göttingen's citizens gained a victory over the Duke's army in a battle between the villages of Rosdorf and Grone, under their leader Moritz of Uslar, forcing Otto to acknowledge the independence of the town and its surrounding properties. 1387 thus marks an important turning point in the history of the town. Göttingen's relative autonomy was further strengthened under Otto's successor Otto II "the One-eyed" of Göttingen (German: Cocles/der Einäugige), not least because the Welf line of Brunswick-Göttingen died out with Otto II, and the resulting questions surrounding his succession after his abdication in 1435 destabilized the regional aristocracy.

The trend towards ever diminishing Welf influence over the town continued until the end of the 15th century, although the town officially remained a Welf property. Nevertheless, it is counted in some contemporaneous documents among the Imperial Free Cities.

The Göttingen branch of the Welf dynasty became extinct, when Duke Otto II the One-Eyed died without male heirs in 1463. His territories were inherited by his cousin Duke William the Victorious, then Prince of Calenberg. After William had also inherited the Principality of Wolfenbüttel in 1473, he gave Göttingen to his eldest son William IV. When in 1482 William IV succeeded his father as Prince of Wolfenbüttel both territories were once again ruled in personal union, though only for a short time, as in 1491 he ceded Wolfenbüttel to his eldest son Henry IV the Evil and finally incorporated Göttingen as an integral part of the Principality of Calenberg, which he gave to his second son, Duke Eric I "the Elder" in 1495. The town of Göttingen refused to pay homage to Eric I in 1504, and as a result, Eric I had Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg declare the city outlawed. The subsequent tensions economically weakened Göttingen, leading to the town finally paying its homage to Eric I in 1512. Afterward the relationship between Eric and the town improved, because of Eric's financially dependence on Göttingen.

With Calenberg, Göttingen came into possession of the Welf dukes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in 1584. In 1635 it passed to Duke George of House of Lüneburg-Celle, which ruled it thenceforth. In 1692 it was named as part of the indivisible territory of the Electoral state of Hanover.

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