The House of Wittelsbach (German: Haus Wittelsbach) is a former German dynasty, with branches that have ruled over territories including the Electorate of Bavaria, the Electoral Palatinate, the Electorate of Cologne, Holland, Zeeland, Sweden (with Swedish-ruled Finland), Denmark, Norway, Hungary (with Romania), Bohemia, and Greece. Their ancestral lands of Bavaria and the Palatinate were prince-electorates, and the family had three of its members elected emperors and kings of the Holy Roman Empire. They ruled over the Kingdom of Bavaria which was created in 1805 and continued to exist until 1918.
The House of Windsor, the reigning royal house of the British monarchy, are descendants of Sophia of Hanover, a Wittelsbach Princess of the Palatinate by birth and Electress of Hanover by marriage, who had inherited the succession rights of the House of Stuart and passed them on to the House of Hanover.
When Otto I, Count of Scheyern died in 1072, his third son Otto II, Count of Scheyern acquired Wittelsbach Castle (near Aichach). The Counts of Scheyern left Scheyern Castle (constructed around 940) in 1119 for Wittelsbach Castle and the former was given to monks to establish Scheyern Abbey. The origins of the Counts of Scheyern are unclear. Some speculative theories link them to Margrave Henry of Schweinfurt and his father Berthold, whose background is also disputed. Some speculate that the Schweinfurters may be descendants of the Luitpolding dynasty, the Bavarian dukes of the 10th century.
The Wittelsbach Conrad of Scheyern-Dachau, a great-grandson of Otto I, Count of Scheyern, became Duke of Merania in 1153 and was succeeded by his son Conrad II. It was the first Duchy held by the Wittelsbach family (until 1180/82).
Otto I's eldest son Eckhard I, Count of Scheyern was father of the count palatine of Bavaria, Otto IV (died 1156), who was the first Count of Wittelsbach and whose son Otto was invested with the Duchy of Bavaria in 1180 after the fall of Henry the Lion and hence the first Bavarian ruler from the House of Wittelsbach. Duke Otto's son Louis I, Duke of Bavaria acquired the Electorate of the Palatinate in 1214.
Throughout history, members of the royal house have reigned as Dukes of Merania (1153–1180/82); Dukes, Electors, and Kings of Bavaria (1180–1918); Counts Palatine of the Rhine (1214–1803 and 1816–1918); Margraves of Brandenburg (1323–1373); Counts of Holland, Hainaut, and Zeeland (1345–1433); Elector-Archbishops of Cologne (1583–1761); Dukes of Jülich and Berg (1614–1794/1806); Kings of Sweden (1441–1448 and 1654–1720); and Dukes of Bremen-Verden (1654–1719).
The family also provided two Holy Roman Emperors (1328–1347/1742–1745), one King of the Romans (1400–1410), two Anti-Kings of Bohemia (1619–20/1742–43), one King of Hungary (1305–1308), one King of Denmark and Norway (1440–1448), and one King of Greece (1832–1862).
The Wittelsbach dynasty ruled the German territories of Bavaria from 1180 to 1918 and the Electorate of the Palatinate from 1214 until 1805. In both countries they had succeeded rulers from the House of Welf. The Duchy of Bavaria was elevated to the Electorate of Bavaria in 1623, and in 1806, Napoleon elevated it to the Kingdom of Bavaria. In 1815, the Palatinate was annexed by the Grand Duchy of Baden.
On Duke Otto II's death in 1253, his sons divided the Wittelsbach possessions between them: Henry became Duke of Lower Bavaria, and Louis II Duke of Upper Bavaria and Count Palatine of the Rhine. When Henry's branch died out in 1340 the Emperor Louis IV, a son of Duke Louis II, reunited the duchy.
The family provided two Holy Roman Emperors: Louis IV (1314–1347) and Charles VII (1742–1745), both members of the Bavarian branch of the family, and one German King with Rupert of the Palatinate (1400–1410), a member of the Palatinate branch.
The House of Wittelsbach split into these two branches in 1329: Under the Treaty of Pavia, Emperor Louis IV granted the Palatinate including the Bavarian Upper Palatinate to his brother Duke Rudolf's descendants, Rudolf II, Rupert I and Rupert II. Rudolf I in this way became the ancestor of the older (Palatinate) line of the Wittelsbach dynasty, which returned to power also in Bavaria in 1777 after the extinction of the younger (Bavarian) line, the descendants of Louis IV.
The Bavarian branch kept the duchy of Bavaria until its extinction in 1777.
The Wittelsbach Emperor Louis IV acquired Brandenburg (1323), Tyrol (1342), Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut (1345) for his House but he had also released the Upper Palatinate for the Palatinate branch of the Wittelsbach in 1329. His six sons succeeded him as Duke of Bavaria and Count of Holland and Hainaut in 1347. The Wittelsbachs lost the Tyrol with the death of duke Meinhard and the following Peace of Schärding – the Tyrol was finally renounced to the Habsburgs in 1369. In 1373 Otto, the last Wittelsbach regent of Brandenburg, released the country to the House of Luxembourg. On Duke Albert's death in 1404, he was succeeded in the Netherlands by his eldest son, William. A younger son, John III, became Bishop of Liège. However, on William's death in 1417, a war of succession broke out between John and William's daughter Jacqueline of Hainaut. This last episode of the Hook and Cod wars finally left the counties in Burgundian hands in 1433. Emperor Louis IV had reunited Bavaria in 1340 but from 1349 onwards Bavaria was split among the descendants of Louis IV, who created the branches Bavaria-Landshut, Bavaria-Straubing, Bavaria-Ingolstadt and Bavaria-Munich. With the Landshut War of Succession Bavaria was reunited in 1505 against the claim of the Palatinate branch under the Bavarian branch Bavaria-Munich.
From 1549 to 1567 the Wittelsbach owned the County of Kladsko in Bohemia.
Strictly Catholic by upbringing, the Bavarian dukes became leaders of the German Counter-Reformation. From 1583 to 1761, the Bavarian branch of the dynasty provided the Prince-electors and Archbishops of Cologne and many other Bishops of the Holy Roman Empire, namely Liège (1581–1763). Wittelsbach princes served for example as Bishops of Regensburg, Freising, Liège, Münster, Hildesheim, Paderborn and Osnabrück, and as Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order.
In 1623 under Maximilian I the Bavarian dukes were invested with the electoral dignity and the duchy became the Electorate of Bavaria. His grandson Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria served also as Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands (1692–1706) and as Duke of Luxembourg (1712–1714). His son Emperor Charles VII was also king of Bohemia (1741–1743). With the death of Charles' son Maximilian III Joseph, Elector of Bavaria the Bavarian branch died out in 1777.
The Palatinate branch kept the Palatinate until 1918, having succeeded also to Bavaria in 1777. With the Golden Bull of 1356 the Counts Palatine were invested with the electoral dignity, their county became the Electorate of the Palatinate. Princes of the Palatinate branch served as Bishops of the Empire and also as Elector-Archbishops of Mainz and Elector-Archbishops of Trier.
After the death of the Wittelsbach king Rupert of Germany in 1410 the Palatinate lands began to split under numerous branches of the family such as Neumarkt, Simmern, Zweibrücken, Birkenfeld, Neuburg and Sulzbach. When the senior branch of the Palatinate branch died out in 1559, the Electorate passed to Frederick III of Simmern, a staunch Calvinist, and the Palatinate became one of the major centers of Calvinism in Europe, supporting Calvinist rebellions in both the Netherlands and France.
The Neuburg cadet branch of the Palatinate branch also held the Duchy of Jülich and Berg from 1614 onwards: When the last duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg died without direct heirs in 1609, the War of the Jülich succession broke out, ended by the 1614 Treaty of Xanten, which divided the separate duchies between Palatinate-Neuburg and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. Jülich and Berg fell to the Wittelsbach Count Palatine Wolfgang William of Neuburg.
In 1619, the Protestant Frederick V, Elector Palatine became King of Bohemia but was defeated by the Catholic Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria, a member of the Bavarian branch. As a result, the Upper Palatinate had to be ceded to the Bavarian branch in 1623. When the Thirty Years' War concluded with the Treaty of Münster (also called the Peace of Westphalia) in 1648, a new additional electorate was created for the Count Palatine of the Rhine. During their exile Frederick's sons, especially Prince Rupert of the Rhine, gained fame in England.
The house of Palatinate of Zweibrücken-Kleeburg as heir to the Swedish throne ruled simultaneously the duchy of Bremen-Verden (1654–1719).
In 1685, the Simmern line died out, and the Catholic Philip William, Count Palatine of Neuburg inherited the Palatinate (and also Duke of Jülich and Berg). During the reign of Johann Wilhelm (1690–1716) the Electoral residence moved to Düsseldorf in Berg. His brother and successor Charles III Philip, Elector Palatine moved the Palatinate's capital back to Heidelberg in 1718 and then to Mannheim in 1720. To strengthen the union of all lines of the Wittelsbach dynasty Charles Philip organized a wedding on 17 January 1742 when his granddaughters were married to Charles Theodore of Palatinate-Sulzbach and to the Bavarian prince Clement. In the imperial election a few days later Charles III Philip voted for his Bavarian cousin Prince-Elector Charles Albert. After extinction of the Neuburg branch in 1742, the Palatinate was inherited by Duke Charles Theodore of the branch Palatinate-Sulzbach.
After the extinction of the Bavarian branch in 1777, a succession dispute and the brief War of the Bavarian Succession, the Palatinate-Sulzbach branch under Elector Charles Theodore succeeded also in Bavaria.
With the death of Charles Theodore in 1799 all Wittelsbach land in Bavaria and the Palatinate was reunited under Maximilian IV Joseph, a member of the branch Palatinate-Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld. At the time there were two surviving branches of the Wittelsbach family: Palatinate-Zweibrücken (headed by Maximilian Joseph) and Palatinate-Birkenfeld (headed by Count Palatine William). Maximilian Joseph inherited Charles Thedore's title of Elector of Bavaria, while William was compensated with the title of Duke in Bavaria. The form Duke in Bavaria was selected because in 1506 primogeniture had been established in the House of Wittelsbach resulting in there being only one Reigning Duke of Bavaria at any given time. Maximillian Joseph assumed the title of king as Maximilian I Joseph on 1 January 1806. The new king still served as a Prince-elector until the Kingdom of Bavaria left the Holy Roman Empire (1 August 1806).
Under Maximilian's descendants, Bavaria became the third most powerful German state, behind only Prussia and Austria. It was also far-and-away the most powerful secondary state. When the German Empire was formed in 1871, Bavaria became the new empire's second most powerful state after Prussia. The Wittelsbachs reigned as kings of Bavaria until 1918. On 12 November 1918 Ludwig III issued the Anif declaration (German: Anifer Erklärung) at Anif Palace in Austria, in which he released his soldiers and officials from their oath of loyalty to him and ended the 738-year rule of the House of Wittelsbach in Bavaria. The republican movement thereupon declared a republic.
Before and during the Second World War, the Wittelsbachs were anti-Nazi. Crown Prince Rupert earned Hitler's eternal enmity by opposing the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. The family initially left Germany for Hungary, but were eventually arrested. Family members spent time in several Nazi concentration camps including Oranienburg and Dachau.
With Duke Otto III of Lower Bavaria, who was a maternal grandson of Béla IV of Hungary and was elected anti-king of Hungary and Croatia as Bela V (1305–1308) the Wittelsbach dynasty came to power outside the Holy Roman Empire for the first time. Otto had abdicated the Hungarian throne by 1308.
The Bill of Rights 1689 and the Act of Settlement 1701 excluded non-Protestants from inheriting the throne of Great Britain, making Sophia of Hanover of the House of Palatinate-Simmern the heir presumptive upon Anne's death. Sophia died two months before Anne, however, and Sophia's eldest son George I of Great Britain succeeded the throne in 1714.
The line of Jacobite succession, which recognises the right for a Catholic monarch from the House of Stuart, acknowledges Franz, Hereditary Prince of Bavaria to be the rightful heir as "Francis II". However, no individual since Henry Benedict Stuart has publicly taken up the claim.
Christopher III of the House of Palatinate-Neumarkt was king of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in 1440/1442–1448, but left no descendants. The House of Palatinate-Zweibrücken contributed to the monarchy of Sweden again 1654–1720 under Charles X, Charles XI, Charles XII, and Ulrika Eleonora.
Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated her throne on 5 June 1654 in favour of her cousin Charles X Gustav, a member of the House of Palatinate-Zweibrücken. It was the second term for the rule of the House of Wittelsbach in Sweden since 1448 when Christopher III of the Palatinate branch was elected king of Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
Sweden reached its largest territorial extent under the rule of Charles X after the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658. Charles's son Charles XI rebuilt the economy and refitted the army. His legacy to his son Charles XII was one of the finest arsenals in the world, a large standing army, and a large fleet. Charles XII was a skilled military leader and tactician. However, although he was also skilled as a politician, he was reluctant in making peace. While Sweden achieved several large scale military successes early on, and won the most battles, the Great Northern War eventually ended in Sweden's defeat and the end of the Swedish Empire. Charles was succeeded to the Swedish throne by his sister, Ulrika Eleonora. Her abdication in favour of her husband Frederick I in 1720 marked the end of Wittelsbach rule in Sweden.
Prince Otto of Bavaria was elected king of newly independent Greece in 1832 and was forced to abdicate in 1862. King Otto I of the House of Wittelsbach was made the first King of Greece in 1832 under the Treaty of Constantinople, whereby Greece became a new independent kingdom under the protection of the Great Powers (the United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire).
Throughout his reign, Otto faced political challenges concerning Greece's financial weakness and the role of the government in the affairs of the Church. The politics of Greece of this era was based on affiliations with the three Great Powers, and Otto's ability to maintain the support of the powers was key to his remaining in power. To remain strong, Otto had to play the interests of each of the Great Powers’ Greek adherents against the others, while not aggravating the Great Powers. Otto's standing amongst Greeks suffered when Greece was blockaded by the British Royal Navy in 1850 and 1853 to stop Greece from attacking the Ottoman Empire during the Crimean War. As a result, there was an assassination attempt on his wife Queen Amalia in 1861. In 1862, Otto was deposed while in the countryside, and in 1863, the Greek National Assembly elected George I of the House of Glücksburg, aged only 17, King of the Hellenes, marking the end of Wittelsbach rule in Greece.
Joseph Ferdinand, a son of Maximilian II Emanuel, was the favored choice of England and the Netherlands to succeed as the ruler of Spain, and young Charles II of Spain chose him as his heir. Due to the unexpected death of Joseph Ferdinand in 1699 the Wittelsbach did not come to power in Spain, leaving the Spanish Succession uncertain again.
Many women in the family are known as Elisabeth of Bavaria.
Duke Franz's patriline is the line from which he is descended father to son. Patrilineal descent is the principle behind membership in royal houses, as it can be traced back through the generations.
As noted above, the origins of the counts of Scheyern are unclear. Some rather theories (see citations) link them to margrave Henry of Schweinfurt and his father Berthold whose background is also disputed. The Schweinfurters may be descendants of the Luitpolding dynasty, the Bavarian dukes of the 10th century (see citations below).
Living Legitimate Members of the Wittlesbach
Some of the most important Bavarian castles and palaces that were built by Wittelsbach rulers, or served as seats of ruling branch lines, are the following:
Some of the most important castles and palaces of the Palatinate Wittelsbach were:
From 1597 to 1794, Bonn was the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and residence of the Archbishops and Prince-electors of Cologne, most of them belonging to the Bavarian branch of the House of Wittelsbach (continuously from 1583 to 1761).
A full armorial of the Wittelsbach family can be found on the French-language Wikipedia at Armorial of the House of Wittelsbach.
Each of the prince electors carried one of the grand offices of the Empire. Each office was indicated by a heraldic mark, the ones that the House of Wittelsbach carried are shown below.
In the German fashion, all the sons were "Count Palatine of the Rhine" ((German: Pfalzgraf bei Rhein)). There was only one Elector Palatine of the Rhine (German: Kurfürst von der Pfalz). Similarly, all the sons were Dukes of Bavaria (German: Herzog von Bayern), until 1506. Then, Duke in Bavaria (German: Herzog in Bayern) was the title used by all members of the House of Wittelsbach with the exception of the Duke of Bavaria. This became a unique position given to the eldest descendant of the younger branch of the Wittelsbachs, who inherited the rule of the entire duchy of Bavaria. For example, so reads the full title of the late 16th century's Charles I, Count Palatine of Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld and patriarch of the House of Palatinate-Birkenfeld: "Count Palatine by Rhine, Duke in Bavaria, Count to Veldenz and Sponheim" (Pfalzgraf bei Rhein, Herzog in Bayern, Graf zu Veldenz und Sponheim).
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