Saturday, June 13, 2015

Story of Monarchy: The Kingdom of Württemberg

The story of Wurttemberg has its roots in the Dark Ages when the Hohenstaufen counts of Swabia were succeeded by the family of Conrad von Beutelsbach who was the count of Wurttemberg and his family later adopted that name, the name of Conrad’s ancestral castle. Eberhard I became the first Duke of Wurttemberg and was quite an accomplished figure in German history. He became a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and was the one who moved the capitol of Wurttemberg to Stuttgart where it has remained ever since. He received the Golden Rose from Pope Sixtus IV and the Order of the Golden Fleece from Emperor Maximilian before his death in 1496. It was the Emperor Maximilian who, in the Reichstag of Worms, elevated his title to duke in 1495. However, his next two successors were deposed in turn by the nobility. Duke Ulrich, deposed mostly because of his spending and taxation, saw Wurttemberg annexed by Austria though he was later restored when French troops defeated the few forces Emperor Charles V could dispatch and the Duke was restored to his throne. He had regained popularity by adopting Protestantism and taking up the cause of the ‘common man’ in the Peasants’ War.

Duke Friedrich I
There was the seizure of Catholic Church property at that time, as was common in such circumstances, and Duke Ulrich participated in a Protestant-led war against Emperor Charles V. However, they were defeated and Wurttemberg was conquered by imperial forces. Still, Charles V allowed the Duke to retain his position, though his future successor Ferdinand had wished to remove him. Ulrich’s son and successor would have to make considerable payments to the by-then Emperor Ferdinand to avoid being convicted of treason. Later, Duke Friedrich I would be made a Knight of the Garter by Queen Elizabeth I of England and was referred to several times by Shakespeare in “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. In the Thirty Years War Duke Johann Friedrich fought briefly on the Protestant side but was defeated by the imperial troops of Marshal Tilly. Wurttemberg was later plundered and much of the territory parceled out by the Emperor to Catholic nobles. However, most of it was ultimately restored with the Peace of Westphalia that ended the conflict. Duke Eberhard Ludwig fought as a Field Marshal in the War of Spanish Succession and being inspired by a visit to the court of King Louis XIV tried to make the Duchy of Wurttemberg into an absolute monarchy. Shortage of funds hampered him and his lack of a legitimate heir aroused concern that the ducal throne would pass into Catholic hands.

In 1733 Karl Alexander succeeded Eberhard Ludwig as Duke of Wurttemberg and he had quite an eventful life. A very successful soldier who fought for the Emperor under the great Prince Eugene of Savoy in the War of Spanish Succession. He converted to Catholicism in 1712 and fought the Ottoman Turks with great success. In 1720 he was appointed by Emperor Charles VI (Kaiser Karl VI) governor of the Kingdom of Serbia. So it was that for a little over a decade a Wurttemberg prince was the regent and more or less absolute ruler of the Kingdom of Serbia. It was also Duke Karl Alexander who married into the prestigious princely House of Thurn und Taxis. He died in 1737. His son and successor, Duke Karl Eugen, learned his trade at the Prussian court of King Frederick the Great and fought for him in Saxony. He was a patron of the famous German writer Friedrich Schiller and behind such notable building projects as the New Palace and the grandly named Castle Solitude. He loved farming, books, the opera as well as a number of women and spent his little state into bankruptcy though he left it a more grand place than he found it.

Despite three marriages and ten or more illegitimate offspring by his mistresses, Duke Karl Eugen produced no legitimate heir and so upon his passing in 1793 the ducal throne went to his brothers, first Ludwig Eugen, who died within two years, and then Friedrich Eugen. Duke Friedrich Eugen had also served with King Frederick the Great and even married the niece of the famous Prussian monarch. By her he had twelve children and these were raised Protestant so that when his son succeeded him the religion of the ducal family and their subjects were once again the same. By this time the French Revolution had broken out and Duke Friedrich Eugen had been forced to break his ties with the Austrian Emperor due to a French invasion. His son, the towering Friedrich II, who succeeded him in 1797, went to war against France, was swiftly defeated and Wurttemberg was left in ruins by the French revolutionary forces. Duke Friedrich II was left with the unenviable choice of total destruction or an alliance with France. He chose France.

In 1802 Friedrich II signed a private treaty with Napoleon Bonaparte, giving up his territory on the left bank of the Rhine in exchange for some conquered imperial territory and Napoleon elevated him to the rank of Elector. After forming a military alliance with France in 1805 he was rewarded with more Austrian territory in the Treaty of Pressburg. The following year, on New Year’s Day, he assumed the title of King Friedrich I of Wurttemberg with the backing of the French Emperor. He also joined Napoleon’s Confederation of the Rhine, a grouping of all the German states aligned with France, intended to be a French dominated successor to the Austrian dominated Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Wurttemberg gained more and more territory as French victories increased but also paid a heavy price for French favor in the form of the many soldiers from Wurttemberg attached to Napoleon’s armies. The greatest sacrifice would come with the invasion of Russia in 1812. King Friedrich I contributed 14,000 men to the invasion, serving in the III Corps under Marshal Ney. They acquitted themselves well but were virtually annihilated before the campaign was over.

King Friedrich I
The following year, King Friedrich I switched sides and signed a treaty with the Austrian Empire, joining forces with the Allies in exchange for the confirmation of his expanded territory and more exalted title. All was agreed to, the Kingdom of Wurttemberg officially joined the Allies to see the downfall of Napoleon and Friedrich I emerged from the conflict with his new lands and his status as King intact. It was the side he had started on and he had plenty of connections to the Allied side as well. When his sister married into the Romanov dynasty he had made a favorable impression on Empress Catherine the Great and for a time was Governor-General of Eastern Finland. However, he was later forced to leave the country on charges of being abusive toward his wife which rather ruined his reputation. Still, his second marriage was to the British Princess Royal Charlotte, daughter of King George III so he maintained contacts on both sides of the line. He married the daughter of the King of England and gave his own daughter to be married to one of Napoleon’s brothers. In the end, it all worked out for him and the Congress of Vienna did not take back any of the lands or the title Napoleon had given him. However, he did not live long to enjoy it as the massive monarch died in 1816.

At the time there was a great deal of squabbling going on over the constitution. The government rejected his proposal and his son and successor, King Wilhelm I, had to negotiate a new one which was passed in 1819. King Wilhelm I had big ideas about forming a coalition of the minor German states of Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Hanover and Saxony to act as a counterweight to the increasingly antagonistic Austria and Prussia. As most know, such a thing never came about but King Wilhelm I never stopped trying. Because of his constitution, he had a somewhat liberal reputation when the Revolutions of 1848 hit and probably because of that, though there was some turmoil, the Kingdom of Wurttemberg weathered the storm with no outbreaks of violence. He did, however, have the distinction of being the only German monarch to sign on to the Frankfurt Constitution but he spent the rest of his reign as an ardent reactionary, trying to undo all the damage that had been done.

King Karl
In time, King Wilhelm became quite a respected figure among the crowned heads of Europe and fairly influential in German affairs. During the Crimean War he backed the cause of German neutrality, benefiting Russia more than most realized as this also helped keep Austria from joining in the anti-Russian coalition. He restored good relations with France and also helped France and Russia to begin patching up their relationship after that ugly business in the Crimea. Many monarchs and important people came to him for advice on various matters. However, his private life was less than ideal, though most never knew it. His marriage was little more than a charade and he did not get along with his son, Karl, who succeeded him in 1864. His second daughter, Sophie, would become Queen of the Netherlands by her marriage to King Willem III and his only son, King Karl I of Wurttemberg, married the daughter of Czar Nicholas I of Russia in 1846. It was probably unfortunate for her as King Karl I was likely a homosexual. The two never had any children and King Karl was plagued by scandal over his antics regarding his “companion” Charles Woodcock of New York. It is at this point in the story of Wurttemberg that you realize again that truth is stranger than fiction as absolutely no writer would think to get away with inventing the character of a gay lover named Woodcock.

However, it was fortunate for Wurttemberg that he married as Queen Olga was the far more impressive of the two, both in how she carried herself and her tireless charitable work on behalf of her adopted people. Unlike his father, King Karl was not to remain neutral in the rivalry between Prussia and Austria. Whether out of conviction or because he could simply see which way the wind was blowing, he began to distance the Kingdom of Wurttemberg from the Austrian Empire and draw ever closer to the Kingdom of Prussia. He joined his country to the North German Confederation and took the side of the Prussians in the 1870 war with France. Afterwards, his nephew August von Wurttemberg represented him when the King of Prussia was proclaimed German Kaiser Wilhelm I at the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The Kingdom of Wurttemberg became part of the Second German Empire but retained considerable autonomy. For King Karl, it was all for the better. This, as well as his liberal style of leadership, coincided well with his own lack of interest in the affairs of government which he was pleased to leave with others. He died in 1891 and was succeeded by his nephew, King Wilhelm II.

King Wilhelm II
King Wilhelm II would preside over the end of the Kingdom of Wurttemberg, unfortunately, but he was quite an interesting figure. He had a love for sailing and refused to let being the King of a landlocked country get in the way of that. He founded a yacht club on Lake Constance. He first married Princess Marie von Waldeck und Pyrmont in 1877 but he became very depressed with the death of their second child and only son, Prince Ulrich, in 1880. Two years later his wife died giving birth to a stillborn daughter, furthering his sadness. In 1886 he married Princess Charlotte von Schaumburg-Lippe but the two never had any children. His eldest daughter, Princess Pauline, married Prince Wilhelm Friedrich von Wied, elder brother of the thwarted Prince of Albania. After World War II she got into some trouble with the American authorities for giving shelter to a Nazi couple. She was indicted but released on bail and maintained that she knew nothing of their politics but simply helped two of her countrymen who were in need. Her father would have likely done the same.

Duke Albrecht
King Wilhelm II was well liked by his subjects for his informality and his regard for persons rather than politics. He introduced the first income tax to pay for a health insurance program for servants and farm workers, invited ordinary men to the palace for regular gatherings and was known for his solitary walks through the streets of Stuttgart without guards or any sort of escort. Unlike the Wilhelm II who was King of Prussia, he had no great love for military life though he was made a Field Marshal in World War I it was a basically honorary rank with no active field command. However, when the Great War did come, the Kingdom of Wurttemberg was certainly well represented. XIII Corps was based at Stuttgart and in the initial invasion force of August 1914 some 4% were soldiers from Wurttemberg. Duke Albrecht of Wurttemberg, a distant cousin set to succeed Wilhelm II, commanded the German Fourth Army and proved a very capable battlefield commander. He led his troops to victory at the Battle of the Ardennes, saw action at the first Battle of the Marne and later was moved to Flanders where he commanded German forces in the Battle of the Yser and the Second Battle of Ypres. In 1916 he was promoted to Field Marshal and the following year was made an army group commander, “Army Group Albrecht”, on the southern end of the Western Front.

The Prussian Crown Prince & King Wilhelm II in France
Married to an Austrian Archduchess, Duke Albrecht had seven children so the succession was well secured. However, the throne of Wurttemberg did not survive the war. When revolution swept Germany in 1918 demonstrations began in Wurttemberg in October. When there were calls for the abolition of the monarchy no one could give a clear reason why. King Wilhelm II had been a very popular monarch, had always acted in accordance with the constitution and had even allowed the International Socialist Congress to meet in Stuttgart in 1907. He saw things in personal rather than political terms yet the revolutionary ideologues would not desist in demanding his downfall even though they could cite absolutely nothing he had ever done that was objectionable. King Wilhelm II, needless to say, was extremely embittered by how he was abandoned in spite of all he had done to be as down-to-earth and scrupulous in his duties as he had always been. He loved his people, even shedding tears when his first troops marched off to war in 1914, now, in his hour of need, no one was prepared to return that affection by standing up for their king. He abdicated on November 30, 1918 though, perhaps feeling guilty for what they had done, the provisional government quickly granted him a pension and pledged to respect his private property.

That was the end of the Kingdom of Wurttemberg but I cannot resist adding a bit more as to the military legacy of the little south German kingdom (we cannot have Prussia get all the glory). In World War I the top figure of Wurttemberg (though he was born in Austria) was the aforementioned Army Group Commander Duke Albrecht who became head of the family in 1921 upon the death of King Wilhelm II. Behind the scenes, though, the most important official was General of the Infantry Friedrich (“Fritz”) von Graevenitz who was the Wurttemberg military representative at the German General Head Quarters. One of the leading logistical experts of the war was Wurttemberg General Wilhelm Groener who succeeded General Erich Ludendorff as First Quartermaster General toward the end of the war. At the end, he urged Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate (privately he thought the Kaiser’s death at the front would be more glorious) for which the Kaiser never forgave him but which he did in an effort to save the monarchy by sacrificing the man the Allies had so vilified. He later went into politics but his career there came to an end over his opposition to the Nazis.

Field Marshal Rommel
Also during World War I, one of the most famous German units of the war was a particular group of specialist soldiers from Wurttemberg, the Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion. It had a special status and proved itself to be one of the best regiments of the war. One junior officer who distinguished himself remarkably in the Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion would go on to become one of the greatest military commanders in history during World War II as commander of the German forces in North Africa. That officer from Wurttemberg was, of course, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, famously known as “the Desert Fox”. Another native of Wurttemberg who achieved immense fame in the conflict was Major (and later Colonel) Erich Hartmann of the Luftwaffe who remains the most successful fighter pilot in the history of aviation, with 352 victories to his credit. Never the biggest, Wurttemberg nonetheless made a significant contribution to German history, rising from obscurity to become one of only four kingdoms in the German Empire. Although easily overshadowed, Wurttemberg has somehow always managed to be in the center of things as the history of the German peoples has played out.


  1. Proud to be a Wuerttemberger!

  2. So what do you think about German restoration, given that there are so many German monarchies. How are they (the monarchies) supposed to be there while still maintaining a united German nation? What are the options?

    1. Of course I favor all of the German monarchies being restored. The states would be a complication since several have lost much of their territory to foreign countries and Prussia has been wiped from the map entirely. However, I think the state monarchies could be restored with everything just as it is now, it would only be that some would be included within others.

    2. What about the territories lost to Poland? There couldn't be a Prussia without those territories. But at the same time no one wants to start a fight.

    3. I think it worked quite well as a federation of monarchies up until 1918. That is a model, that could and should be adopted for the future. However, I have to admit, that if the ONLY chance to restore the monarchy in Bavaria were to become an independent state, I would support that step.

  3. Independent bavaria would be like Austria.

    1. Not sure, wether you think that was a good or a bad thing... As for Prussia, I think that most former Prussian territories (except Hanover) within the current German borders should form a kingdom of Brandenburg-Prussia - a state that would combine territories of the former GDR and FRG. However, that's just my personal opinion.

    2. The most difficult restoration is not France, Germany, Portugsl, Italy or Rusdia but the Habsburg Empire. Could anyone find a 21st century solution to this problem?

  4. Hi,
    I am interested in the mysterious causes of death Karl Alexander in 1737. Do you know anything about it. It is said that he choked, or something like that.


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