Franziska Christine von Pfalz-Sulzbach

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Johann Jakob Schmitz : Portrait of the abbess Franziska Christine von Pfalz-Sulzbach with her "Kammermohren" Ignatius Fortuna (1772)

Franziska Christine von Pfalz-Sulzbach (born May 16, 1696 in Sulzbach ; † July 16, 1776 in Essen ) was the abbess of the free worldly women's monasteries in Essen and Thorn ( Limburg province ). Her reign (1726–1776) of almost fifty years was the longest of an Essen abbess, but it was marked by disputes with the monastery and the city caused by her advisors. The Fürstin-Franziska-Christine-Stiftung , which she founded, still maintains the orphanage she founded in Essen-Steele .


Youth and collegiate careers

Coat of arms of Franziska Christine von Pfalz-Sulzbach above the entrance of Borbeck Castle

Franziska Christine was born on May 16, 1696 as the daughter of Duke Theodor Eustach von Pfalz-Sulzbach and his wife Maria Eleonora Amalie, Countess of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rothenburg. She was the third child and the second daughter. The dukes of Pfalz-Sulzbach were a Palatine branch line of the Wittelsbach family .

Already at the age of five she received a preamble in the noble women's monastery Thorn (across the Maas near Roermond ), where her aunt Eleonore von Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rochefort was abbess. Franziska Christine, her "beloved little boy", made this her universal heir in 1706. In 1712 their revolt , proof of their noble descent, was also presented to the Essen monastery. She also received a preamble in Essen, but the chapter only approved her admission on the condition that Franziska Christine would not have the right to vote on chapter decisions as long as two of her sisters were entitled to vote. The reason for this restriction was that the chapter in Essen only included ten canonesses and that the Pfalz-Sulzbach family should not have too much influence on decisions. Franziska Christine nevertheless took possession of her prebende from Essen on November 10, 1712, at the same time she began her compulsory stay in Essen in order to be able to later receive voting rights in decisions of the chapter. From the residence requirement was acquitted in September 1713 the right to vote, however, she received only two years later, after one of her sisters from the secular pen in which the canonesses own property had and that they could leave at any time, to marry as, in a monastery was changed.

Before she was elected abbess, Franziska Christine did not hold collegiate offices in either Essen or Thorn.

Elected abbess in Thorn

On January 12, 1717, the Thorner abbess Anna Juliana Helena von Manderscheid-Blankenheim died. On March 31, 1717 Franziska Christine was elected abbess in Thorn. Since she was actually too young for the office at the age of 21, she had received a papal dispensation . She was not the preferred candidate for the chapter; outside influences were decisive in her choice. Five applicants had shown interest in the office: the Thorner dean Anna Salome von Manderscheid-Kail-Falkenstein, the Countess von Löwenstein and Magdalena von Salm-Reiferscheid, both canoness in Thorn, Franziska Christine, who was a canon but not entitled to vote, and a Countess Anna Johannetta von Manderscheid-Blankenheim. Ten canons and six canons were entitled to vote. Thorn was an imperial monastery , the chosen one would become imperial princess. The choice of an abbess therefore made it possible for royal houses to increase their influence in the empire through family members or partisans.

Already on February 2, Thorn received a letter from Elector Karl Philipp von der Pfalz , in which he proposed the election of his relatives Franziska Christine. Karl Philipp came from the Wittelsbach line of Palatinate-Neuburg , his daughter married Franziska Christine's brother Joseph Karl in the same year , the proposal thus fits into the Wittelsbacher power policy. The chapter was initially opposed to this proposal, since Franziska Christine would lack the experience of other women. On March 7th, however, an envoy from the Elector arrived in Thorn, "to suggest that Princesse Christina von Sulzbach make some suggestions about the abyssal dignity here". The nature of these proposals is unknown, but they were so convincing that even a letter from Emperor Charles VI. with the recommendation for another applicant did not prevent the Wittelsbacher's election success.

Elected abbess in Essen

Princess Franziska Christine von Pfalz-Sulzbach

On October 15, 1726 Franziska Christine was also elected abbess in Essen. Her choice in Essen was also influenced significantly from outside. Küppers-Braun has stated that in this election, the interests of the noble families, in particular the Counts of Manderscheid-Blankenheim and the Salm-Reifferscheid , collided with those of princely houses. The Essen dean Anna Felicitas von Salm-Reifferscheid played an important role in this election. Contrary to the interests of her peers, she had promised her voice to Franziska Christine. The offer that the Count of Manderscheid-Blankenheim made to von Salm, if he were able to change his sister's mind, included the promise to provide the Salm-Reifferscheid family with several prestigious benefices. Anna Felicitas von Salm-Reifferscheid could not be changed.

The princely side, whose candidate Franziska Christine was, also campaigned. The Archbishop of Cologne Clemens August I of Bavaria , with whom the Palatinate-Sulzbach family had good contacts, as one of the brothers Franziska Christine's Cologne canon , sent an envoy. In addition, the chapter received letters of recommendation from the Archbishop as well as from the Palatinate Elector Karl Philipp. Karl Philipp also ordered two envoys to Essen who had to stay until after the election. An election recommendation for Franziska Christine by the Reich Vice Chancellor came about through contacts with the Palatinate Elector. Karl Philipp expressly distanced himself from paying bribes, but some were probably paid anyway. The Kingdom of Prussia, which saw itself as the protector of the Protestant city of Essen, also spoke out in favor of Franziska Christine. However, his envoys felt hindered by those of the Catholic principalities. Prussia trusted in the promise that Franziska Christine would grant the Protestant city the security of religious practice. The Essen population was less gullible, because the general chapter of the monastery had to deal with a complaint by the Catholic councils, which demanded satisfaction for insults to their quarters. To secure the election, the Palatinate finally had a cannon and a crew of soldiers brought into the city.

With such massive support and an already issued papal permit to exercise the office of abbess in two foundations, Franziska Christine was finally elected with 20 out of 22 possible votes.

Term of office as abbess


When the newly elected abbess moved into the city of Essen (Franziska Christine had been in Sulzbach during the election), the four-page publication Essendia Redeviva was published , in which her predecessor Bernhardine Sophia von Ostfriesland and Riedberg was accused of having "nothing but hostility, Mistrust and continuous disharmony prevail ”and“ the whole country lived its sad days in a constant melancholy, hoping in vain for redemption ”, until Franziska Christine took office. Küppers-Braun points out that the script already shows clear Jesuit influences. In fact, Franziska Christine's almost fifty-year tenure as abbess was largely shaped by the influence of the Jesuits, who brought her back to Essen Abbey as administrative experts after her predecessor had fallen out with the order seven years earlier. Franziska Christine's confessors, who exerted a very strong influence on her, were also Jesuits. The absolutist view of rule of their councilors and the traditional rights of the chapters, which they bitterly defended, led to constant disputes within the Essen and Thorn monasteries, for example whether the arrangement of prayers and processions could be carried out by the abbess alone or only in accordance with the chapter . Another dispute, which was even fought before the Reich Chamber of Commerce in Wetzlar , concerned the question of whether the abbess or her official had the right to inspect the chimneys in the private residences of the canonesses without first consulting the Essen chapter. In Thorn, the abbess and the chapter argued over income and questions of jurisdiction.

Under Franziska Christine's rather nominal government, a new tax code, a mortgage code and a court code were created. The estates, which had a say in tax issues, were convened only once, so that the members finally met in the provostess's house without having been convened by the princess. Rather, these, or more precisely their councils, tried to prevent these meetings.

The relationship with the city of Essen also suffered under the influence of the Jesuits on the abbess, about which not only Protestant but also Catholic residents of the city complained. In 1755 citizens and canons tried together to have Father Thomas Mantels SJ, the Jesuit confessor of the princess, recalled by his administration. The trigger was that he had operated the replacement of another Jesuit who had looked after the St. John's parish. The allegations against the confessor also include the high tax burden and the unauthorized dismissal of monastery officials. One of the witnesses, all of whom assured that Franziska Christine herself was absolutely nothing to blame, stated that "such things were said about the confessor that Catholics could not listen to without disgust." The papal wrote about Franziska Christine himself in 1766 Nuncio to his successor: “She is a pious princess, full of faith, but in relation to this a confessor or canon causes her to commit a thousand atrocities. Up until now she had a Jesuit named Father Mantels who ruled her with the rod, but now he's dead and things are better. "

Court keeping

Franziska Christine was the daughter of an imperial prince and, due to her choice, was an imperial princess herself. As such, she surrounded herself with a court, as far as the possibilities of her principalities were sufficient. The Moor Ignatius Fortuna belonged to her court, and he held a prominent position here. He lived in the anteroom to the dining room in Essen's abbey building and in the residence rooms in Steele a heated room on the same floor as the princess, a privilege that was only enjoyed by the monastery treasurer and the abbess's personal clergyman.

Borbeck Castle
Borbeck Castle in the shape it received from Franziska Christine von Pfalz-Sulzbach

The residence of the abbesses of Essen in the abbey building in Essen were old and in poor condition. The Baron von Duminique, who, as envoy of the Saxon court, organized the election of Franziska Christine's successor, was forced to ask for shelter in the neighboring Jesuit residence due to the dampness in the walls in 1776. Like many of her predecessors, Franziska Christine preferred to reside in Borbeck Castle . This owes its present shape, which goes back to the renovation and expansion measures that Franziska Christine had carried out from 1744 to 1762. She had the building extended to the south, including by the Düsseldorf court architect, and also had her coat of arms affixed over the entrance door. She also had the 42-hectare palace garden laid out in the English garden style .

The orphanage of the princess

Franziska Christine's best-known work was the founding of her orphanage, which took in her first children in 1769. The baroque buildings in Steele are the only surviving secular buildings of the Essen monastery today. Franziska Christine took a great part in furnishing the house and in the education of the children. All children were taught reading, arithmetic and writing. The boys also received technical training, the girls learned housework and manual labor. Everyone received a handsome trousseau when they left the house. In order to secure the economic basis, she founded the Fürstin-Franziska-Christine-Stiftung , which still exists today. However, it is questionable whether Franziska Christine actually set up this foundation from her own resources. Küppers-Braun proves that the purchase of the farms, which formed the economic basis of the foundation, probably exceeded Franziska Christine’s economic performance: after deducting the costs for housekeeping and burial costs, the surplus from the sale of her estate amounted to a total of 318 Reichstaler and thus less than the fortune that her thrifty chamberlain Ignatius Fortuna left behind when he died. In fact, the orphanage had a threefold function: in addition to the orphanage, it was the abbess's residence, but above all a missionary station of the Jesuit order, which was responsible for the spiritual direction of the foundation. The construction of the orphanage fell at a time when the Jesuit order was widely criticized for its influence; in some countries, around 1759 in Portugal, he had been driven out by the rulers. Presumably for this reason, the Franziska Christine Foundation was designed from the outset as a secular foundation, whose contracts and foundation deeds were so cleverly designed that the foundation could not be challenged from any side. An exemption was obtained for the foundation's chapel, which meant that it was not subordinate to a diocese, but directly to the Pope. Any external influence was thus excluded. In 1773, four years after the establishment of the Essen orphanage, the Jesuit order was repealed by Pope Clement XIV , without this having had any influence on the orphanage. The choice of a secular foundation was also the reason that the orphanage was not affected by the secularization of the spiritual foundations in 1802.

Death and burial

Mourning scaffolding over the coffin of the princess

Franziska Christine was weak and frail in the last years of her life and also plagued by illnesses. However, she was not a comfortable patient, a report from 1775 complained that she did not take her medication regularly, "although our three Medici, Leidenfrost, Brüning and Tuttman do everything possible to bring tasty, yet tasty [medicines]." The eighty-year-old abbess died on July 16, 1776 in Essen, shortly before her fiftieth anniversary in government. Her corpse was laid out in the audience hall of the abbey building under a magnificent canopy; on July 18, the coffin was transferred from Essen to the then independent Steele on a hearse pulled by six black-covered horses. The coffin was buried in the chapel of the orphanage she founded, as requested by the princess.


  • Ute Küppers-Braun: women of the high nobility in the imperial-free-worldly ladies' monastery Essen (1605-1803) . Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Münster 1997, ISBN 3-402-06247-X .
  • Ute Küppers-Braun: Power in women's hands - 1000 years of rule by noble women in Essen . Klartext Verlag, Essen 2002, ISBN 3-89861-106-X .
  • Ute Küppers-Braun: Princess-Abbess Franziska Christine von Pfalz-Sulzbach (1696–1776) . In: Alfred Pothmann and Reimund Haas: Christians on the Ruhr . Volume 2, Verlag Peter Pomp, Bottrop - Essen 2002, ISBN 3-89355-231-6 .


  1. Women of the high nobility, p. 155f.
  2. Prince-Abbess, p. 67
  3. ^ Originally in Italian, translation by Küppers-Braun, Fürst-Abbess, p. 72
  4. Prince-Abbess, pp. 73ff.
  5. Quoted from Küppers-Braun, Fürst-Abbess, p. 78

Web links

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This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on September 30, 2006 .