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Duchy , Latin ducatus , is the tribal or territorial area of office and rule of a duke .

Duchies in Frankish times

Tribal duchies

In the early Middle Ages the Merovingians formed the Frankish Empire and enlarged it by conquering Gallic and Germanic territories. These conquests were partly incorporated directly into the Franconian territory, partly under the leadership of dukes, more or less loosely dependent on it. Which form of rule was chosen and how independently the dukes could act, depended on the strength of the subjugated people, on their distance from the center of Frankish royal power and on the strength and unity of the Merovingian central authority. Whenever the Frankish kings had the impression that their power was insufficient to be able to control an area directly, they resorted to the appointment of dukes who were committed to them. These had better possibilities of rule, since they were active closer to the place of rule. At the latest when the parts of Neustria , Austrasia , Aquitaine and Burgundy emerged in the times of the weakening of central power through the Merovingian inheritance divisions and fraternal wars, the tribal duchies of the Alemanni, Bavarians and East Franconian Thuringians that arose in the Central European settlement area gained an ever greater degree of independence. The extent to which “tribes” as stable ethnic groups actually formed the basis of the formation of rule is disputed in research (see peoples in Central Europe ). In the beginning, rather close Franconian followers of the Merovingians were appointed dukes in order to be able to control the newly subjugated population more directly and to ensure the dukes' loyalty. In order to better legitimize their rule, they often married the daughters of local noblemen, whose marriage assets increased their roots in the tribal area. On the other hand, the origin of the duke appointed by the king could really be from the tribe if the king had the impression that this served to consolidate his rule. After a few generations at the latest, the tribal dukes were seen as members of their tribes, even if their fathers may have originally been of Franconian origin.

In the beginning, these dukes did not necessarily achieve control of the entire area inhabited by one tribe. It is therefore rather unlikely that the dukes of the Alemanni ruled the entire settlement area of ​​this tribe during the Merovingian period. In the sources, for example, an Alemannic duke is mentioned at the same time as a duke of Alsace . Just as unclear is the domain of the East Franconian-Thuringian duke, and whether one ruled the entire area or whether there were several dukes for sub-areas.

A similar development can be observed for the peripheral areas in the Gallic area, in which the royal influence was less, in which duchies such as Aquitaine, Brittany and Burgundy are also formed.

Another explanation for the formation of the duchies is that influential nobles in the respective tribal area tried to become representatives of the Franconian kings. The extent to which this succeeded depended on whether the nobility of the tribal areas joined the dukes.

These tribal duchies were dissolved under the Carolingians , but they re-emerged from the end of the 9th century when the Carolingian power was dissolved.

Duchies in the Roman-German Empire

Tribal duchies

Duchies in the Roman-German Empire around 1000

In the last period of the Carolingian rule (see above) the old tribal duchies were re- established in the East Franconian Empire . In the beginning, local noblemen in contested border areas were the first to manage to bear the title of duke again, without this already referring to a firmly regulated rule over a precisely delimited area. In Bavaria the Carolingians ruled as kings or sub-kings from 788 and sometimes appointed governors (prefects) to exercise their rule. In Saxony , Ekbert first dubbed Liudolf as Duke, and from the 860s onwards Liudolf, without expressing rule over the entire tribal area of ​​the Saxons. In the end of the Carolingian era, he or his descendants, the Liudolfingers (later mostly called "Ottonians"), were recognized as dukes for the entire tribal area of ​​the Saxons. The Luitpoldinger won ducal power in Bavaria just as early . In 907 the Conradines succeeded in gaining ducal power in Franconia against the resistance of the older Babenbergs . In Swabia (until the middle of the 11th century "Alamannia") the situation had not yet been decided. In 911 the power of the tribal dukes was so great that they chose their own king for Eastern Franconia in violation of the blood rights of the West Franconian Carolingian. The Saxon duke dynasty of the Liudolfinger, which was elected to the royal office in 919, had to recognize these dukes. At least she succeeded in hard battles to get confirmation of the ducal office as an office conferred by the king. The advantage for the tribal dukes was the double security, through the aristocratic followers from "below" and through the office conferred by the king from "above". The extent to which they were able to assert themselves in the territories, especially against the counts , always depended on how much they were present in the respective duchy with their own counties and other properties. These duchies were not to be understood as firmly delimited areas in which the dukes exercised precisely defined rights over the local nobility and the rest of the population. The intensity of rule was instead dependent on the possessions, fiefs and rights that the respective duke owned in his duchy, but also on his reputation, the reputation of the respective king and the power of his countess vassals. Until the 11th century, the tribal duchies were run more or less dependent on the royal central authority, often by appointing non-tribal lords as dukes, and they served the competing princes as a power base in the struggle for kingship. Thereafter, in a process of intensification of rule, the old tribal duchies mostly became hereditary territorial duchies on the basis of the respective possessions of the ducal dynasties, renouncing the possessions that the dukes could no longer bring under their control.

Tribal duchies in Eastern France around the year 919

  1. Duchy of Bavaria
  2. Duchy of Franconia
  3. Duchy of Lorraine
  4. Duchy of Saxony
  5. Duchy of Swabia (until the middle of the 11th century mainly referred to as the Duchy of Alamannien)

These ancient tribal duchies gradually became extinct, disintegrated or divided up over the next few centuries. The tribal duchy in Franconia already expired in 936. The Lorraine tribal duchy was divided into an Upper Lorraine and a Lower Lorraine area in 959 . Thereafter, the name Duchy of Lorraine was only used for Upper Lorraine. At the beginning of the 12th century, Lower Lorraine became the Duchies of Leuven or Brabant and Limburg as part of competing awards of the title.

The Duchy of Carinthia was separated from the Bavarian Duchy as early as 976 as part of the uprisings against Emperor Otto II .

During the investiture controversy , the Duchy of Swabia was divided between the Staufers loyal to the emperor and the Zähringer loyal to the pope , who had the greater support among the local vassal class, between 1079 and 1098. The Hohenstaufen kept the title of Duke of Swabia (which is why the entire former Swabian tribal area is usually shown as their duchy on today's historical maps), while the area of ​​the Zähringer and the noble families attached to them was called the Duchy of Zähringen. Both held diets, some of which were attended by the same count and noble families, which makes it clear that in 1098 the boundaries between the two duchies were by no means clearly defined. In addition, the Guelphs in Upper Swabia had their own large property, which was ruled by a separate line from around 1140 onwards. Since its ruler in Italy was also Margrave of Tuszien and ruler of the Mathildian estates, he succeeded in being dubbed "Duke of Ravensburg" for his Upper Swabian possessions. Without being formally released from the suzerainty of the Duke of Swabia, he de facto succeeded in governing his possessions independently of him. This process can be an example of how power was exercised in the Middle Ages.

In the course of the conflict between the Staufers and the Guelphs in the 12th century, the Duchy of Baiern was first divided further in 1156 by separating the previous margraviate of Austria as a separate duchy. The dominion of the bishops of Würzburg was established in 1168 as the Duchy of Franconia, so that there was an intermediate ducal power for this area.

Due to the conflict between Heinrich the Lion and the Hohenstaufen emperor Friedrich Barbarossa in 1180 the duchies of Saxony and Bavaria were withdrawn and smashed. Bavaria lost its sovereignty over Styria , whose previous margraves became independent dukes in 1180, following the example of the Babenbergs from 1156. The rest of the area was given to the Wittelsbachers as the Duchy of Bavaria, who then succeeded in subordinating most of the counts to their ducal power. The exception to this was initially the territory of the Andechser , who were raised to the rank of dukes of Merania in 1180 , which, in addition to territories in present-day Croatia and Istria, included their fiefs and allodes within the Bavarian duchy. After their extinction, however, the Wittelsbachers succeeded in at least submitting their possessions within the old Baier duchy to their control.

When Henry the Lion was ousted in 1180, Saxony was essentially divided into three parts. The western part was as a duchy of Westphalia the archbishops of Cologne assumed the eastern with the duke of Saxony to the Askanier awarded. The large central area around Braunschweig and Lüneburg remained as an allodial property of the Welfs. After the Ascanians did not succeed in submitting this area to their ducal power and in order to bring about a settlement with the Guelphs, Emperor Friedrich II acquired these territories in 1235 by buying them, in order to subsequently give them to the Guelphs as an independent duchy of Braunschweig. Lüneburg to be able to transfer.

After the ducal line of the Zähringers died out in 1218, the Staufers were able to withdraw many of their imperial fiefs and were in fact unrivaled in the exercise of ducal rights in the Swabian region until around 1245. However, since 1198, due to the frequent personal union of the Duke of Swabia with the German king, a joint administration by royal ministerials had arisen as early as the Staufer period, to which the later German kings Alfons of Castile and Richard of Cornwall invoked by declaring that the The Duchy of Swabia was incorporated into the empire and thus dissolved. With the support of his grandfather Otto II , the Duke of Baiern, attempts were made to establish an independent Duchy of Swabia for Konradin , the last Staufer. But even then, many of the Swabian greats rebelled against this last attempt to subjugate them to a ducal intermediate power. After Konradin's failed Italian invasion, Swabia was the last of the old tribal duchies to split up into many smaller areas. King Rudolf von Habsburg made one last attempt to give Swabia a duchy to one of his sons. Due to the resistance of the Counts of Württemberg , among others , this attempt failed, and from the old Duchy of Swabia emerged the Reichslandvogteien Swabia, in which, among other things, the former Guelph property in Upper Swabia was combined administratively.

Territorial Duchies

In the 12th century, under Friedrich Barbarossa, the establishment of new, partly spatially divided territorial duchies began . This process took place both with his support and partly independently of him. The influence and sovereignty of old tribal duchies was used and the erosion process of tribal affinity accelerated. The territorial or titular duchies of Ravensburg, Rothenburg, Teck, Styria, Merania, Franconia / Würzburg, Limburg and Brabant were established in the 12th century. This process led to the complete territorialization of the Holy Roman Empire in the 13th century under Emperor Friedrich II . The tribal duchies were replaced by more or less significant territorial duchies and titular duchies, which were subsequently still divisible.

Territorial and titular duchies of the Holy Roman Empire

  1. Duchy of Anhalt-Bernburg (only 1806)
  2. Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau (only 1806)
  3. Duchy of Anhalt-Köthen (only 1806)
  1. Duchy of Upper Bavaria (1255-1340)
  2. Duchy of Lower Bavaria (1255-1340), then united with Upper Bavaria, again divided into:
    1. Duchy of Upper Bavaria (1349-1363), then united with Lower Bavaria-Landshut
    2. Duchy of Bavaria-Straubing (1353–1425 / 29)
    3. Duchy of Lower Bavaria-Landshut (1353-1392), again divided into:
      1. Duchy of Bavaria-Ingolstadt (1392–1447)
      2. Duchy of Bavaria-Landshut (1392–1503 / 05)
      3. Duchy of Bavaria-Munich (1392–1505)
> In 1505 all parts of the country are reunited <
  1. Duchy of Palatinate-Mosbach (1410–1499), then back to the Electoral Palatinate
  2. Duchy of Pfalz-Neumarkt (1410–1448), then to Pfalz-Mosbach
  3. Duchy of Palatinate-Simmern (1410–1559), then united with the Electoral Palatinate
  4. Duchy of Pfalz-Zweibrücken (1444–1799, divided several times), then part of the Electorate of Palatinate
  5. Duchy of Palatinate-Neuburg (1505–1685), then united with the Electoral Palatinate
  1. Duchy of Saxony-Lauenburg (1296–1805), then to Braunschweig-Lüneburg
  2. Duchy of Saxony-Wittenberg (1296–1553), from 1356 Electorate of Saxony , then united with Meissen
  1. Duchy of Saxony-Merseburg (1656–1738), then back to Electoral Saxony
  2. Duchy of Saxony-Weißenfels (1656–1746), then back to Electoral Saxony
  3. Duchy of Saxony-Zeitz (1656–1718), then back to Electoral Saxony

Duchies in Italy

Duchies in Poland

Duchies in the German Confederation and in the German Empire

After the Congress of Vienna , the new German Confederation was formed as an association of sovereign states . Some of them were ruled as duchies. In 1866 the federation dissolved, in 1871 the German Reich was founded, which lasted until the end of the First World War .

  1. Anhalt duchies, united as the Duchy of Anhalt in 1863
    1. Duchy of Anhalt-Bernburg (1812–1863), then falls to Anhalt-Dessau
    2. Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau (1806–1863)
    3. Duchy of Anhalt-Köthen (1806–1847), then falls to Anhalt-Dessau
  2. Grand Duchy of Baden (1806–1918)
  3. Duchy of Brunswick (1814–1918)
  4. Grand Duchy of Hesse (1806–1918)
  5. Duchy of Holstein (1815–1866), then annexed by Prussia
  6. Duchy of Lauenburg (1815–1876, Prussian since 1866)
  7. Duchy of Limburg (1839–1866)
  8. Duchy of Nassau (1806–1866), then annexed by Prussia
  9. Duchy of Saxony-Altenburg (1826–1918), formed from parts of the Duchy of Saxony-Gotha-Altenburg
  10. Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1826–1918), formed from parts of the duchies of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg
  11. Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1735–1826), then divided between Saxe-Coburg u. Gotha and Saxe-Meiningen
  12. Duchy of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (1672–1826), then divided between Saxe-Coburg u. Gotha, Saxe-Altenburg and Saxe-Meiningen
  13. Duchy of Saxony-Hildburghausen (1680–1826), then a large majority to Saxony-Meiningen
  14. Duchy of Saxony-Meiningen (1680–1918), enlarged in 1826 to include Saxony-Hildburghausen and parts of Saxony-Coburg-Saalfeld and Saxony-Gotha-Altenburg
  15. Grand Duchy of Saxony-Weimar , from 1815 after the unification of the duchies of Saxony-Weimar and Saxony-Eisenach

Duchies in France

Duchies in England

In England there are two duchies (Duchies), whose title holders are not pure Titularherzöge (such as today's Dukes of Edinburgh or York), but representing a sum of property, including to property and their returns are for maintenance of private persons:

  1. Duchy of Cornwall , personal property of the Prince of Wales
  2. Duchy of Lancaster , personal property of the British monarch

Other examples of other duchies

  1. Duchy of Athens (1204–1456)
  2. Duchy of Courland and Semigallia (1561–1795)
  3. Duchy of Courland and Zemgale (1918)
  4. United Baltic Duchy (1918)


  • Matthias Becher : Rex, Dux and Gens. Investigations into the development of the Saxon duchy in the 9th and 10th centuries (= historical studies. Vol. 444). Matthiesen, Husum 1996, ISBN 3-7868-1444-9 (at the same time: Paderborn, University, habilitation paper, 1994/1995).
  • Hans-Werner Goetz : "Dux" and "Ducatus". Conceptual and constitutional studies on the emergence of the so-called “younger” tribal duchy at the turn of the ninth to the tenth century. Studienverlag Brockmeyer, Bochum 1977, ISBN 3-921543-66-5 (at the same time: Bochum, University, dissertation, 1976).
  • Hans-Werner Goetz: Duke, Duchy. In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages . Volume 4: Arch Chancellor to Hiddensee. Artemis-Verlag, Munich et al. 1989, ISBN 3-7608-8904-2 , Sp. 2189-2193.
  • Herfried Stingl: The emergence of the German tribal duchies at the beginning of the 10th century (= investigations into German state and legal history. NF vol. 19). Scientia-Verlag, Aalen 1974, ISBN 3-511-02839-6 (also: Frankfurt am Main, University, dissertation, 1968).