Rhine Confederation

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Rhine Federation Act of July 12, 1806 with Napoleon's signature (copy for the Principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen)

The Confederation of the Rhine (French Confédération du Rhin , officially États confédérés du Rhin , German officially Rhenish federal states ) was a confederation of German states formed on the initiative of the French Emperor Napoleon in Paris in 1806 , which with the establishment of this confederation from the Association of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation resigned. The Confederation was founded as a military alliance with the French Empire through the Rhine Confederation Act . Napoleon acted in this structure as a “ federal protector”, in the political sense of the word a protector or a protecting power . France itself was not a member of the confederation.

The goal of expanding the Rhine Confederation from 1806 into a federal state with joint constitutional organs failed due to resistance from the larger member states. In fact, the Rhine Confederation remained essentially a military alliance between the German states and France. It collapsed after Napoleon's defeat in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813.

For a long time the Rhine Confederation was seen in Prussian-German historiography only from the point of view of securing Napoleonic rule, today the reforms carried out in the Rhine Confederation states, alongside the Prussian reforms, are important steps towards the state, economic and social modernization of the member states.

Location of the Rhine Confederation in Europe in 1812


Homage to the princes of the Rhine Confederation , colored lithograph by Charles Motte

After the Treaty of Lunéville with the incorporation of the German territories occupied by France on the left bank of the Rhine, the reorganization of the world of states in Central Europe continued. The main conclusion of the Imperial Deputation of 1803 brought about a radical change in the Holy Roman Empire. 112 smaller imperial estates on the right bank of the Rhine were merged into newly organized states. About three million people were affected. Almost all spiritual territories were secularized and most of the former free imperial cities and numerous smaller imperial knights were mediatized , their power and influence was lost. In addition to Prussia , Baden and Württemberg in particular benefited from this. The disappearance of the imperial knights and the spiritual territories meant that the emperor lost politically important supports. The end of the weakened Holy Roman Empire was in sight. Franz II had accepted the title of Emperor of Austria in 1804 in order to forestall the foreseeable loss of status. When the third coalition war broke out in 1805 between Russia , Austria , Great Britain on the one hand and France on the other, the states of Bavaria , Baden and Württemberg allied themselves with Napoleon.

After the victory of Austerlitz and the Peace of Pressburg , Bonaparte was able to considerably expand his position in Europe and in the German states. Austria also had to cede territories and Napoleon appointed his brothers Joseph and Louis kings of Naples and Holland , while his brother-in-law Joachim Murat became Duke of Berg . Napoleon relied on an alliance with the states of Baden, Bavaria and Württemberg. After his defeat, Franz II had to agree to the elevation of Bavaria and Württemberg to kingdoms. Baden , Hessen-Darmstadt and Berg became grand duchies. In addition, Bavaria and Württemberg entered into a family relationship with Napoleon. With this he hoped for a dynastic legitimation of his rule. Jérôme Bonaparte was married to Katharina von Württemberg , Stéphanie de Beauharnais to Karl Ludwig von Baden and Eugène de Beauharnais to Auguste von Bayern . The remaining small imperial estates were now incorporated into the middle states with French approval. The focus was on the establishment of the Rhine Confederation.

Creation of the Rhine Confederation

The Rhine Confederation 1806
The Rhine Confederation 1808 (maximum extension)
The Rhine Confederation 1812

On July 12 and 16, 1806, 16 emissaries of German princes signed the Rhine Confederation Act . In doing so, they announced that they would formally break away from the empire and formed a confederation and military alliance with France, with Napoleon acting as their protector . The name was deliberately linked to the Rhenish Bund of 1658, an alliance of German princes against the German Emperor and Brandenburg , which Louis XIV had joined.

On August 1, 1806, the formal declaration of resignation from the Reich Association took place. The emperor had to stand by and watch the termination of membership in the empire. The end of the empire and the laying down of the crown had become inevitable. The attempt by Johann Philipp von Stadion to act as the leading Austrian foreign policy maker in this situation failed. In response to an ultimatum from Napoleon, Francis II resigned the German imperial dignity on August 6, 1806 and released the imperial estates from their duties towards the empire.

By 1808 another 20 German states joined the Rhine Confederation. After the Prussian defeat against France in October 1806, many small states in central and northern Germany also joined the federation. In addition, the Kingdom of Westphalia was established in 1807 under Jérôme Bonaparte . In 1808 the Confederation of the Rhine had reached its greatest extent: it comprised four kingdoms, five grand duchies, thirteen duchies and seventeen principalities.

Many of the territories of the Old Kingdom remained aloof: the areas of Austria and Prussia , the Duchy of Holstein and Swedish Pomerania ruled by the King of Denmark , as well as the Hanseatic cities of Hamburg , Lübeck and Bremen, which were under French military rule together with the former Electorate of Hanover . The Principality of Erfurt was directly subordinate to the French Emperor and formed a French exclave in the Confederation of the Rhine.

In 1810, large parts of north-west Germany with the estuary areas of the Ems , Weser and Elbe were incorporated into the Napoleonic Empire directly in order to better monitor the continental barrier against Great Britain. In 1811, the federal government covered 325,752 square kilometers with a total of 14,608,877 inhabitants; the military contingent was 119,180 men. The Duchy of Warsaw was also linked to the Rhine Confederation through a personal union with Saxony .

Failure of the Rhine Confederation as a confederation of states

The Elector of Mainz Karl Theodor von Dalberg was appointed Prince Primate of the Rhine Confederation. Napoleon's uncle Cardinal Joseph Fesch was appointed his coadjutor . Dalberg hoped, under Napoleon's protectorate, to carry out a reform of the Old Empire that he had long called for. Napoleon's announcement that he wanted to restore Charlemagne's European empire seemed to correspond to this. He also saw the possibility of a merger of the third Germany as a counterweight to Austria and Prussia as a positive development.

According to the Rhine Confederation Act, the military alliance was to be formed into a confederation of states . Thereafter, the Rhine Confederation should receive joint constitutional organs. This included a Bundestag chaired by the Prince Primate, a Supreme Federal Court and, as a kind of constitution, the so-called fundamental statute .

Dalberg presented two constitutional drafts in Paris, but both were rejected as unsuitable. Hopes for a closer alliance ultimately failed because of the will of the larger Rhine confederation states of Bavaria and Württemberg, which had only just received their sovereignty . They wanted to defend this position under all circumstances. They feared far greater restrictions on their state freedom of action from a Confederation of the Rhine, as Dalberg imagined it would be, than from the emperor in the Old Empire. When Dalberg convened a Bundestag in 1806, some of the members therefore refused to appear. Napoleon tried in 1807 Bavaria and 1808 at the Erfurt Prince Congress to change the mind of the other members. He also had French experts draft a new draft for a fundamental statute. Ultimately, however, he decided not to enforce it.

Assertion of French interests

The members of the Rhine Confederation were to a large extent dependent on the will of Napoleon. Overall, the Rhine Confederation was a military alliance chained to France . The position of the federal protector was only vaguely formulated in the Rhine Confederation Act. Nevertheless, Napoleon largely determined the fate of the Confederation. The Rhine Confederation Act granted him the decision on the military alliance case. Napoleon's views were the Confederation of the Rhine States at the Frankfurt headquarters of the Confederation of the French charge d'affaires Théobald Bacher told also about imperial commissioners as Jacques Claude Beugnot and envoys that he appointed for individual states. For the special case of the Grand Duchy of Berg , whose reign he exercised directly from 1808, he appointed Minister-State Secretaries with an official seat in Paris.

First of all, he was concerned with building efficient states that would form a cordon sanitaire between France on the one hand and Prussia and Austria on the other. He also wanted to secure this sphere of influence by aligning with French conditions. To this end, he also used the opportunity to appoint family members and confidants as rulers in newly created states or to marry them into Rhine Confederation dynasties: his brother-in-law Joachim Murat (1806-1808) and his nephew Napoléon Louis Bonaparte (1809-1813) as Grand Dukes of Berg, his brother Jérôme Bonaparte as King of Westphalia (1807–1813), his stepson Eugène de Beauharnais as Grand Duke of Frankfurt (1810–1813), Stéphanie de Tascher de La Pagerie , the cousin of his first wife Joséphine , to the Duchess of Arenberg- Meppen (1808–1813), Antoinette Murat , the daughter of his brother-in-law Pierre Murat, as the wife of Hereditary Prince Karl von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (from 1808) and Flaminia di Rossi (1789 and 1795–1840), a niece of his brother-in-law Félix Baciocchi , as the wife of the Hereditary Prince Florentin zu Salm-Salm (from 1810). The Confederation of the Rhine should ultimately contribute to the creation of an economically and politically united Europe under French leadership.

The military potential of the Confederation of the Rhine was of considerable importance to Napoleon. The members of the Rheinbund were obliged to provide strong military contingents in case of defense. To protect the interests of the federal government, Bavaria had 30,000 soldiers, Württemberg 12,000, Baden 8,000, Berg 5,000, Hessen-Darmstadt 4,000 and all other German members together had 4,000 soldiers. France, on the other hand, committed itself to a contingent of 200,000 men. After the expansion, Saxony had 20,000 and Westphalia 25,000 soldiers. At the height of the expansion of the Rhine Confederation, the German princes provided 119,180 men. In fact, however, the soldiers primarily served French power interests and were deployed in various theaters of war. The troops suffered heavy losses. In 1812, only 700 men of the Westphalian contingent survived the Russian campaign .

For the most part, the Confederation of the Rhine could only watch Napoleon's decisions, for example in terms of trade policy in connection with the continental blockade against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland .

In order to enforce French interests in trade policy, Napoleon did not shy away from questioning the Confederation of the Rhine by breaching treaty. The fact that the sovereignty of the Confederation of the Rhine, which France had guaranteed as a treaty among equals through the Rhine Confederation Act, was violated by Napoleon was demonstrated by the annexations of the Principality of Salm , the Duchies of Arenberg , Oldenburg and others carried out by France in 1810/11 against the background of the continental barrier Areas. According to the provisions of the Rhine Confederation Act, the sovereignty of a confederate could only be sold with his consent and only in favor of another confederate. Nevertheless, as a non-confederate partner in the alliance and as the protective power of the Rhine Confederation, France has touched the sovereignty of individual states with the annexations and thus violated the Rhine Confederation Act.

In contrast, the Confederation of the Rhine, insofar as they were not annexed, retained a certain degree of freedom of action. However, Napoleon also exerted influence here and tried to implement structural reforms. After the failure of Dalberg's goals, Bavaria committed itself in 1807 to implementing reforms based on the French model. This included the introduction of a constitution, the alignment of law with the civil code and the introduction of a centralized and bureaucratic administration. The Hanseatic cities and Hessen-Darmstadt were also obliged to introduce the Civil Code. Napoleon's aim was to align the state structures to stabilize French rule over Europe. However, in cases of doubt , power-political and military considerations had priority over liberal reform ideas. Rainer Wohlfeil pointed out that Napoleon had no real concept for the redesign, rather the Rhine Confederation policy was an expression of a "situation-dependent instinctive will to power".

Parts of Napoleon's nobility policy also contradicted the bourgeois ideals of the French Revolution. In the Rheinbund act, privileges of the later mediatized rulers were recognized. A new French official and military nobility also received goods. In the Kingdom of Westphalia in particular , this had a negative effect on the goal of creating a model state , as this reduced the population's initial sympathy with the new system. The relinquishment of a large part of the state's possessions led to a profound financial crisis. As a result, taxes were massively increased. Together with military levies and the consequences of war, this led to social hardship and, as a result, to peasant unrest.

Types of the Confederation of the Rhine

French penetration, on the one hand, and internal autonomy, on the other hand, varied greatly over time, but also when compared between the individual states. There are three basic types:

  • The first group formed the " model states " , which were mostly ruled by relatives of Napoleon . This includes the Kingdom of Westphalia under Jérôme Bonaparte . The Grand Duchy of Berg was initially administered by Joachim Murat and, after his appointment as King of Naples (1808), by a representative of Napoleon. The third model state was the Grand Duchy of Frankfurt , which was led by Dalberg until 1813 . The planned successor Eugène de Beauharnais could no longer take up this office because of the collapse of Napoleonic supremacy. With their legal and social policy, these start-ups were to become models for the rest of the Confederation of the Rhine.
  • The second group were the reform states of Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden and Hessen-Darmstadt. These were not dependent territories but, in many ways, real allies of Napoleon. These states took up suggestions from the French model, but also went their own way. The historian Lothar Gall judged that the princes of the Rhine Confederation were made revolutionaries by Napoleon himself. Opposition to the emperor would only have been possible if the power that had been acquired had been renounced. "In this way he had not created creatures, not satellites that had been forced to obey by military power and made politically incapable of action, but real allies who, in a well-understood state of mind, adhered to his politics."
  • A third group was formed by the states that joined after 1806. In addition to Saxony, these included the numerous smaller northern and central German territories. In these, the internal changes remained minor. The reforms in these states remained clearly limited. However, there were also considerable differences among these states. In the Mecklenburg states and Saxony, the old-class structures remained almost unchanged. In the Duchy of Nassau, however, the Minister Ernst Franz Ludwig Marschall von Bieberstein ensured moderate administrative modernization and the introduction of religious tolerance.

Reforms in the Confederation of the Rhine

Maximilian Joseph von Montgelas in the costume of the Order of Hubert (painting by Joseph Hauber , Munich 1806)

The internal development of the reform states of Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden and the Napoleonic model states in particular was shaped by reforms and changes in numerous areas. The states reacted to the challenges of the French Revolution and the direct or indirect coercion of Napoleon. The central challenge of the southern German and Napoleonic new states was the integration of the numerous areas gained through mediatization and secularization , some with very different political, legal and denominational traditions, into one state. The Baden area had roughly quadrupled. Bavaria alone had to integrate 80 previously independent domains. In Baden, Bavaria and Württemberg the previous confessional structure shifted significantly. Baden and Württemberg gained predominantly Catholic areas, while the Catholic Old Bavaria was expanded to include predominantly Protestant areas in Franconia (Nuremberg, Bayreuth). Simply transferring the conditions in the core areas to the new territories was problematic, as this might have led to resistance actions. All in all, the task was to enforce state authority against feudal and other particular forces. To that extent this meant, in a certain sense, the catch-up of late absolutism . However, one actually orientated oneself to the rational, generally binding principles of the French model of Napoleonic stamping.

Even if it was possible to build on older reforms in some cases, as in Bavaria, they were more radical than the “organic reforms” from the existing system, as represented by Stein and Hardenberg in Prussia. Paul Nolte even judges that the effects can only be compared with the cut in 1945.

In Bavaria, Maximilian von Montgelas was the dominant personality. As minister, he determined Bavarian domestic policy from 1806 until his overthrow in 1817. He had already formulated the first reform ideas in his Ansbach memorandum in 1796. Since 1799 and then especially since 1805/06, he began to implement them, supported by some employees. Three reform phases can be distinguished in Baden. Some very moderate measures had been taken since 1803. The next phase began in 1806 under the leadership of the rather conservative Johann Nicolaus Friedrich Brauer . The most important provisions were agreed with the government in Paris before they came into force, also because of the close proximity to France. The third phase is associated with the name of Sigismund von Reitzenstein , who carried out a radical modernization course in the sense of an enlightened southwest German reform absolutism within just one year from 1809 to 1810, before he was temporarily disempowered. In a further term from 1813 to 1818 he was able to push the development further. The situation in Württemberg was significantly different. There Frederick of Württemberg , like Frederick II of Prussia, determined the path of the state as an absolute monarch. Despite his autocratic traits, he transformed an old state into an early liberal constitutional state within nineteen years of government until 1816.

Despite all the comparability, the results and speed of the reforms were very different. The reforms in the Kingdom of Westphalia were implemented particularly quickly in 1808. The Grand Duchy of Berg had learned from the sudden changes in Westphalia in 1809/1810 and the changes were carried out a little more carefully. In the Grand Duchy of Frankfurt Dalberg introduced reforms based on the Westphalian model from 1810; But in many cases institutions were simply renamed without changing anything decisive. In Württemberg the reform policy began as early as 1806; But even the implementation of the administrative structural reform took five years. It also remained partially incomplete. Collegial authorities continued to exist, and the separation of justice and administration initially failed because of the costs.

State and administration

Sigismund von Reitzenstein

In this area of ​​politics in particular, the states of the Confederation of the Rhine were based strongly on the French models. The aim was to push back the old feudal, ecclesiastical, local and other special powers. During the time of the Confederation of the Rhine, the federal states changed into central states, in which independent rulers, alongside the sovereign and his authorities, played almost no role. This was made possible by the Rhine Confederation Act.

Clearly demarcated ministries were created. In Baden, for example, through the November edict . At the top there was now a minister with sole responsibility and no longer a collegial body as in the old cabinet system . Among them were middle instances, district authorities led by general commissioners in Bavaria, district directors in Baden and regional bailiffs in Württemberg. The French prefects were the model . Among them were the local authorities, which largely lost their rights of self-government . The mayors were installed by government agencies and numerous competing institutions were abolished. The decision-making process was now strictly hierarchical, and the countries were divided into geographical sub-units based on the model of the French departments . Thus, for the first time, the state intervened in numerous matters, from marriage to trade regulations to social and school systems , directly and without intervening violence in almost all areas of life of citizens.

This was combined with a reform of civil servants' service law . In the states of the Rhine Confederation, the form of professional civil service that was typical for the further development of administrative history in Germany began to develop . At that time it was limited to the higher civil servants, the practical non-resignation and the material security of the surviving dependents were central points. In addition, there were admission requirements (mostly law or cameral studies), a tiered examination system and a separate disciplinary law. The Bavarian service pragmatics of 1805 with its “privileged and disciplined” ( Bernd Wunder ) was exemplary in this respect for other countries as well. In contrast to the claim of absolutism, the modern state of the Rhine Confederation was no longer the patrimonial property of the ruler, but a separate legal subject alongside the prince. The actual bearer of the reforms was the higher civil service.

In the course of reforms in the administrative area , the relationship between government and monarch also changed significantly. The importance of the royal advisors who were not responsible decreased significantly in favor of the responsible ministers. Cooperation between sovereign and government became more important. Apart from the absolutist rule of Württemberg, countersignature became common in laws and ordinances. The princes' lands became a modern state. The rulers tended to become functionaries of the monarchy. This was also reflected in the bourgeois lifestyle of the monarchs.

The French centralized administrative system was often slow and was mostly only partially adopted. It remained a torso , like the entire Napoleonic-Rhine-Bund reform work. The citizens complained about the new organizational structure imposed from outside , which was not tailored to local conditions. The term “ bureaucracy ” became a dirty word.

Judicial reforms

First page of the first edition of the Civil Code from 1804

The judiciary was reformed and a three-tier court system was introduced. The patrimonial courts were abolished in the model states of Berg and Westphalia . Württemberg followed in 1809 and Baden in 1811. In Bavaria these institutions were at least subject to state control. The law was laid down in new codes. The Civil Code was introduced in the Napoleonic model states. A modified version was created in Baden, Frankfurt and the Bavarian Palatinate, but this was not done in other countries. In Bavaria, the introduction failed due to resistance from the nobility. A reform of the criminal law was carried out there and a corresponding code was created. Where the Code Civil was in force, the feudal legal titles and class privileges were replaced by the bourgeois concept of property and egalitarian principles. However, the state's claim to sole legislation was opposed to the old “well-earned rights”, especially of the nobility and the church. Although the Rhine Confederation Act partially protected the rights of the nobility, the southern German states tried to withdraw tax privileges, exemption from military service and supervisory rights over churches and schools from the nobility. However, this was often only partially successful. The secularization of monasteries and other spiritual institutions also belongs in this context. The monasteries lost their jurisdiction, their patronage rights and possessions to the state, which, however, also had to assume debts and pension obligations.

Financial and economic reforms

The reorganization of the financial system served to give the states the necessary material basis. The state's expenditures grew not only through the expenses of the princes, but also through the high military costs and the establishment of the new administration. Government expenditures consistently exceeded revenues and national debts grew. In Baden they rose from 8 million guilders in 1806 to 18 million in 1818. In 1811 Bavaria had 118 million guilders in debt. More and more, debt service itself became a constant source of money needs. In the course of the financial reforms , the assets and income of the princes and the state were legally separated for the first time in Germany. The same was true of debt. The foundations of modern public debt were created. The state asserted its financial sovereignty against the nobility and built up a functioning financial administration. Customs reform played an important role in financing government spending. There was a gradual dismantling of internal tariffs and the introduction of border tariffs in the individual countries. Bavaria was a pioneer, where a unified economic area was created in 1808. The customs policy of the Rhine Confederation era helped prepare the customs union policy in the following decades. Annual household accounts became common. The Baden tax edict of 1808 was exemplary. It was shaped by the reform principles of the deprivation of privilege , standardization and nationalization of the tax system. By extending tax liability to the nobility, they lost an important privilege.

In addition to the financial reforms, the states of the Confederation of the Rhine also began to introduce innovations in terms of economic policy to varying degrees. This included approaches to standardizing coins, dimensions and weights. Freedom of trade was introduced in Berg and Westphalia . Guild barriers and trade monopolies were abolished. In the southern German states, the changes did not go that far and the guild system was only abolished to a limited extent. After all, state industrial concessions have taken the place of monopolies. Complete freedom of trade did not exist until the 1860s. Overall, the economic policy of the Confederation of the Rhine helped prepare the industrial revolution , albeit to a different extent.

Nobility and agrarian reforms

Jérôme Bonaparte as King of the Kingdom of Westphalia

If you ignore the special development for the supply of the new Napoleonic nobility in Westphalia, a central point of the reform policy was the curtailment of the special position of the nobility with the aim of creating a citizenship society that was as egalitarian as possible. With mediatization since 1803, the sovereigns now had direct access to the former imperial nobility for the first time . But the nobility in the old areas were also affected by the changes. So the nobility monopoly for higher positions in the civil service was largely abolished. The same tended to be true of tax exemptions. This was implemented most sharply in Württemberg. The own place of jurisdiction was also in principle abolished. All citizens should be equal in court. In Bavaria this was only possible with restrictions. The patrimonial courts also existed there until 1848. However, they were only active on behalf of the state. The Bavarian nobility edict of 1808 met with particular outrage among the nobility. After that, the use of a nobility title was made dependent on solid evidence and the approval of an authority. Thus the remnants of the independent nobility law were abolished. In practice, aristocratic privileges continued to exist, but the cut was considerable.

The agrarian reforms aimed at abolishing feudal legal structures were also directed against the nobility. An autonomous owner company was to take the place of the old ties. The unfree should become independent farmers. The agrarian reforms went the furthest within the scope of the Civil Code , as it no longer had a feudal constitution . The changes in the areas on the left bank of the Rhine that fell to Prussia and Bavaria after 1815 were preserved in the long term.

In the Napoleonic model states, however, goals and actual consequences diverged widely. The main problem was that comparable, no longer feudal conditions, such as those created by the revolution in France, first had to be created in the German states on the path of reform. The Civil Code provided for compensation in the event of expropriations. Another aspect that hindered the agrarian reforms was the provision of land to the new French military nobility. In Westphalen and Berg a number of laws were passed to replace the feudal burden, but they failed because of the complexity of the problem. After all, serfdom was lifted in Berg in 1808. A further anti-feudal decree of 1811 was boycotted by the nobility. Overall, the replacement failed because of the high demands for money that the farmers could hardly raise. A substitute assignment of land, as in Prussia, was not planned.

In the southern German states, the legal changes in rural areas did not go that far. In Bavaria, the secularization of 1803 led to the state becoming the landlord for 76 percent of the farmers. They were offered a replacement. But since the state was existentially dependent on the income of the annual base gap, the authorities delayed the transition of the country into private ownership more and more. The attempt to implement a replacement for the peasants under aristocratic suzerainty failed due to the opposition of the nobility. The trial in Bavaria was not concluded until 1848. However, there was a further division of meanness and in 1808 the constitution abolished serfdom. In addition, there were further provisions, for example on compulsory work. In addition, the interest loans could pass into free ownership. In Baden and Württemberg too, the fiscal interests of the states hampered the replacement. In Württemberg the actual peasant liberation began after the Confederation of the Rhine in 1817 and in Baden in 1820.

Educational and religious reforms

The education system was also reformed to a lesser extent than in Prussia. The school system was reorganized in the course of nationalization. While most of the steps in the educational sector were still in the tradition of the late Enlightenment, the Bavarian grammar school reform was already influenced by new humanistic ideals. Funding for universities, for example in Heidelberg , Würzburg or Landshut , also belongs in this context .

As was the case during absolutism, the state tried to bring church-dominated institutions - in addition to education, institutions for the poor and welfare - under its control. As in the case of elementary schools , this claim could not always be enforced. Overall, the policy of the Confederation of the Rhine included the enforcement of church sovereignty . Church activity was monitored by the state, the special rights of the clergy were abolished, their training was organized by the state, and the state had an influence on staffing positions. In addition to ecclesiastical marriage , civil marriage was introduced. In addition, in Bavaria and Württemberg in particular, the state took action against pilgrimages, processions and other forms of popular belief in the interests of late enlightenment.

On the other hand, the principle of religious tolerance was introduced in the states of the Rhine Confederation. There was now freedom of settlement for Protestants in Catholic majority areas and vice versa. This framework also includes approaches to equality for Jews. Baden issued several edicts on this issue between 1807 and 1809. The Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and the Kingdom of Bavaria followed in 1813 and Württemberg in 1828.

Representative organs and fundamental rights

King Friedrich I of Württemberg in coronation regalia, portrait of Johann Baptist Seele

One way of integrating the new population was the creation of representative bodies. A constitution for the Kingdom of Westphalia was drawn up by French lawyers in 1807 . The express goal was to bind the residents to this art state. Napoleon himself said:

“Which people will want to return to the arbitrary Prussian rule once they have tasted the benefits of a wise and liberal administration? The peoples of Germany, France, Italy, Spain demand civic equality and liberal ideas. "

In Westphalia in particular, however, it became apparent in practice that the constitution did not correspond to the actual social and economic structure. A high census law in France favored the wealthy bourgeoisie. In the new kingdom, where industrial and commercial developments were just beginning, the nobility profited from this. In this way he succeeded in rejecting numerous anti-feudal bills in the Chamber of Representatives.

In 1808 Bavaria followed , which with its constitution introduced a modern parliament for the first time in the German-speaking area. In contrast to the old estates, this one was a representative assembly. The deputies were representatives of the people and no longer of the estates. In the constitutional states, basic civil rights were secured , such as equality before the law, equality of taxation or equal access to public office. Last but not least, the constitutions also meant a bond between the rulers. However, there were also restrictions in Bavaria. Competencies were limited, the electoral process was complicated and the electors were chosen by the king. Because of the war, the parliaments in Bavaria and Westphalia met only rarely. Nevertheless, they were important starting points for the constitutional development in southern Germany in the following decades. Preparations for a constitution began in Baden in 1808. However, also because of the resistance of leading politicians such as Brauer , for whom the draft was too extensive, it never came into force. In the Duchy of Nassau, the drafting of a constitution began during the time of the Confederation of the Rhine. However, this did not come into force until 1814. Württemberg went the opposite way. There, in 1805, the old-class constitution was eliminated without replacement.

Attitude towards the Confederation of the Rhine

Tyrolean uprising of 1809 under Andreas Hofer (painting by Joseph Anton Koch , 1821)

Not only Napoleon as a person, but also the Rhine Confederation, especially in the first few years, was not viewed by a considerable part of the German intellectual public as an expression of foreign rule. Instead, a Rhine Confederation journalism developed that linked the Confederation with the hope of progressive development. In doing so, pre-national, supranational, cosmopolitan-European arguments mixed with emphatically German and imperial patriotic views. The Rhine Confederation was supposed to represent the German national unity in the universal renewed empire of Charlemagne in the sense of Dalberg. Last but not least, these different positive connotations led to the fact that very important personalities stood behind Napoleon and the states of the Rhine Confederation out of conviction. Others, on the other hand, simply adapted to the circumstances.

The general population as a whole remained passive towards the Rhine Confederation. However, there was initially a clear anti-Austrian and pro-French mood in Bavaria. Tyrol was an exception , which fell to Bavaria from Austria after the Peace of Pressburg. The beginning reforms initially met with broad approval. The constant recruitment of new soldiers, the high taxes, the effects of the continental blockade, the repression of the police and military as well as the heavy bureaucratic grip on every inhabitant led to a clear change in the long run.

In 1809 there was an uprising in Tyrol under Andreas Hofer , which was also sparked by the Bavarian reforms. However, this was quickly suppressed and did not trigger a general popular uprising , as Heinrich Friedrich Karl von Stein had hoped for. Nevertheless, since 1810, and especially in 1812, discontent increased sharply. However, there was still little active resistance. In contrast to Prussia, the national and sometimes nationalist ideas of Ernst Moritz Arndt or others did not lead to a broad national mood. Until 1813 the population of the Confederation of the Rhine was loyal to Napoleon. Dissatisfaction showed itself at most in the increase in desertion or in acts of tax refusal. Where there were individual riots, as in Westphalia, Berg and Northern Germany, because of the new troop levies, these were quickly put down. There were no such movements at all in southern Germany. However, the beginning of the end of the Rhine Confederation was Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign of 1812, in the course of which the troop contingents of the Rhine Confederation almost completely perished. Out of about 30,000 Bavarians, only about 10% survived.

The end of the covenant

Napoleon's defeat in the Battle of Leipzig was the immediate reason for the dissolution of the Rhine Confederation.

With the Wars of Liberation in 1813, the Rhine Confederation gradually began to break apart. The first to pass over to the camp of the allies Prussia and Russia were Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Mecklenburg-Schwerin . The other Princes of the Rhine Confederation initially retained the alliance with France and approved Napoleon's new armament demands. The allies, increased by Austria, decided on September 9, 1813 in Teplitz as a war objective not only to restore Prussia and Austria to territories, but also to destroy the Confederation of the Rhine. As a result, in the Treaty of Ried , under pressure from the growing national movement in the state , Bavaria went over to the side of the allies and withdrew from the Rhine Confederation. In doing so, the state secured its sovereignty and an equivalent replacement for the loss of the Innviertel, Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg. The fact that during the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig Saxon and Württemberg troops defected to the Allies speaks for the decreasing cohesiveness of Napoleonic hegemony .

After the coalition's victory, Friedrich August I was captured by Saxony and his land was placed under Allied administration. Württemberg, Baden, Hessen-Darmstadt and Nassau followed the Bavarian example and signed treaties with Austria. With the withdrawal of the French troops, the Napoleonic states of Westphalia, Berg and Frankfurt dissolved. In some cases, the former princes claimed rule and in some cases, like Saxony, they were subordinated to the Allied Central Administration Department, led by Baron Karl vom Stein , until the allies at the Congress of Vienna decided to further dispose of them .

Historical meaning

Even if the Confederation of the Rhine system can primarily be described as “a system of exploitation and oppression” ( Thomas Nipperdey ), it did bring about a significant boost to modernization for Germany. The reforms of the Confederation of the Rhine unleashed impulses for modernization that lasted well beyond the existence of the federal government. They made a major contribution to the growing closer together, especially of the enlarged southern German states. New resources were opened up for the states, at the same time the reforms led to new costs. This in turn made new reforms such as debt management necessary. Freedom of trade and rational government action promoted commercial life. The agricultural reforms began, albeit tentatively, to soften peasant dependencies. Already in 1808 almost all German states except Austria and Prussia belonged to the Rhine Confederation. A “ Third Germany ” without Austria and Prussia emerged, so to speak (the Bavarian triad idea ). The educational reform created a reliable professional civil service , tax and financial reform brought about a boom in trade and the strengthening of the commercial and financial bourgeoisie. Capital markets grew, as did the number of investors , who were now also given economic guarantees through the improved right to property. After Napoleon's abdication, these regions became centers of German early liberalism and early constitutionalism . A consciousness of the state began to develop within the new Länder.

However, the reforms also subjected citizens directly to state power. A secret police force was set up in the States to monitor possible protests . This could be used during the Restoration era to fight the political opposition. On the other hand, especially in southern Germany, there was a continuity between the Rhine-Bund constitutional approaches and the emergence of southern German constitutionalism after 1815.

The Rheinbund in historiography

One view was that Napoleon wanted to curb absolutism, another assumed that the Rhine Confederation was a purely military-based project to form buffer states against Austria and Prussia. Today one regards his innovations in the Rhineland and the middle states rather as a tool to grant a stabilization of the "Grand Empire" in order to establish a certain standardization in it. However, this desire for homogeneity arose mainly under the primacy of the interest in domination. The reforms carried out so extensively were intended to create a basis for quickly mobilizing the economic, financial and military resources of the allied states. The introduction of the 1789 ideas, with their principles of freedom and justice, were designed to make moral conquests. While Napoleon had initially spread the idea of ​​the nation state outside of France, the success of this idea in Spain, Germany and finally Russia made the survival of his state structures more difficult.

The Rhine Confederation and the reforms carried out by the member states have fallen to the verdict of the majority of historians at the latest since the Prussian historiography of the time the empire was founded . Heinrich von Treitschke spoke of the “historyless German middle states in the south”, in which abstract reason and natural legal arbitrariness according to the French template would have prevailed. There was talk of Napoleonic-particularist countries, above all the " Satrapenland Bavaria" under the half-French Montgelas. This was contrasted with the organic reforms and the “healthy German policy” of Prussia. For a long time, this perspective remained decisive for the image of the Rhine Confederation in some modifications. From the perspective of Franco-German “hereditary enmity”, the Napoleonic period was still regarded by some historians in the 1950s as a breach of continuity and “shameful years of foreign rule.” In contrast, the Prussian reforms were viewed as the prehistory of German unity. From a Greater German perspective, Franz Schnabel tried to establish the Rhine-Bund reforms as a separate line of tradition alongside the Prussian one in his 19th century German history in 1929, but was unable to assert himself against the still dominant direction.

In recent research there have been new perspectives since the 1970s. The investigation of the long-term and lasting effects of Napoleonic rule in Germany became important. It is also asked which changes in the states were based on older traditions and which went back directly to Napoleon. Was the era of the Rhine Confederation really a break or is it in the continuity of a reform tradition of German states? Since then, a departure from the previous Prussian-centered view of history has emerged. Alongside the Prussian reforms, the Rhine Confederation reforms have since played an equal role. Only relatively rarely, for example in Hans Fenske's overall account of German history, are the reforms in the Rhine Confederation rated as less important than those in Prussia. In the 1970s, the reforms of the Confederation of the Rhine were examined primarily under the auspices of modernization theory. In particular, the studies by Berding on the Kingdom of Westphalia, Fehrenbach on the reception of the Civil Code or Ullmann on finance stand for this direction. The - if you will - positive assessment of the Rhine Confederation as the engine of innovation can in principle also be found in the more recent general accounts of 19th century German history, for example by Thomas Nipperdey or Hans-Ulrich Wehler . This view also prevails in Paul Nolte's comparison between the Prussian and Rhine-Bund reforms. More recent research is beginning to differentiate this picture again by taking into account not only French influences, but also autochthonous aspects or by highlighting negative aspects of the Rhine Confederation era. A certain skepticism also exists with regard to the epochal turning point claimed by the modernization theorists. For example, reference is made to the tradition of statist reforms before the Rhine Confederation era. Nevertheless, the principle of equality between the Prussian and Rheinbündischen reforms is still maintained.


Members of the Rheinbund, i.e. members of the Rhenish confederation, were:

  1. Kingdom of Bavaria
  2. Kingdom of Württemberg
  3. the states of the Elector and Arch Chancellor of the German Empire Principality of Aschaffenburg , Principality of Regensburg until 1810 (then united with the Kingdom of Bavaria) , from 1810 Grand Duchy of Frankfurt
  4. Electorate of Baden
  5. Grand Duchy of Berg
  6. Duchy of Arenberg (annexed to France on February 11, 1811)
  7. Principality of Nassau-Usingen (merged into Hzm. Nassau on August 30, 1806 )
  8. Principality of Nassau-Weilburg (merged into Hzm. Nassau on August 30, 1806)
  9. Principality of Hohenzollern-Hechingen
  10. Principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen
  11. Principality of Salm-Salm (see: Salm (nobility) and Principality of Salm , annexation decided on December 13, 1810 by France)
  12. Principality of Salm- Kyrburg (see: Salm (nobility) and Principality of Salm , annexation decided on December 13, 1810 by France)
  13. Principality of Isenburg
  14. Principality of Liechtenstein (politically motivated admission without knowledge of the Prince )
  15. Imperial Principality of Hesse-Darmstadt ( raised to Grand Duke on August 14, 1806 - then Grand Duchy of Hesse)
  16. Principality of von der Leyen (made Prince on July 12, 1806 ) in Hohengeroldseck (united with the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1818)

The Rhine Confederation later joined:

  1. Grand Duchy of Würzburg (Treaty of September 25, 1806)
  2. Kingdom of Saxony (Treaty of December 11, 1806)
  3. Duchy of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach (Treaty of December 15, 1806)
  4. Duchy of Saxony-Gotha (Treaty of December 15, 1806)
  5. Duchy of Saxony-Meiningen (Treaty of December 15, 1806)
  6. Duchy of Saxony-Hildburghausen (Treaty of December 15, 1806)
  7. Duchy of Saxony-Coburg (Treaty of December 15, 1806)
  8. Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  9. Duchy of Anhalt-Bernburg (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  10. Duchy of Anhalt-Köthen (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  11. Principality of Lippe-Detmold (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  12. Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  13. Principality of Reuss older line (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  14. Principality of Reuss-Schleiz (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  15. Principality of Reuss-Lobenstein (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  16. Principality of Reuss-Ebersdorf (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  17. Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  18. Principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  19. Principality of Waldeck (Treaty of April 18, 1807)
  20. Kingdom of Westphalia (Constitution of November 15 / December 7, 1807)
  21. Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (Treaty of February 10, 1808)
  22. Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (Treaty of March 22, 1808)
  23. Duchy of Oldenburg (Treaty of October 14, 1808, annexed by France on December 13, 1810)

See also


  • Hartwig Brandt , Ewald Grothe (Hrsg.): Rheinbündischer Konstitutionalismus (= legal historical series. Volume 350). Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2007, ISBN 978-3-631-56489-9 .
  • Max Braubach : From the French Revolution to the Congress of Vienna . Munich 1974, ISBN 3-423-04214-1 .
  • Karl-Heinz Börner: Crisis and end of the Rhine Confederation - mainly from a military-political aspect. In: Jahrbuch für Geschichte, Vol. 38, pp. 7–38, Akademie Verlag Berlin 1989
  • Elisabeth Fehrenbach : From the Ancien Regime to the Congress of Vienna . Oldenbourg, Munich 2001.
  • Michael Hecker: Napoleonic constitutionalism in Germany (= writings on constitutional history. Volume 72). Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-428-11264-4 .
  • Daniel Hohrath , Christoph Rehm (arrangement): The price of the new crowns. Württemberg and Baden as Napoleon's vassals. The Rhine Confederation of 1806. Volume accompanying the special exhibition [in the Defense History Museum from May 20 to October 29, 2006] (= study collections and special exhibitions in the Rastatt Military History Museum . Volume 4). Published by the Association of Friends of the Defense History Museum, Schloss Rastatt, Rastatt 2006, ISBN 978-3-9810460-1-4 .
  • Edgar Liebmann: The Old Empire and the Napoleonic Rhine Confederation. In: Peter Brandt , Martin Kirsch , Arthur Schlegelmilch (eds.): Handbook of European constitutional history. Institutions and Legal Practice in a Changing Society. Volume 1: Around 1800. Verlag JHW Dietz Nachf., Bonn 2006, ISBN 3-8012-4140-8 , pp. 640-683.
  • Reinhard Mußgnug : The Rhine Confederation. In: The State . Volume 46, 2007, pp. 249-267.
  • Thomas Nipperdey : German History 1800–1866. Citizen world and strong state . CH Beck, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-44038-X .
  • Paul Nolte : State formation and social reform. Political reforms in Prussia and the southern German states 1800–1820 . Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt / New York 1990, ISBN 3-593-34292-8 .
  • Wolfram Siemann : From confederation to nation state. Germany 1806–1871. CH Beck, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-7632-2997-3 . (used here: licensed edition of the Gutenberg Book Guild)
  • Hans-Ulrich Wehler : German history of society. Volume One: From Feudalism of the Old Empire to the Defensive Modernization of the Reform Era. 1700-1815 . CH Beck, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-406-32261-1 .
  • Eberhard Weis (Hrsg.): Reforms in Rheinbündischen Germany (= writings of the historical college. Colloquia . Vol. 4). Oldenbourg, Munich 1984, ISBN 978-3-486-51671-5 ( digitized version )

Web links

Commons : Rheinbund  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Max Braubach: From the French Revolution to the Congress of Vienna. Munich 1974, pp. 74-78; Fehrenbach, pp. 83-84.
  2. ^ Document of defection dated August 1, 1806
  3. Wehler, Vol. 1, p. 368.
  4. Fehrenbach, p. 82.
  5. ^ Rainer Wohlfeil: Napoleonic model states. quoted from Fehrenbach, p. 219.
  6. Fehrenbach, p. 84.
  7. ↑ In addition Helmut Berding: Napoleonic rule and social policy in the Kingdom of Westphalia 1807-1813. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen / Zurich 1973.
  8. ^ Gall: Liberalism as the ruling party , quoted from Fehrenbach, p. 85.
  9. Siemann, Staatsbund , pp. 23–24.
  10. Braubach, p. 92.
  11. Nolte, pp. 9-10.
  12. Fehrenbach, p. 85; Nipperdey, p. 69; Wehler, pp. 371-372.
  13. Fehrenbach, p. 87.
  14. compare Bernd Wunder: History of the bureaucracy in Germany. Frankfurt a. M. 1986, ISBN 3-518-11281-3 , pp. 21-68.
  15. Siemann pp. 25-26; Fehrenbach, p. 86; Nipperdey, pp. 72-73.
  16. zdf.de ( Memento of the original from December 3, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.zdf.de
  17. Siemann, p. 27; Wehler, pp. 377-378.
  18. ^ Nipperdey, p. 69.
  19. ↑ On this Hans-Peter Ullmann: Reflections on the emergence of the public, constitutional credit in the federal states of Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden. In: History and Society. Vol. 6 1980, pp. 500-522.
  20. To this Helmut Berding: The reform of the customs system in Germany under the influence of Napoleonic rule. In: History and Society. Vol. 6 1980, pp. 523-537.
  21. Siemann, p. 28; Fehrenbach, p. 106.
  22. Fehrenbach, p. 106.
  23. Wehler, pp. 375-376.
  24. Siemann, pp. 27-28; Fehrenbach, pp. 90-94; Wehler, pp. 379-380.
  25. Nipperdey, pp. 71-72.
  26. Wehler, p. 377; Nipperdey, p. 73.
  27. Quoted from Siemann, p. 26.
  28. Siemann pp. 26-27; Fehrenbach, pp. 87-88; Wehler, pp. 381-384.
  29. Braubach, p. 93.
  30. ^ Nipperdey, pp. 29, 84.
  31. Braubach, pp. 145–146.
  32. zdf.de ( Memento of the original from December 3, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.zdf.de
  33. Siemann, p. 29.
  34. zdf.de ( Memento of the original from December 3, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.zdf.de
  35. For example J. Streisand: Germany from 1789 to 1815. Berlin 1955, pp. 112–113.
  36. ^ Hans Fenske: German history. From the end of the Middle Ages to today. Darmstadt 2002, pp. 105-106.
  37. ^ Roger Dufraisse: The Napoleonic Germany. Status and problems of research with special consideration of the areas on the left bank of the Rhine. In: History and Society. 6th year 1980, pp. 467-483; Nolte, pp. 10-13; Fehrenbach, pp. 213-227.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on November 9, 2007 .