Wilhelm Heinrich (Nassau-Saarbrücken)

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Prince Wilhelm Heinrich of Nassau-Saarbrücken

Wilhelm Heinrich (born March 6, 1718 in Usingen ; † July 24, 1768 in Saarbrücken ) was Prince of Nassau-Saarbrücken from 1741 until his death .


Wilhelm Heinrich was born as the youngest son of Wilhelm Heinrich von Nassau-Usingen and Princess Charlotte Amalie von Nassau-Dillenburg . His father died a few weeks before he was born. His mother then exercised guardianship until her death in 1738 and ensured a comprehensive education and Calvinist upbringing. In 1730 and 1731 he and his brother stayed at the University of Strasbourg and were instructed by various court masters. He probably also studied for some time at the University of Geneva , which was very popular with Reformed students. His Grand Tour led Wilhelm Heinrich u. a. to France to the court of Louis XV. who made him commander of the French cavalry regiment Royal-Allemand in 1737 and, through this gift, accepted him into French military service throughout his life. In 1740 he was appointed brigadier.

Sophie zu Erbach, princess and musician, unknown painter, around 1750
Annunciation of the wedding and the marital supplement of Wilhelm Heinrich with Sophie Christine Charlotte Friederike Erdmuthe von Erbach from 1742

After the death of his mother, his brother exercised to 1741 Karl the tutelage of. When Wilhelm Heinrich came of age, Karl kept Nassau-Usingen on the right bank of the Rhine and Wilhelm Heinrich received Nassau-Saarbrücken on the left bank of the Rhine, which was separated from it and belonged to the small lordships of the Holy Roman Empire with around 22,000 inhabitants over 12 square miles .

Wilhelm Heinrich married Sophie on February 28, 1742 in Erbach (* July 12, 1725 at Reichenberg Castle ; † June 10, 1795 in Aschaffenburg ), daughter of Count Georg Wilhelm zu Erbach-Erbach .

Military, politics and economy

Shortly after coming to power, he took part in the War of the Austrian Succession with his regiment Royal-Allemand . In 1742, during his stay in Frankfurt on the occasion of the coronation days of Charles VII , he sold his regiment to the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt . At the same time he met his future wife Countess Sophie zu Erbach there.

After he was appointed Maréchal de camp in 1744 and became the owner of the newly established French Cavalry Regiment Nassau-Sarrebrück , he took part in the French campaign in Flanders under Moritz Graf von Sachsen (Maurice de Saxe) during the War of the Austrian Succession . In 1745 he became the owner of the new Nassau-Sarrebrück infantry regiment , which he handed over to his brother, Prince Karl von Nassau-Usingen , in 1758 . Towards the end of the war in 1748, he was appointed lieutenant general .

On November 18, 1756 William Henry presented the Hussars - Freikorps Volontaires Royaux de Nassau Sarrebrück with two squadrons of 150 hussars on that on April 7, 1758 de Volontaires Royaux Nassau to four squadrons with a total of 600 riders was doubled. On June 14, 1758, it was incorporated into the regular French cavalry as the Royal Nassau Cavalry Regiment, and the regiment retained this structure until it was ordained in 1764.

The relationship with its large neighbor France was naturally close. He often traveled to Paris and was there - not untypical for the ruling nobility - showered with military honors, such as promotion to field marshal and the bestowal of high medals. In the course of the Seven Years' War, Wilhelm Heinrich received the Grand Cross of the French Order of Military Merit in 1759 .

Wilhelm Heinrich reformed the administration and judiciary by legally separating the two institutions and issuing regulations that bore the typical reform-absolutist character of the time. This also included a cameralistic economic policy. He began measures to standardize taxes and introduce a modern land registry based on the Austrian model. He also took up modern agricultural methods such as growing potatoes or pest control. His involvement in coal mining and iron smelting was also important. The mines were nationalized and the ironworks leased to entrepreneurs such as Cerf Beer . In the middle of the 18th century, he succeeded in laying the proto- industrial basis for the later, highly industrialized Saar region. Despite the increasing tax and lease income, the budget situation did not ease, particularly because of the high construction costs.

Under his rule, the Ottweiler porcelain factory and Germany's first coking plant were founded in Altenwald .

Expansion of the residence

Saarbrücken Castle
Ludwig Church

With the takeover of power, Wilhelm Heinrich moved with his family and some noble families from Usingen to Saarbrücken, the expansion of which he began eagerly. The capital, which had been badly damaged in the turmoil of the Thirty Years' War and the Reunions Wars , was redesigned and expanded into a baroque residence , particularly through the work of the architect Friedrich Joachim Stengel . The Saarbrücken Castle , the Ludwigskirche and the St. Johann basilica are worth mentioning . In addition, he built a number of noble palaces and town houses. The downside of the splendid expansion of the city was an immense debt, which his son and successor Ludwig still had to bear heavily. Nevertheless, it is precisely Wilhelm Heinrich's building projects that still shape the city of Saarbrücken today and keep memories of him alive.

Wilhelm Heinrich as a representative of enlightened absolutism

With Wilhelm Heinrich - just like with his princely contemporaries - the possibilities and limits of enlightened, absolutist politics become apparent . As much as he implemented legal reforms according to enlightened principles, set economic impulses and allowed religious tolerance to prevail, he also remained a patriarchal ruler who denied his subjects active participation, wanted to regulate all areas of life with an immense flood of regulations and was harsh against it social protests took hold.


Temporarily widow residence of the princess in Ottweiler
Lorenzen Castle temporarily widow seat of the princess

Wilhelm Heinrich's marriage to Sophie (1725–1795), daughter of Count Georg Wilhelm zu Erbach-Erbach , on February 28, 1742 , had the following five children:

  • Sophie Auguste (1743–1747)
  • Ludwig (1745–1794), Prince of Nassau-Saarbrücken
  • Friedrich August (1748–1750)
  • Anna Karoline (1751-1824)
⚭ 1769 Duke Friedrich Heinrich of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg
⚭ 1782 Duke Friedrich Karl von Braunschweig-Bevern
  • Wilhelmine Henriette (1752–1829)
⚭ 1783 Louis Armand de Seiglières, Marquis de Soyécourt - Feuquières (1722–1790)

Special exhibitions

On the occasion of his 300th birthday and 250th anniversary of his death, the Old Collection of the Saarland Museum - Saarland Cultural Heritage Foundation documents a special exhibition entitled Wilhelm Heinrich von Nassau Saarbrücken - Statesman Feldherr Städtebauer his versatile work.


  • Winfried Dotzauer : Prince Wilhelm Heinrich von Nassau Saarbrücken, in: Richard van Dülmen / Reinhard Klektiven (eds.): Saarland history. Eine Anthologie, St. Ingbert 1995, pp. 87-94.
  • Hans-Walter Herrmann and Hanns Klein (eds.): Wilhelm Heinrich von Nassau-Saarbrücken 1718–1768, commemorative publication on his 250th birthday and 200th anniversary of his death, Saarbrücken 1968.
  • Michael Jung: Between arable farming and Fürstenhof. Saarbrücker and St. Johann bourgeoisie in the 18th century, St. Ingbert 1994
  • Klaus Ries : Authorities and subjects. Urban and rural protests in Nassau-Saarbrücken in the age of reform absolutism, Saarbrücken 1997
  • Wendelin Müller-Blattau: Tender love captivates me. The song book of Princess Sophie Erdmuthe of Nassau-Saarbrücken. (Publications of the Institute for Regional Studies in Saarland, Vol. 39) Partial edition with repairs by Ludwig Harig. Saarbrücken, 2001. p. 111, separate facsimile ribbon. ISBN 978-3-923877-39-3 .
  • Roland Mönig (ed.): Statesman - general - town planner. Wilhelm Heinrich von Nassau Saarbrücken: 1718-2018 , Saarbrücken: Stiftung Saarländischer Kulturbesitz 2018, ISBN 978-3-932036-94-1 .

Web links

Commons : Wilhelm Heinrich  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Dotzauer: Prince Wilhelm Heinrich
  2. Jung: Between Ackerbau and Fürstenhof, pp. 60–70
  3. Ries: Authorities and Subjects, pp. 425–436
predecessor Office successor
Prince of Nassau-Saarbrücken