History of Hesse

The name of Hesse, now used principally for the grand duchy formerly known as Hesse-Darmstadt, refers to a country which has had different boundaries and areas through history.

The name is derived from Hessi, which was a Frankish tribe. The earliest known inhabitants of the country were the Chatti, who lived here during the 1st century A.D., and whose capital, was burned by the Romans about A.D. 15. The Chatti and the Hessi were identical in race and language. During the period of the Volberwanderung many of these people moved westward. In the 8th century, the country came to be named Hesse, after the early inhabitants.

Early Hesse was part of the Frankish kingdom both during Merovingian and during Carolingian times. Hessegau district was the headquarters of Charlemagne during his campaigns against the Saxons. By the treaty of Verdun in 843 it fell to Louis the German. At a later time it was partly in the duchy of Saxony and partly in that of Franconia.

The Hessians were converted to Christianity through the efforts of St Boniface. Their land converted to the archbishopric of Mainz. Religion and culture were kept alive among them largely due to the foundation of the Benedictine abbeys of Fulda and Hersfeld.

During the 8th century, Germany did not have a strong central power. Before the time of the emperor Otto the Great, several counts, among whom were Giso and Werner, had made themselves practically independent; but after the accession of Otto in 936, Hesse quietly accepted the yoke of the medieval emperors.

About 1120 another Giso, count of Gudensberg, secured possession of the lands of the Werners, and on his death in 1137 his daughter and heiress, Hedwig, married Louis, Landgrave of Thuringia. From this date until 1247, when the Thuringian ruling family became extinct, Hesse formed part of Thuringia.

The death of Henry Raspe, the last Landgrave of Thuringia, in 1247, caused a long war over the disposal of his lands, and this dispute was not settled until 1264 when Hesse, separated again from Thuringia, was secured by his niece Sophia (d. 1284), widow of Henry II, duke of Brabant. In the following year Sophia handed over Hesse to her son Henry (1244-1308), who, remembering the connection of Hesse and Thuringia, took the title of Landgrave. He is the ancestor of all the subsequent rulers of the country and in 1292 Henry was made a prince of the Empire, and with him the history of Hesse properly began.

For nearly 300 years the history of Hesse is comparatively uneventful. The land, which fell into two main portions, upper Hesse at Marburg, and lower Hesse at Cassel, was twice divided between two members of the ruling family, but no permanent partition took place before the Reformation. A Landial was first called together in 1387, and the Landgraves were constantly at variance with the electors of Mainz, who had large temporal possessions in the country. Hesse was enlarged by adding Giessen, part of Schmalkalden, Ziegenhain, Nidda and, after a long struggle, Katzenelnbog~n. In 1432 the abbey of Hersfeld placed itself under the protection of Hesse.

The most noteworthy of the Landgraves were Louis I. (d. 1458), a candidate for the German throne in 1440, and William II (d. 1509), a comrade of the German king, Maximilian I. In 1509 William's son, Philip (q.v.), became Landgrave, and brought his country into prominence during the religious troubles of the 16th century. Following the example of his ancestors, Philip focused on education and the general welfare of his land. He founded the Protestant University of Marburg, in 1527.

At the time of Philip's death in 1567, Hesse was divided between his four sons into Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Marburg and Hesse-Rheinfels. The lines ruling in HesseRheinfels and Hesse-Marburg, or upper Hesse, became extinct in 1583 and 1604 respectively, and these lands passed to the two remaining branches of the family. The small landgraviate of Hesse-Homburg was formed in 1622 from Hesse-Darmstadt. There were 3 provinces in Hesse-Darmstadt. Rheinhessen was the smallest. Situated on the left side of the Rhine River, it was under French rule between 1797 - 1814 and was ceded to Hesse-Darmstadt in1816. This is the area from where the Rothenbach family originated. After the annexation of Hesse-Cassel and Hesse-Homburg by Prussia in 1866 Hesse-Darmstadt remained the only independent part of Hesse.

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