The Prussian and German Imperial royal family, the Hohenzollern originated as a family of counts in Swabia during the 11-12th century and were named for their ancestral castle Zollern, later termed Hohenzollern which is located near Hechingen in Swabia. The first to bear the ancestral name was Wezel of Zolorin or Zollern. Two branches developed from the family, the Swabian and Franconian branches. It was the Franconian brach that was to become the ruling family of Prussia (1525-1918) and later Imperial Germany (1871-1818) and play a major role in modern European history.
The Prussian and German Imperial royal family, the Hohenzollern originated as a family of counts in Swabia during the 11-12th century and were named for their ancestral castle Zollern, later termed Hohenzollern which is located in the Black Forest near Hechingen in Swabia. The German word "zöller" means "watchtower" or "castle". The first to bear the ancestral name appears to have been Wezel of Zolorin or Zollern.
Two branches developed from the family, the Swabian and Franconian branches. It was the Franconian branch that was to become the ruling family of Prussia (1525-1918) and later Imperial Germany (1871-1918) and play a major role in modern European history. Count Cionrad III was awarded the burgaviate of Nuremberg in 1227 by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I. (We have noted some differences in dates here in various sources.) A burgrave was an imperial representative. Conrad was suceeded by Frederick of Hohenzollern whose sons founded the Swabian and Franconian lines of the family. The senior Swabian branch was to remain Catholic, but the junior Franconian brach became Protestant.
The Sigmaringen family is a line of the older Swabian (Catholic) branch of the House of Hohenzollern. They ruled the petty German principalities of Hechingen and Sigmaringen. Unlike the junior branch of the family, they were relatively unimportant in
German history. Their domains never expanded much beyond these two Swabian principalities. They did, however, have royal lineage and married into the great royal houses of Europe. Charles, Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (1785–1853) was Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (1831-48). Unlike the more conservative policies of the Prussian Hohenziollerns, Charles was notable for his liberal beliefs. He convened a constitutional assembly (Landtag) (1833). Working with the Landtag he created a constitution. He founded a public hospital and had the Ständehaus built on the modern Leopoldsplatz in Sigmaringen. He also abolished serfdom and other medieval laws. His son Prince Karl Anton / Charles Anthony married Josephine Friederike Luise, Princess of Baden (1813-1900), the daughter of Grand Duke Charles of Baden. They had six children.
Their youngest child was Maria Luise (1845-1912) who Count Philippe of Belgium in Berlin (1867), the son of King Leopold I and father of Albert I.
Despite his many liberal accomplishmebrs, Prince Charles came under pressure during the Revolutions of 1948.
He abdicated in favor of his son, Karl Anton (1848). Prince Karl Anton proved to be the last ruling German member of the Sigmaringen family branch. He ceded Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to Prussia (1849). We are unsure of the circumstances, but this probanly was a result of the inability to maintain order. He would become Prussian Foreign Minister. The Hohenzollern-Hechingen line became extinct in 1869. The Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen family was chosen to become the Romanian royal family (1866). Leopold another member of the family was offered the Spanish throne after a revolt ousted Queen Isabella. Leopold at first encouraged by Bismarck accepted it, but then turned it down when Napoleon III objected. Even so, France declared war launching the Franco-Prussian War. The only other member of the Hohenzoller-Sigmaringen (-zoller) family for which we have a separate page is Prince Charles Anthony, the grandson of the Prince Charles Anthony who ceded Sigmaringen to Prussia.
The Franconian line of the Hohenzollern family, beginning in the 14th century, steadily expanded their family patrimony. Through marriage and the purchase of lands, rather than war, the Franconian Branch steadily added to their holdings, beginning with several small acquisitions. They acquired the margraviates of Ansbach (1331) and Kulmbach (1340). It was the acquisition of Brandenburg, however, that was to establish the Hohenzollerns as an important European royal family. This was how the Dukedom of Prussia (East Prussia) was obtained. The family supported the Hohenstaufen and Hapsburg ruler of Germany during the 12th-15th century, resulting in important territorial benefits.
The Hohenzollern policy of supporting the important German ruling families proved rewarding. Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in 1415 made Frederick VI of Hohenzollern Elector of Brandenburg. Frederick in 1417 formally received the electoral dignity as Frederick I. The electors were the important nobel families within the Holy Roman Empire. Brandenburg was an important principality and became the center of Hohenzollern power, enabling the family to eventually become one of the most important ruling families in Europe. Frederick was succeded by 11 electors who steadily added to the Hohenzollern patrimony, the last Federick III managing to secure the kingship of Prussia.
Frederick II purchased New Mark from the Teutonic Knights and Lower Lusatia from the Holy Roman Emperor. He established Berlin as the political capital.
Elector Albert Achilles issued a family law that made Brandenburg indivisible.
Joachim I introduced Roman law to Brandenburg. His reign was marked by the beginning of the Protestant Reformation which first appeared with Martin Luther in Germany. Joachim tried to suppress the growing Protestant movement. It was at this time that Prussia first appeared on the map of Europe. Albert of Brandenburg, grand master of the Teutonic Knights, secularized the domains of his order as the Duchy of Prussia in 1525.
Joachim II converted to Lutheranism, a major step in the success of the Reformation in Germany.
John Sigismund converted to Calvinism. Hs subjects, however, remained primarily Lutheran, which he tolerated. Religious toleration thus became a mark of the Hohenzollern dynasty. John Sigismund in 1614 acquired Cleves, Mark, and Ravensburg and through marriage the duchy of Prussia (East Prussia). Grand Master Albert Hohenzollern converted Prussia from a Teutonic Order state to a duchy. After his son ans successor Albert Frederick went insane, Albert's son-in law John Sigismund served as regent and became duke (1618). These territorial acquisitions marked the Hohenzollern as a major German dynasty. It is at this time that Brandenberg becomes known as Brandenberg-Prussia.
John was succeeded by George William (1619-40) who had the misfortune of reigning during the Thirty Years War (1618-48). Several important battles were fought in Prussia and the principality was devestated.
Frederick William was known as the "Great Elector". He set about repairing the damage from the Thirty Years War. He acquired Eastern Pomerania, the secularized bishoprics of Cammin, Minden, and Halberstadt, and the expectancy to Magdeburg upon the death of its administrator. He centralized the Hohenzollern possessions and introduced royal absolutism. A nephew was stadtholder William III who married Mary Stuart and became king of England.
The son of the Great Elector, Frederick William, was Elector Frederick III, but was crowned King in Prussia in 1701 as Frederick I. The Peace of Utrecht in 1713 recognized Frederick as King of Prussia. The prestigious royal title symbolized the rise of the Hohenzollern family and their extensive domains.
Ludwig, Emil. Bismarck: The Story of a Fighter (Little, Brown, and Company, 1927).
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