The History of The Duchy of Brunswick


Like that of many other cities, Braunschweig's origin is largely shrouded in mystery. It is true that Hermen Bote, a medieval chronicler, reportet that the city was officially founded in 861 A.D., but this statement has never been verified by documents. Tradition has it that the brothers Bruno and Dankward - both Dukes of Saxony - started building the "Villa Brunesguik", i.e. "Brunswiek", on the site of a former Saxon village which had supposedly been laid waste by Charlemagne. Duke Dankward is reported to have erected the Castle of Dankwarderode that was named after him, surrounded it with strong walls and built a church in the honour of St.Peter. Duke Bruno, on the other hand, is said to have founded the "Wiek" (a resting place for traveling merchants) on the right bank of the Oker River which was called Brunswiek after him. The brothers later moved that settlement to the left bank, and on the newly established "Egg Market" they constructed and dedicated to St. Jakobus a church, whose tower was still standing during the chronicler's lifetime. The new Wiek remained standing on the right bank of the Oker River. Later, merchants supposedly moved to the new settlement and helped Duke Bruno to complete the construction of the city. All these tales are based on historical facts but a great deal has been added in the way of legends and fables. The name of the city is, however, attested to by the oldest still-existing document kept in the city archives. the consecration document of the St.Magni Church dating back to 1031.

It is likely that Braunschweig owes its existence to a crossing at the Oker River. First a ford and later a dam with a bridge made it possible to cross the low-lying river meadows and the river's various tributaries; and a little ways down-stream a castle provided the necessary protection. Braunschweig's unique geographical location was doubtlessly responsible for the city's impressive rise during the Middle Ages; the fact that it lay at the intersection point of several important trade routes and on the Oker River, which at that time flowed from north to south right through the centre of the city and was still navigable, made Braunschweig one of the major communities in Europe. The old city name of Brunswiek, in particular, calls to mind that here was the ancient "Wik", the resting place for the travelling merchants who used to sell their wares at this important spot where the trade routes connecting the Elbe and Rhine Rivers crossed. The merchants settlement out of which the old city eventually developed was set up around the Egg Market., somewhat removed from the harbour located south of the dam. The "Altewiek" district primarily supplied the feudal estate on the Oker Island, which eventually was turned into the Castle of Dankwerderode. From the mid-12th century on, these two organically grown settlements were completed by two further small towns. Henry the Lion, who 800 years ago was the Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, was next to his cousin, the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa, the most iminent ruler in the Reich.

It was King Konrad III who had invested Henry the Lion with the Duchy of Saxony in 1142. The young Duke made Braunschweig his residental city and the centre of his realm. To demonstrate his power and glory, he had the famous bronze lion set up in the castle square in 1166, and walls and moats built around the city; in 1173 he erected the imposing Cathedral of St.Blasii, and in 1175 reconstructed Bruno's old castle Dankwerderode. But who was this Henry, given the regency of the Duchy of Saxony when he was 13, founder of the towns of Lübeck and Munich, and who at the height of his power could claim to have political influence in countries as far apart as Denmark and Italy? The Saxon Duke saw his greatest aim and misson in the colonisation of the North and the lands east of the river Elbe. He went on a crusade to Palistine, represented the Emperor in his affairs at the Reichstag in Besancon against the Pope, and, together with Barbarossa, quelled the uprising of the Romans. However, the Lion's glory and fall were due to his overestimating his own power and importance.It is perhaps difficult for us today to visualise the dramatic moment in 1176 in Chiavenna; the Emperor down on his knees begging for the help of Henry's sword against the lombards, and Henry, refusing to help, eccept on the one condition that Friedrich give him the free town of Goslar; together with all the silver mines. This event was to have far reaching political consequences. Barbarossa lost the battle of Legnano. He withdrew from Italy and now lent an ear to the complaints of the Princes and Bishops against Henry the Lion. Outlawed and banished, he had to leave the country and went to live in exile in England. His power crumbled into dust and his estates were divided.

On his return from England Henry was only left with the estates of Lüneburg and Brunswick. All efforts to restore his former power came to nothing, In February 1194, when riding out to meet the Emperor Henry VI, his horse slipped on the icy roads in the Harz Mountains near Bodfeld, and Henry fell and broke his leg. He never recovered from his accident. On the 8th of August of the following year Henry the Lion died in his castle Dankwerderode in Brunswick. In the summer of 1227 Duke Otto the child, a grandson of Henry the Lion, confimed the city rights awarded to the city by his grandfather. Braunschweig joined the Hanseatic League as early as the 13th century, a membership that was to determine to a large extent the city's ecconomic, and political fate for over 400 years, in fact until the summer of 1671, when the city was subjugated by the Guelph Dukes.

The onset of the Reformation in autumn 1528 caused Braunschweig to be at variance with his sovereign, Duke Henry the Younger. From 1493 up to then the city had managed to resist numerous sieges either with the help of the Hanseatic League or by paying large sums od money. But now Duke Henry lay siege to Braunschweig in 1550 and 1553, in one vain attempt he had the water conduit leading from the Jöde springs to the city severed and the Oker River dammed south of Eisenbüttel - his enemy refused to be daunted and withstood the Duke's attack even though the latter tried to have the church steeple shot off the Church of St.Andreas. In 1605, Duke Heinrich Julius at first tried to get the upper hand by using a trick: a number of armed soldiers were hidden in two coaches and twelve carts and smuggled into the city in order to bring Braunschweig to his knees. The invaders advanced all the way to the moats before the citizens defending their city managed to force them back the following day. Now the Duke had a dam built near Ölper, backing up the waters of the Oker so dramatically that the Hagen Market Square was completely flooded. But not even this brutal measure brought the desired result. For the Hanseatic League lent a helping hand in this siege as in the following, even harder one, which Duke Friedrich Ullrich started in 1615, and sent relief troops to the city - both times. Not until the Guelph Dukes initiated a joint action in the summer of 1671 and, under the command of Duke Rudolf August, closed in on Braunschweig with 20,000 men, did the city finally succumb.

Great economic, political and social changes followed. The city councillors kept on tying to stimulate the economy by introducing trade fairs which were held twice a year. From the late 17th century on, Braunschweig quickly turned from a civic community into a residential city of absolute princes who vigorously promoted economic, and cultural interests. Duke Karl I, who ruled from 1735 to 1780, and his son Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand (1780 - 1806), in particular, with their far-sighted measueres werte responsible for much of the progress made in many fields. They founded, for instance, the "Colegium Carolinum" (1745), the predecessor of the present-day Institute of Technology, the "Kunst- und Naturalienkabinett" (Art and Nature Cabinet) in 1754, out of which the present-day Herzog Anton Ullrich-Museum (housing the world-famous Salzdahlumer Collection of paintings and the "Staatlich Naturhistorische Museum" (State Museum of Natural History) developed, and the "Leihhausanstalt" in 1765. They also published the newspaper "Braunschweigischer Anzeiger", for the first time in 1745.

The founder of the city of Brunswick, Henry the Lion, left his descendants large land holdings in Germany. Shortly after he died in 1195 the land was divided into smaller parts. In 1550 the northern part of the territory of Henry the Lion was divided into the following four territories: Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel,
Brunswick-Grubenhagen and

Between 1584 and 1642 all the lines of the old house of Brunswick, except the line Brunswick-Lüneburg, died out. By that time the line Brunswick-Lüneburg on the other hand, was split into the following 3 lines: Brunswick-Lüneburg, with the capital city Celle, Brunswick-Kalenberg, with the capital city of Hanover and Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, with the capital city of Wolfenbüttel.

Duke Friedrich Ulrich, the last Duke of the line Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel died in 1634. In the year 1635 the territory was re-arranged. Duke August the Older received the Principality of Lüneburg, with the capital city of Celle and the territory of Grubenhagen with the cities of Herzberg and Osterode in the Harz Mountains. The founder of the Hanover line, Duke Georg, received the Principality of Kalenberg and Göttingen. In the coming years, the lines of Brunswick-Kalenberg and Brunswick-Lüneburg were united through marriage. The territory of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel went to Duke August the Younger from the line Dannenburg. He is considered the founder of the new line Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. The Duchy of Brunswick was now in the hands of the older line. The line Brunswick-Lüneburg was the younger line of the house of Brunswick, but it be- came the political more important line. The Electors of Hanover and English Kings, George I. to George III., descended from the later line. Further divisions of the territories were forbidden by law.

The Duchy of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel lies in the northern part of Germany. In the north and west it bordered onto the Electorate of Hanover, in the east on the Kingdom of Prussia, and in the south onto the territory of the Land-Grave of Hessen-Kassel. The population of the Duchy, in the 1770's, was approximately 200,000 inhabitants. The two largest cities, Brunswick and Wolfenbüttel, were also the two main fortresses of the Duchy. Until 1754 the city of Wolfenbüttel was the residence of the Dukes of Brunswick. The power of the city of Wolfenbüttel was on the decline and from 1754 on the city of Brunswick became the new residence of Duke Carl I., who was the reigning Duke from 1735 to 1780. After his death Duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand came to power. He died in 1806 as Commander of the Prussian army of his wounds he received at the burg and Brunswick battle of Jena-Auerstedt.


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