Electorate of Hesse
|Electorate of Hesse|
|State of the Holy Roman Empire
State of the German Confederation
Hesse-Kassel in 1866
|Elector of Hesse|
|-||1803–1821||William I, Elector of Hesse|
|-||1821–1847||William II, Elector of Hesse|
|-||1847–1866||Frederick William, Elector of Hesse|
|-||Raised to Electorate||1803|
|-||Annexed by France||1807|
|-||Annexed by Kingdom of Prussia||1866|
|-||1864||9,581 km² (3,699 sq mi)|
|Density||77.8 /km² (201.4 /sq mi)|
|Currency||Hesse-Kassel thaler (to 1858)
Hesse-Kassel vereinsthaler (1858–1873)
|Today part of||Germany|
The Electorate of Hesse (also known as Hesse-Kassel) was a state elevated by Napoleon in 1803 from the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel. When the Holy Roman Empire was abolished in 1806, the Prince-elector chose to remain an Elector, even without an Emperor to be elected.
The state, consisting of several detached territories to the north of Frankfurt, survived until 1866 with the name of an electorate within the German Confederation. It contained a superficial area of 3699 square miles, and its population in 1864 was 745,063.
The reign of the Landgrave William IX was an important epoch in the history of Hesse-Kassel. Ascending the throne in 1785, he took part in the War of the First Coalition against French First Republic a few years later, but in 1795 the Peace of Basel was arranged. In 1801 he lost his possessions on the left bank of the Rhine, but in 1803 he was compensated for these losses with some former French territory round Mainz, and at the same time he was raised to the dignity of Prince-elector (Kurfürst) William I.
In 1806 William I signed a treaty of neutrality with Napoleon Bonaparte, but after the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt the latter, suspecting William's designs, occupied his country and expelled him. Hesse-Kassel was then incorporated to the Kingdom of Westphalia under the rule of Jérôme Bonaparte.
After the Battle of Leipzig in 1813 the French were driven out of Hesse-Kassel, and on 21 November the Elector returned in triumph to his capital, Kassel. A treaty concluded by him with the Coalition (2 December) stipulated that he was to receive back all his former territories, or their equivalent, and at the same time to restore the ancient constitution of his country. This treaty, so far as the territories were concerned, was carried out by the Great Powers at the Congress of Vienna. They refused, however, the Elector's request to be recognized as "King of the Chatti" (Koenig der Katten), a request which was again rejected in 1818 at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle. William therefore retained the now empty title of prince-elector, with the predicate of "Royal Highness".
William I had marked his restoration by abolishing with a stroke of the pen all the reforms introduced under the French regime, repudiating the Westphalian debt and declaring null and void the sale of the crown domains. Everything was set back to its condition on 1 November 1806; even the officials had to descend to their former rank, and the army to revert to the old uniforms and powdered pigtails.
The Estates (Parliament), indeed, were summoned in March 1815, but the attempt to devise a constitution broke down; their appeal to the Federal Assembly Bundesversammlung at Frankfurt to call the Elector to order in the matter of the debt and the domains came to nothing, owing to the intervention of Klemens von Metternich; and in May 1816 the Estates were dissolved, never to meet again.
William I died on 27 February 1821, and was succeeded by his son William II. Under him the constitutional crisis in Kassel came to a head. He was arbitrary and avaricious, like his father, and moreover shocked public sentiment by his treatment of his wife, a popular Prussian princess, and his relations with his mistress, one Emilie Ortlöpp, whom he created Countess of Reichenbach and loaded with wealth.
The July Revolution in Paris gave the signal for disturbances; William II was forced to summon the Estates, and on 6 January 1831 a constitution on the ordinary Liberal basis was signed. The elector now retired to Hanau, appointed his son Frederick William regent, and took no further part in public affairs.
Frederick William, without his father's coarseness, had a full share of his arbitrary and avaricious temper. Constitutional restrictions were intolerable to him; and the consequent friction with the Diet (lower house) was aggravated when in 1832 Hans Hassenpflug was placed at the head of the administration. The whole efforts of William II and his minister were directed to nullifying the constitutional controls vested in the Diet; and the Opposition was fought by manipulating the elections, packing the judicial bench, and a vexatious and petty persecution of political "suspects", and this policy continued after the retirement of Hassenpflug in 1837.
The situation that resulted issued in the revolutionary year 1848 in a general manifestation of public discontent; and Frederick William, who had become Elector on his father's death (20 November 1847), was forced to dismiss his reactionary ministry and to agree to a comprehensive programme of democratic reform. This, however, was but short lived. After the breakdown of the Frankfurt National Parliament, Frederick William joined the Prussian Northern Union, and deputies from Hesse-Kassel were sent to the Erfurt Parliament. But as Austria recovered strength, the Elector's policy changed.
On 23 February 1850 Hassenpflug was again placed at the head of the administration and threw himself with renewed zeal into the struggle against the constitution and into opposition to the Kingdom of Prussia. On 2 September the Diet was dissolved; the taxes were continued by electoral ordinance; and the country was placed under martial law. It was at once clear, however, that the Elector could not depend on his officers or troops, who remained faithful to their oath to the constitution. Hassenpflug persuaded the Elector to leave Kassel secretly with him, and on 15 October appealed for aid to the reconstituted federal diet, which willingly passed a decree of "intervention". On the first of November an Austrian and Bavarian force marched into the electorate.
This was a direct challenge to Prussia, which under conventions with the elector had the right to the use of the military roads through Hesse that were her sole means of communication with her Rhine provinces. War seemed imminent; Prussian troops also entered the country, and shots were actually exchanged between the outposts. But Prussia was in no condition to take up the challenge; and the diplomatic contest that followed issued in the Austrian triumph at Olmütz (1851). Hesse was surrendered to the federal diet; the taxes were collected by the federal forces, and all officials who refused to recognize the new order were dismissed.
In March 1852 the federal diet abolished the constitution of 1831, together with the reforms of 1848, and in April issued a new provisional constitution. The new diet had, under this, very narrow powers; and the elector was free to carry out his policy of amassing money, forbidding the construction of railways and factories, and imposing strict orthodoxy on churches and schools. In 1855, however, Hassenpflug who had returned with the Elector was dismissed; and five years later, after a period of growing agitation, a new constitution was granted with the consent of the federal diet (30 May 1860).
The new chambers demanded the constitution of 1831; and, after several dissolutions which always resulted in the return of the same members, the federal diet decided to restore the constitution of 1831 (14 May 1862). This had been due to a threat of Prussian occupation; and it needed another such threat to persuade the Elector to reassemble the chambers, which he had dismissed at the first sign of opposition; and he revenged himself by refusing to transact any public business.
In 1866 the end came. The elector, Frederick William, full of grievances against Prussia, threw in his lot with Austria; the electorate was at once overrun with Prussian troops; Kassel was occupied (20 June); and the Elector was taken as a prisoner to Stettin. By the Peace of Prague Hesse-Kassel was annexed to Prussia. The elector Frederick William (d. 1875) had been, by the terms of the treaty of cession, guaranteed the entailed property of his house. This was, however, sequestered in 1868 owing to his intrigues against Prussia; part of the income was paid, however, to the eldest agnate, the landgrave Frederick (d. 1884), and part, together with certain castles and palaces, was assigned to the cadet lines of Hesse-Philippsthal and Hesse-Philippsthal-Barchfeld.