Elector of the Palatinate

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The Elector of the Palatinate (German: Kurfürst von der Pfalz) ruled the Electoral Palatinate of the Rhine in the Kingdom of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire from 915 to 1803.

Counts Palatine of Lotharingia, 915–1085[edit]

The Palatinate emerged from the County Palatine of Lotharingia, which came into existence in the 10th century.

House of Ezzonen[edit]

During the 11th century, the Palatinate was dominated by the Ezzonian dynasty, who governed several counties on both banks of the Rhine. These territories were centered around Cologne-Bonn, but extended south to the Mosel and Nahe Rivers. The southernmost point was near Alzey.[1]

Counts Palatine of the Rhine, 1085–1356[edit]

From about 1085/1086, after the death of the last Ezzonian palatine count, Herman II of Lotharingia, the Palatinate lost its military importance in Lotharingia. The territorial authority of the count palatine was reduced to his counties along the Rhine, from then on called County Palatine of the Rhine.

Hohenstaufen Counts Palatine[edit]

The first hereditary Count Palatine of the Rhine was Conrad of Hohenstaufen who was the younger brother of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The territories attached to this hereditary office started from those held by the Hohenstaufens in Franconia and Rhineland (other branches of the Hohenstaufens received other areas including Swabian lands and Franche-Comté). Much of this originated from their imperial ancestors, the Franconian emperors, and a part from Conrad's maternal ancestry, the Saarbrücken. This background helps to explain the composition of the inheritance that comprised the Upper and Rhenish Palatinate in the following centuries.

Welf Counts Palatine[edit]

In 1195, the Palatinate passed to the House of Welf through the marriage of Agnes, heir to the Staufen count.

Wittelsbach Counts Palatine[edit]

In the early 13th century, with the marriage of the Welf heiress Agnes, the territory fell to the Wittelsbach Dukes of Bavaria, who were also dukes and counts palatine of Bavaria.

During a later division of territory among the heirs of Duke Louis II of Upper Bavaria in 1294, the elder branch of the Wittelsbachs came into possession of both the Rhenish Palatinate and the territories in the Bavarian "Nordgau" (Bavaria north of the Danube river) with the centre around the town of Amberg. As this region was politically connected to the Rhenish Palatinate, the name Upper Palatinate (Oberpfalz) became common from the early 16th century in contrast to the Lower Palatinate along the Rhine.

With the Treaty of Pavia in 1329, the emperor Louis IV, a son of Louis II, returned the Palatinate to his nephews Rudolf and Rupert.

Electors Palatine, 1356–1777[edit]

In the Golden Bull of 1356, the Palatinate was recognized as one of the secular electorates, and given the hereditary offices of archsteward (Erztruchseß) of the Empire and imperial vicar (Reichsverweser) of Franconia, Swabia, the Rhine, and southern Germany. From that time forth, the Count Palatine of the Rhine was usually known as the Elector Palatine (Kurfürst von der Pfalz). The position as prince-elector had already existed earlier (for example, two rival kings of Germany were elected in 1257: Richard of Cornwall and Alfonso of Castile) though it is difficult to determine the exact start of that office.

Due to the practice of dividing territories among different branches of the family, by the early 16th century junior lines of the Palatine Wittelsbachs came to rule in Simmern, Kaiserslautern, and Zweibrücken in the Lower Palatinate, and in Neuburg and Sulzbach in the Upper Palatinate. The Elector Palatine, now based in Heidelberg, adopted Lutheranism in the 1530s and Calvinism in the 1550s.

First Electorate, 1356–1648[edit]

Wittelsbach dynasty
Image Name Began Ended Notes
Ruprecht I mit Frauen.jpg Rupert I
Ruprecht I
10 January 1356 16 February 1390 As Rupert I above
Ruprecht und Gattin 2.jpg Rupert II
Ruprecht II
16 February 1390 6 January 1398 Nephew of Rupert I, son of Adolf
Ruprecht III (Pfalz).jpg Rupert III
Ruprecht III
6 January 1398 18 May 1410 Son of Rupert II, elected King of Germany in 1400
Ludwig III. (Pfalz).jpg Louis III
Ludwig III
18 May 1410 30 December 1436 Son of Rupert III
Sin foto.svg Louis IV
Ludwig IV
30 December 1436 13 August 1449 Son of Louis III
Friedrich der Siegreiche von Albrecht Altdorfer.jpg Frederick I
Friedrich I
13 August 1449 12 December 1476 Brother of Louis IV
Philipp der Aufrichtige.jpg Philip
12 December 1476 28 February 1508 Son of Louis IV
Ludwig V. Pfalz.jpg Louis V
Ludwig V
28 February 1508 16 March 1544 Son of Philip
Friedrich II pfalz.jpg Frederick II
Friedrich II
16 March 1544 26 February 1556 Brother of Louis V
Barthel Beham 001.jpg Otto Henry
26 February 1556 12 February 1559 Nephew of Frederick II, son of Rupert of Freising
Line of Simmern
Image Name Began Ended Notes
Friedrich der Fromme.jpg Frederick III
Friedrich III
12 February 1559 26 October 1576 When the senior branch of the family died out in 1559, the Electorate passed to Frederick III of Simmern, a staunch Calvinist, and the Palatinate became one of the major centers of Calvinism in Europe, supporting Calvinist rebellions in both the Netherlands and France.
LudwigVIPfalz.JPG Louis VI
Ludwig VI
26 October 1576 22 October 1583 Son of Frederick III
Friedrich IV Pfalz MATEO.jpg Frederick IV
Friedrich IV
22 October 1583 19 September 1610 Son of Louis VI. With his adviser Christian of Anhalt, founded the Evangelical Union of Protestant states in 1608.
Friedrich V. von der Pfalz bis.jpg Frederick V
Friedrich V
19 September 1610 23 February 1623 Son of Frederick IV and married to Elizabeth, daughter of James VI of Scotland & I of England. In 1619, he accepted the throne of Bohemia from the Bohemian estates. He was soon defeated by the forces of Emperor Ferdinand II at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, and Spanish and Bavarian troops soon occupied the Palatinate itself. Called "the Winter King", because his reign in Bohemia only lasted one winter. In 1623, Frederick was put under the ban of the Empire.
House of Bavaria, 1623–48
Image Name Began Ended Notes
Joachim von Sandrart - Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria.jpg Maximilian I of Bavaria 23 February 1623 24 October 1648 Frederick V's territories and his position as Elector were transferred to the Duke of Bavaria, Maximilian I, of a distantly related branch of the House of Wittelsbach. Although technically Elector Palatine, he was known as the Elector of Bavaria. From 1648 he ruled in Bavaria and the Upper Palatinate alone, but retained all his Electoral dignities and the seniority of the Palatinate Electorate; see further Electorate of Bavaria.

Second Electorate, 1648–1777[edit]

Restored Simmern Line
Image Name Began Ended Notes
KarlILudwigvonderPfalz02.jpg Charles I Louis
Karl I Ludwig
24 October 1648 28 August 1680 Son of Frederick V. By the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Charles Louis was restored to the Lower Palatinate, and given a new electoral title, also called "Elector Palatine", but lower in precedence than the other electorates.
Charles II, Elector Palatine.jpg Charles II
Karl II
28 August 1680 26 May 1685 Son of Charles I Louis. Last of the Simmern line.
Neuburg Line
Image Name Began Ended Notes
Anonym Herzog Philipp Wilhelm.jpg Philip William
Philipp Wilhelm
26 May 1685 2 September 1690 In 1685, the Simmern line died out, and the Palatinate was inherited by Philip William, Count Palatine of Neuburg (also Duke of Jülich and Berg), a Catholic and maternal nephew of Maximilian I of Bavaria
Jan Frans van Douven 003.jpg John William
Johann Wilhelm
2 September 1690 8 June 1716 Son of Philip William
Kurfuerst Carl Philipp von J Ph van der Schlichten um 1733 Reiss-Museum.jpg Charles III Philip
Karl III Philipp
8 June 1716 31 December 1742 Brother of John William. Last of the Neuburg line. Moved the capital of the Palatinate from Heidelberg to Mannheim in 1720.
Sulzbach Line
Image Name Began Ended Notes
Karl Theodor, Kurfürst (1742-1799).jpg Charles IV Theodore
Karl IV Theodor
31 December 1742 16 February 1799 The Palatinate was inherited by Duke Charles Theodore of Sulzbach. Charles Theodore also inherited the Electorate of Bavaria when its ruling line became extinct in 1777.

Electors of Bavaria and Counts Palatine of the Rhine, 1777–1803[edit]

Sulzbach Line
Image Name Began Ended Notes
Kurfürst Karl Theodor (Bayern).jpg Charles IV Theodore
Karl IV Theodor
30 December 1777 16 February 1799 The title and authority of Elector Palatine were subsumed into the Electorate of Bavaria, Charles Theodore and his heirs retaining only the single vote and precedence of the Bavarian elector. They continued to use the title "Count Palatine of the Rhine" (German: Pfalzgraf bei Rhein, Latin: Comes Palatinus Rheni).
Zweibrücken Line
Image Name Began Ended Notes
MaxI.jpg Maximilian II Joseph 16 February 1799 27 April 1803 Charles Theodore's heir, Maximilian Joseph, Duke of Zweibrücken (on the French border), brought all the Wittelsbach territories under a single rule in 1799. The Palatinate was dissolved in the Wars of the French Revolution. First, its left bank territories were occupied, and then annexed, by France starting in 1795; then, in 1803, its right bank territories were taken by the Margrave of Baden. The Rhenish Palatinate, as a distinct territory, disappeared. In 1806, the Holy Roman Empire was abolished, and all the rights and responsibilities of the electors with it.

Later history[edit]

Only after the great restorations of 1815, the (Rhenish or Lower) Palatinate, albeit without any prince-electoral role any longer, was restored as one of then eight Bavarian Districts (= provinces). After WW II the American Military Government for Germany took it away from Bavaria and put it together with neighbouring territories to form a new state called Rhenania-Palatinate (German: Rheinland-Pfalz) with Mainz as the state capital. The people – as far as the Palatinian share amongst them was concerned, having felt a deep sense of neglect from the side of the distant governments in Munich for generations – later approved by plebiscite. The present head of the House of Wittelsbach, Franz, Duke of Bavaria (* 1933) however is still traditionally styled as His Royal Highness the Duke of Bavaria, Duke in Swabia and Franconia, Count Palatine of the Rhine.


  1. ^ Kohnle, Armin (2005). "Mittelalterliche Grundlagen; Pfalzgraftenamt, Territorialentwicklung und Kurwürde". Kleine Geschichte der Kurpfalz. Regionalgeschichte-fundiert und kompakt (in German) (First ed.). Karlsruhe: G. Braun Buchverlag. p. 17. ISBN 3-7650-8329-1.