Countess Amalie Elisabeth of Hanau-Münzenberg

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Amalie Elisabeth of Hanau-Münzenberg
Amelia Elisabeth Landgräfin von Hessen-Kassel.jpg
Amalie Elisabeth of Hanau-Münzenberg
Spouse(s) William V, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel
Noble family House of Hanau
Father Philip Louis II of Hanau-Münzenberg
Mother Countess Catharina Belgica of Nassau
Born (1602-01-29)29 January 1602
Hanau
Died 8 August 1651(1651-08-08) (aged 49)
Kassel

Amalie Elisabeth of Hanau-Münzenberg (1602–1651) was Landgravine consort and Regent of Hesse-Kassel.

She was a daughter of Philip Louis II, Count of Hanau-Münzenberg and Countess Catharina Belgica of Nassau. She married in 1619 to landgrave William V, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. She was Regent of Hesse-Kassel from 1637 until 1650 during the Thirty Years' War, as the guardian of her under age son William VI, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel.

Childhood[edit]

Her mother was a daughter of William the Silent, who had led the war of independence of the Netherlands against the Habsburgs in the 16th century. Through her mother's numerous siblings, Amalie Elisabeth was related to many of the noble houses of Europe. These included the Reformation-minded Wittelsbachs in Heidelberg, where she lived for a while with her aunt, Countess Louise Juliana of Nassau (1576-1644), who was married to Frederick IV, Elector Palatine. After the early death of her father in 1612, she returned to Hanau. She later stayed for a long time with her relatives in the Netherlands.

In 1617 Albrecht Jan Smiřický von Smiřice (1594-1618) appeared at the court in Hanau, to ask Amalie Elisabeth to marry him. As this had not been previously discussed, and the status and rank of the Bohemian aristocratic title was not clear in Hanau, this caused some confusion. Albrecht Johann Smiřický was after all Protestant, and one of the richest landowners of Bohemia. So they became engaged. Albrecht Johann Smiřický was later one of the six Bohemian nobles at the second defenestration of Prague who threw the Emperor's representative from a window, which was the beginning of the Thirty Years' War. He was then one of the possible candidates for the Bohemian crown. Albrecht Johann Smiřický died, however, before the Winter King Frederick V was defeated. There was a quarrel between Amalie Elisabeth and his heirs over his inheritance, which came to an end when the Habsburgs confiscated it in 1621.

Marriage[edit]

Amalie Elisabeth married in 1619 the later Landgrave William V of Hesse-Kassel. After his father Maurice abdicated, William in 1627 became ruler of Hesse-Kassel.

In the Thirty Years' War, William fought on the Protestant side. After Imperial and Spanish troops' success against Sweden in the 1634 Battle of Nördlingen, he lost his most powerful ally. He was still one of three rulers who refused to accept the Peace of Prague in 1635, and he now allied with the French. In the further course of the war he liberated the city of Hanau on 13 June 1636 from a siege by Imperial troops. Later, however, he was defeated by the Emperor's troops and had to withdraw to his possessions in Frisia. During this flight, William and Amalie Elisabeth had to leave their little daughters Amelia, Charlotte and Elisabeth behind in Kassel. Amalie Elisabeth only saw her daughters again three years later. William V had by this point already died in Leer (in Frisia) at the age of only 36. His will named his wife as regent for his still underage son, William VI. The most important instrument of power he left his wife was a well-led army, which had been able to flee to Frisia.

Regency[edit]

Engraving of Countess Amalie Elisabeth

William V's successor in Hesse-Kassel was his 8-year-old son, Landgrave William VI. Until he reached adulthood 1650, Amalie Elisabeth ran the government in his place. She proved to be a skilled and energetic regent. Despite the sorry state of affairs in 1637, she managed to not only preserve the Landgraviate for her son, but also to consolidate it. She first had the troops located in Frisia swear fealty to the new Landgrave, and also received recognition of her regency by the government in Kassel, despite the rival claim by George II of Hesse-Darmstadt (1626-1661).

Thirty Years War[edit]

As regent, Amalie Elisabeth continued to be allied with France, like her husband. She still retained the valuable army her husband left her. She agreed a cease-fire with the Emperor, but in 1639 and 1640 accepted offers of alliance from Cardinal Richelieu and Duke Bernard of Saxe-Weimar, which broke her agreement with the Emperor. Through a skilled policy of alliances, Hesse-Kassel again became a leading power in the German Protestant camp.

Against her relatives in Hesse-Darmstadt she started the conflict over Upper Hesse again. With legal expert opinions she showed that the 1627 treaty was non-binding. On 6 March 1645, troops of Kassel marched into Upper Hesse. It was the start of the "Hessian War". The army of Landgrave George II was defeated by the experienced attackers.

Peace of Westphalia[edit]

The peace treaty between both parts of Hesse of 1648 was confirmed in the Peace of Westphalia. Hesse-Kassel received a quarter of Upper Hesse, with Marburg. Backed by Sweden and France, Hesse-Kassel received for its army of 20,000 men a compensation payment of half a million thalers, the only German territory to do so. Hersfeld Abbey and parts of the County of Schaumburg now also were part of the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel.

Until recently, it was assumed that Amalie Elisabeth was one of the driving forces in peace negotiations, demanding the Reformed confession's equal recognition as the Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Recent research has shown that the Regent was more focused on the interests of Hessen-Kassel.

Hanau County[edit]

The cost of Hanau's liberation during the siege in 1636 brought Amalie Elisabeth back to the Hanauer court. Unable to pay, Hanau pledged the Hanauer Schwarzenfels Office and the Naumburg Cellar as compensation.

In 1642, the last of the Hanau-Münzenberg counts died, and the distantly related counts of Hanau-Lichtenberg assumed their legacy. The new countess honored the agreement, and Amalie Elisabeth received the inheritance from Hesse-Kassel and the county of Hanau. If the Count of Hanau-Lichtenberg also died, Hanau-Münzenberg would belong to Hesse-Kassel, which then took place in 1736.

Death[edit]

Her efforts during the war and the burdens they brought with them left a lasting impression on Amalie Elisabeth. She had her first bout of ill health in 1648. On September 20, 1650, her son Landgraf Wilhelm VI was granted official control of the court.

Amalie Elisabeth's last year was overshadowed by the marriage of her daughter Charlotte to Elector Karl Ludwig of the Palatinate. She returned from a trip to see her daughter in Heidelberg completely exhausted. Four weeks later, Amalie Elisabeth died in Kassel on August 8, 1651, and was buried in the Martinskirche cemetery in Kassel on September 30, 1651.

Noteworthy[edit]

Bust in the Walhalla by Christian Friedrich Tieck
Bust in the Walhalla by Christian Friedrich Tieck

Issue[edit]

Sources[edit]

  • Tryntje Helfferich, The Iron Princess: Amalia Elizabeth and the Thirty Years' War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013).
Countess Amalie Elisabeth of Hanau-Münzenberg
House of Hanau
Born: 29 January 1602 Died: 8 August 1651
Vacant
Title last held by
Juliane of Nassau-Dillenburg
Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel
1627–21 September 1637
Vacant
Title next held by
Hedwig Sophie of Brandenburg