Duchy of Holstein

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Duchy of Holstein
Herzogtum Holstein (German)
Hertugdømmet Holsten (Danish)
Flag of Holstein
Civil Ensign[1]
Coat of arms of Holstein
Coat of arms
Location and borders of the Duchy of Holstein by 1789
Location and borders of the Duchy of Holstein by 1789
Common languagesGerman, Low German, Danish
GovernmentFeudal Monarchy
• 1474–1481
Christian I (first)
• 1863–1864
Christian IX (last)
Historical eraEarly Modern
5 March 1460
14 February 1474
1 February 1864
30 October 1864
Currency Rigsdaler
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Province of Schleswig-Holstein

The Duchy of Holstein (German: Herzogtum Holstein, Danish: Hertugdømmet Holsten) was the northernmost state of the Holy Roman Empire, located in the present German state of Schleswig-Holstein. It originated when King Christian I of Denmark had his County of Holstein-Rendsburg elevated to a duchy by Emperor Frederick III in 1474. Members of the Danish House of Oldenburg ruled Holstein – jointly with the Duchy of Schleswig – for its entire existence.

From 1490 to 1523 and again from 1544 to 1773 the Duchy was partitioned between various Oldenburg branches, most notably the dukes of Holstein-Glückstadt (identical with the Kings of Denmark) and Holstein-Gottorp. The duchy ceased to exist when the Kingdom of Prussia annexed it in 1866 after the Austro-Prussian War.


The northern border of Holstein along the Eider River had already formed the northern border of the Carolingian Empire, after Emperor Charlemagne upon the Saxon Wars reached an agreement with King Hemming of Denmark in 811. The lands of Schleswig beyond the river remained a fief of the Danish Crown, while Holstein became an integral part of East Francia, the Kingdom of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire.


Duchy of
(from 1474)
Imperial County of Rantzau

Adolf VIII, the last Count of Holstein-Rendsburg and Duke of Schleswig had died without heirs in 1459. As Schleswig had been a Danish fief, it had to fall back to King Christian I of Denmark, who, himself a nephew of Adolf, also sought to enter into possession of Holstein. He was backed by the local nobility, who supported the continued common administration of both lands and by the 1460 Treaty of Ribe proclaimed him as the new Count of Holstein.

Nevertheless, the comital Holstein lands south of the Eider River officially remained a mediate fief held by the Ascanian dukes of Saxe-Lauenburg. In 1474 Emperor Frederick III conferred Imperial immediacy to Christian by elevating him to a Duke of Holstein.


In 1544, the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were partitioned in three parts between Christian's grandson Christian III of Denmark and his two younger half-brothers (who had to renounce the Danish throne), as follows:

In addition, significant parts of Holstein were jointly administered by the dukes of Holstein-Glückstadt and the dukes of Holstein-Gottorp, mainly on the Baltic Sea coast.

In 1640, the County of Holstein-Pinneberg, whose ruling house was extinct, was merged in the royal part of the Duchy of Holstein.


Allegorical depiction of Christian VII of Denmark uniting the royal and ducal parts of Holstein, painted by Nicolai Abildgaard

In 1713, during the Great Northern War, the estates of the dukes of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp in Schleswig including Schloss Gottorf were conquered by royal Danish troops. In the 1720 Treaty of Frederiksborg, Duke Charles Frederick of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp ceded them to his liege lord the Danish crown.

His remaining territories formed the Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp, administered from Kiel. In 1773, Charles Frederick's grandson, Emperor Paul I of Russia finally gave his Holstein lands to the Danish king, in his function as duke of Holstein, in exchange for the County of Oldenburg, and Holstein was reunited as a single state.

With the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Duchy of Holstein gained sovereignty.

After the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the Duchy of Holstein became a member of the German Confederation, resulting in several diplomatic and military conflicts about the so-called Schleswig-Holstein question. Denmark defended its rule over Holstein in the First Schleswig War of 1848-51 against the Kingdom of Prussia. However, in the Second Schleswig War (1864) Prussian and Austrian troops conquered Schleswig. Christian IX of Denmark had to renounce both Schleswig and Holstein in the Treaty of Vienna (1864) on October 30.

At first placed under joint rule in a condominium, Prussia and Austria then assumed administration of Schleswig and Holstein, respectively, under the Gastein Convention of August 14, 1865. However, tensions between the two powers culminated in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Following the Peace of Prague (1866), the victorious Prussians annexed both Schleswig and Holstein by decree of December 24, 1866, and later established the unified Province of Schleswig-Holstein.

List of statholders in Holstein[edit]

The Danish king in his function as duke of Holstein, and duke of Schleswig, appointed statholders (German: Statthalter; Latin: produx) to represent him in the duchies. The statholders[check spelling] fulfilled the tasks related to the ducal power as patrimonial lords in the royal shares of Holstein and Schleswig, as well as the royal part in the condominial government with the houses of Gottorp and Haderslev (the latter extinct in 1580) for all the duchies of Holstein (until retreat of Gottorp in 1773) and Schleswig (until Gottorp's deposal from dukedom there in 1720).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schleswig-Holstein Archived August 17, 2012, at the Wayback Machine at Flags of the World
  2. ^ a b c Dietrich Hermann Hegewisch, Schleswigs und Holsteins Geschichte unter dem Könige Christian IV und den Herzogen Friedrich II, Philipp, Johann Adolf und Friedrich III oder von 1588 bis 1648, Kiel: Neue Academische Buchhandlung, 1801, (=Wilhelm Ernst Christiani's Königlich-Dänischen wirklichen Justizraths und ordentlichen Professors der Weltweisheit, Beredsamkeit und Geschichte auf der Königl. Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Geschichte der Herzogthümer Schleswig und Holstein unter dem Oldenburgischen Hause; part 3), p. XIV.

External links[edit]