List of Counts Palatine of the Rhine

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The Elector of the Palatinate (German: Kurfürst von der Pfalz) ruled the 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, which governed several counties on both banks of the Rhine. These territories were centered around Cologne-Bonn, but extended south to the Moselle and Nahe Rivers. The southernmost point was near Alzey.[1]

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

From c.1085, after the death of the last Ezzonian count palatine, 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, henceforth called the 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 began with those held by the Hohenstaufens in Franconia and Rhineland. (Other branches of the Hohenstaufen dynasty received territories including lands in Swabia and Franche-Comté). Part of this land derived from their imperial ancestors, the Franconian emperors, and part from Conrad's maternal ancestors, the Saarbrücken. This explains 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]

On the marriage of the Welf heiress Agnes in the early 13th century, the territory passed 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 Bavaria north of the Danube river (the Nordgau) centred 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, to contrast with 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 of the Palatinate, 1356–1777[edit]

The Golden Bull of 1356, in circumvention of inner-Wittelsbach contracts and thus bypassing Bavaria, the Palatinate was recognized as one of the secular electorates. The count was 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 of prince-elector had existed earlier (for example, when two rival kings of Germany were elected in 1257: Richard of Cornwall and Alfonso of Castile), though it is difficult to determine exactly the earliest date of the office.

By the early 16th century, owing to the practice of dividing territories among different branches of the family, 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 line
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. 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, he 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 defeated by the Emperor Ferdinand II at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, and Spanish and Bavarian troops soon occupied the Palatinate itself. He was known as "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 was given a new electoral title, also that of "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 a 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 and the last of the Neuburg line. He 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. He 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, though 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
King Max I Joseph in Coronation Robe.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]

Following the great restorations of 1815, the Lower Palatinate (albeit without any prince-elector role) was restored as one of eight Bavarian Districts. After World War II the American Military Government of Germany took the Lower Palatinate from Bavaria and merged it with neighbouring territories to form a new state called Rhenania-Palatinate (German: Rheinland-Pfalz) with Mainz as the state capital. The people had felt neglected by the governments in Munich for generations and later approved the merger in a plebiscite.

The present head of the House of Wittelsbach, Franz, Duke of Bavaria (born 1933), 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.