(Ed's Note: The text of this document came from the Encyclopedia Britannica edition of 1905. I've also modified here and there to detail the early 19th Century)
Arms graphic adapted from
German Federation 1871
Hesse Cassel (Kurhessen, i.e. Electoral Hesse), now the government district of Cassel in the Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau. It was until 1866 a landgravate and electorate of Germany. Its population in 1864 was 745,063.
Hesse-Cassel is a mid-size German state (a superficial area of 7699 sq. mi.) strategically located between the main part of Prussia and the Prussian provinces of Westphalia in western Germany. Consisting of several detached masses of territory to the Northeast of Frankfurt am Main and was traversed by two Prussian military roads. In the 1830s and 1840s, Hesse-Cassel was known chiefly for its poverty, its archaic agrarian structure, and its acrimonious constitutional politics. This is the timeframe Joseph and Barbary Resch emigrated for America. In the aftermath of the 1848 revolution, the very same issues which fed the constitutional conflict of the Vormärz resurfaced and, in 1850, jelled with the Austro-Prussian contest in Germany to produce a diplomatic crisis of the first order.
|Kurhessen included these districts and provinces in
Niederhessen, with the towns of Kassel,
Eschwege, Fritzlar, Hofgeismar, Homberg, Melsungen, Rotenburg,
Schaumburg, Witzenhausen, and Wolfhagen.
Hesse in the mid 19th century
Map of Hesse
Cassel (PDF Format)
The line of Hesse-Cassel was founded by
William IV, surnamed the wise, eldest son of Philip the Magnanimous. On Philip's
death in 1567, William received one half of Hesse, with Kassel as his capital;
and this formed the landgraviate of Hesse-Cassel. Additions were made to it by
inheritance from his brother's possessions. His
son, Maurice the learned (1592-1627), who turned Protestant in 1605, became
involved later in the Thirty Years' War, and after being forced to cede some of
his territories to the Darmstadt line, abdicated in favor of his son William V
(1627-37). His younger sons received appendages which created several cadet
lines of the house, of which that of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg survived till
1834 (qv Hesse-Rotenburg).
On the death of William V whose territories had been conquered by the Imperialists, his widow Amalie Elizabeth, as regent for her son William VI (1637-63), reconquered the country and with the aid of the French and Swedes, held it, together with part of Westphalia. At the peace of Westphalia (1648), accordingly, Hesse-Cassel was augmented by the larger part of the countship of Schaumburg and by the abbey of Hersfeld, which had been secularized as a principality of the Empire. The Landgravine Amalie Elizabeth introduced the rule of primogeniture. (The eldest son would henceforth inherit the entire landgraviate, it no longer could be divided amongst all the heirs.) William VI, who came of age in 1650, was an enlightened patron of learning and the arts. He was succeeded by his son William VII, an infant, who died in 1670, and was succeeded by his brother Charles (1670-1730).
Charles's chief claim to remembrance is that he was the first ruler to adopt the system of hiring his soldiers out to foreign powers as mercenaries, as a means of improving the national finances. Frederick I, the next landgrave (1730-1751), had become by marriage king of Sweden, and on his death was succeeded in the landgraviate by his brother William VIII (1751-60), who fought as an ally of England and Prussia during the Seven Years War.
Frederick II (1760-85) succeeded William VIII. He was Roman Catholic, He also hired out 20,000 Hessian troops to England for about £3,191,000 to assist in the war against the North American colonies. This action, often bitterly criticized, has of late years found apologists (v. Werthern, Die hessischen Hilfstruppen im nordamerikanischen Unabhtlngigkeitskriege, Cassel, 1895). It is argued that the troops were in any case mercenaries, and that the practice was quite common. Whatever opinion may be held as to this, it is certain that Frederick spent the money well, he did much for the development of the economic and intellectual improvement of the country.
[Concerning Hessians and the Revolutionary War: Many historians agree that the Hessians were not particularly good or reliable fighters. Since Americans knew this almost immediately, the Continental Congress approved a plan to lure the Hessians away from serving the British. Washington captured a large contingent of Hessians at Trenton. He furnished them an opportunity to visit the Pennsylvania German areas, when upon a number of them volunteered for service in the American Army. Nevertheless, Washington declined advice to form an all Hessian regiment, for he believed their loyalty was as questionable to America as to the British. Historians estimate that close to 12,000 of the original 30,000 Hessians soldiers sent to North America chose to remain. (excerpt from The German Americans by L. Ripley, p 38)]
(Joseph Resch is born around 1782, and his second spouse, Barbara Grass, around twelve years later in 1795. Of all our immigrant ancestors, they are the only ones born in the 18th Century. They depart Hesse Cassel in the Spring of 1833.)
William IX (1785-1821)
The reign of the next landgrave, William IX (1785-1821) was an important epoch in the history of Hesse-Cassel. Ascending the throne in 1785, he took part in the war against France a few years later, but in 1795, peace was arranged by the treaty of Basle. For the loss in 1801 of his possessions, on the left bank of the Rhine, he was in 1803 compensated by some of the former French territory around Mainz, and at the same time was raised to the dignity of Elector (Kurfurst), as William I. In 1806 he made a treaty of neutrality with Napoleon, but after the battle of Jena, the latter, suspecting William's designs, occupied his country, and expelled him. Hesse-Cassel was then added to Jerome Bonapart's new kingdom of Westphalia, but after the battle of Leipzig in 1813, the French were driven out and on the 21st of November the elector returned in triumph to his capital. A treaty conducted by him with the Allies (Dec 2) 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 powers at the congress of Vienna (Among the additions to his territory was that of the Prince-Bishopric of Fulda, which connected Hesse-Kassel proper with the territories of the county of Hanau.). They refused, however, the elector's request to be recognized as "King of the Chatti" (Konig der Katten), a request which was again rejected at the conference of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818). He therefore retained the now meaningless title of elector, with the predicate of 'Royal Highness'.
The elector had signaled 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 the 1st of 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, indeed, were called in March 1815, but the attempt to devise a constitution broke down; their appeal to the federal diet 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 Metternich; and in May l816 they were dissolved, never to meet again. William I died on the 27th of February 1821, and was succeeded by his son, William II.
(side note for Elector: The prince-electors or electoral princes of the Holy Roman Empire — German: Kurfürst, Kurfürsten (plural) — were the members of the electoral college of the Holy Roman Empire, having the function of electing the Emperors of Germany. During and after the 15th century they often merely formalized the elective monarchy into what was in fact a dynastic succession. Formally, they elected a King of the Romans, who became Holy Roman Emperor only when crowned by the pope. Charles V was the last to be actually crowned; all of his successors were merely "Emperors-Elect". Electors were among the princes of the Empire, but they had several privileges (in addition to electoral ones) which were disallowed to their non-electoral brethren. For a great part of the Holy Roman Empire's history (at least from the 13th century) there were seven electors, including three spiritual ones — the Archbishop of Mainz, the Archbishop of Trier, and the Archbishop of Cologne — and four lay ones — the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony, and the Margrave of Brandenburg. (The last three aforementioned are also known as the Elector Palatine, the Elector of Saxony, and the Elector of Brandenburg, respectively.) Other electors, added in the 17th century, include the Dukes of Bavaria (referred to as Electors of Bavaria - replacing the Count Palatine of the Rhine, who was of the same family but had lost his title temporarily during the Thirty Year War) and the Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg (the Electors of Hanover). In 1803, several new electors were created, but they never participated in an election, for the Holy Roman Empire was abolished under pressure from Napoléon Bonaparte on August 6, 1806.)
William II (1821 - 1831)
Like other central German states, Hesse-Cassel acutely felt the shock waves generated by the Paris revolution of July 1830. High food prices, feudal dues weighing on the peasantry, the absence of a constitution, the customs barriers among the various Hessian states all made for a volatile situation.
Under William II, the constitutional crisis in Hesse-Cassel 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 Orlopp, created countess of Reichenbach, whom he loaded with wealth. The July revolution in Paris gave the signal for disturbances; the elector was forced to summon the estates. To mollify at least some malcontents, the electoral government convened the estates-general to its first meeting since 1816, and, in January 1831, compromised with the legislature on a constitutional draft. The new constitution--providing for a unicameral legislature, the legislative right to initiate and pass laws, the separation of royal from state revenues, a ministerial oath to the constitution, and an impeachment procedure for ministers--was widely admired outside of Hesse-Kassel. Some of the accolades, however, may have been premature--the elector still retained the right to appoint ministers and generals, to promote and transfer civil servants, to prorogue and dissolve the legislature; moreover, both the legislature's power to deny tax increases and the monarch's powers during a state of emergency were ill-defined.
The elector now retired to Hanau, appointed his son Frederick William regent, and took no further part in public affairs.
Frederick William, Regent & Elector (1831 -1866)
The regent, 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 was aggravated when, in 1832, Hassenpflug was placed at the head of the administration. The whole efforts of the elector and his minister were directed to nullifying the constitutional control 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 (November 20, 1847), was forced to dismiss his reactionary ministry and to agree to a comprehensive program 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-Cassel were sent to the Erfurt Parliament. However, as Austria recovered strength, the elector's policy changed. On the 23rd of 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 Prussia. On The 2nd of 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, 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 Cassel secretly with him, and on the 15th of October appealed for aid to the reconstituted federal diet, which willingly passed a decree of 'intervention'. On the 1st 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 Olmlitz (1851). Hesse was surrendered to the federal diet; the federal forces collected the taxes, 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 manufactories, 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 (May 30, 1860). The new chambers, however, demanded the constitution of 1831; and, after several dissolutions, that always resulted in the return of the same members, the federal diet decided to restore the constitution of 1831 (May 24, 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, full of grievances against Prussia, threw in his lot with Austria, the electorate was at once overrun with Prussian troops; Kassel was occupied (June 20); and the elector was carried a prisoner to Settin. By the treaty of Prague, Hess-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 Philippsthal and Philippsthal-Barchfeld.
Sources: X.W. Wippernan, Kurhessen selt dan Freiheitskrfegen (Kassel, 1850) Roth, Geschichte von Hessen-Kassel (Kassal, 1856) H. Orflfe, Der verfassungskampf in Kurhessen (Leipzig, 1851) and works under Hesse.
Rulers of Hesse-Kassel:
Wilhelm V, 1627-1637
Wilhelm VI, 1637-1663
Amalie Elisabeth von Hanau, Regent, 1637-1650
Wilhelm VII, 1663-1670
Hedwig Sophie von Brandenburg, Regent 1663-1677
Fredrich I, 1730-1751 (also King of Sweden)
Wilhelm VII, 1751-1760
Fredrich II, 1760-1785
Wilhelm IX, 1785-1803
Wilhelm I, as elector 1803-1821
Wilhelm II, 1821-1847
Fredrich Wilhelm 1847-1866