1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hesse

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HESSE (Lat. Hessia, Ger. Hessen), a grand duchy forming a state of the German empire. It was known until 1866 as Hesse-Darmstadt, the history of which is given under a separate heading below. It consists of two main parts, separated from each other by a narrow strip of Prussian territory. The northern part is the province of Oberhessen; the southern consists of the contiguous provinces of Starkenburg and Rheinhessen. There are also eleven very small exclaves, mostly grouped about Homburg to the south-west of Oberhessen; but the largest is Wimpfen on the north-west frontier of Württemberg. Oberhessen is hilly; though of no great elevation it extends over the water-parting between the basins of the Rhine and the Weser, and in the Vogelsberg it has as its culminating point the Taufstein (2533 ft.). In the north-west it includes spurs of the Taunus. Between these two systems of hills lies the fertile undulating tract known as the Wetterau, watered by the Wetter, a tributary of the Main. Starkenburg occupies the angle between the Main and the Rhine, and in its south-eastern part includes some of the ranges of the Odenwald, the highest part being the Seidenbucher Höhe (1965 ft.). Rheinhessen is separated from Starkenburg by the Rhine, and has that river as its northern as well as its eastern frontier, though it extends across it at the north-east corner, where the Rhine, on receiving the Main, changes its course abruptly from south to west. The territory consists of a fertile tract of low hills, rising towards the south-west into the northern extremity of the Hardt range, but at no point reaching a height of more than 1050 ft.

The area and population of the three provinces of Hesse are as follow:

  Area. Population.
  sq. m. 1895. 1905.
Oberhessen 1267 271,524 296,755
Starkenburg 1169 444,562 542,996
Rheinhessen 530 322,934 369,424
Total 2966 1,039,020 1,209,175

The chief towns of the grand duchy are Darmstadt (the capital) and Offenbach in Starkenburg, Mainz and Worms in Rheinhessen and Giessen in Oberhessen. More than two-thirds of the inhabitants are Protestants; the majority of the remainder are Roman Catholics, and there are about 25,000 Jews. The grand duke is head of the Protestant church. Education is compulsory, the elementary schools being communal, assisted by state grants. There are a university at Giessen and a technical high school at Darmstadt. Agriculture is important, more than three-fifths of the total area being under cultivation. The largest grain crops are rye and barley, and nearly 40,000 acres are under vines. Minerals, in which Oberhessen is much richer than the two other provinces, include iron, manganese, salt and some coal.

The constitution dates from 1820, but was modified in 1856, 1862, 1872 and 1900. There are two legislative chambers. The upper consists of princes of the grand-ducal family, heads of mediatized houses, the head of the Roman Catholic and the superintendent of the Protestant church, the chancellor of the university, two elected representatives of the land-owning nobility, and twelve members nominated by the grand duke. The lower chamber consists of ten deputies from large towns and forty from small towns and rural districts. They are indirectly elected, by deputy electors (Wahlmänner) nominated by the electors, who must be Hessians over twenty-five years old, paying direct taxes. The executive ministry of state is divided into the departments of the interior, justice and finance. The three provinces are divided for local administration into 18 circles and 989 communes. The ordinary revenue and expenditure amount each to about £4,000,000 annually, the chief taxes being an income-tax, succession duties and stamp tax. The public debt, practically the whole of which is on railways, amounted to £19,097,468 in 1907.

History.—The name of Hesse, now used principally for the grand duchy formerly known as Hesse-Darmstadt, refers to a country which has had different boundaries and areas at different times. The name is derived from that of a Frankish tribe, the Hessi. The earliest known inhabitants of the country were the Chatti, who lived here during the 1st century A.D. (Tacitus, Germania, c. 30), and whose capital, Mattium on the Eder, was burned by the Romans about A.D. 15. “Alike both in race and language,” says Walther Schultze, “the Chatti and the Hessi are identical.” During the period of the Völkerwanderung many of these people moved westward, but some remained behind to give their name to the country, although it was not until the 8th century that the word Hesse came into use. Early Hesse was the district around the Fulda, the Werra, the Eder and the Lahn, and was part of the Frankish kingdom both during Merovingian and during Carolingian times. Soon Hessegau is mentioned, and this district was the headquarters of Charlemagne during his campaigns against the Saxons. By the treaty of Verdun in 843 it fell to Louis the German, and later it seems to have been partly in the duchy of Saxony and partly in that of Franconia. The Hessians were converted to Christianity mainly through the efforts of St Boniface; their land was included in the archbishopric of Mainz; and religion and culture were kept alive among them largely owing to the foundation of the Benedictine abbeys of Fulda and Hersfeld. Like other parts of Germany during the 9th century Hesse felt the absence of a strong central power, and, before the time of the emperor Otto the Great, several counts, among whom were Giso and Werner, had made themselves practically independent; but after the accession of Otto in 936 the land quietly accepted the yoke of the medieval emperors. About 1120 another Giso, count of Gudensberg, secured possession of the lands of the Werners; on his death in 1137 his daughter and heiress, Hedwig, married Louis, landgrave of Thuringia; and from this date until 1247, when the Thuringian ruling family became extinct, Hesse formed part of Thuringia. The death of Henry Raspe, the last landgrave of Thuringia, in 1247, caused a long war over the disposal of his lands, and this dispute was not settled until 1264 when Hesse, separated again from Thuringia, was secured by his niece Sophia (d. 1284), widow of Henry II., duke of Brabant. In the following year Sophia handed over Hesse to her son Henry (1244–1308), who, remembering the connexion of Hesse and Thuringia, took the title of landgrave, and is the ancestor of all the subsequent rulers of the country. In 1292 Henry was made a prince of the Empire, and with him the history of Hesse properly begins.

For nearly 300 years the history of Hesse is comparatively uneventful. The land, which fell into two main portions, upper Hesse round Marburg, and lower Hesse round Cassel, was twice divided between two members of the ruling family, but no permanent partition took place before the Reformation. A Landtag was first called together in 1387, and the landgraves were constantly at variance with the electors of Mainz, who had large temporal possessions in the country. They found time, however, to increase the area of Hesse. Giessen, part of Schmalkalden, Ziegenhain, Nidda and, after a long struggle, Katzenelnbogen were acquired, while in 1432 the abbey of Hersfeld placed itself under the protection of Hesse. The most noteworthy of the landgraves were perhaps Louis I. (d. 1458), a candidate for the German throne in 1440, and William II. (d. 1509), a comrade of the German king, Maximilian I. In 1509 William’s young son, Philip (q.v.), became landgrave, and by his vigorous personality brought his country into prominence during the religious troubles of the 16th century. Following the example of his ancestors Philip cared for education and the general welfare of his land, and the Protestant university of Marburg, founded in 1527, owes to him its origin. When he died in 1567 Hesse was divided between his four sons into Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Marburg and Hesse-Rheinfels. The lines ruling in Hesse-Rheinfels and Hesse-Marburg, or upper Hesse, became extinct in 1583 and 1604 respectively, and these lands passed to the two remaining branches of the family. The small landgraviate of Hesse-Homburg was formed in 1622 from Hesse-Darmstadt. After the annexation of Hesse-Cassel and Hesse-Homburg by Prussia in 1866 Hesse-Darmstadt remained the only independent part of Hesse, and it generally receives the common name.

Hesse-Philippsthal is an offshoot of Hesse-Cassel, and was founded in 1685 by Philip (d. 1721), son of the Landgrave William VI. In 1909 the representative of this family was the Landgrave Ernest (b. 1846). Hesse-Barchfeld was founded in 1721 by Philip’s son, William (d. 1761), and in 1909 its representative was the Landgrave Clovis (b. 1876). The lands of both these princes are now mediatized. Hesse-Nassau is a province of Prussia formed in 1866 from part of Hesse-Cassel and part of the duchy of Nassau.

See H. B. Wenck, Hessische Landesgeschichte (Frankfort, 1783–1803); C. von Rommel, Geschichte von Hesse (Cassel, 1820–1858); F. Münscher, Geschichte von Hesse (Marburg, 1894); F. Gundlach, Hesse und die Mainzer Stiftsfehde (Marburg, 1899); Walther, Literarisches Handbuch für Geschichte und Landeskunde von Hesse (Darmstadt, 1841; Supplement, 1850–1869); K. Ackermann, Bibliotheca Hessiaca (Cassel, 1884–1899); Hoffmeister, Historischgenealogisches Handbuch über alle Linien des Regentenhauses Hesse (Marburg, 1874), and the Zeitschrift des Vereins für hessische Geschichte (1837–1904).