1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hesse-Cassel
HESSE-CASSEL (in German Kurhessen, i.e. Electoral Hesse), now the government district of Cassel in the Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau. It was till 1866 a landgraviate and electorate of Germany, consisting of several detached masses of territory, to the N.E. of Frankfort-on-the-Main. It contained a superficial area of 3699 sq. m., and its population in 1864 was 745,063.
History.—The line of Hesse-Cassel was founded by William IV., surnamed the Wise, eldest son of Philip the Magnanimous. On his father’s death in 1567 he received one half of Hesse, with Cassel 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), 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 favour of his son William V. (1627–1637), his younger sons receiving apanages which created several cadet lines of the house, of which that of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg survived till 1834. 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. (1637–1663), 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, secularized as a principality of the Empire. The Landgravine Amalie Elizabeth introduced the rule of primogeniture. 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. (1751–1760), who fought as an ally of England during the Seven Years’ War. From his successor Frederick II. (1760–1785), who had become a Roman Catholic, 22,000 Hessian troops were hired by 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 (cf. v. Werthern, Die hessischen Hilfstruppen im nordamerikanischen Unabhängigkeitskriege, 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. 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 Basel. 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 round Mainz, and at the same time was raised to the dignity of Elector (Kurfürst) 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 Bonaparte’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 concluded 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. They refused, however, the elector’s request to be recognized as “King of the Chatti” (König 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 signalized his restoration by abolishing with a stroke of the pen all the reforms introduced under the French régime, 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 summoned in March 1815, but the attempt to devise a constitution broke down; their appeal to the federal diet at Frankfort 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 1816 they were dissolved, never to meet again. William I. died on the 27th of February 1821, and was succeeded by his son, William II. Under him 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 Ortlöpp, 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; and on the 5th of January 1831 a constitution on the ordinary Liberal basis was signed. The elector now retired to Hanau, appointed his son Frederick William regent, and took no further part in public affairs.
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 (q.v.) 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 programme of democratic reform. This, however, was but short-lived. After the breakdown of the Frankfort National Parliament, Frederick William joined the Prussian Northern Union, and deputies from Hesse-Cassel were sent to the Erfurt parliament. But 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, that 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 Olmütz (1851). Hesse was surrendered to the federal diet; the taxes were collected by the federal forces, 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 which 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; Cassel was occupied (June 20); and the elector was carried a prisoner to Stettin. By the treaty of Prague Hesse-Cassel 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.
See K. W. Wippermann, Kurhessen seit den Freiheitskriegen (Cassel, 1850); Röth, Geschichte von Hessen-Kassel (Cassel, 1856; 2nd ed. continued by Stamford, 1883–1885); H. Gräfe, Der Verfassungskampf in Kurhessen (Leipzig, 1851) and works under Hesse.