Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

( German Rheinpfalz ).

A former German electorate. It derives its name from the title of a royal official in the old German Empire , the palsgrave ( Pfalzgraf ) or count palatine. In the Carlovingian period the count palatine was merely the representative of the king in the high court of justice. Otto the Great in 937 appointed a count palatine for Bavaria –and subsequently for other duchies also–who also had supervision of the crown lands situated in the duchy, as well as of the imperial revenues payable there, and had to see that the duke did not extend his powers at the king's expense. The palsgrave of Lorraine, who had his seat at Aachen, was later esteemed the foremost in rank. In 1155, after the death of the palsgrave Hermann of Stableck, Frederick Barbarossa transferred the countship to his half- brother Conrad (1155-95), who united the lands belonging to the office with his own possessions on the central Rhine, the inheritance of the Salic kings. He made his residence at Heidelberg, where he built a strong castle. Thus the palatinate of Lorraine advanced up the Rhine and became the palatinate "of the Rhine". Neither the lands of the palatinate, nor those which Conrad had inherited, formed a compact whole; but by further acquisitions which Conrad made, the foundation was laid for the principality to which the name Palatinate has clung. Conrad's daughter Agnes married Henry the Lion's son, the Guelph Henry the Long, who became palsgrave (1195-1211); in 1211 he resigned it to his son Henry the Younger, who d. childless (1214). The dignity passed to the Duke of Bavaria, Louis of Kelheim of the House of Wittelsbach; Louis's son, Otto the Illustrious, married Henry the Long's daughter, who also bore the name Agnes. In this way the Rhenish estates of the Hohenstaufen came to the House of Wittelsbach, in whose hands part of them remain to the present day.

Otto the Illustrious acquired in addition, one-half of the county of Katzenellenbogen; Louis II the Severe (1253-96) received from the last Hohenstaufen, Conradin, the latter's estates in the Nordgau, in the present Upper Palatinate ( Oberpfalz, in Bavaria ), as pledge. In the thirteenth century the dignity of palsgrave was raised form its original ministerial character to complete independence, and the count palatine, largely in consequence of the union with Bavaria, became one of the powerful territorial magnates, subsequently the foremost of the secular princes of the empire. The union with Bavaria was dissolved by Emperor Louis the Bavarian, who after 1319 governed the Palatinate also; in the family compact of Pavia, 1329, he divided the possessions of the Wittelsbachs so that he himself retained the old Bavarian lands, while he left to his nephews Radolf and Rupprecht the Rhenish Palatinate and the Upper Palatinate. This division existed until 1777. The electoral dignity, according to the compact, was to be exercised alternately by Bavaria and the Palatinate; but this provision was altered in the "Golden Bull " of Charles IV, to the effect that the electoral office was attached to the Palatinate alone, which on that account has since been called the electoral Palatinate; in return the Palatinate had to relinquish the northern part of the Upper Palatinate to Charles. Of the nephews of Louis the Bavarian, Rudolf reigned until 1352, Rupprecht until 1390. Rupprecht was one of the foremost champions of the interests of the princes as opposed to the cities, and by his victory over the league of Rhenish cities at Alzei in 1388 again restored the princes' authority on the central Rhine. He founded the University of Heidelberg in 1386. His nephew Rupprecht II (1390-98) regained from King Wenzel part of the Upper Palatinate; the rest was won by Rupprecht III (1398-1410), who in 1400 was elected King of Germany.

By the "Golden Bull " the division of a territory, to which the electoral dignity was attached, was forbidden; this provision was evaded by selecting special estates for the establishment of younger sons. Several lines were thus formed in the Palatinate after the death of Rupprecht III; the old electoral line; the line of Stephen, which in 1459 split into Simmern and Zweibrücken; the line of Neumarkt, extinct in 1448; and the line of Mosbach, extinct in 1499, whereupon the lands belonging to these two lines reverted to the electoral house. In the electoral line Rupprecht III was succeeded by his son Louis III (1410-36), one of the leading personalities at the Council of Constance ; the deposed John XXIII was held in custody by him for three years at the Castle of Eichelsheim; his men carried out the execution of John Hus. He laid the foundation of the famous Palatine Library. Louis IV (1437-49) was succeeded by his brother Frederick the Victorious (1449-75), who governed for his nephew Philip, but wore the electoral cap himself. His reign is almost wholly taken up with wars, in which he was nearly always victorious. He is entitled to special credit for his services to the University of Heidelberg. From his marriage with Klara Tött (or Dett) of Augsburg the family of the princes Löwenstein is descended. After him his nephew Philip the Sincere (1475-1508) reigned alone. The Renaissance was zealously fostered; Heidelberg Castle, in which Johann Dahlberg, Rudolf Agricola, Johannes Reuchlin, Konrad Celtes and others were hospitably received, became the rallying point of the champions of a reform in literature and science, while the university remained unaffected. After the death of George the Rich of Bavaria-Landshut, he claimed for his second son Rupprecht, who had married George's daughter, the lands of Lower Bavaria ; this led to a conflict with Albrecht, Duke of Upper Bavaria, who found in his brother-in-law, Emperor Maximilian, a powerful helper. For the Palatinate little was gained by the war, which lasted until 1505; only the city of Neuburg on the Danube with its environs was ceded to the sons of Rupprecht, who had fallen in battle, as the "New Palatinate", while the rest was given to Upper Bavaria.

In the electoral Palatinate Louis V the Peaceable (1508-44) succeeded, a man of conservative views, who personally kept aloof from, and regretted the Reformation, but did nothing to withstand it. He added a number of buildings, the last of the Gothic period, to Heidelberg Castle. His brother Frederick II (1544-46), who for a time belonged to the Smalkaldic League , was more ready to give ear to innovations, but in many respects still wavered. Otto Henry, a son of that Rupprecht who had laid claim to Lower Bavaria, succeeded to the electoral dignity; the "New Palatinate", which he now held, was given by him to his relatives of the line of Zweibrücken. Otto Henry (1556-59) enforced the Lutheran Reformation in his lands resolutely and indiscriminately, and aided the new humanistic movement to victory in the University of Heidelberg. He added to Heidelberg Castle the building named for him, the Ottheinrichsbau, the most brilliant creation of the Renaissance on German soil. The electoral dignity and the lands passed to Frederick III (1559-76) of the Palatinate-Simmern line, a family who zealously championed Protestantism. Frederick's son John Casimir fought in France for the Protestant cause; his younger brother Christopher in the Netherlands, where he fell, 1574, on the Mooker Heath; John Casimir's son in 1654, as Charles X, ascended the Swedish throne, which the house of Palatinate- Zweibrücken occupied until 1751.

From 1545 to 1685 the ruling family of the Palatinate changed its creed no less than nine times. Frederick III was a zealous Calvinist ; he made the Palatinate Calvinistic, caused the drawing-up, in 1562, of the Heidelberg Catechism, and sheltered French Huguenots. His son Louis VI (1576-83) brought about a Lutheran reaction; John Casimir, regent from 1573-92 for Louis's son Frederick IV, restored Calvinism. Frederick IV (1592-1610) attained the leadership of German Protestantism ; he was the founder of the Evangelical Union, 1608. Frederick V (1610-23), the husband of the British Princess Elizabeth (daughter of James I), was a man of boundless self- confidence and ambition, and when he took the crown of Bohemia, offered him by the unsurgents, the Thirty Years' War broke out. The battle at Weissen Berg, near Prague (1620), cost Frederick not only the "Winter Kingdom" but also his electoral Palatinate, which together with the electoral dignity and the Upper Palatinate was transferred in 1623 to Maximilian of Bavaria. The entire burden of the war rested for decades upon the Palatinate; the famous library of Heidelberg was presented to the pope by Tilly, who had captured the city in 1622. At the Peace of Westphalia Frederick's son, Charles Frederick (1648-80), received back the Rhenish Palatinate undiminished, but had to give up the Upper Palatinate and be content with a newly-created electoral vote. In spite of his diminished resources, he raised the country materially and intellectually to a highly-flourishing condition. In contrast with his predecessors he permitted the three great creeds of Germany to exist side by side, and received colonists from all lands without questioning them as to their religion. Church and schools found in him a zealous patron: the University of Heidelberg, deserted since 1630, was again opened by him in 1652, and renowned scholars such as Pufendorf were appointed to the professorships. In the wars between Germany and France he remained loyal to the emperor; as a consequence his lands suffered severely from the devastation of the French soldiers in the Wars for Reunion. With his incompetent son, Charles Louis (1680-88), the Palatinate-Simmern line became extinct.

With Philip William (1685-90) the government passed to the Catholic line of Palatinate-Neuburg, which by marriage (1614) had come into possession of Jülich- Berg, and in 1624 into that of Ravensberg. The allodial lands of the family, however, were claimed by Louis XIV for his brother the Duke of Orléans, who was wedded to the sister of Charles Louis, Elizabeth Charlotte. When his claims were rejected, Louis in revenge undertook a number of sanguinary expeditions into the Palatinate, particularly in 1688-89, and transformed it into a veritable desert. Heidelberg, with its castle, Mannheim, Sinsheim, Bretten, Bruchsal, Durlach, Pforzheim, Baden, Rastatt, and others, as well as numerous villages were given to the flames. Peace was not restored until 1697, at Ryswick. The son of Philip William, the ostentatious John William (1690-1716), resided at Düsseldorf; during the War of the Spanish Succession, he, for a short time, again obtained for his family the Upper Palatinate. His brother Charles Philip (1716-42), in consequence of friction with the Protestants of Heidelberg, transferred his residence to Mannheim (1720), where he erected a magnificent palace in the French style.

With him the Palatinate-Neuberg line ended; historians averse to Catholicism have painted the religious policy of these three Catholic electors in the blackest colours. In reality, if they gave Catholicism the opportunity to expand without hindrance, and reintroduced the Catholic Divine service in many places, they did nothing more than Protestant princes have at all times done in favour of Protestantism in their dominions, and, in accordance with the principle then in force, Cuius regio, eius est religio, they were just as much justified as Protestant rulers. The occupation of the Palatinate by the French (1688-89) was also to the advantage of the Catholics, as the French gave them complete or joint possession of a number of churches, and the title to the property thus attained by the Catholics in many places was upheld by the Peace of Ryswick. As the non-Catholics considered these conditions and the introduction of simultaneous services in many churches a great hardship and made complaint to Brandenburg, the leading Protestant power, who threatened reprisals, complete religious liberty was proclaimed for the three chief creeds ( Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed), in the declaration of 1705; the joint use of the churches was replaced (1706) by the division of the churches into a Catholic and a non-Catholic part. From 1686 Jesuit professors were appointed at Heidelberg; after their suppression Lazarists took their places.

Charles Theodore (1742-99), of the Palatinate-Sulzbach line, succeeded; he promoted the arts and sciences at great expense, so that his reign was later regarded as the Golden Age in the Palatinate. In 1777 Charles Theodore inherited Bavaria ; the Palatinate electorate thereupon became extinct. Mannheim was given up, and Munich became the seat of the court. In 1794 the French entered the Palatinate and took possession of Mannheim, which they were compelled to surrender to the imperial troops under General Wurmser in 1795, after a prolonged siege. The armistice of 1796 practically decided the cession to France of that portion of the Palatinate lying on the left bank of the Rhine, which was actually carried out by the Peace of Luneville in 1801. The successor of Charles Theodore, Max Joseph (1799-1803) of the Palatinate-Zweibrücken line, afterwards King of Bavaria, in August, 1801, formally renounced all claim to the left bank of the Rhine, for which he was to receive indemnity in the form of secularized church lands. The Palatinate on the right bank of the Rhine by the decision of the deputation of the estates, 1803, was taken from Bavaria and divided between Baden and Hesse, so that the greater part fell to Baden. After the yoke of Napoleon had been thrown off, the Palatinate on the left bank of the Rhine together with the territory of the former Bishopric of Speyer (so far as this lay to the left of the Rhine) with somewhat modified boundaries was restored to Bavaria, 1815, and at the present time forms the administrative District of Pfalz (Palatinate), which in 1905 had 885,833 inhabitants (391,200 Catholics 470,694 Protestants, and 9606 Jews ). The part of the former electoral Palatinate situated on the right bank of the Rhine, however, in spite of the protest of Bavaria, was retained by Baden and Hesse and the Congress of Aachen recognized, 1818, the right of succession of the Baden- Hochberg line, descended from the second marriage of the Margrave of Baden, Charles Frederick, with a woman below him in rank, to that part which had been added to Baden, although Louis of Bavaria laid claim to these parts of Baden and maintained this claim until 1827. The name Palatinate has since then been confirmed to that administrative district of Bavaria, which in ecclesiastical affairs forms the Bishopric of Speyer. (See G ERMANY, map; S PEYER .


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jeremiah 1:17-19
17 'As for you, prepare yourself for action. Stand up ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15, 17
1 In you, Yahweh, I take refuge, I shall never be put ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 6:17-29
17 Now it was this same Herod who had sent to have ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for August 29th, 2014 Image

St. Sabina
August 29: St. Sabina's feast day is August 29th. We know St. Sabina only ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter