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Nobles of Brunswick and Luneburg

The nobles of Brunswick and Luneburg were amongst the most restless and unruly in Germany. The numerous wars in these states, the repeated divisions of territory, and the expense consequent on the maintenance of numerous courts, weakened the sovereigns at the same time that they rendered them dependant on their nobles for supplies. Henry and Henry Julius were the first who, by introducing the law of primogeniture, which, however, they were far from establishing, attempted to reform the constitution of the nobility. The former of these princes founded a regular system of justice, the latter equalized taxation. But they purchased, as it were, these improvements by conceding to the nobles privileges and monopolies which they enjoyed to the prejudice of the inferior classes.

The accession of the family of Luneburg to the throne of Great Britain was favorable to the power and pretensions of the Hanoverian nobility. The government was invested in a ministry which was chosen exclusively from this body. Since that time more particularly, the Hanoverian nobles have been celebrated in Germany for their lofty deportment and attachment to their order. And as they have had the government for the most part in their own hands, they have maintained the advantageous position which the nobilities of other German states have gradually been obliged to surrender. The historian must record to their credit, that they have been distinguished of late years for talents both civil and military, and that their body has rendered great services to their country.

The historic grandeur of the House of Guelf dates from a very remote past; and the laborious investigation of its antiquities which at this very time was being commenced by Leibniz (though, so far as is known, this was the only research conducted by him which ever engaged the attention of the future George I) could have possessed only a very academic interest for Englishmen. What had been left of the vast possessions of Henry the Lion, or had been added to the remnant by his descendants, had been partitioned and repartitioned by them on innumerable occasions.

Towards the end of the sixteenth century the efforts of the Princes of the House of Guelf had raised it to a position of importance and influence at least equal to that of any other princely family in northern Germany ; but the two main, or Brunswick and Luneburg, branches, which had separated in the thirteenth century, were never actually reunited, and even the dominions of the Luneburg branch were never united as a single inheritance. Although of the five elder brothers of Duke George, who in the latter part of the Thirty Years' War so signally asserted the position of his House, four in succession held undivided sway over the territories which formed their joint inheritance, on his death in 1641 his will established an exception to the principles of unity of government as well as of indivisibility of territory formerly observed by the Luneburg Dukes. Calenberg (Hanover), where he had ruled independently of his brothers since 1636, was to remain separated from the more important Luneburg-Celle ; while the principle of primogeniture was only to be applied so far as to give the eldest brother the right of choice between the two divisions.

In obedience to this rule, the eldest of Duke George's four sons, Christian Lewis, after first holding sway at Hanover, succeeded his uncle Frederick at Celle in 1648. On his death, without children, in 1665, the second brother, George William, who had ruled at Hanover, succeeded to Celle, where he carried on the government till his own death in 1705, having been followed at Hanover by his younger brother John Frederick (Leibniz' Roman Catholic patron), who ruled there till he died, leaving only two daughters, in 1679. In that year came the turn of the youngest brother, Ernest Augustus, the Bishop of Osnabriick, Sophia's husband, who now succeeded at Hanover, from which his line took the name generally used in England.

In the critical year 1688 Sophia, the youngest daughter of the Princess Elizabeth of England who during the long years of her exile continued to call herself Queen of Bohemia, was fifty-eight years of age; she was thus senior by eight years to Louis XIV, whom accordingly she was, as she says, always accustomed to regard as "a young man." She had been married for thirty years to Ernest Augustus, the youngest of the four brother Dukes who in their generation represented the Luneburg branch of the House of Brunswick, and whose territories included Liineburg-Celle and Calenberg-Gottingen. In 1662 Ernest Augustus, in accordance with the alternating arrangement made in the Peace of Westphalia, became Bishop of Osnabriick, and in 1679 he succeeded to the rule of the principality of Calenberg (Hanover). His and Sophia's eldest son, George Lewis (afterwards King George I) was in 1688 a man of twenty-eight years of age, to whom a son, George Augustus (afterwards George II) and a daughter (afterwards Queen of Prussia) had already been born.

Happily for England, the Hanoverian Succession was, so far as the predominant partner in the Union was concerned, accomplished without bloodshed; and, happily for the continental Powers of Europe, they were not drawn into a direct settlement by arms of the question of the British Succession, as they previously had been in the case of the Spanish, and afterwards were in that of the Austrian.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:17 ZULU