Hohenzollern was the name of a castle which stood on the hill of Zollern south of Hechingen, and gave its name to the family to which the German emperor belonged. The castle of Hohenzollern was destroyed in 1423, but it has been restored several times. Some remains of the old building may still be seen adjoining the present castle, which was built by King Frederick William IV.
A vague tradition connected the house with the Colonna family of Rome, or the Colalfo family of Lombardy; but one more definite unites the Hohenzollerns with the Burkhardingers, who were counts in Raetia during the early part of the 10th century, and two of whom became dukes of Swabia. The influence of the Swabian branch of the Hohenzollerns was weakened by several partitions of its lands; but early in the 16th century it rose to some eminence through Count Eitel Frederick II. (d. 1512), a friend and adviser of the emperor Maximilian I. Eitel received from this emperor the district of Haigerloch, and in 1534 his grandson Charles (d. 1576) was granted the counties of Sigmaringen and Vohringen by the emperor Charles V. In 1576 the sons of Charles divided their lands, and founded three branches of the family, one of which is still flourishing. Eitel Frederick IV. took Hohenzollern with the title of Hohenzollern-Hechingen; Charles II. Sigmaringen and Vohringen and the title of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen; and Christopher took Haigerloch. Christopher's family died out in 1634, but the remaining lines are of some importance.
Count John George of Hohenzollern-Hechingen was made a prince in 1623, and John of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen soon received the same honour. In 1695 these two branches of the family entered conjointly into an agreement with Brandenburg, which provided that, in case of the extinction of either of the Swabian branches, the remaining branch should inherit its lands; and if both branches became extinct the principalities should revert to Brandenburg. During the 17th and 18th centuries and during the period of the Napoleonic wars the history of these lands was very similar to that of the other small estates of Germany.
In consequence of the political troubles of 1848 Princes Frederick William of Hohenzollern-Hechingen and Charles Anton of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen resigned their principalities. By a treaty signed 07 December 1849, His Serene Highness the Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen and His Serene Higness the Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen having, in consequence of the political events that had taken place in the southwest of Germany since the spring of 1848, and in consideration of the family relationship and of the compacts in respect to inheritance existing between the Royal Prussian House and the Princely House of Hohenzollern, according to which, in case of the extinction of all the lines of the Princes and Counts of Hohenzollern in the male line, the succession in the Hohenzollern principalities, counties, and lordships, was secured to the said Royal House, both, and respectively each for himself, unanimously resolved to abdicate the Government of the said principalities, with all their rights of sovereignty, of government, and of eventual succession to the same, in favor of the Crown of Prussia; and having accordingly repeatedly addressed propositions to that effect to His Majesty the King of Prussia, and His Majesty having, as well in consideration of the family relationship and compacts of inheritance, as with a view to secure the mutual rights and interests connected therewith, declared his willingness to enter into these propositions.
His Serene Highness the Reigning Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen cedes all rights of sovereignty and government over the whole of his principality of Hohenzollern-Hechingen to its present extent, therefore inclusively of the rights and sovereignty and government over the territory acquired in virtue of the Recess of the German Empire of 1803, and subsequently, for himself, his heirs and successors, to His Majesty the King of Prussia. In like manner are ceded by His Serene Highness the Reigning Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, all rights of sovereignty and government over the whole of his principality of Sigmaringen to its present extent, therefore inclusively of the territories acquired in virtue of the Recess of the German Empire of 1803, and subsequently for himself, his heirs and successors, to His Majesty the King of Prussia.
His Majesty the King of Prussia accepts the cessions made in Articles I and II, and acquires in virtue of them the possession of the principalities of Hohenzollern-Hechingen and HohenzollernSigmaringen, with all the rights of sovereignty and government connected with them. IV. That is to say, together with the said principalities, all special rights and revenues, derived from the rights of sovereignty and government over them, such as duties, direct and indirect taxes, registration fees and stamp dues, which had been levied or were to be levied by the district, court, or national exchequers, to the day of the surrender of the principalities to the Royal Prussian Government, state archives and papers, and state buildings, as well as the use, gratis, of all the buildings and localities of all kinds destined for the administration of the country, are transferred to the Crown of Prussia.
Accordingly these lands fell to the king of Prussia, who took possession on 12 March 1850. By a royal decree of the 20th of May following the title of "highness" with the prerogatives of younger sons of the royal house, was conferred on the two princes. The proposal to raise Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (1835-1905) to the Spanish throne in 1870 was the immediate cause of the war between France and Germany. In 1908 the head of this branch of the Hohenzollerns, the only one existing besides the imperial house, was Leopold's son William (b. 1864), who, owing to the extinction of the family of Hohenzollern-Hechingen in 1869, was called simply prince of Hohenzollern. In 1866 Prince Charles of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was chosen prince of Rumania, becoming king in 1881.
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