Württemberg, Duchy of

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WÜRTTEMBERG, DUCHY OF. Early modern Württemberg had a flourishing agricultural economy, a highly developed administrative structure, and superb cultural achievements, yet its prime location in the southwest corner of the Holy Roman Empire also made it a target for imperial ambitions and invasions. For administrative and taxation purposes, the territory of almost 3,500 square miles (9,000 square kilometers) was divided up into districts (Ämter or Vogteien) that varied greatly in size and whose number rose from thirty-eight in 1442 to fifty-eight by 1600. Württemberg's total population during the sixteenth century was between three and four hundred thousand, with 70 percent of the populace living in the countryside and 30 percent in the towns. The capital was Stuttgart, the largest town by far with a population of about nine thousand inhabitants. Württemberg's economy rested primarily on wine, rye, barley, hay, and oats, although its merchants also traded in wood, wool, cloth, linen, glass, and metal. Small property ownership by landlords who charged their tenants rent (Grundherrschaft) remained the rule, rather than the large landed estates (Gutsherrschaften) common in other German territories.

A series of wars during the seventeenth century and the early eighteenth century had a devastating impact on the region's social, economic, and cultural life. While the duchy was at first little touched by the Thirty Years' War (16181648), large-scale invasions by imperial troops following the Battle of Nördlingen in 1634 led to a decline in the duchy's population from 415,000 to 97,000 by 1639. The wars of Louis XIV (ruled 16431715) continued to suppress population levels, and it was not until the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 that an era of relative peace and prosperity ensued.


Territorial administration existed on several levels. Rulers came from the House of Württemberg, which had governed the territory since the eleventh century. Count Eberhard im Bart ("the Bearded," 14451496) became a duke following the elevation of Württemberg to a duchy by Emperor Maximilian I (ruled 14931519) at the Diet of Worms in 1495. For advice on policy, subsequent dukes surrounded themselves with burgher and noble councillors, many of whom were educated at Tübingen University, founded in 1477.

The majority of councillors came from the urban notables (Ehrbarkeit), a relatively diverse administrative group holding positions at the local and district levels. Most local positions, such as village mayor (Schultheiss), burgomaster, and town clerk, arose during the thirteenth century. At the district level the position of the commissioner (Vogt) split into two separate positions, junior commissioner and senior commissioner (Untervogt and Obervogt), by the late fifteenth century. The junior commissioner, typically a burgher, worked with the district court to maintain law and order and supervise taxation, whereas the senior commissioner, almost always a noble, had a military role, although this position became essentially honorary by the early seventeenth century.

The notables also dominated the Estates, which first met in 1457 and comprised the territory's representative body. With 75 percent of the representatives coming from the towns, the Estates comprised lesser nobles, burghers, and prelates and served as a counterbalance to the higher nobility, the knights (Reichsritter), who gradually exempted themselves from Württemberg's state control. While the ruler had to call the Estates to assembly, two committees, the Small and Large Committees, could convene on their own authority. The Estates claimed some early victories, such as the 1514 Treaty of Tübingen that affirmed citizens' privileges, but it rose to even greater heights during the seventeenth century, particularly following the Thirty Years' War, when the duke needed the Estates to raise more revenue. A combination of the diversity and power of the notables, the long-term presence of the Estates, and rigorous Lutheran reforms contributed to the relative unity of Württemberg's territories over time.


After fifteen years of Austrian occupation, Württembergers witnessed two seminal events: the triumphant return in 1534 of Duke Ulrich (14871550) with the aid of Landgrave Philip of Hesse (15041567) and the Schmalkaldic League, and the ushering in of the Lutheran Reformation. A confiscation of church property ensued, which initially brought in over 100,000 gulden annually, although the monasteries were not dissolved. The principal reformer, the humanist scholar and theologian Johannes Brenz (14991570), cofounded the visitation to instruct the faithful and enforce church discipline. The church council (Kirchenrat), created in 1553 under Duke Christoph (15151568), subsumed these and other duties, such as collecting rents from church lands, distributing loans or grants to the poor and to university students, and paying the salaries of court musicians.

The Pietist movement, based on the theology of Johann Valentin Andreae (15861654) and Philipp Jacob Spener (16351705), arose during the 1680s and 1690s, when the Württemberg court moved toward a hedonistic lifestyle patterned after Versailles and reveled in opera, dance, and Carnival. Pietism offered a "passive, antiabsolutist" stance and provided a corollary to English Puritanism but was less political in its manifestations. Pietists' disapproval of the court increased strongly while Württemberg had Catholic dukes from 1733 to 1797, beginning with Carl Alexander (16841737), who had converted in 1712 and established close ties with the Habsburgs. His son and successor Carl Eugen (17281793), who ruled for almost fifty years, seemed to personify the "petty absolutist" and was in continual conflict with the Estates. Court life inspired the territory's greatest Enlightenment figure, Friedrich Schiller (17591805), who attended the duke's military academy and rebelled openly against the pomposity and vainglory of the age through drama and verse.

Notable achievements in the fine arts included the establishment of a music ensemble (Hofkapelle or court chapel) in 1496 under Duke Eberhard II (14471504). Consisting at its peak of fifty-nine instrumentalists and a boys' choir, the music ensemble became renowned throughout Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and performed at both sacred and secular occasions. It attracted many foreign musicians, including the English lutenist John Price (d. 1641) and the Hungarian composer Samuel Capricornus (16281665), who served as music director (kapellmeister) from 1657 to 1665. The territory's most famous artist, Hans Baldung-Grien (c. 14841545), was an apprentice to Albrecht Dürer (14711528) before he moved to Strasbourg to become one of the leading figures of the northern Renaissance. In his paintings, stained glass, drawings, woodcuts, and engravings, Baldung depicted a broad array of subjects, from traditional Christian iconography and secular portraiture to witchcraft and death.

See also Maximilian I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Pietism ; Reformation, Protestant ; Representative Institutions ; Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich von ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


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Zull, Gertraud. "Die höfischen Feste." In Die Renaissance im Deutschen Südwesten zwischen Reformation und Dreissigjährigem Krieg. Vol. 2, pp. 913925. Karlsruhe, 1986.

Kenneth H. Marcus