Dukes of Cleves, with Jülich, Berg and the Mark

‘Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived’. Possibly the most successful mnemonic in history; people who love Tudor history can even remember that Number Four (‘divorced’) was Anne of Cleves. But where on earth was Cleves?

A misleading clue is in one of her historical nicknames, the ‘Flanders Mare’, though in the sixteenth century, Englishmen often referred to all of the Low Countries—Belgium and the Netherlands—as ‘Flanders’. And although Cleves could certainly have ended up being a part of the modern nation of the Netherlands (geographically and linguistically it would make sense), due to the complex twists of genealogical and diplomatic history, it ended up instead as part of Prussia, and thus of modern Germany. It was, and still is, the gateway between the German Lower Rhine area, the zone downriver from Cologne and the industrial Ruhr, and the flat delta of the many mouths of the Rhine that flow through the Netherlands. The rather small duchy of Cleves is forever linked to the memory of the unfortunate queen, Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII, married to solidify his position as a leader of the Reformation in Northern Europe, but dismissed from his bedchamber within months for being too plain and too boring.

But Cleves is also closely tied to another great story, much more ancient: the legend of Lohengrin, the Schwanritter, or Knight of the Swan. An epic tale from at least the early 13th century, Lohengrin was the son of Parsifal, the knight of the Holy Grail, who is sent downriver from his castle (the Schwanenburg) in a small boat pulled by swans in order to rescue a maiden. The deal (as is always with such things) is that she can never ask his identity. As the story developed, and later became the opera by Wagner (premiered in 1850), the hero has to marry the Princess Elsa and restore Christian rule to the Duchy of Brabant. After the ubiquitous Bridal March, today played at every wedding on the planet, and the truly gorgeous ‘Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral’, she inevitably asks her new husband his name (wouldn’t you?), and he gets back into his swan boat and sails away.

Lohengrin by Crane (1895)
a lovely rendering of Elsa’s Procession for brass choir (Canadian Brass and Brass of Berlin)

Today’s Schwanenburg is a tower on a bluff overlooking the Rhine valley, a ‘cliff’ which may have given the name to the local town and the surrounding region, ‘kleef’ in Dutch and Low German, which may have evolved into Kleve in German (though sources tell us that it was actually spelled with a C until the 1930s). The castle is first mentioned in the 1020s; it collapsed and was rebuilt several times; before being utterly destroyed in the Second World War, and then once again rebuilt.

Schwanenburg from a postcard from about 1900

According to legendary history, a Frankish lord, Dietrich (Dirk in Dutch), was ruler of the area between the Rhine (called the Waal in the Netherlands) and the Maas (or Meuse), sometimes called Teisterbant. He died in 713 and left a daughter, Beatrix, whose rule in her town of Nijmegen had to be defended by the local knight Elias (‘Lohengrin’) from Cleves—sometimes called Aelius Gralius (or ‘of the Grail’), a soldier who had previously fought with Charles Martel against the Moors in Southern Gaul. Their children spawned the medieval noble houses of Cleves and Guelders (the neighbouring territory, today part of the Netherlands, as Gelderland). This first house of Cleves-Teisterbant is purely legendary and according to fanciful genealogies, comes to an end in about the year 1000. More concrete (yet still quite shadowy) is the story that two brothers from Flanders, Gerhard and Rutger, were expelled from that territory in about 1020, and were given lands by the German Emperor in the strategic territory downriver from the Imperial cities of Aachen and Cologne: Wassenberg and Cleves. The House of Wassenberg is thus supposedly the origin of both the houses of Guelders, from the elder brother, and Cleves, from the younger. Both are listed as counties by the end of the century.

The intertwined dynastic history of the counties, later duchies, of Cleves and Guelders (which will be covered in a separate posting), are indicative of a much bigger, much more complex story about how medieval dynasties grew and consolidated and split and regrouped over the centuries, sometimes coming together in what I like to call ‘superclans’. The best example of this is in fact the dynasty of Cleves, which, by the time of Anne of Cleves in the early sixteenth century, was in fact the blending of five separate lineages from the Middle Rhineland: Cleves, Jülich, Mark, Berg and Ravensberg. French and Belgian historians know this ‘superclan’ better under the name La Marck (from German ‘der Mark’), and it includes under this umbrella term the dukes of Bouillon, the dukes of Nevers, and the dukes of Arenberg, amongst other lineages, each of which is worthy of a blog post of its own, or we’d be here all day. The famous 17th-century French novel La Princesse de Clèves for example takes its name from this family. At its height, the conglomerate state of Cleves-Jülich-Berg-Mark, aka ‘the United Duchies’, covered almost all of the Rhineland, enveloping the city-state of Cologne and dominating the pre-industrial yet already quite wealthy Ruhr Valley. It was one of the major states of the Holy Roman Empire, but it is mostly forgotten today, since, after 1609, its ruling family became extinct and the different duchies were partitioned between different powers.

The Rhineland in the 16th century, showing in orange the unified duchies and counties of Cleves, Julich, Berg, Mark and Ravensberg (plus Guelders in stripes)

The counts of Cleves of the House of Wassenberg pass in a succession of Dietrichs. It is a very dominant name—one of them even had three sons all named Dietrich. They were constantly at war with their neighbours in Guelders and Brabant and especially with the Archbishop of Cologne, who always wanted to establish his dominance over the entire Rhineland region. They founded the monastery of Bedburg which became their traditional comital burial place, and purchased the town of Duisburg, at the mouth of the Ruhr valley, on the other side of the Rhine, which added greatly to their wealth and would develop into one of the great trading hubs of the area. A junior branch established themselves as lord of Valkenburg, the core of what is today the Dutch province of Limburg, based in a castle on the only real hill in that very flat country. By the early 14th century, the counts of Cleves had used marriage alliances to settle their quarrels with local neighbours that when the last count of the original line died in 1368, the territory smoothly passed to the House of Berg-Mark.

a fanciful image of one of the early Count Dirks of Cleves

This neighbouring family also stretches back into the murky period of the formation of the Holy Roman Empire under the Franks. One of the powerful families of the region known as Lotharingia—the region between eastern and western Frankia, ie Germany and France—were later labelled the ‘Ezzonen’ by genealogists and historians, taken from the name of one of their founders, Ezzo, Count Palatine (basically like a viceroy for the emperor) of Lotharingia in the early 11th century, though his roots go much further back into the 9th. They rose to great prominence through marital ties to the Ottonian kings of Germany. One of their younger sons, Adolf, was given church lands across the river from Cologne to protect (known as an advocatus, avoué or vogt), which was a common way for families to get their start as local rulers in this period. His grandson, also called Adolf, was recognised as ‘count’ of the surrounding lands, called ‘Berg’, by about 1100. Confusingly, the main early seat of the counts of Berg was called Burg, built in about 1130 on the Wupper River (and abandoning an earlier castle called Berg or Altenberg). This castle was in fact called Neuenberg until it was significantly enlarged and renamed, Burg, in the 15th century.

Schloss Burg

Castle Burg was one of the largest fortresses in the Rhineland, and several members of the family were also archbishops of Cologne, across the river, thus uniting sacred and secular power in the region—notably Archbishop Engelbert II, a chief advisor of Emperor Frederick II, who was murdered in 1226 and is venerated as a saint.

St Engelbert of Berg

In about 1260, the counts of Berg moved down from their hill fortress into their chief town on the Rhine, Düsseldorf, and built a new residence. The Düsseldorf Schloss would remain the seat of government and a main courtly centre for the Rhineland for centuries, first for the counts of Berg, raised to the rank of duke in 1380, then for their successors of the House of Jülich (below). The dynastic necropolis remained in the older seat in the monastery at Altenberg. The counts of Berg expanded their lands in 1346 by inheriting the county of Ravensberg, a short distance to the east in Westphalia (in what is today ironically called Ostwestfalen). These counts guarded an important pass across the hills of the Teutoburg Forest, with their capital at Bielefeld, watched over by the fortified tower of Sparrenberg, still a prominent local landmark.


The other end of the territory ruled by the House of Berg, a bit further to the south and east, had split off into its own county in the 1160s. This branch of the family were at first called the counts of Altena, named for their castle there—another great castle in this area that has survived into the present, largely restored in the early 20th century and opened as one of the very first youth hostels, which it still is.


By the start of the 1200s, the counts of Altena had moved to a new castle, Burg Mark, near the Westphalian town of Hamm, and took the name ‘count of the Mark’ for this castle on the Lippe River. Nothing remains today of this castle except some earthworks outside the town. I had always assumed that ‘the Mark’ (and it is always referred to as such, not just ‘Mark’) referred to these lords’ status as guardians of a frontier, or a ‘march’—in this case between the hills east of the Rhine and the plains of Westphalia—but I can’t find anything to support this in my sources—the original fief, held of the archbishop of Cologne, was a ‘feldmark’, which to me is much less interesting, as the border of a field. Nevertheless, in occupying both sides of the River Ruhr, this small territory, ‘the Mark’, would later punch above its weight as the industrial heartland of 19th-century Prussia.

As with Cleves and Berg, the counts of the Mark spent much of the middle ages fighting against the power of the archbishops of Cologne, though at times they also occupied the archbishop’s seat themselves. Count Adolf III was briefly archbishop, 1363-64, before he gave it up to succeed his mother as count of Cleves (he ceded the archbishop’s throne to his uncle, but kept most of the revenues). Another uncle founded the House of La Marck-Arenberg, which became (and remains) one of the leading family of dukes and princes in Belgium (this will get its own separate blog post, to include the dukes of Bouillon, semi-sovereign princes all the way up to the end of the ancien régime in the 1790s). Adolf III later succeeded as count of the Mark as well in 1391, thus combining Cleves and Mark into one trans-rhenane state, and combining the distinctive checkerboard coat of arms of the Mark with the unique star pattern of Cleves (two crossed staffs, with fleurs-de-lys tips on all eight endings).


Count Adolf IV of Cleves and the Mark shifted the orientation of his family’s history to the west. He acquired the lordship of Ravenstein, on the Maas, west of Nijmegen, by conquest in 1397, and entered the service of the Duke of Burgundy, John the Fearless, the most powerful man in the Low Countries, and marrying his daughter, Marie, in 1406. As a recognition of Adolf’s rise in stature, the Emperor Sigismund promoted him to the rank of Duke of Cleves, in 1417. Adolf secured his ascendancy by marrying off his daughters to many important princes, including the Duke of Bavaria, the Duke of Guelders, the King of Navarre and the Duke of Orléans (she became the mother of the future King Louis XII of France).

The second Duke of Cleves, Johann I, was raised at the court of Burgundy and served the dukes in their wars, but also led his own, as usual against the Archbishop of Cologne, successfully adding the town (and abbey) of Xanten to Cleves, and Soest to the Mark. In 1455, he married the heiress of the French counties of Nevers, Rethel and Eu, and his younger son, Engilbert de Clèves, would found the dynasty of Clèves-Nevers, a pre-eminent dynasty in France until its extinction a century later. Johann’s younger brother, Adolf, was given the lordship of Ravenstein and became a prominent member of the court of Burgundy, acting as the Governor-General of the Low Countries in the 1470s and aiding in the transition of these territories from the Valois to the Habsburgs after the death of the last Duke of Burgundy in 1477. His son, Philippe de Clèves-Ravenstein (or Filips van Kleve in Dutch), was also a major military leader for the Habsburgs in the Low Countries, with his seat at Wijnendale Castle in Flanders. He then switched sides and joined French service, accompanying his cousin Louis XII to Italy, and serving as Governor of Genoa in 1501.

Johann II, 3rd Duke of Cleves (d. 1521), is known mostly as der Kindermacher (‘the babymaker’) since he is said to have had at least 63 illegitimate children. He initially rebelled against Habsburg rule in the former Burgundian Low Countries, but was subdued by Emperor Maximilian, and became a loyal ally, helping him in his fight against the other contenders for power in the region, the dukes of Guelders. He spent a lot of money in doing so, and we can see that the dynasty’s rule was becoming quite stretched, from Flanders to Westphalia, leading the local towns and nobles in Cleves and Mark to force concessions from the Duke—by about 1510, they were in complete charge of taxation and other fiscal matters in their territories, an important step towards popular governance in Germany which would have long-term impacts on the history of Brandenburg-Prussia. Before Johann II’s death, his son, Johann III, had succeeded his wife’s father as Duke of Jülich and Berg (in 1511), so we need to back up and look at Berg again, and the House of Jülich.

Johann II of Cleves

About the same time the above-named Rhineland and Westphalian counties of Cleves, Berg and the Mark were being formed, around the year 1000, the strip of hilly land to the west of Cologne, paralleling the Rhine the way Berg did on the eastern banks, was born. And like its neighbours, its counts struggled for much of the Middle Ages to establish their independence against the most powerful archbishops of Germany. The name derives from a Roman settlement or camp, Juliacum, which developed into Gulik in Low German. The first counts were mostly called Gerhard, but the name Wilhelm appears in the mid-12th century and remains the dominant dynastic name, much like Dietrich did for Cleves or Adolf for Berg. The original line died out in 1207 and the heiress took the county to a noble family from the Eiffel, a bit to the south. They had a town residence in Jülich, but by this point were living more securely in their fortress on the western edge of their territory, closer to Aachen: the castle of Nideggen, built in the 1170s and extended in the 1340s to become one of the largest fortresses in the Rhineland. It was mostly destroyed in the wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, and was rebuilt as a museum of local history in the 20th century. Today it houses the Castle Museum (Burgenmuseum).


As with the other comital families covered in this post, the counts of Jülich blended their affairs both east and west, involved in wars in central Germany but also in the Low Countries—two generations of Wilhelms-in-waiting (as the reigning count outlived both his son and grandson) were very involved in Flemish politics, the elder marrying a daughter of the ruling count of Flanders, and the younger becoming an important military figure in some of the Flemish campaigns against France in the early years of the 1300s. His cousins succeeded to the territory and raised the family to the next level, with Wilhelm V as first duke of Jülich, 1356, and his half-brother Walram as Archbishop of Cologne from 1332. More importantly, through his wife, Joanna of Holland and Hainaut, he was brother-in-law to both Edward III, King of England, and Ludwig IV, Holy Roman Emperor, and was a crucial keystone to forming an Anglo-German alliance that allowed Edward to launch the Hundred Years War in 1337. This alliance collapsed a decade later, however, and Wilhelm switched sides to support the French king (who was also his wife’s cousin) and the new pro-French emperor, Charles IV (who raised Wilhelm’s county to a duchy). He may also have been created earl of Cambridge in 1340, but evidence for this is patchy.

arms of Julich

In typical dynastic fashion, Wilhelm I married his two sons to heiresses, and both, in their way, were successful in adding to the territory and influence of the Duchy of Jülich. The elder son, Gerhard, became Count of Berg and Ravensberg in 1348, but died a year before his father, so these lands (but not Jülich) were passed on to a young son, Wilhelm, who was given a dukedom of his own, for Berg, in 1380. The younger son, Wilhelm II, succeeded instead as 2nd Duke of Jülich, and put forward claims to his wife’s family duchy, in neighbouring Guelders (this story seems to keep repeating in this post, eh?). A War of Guelders Succession followed (versus the House of Blois), and the Emperor Charles IV intervened in 1377 to awarded it to Wilhelm II’s son, Wilhelm III, now Duke of both Jülich and Guelders.

This Wilhelm III (or I of the united duchies) thus ruled a conglomerate state that stretched from the Rhine to the Zuiderzee, and became known as one of the great warriors of the 14th century, fighting on numerous crusades in the Baltic and in France as an ally of the King of England. He visited the English court in 1390 and was made a Knight of the Garter. The next year he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, then fought against pirates on the North African coast. His court at Arnhem in Guelders became a centre of the flowering of late medieval arts and culture. But he had no children, nor did his brother and successor, Duke Reinald—at least not legitimate ones—so when the latter died in 1423, the Duchy of Guelders passed via their sister, Joanna (all women in this century are called Joanna, right?) to the House of Egmont, and the Duchy of Jülich went back to the main male line, by now known as the dukes of Berg. A little confused? See the chart at the end.

Adolf, 2nd Duke of Berg, thus became Duke of Jülich as well in 1423. As with so many of these families, an ecclesiastical partnership was crucial for augmenting and maintaining their partner, and Adolf was aided by his younger brother, Wilhelm, Bishop of Paderborn, the most important bishopric in Westphalia. Adolf also tried to expand his influence southwards, by claiming his wife’s inheritance, the Duchy of Bar, which he lost—it was instead attached to of Lorraine and remained so into the 18th century. He also claimed the Duchy of Guelders, with Imperial support (and tried to marry his heir to the last Duke’s widow), but again without success. His nephew, Gerhard, Duke of Jülich, Duke of Berg and Count of Ravensberg, continued to press these claims, and won a great battle in 1444, but ultimately sold his claims to Guelders to the Duke of Burgundy—another key step in the consolidation of Burgundian power over the entire Low Countries. (and of course, the new dukes of Guelders also counter-claimed the Duchy of Jülich; fair is fair)

The last independent duke of this line, Wilhelm IV, reigned from 1475 to 1511, and married two times, but produced no sons. In 1510, he therefore made an agreement with his neighbour, Duke Johann II of Cleves and Mark, that their children would marry (the ‘Cleves Union’). And so Marie of Berg and Jülich married Johann III of Cleves and Mark, to form the ‘United Duchies’, finally uniting most of the territories in the Lower Rhine under one family.

Johann III of Cleves-Mark

They retained residences and fortresses in Cleves, Jülich and the Mark, but their principal seat became the city palace of the dukes of Berg in Düsseldorf. The original medieval building was largely extended in the 1540s as a Renaissance palace, and would remain the seat of the dynasty for the next century. It would flourish again as the court of the Elector Palatine in the late 17th century (see below), with one of the first public painting galleries. Later it would serve as the seat of the Prussian governor of the Rhineland and the seat of the regional parliament (from 1845). It burned almost entirely to the ground in 1872, and all that remains today is its medieval great tower, still watching over this particular bend of the River Rhine.

Dusseldorf in the 17th century (palace just left of centre)
the ruins of the Dusseldorf Schloss after the fire, c1890

At last we arrive at the immediate family of Anne of Cleves. By now we see that she is in fact much more than ‘of Cleves’, but ‘of Jülich’ or ‘of the Mark’. From a strictly patrilineal perspective, she was ‘of Berg’ and was in fact born in the old Bergish capital of Düsseldorf, in 1515,and was raised in Schloss Burg. It is the religious question that then becomes really fascinating to me, since I was taught (as we all were) that Anne was ‘the Protestant princess’ meant to solidify Henry VIII’s break from Rome in the 1530s. As with so many things about the early modern period, it’s just not that simple. Anne’s parents differed in their religious outlook and approach to the growth of reform ideas in the 1520s: her father, Duke Johann II, known as ‘the Peaceful’, was heavily influenced by Erasmus, and tried to make his court a centre of a moderate via media: reform the Church, yes, but break with Rome, no. His wife, Maria of Jülich, however, was a much stricter Catholic. Their children were raised in this environment, and the girls in particular raised to be pious, not coquettes, which in part explains Henry VIII’s disinterest in Anne. In 1527, Duke Johann decided to make a very ecumenical double wedding arrangement for his two eldest daughters (the youngest, Amalia, was only 10, and in fact never married, though she lived a long life). He betrothed his oldest daughter, Sybilla, to the heir of the Elector of Saxony. Johann Friedrich soon succeeded and the new electoral couple became two of the main champions of the Protestant movement.

Sybilla of Cleves, by Cranach (c1526)

The second daughter, Anne, was betrothed, in contrast, to the son of one of the fiercest opponents of reform, the Duke of Lorraine. Had this marriage with François de Lorraine taken place, Anne of Cleves’ life would have certainly been very different, but for murky reasons, it fizzled out by 1535, and by 1539, she was being considered as a bride by Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, mostly with the aim of connecting Henry to Anne’s brother-in-law, the Elector of Saxony, and to her brother, Wilhelm V, the new Duke of Cleves and Jülich. As we know, Anne now enters the storyline of the Hillary Mantel epic trilogy about Cromwell, and the failure of her marriage after only six months is one of the catalysts of his downfall and execution. She gets a pretty easy ride, in Tudor terms, and lives quietly in the countryside, at Hever Castle, Richmond Palace, Penshurst and other residences, and with a pre-eminent rank at court when she visits, honoured at key ceremonies in the reign of Queen Mary (and quite clearly adhering to the old faith) until she dies, the last of Henry VIII’s queens, in 1557.

Anne of Cleves, by Bruyn in the 1540s

Wilhelm V, known as ‘the Rich’ (so possibly another attraction for Henry VIII), was a much more devoted Protestant than his sister. His interest in the alliance with England was, once again, to try to take over the Duchy of Guelders, now in the hands of the Emperor Charles V. He also married a niece of the King of France, Jeanne d’Albret, in 1541, for the same reason. She was only 12 and this marriage was annulled in 1545. By this time he gave up his hold on Guelders (by the Treaty of Venlo, 1543) and became instead an ally of Charles V. He focused instead on developing his duchies, building new fortifications in Cleves and Jülich, and expanding the residence at Düsseldorf, employing celebrated Italian architect, Alessandro Pasqualini. Becoming a bit more of an Erasmian Catholic like his father, he built a Humanist gymnasium in Düsseldorf and attracted prominent Humanist scholars to his court, including the cartographer Gerhard Mercator. He agreed to educate his children in a way that would please all parties. Having married a Habsburg princess (Maria of Austria) in 1546, he agreed that, although his sons would be raised as Lutherans, his daughters would be Catholics.

Wilhelm ‘the Rich’, duke of Cleves, Berg, Julich (and here, claiming Guelders too)
the enlarged residence in Julich, today a school

Duke Wilhelm of Cleves-Jülich-Berg ruled for a very long time, not dying until 1592, by which time he was old and frail and finding it difficult to navigate the confessional division of his territories and the increasing tensions between his neighbours on either side: the Catholic Habsburgs and the Protestant Dutch provinces. His elder son, Karl Friedrich, rejecting his Lutheran upbringing, died while on pilgrimage to Rome in 1575, honoured by Pope Gregory XIII and buried with great pomp in the German church in Rome. The Pope had hoped the young prince would be a leader of the Counter-Reformation in the Rhineland, where his subjects were very divided—Cleves and Mark mostly Protestant, Jülich and Berg remaining Catholic. His successor as heir, Johann Wilhelm, showed early promise, as Bishop of Münster from 1574, then marrying two good Catholic girls to try to extend the family line, Jakobea of Baden and Antoinette of Lorraine. Johann Wilhelm was already showing signs of mental illness, however, and both women were compelled to navigate the difficult religious divide of the United Duchies as duchess-consort. With support of all the Catholic powers of Europe, Jakobea tried to force herself onto the governing councils of her husband’s duchies, went too far, and was (probably) strangled in the night of 3 September 1597. Antoinette was more subtle, perhaps learning the art of governing unruly men from her grandmother, Catherine de Medici, and managed to wrangle complete control as Duchess-Regent for her unfit husband.

Antoinette, Duchess of Cleves-Julich-Berg

There were no children when Duke Johann Wilhelm died in March 1609, and indeed there were no more male heirs from any of the houses described above. The long-expected War of Jülich Succession broke out, a conflict viewed by historians as the forerunner of the Thirty Years War, as well as a catalyst for the final success of the Dutch Revolt against Spain, and one the possible motivations behind the assassination of King Henry IV of France (who was planning to intervene on the Protestant side in the conflict). By the Treaty of Xanten (in Cleves) of November 1614, the United Duchies were divided, mostly amongst religious lines, between the heirs of the last Duke’s sisters: Cleves, Mark and Ravensberg went to the Protestant Elector of Brandenburg, son-in-law and heir of Maria Eleanora of Cleves, Duchess of Prussia; and Jülich and Berg to the Catholic Count Palatine of Neuburg, son of Anna of Cleves.

From this point onwards, Cleves-Mark would be a very important foothold for the House of Brandenburg-Prussia in the Rhineland, an important source of revenue despite its small size, especially as the area industrialised in the 18th century, and would become the core of the Prussian Rhine Province in the 19th century. The Hohenzollerns continued to use the titles Duke of Cleves and Count of the Mark even after they became emperors of Germany, to the end of the Reich in 1918. Jülich-Berg became the centre of the court of the Counts-Palatine of Neuburg (a territory in what is now northern Bavaria), who were promoted to the premier ranks of German princes in 1685 when Duke Philipp Wilhelm succeeded his cousin as Elector Palatine. Possibly one of the most successful dynasts in European history, he married off his daughters incredibly well: an empress, a queen of Spain and a queen of Portugal. Düsseldorf became a major court city, developed further by his son, the new Elector Johann Wilhelm, and his Medici wife, Anna Maria Luisa. It was this couple who gathered together the major art collection that put Düsseldorf on the map as a major city of the culture in the 18th century.

Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm and Anna Maria Luisa de Medici

The Electoral couple had no children; Anna Maria Luisa moved back to Florence and took much of her art with her. The new Elector, Carl Philipp, moved the capital back to the Palatinate, to a new city, built from scratch along rational Enlightenment ideals, Mannheim. Düsseldorf became a backwater, even more so when the Elector’s cousin and heir, Karl Theodor, succeeded to the Duchy of Bavaria in 1777, uniting a great swathe of Germany under Wittelsbach rule, from the Alps to the Rhineland. The last duke of Jülich and Berg, Maximilian of Bavaria, became King of Bavaria in 1805, and after the dust had settled following the Napoleonic Wars, a new province of Jülich-Cleves-Berg was created for Prussia, which in 1822 was dissolved to become part of the greater Rhine Province, which had Cologne as its capital (finally—dominance achieved!).

But there is one more historical note worth mentioning about Berg in a blog-page about dukes and princes: one of the many principalities created by Emperor Napoleon for his extended family members was the Grand Duchy of Berg, granted in 1806 to his brother-in-law, Joachim Murat (husband of Caroline Bonaparte), with lands on the right bank of the Rhine, primarily Berg but also some of Cleves (the left bank, including Jülich, had been occupied and incorporated into France by 1799). Murat soon annexed the Mark and the former bishopric of Münster which greatly enlarged his Grand Duchy. In 1808 Joachim and Caroline departed for Italy where they became King and Queen of Naples, and the Grand Duchy of Berg was given in 1809 to Napoleon’s nephew, Napoleon-Louis Bonaparte. Düsseldorf once again became a capital city, but not for long—after the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, the Prussian armies occupied Berg and its territories were soon absorbed into the Rhine Province.

As part of the propaganda drive to unify the nationalist and political unity of the German peoples, the ruling Hohenzollerns were able to draw on one of the greatest legends of the region, the Knight of the Swan of Cleves.

(images Wikimedia commons)

Published by Jonathan Spangler

I am a historian of monarchy and the high aristocracy of Europe. I focus primarily as an academic on the early modern period and France, but my interests range from early medieval Ireland to 20th-century Russia. I teach history at Manchester Metropolitan University in Manchester, England, and am the senior editor of The Court Historian, the journal of the Society for Court Studies. I am also a musician and an avid traveler. I love heraldry and genealogy. My ancestors came from Germany to the American colonies in the 18th century and I am a proud Virginian.

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