Ansbach and Bayreuth: Secondogeniture lands for Hohenzollern princes

One of the benefits of the fragmentary nature of the German feudal states that made up the Holy Roman Empire was that small segments of a dynasty’s patrimony could be easily carved out to provide younger sons with a territory of their own to govern, a principality from which they could derive an income and prestige as a ruling prince. The downside was of course that continual fragmentation made states ever smaller and ever weaker. Yet having a junior branch of the family ruling over a smaller allied territory could also be beneficial to the dynasty as a whole in the world of international diplomacy: it provided more sons and daughters to be used in marriage alliances, and sometimes allowed the Great Powers to ally with one another indirectly if a direct link would be politically dangerous. Such was the case with Caroline of Ansbach, consort of King George II of Great Britain, whose marriage in 1705 to the son and heir of the Elector of Hanover (the future George I) had been able to re-assert a traditional family alliance with the Hohenzollerns of Prussia without disturbing the fragile alliance recently forged by the Hanoverians with the Habsburgs against the Bourbon dynasty in the War of Spanish Succession.

Caroline of Ansbach as Princess of Wales, by Kneller

Caroline of Ansbach was a princess of the House of Hohenzollern, a dynasty only recently elevated to a royal throne in Prussia, but rulers for much longer in the important frontier principality, or ‘March’, of Brandenburg. As rulers of this frontier they used the title ‘markgraf’ (‘march counts’, margrave in English), but they were considered as princes due to their rights to make laws, pass judgements, and, after the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, to maintain their own foreign diplomacy. Since the early 15th century, they had also been one of the seven imperial princes who elected the emperor, and had slowly built up the Electorate of Brandenburg into a coherent autonomous state within the Empire—one which would develop into the Kingdom of Prussia in the 18th century. But the Hohenzollerns also possessed some properties to the south of Brandenburg, in an area called Franconia, and this is where the junior branch of the family, Caroline’s family, the margraves of Ansbach, were based. Next door was a second principality of a similar nature, Bayreuth.

Franconia as a complete region in Germany is these days a little difficult to locate. It was one of the oldest parts of the German lands, named for the Franks who lived there (and the place where they forded the river Main was thus called Frankfurt). Originally it stretched from the Rhineland in the west to the hills bordering Bohemia in the east, but distinct territories emerged that obscured the original name, like the Palatinate and the bishoprics of Bamberg and Würzburg. Today the name ‘Franken’ continues to exist as three regions within the state of Bavaria (Upper, Middle and Lower).

Ansbach and Bayreuth in the south (green), in contrast to Brandenburg in the north (pink)
close up on Ansbach and Bayreuth

One of the chief cities of this region, Nuremberg (Nürnberg in German), was built as an Imperial castle in the mid-11th century. Medieval emperors had no fixed capital, but a number of palaces (Kaiserpfalzen) where they held court and occasionally summoned their advisors and imperial representatives (which evolved into the Imperial Diet). This castle was built in an important location on the borders between the Franks and the Bavarians, and on an important trade route between north and south. When emperors were not in residence, they needed trustworthy agents to look after the castle and the surrounding town and lands, so Conrad III created the office of ‘castle count’ (burggraf, burgrave) in 1105, who had his own separate castle—the Imperial Castle and the Burgrave’s Castle remained distinct until the latter was mostly destroyed in the 15th century.

Nuremberg in the MIddle Ages

The job of burgrave of Nuremberg passed by marriage in 1192 to a Count of Zollern, a small but important county to the west in the hills of central Swabia. Their roots stretch back only to the early years of the previous century, but there are of course the inevitable fanciful claims from 19th-century genealogies that they were descended from the same founding fathers as the houses of Austria and Bavaria, way back in the 8th century. The County of Zollern, later Hohenzollern, and its castles, will be the focus of a separate blog post, on the Swabian branches of the family (princes from the 17th century).

Friedrich von Zollern, burgrave of Nuremberg, ruled the castle and the city, as well as the hinterland surrounding it. This included two rural districts, the Oberland and the Niederland, which gradually developed into the principalities of Kulmbach/Bayreuth and Ansbach, respectively. From 1210, the first burgrave’s two sons, Friedrich and Konrad, divided their lands (though it is remarkably uncertain which of the brothers is older—which has a great impact on the later history of the Hohenzollern Dynasty: was the House of Prussia the senior or the junior branch?). Friedrich’s descendants stayed in Nuremberg and became the Franconian Branch, while Konrad’s descendants returned to Zollern Castle and founded the Swabian Branch. Both still exist today—the Franconians are now considered a royal dynasty, as kings of Prussia since 1701 (and later emperors of Germany); but the Swabians had their royal moment too, as kings of Romania after 1881.

From the mid-13th century, tensions between the city of Nuremberg and the burgraves drove the Hohenzollerns to move to a nearby castle: Cadolzburg, built in the 1250s, then rebuilt in the early 15th century. Today the castle of Cadolzburg is still an impressive monument to medieval Hohenzollern power, having been badly damaged in the Second World War but reconstructed by the Bavarian state in the 1980s.


The Emperor Fredrick II granted the city of Nuremberg significant privileges in 1219, and by the 14th century it was mostly self-governing; the ‘burgraviate’ itself would be sold to the city fathers in 1427. As their interests focused more on the countryside surrounding the city, the Hohenzollerns annexed a monastery in 1331 about 25 miles southwest of the city, known as Ansbach, named for the brook (bach) of an ancient founder, Onold: ‘Onold’s brook’, or Onoldesbach. It was often spelled with a ‘p’ until the modern era (Anspach). Nearby Heilsbronn Abbey became the dynasty’s spiritual seat and burial place for many generations. It had been founded in the 1130s, by the Cistercians, and became one of the wealthiest monasteries in Germany (dissolved in the Reformation).

Ansbach in the 17th century
Heilsbronn today–only the church survives of the monastery buildings

Just outside the town wall of Ansbach, the Hohenzollerns built a ‘water castle’, from about 1398, which developed into the Residenz. It was rebuilt as a Renaissance palace in the 1560s, and then again in the early 18th century as a blending of Viennese baroque and French rococo. A key feature in this century was a studio in which specialist potters created their very own Ansbach porcelain, which are today a main feature of the local museum. Since 1791, the Residenz of Ansbach has been the seat of a royal administrator, first Prussian then Bavarian, and today it is the seat of government for Middle Franconia.

the Ansbach Residenz

From about 1340, the Hohenzollern centre of operations was to the northeast of Nuremberg, in the mighty fortress of Plassenburg, towering over the village of Kulmbach. This was a much hiller region compared to Ansbach, and Kulmbach is thought to take its name from the stream (‘bach’) that rises from the mountains (Latin ‘culmina’). This is the area of the headwaters of the river Main, a branch of which flows nearby, and another through Bayreuth. Plassenburg Castle had been constructed by an earlier dynasty of counts who ruled this area in the 1130s, the Andechs (who were created dukes, in the Adriatic territory of Merano, in 1180—they will have a separate blog post), and enlarged by their successors, the counts of Orlamünde, in the 13th century. It remained one of the principal seats of the Hohenzollerns in Franconia until it was destroyed in war in the 1550s, then rebuilt, to become one of the grandest and most important Renaissance castles in Germany. Nevertheless, from 1604, the seat of the margraves of Kulmbach moved to Bayreuth (about 20 km to the south), and the Plassenburg became a military garrison. Today it houses a suite of museums about the army (in particular a collection of tin soldiers), about the Hohenzollerns, and about the local region.

Plassenburg above the town of Kulmbach

In 1398, on the death of Burgrave Friedrich V, his territories were divided. The elder son, Johann, received the principality of Kulmbach, aka the ‘Upper Mountain Lordship’, with Plassenburg Castle, while the younger, Friedrich VI, received the principality of Ansbach (the ‘Lower Mountain Lordship’), with the other family castle, Cadolzburg. In Imperial politics, Friedrich became a key ally and supporter of Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg, in particular helping him pacify rebellious nobles in Brandenburg. He also lent him a lot of money, which the Emperor was unable to repay. So in 1415, Friedrich of Hohenzollern was given the March of Brandenburg as a fief, and became one of the seven princely electors of the Empire. He moved to Berlin, and the foundations of the rise of the Hohenzollerns in Brandenburg and Prussia were laid.

In 1420, Margrave Friedrich inherited his brother’s principality of Kulmbach, reuniting the Franconian lands. On his death, however, the lands were again divided, with Kulmbach for the eldest son, Johann, Brandenburg for the second, Friedrich, and Ansbach for the third son, Albrecht. All of them used the title ‘margrave of Brandenburg’ (as normal German custom for all sons), followed by which portion of the patrimony they ruled: the technical title was ‘margrave of Brandenburg in Ansbach’ or ‘Brandenburg in Kulmbach’. The Franconian principalities thus became known as margraviates, though really neither was a ‘mark’ or frontier.

The eldest son, Johann ‘the Alchemist’, is said to have given up his rights to the more significant territories in Brandenburg (and the electoral vote) because he was too obsessed with turning rocks into gold, and for his later years this is probably true, but I suspect there was a larger family strategy here, since Johann had married in 1416 (the year after his father’s elevation to elector) the heiress of the old electoral house of Saxony. The Hohenzollerns holding two of the seven electoral votes would have been an unmissable opportunity. But when the old Saxon dynasty went extinct in 1422, the Emperor granted the duchy and its vote to the house of Wettin instead—starting a dynastic rivalry that would continue for nearly 400 years. In later life, Margrave Johann did indeed spend his time in the lab trying to make gold, making use of the abundant minerals in the hills around Kulmbach. He had no sons, but his three daughters married well, from Mantua to Pomerania, and especially the third daughter, Dorothea, who became queen of Denmark, twice: first to King Christopher III (1445-1449), and then to his successor, Christian I of Oldenburg, whom she married after his election in 1449, and helped start the dynasty that still sits on the thrones of Denmark and Norway today.

In 1471, the third son, Albrecht of Ansbach, who had succeeded Johann in Kulmbach, also succeeded in Brandenburg as Elector Albrecht III (and was given the nickname ‘Achilles’—the first of a series of Classical names that this family would adopt). He decided that from henceforth, Brandenburg and its electoral vote would be passed by primogeniture, no longer divided, and that the family’s older Franconian lands, Ansbach and Kulmbach (later known as Bayreuth), would continue to be used as apanages for younger sons, but no further divisions would be made (though there would be another one for a time in the 16th century, Brandenburg-Küstrin, also known as the Neumark, across the Oder in what is now Poland). Albrecht III’s eldest son thus succeeded as elector of Brandenburg in 1486, and his younger sons were given Ansbach and Kulmbach. These were joined together once more only ten years later, then split again in 1521, joined again in 1557, then finally returned (both) once again to the main Brandenburg line in 1603. A territorial division between the two Franconian principalities was formally hammered out in 1541. But they continued to work together: both margraves became leaders of the Franconian Circle in 1500—the circles were set up by the Emperor as a means of more efficiently organising the Empire’s military and taxation structures.

One of the most prominent margraves of this first House of Ansbach was Georg the Pious. He was one of the very first German princes to follow the teachings of Martin Luther, and commissioned early writings on what exactly this branch of Christianity believed in, writings that developed into the Augsburg Confession of 1530, which he was one of the first to sign. He converted the family Abbey of Heilsbronn into a Lutheran church, and turned its monastery school into a Protestant grammar school. After 1625, the main burial place for the margraves of Ansbach would move to St John’s Church in town.

Margrave Georg the Pious of Ansbach

Georg of Ansbach also had eastern interests: as a young man he travelled to his uncle’s court in Buda in Hungary, and became a tutor and co-guardian of King Lajos II. He married into one of the families of Silesian dukes (Münsterberg-Oels), and was named heir to another, Ratibor, in 1521. He then also acquired two more Silesian duchies: Bytom (from King Lajos, who was overlord of Silesia as king of Bohemia) and Jägerndorf. This can be seen as part of the Hohenzollern policy of always wanting to push into the east, into Silesia (what is now southwest Poland). But Lajos II’s successor as king of Hungary and Bohemia after 1526 pushed back against Hohenzollern expansion in Silesia—especially once Georg had embraced the cause of Luther—and he confiscated some of these territories (notably Ratibor), though not Jägerndorf, which the Hohenzollerns held on to until 1621.

From 1527, Georg returned from the east to Ansbach, and built a hunting lodge (named for his dukedom, Ratibor) in Roth, near Nuremberg. He continued to push his family towards the Protestant party in the Empire, notably working with his younger brother Albrecht in Prussia. Albrecht had been elected Grand Master of the Teutonic Order in 1511, then gave up his religious profession and secularised his state in 1525, proclaiming himself to be duke of Prussia (a fief of the king of Poland—for now). It was the first state in Europe to formally adopt Lutheranism as a state religion. Brandenburg itself hesitated, but followed suit in the 1540s. Two other brothers remained Catholic, however: the Archbishop of Riga (in Latvia), until 1563, and the Archbishop of Magdeburg, until 1550—he would be one of the last Catholics to govern this large ecclesiastical territory, which was soon secularised and incorporated into Brandenburg.

Margrave Georg’s Schloss Ratibor, near Ansbach

In Franconia, in the margraviate of Kulmbach, Georg’s older brother Kasimir imprisoned their father in the Plassenburg, and took over rule of the principality. He was an ally of the Emperor Charles V, a leader in the repression of the Peasants War of 1525, then a commander on the plains of Hungary in 1527, where he died. His son Albrecht ‘Alcibiades’ (a Greek hero; also called ‘Bellator’, the warlike) became one of the most active warriors in the Reformation. Though he was a follower of Luther (and the first fully Protestant service is said to have been held in his church in Kulmbach in 1528), he supported Charles V faithfully through much of the conflict in the 1540s, then switched sides in the 1550s. Seeing the zeal of Protestant princes secularising large ecclesiastical territories (like Magdeburg), his change of heart was driven by a desire to annex the large and wealthy bishoprics of Würzburg and Bamberg, and he dreamed of re-creating the ancient medieval Duchy of Franconia. Albrecht was utterly defeated and placed under Imperial ban (making him an outlaw) in 1554. He died in 1557, unmarried, so Kulmbach and Ansbach were joined together once again.

Margrave Albrecht Alcibiades

Georg the Pious’s son, Georg Friedrich, was thus margrave in both Ansbach and Kulmbach, and later also became administrator (or ‘regent’) of Prussia, from 1577, when his cousin Albrecht Friedrich (Duke Albrecht’s son) became incapacitated due to mental health. This shows how the dynasty continued to function together even when it was quite spread out, not just looking after their separate possessions. In fact at this time (the late-16th century) there were literally dozens of Hohenzollerns, male and female, ruling as foreign consorts and governing parts of the patrimony, from Franconia to the Baltic. Neither Georg Friedrich nor Albrecht Friedrich had any sons, however, so both Franconian principalities went back into the general pot in Brandenburg, while the duchy of Prussia passed to Brandenburg through marriage.

A new division of Ansbach and Kulmbach, now renamed Bayreuth as its seat moved to that town, was thus ordered by the Elector Johann Georg in 1603. The older son, Christian got Bayreuth, while Joachim Ernst received Ansbach. Bayreuth probably took its name from early immigrants from Bavaria to the south who settled in a clearing (‘Baier’ plus ‘rute’). The first princely residence was built here in the 1440s, and rebuilt and renovated several times. The old Residenz remains in the centre of town, but is overshadowed by the magnificence of the new buildings built in the 18th century (see below).

Bayreuth, Old Schloss

Margrave Christian was one of the founding members of the Protestant Union in 1608, and was a thorn in the side of the Catholic emperor for many years, ruling for a remarkably long time, until 1655. His grandson Christian Ernst, in contrast, was a loyal servant of the Habsburgs, and rose to be an Imperial Field Marshal in 1691: a leader of the Franconian Circle from 1664, notably at the defence of Vienna against the Turks in 1683. A good Protestant, however, he made a policy to re-settle Huguenot refugees from France in the 1680s, and used their skills to help reform his government and develop his institution of higher learning in nearby Erlangen—later to become a prominent university. Erlangen had been badly hit in the wars of the 17th century, so it was being developed as a new town with new ideas. Christian Ernst also built a margravial palace in Erlangen, which now houses the main seat of the University.

Schloss Erlangen

Margrave Christian Ernst’s son Georg Wilhelm will continue the line of Bayreuth, below. His daughter, Christiane Eberhardine, however, raised the family’s profile a notch through her marriage in 1693 to the Elector of Saxony, who was soon elected King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. August II converted in order to take up his Catholic throne in Warsaw, but his wife refused, remaining in Dresden and earning the reputation to her loyal Protestant subjects as ‘the Pillar of Saxony’. She remained separated from her husband, then her son (who also converted to become king), for the rest of her life.

Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth

In Ansbach, Margrave Joachim Ernst was also an active member of the Protestant Union of 1608, which was founded in his territories (near Nördlingen), as a counterweight to the growing power of the Catholic Emperor and his allies (notably neighbouring Bavaria). But, in the face of growing fear of the Emperor’s armies (especially after the defeat of the Elector Palatine in 1620 at White Mountain), he backed out of the Union. His son, Friedrich III took up the fight, but was killed at the Battle of Nördlingen in 1635, leaving the margraviate to his brother Albrecht II, who rebuilt his state after the devastations of the Thirty Years War in part by resettling Protestant refugees from a now fully Catholic Austria.

Albrecht II’s son, Margrave Johann Friedrich was the father of Queen Caroline of Ansbach. But she hardly knew him, as he died in 1686 when she was only 3. Johann Friedrich had continued his father’s policy of settling Protestant refugees, augmented by those from France being persecuted by Louis XIV. He was well educated, at the Protestant universities of Strasburg and Geneva, and wanted to make sure his children were too, though he didn’t really live long enough to see it. Having taken up rule from his father in 1672, he died after 14 years, only age 31, of smallpox. Two sons had been born from a first marriage (to a Baden princess), who ruled in succession: Christian Albrecht as a child from 1686-92, and Georg Friedrich II, who was killed fairly young fighting in Imperial service in the War of Spanish Succession, in 1703.

Margrave Johann Friedrich of Ansbach

In 1703, therefore, Caroline’s full brother, Wilhelm Friedrich, took over as Margrave of Ansbach, at age 17. Their mother, Eleonore Erdmuth, had been a princess from Saxony-Eisenach, who married for a second time in 1692 the Elector of Saxony, making her unpopular to her step-sons. For their first ten years, therefore, her children, Caroline (or Wilhelmine Karoline) and Wilhelm Friedrich, were unwelcome in Ansbach, and, having first been sent to live at the court of Brandenburg in Berlin, later joined their mother at the Saxon court in Dresden. Life was not easy here either as the Elector made it clear he preferred his mistress, even threatening to murder his new wife, and sent her and her children to live elsewhere. Once the two children were orphaned in 1696, they returned to Ansbach, but when Wilhelm Friedrich became Margrave in 1703, Caroline was once more sent away, back to Berlin, to be raised by King Frederick I of Prussia and his wife, Sophie Charlotte of Hanover. The latter had a huge impact on young Caroline, and introduced her to the ideas of the new Enlightenment movement. She probably also encouraged the match between Caroline and her nephew, Prince Georg August of Hanover.

In 1704, Caroline resisted an offer to become queen of Spain, through marriage to ‘Carlos III’ (the Austrian Archduke Charles), which would have required a conversion. The next year, she married Georg August, and moved with him to England in 1714 as Princess of Wales. From the very start, relations between King George I and his son and daughter-in-law were strained; the Wales couple made more of an effort to become English and made English friends. Eventually a complete break was made between father and son, in 1717, and led to the formation of an alternative court led by the Waleses, at Leicester House.

Leicester House and Leicester Square in 1750

Caroline got involved in politics, in particular as a friend of Horace Walpole, whom she helped reconcile with the King in 1720. This political alliance with Walpole continued when her husband started a new reign, as George II, from 1727—though a new division began at this time, between the King and Queen and their son, Frederick, the new Prince of Wales, which lasted for a decade, even until Caroline’s death. Nevertheless, the Queen’s legacy is a brilliant one, as a capable ruler (regent four times when the King travelled to Hanover), and a scholar, with a large library and a keen interest in science and health.

Queen Caroline

In Bayreuth, Margrave Georg Wilhelm, while still the heir, also embraced the new spirit of the Enlightenment, and designed and built a new model town, St Georgen, on the outskirts of the city. It had orderly rows of houses, a castle in a lake, and a porcelain factory. He even developed a new order of chivalry, the Order of the Red Eagle (1705), and a new church for the Order to hold its meetings. He built a hunting lodge and extensive gardens, but died in 1726, aged only 49. Today his organised streets are still visible, neat and tidy, but the castle is a prison.

St Georgen

His heir, Margrave Georg Friedrich, was his cousin, who had ruled in Kulmbach before succeeding to Bayreuth. His younger sister, Sophie Magdalene, had once again brought this branch to top-rank prominence through her marriage in 1721 to the future Christian VI, King of Denmark and Norway. She outlived her husband and her son (Frederick V) and as Dowager-Grandmother became entangled in the mess of the royal relationship that was the marriage of her grandson Christian VII and Caroline Matilda of Britain in the late 1760s. Georg Friedrich had a different character to Georg Wilhelm: having been brought up in much less splendour (his father having become massively in debt), he focused his rule in improving his state, and not getting involved in military or imperial politics. He preferred to live at the former monastery of Himmelkron, which he developed into a princely residence. He died after only 10 years, in 1735.

His son, Margrave Friedrich ‘the Beloved’, seems to have combined the temperaments of his two predecessors: an interest in developing his state, but less self-restraint for doing so. Together, he and his celebrated wife, Wilhelmine of Prussia, made Bayreuth into one of the true cultural hot spots of Enlightenment Europe, but they nearly bankrupted their small state. Princess Wilhelmine was the sister of Frederick the Great, and the only person he ever truly loved. Having suffered the cruel oppression of their parents together as children, they remained extremely close, and his devastation at her death in 1758 persisted for the rest of his life (commemorated by a ‘Temple of Friendship’ at Sanssouci he dedicated to her).

Friedrich, Margrave of Bayreuth
Wilhelmine of Prussia, with her books and music

Wilhelmine was, like Caroline, a true daughter of the Enlightenment, and her salon in Bayreuth hosted such luminaries at Voltaire. Like her brother, she was a composer and a great patron of music—and much of the impetus for the building of the great Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth (1740s) can be attributed to her. Note: this is not the famous Bayreuth Festspielhaus built for Richard Wagner in the 1870s—Bayreuth is spoiled in having two world-famous opera houses! It is also the location of Wagner’s house, Wahnfried, and the burial place of both Wagner and his father-in-law, Franz Liszt.

Margravial Opera House, Bayreuth

The 18th-century opera house is a model example of ‘Bayreuth Rococo’ style. Margrave Friedrich and Margravine Wilhelmine also built a new Residenz in the centre of town (1754, after a fire gutted the old building), and expanded Georg Wilhelm’s summer residence, the Hermitage, a few miles to the east of town, with extensive gardens and fountains—one of the earliest and finest baroque gardens in Germany. The Hermitage became Wilhelmine’s space especially, and she built a new Music Room, a Japanese Cabinet and a Chinese Mirror Cabinet. In the 19th century, these summer residences and gardens mostly fell into neglect, though the Bavarian King Ludwig II did live here when attending the Wagner Festival. It was mostly forgotten again, until restoration works began by the Bavarian state in the 1960s, and another major renovation, especially of Wilhelmine’s interiors, was completed in 2005.

Bayreuth, New Schloss
Bayreuth, Hermitage

The Margravial couple completed the development of the University of Erlangen in 1743, and established an Academy of Arts in Bayreuth in 1756. Although Friedrich was named an Imperial Field Marshal, and leader of the Franconian Circle, he kept his principality out of the wars raging between Austria and Prussia in the 1740s, and, interestingly, Wilhelmine acted as an unofficial diplomat, a go-between trying to keep channels open between her brother Frederick II in Berlin and the Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna.

When Friedrich died in 1763, Bayreuth passed to his childless uncle, Friedrich Christian, who tried desperately to curtail the excessive costs of the previous margravial couple: he reduced the number of court staff, for example, from 600, back to previous levels of about 150. He fired musicians and stopped building projects. But he died only six years later, and the principality of Bayreuth passed to the line of Brandenburg-Ansbach.

In Ansbach, Queen Caroline’s brother, Margrave Wilhelm Friedrich, had also been expanding his small state’s interests in education and health. He built a public library, a home for poor widows, and planned a university, but died before this could be established. Like his father and his two half-brothers, his life was short, dying in 1723, aged only 37.

Wilhelm Friedrich, Margrave of Ansbach

Nevertheless, Wilhelm Friedrich founded a factory to produce faience pottery, expanded the Ansbach Residenz, and rebuilt several hunting lodges, notably the castle of Unterschwanigen, which he gave to his wife, Christine-Charlotte of Württemberg. This castle would serve as a female residence for successive margravines, notably Friederike Luisa of Prussia, who developed its pleasure gardens and parks, and Friederike Karoline of Saxe-Coburg. The castle and gardens of Unterschwanigen were later sold off by the king of Bavaria and mostly demolished.

Unterschwanigen as it once was

The next margrave, Queen Caroline’s nephew, Karl Wilhelm, was known as ‘The Wild Margrave’. He lived a luxurious lifestyle, mostly devoted to hunting and falconry. He spent huge amounts of money on his falcons (reputedly 10% of the state budget), took a falconer’s daughter to be his mistress, and even named their children ‘von Falkenhausen’. He gave these children several castles, and their descendants, the barons von Falkenhausen, still bear a falcon on their coat of arms today.

Karl Wilhelm, the ‘Wild Margrave’

The Ansbach coat of arms itself was quite extensive: as noted above, in the German system, all male members of a dynasty can make claim to all the family’s titles, so most of the component parts of Brandenburg were represented: various eagles and griffins (Brandenburg, Prussia, Pomerania), recently secularised ecclesiastical territories (Magdeburg, Minden), plus the ancient family properties of the county of Hohenzollern (the black and white checks) and the burgraviate of Nuremberg (black lion on gold, with a red and white border), and finally a simple red square representing the ‘right of regalia’ used by all electoral families.

Despite these wide-ranging pretensions, Margrave Karl Wilhelm did not have unlimited wealth, and spent himself into debt. He rebuilt the Ansbach palace, and several new churches in town (in a new style known as ‘Margrave Style’, similar to ‘Bayreuth Style’). In 1730, he built a special falconry hunting lodge, the ‘Red Castle’ at Triesdorf—one of the largest falconries in Europe. This became the main summer residence for the margraves. Today it is the seat of an agricultural education centre.

The ‘Red Castle’, Triesdorf

Triesdorf had been the residence of the von Seckendorff barons, sold to the margraves of Ansbach around 1600. Here they built the ‘White Palace’ in the 1680s. To this, Margrave Karl Wilhelm Friedrich added a zoo, gardens, lakes and a theatre, and more living spaces for courtiers and servants—inspired by the idea of having one big court residence in the countryside like Versailles. Under the guidance of Lady Craven (see below), the gardens were developed into more English Romantic style. Once the estate was taken over by the Bavarian Crown in the 19th century, Triesdorf was used as an agricultural centre for breeding horses and cattle, with an agricultural school since 1843.

The ‘White Castle’ at Triesdorf

This Lady Craven was the mistress then second wife of the last margrave, Karl Alexander (or just Alexander) (b. 1736). He succeeded his father in in Ansbach in 1757, then succeeded his distant cousin in Bayreuth in 1769, uniting the two Franconian principalities for the first time since 1603. He thus had a great range of choices for his residence, but he preferred Triesdorf. Saddled with his father’s excessive debts (and now those of Bayreuth), he set out to earn some money: he founded a porcelain factory in 1758, and rented troops to Britain and Holland—notably selling a ‘Frankish Army’ to the British to fight in America. And he was fairly successful, founding even a state bank in 1780 to manage his income.

Margrave Karl Alexander

Having lived apart from his wife for some time, however, and with no children, in 1791, he recognised that, since the King of Prussia would ultimately be his heir to both Ansbach and Bayreuth, he may as well cede these territories to him in advance (in return for a sizeable annual pension). Margravine Friederike Karoline died in February, and in May, the Margrave left Ansbach-Bayreuth with his mistress Lady Craven, married her in October, and abdicated formally in November.

Elizabeth Berkeley, Lady Craven

Lady Craven was born Lady Elizabeth Berkeley (b. 1750), daughter of the 4th Earl of Berkeley, and widow of William, 6th Baron Craven (who died in September of that same year). She had lived in Ansbach since 1787. After 1791 they settled in England, and in 1798 acquired Benham Park, on the river Kennet, near Speen in West Berkshire, where he set up a farm for breeding horses (conveniently close to the race courses at Newbury). The house had been built by her first husband, Baron Craven, in the 1770s (designed by Henry Holland). It later became home to the Sutton baronets in the 19th and 20th centuries, was significantly altered in 1914, and now houses offices.

Benham Park, Berkshire

In town, the Margrave and his wife had a house in Fulham known as ‘Brandenburgh House’ (and there is still a ‘Margravine Road’ in Hammersmith). It was not always pleasant being in London, as George III and the ladies of his court continually snubbed her. Nevertheless, in 1801, the Emperor Francis II elevated her formally as ‘Princess Berkeley’. After Margrave Alexander died in 1806, she moved to Naples, and died there.

Brandenburgh House, Fulham

After 1791, the two Franconian principalities of Ansbach and Bayreuth were administered as a new province by the Kingdom of Prussia. The Napoleonic wars shook up the map, and in 1805, Prussia ceded Ansbach to France; then in 1806, it was acquired by Bavaria. Bayreuth was ceded to France in 1806, then it also passed to Bavaria in 1810. Since then they have been governed together as the districts of Franconia by the state of Bavaria. Ansbach is the seat of ‘Middle Franconia’ (though it also includes Nuremberg), while Bayreuth is that for ‘Upper Franconia’.

(images from 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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