The Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel (German: Landgrafschaft Hessen-Kassel), known as Hesse-Cassel during its existence,[1] was a state in the Holy Roman Empire directly subject to the Emperor that came into existence when the Landgraviate of Hesse was divided in 1567 upon the death of Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse.

His eldest son William IV inherited the northern half and the capital of Kassel. The other sons received the Landgraviate of Hesse-Marburg, the Landgraviate of Hesse-Rheinfels and the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt.

The Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel was elevated to the Electorate of Hesse and Landgrave William IX was elevated to Imperial Elector during the reorganization of the Empire in 1803, in the midst of the Napoleonic wars, and later occupied by French troops and became part of the Kingdom of Westphalia, which was a French satellite state.


The line of Landgraves was founded by William IV, surnamed the Wise, the eldest son of Philip I. On his father's death in 1567, he received one half of the Landgraviate of Hesse, with Kassel as his capital; and this formed the Landgraviate.

The Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel expanded in 1604 when Maurice, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel inherited the Landgraviate of Hesse-Marburg from his childless uncle, Louis IV, Landgrave of Hesse-Marburg (1537–1604).

In 1605, Maurice turned Calvinist, became involved later in the Thirty Years' War, and, after being forced to cede some of his territories to the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt, abdicated in favour of his son William V. His younger sons received apanages, which created several cadet lines of the house. The family line of the Landgraviate of Hesse-Rotenburg survived till 1834. On the death of William V, whose territories had been conquered by the Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire, his widow Amalie Elisabeth of Hanau-Münzenberg, as regent for her son William VI, reconquered the state. With the aid of the French and Swedes, she held it, together with part of Westphalia.

During the Thirty Years' War, the Calvinist Hesse-Kassel proved to be Sweden's most loyal German ally. Landgrave William V and, after his death in 1637, his widow Amelia of Hanau, a granddaughter of William the Silent, as regent supported the Protestant cause, and the French and Swedes throughout the war. They maintained an army, garrisoning many strongholds, including Dorsten, the strongest fortress on the right bank of the Rhine which was subsequently lost as the Siege of Dorsten. Meanwhile, Hesse-Kassel was occupied by Imperial troops. At the Peace of Westphalia, accordingly, Hesse-Kassel was augmented by the larger part of the County of Schaumburg and by the Hersfeld Abbey, secularized as a principality of the Empire. The regent Amalie Elisabeth of Hanau-Münzenberg introduced the rule of primogeniture. William VI, who came of age in 1650, was an enlightened patron of learning and the arts. He was succeeded by his son William VII, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, then an infant, who died in 1670. He was succeeded by his brother Charles I.

Charles' chief claim to notability is that he was the first ruler to adopt the system of hiring his soldiers out to foreign powers as mercenaries, as a means of improving the finances of his principality. Frederick I of Sweden, the next landgrave, had become by marriage King of Sweden. On his death, he was succeeded in the landgraviate by his brother William VIII, who fought as an ally of Kingdom of Great Britain during the Seven Years' War.

His successor, Frederick II, who had become a Catholic, leased 22,000 Hessian troops to his nephew George III of Great Britain for about £3,191,000; King George used them against the rebellion of the Thirteen Colonies in British North America. This action, often bitterly criticized, has in later years found apologists. Historians now argue that the troops were auxiliaries or mercenaries, and that the practice of hiring them out was quite common at the time. Frederick II used the revenue thus derived to develop the economic and intellectual life of the country. Due to their involvement in the American War of Independence, "Hessian" has become an American slang term for all German soldiers deployed by the British against the American Revolution. One such regiment was the Musketeer Regiment Prinz Carl.

Since the early years of the Reformation, the House of Hesse was Protestant, with only a few exceptions. Landgraves Philip I, William V, and Maurice married descendants of King George of Bohemia. From William VI onwards, mothers of the heads of Hesse-Kassel were always descended from William the Silent, the leader of the Dutch to independence on basis of Calvinism.

William V was succeeded by Landgraves William VI and William VII. Under King Frederick I of Sweden, Hesse-Kassel was in personal union with Sweden from 1730–51. But the King's younger brother, Prince William, ruled in Kassel as regent until he succeeded his brother, reigning as William VIII until 1760.

During the 17th century, the landgraviate was internally divided for dynastic purposes, without allodial rights, into:

These were reunited with the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel when each particular branch died out without issue.

Hessian troops in foreign service

The Landgraves of Hesse-Kassel were famous for renting out their army to European Great Powers during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a widespread practice at the time for small countries to rent out troops to larger countries in exchange for subsidies. International jurists drew a distinction between mercenaries and auxiliaries (Hilfstruppen). Mercenaries served in foreign armies as individuals, while auxiliaries were sent by their prince to the aid of another prince.[2]

Hesse-Kassel took this practice to an extreme, maintaining 5.3% of its population under arms in 1730.[3] This was a higher proportion than even Prussia,[3] which has been described as "not a country with an army, but an army with a country." The Hessian army served as a readily-available reserve for the Great Powers.[4] During the American War of Independence, 25% of the British army consisted of troops rented from German princes, half of whom came from Hesse-Kassel and nearby Hesse-Hanau. For this reason, Americans refer to all German troops serving with the British armies as "Hessians,"[5] a form of synecdoche.


Following the reorganization of the German states during the German mediatisation of 1803, the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel was raised to the Electorate of Hesse and Landgrave William IX was elevated to Imperial Elector, taking the title William I, Elector of Hesse. The principality thus became known as Kurhessen, although still usually referred to as Hesse-Kassel.

In 1806, William I was dispossessed by Napoleon Bonaparte for his support of the Kingdom of Prussia. Kassel was designated as the capital of a new Kingdom of Westphalia, where Napoleon appointed his brother Jérôme Bonaparte as king. Following Napoleon's defeat in 1813, the elector was restored. Although the Holy Roman Empire was then defunct, William retained his title of Elector, as it gave him pre-eminence over his cousin, the Grand Duke of Hesse. From 1813 onwards, the Electorate of Hesse was an independent country and, after 1815, a member of the German Confederation.

William's grandson, Elector Frederick William, sided with the Austrian Empire in the Austro-Prussian War. After the Prussian victory, his lands were annexed by Prussia in 1866. Along with the annexed Duchy of Nassau and Free City of Frankfurt, Hesse-Kassel became part of the new Province of Hesse-Nassau of the Kingdom of Prussia.

In 1918, Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse, younger brother of the head of the house and a brother-in-law of Emperor William II, was elected by the pro-German Finnish government to be King of Finland, but he never reigned.

Later in 1918, Hesse-Nassau became part of the Free State of Prussia, which existed until 1944. From 1944–45 as part of Nazi Germany, it was divided into the Prussian provinces of Kurhessen and Nassau. From 1945–46, it was renamed Greater Hesse (German: Großhessen) and was part of the US occupation zone in Germany. From 1946 onwards, it was reorganised into the State of Hesse, a federal state of West Germany.

In 1968, the head of the House of Hesse-Kassel became the head of the entire House of Hesse due to the extinction of the House of Hesse-Darmstadt.

Other uses

The village of Hessen Cassel, Indiana near Fort Wayne, founded by German immigrants, is named for the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel.

See also


  1. ^ Following the German spelling reform of the early 20th century, the town of Cassel became Kassel, long after the dissolution of Hesse-Kassel itself.
  2. ^ Atwood, Rodney (2002). The Hessians: Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780521526371. 
  3. ^ a b Black, Jeremy (1994). European Warfare, 1660-1815. London: Routledge. ISBN 9781135369552. Whereas in the mid-eighteenth century Austria and Russia had between approximately 1.1 per cent and 1.5 per cent of their population in the army, the percentage for Prussia for 4.2. ... In 1730, a year of peace but also of war preparations, Hesse-Cassel had 1 in 19 of the population under arms. 
  4. ^ Tilly, Charles (1992). Coercion, Capital, and European States. Cambridge: Blackwell. ISBN 1-55786-368-7. 
  5. ^ Kennedy, David M. (2012). The American Pageant. Cengage Learning. p. 147. Because most of these soldiers-for-hire came from the Germany principality of Hesse, the Americans called all the European mercenaries Hessians. 

External links

Preceded by
House of Palatinate-Zweibrücken
Landgraves of Hesse-Kassel
Succeeded by
House of Holstein-Gottorp