Bavarians First, Germans Second
Modern Bavaria, is the largest state within Germany and the second most populous after North Rhine-Westphalia. The capital, Munich, is the third largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg. This year marks the centenary of the transition of Bavaria from a monarchy to the Free State of Bavaria (Bayern Freistaat), but Bavaria has existed as a political entity since the creation of the Duchy of Bavaria in c.555.
Frankish sources suggest that the first Duke, Garibald I, may have been appointed by the Merovingians and that the Duchy was a semi-autonomous vassal state under Frankish oversight. Much of its early history is not well chronicled but during the reign of Duke Theodo I, who succeeded to the title in the early 680s churchmen from the west were invited to establish Christianity within the Duchy, a process which was to be completed by Saint Boniface, the papal legate for Germany, in the late 730s with the support and protection of Charles Martell.
For the next four hundred years, the Duchy passed from family to family, rarely remaining in the same family for more than a few generations. Lands were won and lost and, following the revolt by Henry the Quarrelsome in 976, significant territories in the south and east of the Duchy were lost and Ostarrichi, was created as a separate duchy, the forerunner of modern Austria.
In 1180, Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria and founder of the city of Munich, was deposed by his cousin, Frederick I (Barbarossa), the Holy Roman Emperor and Bavaria was awarded as a fiefdom to the Wittelsbach family, counts palatinate of Schyren (now Schryeyen). This family would rule Bavaria, in various incarnations, for the next 738 years until 1918. Over the next four centuries, the Duchy would be sub-divided on a number of occasions but in 1506, following the Landshut War of Succession, the disparate parts of Bavaria were reunited and Munich became the capital.
The senior branch of the Wittelsbach family ruled the Electorate of the Palatinate and the head of this branch of the family was one of seven Prince-Electors who chose the Holy Roman Emperors. The election of Ferdinand II as Holy Roman Emperor in August 1619 precipitated an religious dispute within the empire which, in turn, became a European war which was to devastate the Continent and cause the deaths, through battle and famine, of an estimated eight million people. The Augsburg Settlement signed in September 1555, in the aftermath of the Reformation, had allowed the rulers of the German states within the Holy Roman Empire to choose between Lutherism and Catholicism. By 1619, Calvanism and Anabaptism had added to the religious tumult but were had arisen subsequent to the agreement at Augsburg and were not covered by it.
Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor
Ferdinand II sought to overturn this agreement and to impose religious (Catholic) uniformity across the Empire. The northern Protestant states considered this a violation of the rights guaranteed at Augsburg and formed the Protestant Union to oppose the change. In 1621, the Elector Palatine Frederick V was stripped of his electoral status, following his involvement in the Bohemian Revolt against Emperor Ferdinand II, and the dignity of Prince-Elector was conferred upon his cousin, Duke Maximillian I of Bavaria, who had remained loyal and ruled a Jesuit bastion opposing the forces of the Reformation.
Over the next 150 years, the growing ambitions of the Bavarian princes was to cause a number of conflicts with Austria, most notably resulting in its occupation by Austria during the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1777, the death of Elector Max III Joseph, the last in the line of the junior branch of the Wittelsbach family, caused the unification of Bavaria with the Electorate of the Palatinate but it came at a time of seismic changes in European politics.
In 1806, the Holy Roman Empire was abolished by Napoleon and replaced with the Confederation of the Rhine. At its height, comprising 35 states and over 15 million people the Confederation provided Napoleon with an invaluable buffer between the French Empire and the largest German states, Prussia and Austria. Established territorial boundaries were of little importance to Napoleon and the lands of those who joined the Confederation were reallocated to suit the strategic objectives of the French Emperor. Bavaria was created a kingdom and the last Elector, Maximilian IV Joseph, was crowned as King Maximilian I Joseph of the new, and redefined, kingdom. This was a time of great progress for Bavaria. Since his accession as Elector in 1799, Maximilian and his leading minister Count Montgelas had embarked on an ambitious programme of modernisation. A constitution was passed in 1808 and the 1818 revision was to create a Parliament with two Houses which was to survive through to the end of the First World War. The core of his administrative measures remain in place to this day.
Maximilian I Joseph
The integrity of the Confederation of the Rhine was directly linked to France’s domination over the Continent. Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Leipzig, in 1813, was enough to cause it to collapse and his defeat at Waterloo in 1815 left Prussia as the dominant power on the continental. In the face of Prussia’s rise, Bavaria preserved its autonomy by playing off Prussia against Austria. It allied itself to Austria in the Austrian Prussian war and was defeated but when France declared war on Prussia in 1870, Bavaria, like most of the southern German states, joined the Prussian cause and joined the North German Federation which was renamed the Deutsches Reich (German Empire) in 1871.
Bavaria had secured some significant privileges as the price of its joining the Federation. It remained a monarchy and retained control of its own army, railways and postal service. Despite this, Bavarian nationalists considered the move a betrayal and thought that Bavaria should have maintained its independence in the same way as Austria had done. Whilst these represented the more extreme end of the political spectrum, there was considerable resentment within predominantly-Catholic Bavaria to the influence of Protestant Prussia.
In the aftermath of the Great War, The Kaiser was deposed and Germany became a republic. On 12th November 1918, the day after the Armistice which had ended the fighting in the “war to end all wars”, King Ludwig III signed the Anif Declaration, releasing civil and military officers from their oaths of allegiance to the Bavarian Crown. This was interpreted by Kurt Eisner, the socialist premier of the newly-formed republican government, as an abdication. As a point of interest, though no member of the House of Wittelsbach has ever pressed their claim, none has ever renounced the throne and they remain active in the cultural and social life of the State. The current head of the family is Franz, Duke of Bavaria.
|Ludwig III||Kurt Eisner|
Eisner was assassinated in February 1919 and in the tumultuous months that followed, on 6th April 1919, a Bavarian Soviet Republic was proclaimed but fell a little over a month later after a violent reaction by the Army and, in particular, the Freikorps. The Bamberg Constitution was enacted in August 1919 and when it came into force on 15th September 1919, it created The Free State of Bavaria within the Weimar Republic. Contrary to the impression created by the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 and the Nuremberg rallies, though Bavaria the birth place of the Nazi party, it was not a Nazi stronghold. In the federal election that precipitated Hitler to power in 1933, the Nazis did not secure a majority of the Bavarian vote.
More territorial changes followed Hitler’s defeat in 1945. The Rhenish Palatinate was detached from Bavaria in 1946 and made part of a new state, Rhineland Palatinate. In 1949, Bavaria once more exhibited its independence. In opposition to the division of Germany, the Bavarian Parliament chose not to sign the Founding Treaty for the Federal Republic of Germany and refused to sign the Basic Law of Germany because it was perceived as not giving sufficient powers to the individual Länder. The compromise was to provide that it would come into force if two thirds of the other states adopted it. As it was ratified in all the other states, it passed into law in Bavaria.
Bavarians rejoice in their separate, national identity and foster the varying cultural identities within the state. Whether from Franconia in the north, Swabia in the South or the Altbayern in the pentagon that was there before the Vienna Congress, all consider themselves Bavarians first and Germans second.