Confederation of the Rhine

The Confederation of the Rhine (German: Rheinbund; French: officially États confédérés du Rhin ("Confederated States of the Rhine"), but in practice Confédération du Rhin) was a confederation of client states of the First French Empire. It was formed initially from 16 German states by Napoleon after he defeated Austria and Russia at the Battle of Austerlitz. The Treaty of Pressburg, in effect, led to the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, which lasted from 1806 to 1813.[1]

The members of the confederation were German princes (Fürsten) formerly within the Holy Roman Empire. They were later joined by 19 others, altogether ruling a total of over 15 million subjects providing a significant strategic advantage to the French Empire on its eastern front by providing a separation between France and the two largest German states, Prussia and Austria, to the east, which were not members of the Confederation of the Rhine.

Napoleon sought to consolidate the modernizing achievements of the revolution, but he wanted the soldiers and supplies these subject states could provide for his wars. Napoleon required it to supply 63,000 troops to his army. The success of the Confederation depended on Napoleon's success in battle; it collapsed when he lost the Battle of Leipzig in 1813.

Confederated States of the Rhine
Confederation of the Rhine

Rheinbund  (German)
Confédération du Rhin  (French)
Commemorative Medal of Confederation of the Rhine
Commemorative Medal
The Confederation of the Rhine in 1812
The Confederation of the Rhine in 1812
StatusConfederation of client states
of the French Empire
Common languagesGerman, French
• 1806–13
Napoleon I
• 1806–13
Karl von Dalberg
• 1813
Eugène de Beauharnais
LegislatureDiet of the Confederation
Historical eraNapoleonic Wars
• Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine
12 July 1806
• Holy Roman Empire dissolved
6 August 1806
• Dissolved after Battle of Leipzig
4 November 1813
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Holy Roman Empire
German Confederation Wappen Deutscher Bund.svg
Today part of


On 12 July 1806, on signing the Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine (German: Rheinbundakte) in Paris, 16 German states joined together in a confederation (the treaty called it the états confédérés du Rhinelande, with a precursor in the League of the Rhine).[2] Napoleon was its "protector". On 1 August, the members of the confederation formally seceded from the Holy Roman Empire, and on 6 August, following an ultimatum by Napoleon, Francis II declared the Holy Roman Empire dissolved. Francis and his Habsburg dynasty continued as emperors of Austria.

According to the treaty, the confederation was to be run by common constitutional bodies, but the individual states (in particular the larger ones) wanted unlimited sovereignty.[1] Instead of a monarchical head of state, as the Holy Roman Emperor had had, its highest office was held by Karl Theodor von Dalberg, the former Arch Chancellor, who now bore the title of a Prince-Primate of the confederation. As such, he was President of the College of Kings and presided over the Diet of the Confederation, designed to be a parliament-like body although it never actually assembled.[1] The President of the Council of the Princes was the Prince of Nassau-Usingen.

In return for their support of Napoleon, some rulers were given higher statuses: Baden, Hesse, Cleves, and Berg were made into grand duchies, and Württemberg and Bavaria became kingdoms. States were also made larger by incorporating the many smaller "Kleinstaaten", or small former imperial member states. They had to pay a very high price for their new status, however. The Confederation was above all a military alliance: the members had to maintain substantial armies for mutual defense and supply France with large numbers of military personnel. As events played out the members of the confederation found themselves more subordinated to Napoleon than they had been to the Habsburgs when they were within the Holy Roman Empire.[3]

After Prussia lost to France in 1806, Napoleon cajoled most of the secondary states of Germany into the Confederation of the Rhine. Eventually, an additional 23 German states joined the Confederation. It was at its largest in 1808, when it included 36 states—four kingdoms, five grand duchies, 13 duchies, seventeen principalities, and the Free Hansa towns of Hamburg, Lübeck, and Bremen.[1] In the German lands, only Austria, Prussia, Danish Holstein, and Swedish Pomerania (plus previously independent Switzerland) were not included in the Confederation, not counting the west bank of the Rhine and the Principality of Erfurt, which were annexed outright by the French empire.

In 1810 large parts of what is now northwest Germany were quickly annexed to France in order to better monitor the trade embargo with Great Britain, the Continental System.

The Confederation of the Rhine collapsed in 1813, in the aftermath of Napoleon's failed campaign against the Russian Empire. Many of its members changed sides after the Battle of Leipzig, when it became apparent Napoleon would lose the War of the Sixth Coalition.

Types of States within the Confederation

Both French influence and internal autonomy varied greatly throughout the confederations existence. There was also a great variation between the power and influence of the individual states. There are three basic types:

  • The first group formed the "Model States" , which were mostly ruled by relatives of Napoleon. These include the Kingdom of Westphalia[4] under Jérôme Bonaparte. The Grand Duchy of Berg was first administered by Joachim Murat and after his appointment as King of Naples (1808) after receiving a commission by Napoleon. The third model state was the Grand Duchy of Frankfurt, which was run by House Dalberg until 1813. Because of the collapse of the Napoleonic supremacy, this position could no longer justify its own existence. These new foundations were intended to serve as a model for the remaining Rhine federal states through their legal and social policies.
  • The second group were the reform states of Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, and Hesse-Darmstadt. These were not dependent areas, but in many ways Napoleon's true allies. Although these states took inspiration from the French model, they also went their own way. The historian Lothar Gall suggested that the rulers of the Confederation of the Rhine were made revolutionaries by Napoleon himself. An opposition to the emperor would have been possible only by renouncing the power that he had given to them. "He had not made not satellites which were politically incapable of action and forced to be obedient through use of force, but real allies who followed in his well-understood policy reasons of state."[5]
  • A third group formed the states that joined after 1806. These included the numerous smaller northern and central German territories, except for Saxony. In these, the internal changes were minimal.[6] The reforms remained significantly limited in these states. However, there were also considerable differences among these states. In Mecklenburg and Saxony, the old structures remained almost unchanged. In the Duchy of Nassau, on the other hand, Minister Ernst Franz Ludwig Marshal von Bieberstein ensured moderate administrative modernisation, and the introduction of religious tolerance.

Member monarchies

The following table shows the members of the confederation, with their date of joining, as well as the number of troops provided, listed in parentheses.[7]

Rheinbund 1806, political map
Member states of the Confederation of the Rhine, 1806.
Rheinbund 1808, political map
Member states of the Confederation of the Rhine, 1808 (largest-extent).
Rheinbund 1812, political map
Member states of the Confederation of the Rhine, 1812.

College of Kings

Flag Member monarchy Year joined Notes
Grand Duchy of Baden 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former margraviate (8,000)
Kingdom of Bavaria 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former duchy (30,000)
Grand Duchy of Berg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; absorbed Cleves, both formerly Duchies (5,000)
Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former landgraviate (4,000)
Principality of Regensburg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; formerly Prince-Archbishopric and Electorate; after 1810 the Frankfurt Grand Duchy of Frankfurt (968 of 4,000)
Kingdom of Saxony 11 Dec 1806 Former electorate (20,000)
Kingdom of Westphalia 15 Nov 1807 Napoleonic creation (25,000)
Kingdom of Württemberg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former duchy (12,000)
Grand Duchy of Würzburg 23 Sep 1806 Napoleonic creation (2,000)

College of Princes

Flag Member monarchy Year joined Notes
Duchy of Anhalt-Bernburg 11 Apr 1807 (700)
Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau 11 Apr 1807 (700)
Duchy of Anhalt-Köthen 11 Apr 1807 (700)
Duchy of Arenberg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; mediatized 13 December 1810 (379 of 4,000)
Principality of Hohenzollern-Hechingen 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder (97 of 4,000)
Principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder (193 of 4,000)
Principality of Isenburg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder (291 of 4,000)
Principality of Leyen 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former countship or graviate (29 of 4,000)
Principality of Liechtenstein 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder (40 of 4,000)
Principality of Lippe-Detmold 11 Apr 1807 (650)
Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin 22 Mar 1808 (1,900)
Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz 18 Feb 1808 (400)
Duchy of Nassau (Usingen and Weilburg) 12 Jul 1806* Union of Nassau Usingen Nassau-Usingen and Nassau-Weilburg Nassau-Weilburg, both co-founders (1,680 of 4,000)
Duchy of Oldenburg 14 Oct 1808 annexed by France 13 December 1810 (800)
Principality of Reuss-Ebersdorf 11 Apr 1807 (400)
Principality of Reuss-Greiz 11 Apr 1807 (400)
Principality of Reuss-Lobenstein 11 Apr 1807 (400)
Principality of Reuss-Schleiz 11 Apr 1807 (400)
Principality of Salm (Salm-Salm and Salm-Kyrburg) 25 Jul 1806 Co-founder; annexed by France 13 December 1810 (323 of 4,000)
Duchy of Saxe-Coburg 15 Dec 1806 (Saxon duchies total 2,000)
Duchy of Saxe-Gotha 15 Dec 1806
Duchy of Saxe-Hildburghausen 15 Dec 1806
Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen 15 Dec 1806
Duchy of Saxe-Weimar 15 Dec 1806
Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe 11 Apr 1807 (650)
Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt 11 Apr 1807 (650)
Principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen 11 Apr 1807 (650)
Principality of Waldeck-Pyrmont 11 Apr 1807 (400)


The allies opposing Napoleon dissolved the Confederation of the Rhine on 4 November 1813. After its demise, the only attempt at political coordination in Germany until the creation on 8 June 1815 of the German Confederation was a body called the Central Administration Council (German: Zentralverwaltungsrat); its President was Heinrich Friedrich Karl Reichsfreiherr vom und zum Stein (1757–1831). It was dissolved on 20 June 1815.

On 30 May 1814 the Treaty of Paris declared the German states independent.

In 1814–1815, the Congress of Vienna redrew the continent's political map. Napoleonic creations such as the huge Kingdom of Westphalia, the Grand Duchy of Berg and the Duchy of Würzburg were abolished; suppressed states, including Hanover, the Brunswick duchies, Hesse-Kassel and Oldenburg, were reinstated. On the other hand, most members of the Confederation of the Rhine located in central and southern Germany survived with minor border changes. They, along with the reinstated states, Prussia and Austria formed the German Confederation.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Hans A. Schmitt. Germany Without Prussia: A Closer Look at the Confederation of the Rhine. German Studies Review 6, No. 4 (1983), pp 9-39.
  2. ^ For the treaty (in French), see here
  3. ^ Germany at Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ Berding, Helmut (1973). Napoleonische Herrschafts- und Gesellschaftspolitik im Königreich Westfalen 1807–1813. Göttingen/Zürich: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
  5. ^ Gall. Liberalismus als regierende Partei. p. 85.
  6. ^ Siemann. om Staatenbund zum Nationalstaat: Deutschland 1806-1871. pp. 23–24.
  7. ^ Creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, 12 July, 1806 Archived 29 May 2011 at

External links

Coordinates: 50°07′N 8°41′E / 50.117°N 8.683°E


Arenberg, also spelled as Aremberg or Ahremberg, is a former county, principality and finally duchy that was located in what is now Germany. The Dukes of Arenberg remain a prominent Belgian noble family.

Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin

The Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was a duchy in northern Germany created in 1701, when Frederick William and Adolphus Frederick II divided the Duchy of Mecklenburg between Schwerin and Strelitz. Ruled by the successors of the Nikloting House of Mecklenburg, Mecklenburg-Schwerin remained a state of the Holy Roman Empire along the Baltic Sea littoral between Holstein-Glückstadt and Duchy of Pomerania.

Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

The Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was a duchy in northern Germany, consisting of the eastern fifth of the historic Mecklenburg region, roughly corresponding with the present-day Mecklenburg-Strelitz district (the former Lordship of Stargard), and the western exclave of the former bishopric of Ratzeburg in modern Schleswig-Holstein. At the time of its establishment, the duchy bordered on the territory of Swedish Pomerania in the north and of Brandenburg in the south.

Duchy of Nassau

The Duchy of Nassau (German: Herzogtum Nassau) was an independent state between 1806 and 1866, located in what is now the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse. It was a member of the Confederation of the Rhine and later of the German Confederation. Its ruling dynasty, now extinct, was the House of Nassau. The duchy was named for its historical core city, Nassau, although Wiesbaden rather than Nassau was its capital. In 1865, the Duchy of Nassau had 465,636 inhabitants. After being occupied and annexed into the Kingdom of Prussia in 1866 following the Austro-Prussian War, it was incorporated into the Province of Hesse-Nassau. The area today is a geographical and historical region, Nassau, and Nassau is also the name of the Nassau Nature Park within the borders of the former duchy.

Today, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg still uses "Duke of Nassau" as his secondary title (of pretense), and "Prince" or "Princess of Nassau" is used as a title of pretense by other members of the grand ducal family. Nassau is also part of the name of the Dutch royal family, which styles itself Orange-Nassau.

Grand Duchy of Berg

The Grand Duchy of Berg (German: Großherzogtum Berg) was a territorial grand duchy established by Napoleon Bonaparte after his victory at the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz on territories between the French Empire at the Rhine river and the German Kingdom of Westphalia.

Grand Duchy of Frankfurt

The Grand Duchy of Frankfurt was a German satellite state of Napoleonic creation. It came into existence in 1810 through the combination of the former territories of the Archbishopric of Mainz along with the Free City of Frankfurt itself.

Grand Duchy of Hesse

The Grand Duchy of Hesse and by Rhine (German: Großherzogtum Hessen und bei Rhein) was a grand duchy in western Germany that existed from 1806 (the period of German mediatization) to the end of the German Empire in 1918. The grand duchy originally formed on the basis of the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1806 as the Grand Duchy of Hesse (German: Großherzogtum Hessen). After the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, it changed its name in 1816 to distinguish itself from the Electorate of Hesse, which had formed from neighboring Hesse-Kassel. Colloquially, the grand duchy continued to be known by its former name of Hesse-Darmstadt. It joined the German Empire in 1871 and became a republic after German defeat in World War I in 1918.

Grand Duchy of Würzburg

The Grand Duchy of Würzburg (German: Großherzogtum Würzburg) was a German grand duchy centered on Würzburg existing in the early 19th century.

As a consequence of the 1801 Treaty of Lunéville, the Bishopric of Würzburg was secularized in 1803 and granted to the Electorate of Bavaria. In the same year Ferdinand III, former Grand Duke of Tuscany, was compensated with the Electorate of Salzburg. In the Peace of Pressburg of 26 December 1805, Ferdinand lost Salzburg to the Austrian Empire, but was compensated with the Würzburg territory, Bavaria having relinquished it in return for Tyrol.

Ferdinand's state was briefly known as the Electorate of Würzburg (Kurfürstentum Würzburg), but it was elevated to the status of a Grand Duchy after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire on 6 August 1806. It joined the Confederation of the Rhine on 30 September 1806. In 1810 it acquired Schweinfurt.

After Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Leipzig, Ferdinand dissolved his alliance with the First French Empire on 26 October 1813. Through an Austrian-Bavarian treaty of 3 June 1814, Ferdinand lost his possessions to the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Grand Duchy was dissolved. Ferdinand was restored to a reconstituted Grand Duchy of Tuscany by the Congress of Vienna. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Würzburg was reestablished in 1821 without temporal power.


Hohenzollern-Hechingen was a small principality in southwestern Germany. Its rulers belonged to the Swabian branch of the Hohenzollern dynasty.

Kingdom of Westphalia

The Kingdom of Westphalia was a kingdom in Germany, with a population of 2.6 million, that existed from 1807 to 1813. It included territory in Hesse and other parts of present-day Germany. While formally independent, it was a vassal state of the First French Empire and was ruled by Napoleon's brother Jérôme Bonaparte. It was named after Westphalia, but this was a misnomer since the kingdom had little territory in common with that area; rather the kingdom mostly covered territory formerly known as Eastphalia.

Napoleon imposed the first written modern constitution in Germany, a French-style central administration, and agricultural reform. The Kingdom liberated the serfs and gave everyone equal rights and the right to a jury trial. In 1808 the Kingdom passed Germany's first laws granting Jews equal rights, thereby providing a model for reform in the other German states. Westphalia seemed to be progressive in immediately enacting and enforcing the new reforms.

The country was relatively poor but Napoleon demanded heavy taxes and payments, and conscripted soldiers. Few of the men who marched into Russia with Napoleon in 1812 ever returned. The Kingdom was bankrupt by 1812. When Napoleon was retreating in the face of Allied advances in 1813, the Kingdom was overrun by the Allies and (in 1815) most of its territories became Prussian ruled. Most of the reforms, however, remained in place.

Principality of Aschaffenburg

The Principality of Aschaffenburg (German: Fürstentum Aschaffenburg) was a principality of the Holy Roman Empire created in 1803 and, following the dissolution of the Empire in 1806, of the Confederation of the Rhine, which existed from 1806 to 1810. Its capital was Aschaffenburg.

With the secularization of the Archbishopric of Mainz in 1803, Karl Theodor Anton Maria von Dalberg was compensated by receiving the newly created principalities of Aschaffenburg and Regensburg and the County of Wetzlar. Along with the city of Aschaffenburg, the Principality of Aschaffenburg also consisted of Klingenberg, Lohr, Aufenau, Stadtprozelten, Orb, and Aura.

The principality became part of the Confederation of the Rhine in 1806 after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1810 Napoleon granted Dalberg's Principality of Regensburg to the Kingdom of Bavaria and compensated him with Hanau and Fulda. Dalberg merged his remaining territories of Aschaffenburg, Frankfurt, Wetzlar, Hanau, and Fulda into the new Grand Duchy of Frankfurt, with the Principality of Aschaffenburg becoming a department of the new grand duchy. The city of Aschaffenburg remained the residence of Dalberg, however. The region was annexed by Bavaria in 1814.

Principality of Regensburg

The Principality of Regensburg (German: Fürstentum Regensburg) was a principality of the Holy Roman Empire created in 1803 and, following the dissolution of the Empire in 1806, the Confederation of the Rhine until 1810. Its capital was Regensburg.

Principality of Salm

The Principality of Salm was a short-lived client state of Napoleonic France located in Westphalia.

Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe

Schaumburg-Lippe was created as a county in 1647, became a principality in 1807, a free state in 1918, and was until 1946 a small state in Germany, located in the present day state of Lower Saxony, with its capital at Bückeburg.

Principality of Waldeck and Pyrmont

The County of Waldeck (later the Principality of Waldeck and Principality of Waldeck and Pyrmont) was a state of the Holy Roman Empire and its successors from the late 12th century until 1929. In 1349 the county gained Imperial immediacy and in 1712 was raised to the rank of Principality. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 it was a constituent state of its successors: the Confederation of the Rhine, the German Confederation, the North German Confederation, the German Empire and, until 1929, the Weimar Republic. It comprised territories in present-day Hesse and Lower Saxony, (Germany).


Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (German: Sachsen-Gotha-Altenburg) was a duchy ruled by the Ernestine branch of the House of Wettin in today's Thuringia, Germany. The extinction of the line in 1825 led to a major re-organisation of the Thuringian states.


Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt was a small historic state in present-day Thuringia, Germany, with its capital at Rudolstadt.


Schwarzburg-Sondershausen was a small principality in Germany, in the present day state of Thuringia, with its capital at Sondershausen.

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