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.

Duchy of Nassau

Herzogtum Nassau (de)
Flag of Nassau
Coat of arms
Duchy of Nassau.png
StatusState of the Confederation of the Rhine
State of the German Confederation
Common languagesMoselle Franconian
GovernmentConstitutional monarchy
Duke of Nassau 
• 1806–1816
Frederick Augustus
• 1816–1839
• 1839–1866
Historical eraModern era
• Established
30 August 1806
• Annexed by Prussia
23 August 1866
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Principality of Orange-Nassau

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.



Declaration of Nassau's sovereignty, 30 August 1806
Schloss Weilburg, residence of the Princes of Nassau-Weilburg before 1816, and a residence of the Dukes of Nassau therafter
Schloss Biebrich on the Rhine, seat of the Dukes of Nassau from 1817 to 1841 and their summer residence thereafter.

The territory of the duchy was essentially congruent with the Taunus and Westerwald mountain ranges. The southern and western borders were formed by the Main and the Rhine, while in the northern part of the territory, the Lahn river seperated the two mountain ranges. The neighbouring territory to the east and south was the Grand Duchy of Hesse. The Landgraviate of Hesse-Homburg and the Free City of Frankfurt were also to the east. To the west was the Rhine Province of the Prussia, which also controlled an exclave in the eastern part of Nassau, called Wetzlar.


At its foundation in 1806, the Duchy had 302,769 inhabitants. The citizens were mostly farmers, day labourers, or artisans. In 1819, 7% of Nassauers lived in settlements with more than 2,000 inhabitants, while the rest lived in 850 smaller settlements and 1,200 isolated homesteads. Wiesbaden was the largest settlement with 5,000 inhabitants, and Limburg an der Lahn was the second-largest with around 2,600 inhabitants. By 1847, Wiesbaden had grown to 14,000 inhabitants and Limburg to 3,400. The third-largest city was Höchst am Main.


The ancestral and core coat of arms of Nassau, which formed the heart shield of the greater coat of arms. It is almost identical to the coat of arms of the Netherlands and is also included as the third and fourth field in the coat of arms of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg.


The House of Nassau had produced many collateral lines in the course of its nearly one thousand year history. Up to the 18th century the three main lines were the small princedoms of Nassau-Usingen, Nassau-Weilburg, and Nassau-Dietz (later Orange-Nassau), with large, scattered territories in what is now the Netherlands and Belgium. From 1736, many treaties and agreements were made between the different lines (The Nassau Family Pact), which prevented further splitting of territories and enabled general political co-ordination between the branches. In this context, the administrative subdivisions of the individual territories were adjusted, laying the foundations for the later unification of the territories.

After the War of the First Coalition (1792-1797), Nassau-Dietz lost its possessions in Belgium and the Netherlands, while Nassau-Usingen and Nassau-Weilburg lost all their territories west of the Rhine to France. On the other hand, like other German secular principalities, the Nassaus gained territory that had formerly belonged to the church as a result of secularisation. The Nassaus participated in negotiations at the Second Congress of Rastatt (1797) and in Paris, in order to secure the territories of the Prince-Bishops of Mainz and Trier. The Imperial Recess of 1803 largely accorded with the desires of Nassau-Usingen and Nassau-Weilburg. Orange-Nassau had already agreed separate terms with Napoleon.

Nassau-Usingen had lost Saarbrücken, two-thirds of Saarwerden, Ottweiler, and some smaller territories (totalling 60,000 inhabitants and 447,000 guilders of income per year). In compensation, it received: from Mainz, Höchst, Königstein, Cronberg, Lahnstein and the Rheingau; from Cologne some districts on the east bank of the Rhine; from Bavaria, the sub-district of Kaub; from Hesse-Darmstadt, the lordship of Eppstein, Katzenelnbogen, and Braubach; from Prussia, Sayn-Altenkirchen, Sayn-Hachenburg; and several cloisters were received from Mainz. Thus Nassau-Usingen regained its lost population and increased its annual income by around 130,000 guilders.

Nassau-Weilburg lost Kirchheim, Stauf, and its third of Saarwerden (15,500 inhabitants and 178,000 guilders in revenue). For these, it received many small possessions of Trier, including Ehrenbreitstein, Vallendar, Sayn, Montabaur, Limburg an der Lahn, three abbeys, and the holdings of Limburg Cathedral. This totalled 37,000 inhabitants and 147,000 guilders of revenue.

In the course of these arrangments, the Kammergut of the Princely house was considerably extended to more than 52,000 hectares of forests and agricultural land. These domains encompassed 11.5% of the flat land and yielded around a million guilders per year - the largest part of their total income.

Even before the actual Imperial Recess, in September and October 1802, both principalities deployed troops in the territories of Cologne and Mainz that they had received. In November and December, after civilian officials had taken possession of the territory, new oaths were sworn by officials of the previous regimes and the new subjects. According to the reports of Nassau officials, the new administrations was welcomed, or at least accepted without protest, in most regions, since the Nassau principalities were considered very liberal, compared to the former ecclesiastical rulers. Between December 1802 and September 1803, the wealth monasteries and religious communities were disbanded. The closures of monasteries without possessions continued until 1817, since the state had to provide pensions to monks and converses after disbanding their communities. Between October 1803 and February 1804, the territories of many Imperial Knights and other possessors of Imperial immediacy were occupied and annexed. Only in August/September 1806 were these acquisitions confirmed by edict, affirmed by the treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine. This process encountered considerable resistance, led by the Imperial Knights, but this resistance had no serious consequences and ultimately failed, since the Nassau princes' seizures were enforced by French officials and soldiers.

On 17 July 1806, Prince Frederick Augustus of Nassau-Usingen and his cousin Prince Frederick William of Nassau-Weilburg joined the Confederation of the Rhine. Prince Frederick Augustus, the senior member of the House of Nassau received the title of Sovereign Duke of Nassau, while Frederick William was granted the title of Sovereign Prince of Nassau. Under pressure from Napoleon I both counties merged to form the Duchy of Nassau on 30 August 1806, under the joint rule of Frederick Augustus and Frederick William. This decision was encouraged by the fact that Frederick Augustus had no male heirs and Frederick William was thus in line to inherit his principality anyway.

In 1815, at the Congress of Vienna, there was a further territorial expansion. When the Orange-Nassau line received the Dutch crown on 31 May, they had to surrender the Principality of Orange-Nassau to Prussia, which passed part of it to the Duchy of Nassau the next day.

Frederick William died from a fall on the stairs at Schloss Weilburg on 9 January 1816, and it was his son William who became the first sole Duke of Nassau after Frederick Augustus' death on 24 March 1816.

Reform periodEdit

The Chief ministers in 1806 were Hans Christoph Ernst von Gagern and Ernst Franz Ludwig Marschall von Bieberstein. Von Gagern resigned in 1811, after which von Bieberstein served alone until his death in 1834.

A series of reforms were carried out in the first years of the Duchy: the abolition of serfdom in 1806, the introduction of freedom of movement in 1810, and a fundamental tax reform in 1812, which replaced 991 direct taxes with a single progressive tax on land and trade. Degrading corporal punishment was abolished and the Kulturverordnung (cultivation ordinance) promoted the autonomous management of soil and land. After a transitional period with four districts, the new Duchy was consolidated into three districts on 1 August 1809: Wiesbaden, Weilburg, and Ehrenbreitstein. In turn, these were abolished in 1816, with the establishment of Wiesbaden as sole capital. The number of Amt subdivisions was slowly reduced, from sixty-two in 1806 to forty-eight in 1812. Due to the religious heterogeneity of the territory, a system of "combined schools" was introduced on 24 March 1817. On 14 March 1818, a state-wide publich health system was established - the first such system in Germany.

Constitution of 1814Edit

On 2 September 1814, a constitution was promulgated. It was the first modern constitution in any of the German states. Because there was (very limited) parliamentary involvement in government, especially in taxation, it was considered to be a "Parliamentary Constitution" in the language of the day. The constitution guaranteed the freedom of the individual, religious tolerance, and the freedom of the press. It was heavily influenced by Heinrich Friedrich Karl vom und zum Stein, who originally came from Nassau and had substantial holdings there. The princes encouraged his involvement because he was part of the class of Imperial Knights who had been dispossessed by them and due to his involvement, the opposition of the Knights was diminished. However, the legislation of the Concert of Europe period, especially the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819, marked a new restriction of freedoms in Nassau as elsewhere.

In 28 December 1849, the constitution was replaced by a reformed constitution which took acount of the democratic demands of the German revolutions of 1848–49. On 25 November 1851, this constitution was repealed and the old constitution was restored.


Under the constitution of 1814, the Parliament (Landstände) of Nassau had two chambers: a chamber of deputies (Landesdeputiertenversammlung) and a house of lords (Herrenbank). The eleven members of the house of lords were all princes of the House of Nassau or representatives of the nobility. The twenty-two members of the chamber of deputies were mostly elected by census suffrage, but had to be land owners, except for three representatives of ecclesiastics and one representative of teachers.

Only four years after the establishment of the constitution, in 1818, did the first election in the Duchy take place. As a result, Parliament was prevented from playing a role in the establishment of the Duchy. The electorate consisted of 39 nobles, 1448 owners of substantial amounts of land, and 128 wealthy citydwellers. Given that the population of the Duchy at the time was about 287,000, this was a tiny number of electors.

The Parliament met for the first time on 3 March 1818.

The Nassau Domain disputeEdit

A flask of mineral water from Niederselters, an important business of the Nassau domain

At the foundation of the Duchy, Minister von Bieberstein established a strong fiscal distinction between the treasury of the general domain and that of the regional taxes. The domain, which included court estates and land, and mineral water springs, as well as the tithe and other feudal dues, was the property of the Ducal House, which could not be used for paying state expenses and which Parliament had no power over. Even in the very earliest years of the Duchy, this system was loudly criticised. The parliamentary president Carl Friedrich Emil von Ibell in particular complained about this in letters to Bieberstein and petitions to the Duke, with ever greater frequency. His hostile position was one of the justifications for his impeachment in 1821.

End of the DuchyEdit

After the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, Nassau was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia and incorporated as the Wiesbaden Region into the Province of Hesse-Nassau. William's son Adolphe, the last Duke of Nassau, received Luxembourg after the male line of Orange-Nassau became extinct in 1890.[1]


  1. ^ "Image Gallery of the Coins of Nassau". Retrieved 5 April 2017.