Confederation of the Rhine

The Confederated States of the Rhine,[lower-alpha 1] simply known as the Confederation of the Rhine,[lower-alpha 2] also known as Napoleonic Germany, was a confederation of German client states established at the behest of Napoleon some months after he defeated Austria and Russia at the Battle of Austerlitz. Its creation brought about the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire shortly afterward. The Confederation of the Rhine lasted from 1806 to 1813.[1]

Confederated States of the Rhine
Rheinische Bundesstaaten (German)
États confédérés du Rhin (French)
Commemorative medal
The Confederation of the Rhine in 1812
StatusClient state of the French Empire
Common languagesGerman, French
GovernmentConfederated French client states
Napoleon I
Karl von Dalberg
E. 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
Today part ofGermany

The founding members of the confederation were German princes of the Holy Roman Empire. They were later joined by 19 others, altogether ruling a total of over 15 million subjects. This granted a significant strategic advantage to the French Empire on its eastern frontier by providing a buffer between France and the two largest German states, Prussia and Austria (which also controlled substantial non-German lands).


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] The "Protector of the Confederation" was a hereditary office of the Emperor of the French, Napoleon. 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.

Chart for the structure of the Confederation as projected in 1806

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. Several member states were also enlarged with the absorption of the territories of Imperial counts and knights who were mediatized at that time. They had to pay a very high price for their new status, however. The Confederation was above all a military alliance; the member states 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] The west bank of the Rhine and the Principality of Erfurt had been annexed outright by the French Empire. Thus, as either emperor of the French or protector of the Confederation of the Rhine, Napoleon was now the overlord of all of Germany except Austria, Prussia, Danish Holstein, and Swedish Pomerania, plus previously independent Switzerland, which were not included in the Confederation.

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 invasion of 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 before he was appointed King of Naples in 1808, and then by Napoleon himself. The third model state was the Grand Duchy of Frankfurt, which was run by the house of 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, such as the Napoleonic Code.
  • 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. Opposition to the emperor would have been possible only by renouncing the power that he had given to them. "He had not made 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 modernization 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]

Member states of the Confederation of the Rhine
1808 (greatest extent)

College of Kings

Member monarchy Year joined Notes
Grand Duchy of Baden 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former margraviate-electorate (8,000)
Kingdom of Bavaria 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former duchy-electorate (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-electorate (4,000)
Principality of Regensburg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; formerly Prince-Archbishopric and Electorate; after 1810 the Grand Duchy of Frankfurt (968 of 4,000)
Kingdom of Saxony 11 Dec 1806 Former duchy-electorate (20,000)
Kingdom of Westphalia 15 Nov 1807 Napoleonic creation (25,000)
Kingdom of Württemberg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former duchy-electorate (12,000)
Grand Duchy of Würzburg 23 Sep 1806 Napoleonic creation (2,000) for former Grand duke of Tuscany and Elector of Salzburg

College of Princes

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 and 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.[8]

See also


Explanatory notes

  1. German: Rheinische Bundesstaaten; French: États confédérés du Rhin
  2. German: Rheinbund; French: Confédération du Rhin


  1. 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
  8. "The First Treaty of Paris, 30 May 1814". Retrieved 12 May 2021.
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