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Coat of arms of Holstein: a stylised nettle leaf; similar to the coat of arms of Schaumburg Holstein Arms.svg
Coat of arms of Holstein: a stylised nettle leaf; similar to the coat of arms of Schaumburg

Holstein (German pronunciation: [ˈhɔlʃtaɪn] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ); Northern Low Saxon : Holsteen; Danish : Holsten; Latin and historical English: Holsatia) is the region between the rivers Elbe and Eider. It is the southern half of Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost state of Germany.


Holstein once existed as the German County of Holstein (German: Grafschaft Holstein; 811–1474), the later Duchy of Holstein (German: Herzogtum Holstein; 1474–1866), and was the northernmost territory of the Holy Roman Empire. The history of Holstein is closely intertwined with the history of the Danish Duchy of Schleswig (Danish: Slesvig). The capital of Holstein is Kiel.

Holstein's name comes from the Holcetae, a Saxon tribe mentioned by Adam of Bremen as living on the north bank of the Elbe, to the west of Hamburg. The name means "dwellers in the wood" (Northern Low Saxon: Hol(t)saten; German: Holzsassen).

The Limes Saxoniae Limes.saxoniae.wmt.png
The Limes Saxoniae



After the Migration Period of the Early Middle Ages, Holstein was adjacent to the Obotrites on the coast of the Baltic Sea and the land of the Danes in Jutland.

With the conquest of Old Saxony by Charlemagne circa 800, he granted the land north of the Eider River (Schleswig) to the Danes by the Treaty of Heiligen signed in 811. The ownership of what would late become eastern Holstein (districts of Plön and Ostholstein) was given to the Obotrites, namely the Wagrians, and the Saxon elite was deported to various areas of the empire. After 814, however, the Saxons were restored to Western Holstein. The Wagrians were pushed out of the Limes Saxoniae - the new border running from the Elbe River near Boizenburg northwards along the Bille River to the mouth of the Schwentine at the Kiel Fjord and the Baltic Sea. For the following 300 years, Holstein continued to be a part of Saxony.

The County of Holstein

Undivided Holstein by 1250 with neighbouring states Grafschaften Holstein Ratzeburg Schwerin Dannenberg Luechow 1250.png
Undivided Holstein by 1250 with neighbouring states

The new county of Holstein was established in 1111; it was first a fief of the Duchy of Saxony, then of the Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg, and finally of the Prince-Bishopric of Lübeck. With the establishment of the new territorial unit, expansion to the East began and the Wagrians were finally defeated in 1138.

The County of Holstein was ruled by the House of Schaumburg; the first count was Adolf I, Count of Holstein. Holstein was temporarily occupied by Denmark after the Battle of Stellau (1201), but was reconquered by the Count of Schauenburg and his allies in the Battle of Bornhöved (1227).

Partitions of the County of Holstein (1111–1474)

The Counts of Schauenburg and Holstein partitioned Holstein several times among the inheriting sons into up to six lines, named after their towns of residence:

In 1386 King Oluf II of Denmark and his mother-regent, Queen Margaret I, enfeoffed in Nyborg Gerhard VI, Count of Holstein-Rendsburg and his cognatic successors with the Duchy of Schleswig. [1] He thus became as Gerhard II duke of Schleswig. Until 1390 the Rendsburg branch united by inheritance all branches except of that of Holstein-Pinneberg.

When the Holstein-Rendsburg line of the Schauenburg counts became extinct with the death of Adolf VIII of Holstein-Rendsburg (and in personal union as Adolf I Duke of Schleswig) in 1459, Christian I of Denmark inherited – from his maternal uncle Adolf I – the Duchy of Schleswig, a Danish fief. Through the Treaty of Ribe (1460) Christian was elected Count of Holstein-Rendsburg, then still a Saxe-Lauenburgian subfief within the Holy Roman Empire.

The Duchy of Holstein

The Duchy of Holstein in 1477 Holstein 1477.png
The Duchy of Holstein in 1477
The Duchy of Holstein in the 15th century Holstein 1500.png
The Duchy of Holstein in the 15th century

In 1474 Lauenburg's liege lord, the German Emperor Frederick III, elevated Christian I as Count of Holstein-Rendsburg to Duke of Holstein, thus becoming an immediate imperial ( reichsunmittelbar ) vassal (see imperial immediacy). The Duchy of Holstein retained that status until the dissolution of the Empire in 1806.

Partitions of the Duchy of Holstein (1474–1866)

In 1490, the Duchy of Holstein was divided into Holstein-Segeberg and Holstein-Gottorp. Holstein-Segeberg remained with the Danish king and was also known as Royal Holstein; later it came to be known as Holstein-Glückstadt. Holstein-Gottorp, also known as Ducal Holstein, was given to a cadet branch of the House of Oldenburg, to which the kings of Denmark belonged.

Between 1533 and 1544 King Christian III of Denmark ruled the entire Duchies of Holstein and of Schleswig also in the name of his then still minor half-brothers John the Elder and Adolf. In 1544 they partitioned the Duchies of Holstein (a fief of the Holy Roman Empire) and of Schleswig (a Danish fief) in an unusual way, following negotiations between the brothers and the Estates of the Realm of the duchies, which had constituted in 1460 by the Treaty of Ribe and strictly opposed a factual partition. The elder three brothers determined their youngest brother Frederick for a career as Lutheran administrator of an ecclesiastical state within the Holy Roman Empire. [2]

So the revenues of the duchies were divided in three equal shares by assigning the revenues of particular areas and landed estates to each of the elder brothers, while other general revenues, such as taxes from towns and customs dues, were levied together but then shared among the brothers. The estates, whose revenues were assigned to the parties, made Holstein and Schleswig look like patchworks, technically inhibiting the emergence of separate new duchies, as intended by the estates of the duchies. The secular rule in the fiscally divided duchies thus became a condominium of the parties. As dukes of Holstein and Schleswig the rulers of both houses bore the formal title of "Duke of Schleswig, Holstein, Ditmarsh and Stormarn". The three shares are usually called:

The dynastic name Holstein-Gottorp comes as convenient usage from the technically more correct Duke of Schleswig and Holstein at Gottorp. Adolf, the third son of Duke and King Frederick I and the second youngest half-brother of King Christian III, founded the dynastic branch called House of Holstein-Gottorp, which is a cadet branch of the then royal Danish House of Oldenburg. The Danish monarchs and the Dukes of Holstein-Gottorp ruled both duchies together as to general government, however, collected their revenues in their separate estates. John the Elder conveniently called Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Haderslev produced no issue, so no branch emerged from his side.

Similar to the above-mentioned agreement Christian III's youngest son John the Younger gained for him and his heirs a share in Holstein's and Schleswig's revenues in 1564, comprising a third of the royal share, thus a ninth of Holstein and Schleswig as to the fiscal point of view. John the Younger and his heirs, however, had no share in the condominial rule, so they were not ruling but mere titular dukes.

The share of John the Elder, who died in 1581, was halved between Adolf and Frederick II, thus increasing again the royal share by a fiscal sixth of Holstein and Schleswig. [3] As an effect the complicated fiscal division of both separate duchies, Holstein and Schleswig, with shares of each party scattered in both duchies, provided them with a condominial government binding both together, partially superseding their legally different affiliation as Holy Roman and Danish fiefs.

The County of Holstein-Pinneberg, which had remained a separately ruled territory in Holstein until its line was extinct in 1640, was merged into the then royal share of the Duchy of Holstein. The Duke of Holstein-Gottorp became emperor of Russia in 1762 as Peter III and was planning an attack on Denmark to recover the Holstein-Gottorp lands possessions in Schleswig, which were seized by the Danish king in 1713. Although Peter was soon overthrown by his wife, Catherine the Great, the Danes determined to rid themselves of this problem. In 1773, they exchanged the County of Oldenburg for the Gottorp lands in Holstein, bringing all of Holstein under their control. Thus, Holstein was again united in one state.

The territory of Holstein was enlarged by the conquest of the independent Republic of Dithmarschen in 1559, which was divided among the three ducal houses. After 1581 the southern part remained to the Danish Crown, the northern part was ruled by the House of Gottorp until 1773.

United Holstein

With the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 Holstein's imperial vassal status turned void. It thus became a sovereign state. Because of its personal union with Denmark, the Duchy of Holstein did not come under French occupation during the Napoleonic era (however, the neighboring duchy of Lauenburg was annexed by France in 1811 and became a part of Bouches-de-l'Elbe). From 1815 to 1864 it was a member of the German Confederation, though still in personal union with Denmark (the King of Denmark being also Duke of Holstein).

Map of the Duchy of Holstein, 1815-66 1866 Black Holstein.jpg
Map of the Duchy of Holstein, 1815-66

Following the death of King Frederick VII of Denmark (House of Oldenburg) in 1863, the inheritance of Schleswig and Holstein was disputed. The new king, Christian IX (House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, a cadet branch of the House of Oldenburg), made his claim to the Danish throne through a female line. The Duke of Augustenborg, a minor scion from another cadet line of the House of Oldenburg, claimed the Duchies, and soon the German Confederation, led by Prussia and Austria, went to the Second Schleswig War with Denmark, quickly defeating it in 1864 and forcing it to cede the duchies.

However, the duchies were not given to the Duke of Augustenborg. In 1865 an arrangement was worked out between Prussia and Austria where the Austrians occupied and administered Holstein, while the Prussians did the same in Schleswig. This arrangement came to an end with the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, which resulted in Schleswig and Holstein both being incorporated into Prussia as the Province of Schleswig-Holstein. Holstein, meanwhile including former Saxe-Lauenburg (as of 1876) and the former Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck and Region of Lübeck (both as of 1937) regained statehood, now united with Schleswig, in 1946, when the British occupation government elevated the province to the State of Schleswig-Holstein, followed by the official dissolution of Prussia in 1947.

Map of Jutland and Northernmost Germany showing Schleswig and Holstein in today's Schleswig-Holstein Jutland Peninsula map.PNG
Map of Jutland and Northernmost Germany showing Schleswig and Holstein in today's Schleswig-Holstein

For a list of rulers, see Counts of Schauenburg and Holstein and List of rulers of Schleswig-Holstein .


As of 1864, Holstein bordered Denmark in the north, the Principality of Lübeck (formerly the Prince-Bishopric of Lübeck, an exclave of the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg), the Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck, and the Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg in the east, and the Kingdom of Hanover and the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg in the south. It also borders the North Sea in the west and the Baltic Sea in the east. Its only major island is Fehmarn, originally a part of the Duchy of Schleswig until 1867.

Cities in Holstein included Kiel, Altona, Glückstadt, Rendsburg, Segeberg, Heiligenhafen, Oldenburg in Holstein, and Plön. It had an area of 8,385 km2.


  1. Neighbours clockwise starting in the West: Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen (purple), Danish Schleswig (orange shadowed), Prince-Bishopric of Lübeck (purple), Free Imperial City of Lübeck (yellow), Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg (green), Duchy of Brunswick and Lunenburg (pink).

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Adolphus VIII, Count of Holstein

Adolphus XI of Schauenburg, as Adolph I Duke of Schleswig, and as Adolph VIII Count of Holstein-Rendsburg, was the mightiest vassal of the Danish realm.

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Counts of Schauenburg and Holstein

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House of Schaumburg

The House of Schaumburg was a dynasty of German rulers. Until c. 1485, it was also known as the House of Schauenburg. Together with its ancestral possession, the County of Schaumburg, the family also ruled the County of Holstein and its partitions Holstein-Itzehoe, Holstein-Kiel, Holstein-Pinneberg, Holstein-Plön, Holstein-Segeberg and Holstein-Rendsburg and through the latter at times also the Duchy of Schleswig.

Duchy of Holstein Territory of the Holy Roman Empire

The Duchy of Holstein was the northernmost state of the Holy Roman Empire, located in the present German state of Schleswig-Holstein. It originated when King Christian I of Denmark had his County of Holstein-Rendsburg elevated to a duchy by Emperor Frederick III in 1474. Members of the Danish House of Oldenburg ruled Holstein – jointly with the Duchy of Schleswig – for its entire existence.

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Holstein-Glückstadt or Schleswig-Holstein-Glückstadt is the historiographical name, as well as contemporary shorthand name, for the parts of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein that were ruled by the Kings of Denmark in their function as dukes of Schleswig and Holstein, thus also known as Royal Schleswig-Holstein. Other parts of the duchies were ruled by the Dukes of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp. The territories of Holstein-Glückstadt are located in present-day Denmark and Germany. The main centre of administration was Segeberg and from 1648 Glückstadt on the River Elbe.

The Chronicon Holtzatiae auctore presbytero Bremensi is a Latin universal chronicle from the year 1448, but concentrating on the County of Holstein and written by an anonymous presbyter of Bremen originally from Holstein. It has received three modern editions, the first by the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in 1698. Other than that it has been rather neglected by medievalists; its Latin is poor and its author imaginative.


Holstein-Plön was the name of a county ruled by the House of Schauenburg that ruled in Holstein and Stormarn from 1110/11. The county emerged before 1295 when the County of Holstein-Itzehoe was partitioned after the death of Count Gerhard I of Holstein-Itzehoe into the counties of Holstein-Plön, Holstein-Pinneberg and Holstein-Rendsburg.

Gerhard VI, Count of Holstein-Rendsburg

Gerhard VI was the Count of Holstein-Rendsburg from 1382, and Duke of Schleswig as of 1386.

Gerhard I, Count of Holstein-Itzehoe

Gerhard I, Count of Holstein-Itzehoe was the only count of Holstein-Itzehoe.

John I, Count of Holstein-Kiel

John I, Count of Holstein-Kiel was a member of the House of Schauenburg. He was Count of Holstein-Kiel from 1261 until his death.

Nicholas, Count of Holstein-Rendsburg

Nicholas, Count of Schauenburg and Holstein-Rendsburg was a titular Count of Schauenburg. Together first with his brother and then with his nephews, Nicholas was the co-ruling Count of Holstein-Rendsburg from 1340 until his death. In 1390 Nicholas and his nephews inherited Holstein-Kiel, which itself included former Holstein-Plön through reversion in 1350. So except of Holstein-Pinneberg Nicholas and his nephews had united all of Holstein. He was also co-ruler of Schleswig from 1375 to 1386. He was thus a leading member of the House of Schauenburg and an influential figure in the area north of the Elbe. He was the second son of Count Gerhard III of Holstein-Rendsburg and his wife, Sophia of Werle.


The County of Holstein-Pinneberg was a small territory which existed from 1290 until 1640, centred around Pinneberg in modern-day Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

The imperial county of Holstein-Kiel was a line of the House of Schauenburg and Holstein from 1261 to 1390.


  1. Esben Albrectsen, "Das Abel-Geschlecht und die Schauenburger als Herzöge von Schleswig", Marion Hartwig and Frauke Witte (trls.), in: Die Fürsten des Landes: Herzöge und Grafen von Schleswig, Holstein und Lauenburg [De slevigske hertuger; German], Carsten Porskrog Rasmussen (ed.) on behalf of the Gesellschaft für Schleswig-Holsteinische Geschichte, Neumünster: Wachholtz, 2008, pp. 52-71, here pp. 63seq. ISBN   978-3-529-02606-5
  2. In 1551 Frederick became administrator of the Prince-Bishopric of Hildesheim, comprising ecclesiastical and secular power, and, however, lacking secular power Bishop of Schleswig with the pertaining revenues from episcopal estates.
  3. Cf. Carsten Porskrog Rasmussen, "Die dänischen Könige als Herzöge von Schleswig und Holstein", Frauke Witte and Marion Hartwig (trls.), in: Die Fürsten des Landes: Herzöge und Grafen von Schleswig, Holstein und Lauenburg [De slevigske hertuger; German], Carsten Porskrog Rasmussen (ed.) on behalf of the Gesellschaft für Schleswig-Holsteinische Geschichte, Neumünster: Wachholtz, 2008, pp. 73–109, here pp. 87seq. ISBN   978-3-529-02606-5

Coordinates: 54°10′00″N9°40′00″E / 54.1667°N 9.66667°E / 54.1667; 9.66667