House of Welf

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House of Welf (Guelf, Guelph)
Coat of Arms of Brunswick-Luneburg.svg
Parent house House of Este (agnatic)
Elder House of Welf (cognatic)
Country Germany, Italy, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Founded11th century
Founder Welf I, Duke of Bavaria
Current head Ernst August, Prince of Hanover
Final ruler Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick
Estate(s)Brunswick & Hanover
Deposition1918 (in Germany)
Cadet branches House of Hanover
The possessions of the Welfs in the days of Henry the Lion Guelf c12.jpg
The possessions of the Welfs in the days of Henry the Lion

The House of Welf (also Guelf or Guelph [1] ) is a European dynasty that has included many German and British monarchs from the 11th to 20th century and Emperor Ivan VI of Russia in the 18th century.

Dynasty sequence of rulers considered members of the same family

A dynasty is a sequence of rulers from the same family, usually in the context of a feudal or monarchical system, but sometimes also appearing in elective republics. Alternative terms for "dynasty" may include "house", "family" and "clan", among others. The longest-surviving dynasty in the world is the Imperial House of Japan, otherwise known as the Yamato dynasty, whose reign is traditionally dated to 660 BC.

A monarch is a sovereign head of state in a monarchy. A monarch may exercise the highest authority and power in the state, or others may wield that power on behalf of the monarch. Typically a monarch either personally inherits the lawful right to exercise the state's sovereign rights or is selected by an established process from a family or cohort eligible to provide the nation's monarch. Alternatively, an individual may become monarch by conquest, acclamation or a combination of means. A monarch usually reigns for life or until abdication.

Ivan VI of Russia Emperor of Russia

Ivan VI Antonovich of Russia was Emperor of Russia in 1740–41. He was only two months old when he was proclaimed emperor and his mother named regent. Scarcely a year later his first cousin twice-removed, Elizabeth, seized the throne in a coup. Ivan and his parents were imprisoned far from the capital and spent the rest of their lives in captivity. After more than twenty years as a prisoner, Ivan was killed by his guards when some army officers attempted to free him. His surviving siblings, who had been born in prison, then were released into the custody of their aunt, the Queen of Denmark, but none could live normally after a lifetime of confinement.



The House of Welf is the older branch of the House of Este, a dynasty whose earliest known members lived in Lombardy in the late 9th/early 10th century, sometimes called Welf-Este. The first member was Welf I, Duke of Bavaria; he inherited the property of the Elder House of Welf when his maternal uncle Welf III, Duke of Carinthia and Verona, the last male Welf of the Elder House, died in 1055. Welf IV was the son of Welf III's sister Kunigunde of Altdorf and her husband Albert Azzo II, Margrave of Milan. In 1070, Welf IV became duke of Bavaria.

House of Este Old Italian noble family, dynastic House

The House of Este is a European princely dynasty.

Lombardy Region of Italy

Lombardy is one of the twenty administrative regions of Italy, in the northwest of the country, with an area of 23,844 square kilometres (9,206 sq mi). About 10 million people, forming one-sixth of Italy's population, live in Lombardy and about a fifth of Italy's GDP is produced in the region, making it the most populous and richest region in the country and one of the richest regions in Europe. Milan, Lombardy's capital, is the second-largest city and the largest metropolitan area in Italy.

Welf I, Duke of Bavaria Duke of Bavaria

Welf I was Duke of Bavaria from 1070 to 1077 and from 1096 to his death. He was the first member of the Welf branch of the House of Este. In the genealogy of the Elder House of Welf he is counted as Welf IV.

Welf II, Duke of Bavaria married Countess Matilda of Tuscany, who died childless and left him her possessions, including Tuscany, Ferrara, Modena, Mantua, and Reggio, which played a role in the Investiture Controversy. Since the Welf dynasty sided with the Pope in this controversy, partisans of the Pope came to be known in Italy as Guelphs (Guelfi).

Welf II, Duke of Bavaria Duke of Bavaria

Welf II, or Welfhard, called Welf the Fat (pinguis), was Duke of Bavaria from 1101 until his death. In the Welf genealogy, he is counted as Welf V.

Matilda of Tuscany Italian feudal margrave of Tuscany, ruler in northern Italy and the chief Italian supporter of Pope Gregory VII during the Investiture Controversy

Matilda of Tuscany was a powerful feudal Margravine of Tuscany, ruler in northern Italy and the chief Italian supporter of Pope Gregory VII during the Investiture Controversy; in addition, she was one of the few medieval women to be remembered for her military accomplishments, thanks to which she was able to dominate all the territories north of the Papal States.

Tuscany Region of Italy

Tuscany is a region in central Italy with an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.8 million inhabitants (2013). The regional capital is Florence (Firenze).

Kunigunde of Altdorf member of the Swabian line of the Elder House of Welf. She was also the ancestress of the younger House of Guelph

Kunigunde of Altdorf was a member of the Swabian line of the Elder House of Welf. She was also the ancestress of the younger House of Guelph, a cadet branch of the House of Este.

Albert Azzo II, Margrave of Milan Margrave of Milan

Alberto Azzo II, Margrave of Milan, and Liguria, Count of Gavello and Padua, Rovigo, Lunigiana, Monselice, and Montagnana, was a powerful nobleman in the Holy Roman Empire. He is considered the founder of Casa d'Este, having been head of the first family to be master of Este, a town of Padua.

Bavaria and Saxony

Henry IX, Duke of Bavaria, from 1120–1126, was the first of the three dukes of the Welf dynasty called Henry. His wife Wulfhild was the heiress of the house of Billung, possessing the territory around Lüneburg in Lower Saxony. Their son, Henry the Proud was the son-in-law and heir of Lothair II, Holy Roman Emperor and became also duke of Saxony on Lothair's death. Lothair left his territory around Brunswick, inherited from his mother of the Brunonids, to his daughter Gertrud. Her husband Henry the Proud became then the favoured candidate in the imperial election against Conrad III of the Hohenstaufen. But Henry lost the election, as the other princes feared his power and temperament, and was dispossessed of his duchies by Conrad III. Henry's brother Welf VI (1115–1191), Margrave of Tuscany, later left his Swabian territories around Ravensburg, the original possessions of the Elder House of Welf, to his nephew Emperor Frederick I and thus to the House of Hohenstaufen.

Henry IX, Duke of Bavaria Duke of Bavaria

Henry IX, called the Black, a member of the House of Welf, was Duke of Bavaria from 1120 to 1126.

Wulfhilde of Saxony German duchess

Wulfhilde Billung of Saxony was the eldest daughter of Magnus, Duke of Saxony and his wife, Sophia of Hungary.

The House of Billung was a dynasty of Saxon noblemen in the 9th through 12th centuries.

Henry X, Duke of Bavaria Duke of Bavaria, Duke of Saxony and Spoleto

Henry the Proud, a member of the House of Welf, was Duke of Bavaria from 1126 to 1138 and Duke of Saxony as well as Margrave of Tuscany and Duke of Spoleto from 1137 until his death. In 1138 he was a candidate for the election as King of the Romans but was defeated by Conrad of Hohenstaufen.

Lothair II, Holy Roman Emperor German royalty; Holy Roman Emperor

Lothair II or Lothair III, known as Lothair of Supplinburg, was Holy Roman Emperor from 1133 until his death. He was appointed Duke of Saxony in 1106 and elected King of Germany in 1125 before being crowned emperor in Rome. The son of the Saxon count Gebhard of Supplinburg, his reign was troubled by the constant intriguing of the Hohenstaufens, Duke Frederick II of Swabia and Duke Conrad of Franconia. He died while returning from a successful campaign against the Norman Kingdom of Sicily.

Welf VI German duke

Welf VI was the margrave of Tuscany (1152–1162) and duke of Spoleto (1152–1162), the third son of Henry IX, Duke of Bavaria, and a member of the illustrious family of the Welf.

The next duke of the Welf dynasty Henry the Lion recovered his father's two duchies, Saxony in 1142, Bavaria in 1156 and thus ruled vast parts of Germany. In 1168 he married Matilda (1156–1189), the daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and sister of Richard I of England, gaining ever more influence. His first cousin, Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, tried to get along with him, but when Henry refused to assist him once more in an Italian war campaign, conflict became inevitable. Dispossessed of his duchies after the Battle of Legnano in 1176 by Emperor Frederick I and the other princes of the German Empire eager to claim parts of his vast territories, he was exiled to the court of his father-in-law Henry II in Normandy in 1180, but returned to Germany three years later. Henry made his peace with the Hohenstaufen Emperor in 1185, and returned to his much diminished lands around Brunswick without recovering his two duchies. Bavaria had been given to Otto I, Duke of Bavaria, and the Duchy of Saxony was divided between the Archbishop of Cologne, the House of Ascania and others. Henry died at Brunswick in 1195.

Brunswick and Hanover

Henry the Lion's son Otto of Brunswick was elected King of the Romans and crowned Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV after years of further conflicts with the Hohenstaufen emperors. He incurred the wrath of Pope Innocent III and was excommunicated in 1215. Otto was forced to abdicate the imperial throne by the Hohenstaufen Frederick II. [2] He was the only Welf to become emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

Coat-of-arms of the Duchy of Brunswick-Luneburg Brunswijk wapen.svg
Coat-of-arms of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg

Henry the Lion's grandson Otto the Child became duke of a part of Saxony in 1235, the new Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and died there in 1252. The duchy was divided several times during the High Middle Ages amongst various lines of the House of Welf. The subordinate states had the legal status of principalities within the duchy, which remained as an undivided imperial fief. Each state was generally named after the ruler's residence, e.g., the rulers of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel originally lived in Wolfenbüttel.

Whenever a branch of the family died out in the male line, the territory was given to another line, as the duchy remained enfeoffed to the family as a whole rather than its individual members. All members of the House of Welf, male or female, bore the title Duke/Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg in addition to the style of the subordinate principality. [3] By 1705, the subordinate principalities had taken their final form as the Electorate of Hanover and the Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and these would become the Kingdom of Hanover and the Duchy of Brunswick after the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel

In 1269 the Principality of Brunswick was formed following the first division of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg. In 1432, as a result of increasing tensions with the townsfolk of Brunswick, the Brunswick Line moved their residence to Wolfenbüttel Castle, thus the name Wolfenbüttel became the unofficial name of this principality. With Ivan VI of Russia the Brunswick line even had a short intermezzo on the Russian imperial throne in 1740. Not until 1754 was the residence moved back to Brunswick, into the new Brunswick Palace. In 1814 the principality became the Duchy of Brunswick, ruled by the senior branch of the House of Welf.

Principality of Calenberg – later Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg

Coat of Arms of the Electorate of Brunswick-Luneburg (1708) Coat of Arms of George I Louis, Elector of Hanover (1708-1714).svg
Coat of Arms of the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1708)

In 1432 the estates gained by the Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel between the Deister and Leine split away as the Principality of Calenberg. In 1495 it was expanded around Göttingen and in 1584 went back to the Wolfenbüttel Line. In 1634, as a result of inheritance distributions, it went to the House of Luneburg residing at Celle Castle. In 1635 it was given to George, younger brother of Prince Ernest II of Lüneburg, who chose Hanover as his residence. New territory was added in 1665, and in 1705 the Principality of Luneburg was taken over by the Hanoverians. In 1692 Duke Ernest Augustus from the Calenberg-Hanover Line acquired the right to be a prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire as the Prince-Elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Colloquially the Electorate was known as the Electorate of Hanover. In 1814 it was succeeded by the Kingdom of Hanover.

British succession

Religion-driven politics brought about Ernest Augustus's wife Sophia of the Palatinate being in the line of succession to the British crown by the Settlement Act of 1701, written to ensure a Protestant succession to the thrones of Scotland and England at a time when anti-Catholic sentiment ran high in much of Northern Europe and Great Britain. But Sophia died shortly before her first cousin once removed, Anne, Queen of Great Britain, the last sovereign of the House of Stuart. Sophia's son George I succeeded queen Anne and formed a personal union from 1714 between the British crown and the Electorate of Hanover, which lasted until well after the end of the Napoleonic Wars more than a century later, through the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the rise of a new successor kingdom. The British royal family became known as the House of Hanover.

Kingdom of Hanover

The "Electorate of Hanover" (the core duchy) was enlarged with the addition of other lands and became the Kingdom of Hanover in 1814 at the Congress of Vienna. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the Kingdom was ruled as personal union by the British crown from its creation under George III of the United Kingdom, the last elector of Hanover until the death of William IV in 1837. At that point, the crown of Hanover went to William's younger brother, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale under the Salic law requiring the next male heir to inherit, whereas the British throne was inherited by an elder brother's only daughter, Queen Victoria. Her offspring belong to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha: in 1917 the name was changed to the House of Windsor.

The Kingdom of Hanover was lost in 1866 by Ernest Augustus's son George V of Hanover, Austria's ally during the Austro-Prussian War, when it was annexed by Prussia after Austria's defeat, and became the Prussian province of Hanover. The Welfs went into exile at Gmunden, Austria, where they built Cumberland Castle.

Brunswick succession

Coat-of-arms of the Duchy of Brunswick Coat of Arms of the Duchy of Brunswick.svg
Coat-of-arms of the Duchy of Brunswick

The senior line of the dynasty had ruled the much smaller principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, created the sovereign Duchy of Brunswick in 1814. This line became extinct in 1884. Although the Duchy should have been inherited by the Duke of Cumberland, son of the last king of Hanover, Prussian suspicions of his loyalty led the duchy's throne to remain vacant until 1913, when the Duke of Cumberland's son, Ernst August, married the daughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II and was allowed to inherit it. His rule there was short-lived, as the monarchy came to an end following the First World War in 1918.

The Welf dynasty continues to exist. The last member sitting on a European throne was Frederica of Hanover, Queen of Greece († 1981), mother of Queen Sofia of Spain and King Constantine II of Greece. Frederica's brother Prince George William of Hanover married Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark, sister of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The House's head is Queen Frederica's nephew Ernst August, the third and present husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco.

Early Welf princes (1070–1269)

Dukes of Bavaria and Saxony

Count Palatine of the Rhine

Holy Roman Emperor

Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg

Welf family tree 12th century

Staufen dynasty.JPG

Welf family tree 11th century to present

Family Tree of House of Welf Brunswick and Hanover copy.png

See also

Related Research Articles

Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg Duchy in Holy Roman Emprie 1235-1269; title of "Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg" used by rulers of all successor states

The Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, or more properly the Duchy of Brunswick and Lüneburg, was a historical duchy that existed from the late Middle Ages to the Early Modern era within the Holy Roman Empire. The duchy was located in what is now northwestern Germany. Its name came from the two largest cities in the territory: Brunswick and Lüneburg.

Principality of Calenberg principality

The Principality of Calenberg was a dynastic division of the Welf duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg established in 1432. Calenberg was ruled by the House of Hanover from 1635 onwards; the princes received the ninth electoral dignity of the Holy Roman Empire in 1692. Their territory became the nucleus of the Electorate of Hanover, ruled in personal union with the Kingdom of Great Britain from 1714 onwards. The principality received its name from Calenberg Castle, a residence of the Brunswick dukes.

Duchy of Saxony duchy

The Duchy of Saxony was originally the area settled by the Saxons in the late Early Middle Ages, when they were subdued by Charlemagne during the Saxon Wars from 772 and incorporated into the Carolingian Empire (Francia) by 804. Upon the 843 Treaty of Verdun, Saxony was one of the five German stem duchies of East Francia; Duke Henry the Fowler was elected German king in 919.

Hanover is a territory that was at various times a principality within the Holy Roman Empire, an Electorate within the same, an independent Kingdom, and a subordinate Province within the Kingdom of Prussia. The territory was named after its capital, the city of Hanover, which was the principal town of the region from 1636. In contemporary usage, the name is only used for the city; most of the historical territory of Hanover forms the greater part of the German Land of Lower Saxony but excludes certain areas.

Duchy of Brunswick duchy in Germany

The Duchy of Brunswick was a historical German state. Its capital was the city of Brunswick (Braunschweig). It was established as the successor state of the Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In the course of the 19th-century history of Germany, the duchy was part of the German Confederation, the North German Confederation and from 1871 the German Empire. It was disestablished after the end of World War I, its territory incorporated into the Weimar Republic as the Free State of Brunswick.

Principality of Göttingen

The Principality of Göttingen was a subdivision of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg in the Holy Roman Empire, with Göttingen as its capital. It was split off from the Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in 1286 in the course of an estate division among members of the ruling House of Welf. In 1495 the Göttingen lands were incorporated as integral part of the newly established Brunswick Principality of Calenberg, with which they stayed united until the territory was merged into the Electorate of Hanover.

The Principality of Grubenhagen was a subdivision of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, ruled by the Grubenhagen line of the House of Welf from 1291. It is also known as Brunswick-Grubenhagen. The principality fell to the Brunswick Principality of Lüneburg in 1617; from 1665 the territory was ruled by the Calenberg branch of the Welf dynasty.

William of Winchester, Lord of Lunenburg Lord of Luneburg

William of Winchester, also called in English William of Lunenburg or William Longsword, a member of the House of Welf, was heir to his family's allodial lands in the Duchy of Saxony after the deposition of his father, Duke Henry the Lion in 1180.

Otto I, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg German duke

Otto I of Brunswick-Lüneburg, a member of the House of Welf, was the first duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg from 1235 until his death. He is called Otto the Child to distinguish him from his uncle, Emperor Otto IV.

Louis Rudolph, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel

Louis Rudolph, a member of the House of Welf, was Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and ruling Prince of Wolfenbüttel from 1731 until his death. Since 1707, he ruled as an immediate Prince of Blankenburg.

Magnus I (1304–1369), called the Pious, was duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg.

Gertrude of Süpplingenburg Margravine consort of Austria and Tuscany and Duchess consort of Saxony and Bavaria

Gertrude of Süpplingenburg was, by her two successive marriages, Duchess of Bavaria from 1127 to 1138, Margravine of Tuscany from 1136 to 1139, and Duchess of Saxony from 1137 to 1138, Margravine of Austria and again Duchess of Bavaria until her death. She was regent of Saxony during the minority of her son in 1139-1142.

Henry V, Count Palatine of the Rhine Count Palatine of the Rhine

Henry V, the Elder of Brunswick, a member of the House of Welf, was Count Palatine of the Rhine from 1195 until 1213.

John, a member of the House of Welf, was Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg from 1252 until his death. He initially reigned jointly with his brother, Albert the Tall, until the partition of the duchy in 1269, when John became the first ruler of the newly created Principality of Lüneburg.

Henry V, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Prince of Wolfenbüttel

Henry V of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, called the Younger,, a member of the House of Welf, was Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and ruling Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from 1514 until his death. The last Catholic of the Welf princes, he was known for the large number of wars in which he was involved and for the long-standing affair with his mistress Eva von Trott.

County of Blankenburg

The County of Blankenburg was a state of the Holy Roman Empire. Its capital was Blankenburg, it was located in and near the Harz mountains.

Matilda of England, Duchess of Saxony 12th-century English princess and duchess

Matilda of England was the eldest daughter of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Through her marriage with the Welf duke Henry the Lion, she was Duchess consort of Saxony and Bavaria from 1168 until her husband's deposition in 1180. She was named after her grandmother Matilda of England.

Matilda of Brandenburg, Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg 13th-century German duchess

Matilda of Brandenburg, a member of the House of Ascania, was first Duchess consort of Brunswick-Lüneburg from 1235 to 1252 by her marriage with the Welf duke Otto the Child.

Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel principality

The Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was a subdivision of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, whose history was characterised by numerous divisions and reunifications. Various dynastic lines of the House of Welf ruled Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. As a result of the Congress of Vienna, its successor state, the Duchy of Brunswick, was created in 1815.


  1. Jones, B. (2013). Dictionary of World Biography. Canberra, Australia: Australian National University. p. 356. ISBN   9781922144492.
  2. Canduci, pg. 294
  3. Riedesel, Friedrich Adolf (1868). von Eelking, Max (ed.). Memoirs, and Letters and Journals, of Major General Riedesel During His Residence in America. 1. Translated by Stone, William L. Albany: J. Munsell. p. 29. I remain ever, Your affectionate Charles, Duke of Brunswick and Lüneburg. Brunswick, February 14, 1776. To Colonel Riedesel.