Lower Saxon Circle

Last updated
The Lower Saxon Circle at the beginning of the 16th century Locator Lower Saxon Circle.svg
The Lower Saxon Circle at the beginning of the 16th century

The Lower Saxon Circle (German : Niedersächsischer Reichskreis) was an Imperial Circle of the Holy Roman Empire. It covered much of the territory of the medieval Duchy of Saxony (except for Westphalia), and was originally called the Saxon Circle (German : Sächsischer Kreis) before later being better differentiated from the Upper Saxon Circle by the more specific name.


An unusual aspect of this circle was that, at various times, the kings of Denmark (in Holstein), Great Britain (in Hanover) and Sweden (in Bremen) were all Princes of a number of Imperial States.


The first plans for a Lower Saxon Circle originate from Albert II of Germany in 1438. An Imperial Saxon Circle was formally created in 1500, but in 1512 it was divided into an Upper Saxon and Lower Saxon Circle. The division was only codified in 1522, and it took a while before the separation was completely implemented by the Imperial Chamber Court. Furthermore, the first mention of an Upper Saxon Circle, a Lower Saxon Circle or the Netherlands occurred much later on. The term Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) was first used only in 1548.


The Lower Saxon Circle included the easternmost part of current Lower Saxony, the northernmost part of Saxony-Anhalt (excluding the Altmark), [1] Mecklenburg, Holstein (excluding Dithmarschen), Hamburg, Bremen, in addition to small areas in Brandenburg and Thuringia. For the most part it was a continuous territory with the exception of small enclaves like Halle and Jüterbog. Nordhausen and Mühlhausen were also areas outside the continuous portion of the imperial circle. Within the circle was the Prince-Bishopric of Verden, which was in personal union with the Archbishopric of Bremen since 1502. The Counties of Schaumburg and Spiegelberg were also part of the personal union, but they were not a part of the Lower Saxon Circle.

By the downfall of the Holy Roman Empire, the circle had 2,120,00 inhabitants and an area of 1,240 square miles. With respect to religion, almost all the citizens were Protestant. The exception was the partially Catholic Bishopric of Hildesheim.


A large part of the circle was made up of territories ruled by the House of Welf. With the Protestant Reformation the newly converted Archbishopric of Magdeburg was ruled from 1513 by administrators from the Brandenburg line of the House of Hohenzollern. Also, in 1648 the Bishopric of Halberstadt was given to the Margraviate of Brandenburg. The Archbishopric of Bremen, after the Reformation, was ruled by Danes and Swedes, and after 1715 by the House of Welf. Through the Duchy of Oldenburg, the king of Denmark became a prince of the imperial circle.

Also as a result of their possessions in the imperial circles, the kings of Prussia, Sweden, and Great Britain, who governed the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, became princes of the empire. Out of the entire empire, the Lower Saxon Circle was ruled the most by foreign kings. Regardless of this, the House of Welf's strong position with the Lower Saxon Circle prevented the dukes of Mecklenburg and the kings of Denmark from completely dominating.


The circle was made up of the following states:

NameType of entityComments
Arms of the house of Regenstein (2).svg Blankenburg County Established in 1123, from 1599 held by the Dukes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, raised to Principality in 1703,
Wappen Regensburg.svg Bremen Prince-Archbishopric Established in 787 by Charlemagne, secularized in 1648 as Duchy of Bremen, fief of the Swedish Crown, ceded to Hanover in 1719
Bremen Wappen.svg Bremen Imperial City From 1186
Coat of Arms of Brunswick-Luneburg.svg Brunswick-Lüneburg Duchy Undivided between 1235–1269, thus it existed as single territory only before the establishment of imperial circles. Thereafter General name for all Welf territories in the region.
Coat of Arms of Brunswick-Luneburg.svg Calenberg Principality, DuchySubdivision of Brunswick-Lüneburg from 1494, united with Celle in 1705 to form Hanover, containing all of Brunswick except Wolfenbüttel
Party per pale sable and or.svg Gandersheim Prince-Abbacy Established in 852 by Duke Liudolf of Saxony, Imperial immediacy confirmed by King Henry the Fowler in 919, contested by Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Wappen Goslar.svg Goslar Imperial CityFrom 1290
Coat of Arms of Brunswick-Luneburg.svg Grubenhagen PrincipalitySubdivision of Brunswick-Lüneburg from 1291 until 1596
Wappen Landkreis Halberstadt.svg Halberstadt Prince-BishopricEstablished by Charlemagne in 804, secularized in 1648 as Principality of Halberstadt held by Brandenburg
Coat of arms of Hamburg.svg Hamburg Imperial CityFrom 1189
Coat of Arms of the Bishopric of Hildesheim.svg Hildesheim Prince-BishopricEstablished in 815 by Louis the Pious
Holstein Arms.svg Holstein DuchyEstablished in 1474, held by the Danish Royal House of Oldenburg, from 1648 residence in Glückstadt
Blason Adolphe de Holstein-Gottorp.svg Holstein-Gottorp DuchySubdivision of Holstein from 1544 until 1773
Lubeck-bistum.PNG Lübeck Prince-BishopricEstablished in 1160 by Henry the Lion
Wappen Lubeck.svg Lübeck Imperial CityFrom 1226
DEU Fuerstentum Lueneburg COA.svg Lüneburg PrincipalitySubdivision of Brunswick-Lüneburg from 1269 until 1705
CoA Magdeburg Archbishopric.svg Magdeburg Prince-Archbishopric
Established in 955 by Otto I as Archbishopric of Magdeburg, secularized in 1680, held by Brandenburg
Mecklenburg Arms.svg Mecklenburg-Schwerin DuchyEstablished in 1352
Wappen Mecklenburg-Gustrow.svg Mecklenburg-Güstrow DuchySubdivision of Mecklenburg-Schwerin from 1520 until 1552, again from 1621 until 1695
Wappen Mecklenburg-Strelitz 2.svg Mecklenburg-Strelitz DuchySubdivision of Mecklenburg-Schwerin from 1701
WappenMuehlhausenThueringen.png Mühlhausen Imperial CityFrom 1251
Wappenschild der Stadt Nordhausen.svg Nordhausen Imperial CityFrom 1220
Coat of Arms of the Bishopric of Augsburg.svg Rantzau CountyEstablished in 1650, held by the Danish Royal House of Oldenburg from 1734
Ratzeburg-Bistum.PNG Ratzeburg Prince-BishopricEstablished in 1154 by Henry the Lion, secularized in 1648 as Principality of Ratzeburg, held by the Dukes of Mecklenburg, Mecklenburg-Strelitz from 1701
Arms of the house of Regenstein (2).svg Regenstein CountyFrom about 1160, united with Blankenburg in 1368, held by the Dukes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from 1599
Wappen Grafschaft Sachsen-Lauenburg.svg Saxe-Lauenburg DuchyEstablished in 1296, fell to the Dukes of Brunswick-Calenberg in 1689
DEU Schwerin COA.svg Schwerin Prince-BishopricEstablished in 1154 by Henry the Lion, residence at Bützow from 1239, secularized in 1648 as a principality held by the Dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Coat of arms of the House of Welf-Brunswick (Braunschweig).svg Wolfenbüttel PrincipalitySubdivision of Brunswick-Lüneburg from 1269, became Duchy of Brunswick in 1815


  1. Rudi Fischer: 800 Jahre Calvörde – Eine Chronik bis 1991.


Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Holstein</span> Historical region in the Southern half of Schleswig-Holstein

Holstein is the region between the rivers Elbe and Eider. It is the southern half of Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost state of Germany.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Imperial circle</span> Administrative groupings of the Holy Roman Empire

During the Early Modern period the Holy Roman Empire was divided into Imperial Circles, administrative groupings whose primary purposes were the organization of common defensive structure and the collection of imperial taxes. They were also used as a means of organization within the Imperial Diet and the Imperial Chamber Court. Each circle had a Circle Diet, although not every member of the Circle Diet would hold membership of the Imperial Diet as well.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen</span> Ecclesiastical principality of the Holy Roman Empire

The Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen — not to be confused with the modern Archdiocese of Hamburg, founded in 1994 — was an ecclesiastical principality (787–1566/1648) of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church that after its definitive secularization in 1648 became the hereditary Duchy of Bremen. The prince-archbishopric, which was under the secular rule of the archbishop, consisted of about a third of the diocesan territory. The city of Bremen was de facto and de jure not part of the prince-archbishopric. Most of the prince-archbishopric lay rather in the area to the north of the city of Bremen, between the Weser and Elbe rivers. Even more confusingly, parts of the prince-archbishopric belonged in religious respect to the neighbouring Diocese of Verden, making up 10% of its diocesan territory.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Archbishopric of Magdeburg</span>

The Archbishopric of Magdeburg was a Roman Catholic archdiocese (969–1552) and Prince-Archbishopric (1180–1680) of the Holy Roman Empire centered on the city of Magdeburg on the Elbe River.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Duchy of Saxony</span> Medieval German state

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bremen-Verden</span> Territories and immediate fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire

Bremen-Verden, formally the Duchies of Bremen and Verden, were two territories and immediate fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire, which emerged and gained imperial immediacy in 1180. By their original constitution they were prince-bishoprics of the Archdiocese of Bremen and Bishopric of Verden.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peace of Prague (1635)</span> Saxony makes peace with Emperor Ferdinand and exits the Thirty Years War

The Peace of Prague, signed on 30 May 1635, ended Saxony's participation in the Thirty Years War. Other German princes subsequently joined the treaty and although the Thirty Years War continued, it is generally agreed Prague ended it as a war of religion within the Holy Roman Empire. Thereafter, the conflict was largely driven by foreign powers, including Spain, Sweden, and France.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saxe-Lauenburg</span> German duchy

The Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg, was a reichsfrei duchy that existed from 1296–1803 and again from 1814–1876 in the extreme southeast region of what is now Schleswig-Holstein. Its territorial center was in the modern district of Herzogtum Lauenburg and originally its eponymous capital was Lauenburg upon Elbe, though in 1619 the capital moved to Ratzeburg.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">German Emperor</span> 1871–1918 hereditary head of state of the German Empire

The German Emperor was the official title of the head of state and hereditary ruler of the German Empire. A specifically chosen term, it was introduced with the 1 January 1871 constitution and lasted until the official abdication of Wilhelm II on 9 November 1918. The Holy Roman Emperor is sometimes also called "German Emperor" when the historical context is clear, as derived from the Holy Roman Empire's official name of "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" from 1512.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zeven</span> Town in Lower Saxony, Germany

Zeven [] is a town in the district of Rotenburg, in Lower Saxony, Germany. It has a population of around 14,000. The nearest large towns are Bremerhaven, Bremen and Hamburg. It is situated approximately 22 km northwest of Rotenburg, and 40 km northeast of Bremen. Zeven is also the seat of the Samtgemeinde Zeven.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roman Catholic Diocese of Halberstadt</span>

The Diocese of Halberstadt was a Roman Catholic diocese from 804 until 1648. From 1180, the bishops or administrators of Halberstadt ruled a state within the Holy Roman Empire, the prince-bishopric of Halberstadt. The diocesan seat and secular capital was Halberstadt in present-day Saxony-Anhalt.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of Saxony</span> Aspect of history

The history of Saxony began with a small tribe living on the North Sea between the Elbe and Eider River in what is now Holstein. The name of this tribe, the Saxons, was first mentioned by the Greek author Ptolemy. The name Saxons is derived from the Seax, a knife used by the tribe as a weapon.

The Vicariate Apostolic of Northern Germany, known for most of its existence as the Vicariate Apostolic of the NorthernMissions, was a Catholic missionary jurisdiction established on 28 April 1667. It belonged to a vicar apostolic in predominantly Protestant Northern Europe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Electorate of Saxony</span> State of the Holy Roman Empire (1356–1806)

The Electorate of Saxony was a state of the Holy Roman Empire established when Emperor Charles IV raised the Ascanian duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg to the status of an Electorate by the Golden Bull of 1356. It comprised a territory of some 40,000 square kilometers. Upon the extinction of the House of Ascania, it was feoffed to the Margraves of Meissen from the Wettin dynasty in 1423, who moved the ducal residence up the river Elbe to Dresden. After the Empire's dissolution in 1806, the Wettin Electors raised Saxony to a territorially reduced kingdom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prince-Bishopric of Lübeck</span> State of the Holy Roman Empire (1180–1803)

The Prince-Bishopric of Lübeck, was an ecclesiastical principality of the Holy Roman Empire until 1803. Originally ruled by Roman-Catholic bishops, after 1586 it was ruled by lay administrators and bishops who were members of the Protestant Holstein-Gottorp line of the House of Oldenburg. The prince-bishops had seat and vote on the Ecclesiastical Bench of the College of Ruling Princes of the Imperial Diet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bernhard, Count of Anhalt</span>

Bernhard, a member of the House of Ascania, was Count of Anhalt and Ballenstedt, and Lord of Bernburg through his paternal inheritance. From 1180 he was also Duke of Saxony.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp</span>

John Frederick of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp was the Lutheran Administrator of the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen, the Prince-Bishopric of Lübeck and the Prince-Bishopric of Verden.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prince-Bishopric of Verden</span>

The Prince-Bishopric of Verden was an ecclesiastical principality of the Holy Roman Empire that was located in what is today the state of Lower Saxony in Germany. Verden had been a diocese of the Catholic Church since the middle of the 8th century. The state was disestablished in 1648. The territory was managed by secular lords on behalf of the Bishop of Verden. As a Prince-Bishopric of the Empire, the territory of the state was not identical with that of the bishopric, but was located within its boundaries and made up about a quarter of the diocesan area. By the terms of the Peace of Westphalia, the Prince-Bishopric was disestablished and a new entity was established, the Duchies of Bremen and Verden.

The German Emperors after 1873 had a variety of titles and coats of arms, which in various compositions became the officially used titles and coats of arms. The title and coat of arms were last fixed in 1873, but the titles did not necessarily mean that the area was really dominated, and sometimes even several princes bore the same title.