Bavaria and the War of the Bavarian Succession

Bavaria is an almost painfully beautiful area in the south-easternmost part of Germany. It is also one of the oldest existing political entities in Europe, though it has changed in structure (and size) over the centuries.

It first appears as a duchy under domination by the Franks in the sixth century A.D., when it included large tracts of what is now Austria. It has been ruled by a succession of famous dynasties, including the Guelphs. By 1180 however, the Wittelsbachs seem to have taken over.

The Wittelsbach Dynasty is one of the most important in German history, and they presided over Bavaria until 1918 with the end of the World War and the contentious Treaty of Versailles. Twice the family has won the German crown, with Louis IV (1314 – 47) and Charles VII (1742 – 45). For centuries they were Electors (literally – elected monarchs) of the Holy Roman Empire (q.v.).

Hohenschwangau Castle, overlooking the village / puretravel.com

Hohenschwangau Castle, overlooking the village / puretravel.com

Bavaria could never really be said to be politically ‘liberal’; she fought from the front for counter-reformations, and never had any doubts about absolute monarchical rule. But neither has Bavaria ever been politically inept: during the French Revolutionary Wars (q.v.) she astonished the rest of Germany by signing the Treaty of Lunéville in 1803, for which kindness Bonaparte later rewarded her with territorial enlargement and finally elevation to the attractive condition of a kingdom (1806).

Notwithstanding her conservatism, Bavaria was one of the first German states to introduce constitutional government, which happened in 1818. During the period of the German Confederation (q.v.) she attempted to stick to an independent policy between the Scilla and Charybdis of Austria and Prussia. But in 1866 things changed and Bavaria sided with Austria (against Prussia) and joined the newly created German Empire in 1871.

The War of the Bavarian Succession

Among the many wars of succession in the 18th and 19th centuries, Bavaria was not going to be left out: when the Bavarian branch of the Wittelsbach family vanished (1778) Frederick II of Prussia exercised a brief campaign against Austria when Josef II tried to grab various sections of Bavaria in order to strengthen the Habsburg position in Germany. No-one won any decisive battles however, and military ‘games’ made way for a typical stalemate. By the Treaty of Teschen Austria was forced to recognise the succession of the Palatinate (meaning possession of royal prerogatives) line of the Wittelsbachs to the throne, though she was able to acquire the town of Braunau (which would be the birthplace of Adolf Hitler).

Sad to relate, this small war got and gets small recognition – in fact it was known locally as ‘The Potato War’, because of the absence of any conclusive battles. This did not enhance the reputation of Frederick II ‘the Great’, whose European prestige waned as a result.

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