3 Sep 2011

Germany and Aristocracy

Posted by jofr

Germany is a conservative country. It was a monarchy until the early 20th century, when France, England and the USA were already full-grown democracies, although the Greeks had invented democracy more than two thousand years ago.

The kings and emperors came from the House of Hohenzollern, a royal family dynasty that came to power during the Middle Ages and ruled Prussia and Germany until the end of WW I. Hohenzollern Castle is about 50 km south of Stuttgart, Germany (see also the Wikipedia page here). It is the home of the Hohenzollern family and still belongs to it. The current head of the family, “His Royal Highness The Prince of Prussia” Georg Friedrich, still manages the castle and supervises the house laws. The family had special house laws which determine whom the family members may marry: only equally born aristocrats who belong to royal or ruling houses. Sons and daughters who married the wrong persons were completely excluded from the family.

The two questions which come to mind are:

* why did the Germans tolerate their aristocrats, princes and chieftains so long? why was Germany so conservative?

* why did many royal familys stick to “house laws”? was it somehow associated with their rights to exist or was there some other reason?

Maybe Germans tolerated their princes and kings so long because Germany originally consisted of many local princedoms and small kingdoms. It began as a rag rug of local princedoms. As we said earlier in the post about the emergence of identity, the typical German traits discipline, order and obedience have enabled the emergence of the prussian and german empires from a fragmented rag rug of unimportant regional princedoms. Germany tolerated princes and princedoms because it emerged from many local princedoms. In these small princedoms, the princes, burgraves, margraves, dukes, chieftains or kings were typically far less powerful than the absolute kings who ruled the much larger France. This made it easier for the people to know and to accept their rulers.

It is a different question why so many royal families had their own house laws. As already said above, a prominent example for a house with own “house laws” which ruled the succession to a throne and the rights to marry, is the House of Hohenzollern. From Frederick the Great, the king of Prussia, to the last German emperor Wilhelm II, nearly all Prussian kings and German emperors were members of this house.

It looks as if the houses indeed thought they were special, and tried to preserve their “royal species”. In a larger context, this belief leads to the worst forms of facism and racism, and to the worst human catastrophe itself, the holocaust, the systematic murder of approximately six million European Jews. This is stuff for a next post.

(The Flickr picture from Castle Hohenzollern is from Flickr user Jim Trodel, the picture of Frederick II is from Wikipedia)

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