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Confederated States of the Rhine
Rheinische Bundesstaaten (German)
États confédérés du Rhin (French)
Commemorative medal of Confederation of the Rhine
Commemorative medal
The Confederation of the Rhine in 1812
The Confederation of the Rhine in 1812
StatusConfederation of client states of the French Empire
Common languagesGerman, French
GovernmentConfederated French client states
• 1806–1813
Napoleon I
• 1806–1813
Karl von Dalberg
• 1813
E. de Beauharnais
LegislatureDiet of the Confederation
Historical eraNapoleonic Wars
• Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine
12 July 1806
• Holy Roman Empire dissolved
6 August 1806
• Dissolved after Battle of Leipzig
4 November 1813
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Holy Roman Empire
German Confederation
Today part ofGermany

The Confederated States of the Rhine,[a] simply known as the Confederation of the Rhine[b] or Rhine Confederation, was a confederation of German client states established at the behest of Napoleon some months after he defeated Austria and Russia at the Battle of Austerlitz. Its creation brought about the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire shortly afterward. The Confederation of the Rhine lasted for 7 years, from 1806 to 1813.[1]

The founding members of the confederation were German princes of the Holy Roman Empire. They were later joined by 19 others, altogether ruling a total of over 15 million people. This granted a significant strategic advantage to the French Empire on its eastern frontier by providing a buffer between France and the two largest German states, Prussia and Austria (which also controlled substantial non-German lands).


After the Treaty of Lunéville, which saw the annexation of the German territories of the left bank of the Rhine occupied by France, a new order of Central European states was established. The Final Imperial Recess of 1803 led to a radical transformation within the Holy Roman Empire. 112 small Imperial territories east of the Rhine became part of newly organised states. Over three million citizens were affected by this change. Soon after, all ecclesiastical territories were secularised and most free imperial cities and free imperial knights underwent mediatisation, losing their power and influence in the process. Besides Prussia, the Electorate of Baden and the Duchy of Württemberg benefited the most from these changes. The abolition of the Reichsritter and ecclesiastical territories meant the emperor lost important political support. The end of the crippled Holy Roman Empire was foreseeable. Francis II took the title of Emperor of Austria in 1804 to counter the loss of prestige. When the War of the Third Coalition broke out in 1805, with Russia, Austria and Great Britain on the one side and France on the other, Bavaria, Baden and Wurttemberg allied with Napoleon.

After victory at Austerlitz and the resultant Peace of Pressburg in 1805, Napoleon could significantly reassert his position in the German states. Furthermore, Austria had to concede territory and Napoleon named his brothers Joseph and Louis kings of Naples and Holland, respectively, and his brother-in-law Joachim Murat, Grand Duke of Berg. He also worked toward establishing an alliance with Baden, Bavaria and Württemberg. Francis II had to assent to the elevation of both Bavaria and Württemberg to the rank of kingdom and Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt and Berg to that of grand duchy. Bavaria and Württemberg sought closer dynastic relations with France in the hope of strengthening the legitimacy of their new monarchies. Jérôme Bonaparte was married to Catharina of Württemberg, Stéphanie de Beauharnais to Charles of Baden and Eugène de Beauharnais to Augusta of Bavaria. With French encouragement, the vestiges of small Imperial estates in the region were annexed. This reorganisation of the right bank of the Rhine laid the groundwork for the Confederation of the Rhine.[2][3]


On 12 July 1806, on signing the Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine (German: Rheinbundakte) in Paris, 16 German states joined in a confederation (the treaty called it the états confédérés du Rhinelande, with a precursor in the League of the Rhine).[4] The "Protector of the Confederation" was a hereditary office of the Emperor of the French, Napoleon. On 1 August, the members of the confederation formally seceded from the Holy Roman Empire, and on 6 August, following an ultimatum by Napoleon, Francis II declared the Holy Roman Empire dissolved. Francis and his Habsburg dynasty continued as emperors of Austria.

Chart for the structure of the Confederation as projected in 1806

According to the treaty, the confederation was to be run by common constitutional bodies, but the individual states (in particular the larger ones) wanted unlimited sovereignty.[1] Instead of a monarchical head of state, as the Holy Roman Emperor had been, its highest office was held by Karl Theodor von Dalberg, the former Arch Chancellor, who now bore the title of a Prince-Primate of the confederation. As such, he was President of the College of Kings and presided over the Diet of the Confederation, designed to be a parliament-like body although it never actually assembled.[1] The President of the Council of the Princes was the Prince of Nassau-Usingen.

In return for their support of Napoleon, some rulers were given higher statuses: Baden, Hesse, Cleves, and Berg were made into grand duchies, and Württemberg and Bavaria became kingdoms. Several member states were also enlarged with the absorption of the territories of Imperial counts and knights who were mediatized at that time. They had to pay a very high price for their new status, however. The Confederation was above all a military alliance; the member states had to maintain substantial armies for mutual defense and supply France with large numbers of military personnel. As events played out, the members of the confederation found themselves more subordinated to Napoleon than they had been to the Habsburgs when they were within the Holy Roman Empire.[5]

After Prussia lost to France in 1806, Napoleon cajoled most of the secondary states of Germany into the Confederation of the Rhine. Eventually, an additional 23 German states joined the Confederation. It was at its largest in 1808, when it included 36 states—four kingdoms, five grand duchies, 13 duchies, seventeen principalities, and the Free Hansa towns of Hamburg, Lübeck, and Bremen.[1] The west bank of the Rhine and the Principality of Erfurt had been annexed outright by the French Empire. Thus, as either emperor of the French or protector of the Confederation of the Rhine, Napoleon was now the overlord of all of Germany except Austria, Prussia, Danish Holstein, and Swedish Pomerania, plus previously independent Switzerland, which were not included in the Confederation.

In 1810 large parts of what is now northwest Germany were quickly annexed to France in order to better monitor the trade embargo with Great Britain, the Continental System.

The Confederation of the Rhine collapsed in 1813, in the aftermath of Napoleon's failed invasion of the Russian Empire. Many of its members changed sides after the Battle of Leipzig, when it became apparent Napoleon would lose the War of the Sixth Coalition.

Types of states within the Confederation

Both French influence and internal autonomy varied greatly throughout the confederations' existence. There was also a great variation between the power and influence of the individual states. There are three basic types:

Member monarchies

The following table shows the members of the confederation, with their date of joining, as well as the number of troops provided, listed in parentheses.[9]

Member states of the Confederation of the Rhine
1808 (greatest extent)

College of Kings

Member monarchy Year joined Notes and troop count
Grand Duchy of Baden 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former margraviate-electorate (8,000)
Kingdom of Bavaria 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former duchy-electorate (30,000)
Grand Duchy of Berg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; absorbed Cleves, both formerly Duchies (5,000)
Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former landgraviate (4,000)
Principality of Regensburg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; in personal union with Principality of Aschaffenburg; formerly Prince-Archbishopric and Electorate; after 1810 the Frankfurt Grand Duchy of Frankfurt (968)
Kingdom of Saxony 11 Dec 1806 Former duchy-electorate (20,000)
Kingdom of Westphalia 15 Nov 1807 Napoleonic creation (25,000)
Kingdom of Württemberg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former duchy-electorate (12,000)
Grand Duchy of Würzburg 23 Sep 1806 Napoleonic creation for former Grand duke of Tuscany and Elector of Salzburg (2,000)

College of Princes

Member monarchy Year joined Notes and troop count
Duchy of Anhalt-Bernburg 11 Apr 1807 (240)
Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau 11 Apr 1807 (350)
Duchy of Anhalt-Köthen 11 Apr 1807 (210)
Duchy of Arenberg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; mediatized 13 December 1810 (379)
Principality of Hohenzollern-Hechingen 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder (97)
Principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder (193)
Principality of Isenburg 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder (291)
Principality of Leyen 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder; former countship or graviate (29)
Principality of Liechtenstein 12 Jul 1806 Co-founder (40)
Principality of Lippe-Detmold 11 Apr 1807 (500)
Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin 22 Mar 1808 (1,900)
Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz 18 Feb 1808 (400)
Duchy of Nassau 12 Jul 1806* Union of Nassau Usingen Nassau-Usingen and Nassau-Weilburg Nassau-Weilburg, both co-founders (1,680)
Duchy of Oldenburg 14 Oct 1808 Annexed by France 13 December 1810 (800)
Principality of Reuss-Ebersdorf 11 Apr 1807 (100)
Principality of Reuss-Greiz 11 Apr 1807 (117)
Principality of Reuss-Lobenstein 11 Apr 1807 (108)
Principality of Reuss-Schleiz 11 Apr 1807 (125)
Principality of Salm 25 Jul 1806 Union of Salm-Salm and Salm-Kyrburg, both co-founders; annexed by France 13 December 1810 (323)
Duchy of Saxe-Coburg 15 Dec 1806 (400)
Duchy of Saxe-Gotha 15 Dec 1806 (1,100)
Duchy of Saxe-Hildburghausen 15 Dec 1806 (200)
Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen 15 Dec 1806 (300)
Duchy of Saxe-Weimar 15 Dec 1806 (800)
Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe 11 Apr 1807 (150)
Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt 11 Apr 1807 (325)
Principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen 11 Apr 1807 (325)
Principality of Waldeck-Pyrmont 11 Apr 1807 (400)


The allies opposing Napoleon dissolved the Confederation of the Rhine on 4 November 1813. After its demise, the only attempt at political coordination in Germany until the creation on 8 June 1815 of the German Confederation was a body called the Central Administration Council (German: Zentralverwaltungsrat); its president was Heinrich Friedrich Karl Reichsfreiherr vom und zum Stein (1757–1831). It was dissolved on 20 June 1815.

On 30 May 1814 the Treaty of Paris declared the German states independent.

In 1814–1815, the Congress of Vienna redrew the continent's political map. Napoleonic creations such as the huge Kingdom of Westphalia, the Grand Duchy of Berg and the Duchy of Würzburg were abolished; suppressed states, including Hanover, the Brunswick duchies, Hesse-Kassel and Oldenburg, were reinstated. On the other hand, most members of the Confederation of the Rhine located in central and southern Germany survived with minor border changes. They, along with the reinstated states, Prussia, and Austria, formed the German Confederation.[10]

See also


Explanatory notes

  1. ^ German: Rheinische Bundesstaaten; French: États confédérés du Rhin
  2. ^ German: Rheinbund; French: Confédération du Rhin


  1. ^ a b c d Hans A. Schmitt. "Germany Without Prussia: A Closer Look at the Confederation of the Rhine". German Studies Review 6, No. 4 (1983), pp 9–39.
  2. ^ Max Braubach, Von der französischen Revolution bis zum Wiener Kongress. Munich, 1974, pp. 74–78.
  3. ^ Elisabeth Fehrenbach, Vom Ancien Regime zum Wiener Kongress. Oldenbourg: Munich, 2001, pp. 83–84.
  4. ^ For the treaty (in French), see here
  5. ^ Germany at Encyclopædia Britannica
  6. ^ Berding, Helmut (1973). Napoleonische Herrschafts- und Gesellschaftspolitik im Königreich Westfalen 1807–1813. Göttingen/Zürich: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
  7. ^ Gall. Liberalismus als regierende Partei. p. 85.
  8. ^ Siemann. om Staatenbund zum Nationalstaat: Deutschland 1806–1871. pp. 23–24.
  9. ^ Creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, 12 July, 1806 Archived 29 May 2011 at archive.today
  10. ^ "The First Treaty of Paris, 30 May 1814". www.historyhome.co.uk. Retrieved 12 May 2021.