"Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weiber und Gesang, Der bleibt ein Narr sein Lebelang."
—Martin Luther, quoted in "Wandsbecker Boten" newspaper in 1775: "Who doesn't love wine, women, and song remains a fool his whole life long."

The Arms of Hessen, circa 1200
   Hessen now occupies an area of 8,152 square miles in the west-central part of Germany, bounded by the states of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, and Thuringia. It lies between the Upper Rhine Plateau to the west and the Thüringen Forest to the east, and it's one of the most beautiful agricultural areas in Germany. This land was the hub of the Protestant movement during the Reformation, and thousands of European refugees settled there, fleeing religious persecution.
   The Counts of Hessen descended from the Counts of Thüringen—and both Hessen and Thüringen use a striped lion in their arms (an early example is shown, above).
   Hessen was split into several states 500 years ago, when the Hauß surname was first recorded, but the area that contained our ancestors was called Hessen-Marburg, a "Landgraviate" (i.e. a principality directly under the Holy Roman Emperor) that existed independently between 1485 - 1500 and again between 1567 - 1605. It was comprised of the city of Marburg and the surrounding territories (what is today called "Oberhessen," or "Upper Hessen"). 

South Germany: The Roman border area against the Teutons in the year 210. Click to enlarge.

Detail from an ancient German map showing Cherusci, Chamavi and other tribes. Published by Taylor, Walton and Moberly in 1851.
   Hessen's earliest recorded inhabitants were probably the Frankish tribe of the Chatten/Chatti, over 2,000 years ago, whose homeland lay north of the Main River. They battled the Romans for control of the region. Over time, through a series of sound shifts in the language, the word "Chatti" became "Hessi."
   During the period of the Frankish Empire, the territory was divided into several Gaue (districts)—called Saxon Hessengau, Frankish Hessengau, Buchonia, and Oberlahngau. The Gaue were ruled over by counts (Grafen).
   The Frankish king, Clovis, was converted to Christianity in the 4th century, and he was responsible for the conversion of his nation and the Saxon tribes. The Chatti, now Christians, reemerged under the name "Hessens," and their land eventually formed the state of Hessen. But despite the religious conversion, their warring nature remained.
   In the tenth and eleventh centuries a new line of nobility emerged, called the Gisos, or the Counts of Gudensberg. The daughter of the last Giso married Count Louis I of Thüringia, became the landgrave in 1130. Hessen and Thüringia were then united until the War of the Thüringian Succession (1247-64). After the fighting was over, Hessen had gained its independence. It became an earldom within the Holy Roman Empire. The new ruler, Henry I the Child, founded the Brabant dynasty of Hessen. He was raised to the rank of a prince of the Holy Roman Empire in 1292.
   By the end of the fifteenth century, the Landgrafschaft of Hessen was the greatest and strongest power of central western Germany. Over the next two centuries the landgraves expanded their territory and often clashed with the neighboring archbishop-electors of Mainz.
   Then in 1458, Hessen expanded after a division of territory within the Holy Roman Empire. The new ruler, Ludwig the Peaceful, created a sub-landgraviate for his younger brother, Henry. Henry was based at Hessen-Marburg, where our Hauß family would first be recorded.

Electores septem sacri imperii spirituales - Imperator gloriosus - Sexta etas mu(n)di seculares - Schedel H., 1493. This woodcut shows the emperor and electors of the Holy Roman Empire with twenty four German noblemen presenting their coats of arms.

Philip the Magnanimous (and polygamous)
Landgraf von Hessen
   But the peace-time arrangement didn't last long. In 1500, all of the Hessen territories were unified by landgrave William II (also called William the Middle to distinguish him from his elder brother William I the Elder, and his cousin William III, the Younger) to form a single, elevated Duchy of Hessen. This set the stage for the rise of William's son, the greatest, if not the most controversial, ruler in Hessen history...
   Philip the Magnanimous (at right), the landgrave from 1509 to 1567, was born at Marburg on the 13th of November 1504, and became landgrave after his father's death in 1509. The epithet "magnanimous" that has been handed down through the centuries is probably a mistake: The translation of his title, der Großmütige, does mean "magnanimous" in modern German, but in Renaissance German, when he lived, it appears to have meant "haughty." And that is a much better description of this man's reign.
   Having been declared "of age" in 1518, he was married in 1523 to Christina, daughter of George, duke of Saxony. Philip was a cultured intellectual, who created a University in Marburg (which eventually claimed the Brothers Grimm in the faculty). But he was also a fiery, controversial leader who spent most of his reigning years at war. In 1525 he took a leading part against the rebellion of the peasants in north Germany, crushing them at Frankenhausen.
   After the battle, Philip I adopted the reformed faith (a denomination that the Hauß family would follow for the next 200 years), and he is remembered today as the German Prince (Fürst) who saved Protestantism in Germany, forming the League of Torgau in 1526.
   But we need to ask an important question: What was the reason for Philip's conversion to the reformed faith? Well, it wasn't about church practices as much as it was about a girl... or two. Basically, we have Protestantism today so that Philip could practice bigamy, with the help of an Augustinian monk and theology professor named Martin Luther.
   The first meeting of Philip with Luther was in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, but at that time he had little interest in the religious theories of the famous reformer. It was only after Philip's marriage with Christina, the daughter of George of Saxony, early in 1524, that he began to take an active part in forwarding the cause of the Reformation. Within a few weeks after marrying the unattractive and sickly Christina, who was also alleged to be an alcoholic, Philip had committed adultery.

Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse and his wife Christine of Saxony, by Jost V. Hoff.

   In 1526, Philip began to consider marrying a second wife. He was influenced by the case of Henry VIII, in which the Reformer Melanchthon had proposed that the king could take a second wife instead of divorcing the first one. Then there were Luther's sermons on Genesis, as well as historical precedents in which God had not punished people in the New Testament who did the same thing, and instead held them up as models of faith. Philip wrote Luther for his opinion on bigamy, citing the polygamy of the patriarchs; but Luther replied that it was not enough for a Christian to consider the acts of the patriarchs, but that brides and groom, like the patriarchs, must have special divine sanction. Since, however, such sanction was lacking in Philip's case, Luther advised against another marriage. Despite this discouragement, Philip continued his affairs and polygamous schemes, which for years kept him from receiving communion.

The Ecclesiastical Counter-Reformation, between 1525 - 1732 (click to enlarge).

Landgraf Philipp I. von Hessen; an etching by Matthäus Merian (click on picture to enlarge)
   Still, Philip put bigamy on the back-burner and committed himself to the reformist cause: In 1529, the landgrave signed the "protest" which was presented to the diet at Spires, making him one of the original Protestants; then in 1530 he was among the subscribers to the confession of Augsburg; and the formation in the same year of the league of Schmalkalden, an alliance of protestant rulers and cities unified against the catholic policy of the emperor, was largely due to his energy. Philip then started to wage war for the reformed church against the Catholics, with the hope that one day he could be free to fool around without guilt. He was impulsive and practically indifferent to theological or even patriotic considerations when it came to his religion. Philip would lie down with anyone to get what he wanted—be they women or rival countries. His main goal was the overthrowing the Catholic house of Habsburg; and to do this he sought the help of France, England and Denmark, Turkey, and the the Bavarian Wittelsbachs—most of who would normally be the enemy. He then restored Ulrich, duke of Würtemberg, to his duchy in a brief military campaign in 1534 that humiliated the German king, Ferdinand I, and his brother Charles V. In fact, Philip was only restrained from all-out war by the pleading of John of Saxony and Martin Luther.
   Unfortunately, Philip's impulsiveness proved his undoing: While recuperating from an illness due to "excesses," the idea of bigamy became Philip's main obsession. He decided to marry the daughter of one of his sister's ladies-in-waiting, named Margarethe von der Saale. But Margarethe was unwilling to take the step unless they had the approval of the theologians.
   Philip finally won the grudging approval of a second marriage as a concept, at least, from Luther and Melanchthon, without either of them knowing that the next wife had already been chosen. Melanchthon was then summoned to Rotenburg-on-the-Fulda, where on March 4th, 1540, Philip and Margarethe were wed.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Christian Reformers from Philip's time—Phillip Melanchthon, Martin Luther and John Calvin. They may look like they're a lot of laughs, but these three guys are pretty much responsible for making sure that our family had no fun for about 400 years.

Margarethe von der Saale, morganatic wife of Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse (artist unknown)
   The time was particularly bad for this or any scandal affecting the Protestants, because the emperor, who had rejected the Frankfort Respite, was about to invade Germany. A few weeks later, however, the whole matter was revealed by Philip's sister, and the scandal caused an uproar throughout Germany. Some of Philip's allies refused to serve under him; and Luther, under the plea that it was a matter of advice given in the confessional, refused to acknowledge his part in the marriage.
   Philip was bitterly disgusted by the criticism, and worse yet, feared that a law which he himself had enacted against adultery might be applied to his own case. Philip decide that he had to make his peace with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and obtain a pardon, but on terms which would not involve desertion of the Protestant cause. He offered to observe neutrality regarding the imperial acquisition of the duchy of Cleves and to prevent a French alliance, on condition that the emperor would pardon him for all his opposition and violation of the imperial laws (without direct mention of his bigamy, of course). But on July 20, 1546, an imperial ban was declared against Philip as a perjured rebel and traitor. The result was the Teutsche Krieg, or Schmalkaldic War.

The 1545 "Schmalkaldic League Taler," minted jointly by the two main leaders to promote the league and to support war funds. The effigy of Philip (left) in armor with baton and gripping a sword with his left hand, features his arms (the lion) on the top. The other side of the coin (right) features John Frederic the Magnanimous, Duke of Saxony, in electoral coat with shouldered sword.

   The defeat at Mühlberg and the capture of Philip's ally, the Elector John Frederick, marked the fall of the Schmalkald League. In despair Philip, who had been negotiating with the emperor for some time, agreed to throw himself on his mercy, on condition that his territorial rights should not be impaired and that he himself should not be imprisoned. Not surprisingly, these terms were disregarded, however, and on June 23, 1547, both Philip and John Frederick were taken to south Germany and held as captives.
   The jailing of Philip brought the Church in Hessen into crisis. It had been organized carefully by Philip and thoroughly reformed. But now an "Interim" was introduced, sanctioning Roman Catholic practices and usages. Philip himself wrote from prison to personally sanction the Interim (as his life depended upon it). The Hessian clergy, however, opposed the introduction of the Interim and the government at Cassel refused to obey the landgrave's commands. Fearing more punishment from his Catholic captors, Philip then made an unsuccessful attempt to escape. He was finally released in 1552, following the Treaty of Passau, in which Holy Roman Emperor Charles V guaranteed Lutheran religious freedoms and ended his quest for European religious unity.
   A greatly deflated Philip then returned to Hessen. The terms of Philip's release led to the collapse of his position as the leader of the Protestant party. He had become an object of suspicion. The militant arm of the Protestant movement was handed to French theologian John Calvin. But although Philip was less active, the landgrave did not cease to work behind the scenes on behalf of the Protestants.
   Ultimately, Philip failed in his attempts to reconcile Swiss and Lutheran doctrine, but his efforts to form a union of the Protestants proved fruitless (unlike his second marriage, which yielded seven sons and one daughter).
   Philip died at Cassel on the 31st of March in 1567. He had four sons and five daughters by wife #1, Christina, and according to his directions the landgraviate was partitioned at his death between their sons. His sons by wife #2 were named counts of Dietz. Hessen was broken up into much smaller states: His eldest son, Wilhelm IV, inherited the northern portion (Hessen-Kassel). George I, the youngest son, received the upper county of Katzenelnbogen, and became the founder of the Hesse-Darmstadt line. Two other sons received Hessen-Rheinfels, and the Hauß family's home—the previously-existing Hessen-Marburg.

Germania in 1595, in a map by Abraham Ortelius. Printed in Antwerp. Click to enlarge.

   Religious tensions were high throughout the second half of the 16th Century. The Catholics of eastern Europe (Poland and Austrian Habsburgs) were trying to restore the power of Catholicism. The area that the Hauss' resided was mainly Lutheran. When Count Ludwig of Hessen-Marburg died childless in 1604, a conflict arose between his nephews, Wilhelm of Hessen-Kassel and George of Hessen-Darmstadt, over who would get his territory. He bequeathed equal shares of his territory to the lines of Hesse-Kassel (Marburg) and Hesse-Darmstadt (Gießen, Nidda), yet under the condition that both territories should remain Lutheran (Hesse-Kassel was Calvinist). But the two sides would fight over the land for decades.
   This controversy broke into violence in the German town of Donauw(?) in 1606. The Lutheran majority barred the Catholic residents of the town from holding a procession, causing a riot to break out. This prompted Duke Maximilian of Bavaria (1573-1651) to intervene on behalf of the Catholics.
   After the ensuing violence ceased, the Calvinists in Germany (who were still in their infancy and quite a minority) felt the most threatened, so they banded together in the League of Evangelical Union, created in 1608 under the leadership of the Elector Palatine, Frederick IV (5 March 1574 - 19 Sept. 1610). He was also called Frederick the Righteous, or Friedrich Der Aufrichtige. The only surviving son of the elector Louis VI, who died in October 1583, Frederick began his rule at the age of ten.
   An ardent Calvinist, Frederick IV took over the mantle of the Protestant political leader from Philip I of Hessen, and continued the Reformist policies of hostility toward the Catholic Church. This provoked Catholics to band together in the Catholic League (created in 1609) under the leadership of Duke Maximilian.
   Meanwhile, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, Matthias, died without a biological heir in 1617, but had named his cousin Ferdinand of Styria as the next ruler. Ferdinand was a staunch Catholic who had been educated by the Jesuits and who wanted to restore Catholicism. He was therefore unpopular in mainly Calvinist Bohemia. Since the King of Bohemia was an elected office, the Bohemians chose the heir of Frederick IV, named Frederick V, as elector of the Palatinate. Frederick V began his reign over the Palatinate in 1610, and so began a religious war with it. Here is a brief overview of that war, but you won't understand it any better than the people who had to fight in it:

The Thirty Years War

"One German makes a philosopher, two a public meeting, three a war."
—Robert D. MacDonald.

Elector Palatinate Frederick V (by Gerrit von Honthorst, 1634)
   Frederick V's coronation in Bohemia and the ensuing war that exploded in the surrounding states would eventually force our family to flee to the New World. But the key figure for us in this war is not actually Frederick, but his wife, Elizabeth. (In fact if you believe family legend, we're related to her.)
   Elizabeth was the daughter of King James I of England, and part of the Stuart dynasty. She was said to be incredibly beautiful, and had attracted most of the royal suitors of Europe before (and after) her marriage. In fact, she was nicknamed the “Queen of Hearts.” But she eventually married Frederick V in 1613, in order to cement an alliance between English and German Protestantism (detailed here in the Stuart Genealogy).
   When Ferdinand II heard that Frederick had been elected ruler of Bohemia—the title that Matthias had supposedly given to him—he refused to recognize the new "king" and sent two Catholic "councilors" (Martinitz and Slavata) to Hradcany castle in Prague to make way for his coronation as the rightful heir to the throne. But the Bohemian Calvinists seized the councilors and threw them out of a palace window. (The official Catholic version of the story claims that angels suddenly appeared and carried them to safety. The official Protestant version says that they landed in manure.)
   This event, known as the second defenestration of Prague, began the "Bohemian Revolt" which erupted in Bohemia, Silesia, Lusatia and Moravia.
   With a holy war breaking out everywhere—the first ever to pit Christian against Christian—Ferdinand then called on his cousin, King Philip IV of Spain, for assistance. Philip was more than happy to join the conflict—not because he was pro-Catholic so much as because he coveted the lands of the Palatinate, and figured to take over the land when he conquered Frederick. This may not have been the most Christian reason to fight, but Ferdinand couldn't be picky at this point.
   So now Frederick was battling Spain, as well. Worse yet, his most powerful political ally, his father-in-law King James of England, ignored his pleas for help against the Spanish. Why? Because James cared more about land and political alliances than family, and was actually supporting the Spanish, over his own daughter Elizabeth! (I hope he wasn't expecting a nice gift on Fathers Day.)

Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of England's James I, mourning for her husband, Elector Palatine Frederick V. (By Gerard Honthorst, @1634.)
   With that, Frederick's allies in the Union saw the cause as lost and abandoned him. So his brief reign as the King of Bohemia ended with his defeat at the Battle of White Mountain (8 November 1620)—only two months after his coronation—and earned him the derisive nickname of 'the Winter King'.
   Frederick V was forced to flee and lived the rest of his life in exile with his wife and family at the Hague.
   The catastrophic defeat of the Protestant army at White Mountain meant that eastern Germany was up for grabs. The Spanish took the Rhine Palatinate, seeking to outflank the Dutch in preparation for the soon-to-be-renewed Eighty Years' War. Before the end of that war, France, several German states, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands also fought their way through the land. The area was looted and pillaged, remade, then looted and pillaged again, by different invaders for many years.
   Upon Frederick V's death in 1632, his son Karl I Ludwig, Elector Palatine (1610-1680) inherited his exiled father's pretensions to the Palatinate, and was, in fact, restored to his kingdom in 1648 at the conclusion of the Thirty Years' War. He gained a new title of Elector Count Palatine of the Rhine, Archtreasurer of the Empire, as well as most of his father's lands. But he was not restored to the imperial electorate—he was just a figurehead. Instead he received a new Electoral title, while the original one remained in the possession of the Electors of Bavaria. So Karl Ludwig reigned over a largely devastated country with no power to fight—but more invasions would follow, anyway.

A priest blesses hanging victims in an etching by Jacques Callot (1592-1635).

   Finally in 1648, the second Teutsche Krieg ended with a truce, aimed at balancing the powers of the European nations. The Netherlands and Spain lost their predominance to France. The idea of a Catholic empire under Pope and emperor was abandoned, and a community of sovereign states was established instead. Protestantism was given equal voice with Catholicism. The word "Holy" was removed from the title of the German emperor; he became a feudal overlord rather than a monarch.

A 1631 two Kreuzer coin from Hessen-Darmstadt, Mainz, Nassau-Saarbrucken & Frankfurt/Main, issued jointly during the Thirty Years War, and showing the wear from that struggle. (From the collection of Carleton Marchant Hause, Jr.).
   The major outcome of the war was that the rich got richer, and the poor—who couldn't get any poorer—got screwed again: Over 300 princelings, bishops, abbots and rulers of free cities retained the right to levy taxes, to field armies (just not against the emperor), to make internal laws and to enter into treaties with whomsoever they chose. In other words, the German people who were lucky enough to survive the worst war in their history were about to be exploited even worse.
   The country's land was devastated, and many villages had been looted and burned to the ground. The war had destroyed Germany's capital resources and its living standards fell... Not that there were many people left to work the land, anyway.
   During this conflict, over 300,000 German soldiers had died in battle. Millions of citizens had died of malnutrition and disease. Most authorities say that the population of the German empire dropped from about 21,000,000 to 13,500,000 between 1618 and 1648, meaning one out of every three people had died, more than in all later wars combined (including World War I and World War II). The Hessian territory around Marburg lost more than two thirds of its population, thanks to the local "Dreissigjaehrigen" war of 1645-1648 (a sub-conflict of the Thirty Years' War in which Hessen-Kassel and Hessen-Darmstadt again fought over the Marburg territory).
   But by some miracle—or when there's this much death and destruction, blind luck—our family survived. Thanks to wars, famines, plagues and general desperation, the Hauß family had by this time spread all over western Germany. But the home base of our line was in a tiny state bordering Hessen, called the Duchy of Solm. And it is there that we meet our first known ancestor:

1711 - 1725. Johan Christian Hauss is born into a poverty-ridden, war-torn, plague-inflicted wasteland... and aren't we lucky for it!

—The town is situated in Lahn-Dill-Kreis, Giesharpen, Hessen, Germany, its geographical coordinates are 50° 35' 0" North, 8° 28' 0" East and its original name (with diacritics) is Klein Altenstädten (Satellite image: http://www.maplandia.com/germany/hessen/giesharpen/lahn-dill-kreis/klein-altenstadten/). Wetzlar and the Duchy of Solm are also in the German State of Hessen. In 1977 Wetzlar was merged with Gießen to form the new city Lahn, however this attempt to reorganize the administration was very unpopular and was reverted in 1979. Heavy American bombing destroyed about 75% of Gießen in 1944, including most of the city's historic buildings.
—The Reichskammergericht was the highest judicial institution in the Holy Roman Empire, founded in 1495 by the Reichstag in Worms. All proceedings in the Holy Roman empire could be brought to the Reichskammergericht, except if the ruler of the territory had a so-called privilegium de non appellando, in which the highest judicial institution was founded by the ruler of that territory. The Reichskammergericht was infamous for the long time it took to reach a conviction. Some proceedings, especially in law suits between territories belonging to the Holy Roman Empire, took several hundred years, some of them were not brought to an end by the time it was dissolved in 1806 after the downfall of the Holy Roman Empire.


  • The Palatine Families of New York by Henry Jones, Jr., 1985.
  • Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Immigration, by Walter Allen Knittle, Ph.D. Philadelphia, 1937. Reprinted in 1965 by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. Baltimore, Md.
  • Becoming German: The 1709 Palatine Migration to New York, by Philip Otterness. Published by Cornell University Press, 2004.
  • The Book of Names Especially Relating to The Early Palatines and the First Settlers in the Mohawk Valley, compiled by Lou D. MacWethy, 1933.
  • "London Churchbooks and Immigration of 1709." (Courtesy of the Montgomery County Department of History and Archives.)
  • Das aelteste deutsch-amerikanische Kirchenbuch, by Otto Lohr. In Jahrbuch fuer auslanddeutsche Sippenkunde, jahrgang 1 (1936), pp. 54-60 (Johan Christian Hauss, Page 56)
  • Palatine Roots: The 1710 German Settlement in New York as Experienced by Johann Peter Wagner, by Nancy Wagoner Dixon. Picton Press, Camden ME, 1994.
  • Palatines, Liberty and Property: German Lutherans in Colonial British America, by A.G. Roeber. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1998.