Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg

by Frederick the Great

A New Translation by Levi Bookin

Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg

The house of Brandenburg, (or rather that of Hohenzollern) is so ancient, that its origins are lost in the darkness of antiquity. One could recount fables or conjectures about its extraction; but fables ought not to be presented to the wise and enlightened public of this century. It is of little importance that some genealogists make this house descend from that of Colonna and that, by a gross blunder, they confuse the scepter that is in the arms of Brandenburg with the column that the Italian house bears in its escutcheon. To sum up, it is unimportant whether one makes the counts of Hohenzollern descend from Witikind, from the Guelphs, or from some other stem. Mankind, it seems to me, is all of one equally ancient race. The researches of a genealogist, or the occupation of scholars who work on the etymology of words, are subjects so trivial that in themselves they are not worthy of occupying thinking people's heads. One needs significant facts, and items capable of arresting the attention of reasonable people. We will not waste time by tiring the spirit on these researches, which are as frivolous as they are uninteresting.

First Counts of Hohenzollern

Tassilo is the first Count of Hohenzollern known in history and lived around the year 800. His descendants were Danco, Rudolf 1st, Otto, Wolfgang, Frederick 1st, Frederick 2nd, Frederick 3rd, Burkhart, Frederick 4th, and Rudolf 2nd, of whose obscure lives nothing is known. Conrad, who lived towards the year 1200, was the first burgrave of Nuremberg of whom history makes mention. His successors were Frederick 1st in 1216, Conrad 2nd in 1260, and Frederick 2nd in 1270. One finds that Frederick 3rd inherited from his brother-in-law, the Duke of Meran, the lordships of Bayreuth and of Cadolzburg. John 1st succeeded him in 1298, and John by Frederick 4th in 1332.

The Burgrave Frederick 4th rendered important services to the Emperors Albert, Henry 7th, and Ludwig of Bavaria, in their wars with Frederick of Austria. The Burgrave fought against him, took him prisoner, and delivered him to the Emperor, who, in recognition, made him a gift of all the prisoners he had taken from the Austrians. Frederick 4th released them, on condition that they pay him homage for their lands, the origin of the vassalage that the Margraves of Franconia still have to Austria.

The successors of Frederick 4th were Conrad 4th in 1334, John 2nd in 1357, Albert 6th, (known as the Handsome) in 1361, and Albert's nephew, Frederick 5th, whom the Emperor Charles 4th declared Prince of the Empire in 1363 at the Diet of Nuremberg, and whom he even named his lieutenant.

In 1402, Frederick 5th divided the lands of his burgraviate between his two sons John 3rd and Frederick 6th; but John 3rd dying without issue, the entire paternal succession fell to Frederick 6th.

In 1408, accompanied by his troops, this elector entered the territory of the city of Rottweil, which had been put under the ban of the Empire, and demolished several castles. In 1412, he took over the government of the Mark, which the Emperor Sigismund had presented to him.

The last electors of Brandenburg not having resided in the Mark, the nobility took the opportunity to revolt; they were independent, mutinous and seditious. The new governor joined forces with the dukes of Pomerania, and gave bloody battle to these rebels near Zossen. He was fully victorious, and demolished some of the forts that served them as places for retreat; but he could not entirely subdue the family of Kuitzow, until he had taken twenty-four castles, which were in a defended state.

We have thus reached the belle epoch of the house of Hohenzollern, but since we find it transplanted to a new land, it would be as well to give an idea of the origin and of the government of Brandenburg.

The land that then composed the Electorate of Brandenburg were the Old Mark, the Middle, the New, the Uckermark, and Priegnitz; but the New Mark was committed to the Teutonic Order; and the Uckermark, usurped by the dukes of Pomerania. The word margraviate originally signified frontier government.

The Romans were the first to establish governors in the territory that they had conquered in Germany. It is noticeable, however, that they never crossed the Elbe: it seems that the fierce and belligerent character of these peoples, according to Tacitus, constantly guaranteed them against the enterprises of the Romans. The Suevi, the most ancient inhabitants of the Mark, were driven out by the Vandals, the Heneti, the Saxons, and the Franks; and in 780, Charlemagne had great difficulty in subjugating them. It was not until the year 927 that the Emperor Henry the Fowler established margraves in these lands, to control these peoples and their neighbors, whose errant valor was exercised by incursions and ravages. In 927, (according to Entzelt), Sigefroi, brother-in-law of the Emperor Henry the Fowler,became the first margrave of Brandenburg. Under his administration, the bishoprics of Brandenburg and of Havelberg were established by the Emperor Otto 1st, only twenty-eight years after that of Magdeburg was founded.

From Sigefroi until our days, nine different lines of the Margraves of Brandenburg are counted, those of the Saxons, of Walbeck, of Stade, of Ploetzke, of Anhalt, of Bavaria, of Luxembourg, of Meissen, and finally that of Hohenzollern, which still subsists.

Under the government of the Saxons, a Vandal king named Miftevojus totally devastated the Marches and drove out the governors. The Emperor Henry 2nd re-conquered this land again; the barbarians were beaten, and Miftevojus perished there with his six thousand men. The margraves were unable to re-establish themselves peacefully over Brandenburg: they had to maintain wars against the Vandals and other barbarian peoples, sometimes defeated, sometimes victorious; their power was not strong until they came under Albert the Bear, the first of the Anhalt line, the fifth line of the margraves. Around the year 1100, the emperors Conrad 3rd and Frederick Barbarossa raised him first to the margraviate and then to the electoral dignity. Pribislas, Prince of the Vandals, who had no children, took so much of a liking to Albert the Bear that in 1144 he left him the Middle Mark in his will. This elector thus possessed the Old and the Middle Mark, High Saxony, the land of Anhalt, and a part of Lusatia.

The archives are empty, and history is impenetrably dark, concerning the princes of the Anhalt line. It is known that this line died out in 1332, with the death of Waldemar 2nd. The Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria, who then reigned, seeing the Mark as a fief that had devolved to the Empire, gave it to his son Ludwig, who was the first of the sixth line. This elector had three wars to maintain. One was with the dukes of Pomerania, who invaded the Ukermark; another with the Poles, who laid waste the county of Sternberg; and the third, against an imposter, who, taking the name of Waldemar, (brother of the last Elector of the house of Anhalt), formed a party, made himself master of several cities, but was finally defeated. This false Waldemar was the son of a miller of Belitz.

Ludwig the Roman succeeded his brother; and, as he too died without children, his third brother, Otto, succeeded him. This elector was so pusillanimous, that in 1373, after the death of his brother, he sold the Electorate for two hundred thousand golden florins to the Emperor Charles 4th (of the house of Luxembourg) who did not pay him even this modest sum. Charles 4th gave the Mark to his son Wenceslas who wanted to incorporate it in Bohemia, of which he was king.

After the death of Wenceslas, Sigismund (of the same house) received the Electorate. The New Mark, that the Teutonic Order had conquered from the Elector John, and which Otto the Long had redeemed, was alienated anew to this Order. Sigismund, having need of money, sold the province to the Knights in 1402. Jost succeeded Sigismund; it is claimed that he poisoned his brother Procope. As Jost aspired to the Empire, he sold the Electorate for four hundred thousand florins to Duke William of Meissen. This Duke had not possessed the Electorate for more than a year, when the Emperor Sigismund redeemed it.

This custom singular of buying and selling states, so much in fashion in that century, proves with certainty the barbarity of those times and the miserable state in which those provinces were, that they could be sold for so wretched a price. The Emperor, unable to take on himself the administration of the Electorate, appointed a governor, his choice falling on Burgrave Frederick 6th of Nuremberg, brother of John 3rd of the house of Hohenzollern; and it is the history of this elector that we are about to write.


1) An influential family in medieval and Renaissance Rome
2) Possibly Wittekind, a Saxon leader and opponent of Charlemagne
3) Faction supporting the Papacy against the Empire during 12th and 13th centuries
4) Duke Otto 1st
5) In Baden-Wuerttemberg
6) Non-Hohenzollern
7) County between the river Elbe and the Harz Mountains
8) An area of Brandenburg and Saxony
9) City between Rostock, Wismar, and Schwerin.

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