- A German principality and, since 1803, an electoral state, Hesse-Cassel was one of the more powerful middle-ranking powers in central Germany. Between 1850 and its dissolution in 1866, Hesse-Cassel found itself at the center of Austro Prussian antagonism. Although the Holy Roman Empire already lay in agony and disappeared only three years later, the landgrave of Hesse-Cassel was at last awarded the status of elector in 1803. Soon after, he fled from invading French forces and went into exile. In 1807, Napoleon occupied Hesse-Cassel, made it the capital of the newly founded Kingdom of Westphalia, and installed his brother Jérôme as king in the capital Cassel.After Napoleon ’s downfall, the ancien régime, which was reinstated at the Congress of Vienna, frustrated hopes for a more liberal future. In November 1831, Hesse-Cassel decided to participate in the Zollverein , thus ending widespread smuggling of goods along the Prussian border, which had damaged relations between the two states. Two years later, the Landtag granted Jewish emancipation. In the meantime the elector and his conservative ministers tried largely in vain to slacken the pace of democratic and economic reform. The apex of the struggle between the two camps, however, was reached with the German Revolution of 1848–1849. Initial success of the progressive forces compelled the new elector Frederick William I to reassert and extend the constitution of 1831. However, when the Paulskirche parliament disintegrated in 1849, in Hesse-Cassel, as everywhere else, reactionary forces tried to turn back time.By now the kingdom was following a policy of its own with the aim of a German union under Prussian leadership. These ambitions predictably aroused the suspicion of Austria, and armies from the two states met near Fulda in the south of Hesse-Cassel. A clash was averted, but on November 29, 1850, Prussia was forced by Russia and Austria to sign the humiliating Punctuation of Olmütz and had to renounce her plans of German political unity for the time being. Prussia also reacknowledged the Frankfurt Diet, the legislative organ of the German Confederation. When war between Austria and Prussia finally erupted in 1866, Hesse-Cassel had occupied a central position between the two Great Powers. Against the advice of his ministers and contrary to the opinion of the overwhelming majority in the Landtag, Frederick William faithfully stood by Austria and her south German allies. Prussian troops invaded and occupied the electorate during the Seven Weeks’ War. Shortly thereafter, the Hessian army took their orders from the Prussian military command. When Prussia annexed Hesse-Cassel, there was little resistance from the people, and its history as an independent state came quietly to an end.See also <
>; < >.FURTHER READING:Ingrao, Charles W. The Hessian Mercenary State: Ideas, Institutions, and Reform under Frederick II, 1760–1785. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002;Showalter, Dennis. The Wars of German Unification. London: Arnold, 2004;Taylor, Peter K. Indentured to Liberty: Peasant Life and the Hessian Military State, 1688–1815. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.ULRICH SCHNAKENBERG
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.