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History of Bavaria

The history of Bavaria stretches from its earliest settlement and its formation as a stem duchy in the 6th century through its inclusion in the Holy Roman Empires to its status as an independent kingdom and finally as a large Bundesland (state) of the modern Federal Republic of Germany.

Early settlements and Roman Raetia

For the Roman history of the territory, see Vindelicia and Raetia.

There have been numerous palaeolithic discoveries in Bavaria.

The earliest known inhabitants that are mentioned in written sources were the Celts, participating in the widespread La Tène culture, whom the Romans subdued just before the commencement of the Christian era; founding colonies among them and including their land in the provinces of Raetia and Noricum. The Roman centre of administration for this area was Castra Regina (modern-day Regensburg).1

Migrations and early medieval period

During the 5th century, the Romans in Noricum and Raetia - south of the Danube, came under increasing pressure from people north of the Danube, which had become inhabited by Suebian groups from the north and had come to be considered a part of Germania. The etymological origins of the name "Bavarian" (Latin Baiovarii) are from the north of the Danube, outside the empire, coming from the Celtic Boii, who lived there earlier. Their name was already used to refer to part of this region in the time of Maroboduus who formed the Germanic Marcomannic kingdom with its capital in this forested area. Boi became Bai according to typical Germanic linguistic changes happening at that time and a Germanic word similar to English "home" or modern German "Heim" was added. Strabo therefore reports Boihaemum (Greek Βουίαιμον).[1] And Tacitus similarly reports that Boihaemi is the name given to the area where the Boii had lived.[2] These forms lead to modern Bohemia which lies to the east of modern Bavaria and completely to the north of the Danube. At some later stage the ending "varii" was used in order to give a new name to specific people living in this geographical area who were then living on both sides of the Danube (similar Germanic ethnic names were created based on other regions: Angrivarii and Ampsivarii in northern Germany, Anglo-Saxon Cantware, Ripuarian Franks and so on). Claudius Ptolemy named both the "Baenochaemae", living on the Upper Elbe river and a "large people" known as the "'Baimoi", living near the Danube.

In surviving records, the Bavarian name was first mentioned historically by the Franks in a list of peoples, prepared in c. 520 AD. The first document that also describes their location (east of the Swabians) is the History of the Goths by the historian Jordanes dating from 551 AD. A remark by Venantius Fortunatus follows in his description of his travels from Ravenna to Tours (565-571) in which he had crossed the lands of the Bavarians, referring to the dangers of travel in the region: 'If the road is clear and if the Bavarian does not stop you … then travel across the Alps.'

Archaeological evidence dating from the 5th and 6th centuries points to social and cultural influences from several regions and peoples, such as Alamanni, Lombards, Thuringians, Goths, Bohemian Slavs and the local Romanised population.2  

According to the narrative traditions collected by Anno, the Bishop of Cologne and some other documents, the Bavarians had come from Armenia, the 'land of Noah's Ark'.[3]

Recent research by Wolfram and Pohl (1990) has moved away from searching for specific geographical origins of the Bavarians. It is now thought that the tribal ethnicity was established by the process of ethnogenesis, whereby an ethnic identity is formed because political and social pressures make a coherent identity necessary.

The stem duchy of Bavaria

Bavaria and the Agilolfings under Frankish overlordship

The Bavarians soon came under the dominion of the Franks, probably without a serious struggle. The Franks regarded this border area as a buffer zone against peoples to the east, such as the Avars and the Slavs, and as a source of manpower for the army. Sometime around 550 AD they put it under the administration of a duke - possibly Frankish or possibly chosen from amongst the local leading families - who was supposed to act as a regional governor for the Frankish king. The first duke known was Garibald I, a member of the powerful Agilolfing family.6 This was the beginning of a series of Agilolfing dukes that was to last until 788 AD.

For a century and a half, a succession of dukes resisted the inroads of the Slavs on their eastern frontier and by the time of Duke Theodo I, who died in 717, had achieved complete independence from the feeble Frankish kings. When Charles Martel became the virtual ruler of the Frankish realm he brought the Bavarians into strict dependence and deposed two dukes successively for contumacy. Pippin the Short, likewise maintained Frankish authority. Several marriages took place between the family to which he belonged and the Agilolfings, who were united in a similar manner with the kings of the Lombards. The ease with which the Franks suppressed various risings gives colour to the supposition that family quarrels rather than the revolt of an oppressed people motivated the rebellions.

Bavarian law was committed to writing between the years 739 AD and 748 AD. Supplementary clauses, added afterwards, bear evidence of Frankish influence. Thus, while the dukedom belongs to the Agilolfing family, the duke must be chosen by the people and his election confirmed by the Frankish king, to whom he owes fealty. The duke has a fivefold weregild, summons the nobles and clergy for purposes of deliberation, calls out the host, administers justice and regulates finance. Five noble families exist, possibly representing former divisions of the people. Subordinate to the nobles we find the freeborn and then the freedmen. The law divided the country into gaits or counties, under their counts, assisted by judges responsible for declaring the law.


Christianity had lingered in Bavaria from Roman times, but a new era set in when Rupert, bishop of Worms, came to the county at the invitation of Duke Theodo I in 696. He founded several monasteries, as did St. Emmeran, bishop of Poitiers, with the result that before long, most of the people professed Christianity and relations commenced between Bavaria and Rome. The 8th century witnessed indeed a heathen reaction, but the arrival of Saint Boniface in Bavaria during c. 734 AD checked apostasy.[citation needed] Boniface organised the Bavarian church and founded or restored bishoprics at Salzburg, Freising, Regensburg and Passau.

Tassilo III, who became duke of the Bavarians in 749, recognized the supremacy of the Frankish king, Pippin the Short in 757 AD, but soon afterwards refused to furnish a contribution to the war in Aquitaine. Moreover, during the early years of the reign of Charlemagne, Tassilo gave decisions in ecclesiastical and civil causes in his own name, refused to appear in the assemblies of the Franks, and in general acted as an independent ruler. His control of the Alpine passes and his position as an ally of the Avars and as son-in-law of the Lombard king - Desiderius, became so troublesome to the Frankish kingdom that Charlemagne determined to crush him.

The details of this contest remain obscure. Tassilo appears to have done homage in 781 AD and again in 787 AD, probably owing to the presence of Frankish armies. But further trouble soon arose, and in 788 AD, the Franks summoned the duke to Ingelheim and sentenced him to death on a charge of treachery. The King, however, pardoned Tassilo who entered a monastery and formally renounced his duchy at Frankfurt in 794.

Gerold, a brother-in-law of Charlemagne, ruled Bavaria till his death in a battle with the Avars in 799, when Frankish counts took over the administration and assimilated the land with the rest of the Carolingian empire. Measures taken by Charlemagne for the intellectual progress and material welfare of his realm improved conditions. The Bavarians offered no resistance to the change which thus abolished their dukedom. Their incorporation with the Frankish dominions, due mainly to the unifying influence of the church, appeared already so complete that Charlemagne did not find it necessary to issue more than two capitularies dealing especially with Bavarian affairs.

The Duchy during the Carolingian period

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Stem duchy of Bavaria in the 10th century

The history of Bavaria for the ensuing century intertwines with that of the Carolingian empire. Bavaria, given during the partition of 817 AD to the king of the East Franks, Louis the German, formed a part of the larger territories confirmed to him in 843 AD by the Treaty of Verdun. Louis made Regensburg, the centre of his government and actively developed Bavaria, providing for its security by numerous campaigns against the Slavs. When he divided his possessions in 865 AD, it passed to his eldest son, Carloman, who had already managed its administration, and after his death in 880 AD it became a part of the extensive territories of the emperor, Charles the Fat. This incompetent ruler left its defence to Arnulf, an illegitimate son of Carloman. Mainly due to the support of the Bavarians, Arnulf could take the field against Charles in 887 AD and secure his own election as a German king in the following year. In 899 AD, Bavaria passed to Louis the Child, during whose reign continuous Hungarian ravages occurred. Resistance to these inroads became gradually feebler, and tradition has it that on 5 July 907 almost the whole of the Bavarian tribe perished in the Battle of Pressburg against these formidable enemies.

During the reign of Louis the Child, Luitpold, Count of Scheyern, who possessed large Bavarian domains, ruled the Mark of Carinthia, created on the southeastern frontier for the defence of Bavaria. He died in the great battle of 907 AD, but his son Arnulf, surnamed the Bad, rallied the remnants of the tribe, in alliance with the Hungarians became duke of the Bavarians in 911 AD, uniting Bavaria and Carinthia under his rule. The German king, Conrad I attacked Arnulf when the latter refused to acknowledge his royal supremacy but failed in the end.

Duchy during the Ottonian and Salian periods

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Bavaria within the Holy Roman Empire in AD 1000, forming the southeasternmost part of the kingdom of Germany, bordered by the March of Verona to the south, and the March of Carinthia to the east.

In 920 AD, Conrad's successor was the German king, Henry the Fowler of the Ottonian dynasty. Henry recognized Arnulf as duke, confirming his right to appoint bishops, coin money and issue laws.

A similar conflict took place between Arnulf's son and successor Eberhard and Henry's son Otto I the Great. Eberhard proved less successful than his father, and in 938 AD, fled from Bavaria, which Otto granted (with reduced privileges) to the late duke's uncle, Bertold. Otto also appointed a count palatine in the person of Eberhard's brother, Arnulf to watch the royal interests.

When Bertold died in 947 AD, Otto conferred the duchy upon his own brother Henry, who had married Judith, a daughter of Duke Arnulf. The Bavarians disliked Henry, who spent his short reign mainly in disputes with his people.

The ravages of the Hungarians ceased after their defeat on the Lechfeld (955 AD) and the area of the duchy was augmented for a time by the addition of certain adjacent districts in Italy.

In 955 AD, Henry's young son Henry, surnamed the Quarrelsome, succeeded him, but in 974 AD he became involved in a conspiracy against King Otto II. The rising occurred because the king had granted the duchy of Swabia to Henry's enemy, Otto, a grandson of Emperor Otto the Great, and had given the new Bavarian Eastern March, subsequently known as Austria, to Leopold, count of Babenberg. The revolt soon failed but Henry, who on his escape from prison renewed his plots, formally lost his duchy of Bavaria in 976 AD to Otto, Duke of Swabia. At the same time, Carinthia was made a separate duchy, the office of Count Palatine was reestablished, and the Bavarian church became dependent on the king instead of on the duke.

Bavaria at this stage included the Inn basin (including Salzburg and the Salzach basin) and the Danube from Donauworth (Lech confluence) to Linz; the March of Verona (South Tyrol) briefly fell to Bavaria (952 AD) before passing to Carinthia (976 AD). The most important Bavarian cities at the time were Freising, Passau, Salzburg and Regensburg.

Restored in 985 AD, Henry proved himself a capable ruler, establishing internal order, issuing important laws and taking measures to reform the monasteries. In 1002 AD, his son and successor Henry II gave Bavaria to his brother-in-law Henry of Luxembourg, after whose death in 1026 AD it passed successively to Henry, afterwards Emperor Henry III, and then to another member of the family of Luxembourg, ruling as Duke Henry VII. In 1061 AD, Empress Agnes, mother and regent of the German king Henry IV, entrusted the duchy to Otto of Nordheim.

Under the Welfs

In 1070 AD, King Henry IV deposed duke Otto, granting the duchy to Count Welf, a member of an influential Bavarian family with roots in northern Italy.

In consequence of his support of Pope Gregory VII in his quarrel with Henry, Welf lost but subsequently regained Bavaria; two of his sons followed him in succession: Welf II from 1101 AD and Henry IX from 1120 AD. Both exercised considerable influence among the German princes.

Henry IX's son Henry X, called the Proud, succeeded in 1126 AD and also obtained the Duchy of Saxony in 1137 AD. Alarmed at his power, King Conrad III refused to allow two duchies to remain in the same hands, and declared Henry deposed. He bestowed Bavaria upon Leopold IV, Margrave of Austria. When Leopold died in 1141, the king retained the duchy himself; but it continued to be the scene of considerable disorder, and in 1143 AD he entrusted it to Henry, surnamed Jasomirgott, Margrave of Austria.

The struggle for its possession continued until 1156 AD, when Emperor Frederick I, in his desire to restore peace to Germany, persuaded Henry to give up Bavaria to Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and son of Henry, the Proud. In return, Austria was elevated from a margraviate to an independent duchy in the Privilegium Minus. It was Henry the Lion who founded Munich.

Geographic fluctuations

During the years following the dissolution of the Carolingian empire the borders of Bavaria changed continuously and for a lengthy period after 955 AD, it finally started expanding. To the west, the Lech still divided Bavaria from Swabia but on three other sides Bavaria took advantage of opportunities for expansion and the duchy occupied a considerable area north of the Danube. During the later years of the rule of the Welfs, however, a contrary tendency operated, and the extent of Bavaria shrank.

In 1027 AD, Conrad II split off the Bishopric of Trent from the former Lombard Kingdom of Italy. He attached it to the stem duchy of Bavaria, which was then under the rule of his son Henry III. From the 12th century onwards, the counts residing in Castle Tyrol near Merano extended their territory over much of the region and came to surpass the power of the bishops of Brixen, of whom they were nominally vassals. After the deposition of Henry X the Proud as Bavarian duke in 1138 AD, the Counts of Tyrol strengthened their independence from Bavaria under his son, Henry the Lion. When the House of Welf was again given to the Bavarian duchy by Frederick Barbarossa at the 1154 AD Reichstag of Goslar, the county of Tyrol was no longer counted as part of Bavaria.

Duke Henry the Lion focused on his northern duchy of Saxony rather than on his southern duchy of Bavaria, and when the dispute over the Bavarian succession ended in 1156 AD, the district between the Enns and the Inn became part of Austria.

The increasing importance of former Bavarian territories like the Mark of Styria (erected into a duchy in 1180 AD) and of the county of Tyrol had diminished both the actual and the relative strength of Bavaria, which now on almost all sides lacked opportunities for expansion. The neighboring Duchy of Carinthia, the large territories of the Archbishop of Salzburg, as well as a general tendency to claim more independence on the part of the nobles: all these causes limited Bavarian expansion.

Under the Wittelsbach dynasty

A new era began when, in consequence of Henry the Lion being placed under an imperial ban in 1180 AD, Emperor Frederick I awarded the duchy to Otto, a member of the old Bavarian family of Wittelsbach and a descendant of the counts of Scheyern. The Wittelsbach dynasty ruled Bavaria without interruption until 1918 AD. The Electorate of the Palatinate was also acquired by the Wittelsbachs in 1214 AD.

When Otto of Wittelsbach gained Bavaria at Altenburg in September 1180, the duchy's borders comprised the Böhmerwald, the Inn, the Alps and the Lech; and the duke exercised practical power only over his extensive private domains around Wittelsbach, Kelheim and Straubing.

Otto only enjoyed three years of rule over Bavaria. His son Louis I succeeded him in 1183 AD, playing a leading part in German affairs during the early years of the reign of the emperor Frederick II until Louis was assassinated at Kelheim in September 1231. His son Otto II, called the Illustrious, remained loyal to the Hohenstaufen emperors despite the Church placing Bavaria under an interdict and himself under a papal ban. Like his father, Otto II increased the area of his lands by purchases and considerably strengthened his hold upon the duchy. He died in November 1253.


Bamberg Cathedral, completed in the 13th century.

The efforts of the dukes to increase their power and to give unity to the duchy had met with a fair measure of success; but they were soon vitiated by partitions among different members of the family, which for 250 years made the history of Bavaria little more than a repetitive chronicle of territorial divisions bringing war and weakness in their wake.

The first of these divisions occurred in 1255. Louis II and Henry XIII, the sons of Duke Otto II, who for two years after their father's death had ruled Bavaria jointly, split their inheritance: Louis II obtained the western part of the duchy, afterwards called Upper Bavaria, as well as the Electorate of the Palatinate, while Henry secured eastern or Lower Bavaria.

Lower Bavaria

Henry XIII of Lower Bavaria spent most of his time in quarrels with his brother, with Ottakar II of Bohemia and with various ecclesiastics. When he died in February 1290, the land fell to his three sons, Otto III, Louis III, and Stephen I. The families of these three princes governed Lower Bavaria until 1333, when Henry XV (son of Otto III) died, followed in 1334 by his cousin Otto IV; and as both died without sons the whole of Lower Bavaria then passed to Henry XIV. Dying in 1339, Henry left an only son, John I, who died childless in the following year, when the Wittelsbach emperor Louis IV, by securing Lower Bavaria for himself, united the whole of the duchy under his sway.

Upper Bavaria

In the course of a long reign, Louis II, called "the Stern", became the most powerful prince in southern Germany. He served as the guardian of his nephew Conradin of Hohenstaufen, and after Conradin's execution in Italy in 1268, Louis and his brother Henry inherited the domains of the Hohenstaufens in Swabia and elsewhere. He supported Rudolph, count of Habsburg, in his efforts to secure the German throne in 1273, married the new king's daughter Mechtild, and aided him in campaigns in Bohemia.

For some years after Louis' death in 1294, his sons Rudolph I and Louis, afterwards the emperor Louis IV, ruled their duchy in common; but as their relations were never harmonious, a division of Upper Bavaria occurred in 1310, by which Rudolph received the land east of the Isar together with the town of Munich, and Louis the district between the Isar and the Lech. It was not long, however, before this arrangement led to war between the brothers, with the result that in 1317, three years after he had become German king, Louis compelled Rudolph to abdicate, and for twelve years ruled alone over the whole of Upper Bavaria. But in 1329 a series of events induced him to conclude the Treaty of Pavia with Rudolph's sons, Rudolph and Rupert, to whom he transferred the Electorate of the Palatinate (which the Wittelsbach family had owned since 1214) and also a portion of Bavaria north of the Danube, afterwards called the Upper Palatinate (Oberpfalz).

At the same time the two lines of the Wittelsbach family decided to exercise the electoral vote alternately, and that in the event of the extinction of either branch of the family, the surviving branch should inherit its possessions.

The consolidation of Bavaria under Louis IV lasted for seven years, during which the emperor was able to improve the condition of the country. When he died in 1347 he left six sons to share his possessions, who agreed upon a division of Bavaria in 1349. Its history, however, was complicated by its connections with Brandenburg, Holland, Hainaut and Tirol, all of which the emperor had also left to his sons. All the six brothers exercised some authority in Bavaria; but three alone left issue, and of these the eldest, Louis V, Duke of Bavaria—also margrave of Brandenburg and count of Tyrol—died in 1361 and was followed to the grave two years later by his only son, the childless Meinhard. Tyrol then passed to the Habsburgs. Brandenburg was lost in 1373.

The two remaining brothers, Stephen II and Albert I, ruled over Bavaria-Landshut and Bavaria-Straubing respectively and when Stephen died in 1375 his three sons governed his portion of Bavaria jointly. In 1392, on the extinction of all the lines except those of Stephen and Albert, an important partition took place, which subdivided the greater part of the duchy amongst Stephen's three sons, Stephen III, Frederick and John II, who founded respectively the lines of Ingolstadt, Landshut and Munich.

The main result of the threefold division of 1392 proved to be a succession of civil wars which led to the temporary eclipse of Bavaria as a force in German politics. Neighbouring states encroached upon its borders, and the nobles ignored the authority of the dukes, who, deprived of the electoral vote, were mainly occupied for fifty years with internal strife.

This condition of affairs, however, had some benefits. The government of the country and the control of the finances passed mainly into the hands of an assembly called the Landtag or Landschaft, organized in 1392. The towns, assuming a certain independence, became strong and wealthy as trade increased, and the citizens of Munich and Regensburg often proved formidable antagonists to the dukes. Thus, a period of disorder saw the growth of representative institutions and the establishment of a strong civic spirit.

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The four duchies of Bavaria 1392.


Albert I's duchy of Bavaria-Straubing passed with Holland and Hainaut on his death in 1404 to his son William II, and in 1417 to his younger son John III, who resigned the bishopric of Liège to take up his new position. When John died in 1425 this family became extinct, and after a contest between various claimants, the three remaining branches of the Wittelsbach family Ingolstadt, Landshut and Munich partitioned Bavaria-Straubing between themselves. However, Holland and Hainaut passed to Burgundy.


Stephen III, duke of Bavaria-Ingolstadt, was renowned as a soldier rather than as a statesman. His rule saw struggles with various towns and with his brother, John of Bavaria-Munich. On his death in 1413 his son Louis VII, called the Bearded, succeeded. Before his accession, this restless and quarrelsome prince had played an important part in the affairs of France, where his sister Isabella had married King Charles VI. About 1417 he became involved in a violent quarrel with his cousin, Henry XVI of Bavaria-Landshut, fell under both the papal and the imperial ban, and in 1439 came under attack from his son, Louis VIII the Lame. This prince, who had married a daughter of Frederick I of Hohenzollern, margrave of Brandenburg, resented the favour shown by his father to an illegitimate son. Aided by Albert Achilles, afterwards margrave of Brandenburg, he took the elder Louis prisoner and compelled him to abdicate in 1443. When Louis the Lame died in 1445 his father came into the power of his implacable enemy, Henry of Bavaria-Landshut, and died in prison in 1447.


The duchy of Bavaria-Ingolstadt passed to Henry, who had succeeded his father Frederick as duke of Bavaria-Landshut in 1393, and whose long reign comprised almost entirely family feuds. He died in July 1450, and his son, Louis IX (called the Rich) succeeded. About this time Bavaria began to recover some of its former importance.

Louis IX expelled the Jews from his duchy, increased the security of traders, and improved both the administration of justice and the condition of the finances. In 1472 he founded the university of Ingolstadt, attempted to reform the monasteries, and successfully defeated Albert Achilles of Brandenburg. On the death of Louis IX in January 1479 his son George, also called the Rich, succeeded; and when George, a faithful adherent of the German king Maximilian I, died without sons in December 1503, a war broke out for the possession of his duchy.


Albert IV of Bavaria

Bavaria-Munich passed on after the death of John II in 1397 to his sons Ernest and William III, but they only obtained possession of their lands after a struggle with Stephen of Bavaria-Ingolstadt. Both brothers then engaged in warfare with the other branches of the family and with the citizens of Munich. William III, a loyal servant of the emperor Sigismund, died in 1435, leaving an only son, Adolf, who died five years later; and Ernest, distinguished for his strength, died in 1438. In 1440 the whole of Bavaria-Munich came to Ernest's son Albert III, who had become estranged from his father owing to his union with the commoner Agnes Bernauer. Albert, whose attempts to reform the monasteries earned him the surname of Pious, almost became the elected king of Bohemia in 1440. He died in 1460, leaving five sons, the two elder of whom, John IV and Sigismund, reigned together until John's death in 1463. The third brother, Albert, who had been educated for the church, joined his brother in 1465, and when Sigismund abdicated two years later became sole ruler, in spite of the claims of his two younger brothers.

Albert IV, called the Wise, added the district of Abensberg to his possessions, and in 1504 became involved in the Landshut War of Succession which broke out for the possession of Bavaria-Landshut on the death of George the Rich. Albert's rival was George's son-in-law Rupert, formerly bishop of Freising and also successor of Philip as count palatine of the Rhine. The emperor Maximilian I, interested as archduke of Austria and count of Tirol, interfered in the dispute. Rupert died in 1504, and the following year an arrangement was made at the Diet of Cologne by which the emperor and Philip's grandson, Otto Henry, obtained certain outlying districts, while Albert by securing the bulk of George's possessions united Bavaria under his rule. In 1506 Albert decreed that the duchy should thenceforth pass according to the rules of primogeniture, and in other ways endeavoured to consolidate Bavaria. He was partially successful in improving the condition of the country, and in 1500 Bavaria formed one of the six circles into which Germany was divided for the maintenance of peace. Albert died in March 1508, and was succeeded by his son, William IV, whose mother Kunigunde was a daughter of the emperor Frederick III.

Reunited Duchy

Renaissance and Counter-Reformation

In spite of the decree of 1506, William IV was compelled to grant a share in the government in 1516 to his brother Louis X, an arrangement which lasted until the death of Louis in 1545.

William followed the traditional Wittelsbach policy of opposition to the Habsburgs until in 1534 he made a treaty at Linz with Ferdinand, the king of Hungary and Bohemia. This link strengthened in 1546, when the emperor Charles V obtained the help of the duke during the war of the league of Schmalkalden by promising him in certain eventualities the succession to the Bohemian throne, and the electoral dignity enjoyed by the count palatine of the Rhine. William also did much at a critical period to secure Bavaria for Catholicism. The reformed doctrines had made considerable progress in the duchy when the duke obtained extensive rights over the bishoprics and monasteries from the pope. He then took measures to repress the reformers, many of whom were banished; while the Jesuits, whom he invited into the duchy in 1541, made the Jesuit College of Ingolstadt, their headquarters in Germany. William, whose death occurred in March 1550 and was succeeded by his son Albert V, who had married a daughter of Ferdinand of Habsburg, afterwards the emperor Ferdinand I. Early in his reign Albert made some concessions to the reformers, who were still strong in Bavaria; but about 1563 he changed his attitude, favoured the decrees of the Council of Trent, and pressed forward the work of the Counter-Reformation. As education passed by degrees into the hands of the Jesuits, the progress of Protestantism was effectually arrested in Bavaria.

Albert V patronised art extensively. Artists of all kinds flocked to his court in Munich, and splendid buildings arose in the city, while Italy and elsewhere contributed to the collection of artistic works. The expenses of a magnificent court led the duke to quarrel with the Landschaft (the nobles), to oppress his subjects, and to leave a great burden of debt when he died in October 1579.

The succeeding duke, Albert's son, William V (called the Pious), had received a Jesuit education and showed keen attachment to Jesuit tenets. He secured the archbishopric of Cologne for his brother Ernest in 1583, and this dignity remained in the possession of the family for nearly 200 years. In 1597 he abdicated in favour of his son Maximilian I, and retired to a monastery, where he died in 1626.

Thirty Years' War

Maximilian I found the duchy encumbered with debt and filled with disorder, but ten years of his vigorous rule effected a remarkable change. The finances and the judicial system were reorganised, a class of civil servants and a national militia founded, and several small districts were brought under the duke's authority. The result was a unity and order in the duchy which enabled Maximilian to play an important part in the Thirty Years' War; during the earlier years of which he was so successful as to acquire the Upper Palatinate and the electoral dignity which had been enjoyed since 1356 by the elder branch of the Wittelsbach family. In spite of subsequent reverses, Maximilian retained these gains at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. During the later years of this war Bavaria, especially the northern part, suffered severely. In 1632 the Swedes invaded, and when Maximilian violated the treaty of Ulm in 1647, the French and the Swedes ravaged the land. After repairing this damage to some extent, the elector died at Ingolstadt in September 1651, leaving his duchy much stronger than he had found it. The recovery of the Upper Palatinate made Bavaria compact; the acquisition of the electoral vote made it influential; and the duchy was able to play a part in European politics which internal strife had rendered impossible for the past four hundred years.