The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







A palatinate is an area administered by a count palatine, originally the direct representative of the sovereign but later the hereditary ruler of the territory subject to the crown's overlordship.



More particularly, the Palatinate (German die Pfalz) usually refers to one of two areas in Germany, each formerly ruled by a count palatine.

When Germans speak about "the Palatinate" they are usually referring to the Rhenish Palatinate (Rheinpfalz, sometimes called the "Lower Palatinate" or Niederpfalz). Long administratively a part of Bavaria (although it does not border Bavaria proper), today it occupies rather more than a quarter of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) and contains towns and cities such as Ludwigshafen, Kaiserslautern, Frankenthal, Neustadt an der Weinstraße , Landau and Speyer. That part of the old Rhenish Palatinate which lay on the right bank of the Rhine is called Electoral Palatinate (Kurpfalz) and, annexed by Baden at the beginning of the 19th century, it now forms part of the state of Baden-Württemberg. It includes the cities of Mannheim and Heidelberg, which had been the capitals of the old electorate.

The Upper Palatinate (Oberpfalz) is a larger area 300 km to the east, containing the cities of Regensburg and Amberg. It is now a part of the state of Bavaria.


The Palatinate arose as the County Palatine of the Rhine, a large feudal state lying on both banks of the Rhine, which seems to have come into existence in the 10th century. The territory fell to the Wittelsbach Dukes of Bavaria in the early 13th century, and during a later division of territory among one of the heirs of Duke Louis II of Upper Bavaria in 1294, the elder branch of the Wittelsbachs came into possession not only of the Rhenish Palatinate, but also of that part of Upper Bavaria itself which was north of the Danube, and which came to be called the Upper Palatinate (Oberpfalz), in contrast to the Lower Palatinate along the Rhine. In the Golden Bull of 1356, the Palatinate was made one of the secular electorates, and given the hereditary offices of Archsteward of the Empire and Imperial Vicar of the western half of Germany. From this time forth, the Count Palatine of the Rhine was usually known as the Elector Palatine.

Due to the practice of division of territories among different branches of the family, by the early 16th century junior lines of the Palatine Wittelsbachs came to rule in Simmern, Kaiserslautern, and Zweibrücken in the Lower Palatinate, and in Neuburg and Sulzbach in the Upper Palatinate. The Elector Palatine, now based in Heidelberg, converted to Lutheranism in the 1530s.

When the senior branch of the family died out in 1559, the Electorate passed to Frederick III of Simmern, a staunch Calvinist, and the Palatinate became one of the major centers of Calvinism in Europe, supporting Calvinist rebellions in both the Netherlands and France. Frederick III's grandson, Frederick IV, and his adviser, Christian of Anhalt , founded the Evangelical Union of Protestant states in 1608, and in 1619 Elector Frederick V (the Winter King) (the son-in-law of King James I of England) accepted the throne of Bohemia from rebellious Protestant noblemen. He was soon defeated by the forces of Emperor Ferdinand II at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, and Spanish and Bavarian troops soon occupied the Palatinate itself. In 1623, Frederick was put under the ban of the Empire, and his territories and Electoral dignity granted to the Duke (now Elector) of Bavaria, Maximilian I.

By the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Frederick V's son, Charles Louis, was restored to the Lower Palatinate, and given a new electoral title, but the Upper Palatinate and the senior electoral title remained with the Bavarian line. In 1685, the Simmern line died out, and the Palatinate was inherited by the Count Palatine of Neuburg (who was also Duke of Jülich and Berg), a Catholic. The Neuburg line, which moved the capital to Mannheim in 1720, lasted until 1742, when it, too, became extinct, and the Palatinate was inherited by the Duke Karl Theodor of Sulzbach. The childless Karl Theodor also inherited Bavaria when its electoral line became extinct in 1777, his presumptive heir the duke of Zweibrücken (on the French border) save all the Wittelsbach under a single rule (1799). The Palatinate was destroyed in the Wars of the French Revolution - first its left bank territories were occupied, and then annexed, by France starting in 1795, and then, in 1803, its right bank territories were taken by the Margrave of Baden

At the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and 1815, the Left Bank Palatinate was returned to Bavaria, and after this time it was this region which was principally known as the Palatinate. The area remained a part of Bavaria until after the Second World War, when it was separated and became a part of the new state of Rhineland-Palatinate, along with former left bank territories of Prussia and Hesse-Darmstadt.

Counts Palatine of the Rhine, 945-1356

  • Hermann I of Lorraine 945-994
  • Ezzo of Lorraine 994-1034
  • Otto I of Swabia 1034-1045
  • Heinrich I of Swabia 1045-1061
  • Hermann II of Luxemburg 1061-1085
  • Heinrich II von Laach 1085-1095
  • Heinrich III of Limburg 1095-1099
  • Ludwig of Limburg 1099-1105
  • Sigfried of Ballenstadt 1105-1113
  • Gottfried of Kalw 1113-1129
  • Wilhelm of Ballenstadt 1129-1139
  • Henry IV Jasomirgott 1139-1142
  • Hermann III von Stahleck 1142-1155
  • Conrad of Hohenstaufen 1156-1195
  • Henry V of Welf 1195-1211
  • Henry VI of Welf 1211-1214

House of Wittelsbach

  • Louis I 1214-1227
  • Otto I 1227-1253
  • Louis II 1253-1294
  • Rudolf I 1294-1317
  • Adolf 1317-1327
  • Rudolf II 1327-1353
  • Rupert I 1353-1356

Electors Palatine, 1356-1803

  • Rupert I 1356-1390
  • Rupert II 1390-1398
  • Rupert III 1398-1410
  • Louis III 1410-1436
  • Louis IV 1436-1449
  • Frederick I 1449-1476
  • Philip 1476-1508
  • Louis V 1508-1544
  • Frederick II 1544-1556
  • Otto Henry 1556-1559

House of Palatinate-Simmern

  • Frederick III 1559-1576
  • Louis VI 1576-1583
  • Frederick IV 1583-1610
  • Frederick V 1610-1623

House of Bavaria

House of Palatinate-Simmern (restored)

House of Palatinate-Neuburg

House of Palatinate-Sulzbach

House of Palatinate-Zweibrücken


Deriving from Durham's history as a Palatine County, the sporting colours of the University of Durham, England are known as Palatinates, the equivalent of Blues at Oxford and Cambridge. Honorary Palatinates are also awarded. The colour palatinate is a shade of lilac or purple, and is used in numerous heraldic devices within the university. The student newspaper is also named Palatinate; it is published weekly during term time, and was judged Best Student Newspaper by the Guardian in 2001.

For more information about the palatine counties of England, see County Palatine.

Last updated: 06-02-2005 13:40:51
Last updated: 08-18-2005 02:23:52