Baden is the area of present-day southwestern Germany. Although its borders have changed over time, when it was part of the German empire from 1871-1918 (These years are important to family history research as the Family History Library catalogs German records according to the boundaries as they existed at this time.), it was bordered on the south by the Rhine, on the northwest by The Palatinate, on the north by Hesse-Darmstadt and Bavaria, on the east by Württemberg, and the southeast by Hohenzollern and Lake Constance. Click here to see a map of Baden.
The earliest inhabitants of the area, from approximately the 4th century BC, were Celtic tribes. Although these tribes left little in the way of influence, one of them gave their name to a by-name of Switzerland, the Helvetii. By the 2nd century BC, Germanic tribes moved into the area, as did the Romans, who included the area of Baden in their province of Germania Superior. The name Baden, however, does not appear at this time. Conflict between the Romans and Germanic tribes raged for centuries, causing the Romans to build a defensive barrier at the outermost limits of the Empire. This construction, known as the Limes Germanicus (Latin for ‘limit’), stretched from the Danube to the Rhine and included almost all of Baden. The Germans of this time were loosely confederated groups at best, and sometimes totally independent of each other. One such confederacy was that of the Allemanni, which has given its name to Germany in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. However, it seems that the people called themselves Suevi or Suebi (cf. Schwaben). Ultimately, the Allemanni thoroughly germanized the area and only place names from the Celts and Romans survive.
The Early Middle Ages
Sometime around AD 500 the Franks under Clovis I defeated the Allemanni at the Battle of Tolbiac, which is usually identified as Zülpich, North Rhine-Westphalia. This defeat at the hands of the Franks placed the Allemanni, and the northern part of Baden, under Frankish hegemony. As a result of his victory at Tolbiac, Clovis converted from paganism to Catholicism (instead of to Arian Christianity, as were most of the other Germanic kings, if they were Christian). His conversion helped to insure the growth of Catholicism in Germany and engendered an amicable relationship between the Frankish kingdom and the Church of Rome. In time, Baden was part of the Carolingian and Holy Roman Empires.
The High Middle Ages
By the 12th century, various counts ruled Baden. In 1098 Berthold II had assumed the title Duke of Zähringen. In 1112 the title of Margrave of Baden was first used. The House of Zähringen became the dominant family in Baden for about a century, when the main line died out in 1218 and much of its territory reverted to the crown. The House of Baden-Baden became ascendant and one of the most important and powerful families in Baden. However, various branches of the family vied for power and territory, including Baden-Hochberg and Baden-Sausenberg.
The Early Modern Period and Reformation
In 1462, Margrave Charles I of Baden-Baden began a war with Elector Frederick I of the Rhine, which he lost and which resulted in the loss of some territory. However, his son and successor, Christophe I of Baden, restored what had been lost. In 1503 the Baden-Sausenberg died out and all of Baden was united under Christophe. Unfortunately, he divided Baden among his three sons before he died in 1527. In 1533, one of the sons died childless and his territory was divided among his two brothers, Bernard and Ernest. These two lines of the family were known as Baden-Baden and Baden-Pforzheim, the latter of which was called Baden-Durlach after 1565. This division caused rivalry and ultimately open warfare between the two branches.
The Reformation caused tremendous upheaval in Baden. Some of the ruling families remained Catholic, while others became Protestant. To a large degree, the northern part of Baden became Protestant, while the south remained Catholic. By the early 17th century, much of the north had been re-catholicized.
The Thirty-Years War that raged from 1618 till 1648 had enormous consequences for Germany and Baden. Marauding armies ravaged the countryside and destroyed many towns. It is estimated that Germany lost between 25% and 40% of her population ("History of Europe – Demographics". Encyclopædia Britannica). Large parts of Baden are thought to have lost over 33% of their population, and some parts as much as 66%. Disease, starvation, and emigration contributed to decrease in population. It would take some areas over a century to recover from these losses.
Freiburg im Breisgau is thought to have had 10,000-14,000 citizens at the advent of the war, but only 2,000 by war’s end.
During the War of Palatine Succession (aka Nine Years' War–the War of the Grand Alliance, the War of the Palatine Succession, or the War of the League of Augsburg) 1688–97. Baden suffered heavily again. The French King Louis XIV attempted to expand France to the Rhine and exert pressure on the Elector Palatine to sever ties with the League of Augsburg. The French began the policy of “brûlez le Palatinat!" whereby German towns were systematically destroyed. In 1689, Mannheim, Frankenthal, Worms, Speyer, Bretten, Maubronn, Pforzheim, Baden-Baden and numerous other towns and villages were set afire. In 1691, the French again besieged, attacked, and sacked Pforzheim. In 1692, they returned and took over the town, this time using it as a camp. From there, they set out on expeditions, looting and destroying the towns of Huchenfeld, Calw, Hirsau, Liebenzell, and Zavelstein. They also destroyed Liebeneck castle where part of the Pforzheim town archives were hidden. Another part of the town archive was held in Calw. Both sets of the archives were destroyed by fires set by the attackers.
The 18th Century
The situation at the advent of the 18th century looked very bleak for Baden. But all that changed in 1738 when Charles Frederick succeeded his grandfather as Margrave of Baden-Durlach. He ruled, however, only from 1746, when he came of age. In 1771, he inherited Baden-Baden when that line died out. At this time, Baden was reunited. Charles changed society enormously. He supported schools, universities, civil service, the economy, culture and urban development. He outlawed some of the more unpleasant aspects of European culture of the time, torture and serfdom. In 1803, Charles became elector of Baden and in 1806 first Grand Duke of Baden. He also made some territorial acquisitions: the Bishoprics of Constance, Strassburg, and Speyer, and Breisgau and Ortenau.
The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars
The promise of the reign of Charles came to a halt with the French Revolution. Baden initially joined forces against France but was invaded and devastated once again. It was also forced to give up territory on the left bank of the Rhine. In 1805 Baden switched allegiances and fought on the side of France. In 1806 Baden became a Grand Duchy and joined the Confederation of the Rhine which was a confederation of 16 German states created by Napoleon. Later, more states joined, resulting in French control over a large area of German territory with over 15 million subjects. Only a few German states remained outside the confederation, i.e. Austria, Prussia, Holstein, and Pomerania. The departure of these states from the Holy Roman Empire led to its demise. Since the confederation lay to the east of France, it created a buffer between France and its enemies, most notably Austria and Prussia. Most importantly, however, was the fact that the German states provided much-needed military support for the French war machine, including numerous troops. At the Peace of Vienna Baden acquired more territory, this time at the expense of Württemberg. By the time he died in 1811, Charles had quadrupled the size of Baden. After the Battle of Leipzig, in which the French were defeated and suffered unsustainable losses, caused the defection of the German states to the Allies. Baden was among the defectors.