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Bishopric of Würzburg

Prince-bishopric of Würzburg
Fürstbistum Würzburg
State of the Holy Roman Empire
Duchy of Franconia

Coat of arms

The twin prince-bishoprics of Würzburg and Bamberg
Capital Würzburg
Languages East Franconian German
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Elective principality
 •  743–55
    (founding Bishop)
St Burchard I
 •  1165–70
    (first Prince-Bishop)
Herold von Hochheim
 •  1795–1808
    (Prince-Bishop to 1803)
Georg Karl von Fechenbach
Historical era Middle Ages
 •  Bishopric founded 743
 •  Raised to prince-bishopric 1168
 •  Prince-Bishops styled
    Dukes in Franconia
 •  Ecclesiastical Prince
    of Franconian Circle
 •  Secularised and
     annexed by Bavaria
February 25, 1803 1803
 •  Ceded to Ferdinand and
     raised to Grand Duchy
30 September 1806

The Prince-Bishopric of Würzburg was an ecclesiastical principality of the Holy Roman Empire located in Lower Franconia west of the Prince-Bishopric of Bamberg. Würzburg had been a diocese since 743. As definitely established by the Concordat of 1448, bishops in Germany were chosen by the canons of the cathedral chapter and their election was later confirmed by the pope. Following a common practice in Germany, the prince-bishops of Würzburg were frequently elected to other ecclesisatical principalities as well.[1] The last few prince-bishops resided at the Würzburg Residence, which is one of the grandest baroque palaces in Europe.

Bishop Friedrich Carl von Schönborn making a solemn entry on the grounds of his new residenz, still under construction

As a consequence of the 1801 Treaty of Lunéville, Würzburg, along with the other ecclesiastical states of Germany, was secularized in 1803 and absorbed into the Electorate of Bavaria. In the same year Ferdinand III, former Grand Duke of Tuscany, was compensated with the Electorate of Salzburg. In the 1805 Peace of Pressburg, Ferdinand lost Salzburg to the Austrian Empire, but was compensated with the new Grand Duchy of Würzburg, Bavaria having relinquished the territory in return for the Tyrol. This new state lasted until 1814, when it was once again annexed by Bavaria.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Würzburg was reestablished in 1821 without temporal power.


  • Duke of Franconia 1
  • Coat of arms 2
  • Bishops of Würzburg, 743–1808 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes and references 5
  • Further reading 6

Duke of Franconia

In 1115, Henry V awarded the territory of Eastern Franconia (Ostfranken) to his nephew Conrad of Hohenstaufen, who used the title "Duke of Franconia." Franconia remained a Hohenstaufen power base until 1168, when the Bishop of Würzburg was formally ceded the ducal rights in Eastern Franconia. The name "Franconia" fell out of usage, but the bishop revived it in his own favour in 1442 and held it until the reforms of Napoleon Bonaparte abolished it.

Coat of arms

The charge of the original coat of arms showed the “Rennfähnlein” banner, quarterly argent and gules, on a lance or, in bend, on a blue shield. In the 14th century another coat of arms was created. The coat of arms represents the holism of heaven and earth. The three white pikes represent the trinity of god and the four red pikes, directed to earth, stand for the four points of the compass, representing the whole spread of earth. The red colour represents the blood of Christ.

The Prince-Bishops used both within their personal coat of arms. The Rechen and the Rennfähnlein represented the diocese, while the other (usually two) fields showed the personal coat of arms of the bishop’s family. The coat of arms showed the Rechen in the first and third field, the Rennfähnlein in the second and fourth field.[2]

Bishops of Würzburg, 743–1808

Prince-Bishop Rudolf von Scherenberg
Prince-Bishop Lorenz von Bibra
Friedrich Karl von Schönborn (1674-1746), Bishop of Bamberg and Würzburg (1729–1746), Vice Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire

In 741 or 742 the first bishop of Würzburg was consecrated by Saint Boniface.

Secular power lost in 1803. Territory ceded to Bavaria until 1805.

See also

  • Würzburg Cathedral for burial locations of most Würzburg bishops
  • Ebrach Abbey Beginning with the 13th century, the bishops of Würzburg had their hearts brought to the monastery in Ebrach (entrails to the chapel of the Marienburg, bodies to the St. Kilian cathedral). About 30 hearts of bishops, some of which had been desecrated during the German Peasants' War, are said to have found their final resting place at Ebrach. The prince-bishop Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn broke with this tradition and had his heart buried in the Neubaukirche.

Notes and references

  1. ^ For instance, Johann Franz Schönborn was first elected prince-bishop of Würzburg in 1642, then elector of Mainz in 1647, and finally prince-bishop of Worms in 1663.
  2. ^ Peter, Bernhard (2007). "Besondere Motive: Der Fränkische Rechen". Bernhard Peter. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 

Further reading

  • Peter Kolb und Ernst-Günther Krenig (Hrsg.): Unterfränkische Geschichte. Würzburg 1989.
  • Alfred Wendehorst: Das Bistum Würzburg Teil 1: Die Bischofsreihe bis 1254. Germania Sacra, NF 1: Die Bistümer der Kirchenprovinz Mainz, Berlin 1962.
  • Alfred Wendehorst: Das Bistum Würzburg Teil 2 - Die Bischofsreihe von 1254 bis 1455. In: Max-Planck-Institut für Geschichte (Hg.): Germania Sacra - Neue Folge 4 - Die Bistümer der Kirchenprovinz Mainz. Berlin 1969. ISBN 978-3-11-001291-0.
  • Alfred Wendehorst: Das Bistum Würzburg Teil 3: Die Bischofsreihe von 1455 bis 1617. Germania Sacra, NF 13: Die Bistümer der Kirchenprovinz Mainz, Berlin/New York 1978.
  • Alfred Wendehorst: Das Bistum Würzburg 1803-1957. Würzburg 1965.
  • Wissenschaftliche Vereinigung für den Deutschen Orden e.V. und Historische Deutschorden-Compaigne zu Mergentheim 1760 e.V. (Hrsg.): 1300 Jahre Würzburg - Zeichen der Geschichte, Bilder und Siegel der Bischöfe von Würzburg. Heft 23. Lauda-Königshofen 2004.

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