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The Palatine - Palatinate

Home of Our Immigrant Ancestors

Many of the early German-speaking settlers of America were refugees from the area known as the Palatinate, situated west of the Rhine and north of the French (Alsatian) border. Before 1800, it included large areas east of the Rhine, including Mannheim and Heidelberg. Those of us today trying to find the Palatinate of the 1700's on maps, and trying to understand what was meant by the terms German, Dutch, Deutch, and Palatine or Palatinate on colonial records, usually end up confused and frustrated. The historic Palatinate always had rather vague boundaries and once consisted of 44 different countries. It was one of the major principalities of the Holy Roman Empire and comprised an area astride the middle Rhine River.

Prior to 1871, what is now Germany was a number of separate states, such as Württemberg, Prussia, Bavaria, etc., whose boundaries changed frequently as a result of war and other causes. The Palatinate was one of these states, and was located along the Rhine River, roughly where the modern German state of Rheinland-Pfalz is located. The boundaries of the Palatinate varied with the political and dynastic fortunes of the Palatine Counts. It included parts of modern Germany, Switzerland, France, etc.

The Palatinate is now called Rheinland-Pfalz. The slope of the Palatine forest (Pfaelzer Wald) is one of the biggest wine-producing areas in Germany. In the northern and western parts of the Palatinate the terrain is mostly gently rolling hills, and it is valuable farming land. To the east there is the very fertile land of the Rhine valley; and to the south is the large Palatine Forest, with only small agricultural spots around the villages. The modern state of Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany has an area of 19,850 sq. km. (7,664 sq. mi.) and a population of 5,702,000 (1990 est). It's capital is Mainz.


Map Showing Rheinland/Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) Detail

First mentioned in written sources in the 12th century, Heidelberg served as the capitol of the Palatinate from 1225 to 1720. Portions of the castle of the electors palatine still stand, and the site is a major tourist attraction. The University of Heidelberg, founded in 1586, became a center of Calvinist theology during the Reformation. The Heidelberg Confession (1565), drawn up by university theologians at the request of Elector Frederick III, became a standard Reformed confession of faith. As the oldest university in Germany and now a tourist city in Baden-Württemberg state, southwestern Germany, the University of Heidelberg is located on the Neckar River, about 80 km. (50 mi.) south of Frankfurt am Main.

In 1546, Elector Frederick II became a Lutheran, and, in 1562, Frederick III made the Palatinate Calvinist. It became the center of Protestant and Anabaptist religious movements in Germany, and the electors intervened in both the French and Netherlands civil wars. The Palatinate became one of the principal battlegrounds, and Frederick lost the Upper Palatinate and the electoral vote to the duke of Bavaria.

The Palatinate was devastated in 1688-89 by the troops of Louis XIV in the War of the Grand Alliance. In 1803, under Napoleon's auspices, the Palatinate was divided between Bavaria and Baden.

More about The Palatinate - Today's Rheinland-Pfalz

Ulrich Zwingli - Leader of the Reformation in Switzerland

More About Ulrich Zwingli


Published and Copyrighted © by Betty Naff Mitchell
January 25, 2003