House of Nassau

House of Nassau
Arms of Nassau.svg
Arms of Nassau: Azure billetty or, a lion rampant of the last armed and langued gules
CountryGermany, Netherlands, England, Scotland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Nassau, Orange
FounderDudo of Laurenburg
Current headHenri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (in cognatic line)
Estate(s)Nassau Castle
Dissolution1985 (in agnatic line)
Cadet branchesHouse of Nassau-Weilburg
House of Orange-Nassau
House of Nassau-Corroy

The House of Nassau is a diversified aristocratic dynasty in Europe. It is named after the lordship associated with Nassau Castle, located in present-day Nassau, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. The lords of Nassau were originally titled "Count of Nassau", then elevated to the princely class as "Princely Counts". Early on they divided into two main branches: the elder (Walramian) branch, that gave rise to the German Emperor Adolf, and the younger (Ottonian) branch, that gave rise to the Princes of Orange and the monarchs of the Netherlands.

At the end of the Holy Roman Empire and the Napoleonic Wars, the Walramian branch had inherited or acquired all the Nassau ancestral lands and proclaimed themselves, with the permission of the Congress of Vienna, the "Dukes of Nassau", forming the independent state of Nassau with its capital at Wiesbaden; this territory today mainly lies in the German Federal State of Hesse, and partially in the neighbouring State of Rhineland-Palatinate. The Duchy was annexed in 1866 after the Austrian-Prussian War as an ally of Austria by Prussia. It was subsequently incorporated into the newly created Prussian Province of Hesse-Nassau.

Today, the term Nassau is used in Germany as a name for a geographical, historical and cultural region, but no longer has any political meaning. All Dutch and Luxembourgish monarchs since 1815 have been senior members of the House of Nassau. However, in 1890 in the Netherlands and in 1912 in Luxembourg, the male lines of heirs to the two thrones became extinct, so that since then, they have descended in the female line from the House of Nassau.

According to German tradition, the family name is passed on only in the male line of succession. The House would therefore, from this German perspective, have been extinct since 1985.[1][2] However, both Dutch and Luxembourgish monarchial traditions, constitutional rules and legislation in that matter differ from the German tradition, and thus both countries do not consider the House extinct. The Grand Duke of Luxembourg uses "Duke of Nassau" as his secondary title and a title of pretense to the dignity of Chief of the House of Nassau (being the most senior member of the eldest branch of the House), but not to lay any territorial claims to the former Duchy of Nassau which is now part of the Federal Republic of Germany.


County of Nassau in 1547 between the Rhine and Frankfurt
Confessional Map of the Duchy of Nassau in 1815 showing the result of years of family and religious division.

Dudo of Laurenburg (ca. 1060 – ca. 1123) is considered the founder of the House of Nassau. He is first mentioned in the purported founding-charter of Maria Laach Abbey in 1093 (although many historians consider the document to be fabricated). The Castle Laurenburg, located a few kilometres upriver from Nassau on the Lahn, was the seat of his lordship. His family probably descended from the Lords of Lipporn. In 1159, Nassau Castle became the ruling seat, and the house is now named after this castle.

The Counts of Laurenburg and Nassau expanded their authority under the brothers Rupert (Ruprecht) I (1123–1154) and Arnold I (1123–1148). Rupert was the first person to call himself Count of Nassau, but the title was not confirmed until 1159, five years after Rupert's death. Rupert's son Walram I (1154–1198) was the first person to be legally titled Count of Nassau.

The chronology of the Counts of Laurenburg is not certain and the link between Rupert I and Walram I is especially controversial. Also, some sources consider Gerhard, listed as co-Count of Laurenburg in 1148, to be the son of Rupert I's brother, Arnold I.[3] However, Erich Brandenburg in his Die Nachkommen Karls des Großen ('The Descendants of Charlemagne') states that it is most likely that Gerhard was Rupert I's son, because Gerard was the name of Beatrix of Limburg's maternal grandfather.[4]

Counts of Laurenburg (ca. 1093–1159)

  • ca. 1060 – ca. 1123: Dudo
  • 1123–1154: Rupert (Ruprecht) I – son of Dudo
  • 1123–1148: Arnold I – son of Dudo
  • 1148: Gerhard – son (probably) of Rupert I
  • 1151–1154: Arnold II – son of Rupert I
  • 1154–1159: Rupert II – son of Rupert I

Counts of Nassau (1159–1255)