The Birth of Hessen
Hessen came into being during the reign of the Staufer Dynasty, when Elizabeth of Hungary, the widow of the Landgrave of Thuringia Louis IV, moved her residence to Marburg in the summer of 1228. Her self-sacrificing dedication to helping the poor and sick, her early death in 1231, her subsequent sanctification and the sensational pilgrimage visit of Emperor Frederick II made her grave an indelibly sacred center to Hessen.
Despite fierce controversies with the Thuringian relatives and the regional political power, her daughter Sophie was able to secure Hessen as part of the inheritance for her son, Henry of Brabant. In 1264, after the end of the “War of the Thuringian Succession”, Henry I was recognized as the de facto Landgrave of Hesse. 1277 he selected Kassel as his place of residence. These are the origins of Hessen’s development as an independent State.
Modernization by Philip I (the Magnanimous)
The reign of Philip I, from 1518 until 1567, forms the highlight and culmination of this development. He soon realized the religious and political significance of Martin Luther’s teachings, and, as a committed follower, he was able to quickly secure an influential position for Hessen in the alliance of German protestant and European powers of the 16th century.
Philip conceptualized and acted on a European scale and did not shy away from conflicts with his Emperor or the superpower of the Habsburg Dynasty.
Hessen has him to thank for a hitherto unknown wave of modernization in the administration, education and research sectors and the establishment of social institutions. The foundation of Marburg University, the oldest academic institution in Hessen, as well as the construction of new schools and hospitals bear witness to this. His death marks the end of the country’s unity and the beginning of a division in Hessen-Kassel and Hessen-Darmstadt. In the 17th century, the religious schism further increased the dynastic separation of the Hessian states.