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A division of the German Empire

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Mecklenburg , a division of the German Empire, consists of the two Grand Duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

History.—At the beginning of the Christian era, Mecklenburg was inhabited by Germanic tribes, but as early as the second century they began to leave the district; Slavonic tribes poured in, and by about A.D. 600 they had complete possession of the land. These Slavonic tribes were principally Wends, of whom the Obotrites occupied the western parts, the Lusici, or Wilzen, the eastern. Their chief occupations were forestry, cattle-raising, hunting, and fishing. Their religion was a pure worship of nature. The chief god was Radegast Zuarasici, whose sanctuary at Rethra was the center of his worship for the whole of Mecklenburg until it was destroyed in the twelfth century, and replaced by Svantevit, the “holy oracle”, whose temple was at Arkona on the Island of Rugen. After Charlemagne had brought the Saxons into subjection, the tribes of Mecklenburg became the immediate neighbors of the Frankish Empire, with which an active trade soon sprang up. Commerce was still further developed under the Saxon emperors (919-1024), the most important mart for the Slays being Bardowiek.

Charlemagne‘s conquests in this region were lost soon after his death. Henry I of Germany (916-36) was the first to force the Slavonic territory again to pay tribute (about 928); he also placed it under the jurisdiction of Saxon counts. With the dominion of the Germans, Christianity found ingress into the land. Bishop Adalward of Verden brought the first Obotrite prince into the Church. Otto the Great (936-973) divided the territory of Mecklenburg between the two margravates he had formed. Ecclesiastically, the land belonged partly to the Dioceses of Havelberg and Brandenburg, partly to the Diocese of Oldenburg, that was erected in 968. However, there can hardly be said to have been a systematic attempt at conversion to Christianity, for the German authority had no secure foundation. The early successes in conversion to Christianity were swept away by an insurrection of the Slays, after the defeat of the Emperor Otto II in Calabria in 928. The Obotrites under Mistiwoi, who had previously accepted Christianity, plundered and burned Hamburg, ravaged the whole of North Albingia (Holstein), crossed the Elbe and advanced as far as Milde. Every trace of Christianity was destroyed. There was much strife between German and Wend in the succeeding decades. It was not until the reign of Henry II (1002-1024) that the Lusici and Obotrites became allies of the German Empire against the Polish Duke Boleslaw. Towards the end of his life Mistiwoi turned in repentance once more to Christianity, and ended his days in the monastery of Bardowiek.

Archbishop Unwanus of Hamburg (from 1013) labored with energy and success; but the Saxon dukes exacted a heavy tribute, which was the chief reason why the Christian teaching protected by them was regarded with little favor, even though the Wendic rulers Udo and Ratibor became Christians. Udo ‘s son Gottschalk faithfully supported Archbishop Adalbert of Bremen, and frequently explained Christian doctrine at church to his people. Churches and monasteries rapidly appeared. New dioceses were founded in addition to the Diocese of Oldenburg, namely, Ratzeburg under Bishop Aristo, and Mecklenburg under Bishop John, a Scot. The conversion of the entire country to Catholicity seemed assured. But the ferment of the old antagonism to the tribute to the empire and the Saxon dukes led to a heathen reaction. The first victim was Gottschalk himself, in 1066. On July 15 of the same year the twenty-eight monks of the Benedictine monastery at Ratzeburg were stoned to death; in Mecklenburg the aged Bishop John and many other Christians were slain, and in a few months the German supremacy was thrown off. The Wends even plundered the Christian cities of Schleswig and Hamburg, the bishop of the latter being obliged to transfer his see to Bremen. The bloody national god Radegast of Rethra became once more dominant.

Cruto, Prince of the Island of Riigen, ruled the country for nearly thirty years. Finally in 1093, Cruto having been murdered, Gottschalk’s son, Henry, was able to gain his inheritance. Although a Christian he never attempted to force Christianity upon the Wends. The only church was in his capital, Lubeck, where St. Vicelin proclaimed the word of God from 1126. Soon after Henry’s death (1126) his family became extinct, and the Emperor Lothair granted the vacant territory in fief to Henry’s Danish cousin, Knut Laward, Duke of Schleswig. Claims were also made by Henry’s nephew Pribislaw, and by Nikiot, an Obotrite noble. These two divided the rulerless land between them when in 1131 Knut Laward was killed by his cousin Magnus. Pribislaw, however, could not maintain himself long against the German advance. He was obliged to surrender in 1142 to Count Adolf of Schauenburg, who repeopled the almost desolate territory with colonists from Flanders, Holland, Westphalia, and Frisia. Niklot, on the other hand, preserved his independence until, after a protracted struggle, he was subdued by Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony. Upon agreeing to accept Christianity and to acknowledge German supremacy, Nikiot was allowed to retain his possessions (1147). However, he subsequently headed a revolt, which ended in his overthrow (1160). After Niklot’s son, Pribislaw II, the ancestor of the reigning dynasty, had been baptized in the year 1167, he was established as ruler.

Hartwig of Stade, Bishop of Bremen, soon provided for the restoration of the former Wendic dioceses. In 1150 he consecrated Vicelin Bishop of Oldenburg, and Emmehard Bishop of Mecklenburg, Schwerin now becoming the see of the latter. Hartwig had not waited to secure an endowment sufficient for them from the Saxon duke. Henry the Lion, therefore, was soon able to obtain for himself what otherwise only belonged to the emperor, the right of investiture for the Obotrite dioceses. This privilege was granted by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1152-1189), who regarded Henry as one of the most trustworthy supporters of his power. At the same time Henry was empowered to found dioceses and churches in the region on the farther side of the Elbe and to endow them with imperial domains, which was what the conquered Slavonic territory was held to be. In 1154 Henry reestablished the Diocese of Ratzeburg, appointing as bishop Evermod, cathedral provost of Magdeburg. A number of Christian Germans came into the region, and the Wends were brought to accept Christianity. The land was rapidly covered with churches, parishes, and monasteries. Besides the Cistercian monastery of Dobberan that Pribislaw endowed largely with lands, there were founded monasteries of Benedictines, Franciscans, Premonstratensians, of the religious orders of Knights Hospitallers, of St. Anthony, etc.

In 1170 Frederick Barbarossa raised Pribislaw to the dignity of a prince of the empire. On Pribislaw’s death in 1178, however, domestic disputes broke out, and the overthrow of Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony in 1180 weakened German power in the northern part of the empire. Denmark was thus enabled to bring under its authority large portions of North Germany, Mecklenburg being obliged to recognize Danish supremacy in the reign of Henry Burwy I (1178-1227). In 1227 Henry Burwy, in confederation with the Counts of Schwerin, the Archbishop of Bremen, and the city of Lubeck, cast off the Danish yoke. Thereupon the influx of German colonists received a new impetus, and, in the first half of the thirteenth century, a German municipality had already developed there. After the death of Henry Burwy, the territory was divided (1229) into four principalities: Mecklenburg, Werle, Rostock, and Parchim. The two latter lines died out in 1314 and 1316 respectively; that of Werle flourished until 1436. The main branch of the Mecklenburg line was founded by John II (1226-64). One of its members, Henry the Pilgrim (1264-1302) was captured at Cairo in 1271, while on a crusade, and kept prisoner until 1297. His son, Henry the Lion, obtained the district of Stargard as dowry with his wife, Beatrice of Brandenburg, and, on the Rostock line becoming extinct, forced the Danes to recognize him as the hereditary possessor of the city and territory of Rostock, then under Danish supremacy. Henry’s two sons, Albert II (d. 1379) and John I (d. 1392), were made dukes and princes of the empire by the Emperor Charles IV. The partition of 1352 led to the founding of the Stargard line, which became extinct in 1471.

In 1358 Albert succeeded in obtaining the County of Schwerin by purchase; his scheme to place his eldest son, Henry III, on the Danish throne failed completely, but his second son, Albert III, was elected King of Sweden in 1363. However, soon after Albert III had succeeded his father in the government of Mecklenburg (1383), a rival claimant of the throne of Sweden appeared in the person of Queen Margaret of Denmark. In 1389 Margaret took Albert prisoner, and did not release him until, after six years of captivity, he renounced all claims to the Swedish throne. His son, Albert V (1412-22), was followed by his own cousin, Henry the Fat (1422-77), who, after the Stargard line—to which the foundation of a university at Rostock in 1418 is due—had become extinct, reigned over the whole of Mecklenburg, thus once more united under a single ruler (1471). Henry’s successor, Magnus (1477-1503), was a very energetic prince. The cities had, under the weak rule of his predecessor, become insubordinate; Magnus directed his efforts towards bringing them under the control of the ruler and evolving a unified state out of a confused medley of districts, cities, and estates. For a time his sons, Henry V (1503-52) and Albert VII (1503-47), reigned jointly so as to maintain the country undivided. In 1523 the prelates, knighthood, and cities formed a Landesunion, which was the basis of the present constitution, and established a common diet for all the divisions of the territory without regard to any partitions. In 1536 the brothers divided their do-minions, Henry becoming Duke of Schwerin and Albert Duke of Gustrow.

The Reformation in Mecklenburg was entirely the work of the two joint rulers, Henry V and Albert VII. Even Protestant historians have testified that before the Reformation the country had excellent bishops, a pious clergy, and a genuinely Catholic population. Both dukes were early won over to Luther’s cause by the Humanist Konrad Pegel, whom Henry had called from the University of Rostock as tutor for his son Magnus, the postulated Bishop of Schwerin. The duke had permitted Pegel to go to Wittenberg, whence the latter returned an ardent adherent of Luther. Albert, indeed, soon abandoned the new doctrine and maintained the old faith in his part of the country. On the other hand, from 1524 Henry allowed the new doctrine to be proclaimed in the chapel of the castle at Schwerin, and protected the preachers even in his brother’s domains. Henry’s chief desire was to obtain the Bishopric of Schwerin. Its administrator, his son Magnus, who had married in 1543, died childless in 1550, and Henry saw to it that the chapter elected as successor his nephew Ulrich.

When after Albert‘s death in the year 1547 his son John Albert (1547-76) came to power, the Reformation was completely established. John Albert was first sole ruler in his father’s dominions, then in 1552 he also succeeded his uncle in Schwerin, but he resigned the latter principality in 1555 to his brother Ulrich. In 1549 the joint diet at Sternberg proclaimed the Lutheran Faith to be the religion of the state, and from 1552 the monasteries were secularized, except Dobbedin, Malchow, and Ribnitz, which in 1572, in exchange for assuming the ducal debts, were kept in existence for the unmarried daughters of the nobility, and have so continued to the present day. The administration of the now Protestant Dioceses of Schwerin and Ratzeburg was carried on by members of the ruling dynasty. The Mass, pilgrimages, vows of religion etc., were forbidden, and by a consistorial decree of 1570 the public profession of the Catholic Faith was prohibited.

After a brief reunion of the two principalities in 1610, they were again divided (1621) into Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Gustrow by John Albert‘s grandsons, Adolf Frederick I and John Albert II. They still retained, however, in common the diet (held now in Sternberg and now in Malchow), the University of Rostock, and the consistory. During the Thirty Years’ War both dukes formed a brief alliance with King Christian IV of Denmark. For this they were placed under a ban by the Emperor Ferdinand IV in 1628, and their territories, from which they were expelled, were granted to Wallenstein in 1629 as an imperial fief. In 1631 Gustavus Adolphus restored them their lands, and in 1635, after the fall of Wallenstein, they were again recognized by the emperor. During the war Mecklenburg suffered terribly from the oppression of both the Swedish and the imperial forces, and also from pestilence and famine. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) assigned the Dioceses of Schwerin and Ratzeburg as principalities to Schwerin, in return for which the city of Wismar and the districts of Poel and Neukloster were yielded to Sweden. Adolf Frederick I was succeeded in Mecklenburg-Schwerin by Christian Ludwig (1658-92), who, both before and after his succession, lived mainly at Paris, where he became a Catholic in 1663. Though this step opened Mecklenburg once more to Catholics (see below), it gave them no secure legal footing even in Schwerin, while in Mecklenburg-Gustrow the most bitter intolerance of everything Catholic continued to prevail.

When Christian Ludwig I died childless in 1692, his nephew Frederick William laid claim to the succession, and was opposed by Adolf Frederick II of Strelitz, the only brother of Christian then living. After a long dispute, the Hamburg Compact was made in 1701, through the mediation of the Emperor Leopold. Adolf Frederick II received the Principality of Ratzeburg, and other territories; the remaining territory (by far the greater part) was given to Frederick William. As the latter selected Schwerin for his residence, and Adolf Frederick Strelitz, the two ruling houses have since always been distinguished as Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

In Mecklenburg-Schwerin Frederick William and his successor Charles Leopold had to contend with the estates, especially with the landed proprietors (Ritterschaft), who since the Thirty Years’ War had secured the farms of most of the peasants for themselves, and by oppression had forced the peasants into serfdom. With the aid of Russia the duke drove the estates out of the country. These applied to the Emperor Charles VI for help; after the Russians withdrew, an imperial commission with an army to execute its demands entered the country, and the duke was forced in 1719 to flee. For many years war was waged in Mecklenburg between the imperial army and the duke, who was supported by Prussia and other powers. The ruler and the estates, in the reign of Charles Leopold’s successor Christian Ludwig II (1747-56), finally came to an agreement in 1755; this compact, still essentially the basis of the constitution of the country, gave the estates a large share in the enactment of laws and extensive rights in the voting of supplies. By this agreement feudalism won a complete victory over the power of the prince, in contrast to most of the other divisions of Germany, where at that era the absolutism of the ruler had retained its supremacy.

Christian Ludwig II’s son Frederick (1756-85) improved the primary schools, strengthened the University of Rostock, founded the high school at Butzow, and by the Peace of Teschen obtained the Privilegium de non appellando (i.e., there could be no appeal to the imperial courts), against which the landed proprietors vehemently protested. In 1803 his nephew, Frederick Francis I (1785-1835) received the city of Wismar and the counties of Neukloster from Sweden as pledges for a loan of 1,250,000 talers (approximately $937,500); in 1903 Sweden finally relinquished its right of redemption. At the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the two dukes became independent sovereigns. In 1808 both princes entered the Confederation of the Rhine, but joined the Allies opposed to Napoleon in good time in 1813; in 1815 both took the title of grand duke and entered the German Confederation.

The movement of 1848 spread rapidly in both grand duchies, especially in the cities. A proclamation of March 23, 1848, of Archduke Frederick Francis I of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1842-83) acknowledged the necessity of a reform in the constitution—an example followed by Duke George of Strelitz (1816-60). An extraordinary diet (1848-9) drew up a liberal constitution, to which the Grand Duke of Schwerin swore in August, 1849, but against which the Grand Duke of Strelitz, the agnates of both houses, and also Prussia, on account of its rights of inheritance of 1442, protested. In September, 1850, a court of arbitration of the German Confederation decided in favor of the claimants, and on September 14 the Grand Duke of Schwerin annulled the new constitution and the old, semi-feudal constitution came again into force. In the war of 1866 both princes sided with Prussia against Austria; on August 21 of the same year they signed the Prussian draft of the North German Confederation, and in 1867 joined this confederacy. In 1866 both states became members of the Customs Union, and in 1871 they became constituent parts of the German Empire. Since their union with the German Empire in 1871, unceasing efforts have been made for a reasonable reform of their obsolete constitution, which is no longer in accord with the new empire. So far all attempts have failed, owing to the opposition of the estates, especially of the landed proprietors (Ritterschaft) who have held to their privileges with unusual obstinacy. The resent Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin is Frederick Francis IV, succeeded 1897; the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz is Adolf Frederick V, succeeded 1904.

Statistics.—Mecklenburg-Schwerin has an area of about 5068 sq. miles. In 1905 it had 625,045 inhabitants, of whom 609,914 were Lutherans, 12,835 Catholics, and 1482 Jews. Mecklenburg-Strelitz has an area of about 1131 sq. miles. In 1905 it had 103,-451 inhabitants, of whom 100,314 were Lutherans, 2627 Catholics, and 298 Jews. Both grand duchies are hereditary monarchies; from 1523 they have had a common assembly or diet made up of the landed proprietors (Ritterschaft), and the burgomasters of specified towns (Landscha f t). The Ritterschaft consists of about 750 owners, whether noble or not, of about 1200 landed properties which carry with them the right to a vote in the assembly. The Land scha f t is composed of the burgomasters of the cities of Rostock and Wismar, and the municipal authorities of the forty inland cities of Schwerin and the seven inland cities of Strelitz. The principality of Ratzeburg, which has an assembly of estates of its own, is not represented in the general estates, neither are the city of Neustrelitz, nor the inhabitants of the crown domain (domanium), that is, the land personally owned by the ruler, in which he is still absolute sovereign in making laws and levying taxes. The crown domain includes about 43 per cent of the area and about 32 per cent of the inhabitants. The estates have an important share in legislation and a deciding vote in questions of taxation, and in all questions pertaining to their rights; in other matters their opinion has to be obtained.

The Lutheran Church has a consistorial constitution. The head of the church is the sovereign, who exercises his rights in Mecklenburg-Schwerin by means of an upper consistory; in Mecklenburg-Strelitz by a consistory. Mecklenburg-Schwerin is divided into 7 superintendencies and 36 provostships or deaneries; Mecklenburg-Strelitz into 1 superintendency and 7 synods.

The Catholic Church in both grand duchies is under the supervision of the Vicar Apostolic of the Northern Missions, the Bishop of Osnabruck. After the Reformation Catholicism was almost extinguished in Mecklenburg, and its public exercise threatened with punishment. For nearly a hundred years it could only be practiced in secret. The conversion of Duke Christian Ludwig I in 1663 produced the first change of conditions. Notwithstanding the protests of his ducal brothers and the estates, he called Catholic priests into the country and granted them the castle chapel at Schwerin for the celebration of Mass. The right to do this was confirmed to him in 1666 by the imperial Dict. Many of the chief nobility followed, at that time, the example of their ruler, and returned to the Church of their forefathers, as the hereditary Marshal Joachim Christian Hahn, of the same family as that from which the convert Ida, Countess Hahn-Hahn, came.

The Catholic Faith, notwithstanding this, did not attain a legal position, and the duke never permitted a Catholic church to be built, although the Vicar Apostolic of the Northern Missions, Nicholas Steno, who lived in Schwerin from 1685, made every exertion to gain his consent. Consequently, when Christian Ludwig died the Catholic services ceased. The only church services now allowed were held in the private chapel of the chancellor of the next duke, Count Horn, who had become a Catholic. With the death of the count this privilege expired. It was not until 1701 that the free exercise of the Catholic religion was again permitted, this time in the chapel of the imperial ambassador von Egk. In 1702, when the ambassador left Schwerin, Duke Frederick William transferred this right to a Catholic lady, Frau von Bibow. Through her efforts the Jesuits were entrusted with the mission in Schwerin; from 1709 they established themselves here permanently. Father von Stocken (1730-43) was able to bring it about that in 1731 a house was secured for the mission, and that the church service, which up to then had been private, could be a public one. He also succeeded by unwearied effort in founding a school at Schwerin, where five to seven boys could be prepared for the Collegium Nordicum at Linz in Upper Austria.

From 1764 a priest from Schwerin was able to distribute communion to the Catholic soldiers at Rostock in the hall of the exchange, and to hold Mass for Catholics who attended the market there at Pentecost. Although Christian Ludwig II had granted permission for the building of a church, Frederick, who inclined to a rigorous pietism, forbade its erection. The preparatory school at Schwerin came to an end when the Emperor Joseph II suppressed the Collegium Nordicum. Frederick Francis I, two of whose children became Catholics, gave the money to build the Catholic church at Ludwigslust. On entering the Confederation of the Rhine, Frederick had agreed to place the exercise of the Catholic religion on a legal parity with that of the Lutheran, and in 1811 this was done.

From that time on the Catholics in reality enjoyed complete freedom, and in the year 1842 for the first time since the Reformation a Catholic bishop, Lupcke of Osnabruck, was able to hold a confirmation at Schwerin. However, the conversion, from 1848 onwards, of many important men, among them von Vogelsang, von Billow, von der Kettenburg, Professor Maassen, etc., gave an opportunity to the intolerant party to withdraw the freedom granted the Catholics, to which action both estates and Government gave their aid. In 1852 extension to other localities of the Catholic services was forbidden, also the coming into Mecklenburg of priests not natives of the country; these measures were so strictly enforced that the private chaplain of Herr von der Kettenburg was taken over the boundary by gendarmes.

In 1857 permission to bury the dead according to the Catholic ceremonial, and the right to celebrate Mass publicly were limited to Schwerin and Ludwigslust. The Government of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was still more intolerant. For many years, even in the nineteenth century, no priest was permitted to have a permanent residence in its territory; all that was conceded was that the Catholic priest at Wittstock in Brandenburg could stay at Neustrelitz one week of each month for ecclesiastical functions. This persecution of Catholics was kept up, not by the rulers, who were generally well inclined, but by the narrow-minded estates. Public opinion, even outside of Catholic Germany, repeatedly arose against this persecution, and was often expressed in sharp protest in the German Dict.

The Governments of the two duchies were finally forced by pressure from the empire to grant the Catholics a certain, yet still entirely insufficient, amount of freedom. There is however no equality as there should be to bring Mecklenburg into accord with the constitution of the empire or with a modern civilized state. Although an ordinance of January 5, 1903 granted to Catholics the public exercise of their religion everywhere, nevertheless the permission of the ruler is necessary for the erection and alteration of parishes, the building of churches and chapels, appointment of priests, for the settling in the country of orders and congregations, and for the holding of processions; nor have the Catholics any legal redress if this consent is refused.

Furthermore in regard to educational matters, Catholics are not on an equality with Protestants. They must indeed contribute to the expenses of the schools, but for their purely private Catholic schools they receive no allowance from the civil communes, often indeed they are not allowed to use the state schools for giving instruction. There is no higher Catholic education in either grand duchy. Mecklenburg-Schwerin has two Catholic parishes, one each at Schwerin and Ludwigslust, and dependent churches at Rostock and Wismar; the priests altogether number 8. Mecklenburg-Strelitz has 1 parish with 2 priests. The spiritual care of the summer farm-laborers presents great difficulties. These men, who number about 20,000-22,000 and are chiefly Poles, sojourn in Mecklenburg annually from March until September in order to work on the farms and estates.


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