Franconia (German: Franken) is a region of Germany comprising the northern parts of the modern state of Bavaria, a small part of southern Thuringia, and a region in northeastern Baden-Württemberg called Tauberfranken. The Bavarian part is made up of the administrative regions of Lower Franconia (Unterfranken, capital city Würzburg), Middle Franconia (Mittelfranken, capital city Ansbach), and Upper Franconia (Oberfranken, capital city Bayreuth).
The Western natural border of Franconia is formed by the Spessart. To the north it is framed by the Thuringian Forest and the Franconian Forest, to the east by the Fichtelgebirge and the Fränkische Alb. The largest River of Franconia is the Main. Together with its largest tributary the Regnitz, the Main drains the most parts of Franconia. Other large Rivers are the Tauber, the Jagst and the Altmühl.
Franconia is named after the Franks, a Germanic tribe who conquered most of Western Europe by the middle of the 8th century. Though one might assume that Franconia was the homeland of the Franks (indeed in German, Franken is used for both modern day Franconians and the historic Franks) this is not the case.
The Frankish Empire (at its greatest extent around the year 800) included most of modern Franconia, which was situated at its easternmost borders. As a people or tribe, the Franks, divided between Salians and Ripuariians, were confined respectively to the Low Countries, the northwestern tip of modern France and the Rhine river banks all the way down to near the Main and Hesse areas. The Frankish elite however was situated all across the empire, and it is from this elite that Franconia derives it name.
Around the 9th century Frankish identity gradually changed from an ethnic identity to a national identity. The original ethnic Franks ceased to be called by others and themselves Franks, whereas certain groups of people who were not Franks but were mostly ruled by Frankish nobility now began to use it as a term to describe their respective land and people. At the beginning of the 10th century a Duchy of Franconia (German Herzogtum Franken) was established within East Francia, which comprised modern Hesse, Palatinate, parts of Baden-Württemberg and most of nowaday's Franconia. These areas had been dominated and settled by the Burgundians and the Alemanni before being removed and resettled much further south around Switzerland. The vacuum left may have been resettled then by some Frankish nobles with some more or less numerous retainers from their original core area. After the dissolution of the so-called Stem duchy of Franconia, the Holy Roman Emperors created the Franconian Circle (German Fränkischer Reichskreis) in 1500 to embrace the principalities that grew out of the eastern half of the former duchy. The territory of the Franconian Circle roughly corresponds with modern Franconia. The title of a Duke of Franconia was claimed by the Würzburg bishops until 1803 and by the kings of Bavaria until 1918.
Today, only two European regions continue to associate with the Franks: the French province of Île-de-France, originally the Western Franks' seat of power; and the Ripuarian Frankish dynasty's adopted homeland, modern Franconia. Examples of Franconian cities founded by Frankish noblemen are Würzburg, first mentioned in the 7th century, Ansbach, first mentioned in 748, and Weissenburg, founded in the 7th century.
Early middle Ages
Until the 6th century, the region of today's Franconia was probably dominated by Alamanni and Thuringians. After the Frankish triumphs over both tribes around 507 and 529–534 AD most parts were occupied by the Franks.
Stem Duchy of Franconia
East Francia was made up of four stem duchies, one of which was the Duchy of Franconia. The historic duchy of Franconia extended further west to Speyer, Mainz, and Worms (west of the Rhine) than modern day Franconia and even included Frankfurt (ford of the Franks). Sometime around 906, Conrad of the Conradine dynasty succeeded in establishing his ducal hegemony over Franconia. At the failure of the direct Carolingian male line in 911, Conrad was acclaimed King of the Germans, largely because of his weak position in his own duchy. Franconia, like Alamannia, was not as united as Saxony or Bavaria and the position of duke was often disputed between the chief families.
Conrad had granted Franconia to his brother Eberhard on his succession, but when Eberhard rebelled against Otto I in 938, he was deposed from his duchy. Rather than appoint a new duke from his own circle, Otto now divided the threatening power of the duchy among the great ecclesiastics with and through whom he ruled, and who had remained faithful to his cause: the Bishop of Würzburg and the Abbot of Fulda (939). They were later joined (1008) by a new bishopric erected on former ducal territory, Bamberg.
Thenceforth the great abbeys and episcopal seats that Saint Boniface and his successors had established in southwestern Germany had a monopoly on temporal office in Franconia, on a par with the counts of lands further west. They had another virtue in the Ottonian scheme: as celibates they were less likely to establish hereditary lineages. By contrast, Otto's son-in-law, Conrad the Red, whom he had installed as Duke of Lorraine in 944, extended his power base in Franconia.
In the High Middle Ages, Franconia came to be divided into two distinct regions, though these regions were not coherent territories with distinct governments. Rather, they were culturally different regions which came to be dominated by different political and religious forces and thus came under the de facto "rule" of different bodies.
Rhenish Franconia (Rheinfranken) was the western half of the historic duchy of Franconia, immediately east of the Rhine. This territory however, did not comprise parts of modern Franconia, which is situated further east. Rhenish Franconia was the heartland of the Salian dynasty, which provided four emperors in the 11th and 12th centuries: Conrad II, Henry III, Henry IV, and Henry V. Rhenish Franconia contained the ancient cities of Mainz, Speyer, and Worms, the latter two being countships within the hands of the descendants of Conrad the Red (the Salians). These counts were sometimes referred to informally, on account of the great power in the region, as dukes 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 in 1500 the Franconian Circle was created. Also the bishop of Würzburg had revived it in his own favour in 1442 and held it until the reforms of Napoleon Bonaparte abolished it. The Bishop of Würzburg was more properly the Duke in Franconia (Herzog in Franken) rather than the Duke of Franconia (Herzog von Franken) during this time although both titles were used.
Successor states of Eastern Franconia
As of the 13th century, the following states, among others, had formed in the territory of the former Duchy:
- County of Löwenstein
- County of Rieneck
- County of Truhendingen
- County of Vaihingen
- County of Wertheim
- County of Wiltberg
Most of modern day Franconia became Bavarian in 1803 thanks to Bavaria's alliance with Napoleon. Culturally it is in many ways different from Bavaria proper ("Altbayern", Old Bavaria), however. The ancient name was resurrected in 1837 by Ludwig I of Bavaria. During the Nazi period, Bavaria was broken up into several different Gaue, including Franconia and Main-Franconia.
While Old Bavaria is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, Franconia is a mixed area. Lower Franconia and the western half of Upper Franconia (Bamberg, Lichtenfels, Kronach) is predominantly Catholic, while most of Middle and the eastern half of Upper Franconia (Bayreuth, Hof, Kulmbach) are predominantly Protestant (Evangelical Church in Germany). The city of Fürth in Middle Franconia historically (before the Nazi era) had a large Jewish population; Henry Kissinger was born there.
East Franconian German is very different from the Austro-Bavarian language. Most Franconians do not call themselves Bavarians, but their insistence on this point is generally a lighthearted matter in modern times. In fact, Franconians will most likely take umbrage at insults directed at Bavaria. Even if there is no Franconian state, red and white are regarded as state colours (Landesfarben) of Franconia. The existence of the region of Heilbronn-Franken in Baden-Württemberg is largely ignored outside this state.
Franconia has almost 300 mainly local, small breweries. The northwestern parts, the areas around river Main called Franconian wine region produce also a lot of wine. Food typical for the region includes Bratwurst (especially famous small Nuremberger Bratwurst), Schäuferla, Sauerbraten, dumplings, fried carp, Obatzda, Head cheese. A traditional sort of biscuit are Lebkuchen or Küchla (sort of sweet fried dough).
- Bezirk of Lower Franconia
- Government of Lower Franconia
- Bezirk of Middle Franconia
- Government of Middle Franconia
- Bezirk of Upper Franconia
- Government of Upper Franconia English pages available
- The Baden-Württemberg region of Heilbronn-Franken
- Dukes of Franconia
- Franconia images
- Reuter, Timothy. Germany in the Early Middle Ages 800–1056. New York: Longman, 1991. ISBN 0-582-49034-0
- Cantor, Norman, The Civilization of the Middle Ages. 1993. ISBN 0-06-017033-6
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