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Henry II, Count of Nassau

Henry II, Count of Nassau

Count of Nassau
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Count of Nassau
Gender male
Father: Walram ICount of Nassau
Spouse: Matilda of Guelders
Children: Otto ICount of NassauWalram IICount of NassauJohn IBishop-Elect of Utrecht
The details

Henry II the Rich (c. 1190–1251; German: Heinrich II. der Reiche, Dutch: Hendrik II de Rijke) was Count of Nassau between 1198 and 1249.


Henry II was the eldest son of Count Walram I of Nassau. He was born around 1190, according to most sources (A.W.E. Dek gives his birth date as ca. 1180, which is plausible since his father was away at the Third Crusade in 1189-1190). His mother was Kunigunde of Ziegenhain (a town now part of Schwalmstadt, Hesse), daughter of Count Poppo II of Nidda. Upon his father’s death in 1198, Henry succeeded him at the age of eighteen as Count (German: Graf) of Nassau. He shared the reign with his younger brother, Robert IV, until 1239.

In the politics of the Holy Roman Empire, Henry was generally a loyal supporter of the Hohenstaufen emperors. However, between 1209 and 1211, he backed the rival Otto IV of Brunswick as emperor, before reverting sides to support Frederick II. Between 1212 and 1214, he held prisoner Frederick's (and his own) opponent, the Archbishop of Trier Theodoric II (also known as Dietrich of Wied).

Towards the end of the 12th century, Walram I had been able to strengthen his power on the lower Lahn. As part of the inheritance of the Counts of Arnstein, he succeeded them as the Archbishopric of Trier's Vogt in Koblenz, Pfaffendorf (now a borough of Koblenz), Niederlahnstein, and Humbach (Montabaur). However, by the 1230s, Trier's influence near the Rhine and Lahn had strengthened enough to oust Nassau from the majority of the Archbishopric's vogtships. The Archbishop had reinforced Montabaur around 1217 in order to protect his possessions on the right bank of the Rhine from Nassau.

Henry's father had received the Königshof Wiesbaden from Emperor Frederick I in reward for his support of the emperor in the conflicts of 1170-1180. Nassau’s possessions in this area were expanded around 1214 when Henry received the Imperial Vogtship (Reichsvogtei) over Wiesbaden and the surrounding Königssondergau, which he held as fiefdoms.

About the year 1200, Henry, together with his brother Robert IV, began building Sonnenberg Castle on a spur of Spitzkippel peak in the Taunus above Wiesbaden. This was intended for protection against the Archbishopric of Mainz and its vassals, the Lords of Eppstein, who held the lands bordering Wiesbaden. However, the cathedral chapter of St. Martin in Mainz claimed Sonnenberg as their own. To settle the dispute, Nassau paid 30 Marks to the cathedral chapter in 1221 to acquire the land of Sonnenberg Castle. Henry was also forced to recognize the sovereignty of the Archbishops of Mainz over Sonnenberg, taking the castle as a fief of Mainz.

In 1224, Henry found support from the Archbishop of Cologne, Engelbert II, who made Henry his Marschall (chief military officer) and Schenk (an honorary title that originally meant "cup-bearer"). However, in exchange for his protection from the Archbishops of Mainz and Trier, Henry had to cede half of Siegen to Cologne. Unaffected by this division of rule, however, Nassau retained its sovereign rights in the region surrounding Siegen, where the important High Jurisdiction (hohe Gerichtsbarkeit) and Hunting Ban (Wildbann) explicitly survived to 1259.

In 1231, Henry attended the Imperial Diet at Worms and in 1232 was at Emperor Frederick II's imperial assembly in Ravenna.

Henry’s brother, Robert IV, had joined the Teutonic Order in 1230. On his death in 1239, Robert bequeathed his legacy to the Order. Henry continuously disputed any division of his realm with the Teutonic Order.

Henry also held the Upper Vogtship over the Diocese of St. George in Limburg an der Lahn during the construction of the Limburg Cathedral. In 1239 he transferred, at the request of his vassal Friedrich of Hain, the income of the Netphen parishes to the Premonstratensian Keppel Abbey near Hilchenbach. His descendants took over the patronage of the monastery.

In 1247, he supported the election of Anti-King William II of Holland, who confirmed all of Henry’s imperial possessions and gave him the right to mint money.

Henry's policies in the Herborner Mark angered the local aristocratic families. Around 1240, Henry built Dillenburg Castle to better subjugate the dissidents. By 1248, the century-long Dernbacher Feud had already begun, involving Hesse as well in the context of the War of the Thuringian Succession.

Henry died on January 25, 1251, after having abdicated in 1247.

Family and children

Before 1221, Henry married Matilda of Guelders (German: Mathilde von Geldern; died after 1247), daughter of Otto I, Count of Guelders and Zutphen and Richardis of Bavaria (herself daughter of Otto I Wittelsbach, Duke of Bavaria). Eleven children were born of this union, including:

  1. Walram II of Nassau (ca. 1220 - January 24, 1276); the present-day rulers of Luxembourg descend from him
  2. Robert (Ruprecht) V, died January 19, before 1247 - fought Diez and Ober-Lahnstein on behalf of the Archbishop of Trier; was a Knight of the Teutonic Order
  3. Henry (Heinrich), became a monk in Arnstein Abbey in 1247 (died May 28, year unknown)
  4. Otto I of Nassau (reigned ca. 1247 - 1290); the present-day rulers of the Netherlands descend from him
  5. Elizabeth (born ca. 1225), married Gerhard III, Lord of Eppstein (died ca. 1250). Her death date is reported variously as "after March 6, 1295 or in 1306?" or after January 6, 1295.
  6. Gerhard, mentioned in a charter from November 21, 1259; archdeacon of Kempen, canon of St. Lambert in Liege, dean of the cathedral chapter of Our Lady in Maastricht, Aachen Cathedral, and St. Walburg in Tiel; buried in Aachen. His death date is reported variously as May 2, 1311 or May 4, 1311.
  7. John (ca. 1230 - 1309), Bishop-Elect of Utrecht (1267–1290) (Dutch: Jan I van Nassau); died July 13, 1309 in Deventer) and was buried at St. Lebuinuskerk there.
  8. Catherine (Katharina) (born 1227), became Abbess of Altenburg Abbey in Wetzlar in 1249. Her death date is reported variously as April 27, 1324 or April 29, 1324.
  9. Jutta (died 1313), married ca. 1260 to Johann I of Cuijk (Dutch: Jan I van Cuijk), Lord of Merum (now part of Roermond) (died 1308)

Two of Henry II's sons, Walram and Otto, divided the Nassau lands between themselves on December 17, 1255. This first division of the Nassau countries was later known as the “Great division.” This began the separate Walramian and Ottonian lines of the House of Nassau.

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