Left Bank of the Rhine

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The left Rhine departements in 1812
Boundaries of France in 1812

The Left Bank of the Rhine (German: Linkes Rheinufer, French: Rive gauche du Rhin)[1] was the region north of Lauterbourg, in present-day western Germany, that was conquered during the War of the First Coalition and annexed by France. Because the attempt to create a Cisrhenian Republic foundered, the territories west of the Rhine were reorganized into several départements among the French first republic. After the allied victory over Napoleon in 1814 these territories were provisionally administered by the Central Administrative Departement (Zentralverwaltungsdepartement). The Sarre province and the district of Landau in der Pfalz previously French before the Napoleonic wars were under the definitive act of the congress of Vienna ceded to the members of the coalition. The recent annexations done under the first republic were restituted. From these territories the Bavarian Circle of the Rhine (Rheinkreis) and the Hessian province of Rhenish Hesse (Rheinhessen) were formed in 1816. The regions to the north went to Prussia and were initially part of the two provinces of Jülich-Cleves-Berg and the Grand Duchy of the Lower Rhine, from which the Rhine Province emerged in 1822. The southern left Rhine territories, which had for centuries been under imperial rule in the Holy Roman Empire had been seized by France, mostly in the 17th century, were annexed to the new German empire in 1871, following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. The region was consolidated as the Imperial territory of Alsace-Lorraine for a period of 48 years (1871-1919), before being restituted to France in the wake of the First World War.

French Revolution[edit]

By the late autumn of 1794 the French Revolution Army had occupied the left bank of the Rhine. The formal legal annexation of the territories was prepared at the preliminaries of Leoben (1797) and concluded at the treaties of Camp Formio (1797) and Lunéville (1801).

At the Peace of Basel in 1795, the whole of the left bank of the Rhine was taken by France. The population was about 1.6 million in numerous small states. In 1806, the Rhenish princes all joined the Confederation of the Rhine, a puppet of Napoleon. France took direct control of the Rhineland until 1814 and radically and permanently liberalized the government, society and economy. The coalition of France's enemies made repeated efforts to retake the region, but France repelled all the attempts.[2] The French swept away centuries worth of outmoded restrictions and introduced unprecedented levels of efficiency. The chaos and barriers in a land divided and subdivided among many different petty principalities gave way to a rational, simplified, centralized system controlled by Paris and run by Napoleon's relatives. The most important impact came from the abolition of all feudal privileges and historic taxes, the introduction of legal reforms of the Napoleonic Code, and the reorganization of the judicial and local administrative systems. The economic integration of the Rhineland with France increased prosperity, especially in industrial production, while business accelerated with the new efficiency and lowered trade barriers. The Jews were liberated from the ghetto. There was limited resistance; most Germans welcomed the new regime, especially the urban elites, but one sore point was the hostility of the French officials toward the Roman Catholic Church, the choice of most of the residents.[3] The reforms were permanent. Decades later workers and peasants in the Rhineland often appealed to Jacobinism to oppose unpopular government programs, while the intelligentsia demanded the maintenance of the Napoleonic Code (which remained in effect for a century).[4][5]

Administrative structure[edit]

In 1798 the administration of the region was reorganized along French lines and it was divided into départements. The French Directory charged the Alsatian, François-Joseph Rudler, with this task and appointed him as the "General Ruling Commissar of All Conquered Lands between the Meuse and the Rhine and the Rhine and the Moselle". Rudler had hitherto been the judge at the Court of Cassation in Paris. His division of the region into four départements lasted until the end of the French period and consisted of:

An area in the South Palatinate was allocated to the:

Political changes[edit]

In addition to the centralization of the administration along French lines the rest of French law was introduced. That included the lifting of all estates-based privileges, the creation of egalitarianism, the establishment of a new judicial order and the introduction of the Napoleonic code. Ecclesiastical estates were secularised. Bound up with that was a fundamental restructuring of the land ownership and economic relationships. The primary beneficiaries were the ordinary citizens. Less successful was the area of educational politics. Instead of a reform of the universities, the French administration established specialist high schools.

Criticism came from church-influenced counties as well as, during the Napoleonic period, from former German Jacobins. Whilst the former complained about secularisation, the later protested about the suppression of freedom. Resentment over military conscription was common throughout the population.[6]

Linguistic relics of the French period[edit]

During the French period many French dialect words entered everyday speech, such as Plümo (feather bed), Filou, Monnie (money), Drottewaar (pavement). In Koblenz the term Schängel appeared, derived from the French Christian name Jean and (apparently pejoratively) referred to the French-fathered children of German mothers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Recueil des réglemens et arrêtés émanés du Commissaire du Gouvernement dans les Quatre Nouveaux Départemens de la Rive Gauche du Rhin (Google Books)
  2. ^ T. C. W. Blanning, The French Revolution in Germany: Occupation and Resistance in the Rhineland 1792-1802 (1983)
  3. ^ Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 1648-1840 (1964) pp 386-87
  4. ^ Michael Rowe, "Between Empire and Home Town: Napoleonic Rule on the Rhine, 1799-1814," Historical Journal (1999) 42#2 pp. 643-674 in JSTOR
  5. ^ Michael Rowe, From Reich to state: the Rhineland in the revolutionary age, 1780-1830 (2003)
  6. ^ Max Braubach: Von der französischen Revolution bis zum Wiener Kongress. Munich, 1974 pp.88f.

Further reading[edit]

  • Blanning, T. C. W. The French Revolution in Germany: Occupation and Resistance in the Rhineland 1792-1802 (1983)
  • Brophy, James M. Popular Culture and the Public Sphere in the Rhineland, 1800-1850 (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Diefendorf, Jeffry M. Businessmen and Politics in the Rhineland, 1789-1834 (1980)
  • Rowe, Michael, From Reich to State: The Rhineland in the Revolutionary Age, 1780-1830 (2007) excerpt and text search Available at Questia: [1] (subscription required)

External links[edit]