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Kniphausen until 1855 (Germany)

Herrlichkeit Kniphausen

Last modified: 2014-06-28 by klaus-michael schneider
Keywords: kniphausen | lion: rampant (black) | horse (white) |
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Inn- und Kniphausen was a tiny territory (even by German standards!). One part of it is today part of Wilhelmshaven, the other was in the area of Varel, in the south of Friesland County [Kreis Friesland]. All I know is that it was ruled by the Aldenburg-Bentinck family and annexed to Oldenburg in 1855. It gained some notoriety when it remained unoccupied by Napoleon. Since it was considered neutral, the counts made a fortune by allowing other ship-owners to use their flag. Of course, this practice didn't last long...
Stefan Schwoon, 28 Feb 2001

On this 1789 map at the Baden-Württemberg mailing list website, you can see the two enclaves of Kniphausen (but just above the limits of visibility) in the northwest section of the map. Kniphausen is two small enclaves — one within Jever and one just to the south of it which is labelled Varel. While the northern portion of the principality is unlabelled its boundaries can just be discerned.
Ned Smith, 1 Mar 2001

The castle Kniphausen is in that northern half.
Stefan Schwoon, 28 Feb 2001


[Kniphausen banner-of-arms (Lower Saxony, Germany)] image by Jaume Ollé

On a yellow field a black lion rampant facing the hoist, somewhat offset towards hoist.
Norman Martin, Mar 1998

Flag 1689-1702

[Kniphausen 1689-1702 (Lower Saxony, Germany)] image by Jaume Ollé

On a red field a blue rectangle with a white horse facing [the] fly, with a blue canton containing a white St. Andrew's cross.
Norman Martin, Mar 1998

Flag 1702-1751

[Kniphausen 1702-1751 (Lower Saxony, Germany)] image by Jaume Ollé

A blue field. In the center a white horse facing the hoist.
Norman Martin, Mar 1998

Flag 1770-1813

[Kniphausen 1770-1813 (Lower Saxony, Germany)] image by Jaume Ollé

A blue-white-blue triband. In the white stripe the arms of Kniphausen. The flag was adopted after 1751 when rule passed to the Bentick branch of the counts of Aldenburg. In 1807 the county was transferred to Holland, and 1810 it was annexed by France. In 1814 was under Oldenburg administration. In 8 June 1825 the count of Bentinck was restored as sovereign by the Berlin Treaty, but was deposed 1849 by the Imperial administrator.
Norman Martin, Mar 1998

Flag 1850-1855

[Kniphausen 1850-1855 (Lower Saxony, Germany)] image by Jaume Ollé

Like 1770-1813 flag but with the Kniphausen lion rather than the previous arms in the coat of arms. Between 1849 and the suppresion of the State of Kniphausen (7 August 1854) a different ensign than the previous one was used (changes in shield). Kniphausen was annexed officially to Oldenburg 29 May 1855.
Norman Martin, Mar 1998

the Bentinck-family and Kniphausen

[Kniphausen penant)]
[Kniphausen old flag)] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider; 30 Apr 2007

According to Horstmann in the end of 1806, when Napoleon I. implemented his continental blockade (German: Kontinentalsperre), Kniphausen simply was not noticed or simply forgotten. Although Dutch troops occupied the "Herrlichkeit Kniphausen" in the end of 1806, they withdrew their forces a little bit later.
Since then Kniphausen was not disturbed by Napoleon for nearly one year. The orders of Napoleon I. were not valid in Kniphausen. On the other hand Kniphausen didn't suffer from British counterattacks. It was good for the British cause to keep the independence of Kniphausen as long as possible.
According to Horstmann the neutrality of the mini-state became so popular that nearly every trading ship was sailing under Kniphausens colours. The count of Bentinck not only gained a lot of extra money. He was also proud to do something for the German cause and to cheat the French.
France did nothing for a long time. The reason was probably that nobody else was interested in strict implementation of the continental blockade. Even King Louis of Holland, a brother of Napoleon I, saw very clearly the disadvantages of the blockade for his country and he fulfilled the orders of his imperial brother in Paris most
Meanwhile also Napoleon noticed Kniphausen and its flag. As he asked very angrily "Where in hell is that Kniphausen?", one of his Generals is said to have  answered with a broad smile on his face: " Sire, it's just the place under the moskito on your map!" Napoleon signed a treaty with Holland on 11 November 1807, in which Kniphausen became a dominion of the King of Holland. So Kniphausens neutrality was abolished over night. On 11 March 1808 Kniphausen was occupied by Dutch troops and formally incorporated to the kingdom of Holland. All ships of Kniphausen were forced to pull down their own colours and to hoist the Dutch flag instead.  - The first glory days of the Kniphausen flag were over. The count of Bentinck owned two different dominions. One of them was the dominion of Kniphausen under direct rule of the Holy Roman Empire (=reichsunmittelbar). In 1800 there were less than 3000 inhabitants on 52 km2. The other one was the the
"Mediatherrschaft Varel", I believe this means under indirect rule, which was under the souvereignty of Oldenburg, having no direct connection to Kniphausen. The "Edle Herrschaft Varel" had in 1811/1812 ca. 5300 inhabitants on 132 km2. Also three "Vorwerke" belonged to his dominions, located in the Duchy of Oldenburg. This subject of law called itself "Gräflich Aldenburgisch-Bentincksche Fideikommiß", consisting of Kniphausen, Varel and the three forts.
After Anton Günther, the last count of Oldenburg, had died in 1667, his illegitimate son Anton I. von Aldenburg (a corruption of "Oldenburg"), who was made a "Reichsgraf" in 1653 received the dominions of Kniphausen and Varel. Varel was under danish souvereignty, his ruler was a vassal of the Danish king in his role as a successor of the counts of Oldenburg and Delmenhorst. This relation was regulated in the tractat of Aldenburg in 1693. Kniphausen originally was a fee of the counts of Ostfriesland. Before he died, count Anton Günther of Oldenburg received this fee for his son Anton I. of Aldenburg from the Spanish king CarlosII., who was also duke of Brabant. As a Brabantian fee Kniphausen was under direct imperial rule (=reichsfrei). The Aldenburgians remained under Danish respectively Oldenburgian souvereignty in Varel but in Kniphausen they were under direct rule. The status remained however unclear, because the inclusion into the Collegium of Westphalian counts (=Westfälische Grafenbank). There existed 4 Grafenbänke ( westfälisch/ wetterausisch/schwäbisch/ fränkisch) each sharing one seat in the Imperial Assembly (=Reichstag)) was prevented by Ostfriesland, that did not accept the decisions of Carlos II.
In the treaty of Luneville Austria ceded its possessions on the western bank of Rhine, especially its Belgian provinces, to France. In Oldenburg the government thought that Kniphausen had gained its own souvereignty. §40 of the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss from 25 February 1803 determined that all fees of territories on the Eastern bank of the Rhine, belonging to or being dependent of  souvereigns on the western bank should come under direct rule (of the Roman-German emperor). When the empire was dissolved at the beginning of 1806, Kniphausen became according to valid formal law of nations a souvereign state, probably the smallest of all remained German states. De jure there were two dominions ruled by personal union with different status of law. De facto it was more or less one administration for both parts. On 22 June 1800, Bentinck's brother in law Freidrich baron of Reede became his "mandatarius", i.e. he had proxy. As Bentinck on 20 November 1806 formed a "government", consisting of three Varelians and one Kniphausian, Oldenburg protested against the fact, that Bentinck tried to get the territorial dominion over Varel.  The government was forbidden by the Dutch governor in Emden. When Bentinck returned on 17 January 1807 he dissolved this "government".
Wilhelm Gustav Friedrich Bentinck, des Heiligen Römischen Reiches Graf und Herr von Kniphausen, Edler Herr von Varel, Herr zu Doorwerth, Rhoon und Pendrecht, was of Dutch origin. He was born in 1762 in Den Haag. His father died, when he was a boy of twelve. He was well educated and was studying at various universities. He fought against the French and was imprisoned by them for several years. After he was released, he joined a British expedition corps and was made a British major general. Since 1799 he only ruled and administrated his dominions. With short breaks he ruled from 1787 til 1835. Bentinck's grandfather William married a countess of Aldenburg in 1733.
Though the matrimony was dissolved already in 1740, countess Sophie renounced and their sons became heirs of the title. It was important, that the Bentincks had kinsmen not only in Holland but also in England. This guaranteed good relationships to both.
The foundation of the Rhine-federation by Napoleon I. in 1806 pushed the trade of Kniphausen. Small territories left the Holy Roman Empire and gained land from their smaller neighbours. The duchy of Aremberg, a member of the federation received Amt Meppen and the city of Papenburg, that was Kniphausens rival. Oldenburg joined the federation later in 1808, Prussia did never, nor did Bremen, and Hannover was joined in personal union to Great Britain and on top occupied by Prussian troops. So there existed no bigger neighbour to overtake Kniphausen. Being not dependent from the federation England admitted the souvereignty of Kniphausen.
In February 1808 Bentinck travelled to Paris, to save Kniphausens souvereignty. But there were only enemies. France was angry about the neutrality of Kniphausen, the Emperor was angry, because their was a lot of smuggling in Kniphausen, Oldenburg was angry, because it had lost Varel.
On 23 January 1808 Napoleon I. announced the closure of all harbours in his Empire also for ships under neutral colours. The next day he declared the Kniphausen flag being invalid and the agents of Bentinck should no longer be representatives for Kniphausen and Varel. All its inhabitants had to use the Dutch flag immediately. The Dutch secretary of finances gave the permission of hoisting the colours. He reported to his king on 2 March 1808, that all the Kniphausen ships, that had been heading abroad before the order of the 24 January 1808, could only return with the Kniphausen colours. He also suggested to treat those people like other Dutch subjects but nevertheless to use the rules for themselves and their trading goods ,being valid before the 23th of January'. The King agreed more or less. It was more dangerous to use the Dutch flag, because Dutch ships were raided by the British Navy. In Paris blanco passports were issued which should be exchanged into Dutch ones, as soon as the ships had returned to Kniphausen. The king agreed again on 4 June 1808. Perhaps some other two or three months may have passed until the last Kniphausen flag was taken down.
From 11 to 14 March 1808 Kniphausen was occupied by the Dutch. The Kniphausen "troops" were deployed on 31 March 1808. Kniphausen and Varel became parts of Holland.
As Oldenburg joined the Rhine-federation on 14 October 1808, it claimed its souvereignty over Varel again. Bentinck tried again to claim his own interests and took away the Oldenburgian coat of arms and replaced it by his own one. He was however forced, to use the both side by side. Together with Holland Kniphausen became French in 1810, Varel with Oldenburg a little bit later too. Bentinck became a French mayor in Varel. But he left the cause of napoleon to early and was imprisoned by the French for years. After  Napoleon's withdrawal he struggled with Oldenburg for several years to regain control over his dominions.
The flag of Kniphausen became important again in the 30's of the 19th century during the Belgian struggle for independence. This time again the Dutch had all the advantages. Further details I do not know. In 1854 Kniphausen and Varel finally were incorporated to Oldenburg.

Vareler Heimathefte, Heft 5: Unter Kniphauser Flagge, Zur Neutralitätspolitik des Grafen Bentinck in napoleonischer Zeit (1803-1808) von Albrecht ECKHARDT, Varel Mai 1991 ISSN 3-924113-07-6; p.6-12; p.30; p.38; p.46-49

Within the primary source the following extra sources are recommended:
Hans HORSTMANN, Die Flagge der Herrlichkeit Kniphausen, in: Marine-Rundschau 31, Dez.1926, p.518-525,esp. 518-522;
J.F. van DULM enmr.A.N. baron de VOS VAN STEENWIJK, De Vlag van Kniphausen, in: Marineblad Nr. I, 1972, p.17-37;
Hans HORSTMANN, Eine unbekannte Form der Kniphauser Flagge, in: Mitteilungen des Herold N. F. 2/3-4,1973, p.25f.;
A.JANSEN, in: Vlaggen-informatie en documentatie over vlaggen, Den Haag 1980, No.5, p.73f., No.7, p.106, No.8, p.112ff.;
B.Günter MATTERN und Ottfried NEUBECKER, Beitrag zur Geschichte der Fahnen und Flaggen deutscher Länder. 111./2., in: Heraldischer Verein "Zum Kleeblatt" von 1888 zu Hannover e. V. Jahrbuch 1980/81,
Doppel-Bd. 18. u. 19 der neuen Heraldischen Mitteilungen, p. 101-103, 120f.
About: Westfälische Grafenbank: I do not know its members; but probably Rietberg, Lippe, Schaumburg; Pyrmont, Steinfurt and others. recommends the following source:
Johannes ARNDT: Das niederrheinisch-westfälische Reichsgrafenkollegium und seine Mitglieder(1653-1806); Mainz 1991

Description of flag#1: It is a blue over white over blue horizontal tricolour. (FIAV-code B-). The coat of arms, showing a black rampant lion in a yellow field, is completely shifted to the hoist. I believe, this lion is that one of Brabant, for Kniphausen was a fee of its Dukes, except for the counts of Ostfriesland.
Source: Vareler Heimathefte, s.above; image no.6 on p.9(?).

The flag is topped by a plain blue(FIAV-code B-) double swallow-tail-pennant.
Klaus-Michael Schneider; 30 Apr 2007

Page 112 of the regretted Mr Jansen's journal shows the complete arms of Bentinck de Rhoon as sent by Hans Horstmann (No. 14, p. 194 identifies the source, Siebmachers Wappenbuch; the picture is in b/w and uses hatching).

The little crescent is or (yellow), the horses have bridle and rein (which colour?).  The double-headed eagle is shown complete while the Oldenburg bars are wider (as seen in the Danish royals arms, for instance).  These are details of course, only mentioned to help (if only I could draw as well!).
See Roberto Breschi's page (silver crescent; two tones of azure?? - according to Horstmann, no mottoes on the flag); also this rather odd but well illustrated page, about halfway: arms of Freiherrschaft Kniphausen, Herrschaft Varel (Reichsgrafen zu Aldenburg) and Freiherrschaften Kniphausen und Varel (Reichsgrafen von Bentinck-Aldenburg): no bridles, reins gules, roses not completely gules; crescent or.
The black lion does not represent Flanders nor Brabant (reversed colours) but seems to have been the old Kniphausen arms.
Jan Mertens, 1 May 2007

There is another source - article by Horstmann - which appeared in The Flag Bulletin No. 100, the Ottfried Neubecker Festschrift (aka Vol. XXII, Nos. 3-4, May-August 1983), pp. 93-100: 'A Short History of the Kniphausen Flag' by Hans Horstmann (†), transl. James Marill.  Six ill. and bibliography.
This FB issue is mentioned here with four articles listed.
To return to Horstmann's findings, the black lion indeed represents Kniphausen (and is not connected to Flanders or Brabant, jm).  The use of an armorial lion flag before 1623, when the count of Oldenburg became the local lord, is conjectural.
Jan Mertens, 25 Jun 2007


[Kniphausen Flag#2] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider; 30 Apr 2007

Description of flag#2:
It is a blue over white over blue horizontal tricolour. The coat of arms is in the centre of the flag.

coat of arms

[Kniphausen coat of arms] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider; 30 Apr 2007

Description of coat of arms: It's a quarterly divided shield. In the first and fourth quarter is a silver (=white) cross moline with a lying silver(=white) crescent in its dexter chief in a light blue field. The second and third quarter are quarterly divided a second time. In their first and third quarter is an uprising silver(=white) horse in a light blue field, facing the right side. In their second and third quarter are three red roses in triangular formation (two over one) in a silver(=white) field. The second and third quarter of the shield have an inescutcheon in its centre. It is divided per pale. On its right side is a half black double-eagle in a golden(=yellow) field, in its left one a golden (=yellow) field divided by two red bars.
The cross moline with crescent is the coat of arms of the Bentinck family. The three roses come from the counts of Aldenburg, the horse stands for Kniphausen. The eagle in the inescutcheon is that of the Holy Roman Empire, symbolizing the direct rule; the two bars in a golden field are taken from the coat of arms of Oldenburg, here standing for Varel.
The complete coat of arms has a topping coronet, mantling and two golden(=yellow) rampant lions as supporters; the right one is guardant, the left one crowned and double-tailed.

There exists another coat of arms (no image) having a central inescutcheon with the black rampant lion in a golden(=yellow) field.
Beside coronet, supporters and mantling this coat of arms has also various crests, their significances I don't know and my source is black and white only.
The depicted coat of arms is taken from image no.1 of primary source.
I had also a photo, made by Carsten Uwe Gieske, who is a Varelian and had visited the local museum. He didn't see the flag (was kept in the basement) but he saw a coloured photo of it. From Gieske's photos I took also the colours of both flags and the coat of arms.
Klaus-Michael Schneider; 30 Apr 2007