Bernhard, Count of Anhalt
Bernhard, Count of Anhalt (c. 1140 – 2 February 1212) was a German prince of the House of Ascania, Count of Anhalt
Anhalt was a sovereign county in Germany, located between the Harz Mountains and the river Elbe in Middle Germany. It now forms part of the state of Saxony-Anhalt.- Dukes of Anhalt :...

 and Ballenstedt
Ballenstedt is a town in the Harz district, in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It is situated at the northern rim of the Harz mountain range, about 10 km southeast of Quedlinburg. The municipality includes the villages of Badeborn and Oppenrode...

, and Lord of Bernburg
Bernburg is a town in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, capital of the district of Salzlandkreis. It is situated on the river Saale, approx. 30 km downstream from Halle. The town is dominated by its huge Renaissance castle featuring a museum as well as a popular, recently updated bear pit in its...

 through his paternal inheritance. From 1180 he was also Duke of Saxony as Bernhard III or Bernhard I.

Early years

Bernhard was the youngest of the seven sons of Albert the Bear, Margrave of Brandenburg and Duke of Saxony, by his wife Sophie of Winzenburg. In 1157 he was present together with his father and brothers at the funeral of Conrad the Great
Conrad, Margrave of Meissen
Conrad the Great was the Margrave of Meissen from 1123 until his retirement in 1156. He was the son of Thimo, Count of Brehna, of the House of Wettin and Ida, daughter of Otto of Nordheim. He was also Count of Wettin, Brehna, and Camburg from before 1116.In 1123, he became Count of Eilenburg...

, a member of the House of Wettin and Margrave of Meissen. In 1159, Bernhard accompanied the emperor Frederick I Barbarossa
Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick I Barbarossa was a German Holy Roman Emperor. He was elected King of Germany at Frankfurt on 4 March 1152 and crowned in Aachen on 9 March, crowned King of Italy in Pavia in 1155, and finally crowned Roman Emperor by Pope Adrian IV, on 18 June 1155, and two years later in 1157 the term...

 to Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 with his brother Otto
Otto I, Margrave of Brandenburg
Otto I was the second Margrave of Brandenburg, from 1170 until his death.-Life:Otto I was born into the House of Ascania as the eldest son of Albert I , who founded the Margraviate of Brandenburg in 1157, and his wife Sophie von Winzenburg...

. After the death of his father in 1170, Bernhard inherited the states of Anhalt and the district of Ascaria (Aschersleben
Aschersleben is a town in the Salzlandkreis district, in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It is situated approx. 22 km east of Quedlinburg, and 45 km northwest of Halle .-Pre-20th century:...

) as well as the former Gau Serimunt between the Saale
The Saale, also known as the Saxon Saale and Thuringian Saale , is a river in Germany and a left-bank tributary of the Elbe. It is not to be confused with the smaller Franconian Saale, a right-bank tributary of the Main, or the Saale in Lower Saxony, a tributary of the Leine.-Course:The Saale...

, Mulde
The Mulde is a river in Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It is a left tributary of the Elbe and 124 km in length.The river is formed by the confluence, near Colditz, of the Zwickauer Mulde and the Freiberger Mulde , both rising from the Ore Mountains...

, and Elbe
The Elbe is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkonoše Mountains of the northwestern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia , then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, 110 km northwest of Hamburg...


After the death of his brother Albert in 1172 without male issue, Bernhard also inherited his County of Ballenstedt. In the same year he solicited the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in the Reichstag
Reichstag (Holy Roman Empire)
The Imperial Diet was the Diet, or general assembly, of the Imperial Estates of the Holy Roman Empire.During the period of the Empire, which lasted formally until 1806, the Diet was not a parliament in today's sense; instead, it was an assembly of the various estates of the realm...

 of Goslar
Goslar is a historic town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is the administrative centre of the district of Goslar and located on the northwestern slopes of the Harz mountain range. The Old Town of Goslar and the Mines of Rammelsberg are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.-Geography:Goslar is situated at the...

 for possession of Plötzkau
Plötzkau is a municipality in the district of Salzlandkreis, in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany....

, which passed to him in 1173. A dispute over control over the County of Plötzkau led to a war with Henry the Lion
Henry the Lion
Henry the Lion was a member of the Welf dynasty and Duke of Saxony, as Henry III, from 1142, and Duke of Bavaria, as Henry XII, from 1156, which duchies he held until 1180....

 that led to the destruction of Aschersleben and Gröningen
Gröningen is a town in the Börde district in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It lies approx. 40 km south-west of Magdeburg, and 10 km east of Halberstadt. It has 4,180 inhabitants . Gröningen is part of the Verbandsgemeinde Westliche Börde....

 and nearly resulted in the destruction of Halberstadt
Halberstadt is a town in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt and the capital of the district of Harz. It is located on the German Half-Timbered House Road and the Magdeburg–Thale railway....

. Bernhard nonetheless was able to confirm his possession of Plötzkau.

Fall of Henry the Lion

When Henry the Lion was outlawed by the Emperor in 1180, the Reichstag also dispossessed him of his fiefs (Würzburg and the Duchies of Bavaria and Saxony). In Gelnhausen
Gelnhausen is a town and the capital of the Main-Kinzig-Kreis, in Hesse, Germany. It is located approx. 40 kilometers east of Frankfurt am Main, between the Vogelsberg mountains and the Spessart range at the river Kinzig...

 on 13 April 1180, Bernhard was granted the eastern part of the Welf lands, including the Archbishopric of Bremen-Hamburg, which was passed on to his elder brother Siegfried, and the Duchy of Saxony
The Duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg was a medieval duchy of the Holy Roman Empire centered at Wittenberg, which emerged after the dissolution of the stem duchy of Saxony. As the precursor of the Saxon Electorate, the Ascanian Wittenberg dukes prevailed in obtaining the Saxon electoral dignity.-Ascanian...

. This latter award was without real value, however, since this duchy was a radically reduced territory consisting of three unconnected parcels of land along the river Elbe: (1) Hadeln
Land Hadeln
Land Hadeln is a historic landscape and former administrative district in North Germany with its seat in Otterndorf on the lower reaches of the River Elbe, in the Elbe-Weser Triangle between the estuaries of the Elbe and Weser...

 around Otterndorf
Otterndorf is a town on the coast of the North Sea in the region of Lower Saxony, Germany, and is part of the Samtgemeinde Land Hadeln . The town is at the mouth of the river Medem on part of the Elbe delta in the district Cuxhaven...

, (2) a parcel around Lauenburg upon Elbe
Lauenburg/Elbe is a town in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is situated at the northern bank of the river Elbe, east of Hamburg. It is the southernmost town of Schleswig-Holstein. Lauenburg belongs to the Kreis of Herzogtum Lauenburg and had a population of 11,900 as of 2002...

 and (3) a parcel around Wittenberg upon Elbe
Wittenberg, officially Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is a city in Germany in the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt, on the river Elbe. It has a population of about 50,000....

. Previously the duchy had been divided, so that Bernhard could only receive the region between Meissen
Meissen is a town of approximately 30,000 about northwest of Dresden on both banks of the Elbe river in the Free State of Saxony, in eastern Germany. Meissen is the home of Meissen porcelain, the Albrechtsburg castle, the Gothic Meissen Cathedral and the Meissen Frauenkirche...

 and the Mark of Brandenburg as his formal possession. Besides these, he also received several small territories: the towns of Aken
-Places:*Aken , a town in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany*Aachen, a city in Germany...

 and Wittenberg
Wittenberg, officially Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is a city in Germany in the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt, on the river Elbe. It has a population of about 50,000....

 and the Burgraviate of Magdeburg
Magdeburg , is the largest city and the capital city of the Bundesland of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Magdeburg is situated on the Elbe River and was one of the most important medieval cities of Europe....

. The dignity Duke of Saxony, Angria and Westphalia was only an empty title. The rich lands of Engern
Angria or Angaria is a historical region in the present-day German states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. The chronicler Widukind of Corvey in his Res gestae saxonicae sive annalium libri tres denoted it as the central region of the mediæval Duchy of Saxony lying along the middle...

 and Westphalia
Duchy of Westphalia
The Duchy of Westphalia was a historic territory in the greater region of Westphalia, located in the east of modern North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Originally, Westphalia formed with Angria and Eastphalia one of the three main regions of Saxony...

, in addition to the ducal title of Highness, were conferred on the Archbishopric-Electorate of Cologne. The counts of Holstein
Holstein is the region between the rivers Elbe and Eider. It is part of Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost state of Germany....

 were released from their homage to the Saxon dukes, the County of Stade
Stade (district)
Stade is a district in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is bounded by the districts of Harburg, Rotenburg and Cuxhaven, the Elbe River, and the city state of Hamburg.-History:...

 was taken by the Archbishop of Bremen, Lübeck
The Hanseatic City of Lübeck is the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany, and one of the major ports of Germany. It was for several centuries the "capital" of the Hanseatic League and, because of its Brick Gothic architectural heritage, is listed by UNESCO as a World...

 became an Imperial City
Free Imperial City
In the Holy Roman Empire, a free imperial city was a city formally ruled by the emperor only — as opposed to the majority of cities in the Empire, which were governed by one of the many princes of the Empire, such as dukes or prince-bishops...

, the Saxon Palatinate was bestowed on Count Hermann of Thuringia and, in addition, the Saxon bishops took back their fiefs. Bernhard was forced to support the Emperor in his renewed war against Henry the Lion in 1181. In spite of his defeat, Henry the Lion was able to preserve his Allodial title
Allodial title
Allodial title constitutes ownership of real property that is independent of any superior landlord, but it should not be confused with anarchy as the owner of allodial land is not independent of his sovereign...

, from which the Duchy of Brunswick and Lüneburg
Duchy of Brunswick
Brunswick was a historical state in Germany. Originally the territory of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in the Holy Roman Empire, it was established as an independent duchy by the Congress of Vienna in 1815...

 was later formed.

Ruling as Duke of Saxony

In Nordalbingien and the areas between the Elbe and the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

, Bernhard's vassals soon rebelled against him and gave their support to Henry the Lion. Bernhard tried to assert his claims, thanks to the support of his brothers Otto I of Brandenburg and Siegfried, Archbishop of Bremen. At first the vassals of Artlenburg
Artlenburg is a municipality in the district of Lüneburg, in Lower Saxony, Germany. Artlenburg has an area of 11.85 km² and a population of 1,619 ....

 swore an oath of fidelity. After them, the counts of Ratzeburg
Ratzeburg is a town in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is surrounded by four lakes—the resulting isthmuses between the lakes form the access lanes to the town. Ratzeburg is the capital of the Kreis of Lauenburg.-History:...

, Danneberg
Danneberg is a German surname, which may refer to:* Jochen Danneberg , German athlete in ski* Rolf Danneberg , German athlete in field events* Thomas Danneberg , German actor* Tim Danneberg , German athlete in football...

, Luckow
Luckow is a municipality in the Vorpommern-Greifswald district, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany....

 and Schwerin
Schwerin is the capital and second-largest city of the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The population, as of end of 2009, was 95,041.-History:...

 also swore. However, the most powerful of these vassals, Count Adolf of Holstein, would not accept the Bernhard's lordship and became his adversary. Conflicts broke out around Dithmarschen
Dithmarschen is a district in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is bounded by the districts of Nordfriesland, Schleswig-Flensburg, Rendsburg-Eckernförde, and Steinburg, by the state of Lower Saxony , and by the North Sea.-Geography:The district is located on the North Sea...

, in western Holstein, but without success for Adolf.

After Adolf's defeat, Lauenburg (Polabenburg) on the lower Elbe, became the focal point for opposition to Bernhard's rule. Determined to eliminate the opposition against him in his lands, he levied high taxes on rebellious territories, which led to an attack against Lauenburg and its destruction in 1182, followed by the restoration of the fortress.

In 1183 another of Bernhard's brothers, Count Dietrich of Werben died without surviving male issue. His possessions fell mostly to Bernhard.

Warfare involving Henry the Lion also expanded to the Slavic countries. Henry Borwin I, the son of Pribislav
Pribislav of Mecklenburg
Pribislav was an Obotrite prince and the first Prince of Mecklenburg .Pribislav was one of three sons of the Obotrite chieftain Niklot, who was killed in 1160 during a joint campaign by Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony and King Valdemar the Great of Denmark...

, was a supporter of Henry the Lion like his father, and remained an opponent of Bernhard. His cousin Nicholas I (Niklot), granted Burg Malchow by Henry the Lion in 1164, lost part of it due to his association with Bernhard. Borwin allied himself with Duke Bogislaw I of Pomerania and Nicholas with Prince Jaromir I of Rügen, a faithful vassal of Denmark. But shortly after Bogislaw had to punish Borwin (in response to a secret order of the emperor) with the help of King Canute VI of Denmark
Canute VI of Denmark
Canute VI was King of Denmark . Canute VI was the eldest son of King Valdemar I and Sophia of Polotsk.-Life:...

 for his refusal to render homage, by which his lands were split between the Elbe and Or to the Empire and Denmark. Borwin was taken into captivity by King Canute and was forced, like Nicholas, to accept his lands from the king as fiefs. After incursions of the Danes in Pomerania in 1184 and 1185, Bogislaw shared the same destiny.

With the success of the Danes, the Emperor in 1184 pressed for a political balance between Bernhard and his vassal. Count Adolf of Holstein kept the regions disputed between them, however he had to pay 700 marks to Bernhard and swear the oath of fidelity that he had earlier refused to do. Counts Bernhard of Ratzeburg and Gunzelin of Schwerin were also obliged to make payments. The destroyed Lauenburg had to be rebuilt.

However, after Henry's return in 1188 it came again to discussions with Bernhard, who finally lost the town of Bardowick
Bardowick is a municipality in the district of Lüneburg in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is three miles north of Lüneburg on the navigable river Ilmenau. Bardowick is also the seat of the Samtgemeinde Bardowick.-History:The town was first mentioned in AD 795 and was raised to city status in AD 972 by...


As Duke of Saxony, Bernhard became at the same time Marshal of the Holy Roman empire. He asserted this important post for the first time in 1190 at the coronation of Emperor Henry VI
Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor
Henry VI was King of Germany from 1190 to 1197, Holy Roman Emperor from 1191 to 1197 and King of Sicily from 1194 to 1197.-Early years:Born in Nijmegen,...

, but spoiled his good terms with the Emperor through his opposition to turning over the hereditary German crown to the House of Hohenstaufen. In 1198 he supported Philipp of Swabia as Emperor. Philipp was killed on 21 June 1208 by Otto of Wittelsbach at Altenburg in Bamberg
Bamberg is a city in Bavaria, Germany. It is located in Upper Franconia on the river Regnitz, close to its confluence with the river Main. Bamberg is one of the few cities in Germany that was not destroyed by World War II bombings because of a nearby Artillery Factory that prevented planes from...

. Thereupon a new imperial election was held in Halberstadt and (with Bernhard's vote included) Otto of Brunswick
Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor
Otto IV of Brunswick was one of two rival kings of the Holy Roman Empire from 1198 on, sole king from 1208 on, and emperor from 1209 on. The only king of the Welf dynasty, he incurred the wrath of Pope Innocent III and was excommunicated in 1215.-Early life:Otto was the third son of Henry the...

 was elected on 22 September and crowned immediately in Frankfurt
Frankfurt am Main , commonly known simply as Frankfurt, is the largest city in the German state of Hesse and the fifth-largest city in Germany, with a 2010 population of 688,249. The urban area had an estimated population of 2,300,000 in 2010...

 as Otto IV.

Otto IV, who meanwhile had fallen out with Pope Innocent III
Pope Innocent III
Pope Innocent III was Pope from 8 January 1198 until his death. His birth name was Lotario dei Conti di Segni, sometimes anglicised to Lothar of Segni....

 over Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, supported the reascension of Valdemar
Valdemar of Denmark (bishop)
Valdemar Knudsen was a Danish clergyman and statesman. His mother gave birth to him as the posthumous illegitimate son of Canute V of Denmark...

, the papally dismissed Prince-Archbishop of Bremen. So in 1211 Bernhard escorted his brother-in-law Valdemar into the city of Bremen
The City Municipality of Bremen is a Hanseatic city in northwestern Germany. A commercial and industrial city with a major port on the river Weser, Bremen is part of the Bremen-Oldenburg metropolitan area . Bremen is the second most populous city in North Germany and tenth in Germany.Bremen is...

, de facto regaining the see.

With his acquisition of Saxon estates, Bernhard moved his residence and court to Wittenberg
Wittenberg, officially Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is a city in Germany in the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt, on the river Elbe. It has a population of about 50,000....

. In 1260 (with effect as from 1296 on) his grandsons split the Duchy into the Duchies of Saxe-Wittenberg
The Duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg was a medieval duchy of the Holy Roman Empire centered at Wittenberg, which emerged after the dissolution of the stem duchy of Saxony. As the precursor of the Saxon Electorate, the Ascanian Wittenberg dukes prevailed in obtaining the Saxon electoral dignity.-Ascanian...

 (German: Herzogtum Sachsen-Wittenberg) and Saxe-Lauenburg (German: Herzogtum Sachsen-Lauenburg), the latter holding the unconnected two northern territories. Wittenberg remained a residence of the House of Ascania until the extinction of this line in 1422. On his death, aged seventy-two, Bernhard was buried beside his father Albert and several of his brothers in the Church of the Benedictine monastery in Ballenstedt
Ballenstedt is a town in the Harz district, in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It is situated at the northern rim of the Harz mountain range, about 10 km southeast of Quedlinburg. The municipality includes the villages of Badeborn and Oppenrode...


Marriage and issue

Bernhard first married Brigitte (or Jutta), a daughter of Canute V of Denmark
Canute V of Denmark
Canute V of Denmark was a Swedish prince and King of Denmark from 1146 to 1157, as co-regent in shifting alliances with his Sweyn III and Valdemar I. Canute was killed at the so-called Bloodfeast of Roskilde in 1157. Nothing certain is known about his person and character.-Biography:Canute was...

; secondly Sophia, daughter of Louis II, the Iron, Landgrave of Thuringia; and thirdly Judith (b. bef. 1154 – d. aft. 12 December 1201), daughter of Mieszko III the Old
Mieszko III the Old
Mieszko III the Old , of the royal Piast dynasty, was Duke of Greater Poland from 1138 and High Duke of Poland, with interruptions, from 1173 until his death....

, Duke of Greater Poland
Greater Poland
Greater Poland or Great Poland, often known by its Polish name Wielkopolska is a historical region of west-central Poland. Its chief city is Poznań.The boundaries of Greater Poland have varied somewhat throughout history...

 and High Duke of all Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

  • First marriage:
  1. Henry I, Count of Anhalt
    Henry I, Count of Anhalt
    Henry I, Count of Anhalt was a German prince of the House of Ascania and Count of Anhalt.He was the oldest son of Bernhard III, Duke of Saxony and Count of Anhalt, by his wife Brigitte a daughter of Canute V of Denmark....

     (b. ca. 1170 – d. 1252).
  2. Sophia (or Adelheid?), (d. 16 July 1244), Abbess of Gernrode
    Gernrode is a town and a former municipality in Germany, in the district of Harz, Saxony-Anhalt. The town was first mentioned in 961 and became a city in 1539. Since 1 January 2011, it is part of the town Quedlinburg...

  3. Albert I, Duke of Saxony
    Albert I, Duke of Saxony
    Albert I was a Duke of Saxony, Angria, and Westphalia; Lord of Nordalbingia; Count of Anhalt; and Prince-elector and Archmarshal of the Holy Roman Empire...

     (b. ca. 1175 – d. 7 October / 8 November? 1260).
  4. Magnus (d. young)
  5. Hedwig (ca. 1175–after 1206), in ca. 1204 she became the second wife of Count Ulrich I of Wettin, son of Sophia of Sommerschenburg and Henry I, Count of Wettin (27 February 1142–30 August 1181)

  • Second marriage:
  1. John, Provost in Halberstadt
    Halberstadt is a town in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt and the capital of the district of Harz. It is located on the German Half-Timbered House Road and the Magdeburg–Thale railway....

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