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The House of Bismarck, Part II.

The family has its roots in the Altmark region, descending from Herebord von Bismarck (d. 1280), the first verifiable holder of the name, mentioned about 1270 as an official (Schultheiß) at the city of Stendal in the Margraviate of Brandenburg. His descent from the nearby small town of Bismark is conceivable though not ascertained.

His relative Nikolaus von Bismarck (d. 1377) was a councillor and a loyal supporter of the Wittelsbach margrave Ludwig I, over which he fell out with the revolting Stendal citizens and was compensated with the manor of Burgstall in 1345. By a 1562 agreement with the Hohenzollern margraves, the Bismarcks swapped Burgstall with Schönhausen, located east of the Elbe river and formerly part of the Archbishopric of Magdeburg, which also had been under Hohenzollern rule since 1513.

Otto Fürst von Bismarckj

A Prussian Junker family, its most notable member, Otto von Bismarck, gained the comital title (Graf) of Bismarck-Schönhausen in 1865 and the hereditary princely status of a Fürst von Bismarck after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871.

Two ships of the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine), as well as a battleship from the World War II era, were named after Otto von Bismarck. Also named in his honour were the Bismarck Sea and Bismarck Archipelago (both near the former German colony of New Guinea), as well as several places in the United States, among them Bismarck, North Dakota, the state’s capital.

A Prussian Junker family, its most notable member, Otto von Bismarck, gained the comital title (Graf) of Bismarck-Schönhausen in 1865; this comital title is borne by all his descendants in the male line. In 1871, he was further created Fürst von Bismarck (“Prince of Bismarck”) and accorded the style of Durchlaucht (“Serene Highness”); this princely title descended only to his eldest male heirs.

In 1890, Bismarck was granted the title of Herzog von Lauenburg (“Duke of Lauenburg”); the duchy was one of the territories that Prussia seized from the king of Denmark in 1864. It was Bismarck’s ambition to be assimilated into the mediatized houses of Germany. He attempted to persuade Emperor Wilhelm I that he should be endowed with the sovereign duchy of Lauenburg, in reward for his services to the imperial family and the German empire.

Princely arms of Otto von Bismarck

This was on the understanding that Bismarck would immediately restore the duchy to Prussia; all he wanted was the status and privileges of a mediatized family for himself and his descendants. This novel idea was rejected by the conservative emperor, who thought that he had already given the chancellor enough rewards.

There is reason to believe that Bismarck informed Wilhelm II of his wishes. After being forced by the sovereign to resign, he received the purely honorific title of “Duke of Lauenburg”, without the duchy itself and the sovereignty that would have transformed his family into a mediatized house. Bismarck regarded it as a mockery of his ambition, and he considered nothing more cruel than this action of the emperor.

The Duchy of Lauenburg was one of the territories which Prussia seized from Denmark in 1864, and the choice of this title was therefore a nod to Bismarck’s career.

Upon Bismarck’s death in 1898, his dukedom became extinct and his princely title passed to his eldest son, Herbert. The current prince is the Iron Chancellor’s great-great-grandson.

Princes of Bismarck

1. Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck (1815–1898)
2. Nikolaus Heinrich Ferdinand Herbert, Prince of Bismarck (1849–1904)
3. Otto Christian Archibald, Prince of Bismarck (1897–1975)
4. Ferdinand Herbord Ivar, Prince of Bismarck (1930–2019)
5. Carl, Prince of Bismarck (born 1961)

The heir apparent to the title is the current prince’s son, Count Alexei von Bismarck (born 2006).

Without becoming the member of a mediatized Family, The House of Bismark remained a member of the Niederer Adel, or Lower Nobility.