German History 101: Who Was Germany’s First King? 👑

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Want to learn the history of Germany but don’t want to spend years pouring over books? We have the solution for you!

In our bite-sized history lessons, you can learn important parts of Germany’s long, varied and super interesting history.

So who was the first king of Germany?

This is a complex task as the very concept of “Germany” evolved over centuries and was not represented by a single, unified nation-state during the early medieval period when contenders for the title of “king” lived and ruled.

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Who Was Germany's First King?Pin

The concept of a German monarch emerged with the gradual unification of various Germanic tribes and territories, which were part of the broader entity known as the Holy Roman Empire. This supranational realm, which lasted from the early Middle Ages until 1806, was a mosaic of territories with fluid borders and a variety of rulers who held different titles, including king, duke, and elector.

You can learn more about the Holy Roman Empire here.

One of the main contenders for the title of the first king of “Germany” is usually seen as Charlemagne (Charles the Great), whose reign began in 768 as King of the Franks. By the year 800, Charlemagne was crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III, and his vast Frankish empire included many regions that are now part of modern Germany. However, Charlemagne was not a “German king” in a nationalistic sense but an emperor ruling over a transnational empire.

You can find more information about Charlemagne here.

Ludwig II, often referred to as Louis the German or Louis II in English, is a notable figure in early medieval European history who reigned from 843 until his death in 876. As a grandson of Charlemagne and the third son of Ludwig/Louis the Pious, he inherited the title of King of East Francia, which comprised the lands of modern-day Germany.

His tenacity, military acumen, and statesmanship solidify his place among the contenders for effective leadership during the Carolingian period. Not only did Ludwig II maintain his grip on his territory amidst internal family conflicts including the divisions of the Carolingian Empire, laid out in the Treaty of Verdun, but he also managed to consolidate power, ensure relative stability in his realm, and foster the growth of Germanic culture and language.

Ludwig II is not only a contender in terms of his military campaigns but also in his role in laying the foundations for what would become the Holy Roman Empire and shaping the distinct German identity in medieval Europe.

The next contender is Henry the Fowler (Henry I), who was Duke of Saxony and became the German king in 919. He is considered by many historians to be the founder of the medieval German state as his reign marked the definitive end of the chaotic post-Carolingian period in the eastern lands and the beginning of the Ottonian dynasty.

He consolidated various duchies and laid the groundwork for his son, Otto I, who would become the Holy Roman Emperor. Otto’s rule and especially his coronation in 962 reinforced the imperial authority over the Germanic territories and furthered the idea of a German realm.

However, it’s important to note that the title “King of Germany” was never officially used in the same way as in a modern sense. The kings were often referred to by their primary ducal title or as the King of the Romans, the title used by the ruler of the German territories before being crowned Emperor by the Pope.

The idea of a “German” identity only began to crystalize later, so the concept of being the first “German king” is anachronistic when applied to these early medieval rulers. It is this complex historical development, and the varying interpretations of the political landscape of the time, that makes ascertaining the first king of Germany a challenging proposition.

However, it is interesting to ponder this question.

Watch the video below which gives more details about Ludwig II/Louis II and why you may consider him the first German king.

What do you think? Who is the first German king? We will cover some of the other contenders in future lessons.

Want to learn more about Germany’s history? Find our lesson about what happened to the last German kings here and the history of Germany before it was Germany here. You can also find all our history lessons here.

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Sharon Gourlay in the Rhina Valley

By Sharon Gourlay

Sharon first fell in love with Germany back in 2000 on her first visit. She loves the long history, the picturesque Old Towns, the castles, the food, everything really! Since then, she has visited many times and loves writing about Germany here so you can enjoy it too. In fact, Sharon loves German culture so much that she sent her kids to a German primary school in Australia. She especially loves Berlin and towns with charming Old Towns like Celle and Quedlinburg. Sharon also has a Certificate III in International Travel Sales and understands the nitty gritty of travel planning. Through this site, she'll help you have the perfect trip to Germany whether it's your first or tenth time!


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