The Imperial Abbey of Kempten was an ecclesiastical state of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries until it was annexed to the Electorate of Bavaria in the course of the German mediatization in 1803.

Located within the former Duchy of Swabia, the Princely Abbey was the second largest ecclesiastical Imperial State of the Swabian Circle by area, after the Prince-Bishopric of Augsburg. According to the 11th-century chronicles by Hermann of Reichenau, the monastery of Kempten dedicated to Virgin Mary and Gordianus and Epimachus was established around 752 under its first abbot Audogar. According to other sources, it was however erected by two Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Saint Gall, Magnus of Füssen and Theodor, who also founded the St Mang's Monastery in Füssen.

The abbey had financial and political support from the ruling Carolingian dynasty, mainly from Hildegard of Vinzgouw, the second wife of Charlemagne, and her son Louis the Pious. It soon became one of the more prominent monasteries in the Carolingian Empire. It was rebuilt in 941 by the abbot Ulrich of Augsburg after Magyar raids.

The status of Imperial immediacy was confirmed by King Henry IV of Germany in 1062. The Kempten abbots assumed the title of a Prince-abbot in the 12th century. In 1213 the Hohenstaufen king Frederick II of Germany vested them with comital privileges in the abbey's territory and in 1218 also ceded the rights of a secular Vogt protector, confirmed by his son King Henry VII in 1224.

Several attempts under their successors Conrad IV and Rudolph I to regain the secular lordship ultimatively failed. The abbey's development of an Imperial estate was accomplished with the bestowing of a single vote in the Imperial Diet in 1548.

By a privilege granted by King Rudolph I, the town of Kempten had freed itself from the authority of the abbot and became a Free imperial city, starting a long rivalry. When during the German Peasants' War in 1525 the Kempten Prince-abbot had to seek shelter within the city walls, he was forced to sell his last property rights in the Imperial City in the so-called “Great Purchase”, marking the start of a tense co-existence of two independent estates bearing the same name next to each other.

More conflict arose after the Imperial city of Kempten from 1527 onwards converted to Protestantism in direct opposition to the Catholic monastery. The citizens signed the 1529 Protestation at Speyer and the 1530 Augsburg Confession. In turn, Kempten Abbey joined the Catholic League in 1609. During the Thirty Years' War, the monastery buildings were burnt to the ground by Swedish troops in 1632.

From 1651, the Kempten Prince-abbot Roman Giel of Gielsberg commissioned a princely residence and the new abbey church St. Lorenz Basilica, one of the first major churches to be built after the war in Germany. Still in 1706, Kempten was the center of a religious controversy, when the abbot confiscated a Reformed church, which provoked King Frederick I of Prussia to confiscate all Benedictine properties until the church was returned.

Emperor Charles VI granted the monastery complex town privileges in 1728, however, an autonomous municipality was not established. In 1775 the abbey ordered the last witchcraft trial in the Holy Roman Empire, when Anna Maria Schwegelin was sentenced to death by decapitation, though the verdict was not enforced.

During the Napoleonic Wars the abbey's territory was occupied by Bavarian troops in 1802 and was formerly dissolved in the subsequent German mediatization. The abbey's territory as well as the Imperial city of Kempten were annexed by Bavaria, in 1819 both territories were merged into a single communal entity within the Kingdom of Bavaria.

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Veste Coburg

The Veste Coburg is one of Germany's largest castles. The hill on which the fortress stands was inhabited from the Neolithic to the early Middle Ages according to the results of excavations. The first documentary mention of Coburg occurs in 1056, in a gift by Richeza of Lotharingia. Richeza gave her properties to Anno II, Archbishop of Cologne, to allow the creation of Saalfeld Abbey in 1071. In 1075, a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul is mentioned on the fortified Coberg. This document also refers to a Vogt named Gerhart, implying that the local possessions of the Saalfeld Benedictines were administered from the hill.

A document signed by Pope Honorius II in 1206 refers to a mons coburg, a hill settlement. In the 13th century, the hill overlooked the town of Trufalistat (Coburg's predecessor) and the important trade route from Nuremberg via Erfurt to Leipzig. A document dated from 1225 uses the term schloss (palace) for the first time. At the time, the town was controlled by the Dukes of Merania. They were followed in 1248 by the Counts of Henneberg who ruled Coburg until 1353, save for a period from 1292-1312, when the House of Ascania was in charge.

In 1353, Coburg fell to Friedrich, Markgraf von Meißen of the House of Wettin. His successor, Friedrich der Streitbare was awarded the status of Elector of Saxony in 1423. As a result of the Hussite Wars the fortifications of the Veste were expanded in 1430.

Early modern times through Thirty Years' War

In 1485, in the Partition of Leipzig, Veste Coburg fell to the Ernestine branch of the family. A year later, Elector Friedrich der Weise and Johann der Beständige took over the rule of Coburg. Johann used the Veste as a residence from 1499. In 1506/07, Lucas Cranach the Elder lived and worked in the Veste. From April to October 1530, during the Diet of Augsburg, Martin Luther sought protection at the Veste, as he was under an Imperial ban at the time. Whilst he stayed at the fortress, Luther continued with his work translating the Bible into German. In 1547, Johann Ernst moved the residence of the ducal family to a more convenient and fashionable location, Ehrenburg Palace in the town centre of Coburg. The Veste now only served as a fortification.

In the further splitting of the Ernestine line, Coburg became the seat of the Herzogtum von Sachsen-Coburg, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg. The first duke was Johann Casimir (1564-1633), who modernized the fortifications. In 1632, the fortress was unsuccessfully besieged by Imperial and Bavarian forces commanded by Albrecht von Wallenstein for seven days during the Thirty Years' War. Its defence was commanded by Georg Christoph von Taupadel. On 17 March 1635, after a renewed siege of five months' duration, the Veste was handed over to the Imperials under Guillaume de Lamboy.

17th through 19th centuries

From 1638-72, Coburg and the Veste were part of the Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg. In 1672, they passed to the Dukes of Saxe-Gotha and in 1735 it was joined to the Duchy of Saxe-Saalfeld. Following the introduction of Primogeniture by Duke Franz Josias (1697-1764), Coburg went by way of Ernst Friedrich (1724-1800) to Franz (1750-1806), noted art collector, and to Duke Ernst III (1784-1844), who remodeled the castle.

In 1826, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was created and Ernst now styled himself 'Ernst I'. Military use of the Veste had ceased by 1700 and outer fortifications had been demolished in 1803-38. From 1838-60, Ernst had the run-down fortress converted into a Gothic revival residence. In 1860, use of the Zeughaus as a prison (since 1782) was discontinued. Through a successful policy of political marriages, the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha established links with several of the major European dynasties, including that of the United Kingdom.

20th century

The dynasty ended with the reign of Herzog Carl Eduard (1884-1954), also known as Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a grandson of Queen Victoria, who until 1919 also was the 2nd Duke of Albany in the United Kingdom. Under his rule, many changes made to the Veste in the 19th century were reversed under architect Bodo Ebhardt, with the aim of restoring a more authentic medieval look. Along with the other ruling princes of Germany, Carl Eduard was deposed in the revolution of 1918-1919. After Carl Eduard abdicated in late 1918, the Veste came into possession of the state of Bavaria, but the former duke was allowed to live there until his death. The works of art collected by the family were gifted to the Coburger Landesstiftung, a foundation, which today runs the museum.

In 1945, the Veste was seriously damaged by artillery fire in the final days of World War II. After 1946, renovation works were undertaken by the new owner, the Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen.

Today

The Veste is open to the public and today houses museums, including a collection art objects and paintings that belonged to the ducal family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a large collection of arms and armor, significant examples of early modern coaches and sleighs, and important collections of prints, drawings and coins.