Schleswig-Holstein Jurisdictions

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Kreise[edit | edit source]

Kreise (counties, districts) are a multifaceted entity in Schleswig-Holstein. Before 1864 the Duchy of Schleswig was divided several times , namely 1490 (1523), 1544, 1564 and 1581/82. Until 1723/21 the last division was intact. Administrative districts were called Amt and Harde see:

Two thirds of the Duchy of Schleswig was divided into Ämter (administrations) which were under sovereign rule. The other third was distributed into hetergeneous entities, i.e., "Landschaften", "oktroyierte Köge", "adlige Güter", "Kanzleigüter", "geistliche Institutionen" and "Städte". A Amt was divided into 14 Harden which had lower judicial and police jurisdiction, which was overseen by a Hardevogt. Manors (Güter) had their own jurisdictions since 1524. "Vogteien", "Landschaften", oktroyierte Köge" and cities also had their own jurisdictions. "Kanzleigüter" had another form of administrative measures. They were partly under the Amt or Harde.

Until 1864 seven parishes south of Kolding, between Königsau und Ribe as well as the island of Aero belonged to the Duchy of Schleswig. They became Danish after Schleswig became Prussian. This was an exchange for the royal Danish enclaves at the west coast of Schleswig (territories administered by Ribe Amt).

Holstein was a German fiefdom and therefore belonged to the Holy Roman Empire. It was divided into three parts: the royal Danish part belonging to the King of Denmark and the other two parts belonging to the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Hardersleben and the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf. Later Dithmarschen became part of the Duchy of Holstein. Land exchanges and extinction of ducal lines brought Holstein under the Danish crown and then under German rule.

Today Schleswig-Holstein is divided into Landkreise


Each Landkreis is subdivided into Ämter, showing the villages belonging to a given Amt.

An Amt can provide copies of civil registration, give information about moving-in and -out records, cemetery records etc.

Church records for Schleswig-Holstein can be obtained through the Nordelbische Kirchenkreisämter, see:

A map is provided from which can be estimated if a certain village was part of this particular Kirchenkreis. The address of the Kirchenkreisamt is given and a request for a church record should be directed to this address.

If there is a question to which church a given village belonged historically please, see the list of Schleswig-Holstein towns with its assigned parish on familysearchWiki, portal: Schleswig-Holstein, topic: Place Names.

Historical Overview[edit | edit source]

Sovereignty in Schleswig-Holstein was held by many simultaneously, in 1564 for instance, by three brothers of the House of Oldenburg. These men ruled the territories above and below the river Eider, the territories above, the Duchy of Schleswig belonged to the Danish king, the territories below belonged to the Holy Roman Empire. ( The Duchy of Lauenburg was its own sovereign state until 1815, when the Danish king became its ruler.

The rulers of Schleswig and Holstein were subordinate to the King of Denmark, who was elected by the nobles for the first time in 1460 to become the Duke of Schleswig and the Earl of Holstein. The Danish king’s sharing power in the duchies remained until 1864. Schleswig-Holstein was ruled from 1581 to 1773 by at least two sovereign lords simultaneously, the King of Denmark through the royal line in the royal territories 1700-2.jpg and the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf through the Gottorf line with residence in Gottorf. Together with the sovereigns the nobility ruled in cities, councils, regions and manorial farms by common law and privilege. The sovereign lords had coinage and judicial privileges. Administrators were chosen from among noble ranks who executed their business as non-professionals. The manoral lords held the ordinary courts and where in charge of police matters. If a manor lord was in absentee, he called a subtitute, who was, however, not able to hold court. The administration of a community differed from place to place. In the 16th century the absolute form of administrative style was replaced by legally educated professionals not of noble rank. The sovereign models changed into a complex administration of Rat (council) Rentekammer (responsible central government agency), Hofgericht (administration responsible for legal matters) and Konsistorium (administration regarding church matters).

At the end of the Thirty Years War and the Northern Wars, Denmark lost supremacy. The ideas of the Enlightenment spread through all levels of society and accumulated in practical application. Reforms in agriculture lead in 1760 to the release of serfs. They received their liberty and became owners of house and farm. In 1814 school regulations were put into action. All this fostered a national consciousness and caused the old system of local cultural attitudes to fade. The population and economy grew and with it the idea whether Schleswig and Holstein should stay together, both joining Germany or Schleswig becoming part of the Kingdom of Denmark. In 1848 the Schleswig-Holsteiners decided to establish a provisional government and oust the Danish king. The subsequent war (1848-1851) achieved a status quo until in 1920 a permanent solution between Denmark and Germany was reached.

In summary it can be said that what were essential components of administrative measures for centuries, was changing rapidly since 1830 and this trend of modernization was topped only by renewed efforts since 1945.


Historischer Atlas Schleswig-Holstein. Vom Mittelalter bis 1867. Wachholtz Verlag, Neumünster 2004

Online sources showing the divisions between the royal and ducal terrritories include the following:

1622 ( [1]

1730 (Thomas Höckmann): [2]

Jurisdictions in the Duchy of Schleswig[edit | edit source]

The Duchy of Schleswig was partitioned into Harden (administrative districts) and Syssel (several Harden). A Harde was a cluster of settlements, up to 14 parishes. A speaker of a Harde was the Hardesvogt. He was chosen by the sovereign to administer matters of equitable jurisdiction. The law was called Gewohnheitsrecht (common law). Syssels were later replaced by the Amt. An Amt had no influence in cities, manors (Adlige Güter), possessions of the Church, i.e., the Bischop of Schleswig and the monasteries (Klöster), the wetland districts in North Friesland (oktroyierte Köge) and the Kanzleigüter (newly formed manors), which all were endowed with their own laws and administrative powers.

In 1791 a reform in the Kingdom of Denmark organized the existing administrative borders of Harden. The Duchy of Schleswig was excluded from this reform. Here, in 1850 some borders of Amt, Harde and parish were re-arranged and in 1853 the manors, wetlands and remaining Church properties were attached to Harden and Ämter. After Schleswig-Holstein came under Prussian rule in 1867, a new judicial administration was set in place. The Harde and city courts were replaced by Amtsgerichte (lower courts). Then the Harden only functioned as police administrations and were known as Hardesvogteien. The manors (Adlige Güter) were separated from the Harde. Since January 1, 1889 the Hardesvogteien came to be known as Amtsbezirke.

Jurisdictions in the Duchy of Holstein[edit | edit source]

Holstein was divided into three districts: Holstein, Stormarn and Dithmarschen and administered by cities, the nobility, free farmers and the Church. The nobility was the ruling factor in Holstein. Together with the Church and the cities they aimed for representation at the Landtag (diet) to determine executive, legislative and judicial administrative measures. In the sovereign districts of Holstein, the farmers retained a greater independence, though curtailed by princely administrators. Present day parishes were established early on. The parochial alliances also became the base for district divisions at the secular administrative levels. After the Reformation the Church needed to sell their possessions and the nobility as well as the sovereign bought up land. These aquisitions were turned into Ämter (administrations) and castles.

Holstein belonged until 1806 to the German Empire as a Lehen (fiefdom) but was under Danish rule. The old rights were reaffirmed with each new sovereign. The legislative and judicial as well as the administrative arm differed greatly from Danish norms. However, the highest administrative measures came from Copenhagen, the Deutsche Kanzlei and as it was known since 1806, Schleswig-Holstein Kanzlei or since 1815, Schleswig-Holstein-Lauenburg Kanzlei.

Holstein's highest court was in Glückstadt. When Holstein came under Prussian rule, the judicial and legislative powers were separated.

Jurisdictions in the Duchy of Lauenburg[edit | edit source]

In 1585 a union was formed in Lauenburg, called the "ewige Union mit Ritter-und Landschaft". This union preserved the rights of manoral lords and administrators in cities to call a Landtag in which they were able to influence the law making, the taxes and general administration. Even though the land of Lauenburg came under many rules throughout the decades and centuries, these rights prevailed in Lauenburg into the 1800s. The land is divided into city districts (Ratzeburg, Lauenburg and Mölln), royal administrations (Ämter: Lauenburg, Ratzeburg, Schwarzenbek and Steinhorst) and 22 manorial districts belonging to the nobility.

In 1865 Prussia reconstructed the system entirely. Jurisprudence and general administration were separated, the judicial rights of manor lords were abolished. In June of 1876 Lauenburg became part of the Prussian province Schleswig-Holstein.

Within Lauenburg are the Lübeck enclaves Schretstaken, Tramm, Nusse-Ritzerau, Behlendorf und Düchelsdorf-Silkrade as well as the enclaves of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (Walksfelde, Horst and Mannhagen).

Jurisdictions in the Fürstentum Lübeck[edit | edit source]

The dukes of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf who belonged to the House of Oldenburg had their sons placed as Fürstbischöfe (princely bishops) of Lübeck. In this way they avoided the splitting up of Gottorf territories. Eventually the Fürstbistum came into the possession of the Gottorf Oldenburgers. In 1803 the Fürstbistum became secularized and was the property of the Duke of Oldenburg. The Bistum now known as the Fürstentum Lübeck stretched from around the city of Eutin to the gateway of Lübeck. When Schleswig and Holstein became Prussian, the Duke of Oldenburg had to be compensated. He received Amt Ahrensbök, Gut Stockelsdorf and other areas.

Fürstentum Lübeck remained an Oldenburg exclave ( until 1937 when it became the 19th county of the Prussian province Schleswig-Holstein. The communal structures were retained. The smallest administrative unit was based on the parish. In 1857 several parishes formed so called "Großgemeinden" which are in existence to this day.

Source: (Fürstentum Lübeck)

Interim Jurisdictions[edit | edit source]

During the time of the Schleswig-Holstein Revolt (1848-1851) a provisional government was set up in Rendsburg for the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. In October 1848 the government had its seat in Gottorf. In August 1849 the duchies were separated. The provisional government became responsible for Holstein only, Schleswig was ruled by a Danish-Prussian Commission (Landesverwaltung). In July 1852 the revolt in Schleswig-Holstein was settled and the Danish king was again ruler over the duchies. In 1863 the Danish government established a constitution which included the Duchy of Schleswig. This action was in violation to the promise by the Danish king to establish a constitution in which both duchies would be equally considered. Another war broke out. This time Denmark was defeated and the resulting relenquishment of both duchies culminated in Austrian (Holstein) and Prussian (Schleswig) administrations. The Austria/Prussian rivalry for the prediominance in Germany led to the war in 1867 with the defeat of Austria. The Emporer relenquished Holstein to the Prussian King who annexed Schleswig and Holstein as a Prussian province.

"Since 1849 more systems of government had co-existed within the Danish state. Denmark proper had become a constitutional democracy. However, absolutism was still the system of Schleswig and Holstein, with advisory assemblies based on the estates system which gave more power to the most affluent members of society. The three units were governed by one cabinet, consisting of liberal administrators of Denmark who urged economic and social reforms, and conservative administrators from the Holstein nobility who opposed political reform. This caused a deadlock for practical lawmaking, hardened by ethnic tensions, and a complete inability to govern was imminent. Moreover, Danish opponents of this so-called Unitary State ("Helstaten") feared that Holstein's presence in the government and, at the same time, Holstein's membership in the German Confederation would lead to increased German interference with Holstein, or even into purely Danish affairs". See

Jurisdictions under Prussia[edit | edit source]

In 1868 Schleswig and Holstein were combined into one Regierungsbezirk: Schleswig. The Regierungsbezirk Schleswig was divided into 20 Kreise and 29 Landkreise (jurisdictions). These again were subdivided into Gemeinden (parishes), Städte (cities), Flecken (market towns), Landgemeinden (villages) and Gutsbezirke (manorial districts). King Wilhelm promised to create a purposeful and energetic administration, to untwine chaotic administrative conditions which had persisted in the duchies for 100 years. Rumors have it that the Deutsche Kanzlei (administration to the duchies) in Copenhagen purposefully did not modernize the administration in order to preserve traditional rights vis-a-vis the entire union (Personalunion).

The jurisprudence was overhauled. It became separated from the general administration.


Historischer Atlas Schleswig-Holstein 1867-1945. Wachholtz Verlag, Neumünster 2001 (Landkreise)

Jurisdictions explained visually: