Sub-Project C02: Dynastic Ruptures as Threats to Political and Social Order in the 14th/15th Centuries


Project C02 examines the threat to socio-political order associated with dynastic ruptures in the late Middle Ages. On both a macro and micro level, the individual comparative studies will respectively analyse what kinds of threats emerged when rulers had no legitimate heirs, how these threats were communicated and the consequences associated with these threat situations.

Project Team

Project Leader

Prof. Dr. Ellen Widder

Post-doc and Ph.D. Students:

Dr. Iris Holzwart-Schäfer

Dr. Christian Heinemeyer

Academic Disciplines and Orientation

Medieval History

Project Description

Project C02 examines the threat to political order presented by feared or actual dynastic ruptures, e.g. when a ruler without an heir became old or ill or when the only son of a reigning prince/king died while his father was still alive. These kinds of occurrences implied much more than merely the “extinction” of the family line and with that the end of rule for the respective dynasty, because political order in the late Middle Ages was in general attached to the person of a ruler and his dynasty. Thus, the presence of a legitimate heir was not only essential for the continuance of the dynasty, but also for political order as a whole and forms of social order that depended on it (i.e. clientelism, patronage, etc.). The configurations of order examined in this project encompass not only the existing power structures with its legal and ideological foundations, but also the rights and duties held by both rulers and subjects, respectively, as well as the reciprocal expectations and social structures that resulted from this. As such, “order” constituted complex webs of relationships constantly subject to change. This project aims to describe and analyse changes within these constellations that were accelerated by the existence of a threat to the existing order.

Using case studies from the 14th and 15th centuries in France, southern Italy and selected territories in the Holy Roman Empire, the individual projects will first look at what kinds of threat discourses developed in relation to dynastic ruptures that were in fact expected and what measures were taken to combat the threat. In a second step, they will evaluate both the intended and unintended consequences of the actions taken to deal with the respective threats. When a family line was threatened by extinction, individual representatives or groups that may or may not have belonged to the dynasty (rivals for power, individual aspirants, other branches of the family, daughters, or daughters' sons from other dynasties) and may or may not have been part of the court (nobles and cities) could establish threat discourses. In these discourses, claims to rule or demands for political participation may have been outlined or rather – in the case of an impending loss of power – warnings articulated. Sometimes as a result of these discourses, highly dynamic developments were put into motion that potentially became driving forces in political formation processes and eventually lead to consolidation or changes in the respective configurations of political and social order. These processes will be analysed within the framework of this project alongside the other aspects and phenomena named above, but without falling into the trap of painting these changes as part of the teleological development from a form of rule dismissed as “pre-modern” to that of “modern statehood” (with a positive connotation).

Project-related Lectures and Publications


Heinemeyer, Christian

Holzwart-Schäfer, Iris

Widder, Ellen

Congresses, Workshops, and Conferences


Film series of the CRC 923

Heinemeyer, Christian

Project-related Courses

Heinemeyer, Christian

Holzwart-Schäfer, Iris

Widder, Ellen