Napoleonic Wars & the Formalisation Of Nationalist
Concepts within Germanic Studentenverbindungen

The Corps were soon to become the seeds for German nationalism: In the Befreiungskriege against Napoleonic France, a wave of patriotism drove an estimated 20 to 50 percent of all German university students into the army. After the restoration in 1815, the Corps′ striving for civil rights, their pan-Germanism and democratic approach to decision making did not go well with the authorities in the Bund Deutscher Länder. This was the period in which most traditions of modern Studentenverbindungen developed, as marked by the first Wartburgfest congregation in 1817.

After a Corp student killed the civil servant and writer August von Kotzebue and the participation of Corps in anti-Semitic pogroms ("Hep-Hep Krawalle") in Frankfurt and other German cities in 1819, most Studentenverbindungen were prohibited in the Karlsbader Beschlüsse (Carlsbad Decrees) the same year, which were valid until 1848. Tight regulations were in place in the Habsburg Empire until 1859, when reforms finally allowed Studentenverbindungen; the Metternich years under Emperor Ferdinand I are generally seen as an era of suppression by most Verbindungen.

But even before 1848, the rigour of the decrees′ application depended on the individual university. Note that this was also the period in which tendencies towards a German unification emerged (Zollverein) and in which the Hardenberg and Humboldt reforms of Prussian educational systems created the basis for the modern, German university.

Formalisation of Studentenverbindungen in Habsburg Austria

A crucially shaping period for the Studentenverbindungen especially in the Habsburg lands came around 1840: In 1836 in a revolutionary move, the newly founded Verbindung Uttenruthia in Erlangen (Bavaria) rejected the Mensur (academic fencing). Many others followed soon, marking the transition of the Studentenverbindungen from a homogenously revolutionary and progressive force into a social milieu with two wings: A nationalist one (schlagend - compulsory or voluntary Mensur) and a religious one (nichtschlagend - no Mensur).

The first explicitly Catholic Studentenverbindung was founded in 1844, the year in which the "Wingolfsbund" was founded as the first federation of nichtschlagende Verbindungen. In the revolution of 1848, it was the (then clearly dominant) nationalist wing that spearheaded the revolutionary forces in Vienna, Frankfurt and elsewhere. When historians refer to students as one of the driving forces in the Märzrevolution 1848, they really mean nationalist Studentenverbindungen.

In Vienna, the revolution led to Ferdinand I′s resignation. In December, Franz Joseph I became Emperor and consolidated his power by means of military force (including Russian troops in Hungary) and "divide et impera" politics (for example, accepting the abolition of the Carlsbad Decrees through the Frankfurt Parliament, thereby legalising many prohibited Studentenverbindungen and making them leave the barricades). In the following years, Franz Joseph I pursued a policy aimed at the re-establishment and strengthening of his absolutist rule in Austria. This included moves to ensure the control of universities and Studentenverbindungen, particularly aggressive until the reforms in 1859.

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Further Reading

Wikipedia on Studentenverbindungen

Wikipedia on Burschenschaft

Federation of Austrian secondary school Studentenverbindungen

Federation of Austrian university Studentenverbindungen