by Heather R. Darsie
This article first appeared on Sarah Bryson’s website.
In honor of Charles T. Reice, 1926-2019. Reice served in the US army during World War II, including landing on the beaches of Normandy. He is remembered as a loving husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
Wilhelm of Jülich-Berg was born 9 January 1455 to Gerhard of Jülich-Berg, from the Heimbach branch of the Dukes of Jülich. Gerhard was the son of Wilhelm of Ravensberg and Adelheid von Tecklenburg. When Gerhard’s uncle Adolf of Ravensberg, who eventually became the Duke of Jülich-Berg-Ravensberg, passed away without male issue in 1437, Gerhard became duke. During the late 1430s to early 1440s, the Dukes of Jülich-Berg battled with the Egmond dukes over their claims to the older territorial duchy of Jülich-Guelders. In 1444 at the Battle of Linnich, Gerhard successfully defeated the Egmond dukes, who renounced all claim to Jülich. The Egmond dukes retained Guelders through a contract with Gerhard, but that was later purchased by Burgundy in 1473. This was one of the claims which would lead to squabbles between Anna’s brother Wilhelm of Cleves and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
Wilhelm of Jülich-Berg was the eldest son of Gerhard. Shortly after his birth, Gerhard’s mental health rapidly declined to the point where Gerhard’s wife, Sophia of Saxony-Lauenburg, took over the regency of Jülich-Berg until Gerhard died and Wilhelm was old enough to rule the duchies himself. Wilhelm’s younger brother Adolf died in 1473 during an epidemic, possibly the Black Plague, which reared its ugly head off and on throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. Wilhelm’s mother Sophia died during the same epidemic, shortly before Adolf. Wilhelm fully took over Jülich-Berg in 1475, when he was roughly twenty years old.
Wilhelm married twice. His first marriage was in 1472 to the Countess Elisabeth of Nassau-Saarbrücken. The Countess Elisabeth was wealthy and came from an established line, bringing honor to Jülich-Berg. Sadly, she passed away in 1479 from puerperal fever after the delivery of a stillborn child. The couple did not have any living children. After Elisabeth’s death, the idea of a marriage between Philippa of Guelders, twin sister of the future Duke Karl of Guelders from the Egmond line, was considered. France was in support of the marriage, but re-joining Jülich and Guelders would lead to war between Jülich and Burgundy.
Two years later, in 1481, Wilhelm married Sibylle of Brandenburg. Sibylle was born on 31 May 1467 to Elector Albrecht III Achilles of Brandenburg and Anna of Saxony. Sibylle was the sixth of thirteen children, making the match between Wilhelm and Sibylle prestigious and well-connected. Wilhelm and Sibylle had one child together, Maria of Jülich-Berg, born 3 August 1491. Wilhelm may have had an illegitimate son named Johann of Jülich, as well. The marriage with Sibylle, daughter of the Elector of Brandenburg was a grand affair. The marriage of Wilhelm and Sibylle bolstered Jülich-Berg’s support of the Holy Roman Empire, given the staunch relationship which Sibylle’s father had with the Holy Roman Emperor.
In addition to the prestige of the match between Wilhelm and Sibylle, Sibylle was supposed to bring a large quantity of much-needed money to the marriage. The money was very slow in coming. Wilhelm had to repeatedly petition his father-in-law for the funds, which were needed in part to support military stability of Jülich-Berg during the rest of the tumultuous 1480s and 1490s.
During the 1470s, there was a struggle between Burgundy and Cologne over control of the Archdiocese of Cologne. By the end of 1474, Wilhelm joined with Burgundy, an alliance previously established by his father Gerhard. Wilhelm’s international policies were weighed in favor of Burgundy until 1498, when he began to shift toward supporting France in its struggles with Burgundy. Wilhelm eventually assisted in convincing the Archbishop of Cologne to give up his seat. At the same time, there were struggles in the Lower Rhine region of Germany. This led to Wilhelm securing various treaties for the soundness of Jülich-Berg. Most of the treaties were successfully agreed upon in the 1470s, including the initial treaty with Cleves-Mark and a treaty with Cologne.
Wilhelm became a supporter of the Maximilian, Duke of Burgundy jure uxoris through his marriage to Mary of Burgundy. Wilhelm provided support during the rebellion against Maximilian, made King of the Romans in 1486, in the Netherlands. Wilhelm remained mostly pro-Imperial throughout the 1490s, even for a time after Karl of Egmond was placed as Duke of Guelders. This made Wilhelm nervous because Duke Karl also had a possible claim to Jülich. Maximilian offered support to Wilhelm by providing troops.
Wanting to avoid a succession crisis and consolidate power in the Lower Rhine region, Wilhelm of Jülich-Berg agreed to join with Johann II of Cleves-Mark through the marriage of their children. The engagement of Anna of Cleves’ parents, Maria of Jülich-Berg and Johann III of Cleves-Mark, took place in 1496 when Maria was 5 and Johann was 6. They finally married in 1510. Wilhelm of Jülich-Berg ruled successfully until his death in 1511, when Johann III of Cleves became Duke of Jülich-Berg jure uxoris, by virtue of his marriage to Maria of Jülich-Berg. Louis XII of France, a distant cousin of the Dukes of Cleves, supported the match between Johann III and Maria.
By the end of the 15th century, Wilhelm of Jülich-Berg, Johann II of Cleves-Mark, and Karl of Guelders agreed to have any of their disputes mediated by Louis XII of France. Wilhelm traveled to France for a time to work out specifics concerning Guelders. Karl also appeared in France, though Johann II remained behind in the Cleves-Mark territories. The Treaty of Orléans between Jülich and Guelders was ratified on 29 December 1499, granting Louis XII final say in any disputes between Jülich and Guelders. However, the Treaty of Orléans excluded the Holy Roman Empire, under whose jurisdiction both Jülich and Guelders fell. This overt cooling of the relationship between the Holy Roman Empire was caused by Maximilian, who remained as King of the Romans until he was elevated to Holy Roman Emperor in 1503, because of Maximilian effectively pitting Jülich-Berg and Cleves-Mark against Guelders at the cost of Jülich-Berg and Cleves-Mark.
Wilhelm successfully maintained a diplomatic relationship with Maximilian, even staying with Maximilian in Innsbruck for a long period in 1501 to determine reparations for Jülich-Berg’s involvement with the struggle over Guelders. For the rest of his life, Wilhelm saw Maximilian around once per year. Evidence of Wilhelm’s close relationship with Maximilian is supported by a commission for Wilhelm as Duke of Jülich-Berg being sent on a peace keeping mission in 1506 on behalf of the now-Emperor Maximilian I 1503, plus the possibility of Wilhelm becoming Regent of the Low Countries being bruited about in 1507. Wilhelm was also supported by Emperor Maximilian in the marriage treaty between Johann III of Cleves-Mark and Maria of Jülich-Berg despite attempts by Louis XII of France to break the treaty and wed Maria to the much older Karl of Guelders. On 4 May 1509, Maximilian signed a patent securing Maria of Jülich-Berg’s rights. As mentioned above, Johann III and Maria finally wed in 1510.
Wilhelm continued to secure Jülich-Berg against its enemies, and support the idea of monastic reforms. He finally died on 6 September 1511 in Düsseldorf, leaving Sibylle of Brandenburg a widow. Wilhelm left most of what was left of his money for the maintenance of Sibylle, who outlived Wilhelm by 13 years. Sibylle maintained a close relationship with her daughter Maria, and served as governess of Jülich-Berg during her widowhood on behalf of Johann III and Maria. It is likely that Maria’s eldest daughter, Sybylla of Cleves, is named after Sibylle of Brandenburg, and that Maria’s son the future Duke Wilhelm of Jülich-Cleves-Berg was named after Maria’s father Wilhelm.
Love learning about the Queens of England? Are you interested in Tudor history or Women’s history? Then check out my book, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’, a new biography about Anne of Cleves told from the German perspective!
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Sources & Suggested Reading
- “Gerhard VII, Duke of Jülich-Berg.“ https://www.deutsche-biographie.de/gnd132210835.html#ndbcontent Retrieved 20 March 2019.
- Redlich, Otto Reinhard. „Wilhelm IV., Herzog von Jülich.“ Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie. Vol. 43, pp. 100-106. Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (1898).
- Darsie, Heather. Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister.’ Stroud: Amberley Publishing (2019).
- Knapp, Johann F. Regenten- und Volks-Geschichte der Länder Cleve, Mark, Jülich, Berg und Ravensberg , Becker (1836).
- von Minutoli, Julius. Das kaiserliche Buch des Markgrafen Albrecht Achilles. Schneider (1850).