Guelphs And Ghibellines (Ger. Welfen, Ital. Guelfi, and Ger. Wiblingen or Waiblin-gen, an estate belonging to the Hohenstaufen family, in the modern Wurtemberg), the names of two celebrated factions in Italy and Germany during the middle ages. Guelph or Welf is a baptismal name in several German families, but more particularly known in the history of a line of princes originally Italian, and traced to the 9th century. They emigrated to Germany two centuries later, and became divided into two branches, both possessing large estates in southern Germany, between the Brenner and St. Gothard. The present royal family of England and the ducal line of Brunswick in Germany trace their descent to a Guelphic princess, Kunigunde, the heiress of one of the branches, who became the wife of Alberto Azzo II., prince of Este, born in 996. By this marriage the estates of the Guelphs were united to those of the Este princes in Lombardy. The son of Kunigunde, Guelph IV., duke of Bavaria, inherited also the estates of the senior branch of the Guelphs, called the Guelphs of Altorf, and became thus the founder, as it were, of the reunited Guelphs. The emperor Henry IV. bestowed upon him the duchy of Bavaria, but soon incurred his enmity by restoring a part of the Bavarian possessions to their rightful duke, Otho II. Guelph took up arms against the emperor, and, in league with other discontented princes, defeated him in several battles.
They were afterward reconciled, and Guelph joined in the first crusade and was present at the taking of Jerusalem. He died in Cyprus in 1101, on his return. Guelph II., his son, at first supported the emperor Henry IV., but soon deserted him and embraced the cause of his rebellious son Henry V., of whom he became a great favorite. He died in 1120, without children; and the duchy of Bavaria was inherited by his brother, Henry the Black, who transmitted it to his son, Henry the Haughty, in 1120. The latter married the daughter of the emperor Lothaire, and received from his father-in-law the duchy of Saxony. He subsequently disputed the crown of Germany with Conrad III., was deprived of most of his possessions, and was put under the ban of the empire (1139). His brother, Count Guelph of Altorf, guardian of the famous Henry the Lion, his nephew, the son of Henry the Haughty, at that time but ten years of age, endeavored to recover for his ward possession of the confiscated duchies. Bavaria had been bestowed upon Leopold of Austria; Saxony upon Albert the Bear, of Brandenburg. The Saxons demanded a Guelphic prince; and Albert, at the emperor's desire, formally resigned the duchy to the youthful heir. In Bavaria Count Guelph was less successful.
He was put under the ban of the empire as a rebel in 1140, but ventured nevertheless to give battle to Conrad's troops, near Weinsberg. and was defeated. In this action were first heard those famous battle cries, which afterward became the most noted in Europe: "Strike for the Guelphs;" "Strike for the Ghibellines." The wars of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, originating thus, soon became of much wider political consequence. In Germany they were of no great duration, but they long raged in Italy. Throughout the peninsula the family of the Guelphs found partisans weary of the yoke of the German emperors. The pope, irritated by German opposition in the matter of the investitures, declared for the Guelphs. The Lombard cities formed their league in favor of the Guelphic princes, while a similar league, under the patronage especially of Pavia, declared for the Hohenstaufen, by this time better known as the Ghibellines. The latter prevailed for many years. The emperor Frederick Barba-rossa, notwithstanding the efforts of Pope Alexander III., took Milan, and reduced the whole of Lombardy. The contest was resumed under Frederick II. His grandson Conradin was the last of the race of Hohenstaufen. The Ghibellines had rallied about this unfortunate prince, who, at the age of 1(3, was beheaded at Naples by order of his perfidious enemy, Charles of Anjou (1208). The Guelphs meanwhile had been driven from both of their German duchies.
The grandson of Henry the Lion, Otho the Child, had done homage to Frederick II. in 1235. He had been thereafter created by this emperor duke of Brunswick, and held some remnant of his ancestors1 estates as fiefs of the empire. From him were descended the reigning houses of England, Hanover, and Brunswick. Twenty years later the contest became but a private feud of various Italian factions; of families sometimes in the same city. In 1259 the marquis of Este, a Guelph, triumphed over a Ghibelline faction of Verona, headed by Ezzelino the Ferocious. (See Ezzelino.) At Milan, in 1277, the Torriani, Guelphic chiefs, were compelled to surrender power to the Vis-contis, representing the Ghibellines. At Florence, in 1258, Silvestro de' Medici, of a Guelphic faction known then as the blacks (neri), against the whites (bianchi), by which name the Ghibellines had come to be designated, deprived the family of the Uberti of their power, and gave to the Florentines a republican government. Pisa, after a disastrous war with Genoa, fell under the domination of the Guelphs about 12S4, but only for a time. Rome, in the time of Rienzi (middle of the 14th century), for years vacillated between oligarchy and democracy, Ghibellines and Guelphs, as those factions were now designated.
In general the former were partisans of imperial and feudal hierarchy; the latter of the church and national independence. Their contests, after desolating Italy for 400 years, yielded to self-exhaustion. The French invasion of 1494 was mainly instrumental, however, in diverting the national mind, and interrupting a party spirit unsurpassed in the histories of obstinate and cruel domestic wars. - In 1815, shortly after Hanover was erected into a kingdom, the prince regent, afterward George IV. of Great Britain, in honor of the Guelphic founders of the house of Brunswick-Hanover, established an order of knighthood, known as the Guelphic order of Hanover. The insignia are a cross of gold, bearing a medallion, on the red field of which is a silver horse upon a green mound (sinople); the motto is: Nec aspera terrent.