LAUENBURG, a duchy of Germany, formerly belonging with Holstein to Denmark, but from 1865 to Prussia, and now in- cluded in the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein. It lies on the right bank of the Elbe, is bounded by the territories of Hamburg, Liibeck, Mecklenburg-Strelitz and the province of Hanover, and comprises an area of 453 sq. m. The surface is a slightly undulating plain. The soil, chiefly alluvial, though in some places arenaceous, is generally fertile and well cultivated, but a great portion is covered with forests, interspersed with lakes. By means of the Stecknitz canal, the Elbe, the principal river, is connected with the Trave. The chief agricultural products are timber, fruit, grain, hemp, flax and vegetables. Cattle-breeding affords employment for many of the inhabitants. The railroad from Hamburg to Berlin traverses the country. The capital is Ratzeburg, and there are two other towns, Molln and Lauenburg.
The earliest inhabitants of Lauenburg were a Slav tribe, the Polabes, who were gradually replaced by colonists from Saxony. About the middle of the 12th century the country was subdued by the duke of Saxony, Henry the Lion, who founded a bishopric at Ratzeburg, and after Henry's fall in 1180 it formed part of the smaller duchy of Saxony, which was governed by Duke Bernhard. In 1203 it was conquered by Waldemar II., king of Denmark, but in 1227 it reverted to Albert,, a son of its former duke. When Albert died in 1260 Saxony was divided. Lauenburg, or Saxe-Lauenburg, as it is generally called, became a separate duchy ruled by his son John, and had its own lines of dukes for over 400 years, one of them, Magnus I. (d. 1543), being responsible for the introduction of the reformed teaching into the land. The reigning family, however, became extinct when Duke Julius Francis died in September 1689, and there were at least eight claimants for his duchy, chief among them being John George III., elector of Saxony, and George William, duke of Brunswick-Liineburg-Celle, the ancestors of both these princes having made treaties of mutual succession with former dukes of Saxe-Lauenburg. Both entered the country, but George William proved himself the stronger and occupied Ratzeburg; having paid a substantial sum of money to the elector, he was recognized by the inhabitants as their duke. When he died three years later Lauenburg passed to his nephew, George Louis, elector of Hanover, afterwards king of Great Britain as George I., whose rights were recognized by the emperor Chades Vl.^n 1728. In 1803 the duchy was occupied by the French, and in 1810 it was incorporated with France. It reverted to Hanover after the battle of Leipzig in 1813, and in 1816 was ceded to Prussia, the greater part of it being at once transferred by her to Denmark in exchange for Swedish Pomerania. In 1848, when Prussia made war on Denmark, Lauenburg was occupied at her own request by some Hanoverian troops, and was then administered for three years under the authority of the German confederation, being restored to Denmark in 1851. Definitely incorporated with this country in 1853, it experienced another change of fortune after the short war of 1864 between Denmark on the one side and Prussia and Austria on the other, as by the peace of Vienna (3oth of October 1864) it was ceded with Schleswig and Holstein to the two German powers. By the convention of Gastein (14th of August 1865) Austria surrendered her claim to Prussia in return for the payment of nearly 300,000 and in September 1865 King William I. took formal possession of the duchy. Lauenburg entered the North German confederation in 1866 and the new German empire in 1870. It retained its constitution and its special privileges until the 1st of July 1876, when it was incorporated with the kingdom of Prussia. In 1890 Prince Bismarck received the title of duke of Lauenburg.
See P. von Kobbe, Geschichte und Landesbeschreibung des Herzogtums Lauenburg (Altona, 1836-1837); Duve, Mitteilungen zur Kunde der Staatsgeschichte Lauenburgs (Ratzeburg, 1852-1857), and the Archiv des Vereins fur die Geschichte des Herzogtums Lauenburg (Ratzeburg, 1884 seq.).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)