While the origins of Mecklenburg-Strelitz go back to 1701 the House of Mecklenburg itself is one of the oldest royal houses in Europe. It is also unique among the German princely families in that it is of Slavic origins being descended from Niklot the Prince of the Obotrites. With Niklot’s death in 1160 his domains passed to his son Pribislav who was dethroned from his possessions by Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and of Bavaria. After a revolution in favour of the exiled Pribslav in 1166, Henry the Lion restored him to his land. This would be the beginning of a largely uninterrupted reign (bar 1628-1631) of over 700 years for the dynasty in Mecklenburg.
Over the centuries a number of partitions took place within the House of Mecklenburg. In 1701 the final partition of the Mecklenburg lands took place, and it is from this partition that the House of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was founded. The founder of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was Duke Adolf Friedrich II who was the posthumous son of the Duke Adolf Friedrich I of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. With the death of his brother Duke Christian Ludwig I of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1692 the process that resulted in the creation of Mecklenburg-Strelitz began. Adolf Friedrich claimed a joint right to the succession while his nephew Friedrich Wilhelm claimed the whole succession. Both based their claims on their degree of kinship to Duke Christian Ludwig I. Adolf Friedrich’s first attempt to get a foot hold in government failed when the Holy Roman Emperor recognised the claim Friedrich Wilhelm.
The issue effectively lay dormant until 1695 when the line of Mecklenburg-Güstrow went extinct with the death of Duke Gustav Adolf. As a result Friedrich Wilhelm and Adolf Friedrich, who was the son in law of the late Güstrow duke, both argued of their right of succession again basing their claims on their kinship to Duke Gustav Adolf. After a setback in 1697 when Friedrich Wilhelm was granted possession of the duchy by the Aulic council, eventually the issue of Adolf Friedrich’s claims was put before an Imperial commission after the intervention of the Lower Saxon Circle disputing what they regarded as Imperial interference in their jurisdiction. After a few years the commission reported back. Friedrich Wilhelm received the Duchy of Mecklenburg, the Principalities of Schwerin and Wenden, the County of Schwerin and the Lordship of Rostock. Adolf Friedrich received the Principality of Ratzeburg, the Lordship of Stargard and the Commandaries of Mirow and Nemerow with his capital to be Strelitz. Thus with the signing of the Treaty of Hamburg on 8 March 1701 the history of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and its ruling house officially began.
The ducal family of Mecklenburg-Strelitz came to great prominence in the 18th and 19th century with the prestigious marriages made by its princesses. The first saw Princess Charlotte’s marriage to the King George III of Great Britain in 1761. The following generation of princesses also made great marriages as Charlotte’s nieces Luise and Friederike were married to King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia in 1793 and King Ernst August of Hanover in 1815 respectively. The marriages tied the ducal house to some of the most powerful states in Europe and enabled some of the princes of the Strelitz house the chance to pursue military careers in their brother in laws armies and receive rapid advancement and high profile posts. The link could even have seen Duke Carl (1785-1837) become King of Greece, as in the late 1820’s his brother in law King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia actively promoted his candidacy and Carl also had the backing of his cousin King George IV of Great Britain.
On 28 June 1815 the reigning Duke Carl (1741-1816) was raised to the dignity of Grand Duke by the Congress of Vienna. The now grand ducal family continued to reign up to 1918 the year revolution swept away the monarchies in Germany. The last Strelitz Grand Duke, Adolf Friedrich VI (1882-1918) had not lived to witness revolution take his throne as he had died earlier that year on 23 February in unclear circumstances but believed to be suicide. The heir to the throne was Duke Carl Michael (1863-1934) who was at the time in Russia where he had lived his whole life and served in the army. He had also indicated he would not rule as grand duke. As such the Schwerin Grand Duke Friedrich Franz IV established a regency until the issue of the succession could be resolved. But the abolition of the monarchies rendered the succession to the grand duchy irrelevant.
Duke Carl Michael successor to Adolf Friedrich VI as head of the grand ducal house was the only male left in the family leaving the house facing extinction after over 200 years. Count Georg of Carlow, the son of Carl Michael’s late brother Duke Georg Alexander, presented the only chance to prevent the house dying out. When Count Georg’s parents were married in 1890, although Grand Duke Friedrich Wilhelm had agreed to the marriage, as his family was firmly established in Russia, Georg’s father serving in the Imperial Russian Army and his mother fiercely proud of her Russian identity, his father did not receive official dynastic recognition for his marriage and he thus renounced his right to succeeded in Strelitz as grand duke. The House laws of Mecklenburg-Strelitz themselves have no description of morganatic marriages.
As Georg’s father was fourth in the line of succession at the time it seemed unlikely that his decision would have any major impact on the future survival of the grand ducal house. Especially as it was impossible to foresee that his two young cousins Carl Borwin (1888-1908) and his brother Adolf Friedrich VI, who were both ahead of him in the line of succession, would meet tragic, and early ends. In order to secure the survival of the grand ducal house Duke Carl Michael adopted as heir Count Georg and his family in 1928 making them members of the grand ducal house. The process of bringing non dynastic males into princely houses to secure their survival was nothing new having been used by Baden in 1817 and Schwarzburg in 1897 and has also been used by many other princely families post Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
It is through the former Count of Carlow, who duly succeeded his uncle as head of the grand ducal house in 1934, that the current head of the house Duke Borwin and his family descend. The death on 31 July 2001 of Hereditary Grand Duke Friedrich Franz of Mecklenburg-Schwerin leaves the House of Mecklenburg-Strelitz as the only remaining line of the House of Mecklenburg extant in the male line.