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Country Index: Holy Roman Empire

Country Index: Holy Roman Empire


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Country Index: Holy Roman Empire

WARS & TREATIESBATTLESBIOGRAPHIESWEAPONSCONCEPTS


Wars and Treaties

Aix-la-Chapelle, Treaty of (18 October 1748
Austrian Succession, War of the (1740-18 October 1748
Bavarian Succession, war of the, 5 July 1778 to 13 May 1779
Blois, Treaty of, September 1504
Bohemian War (1420-1434)
Cambrai, War of the League of, 1508-1510
Cognac, War of the Leage of/ Second Hapsburg-Valois War (1526-30)
First Hapsburg-Valois War (1521-26)/ Fourth Italian War
Francis I's First Invasion of Italy, 1515-16
Hapsburg-Valois War, First (1521-26)/ Fourth Italian War
Hapsburg-Valois War, Second or War of the League of Cognac (1526-30)
Hapsburg-Valois War, Third (1536-38)
Hapsburg-Valois War, Fourth (1542-44)
Hapsburg-Valois War, Fifth (1547-59)
Holy League, War of the, 1510-1514
Italian War, Second/ Italian War of Louis XII (1499-1503)
Italian War of Louis XII (1499-1503)/ Second Italian War
Italian Wars, 1494-1559
League of Cambrai, War of the, 1508-1510
Seven Years War (1754-1763)
Thirty Years War (1618-48)
Westphalia, Peace of, 24 October 1648



Battles

Breitenfeld, battle of, 17 September 1631
Chotusitz, battle of, 17 May 1742
Dessau, battle of, 25 April 1626 (Germany)
Fleurus, 29 August 1622
Hochkirch, 14 October 1758
Hochst, 20 June 1622
Jankau, battle of, 6 March 1645
Lech, battle of the, 15 April 1632
Legnano, battle of, 29 May 1176 (Italy)
Lipan, battle of, 16 June 1434 (Bohemian)
Lutter (am Barenberge), battle of, 27 August 1626
Lutzen, battle of, 16 November 1632
Magdeburg, siege of, November 1630 to 20 May 1631
Mergentheim, battle of, 2 May 1645
Metz, siege, October 1552-January 1553
Mingolsheim, battle of, 27 April 1622
Mollwitz, battle of, 10 April 1741
Morgarten, battle of, November 1314 (Switzerland)
Nordlingen (1), 6 September 1634
Nordlingen, (2), 3 August 1645
Pavia, battle of, 24 February 1525
Pavia, siege of, 27 October 1524-24 February 1525
Renty, battle of, 13 August 1554
Schellenberg, Battle of the, 2 July 1704
Sempach, battle of, 9 July 1386 (Switzerland)
Seven Years War (1754-1763)
Steppes, battle of, 13 October 1213 (Belgium)
Tilly, Johan Tserclaes, count of (1559-1632)
White Hill, battle of the, 8 November 1620
Wimpfen, battle of, 6 May 1622



Biographies

Anhalt, Christian I, Prince of
Christian of Brunswick, administrator of Halberstadt (1598-1626)
Francis I (1708-65), duke of Lorraine (1729-37), Holy Roman Emperor (1745-1765)
George I, (1660-1727), elector of Hanover (1698-1727), king of Great Britain and Ireland (1714-1727)
Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor (1765-1790)
Pappenheim., Gottfried Heinrich, count of (d.1632)
Tilly, Johan Tserclaes, count of (1559-1632)


Weapons, Armies & Units



Concepts




Holy Roman Empire

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Holy Roman Empire, German Heiliges Römisches Reich, Latin Sacrum Romanum Imperium, the varying complex of lands in western and central Europe ruled over first by Frankish and then by German kings for 10 centuries (800–1806). (For histories of the territories governed at various times by the empire, see France Germany Italy.)

How was the Holy Roman Empire formed?

Though the term “Holy Roman Empire” was not used until much later, the empire traces its beginnings to Charlemagne, who took control of the Frankish dominion in 768. The papacy’s close ties to the Franks and its growing estrangement from the Eastern Roman Empire led to Pope Leo III’s crowning of Charlemagne as “Roman” emperor in 800.

Where was the Holy Roman Empire located?

The Holy Roman Empire was located in western and central Europe and included parts of what is now France, Germany, and Italy.

What was the Holy Roman Empire known for?

The Holy Roman Empire ruled over much of western and central Europe from the 9th century to the 19th century. It envisioned itself as a dominion for Christendom continuing in the tradition of the ancient Roman Empire and was characterized by strong papal authority.

Why did the Holy Roman Empire fall?

The Holy Roman emperor’s power was chipped away gradually, starting with the Investiture Controversy in the 11th century, and by the 16th century the empire was so decentralized that it was little more than a loose federation. The empire came to an end in 1806, when Francis II abdicated his title as Holy Roman emperor in the face of Napoleon’s rise to power.


The Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire was a multi-ethnic complex of territories in central Europe that developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1806. The term Holy Roman Empire was not used until the 13th century and the office of Holy Roman Emperor was traditionally elective, although frequently controlled by dynasties. The German prince-electors, the highest-ranking noblemen of the empire, usually elected one of their peers to be the emperor and he would later be crowned by the Pope (the tradition of papal coronations was discontinued in the 16th century). In time, the empire evolved into a decentralized, limited elective monarchy composed of hundreds of sub-units, principalities, duchies, counties, free imperial cities, and other domains. The power of the emperor was limited and while the various princes, lords, bishops and cities of the empire were vassals who owed the emperor their allegiance, they also possessed an extent of privileges that gave them de facto independence within their territories.


___ History of Switzerland

Originally inhabited by the Helvetians, or Helvetic Celts, the territory comprising modern Switzerland came under Roman rule during the Gallic wars in the 1st century BC and remained a Roman province until the 4th century AD. Under Roman influence, the population reached a high level of civilization and enjoyed a flourishing commerce. Important cities, such as Geneva, Basel, and Zurich, were linked by military roads that also served as trade arteries between Rome and the northern tribes.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, Switzerland was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and west. Some tribes, such as the Alemanni in central and northeastern Switzerland, and the Burgundians, who ruled western Switzerland, settled there. In 800, the country became part of Charlemagne's empire. It later passed under the dominion of the Holy Roman emperors in the form of small ecclesiastic and temporal holdings subject to imperial sovereignty.

With the opening of a new important north-south trade route across the Alps in the early 13th century, the Empire's rulers began to attach more importance to the remote Swiss mountain valleys, which were granted some degree of autonomy under direct imperial rule. Fearful of the popular disturbances flaring up following the death of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1291, the ruling families from Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden signed a charter to keep public peace and pledging mutual support in upholding autonomous administrative and judicial rule. The anniversary of the charter's signature (August 1, 1291) today is celebrated as Switzerland's National Day.

Between 1315 and 1388 the Swiss Confederates inflicted three crushing defeats on the Habsburgs, whose aspiration to regional dominion clashed with Swiss self-determination. During that period, five other localities (cantons in modern-day parlance) joined the original three in the Swiss Confederation. Buoyed by their feats, the Swiss Confederates continuously expanded their borders by military means and gained formal independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. Routed by the French and Venetians near Milan in 1515, they renounced expansionist policies. By then the Swiss Confederation had become a union of 13 localities with a regularly convening diet administering the subject territories. Swiss mercenaries continued for centuries to serve in other armies the Swiss Guard of the Pope is a vestige of this tradition.

The Reformation led to a division between the Protestant followers of Zwingli and Calvin in the German and French parts of the country respectively, and the Catholics. Despite two centuries of civil strife, the common interest in the joint subject territories kept the Swiss Confederation from falling apart. The traffic in mercenaries as well as the alienation between the predominantly Protestant Swiss and their Catholic neighbors kept the Swiss Confederation out of the wars of the European powers, which formally recognized Swiss neutrality in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The Swiss remained neutral during the War of the First Coalition against revolutionary France, but Napoleon, nonetheless, invaded and annexed much of the country in 1797-98, replacing the loose confederation with a centrally governed unitary state.

The Congress of Vienna in 1815 re-established the old confederation of sovereign states and enshrined Switzerland's status of permanent armed neutrality in international law. In 1848, after a brief civil war between Protestant liberals seeking a centralized national state and Catholic conservatives clinging on to the old order, the majority of Swiss Cantons opted for a Federal State, modeled in part on the U.S. Constitution. The Swiss Constitution established a range of civic liberties and made far-reaching provisions to maintain cantonal autonomy to placate the vanquished Catholic minority. The Swiss amended their Constitution extensively in 1874, establishing federal responsibility for defense, trade, and legal matters, as well as introducing direct democracy by popular referendum. To this day, cantonal autonomy and referendum democracy remain trademarks of the Swiss polity.

Switzerland industrialized rapidly during the 19th century and by 1850 had become the second most industrialized country in Europe after Great Britain. During World War I serious tension developed between the German, French, and Italian-speaking parts of the country, and Switzerland came close to violating its neutrality but managed to stay out of hostilities. Labor unrest culminating in a general strike in 1918 marked the interwar period, but in 1937 employers and the largest trade union concluded a formal agreement to settle disputes peacefully, which governs workplace relations to the present day. During World War II, Switzerland came under heavy pressure from the fascist powers, which after the fall of France in 1940 completely surrounded the country. Some political and economic leaders displayed a mood of appeasement, but a combination of tactical accommodation and demonstrative readiness to defend the country helped Switzerland survive unscathed.

The Cold War enhanced the role of neutral Switzerland and offered the country a way out of its diplomatic isolation after World War II. Economically, Switzerland integrated itself into the American-led Western postwar order, but it remained reluctant to enter supranational bodies. Switzerland did not for many decades join the United Nations, even though Geneva became host to the UN's European headquarters and the country played an active role in many of the UN's specialized agencies. Switzerland also remained aloof in the face of European integration efforts, waiting until 1963 to join the Council of Europe. It still remains outside the European Union. Instead, Switzerland in 1960 helped form the European Free Trade Area, which did not strive for political union. Following the Cold War, Switzerland joined the Bretton Woods institutions in 1992 and finally became a member of the United Nations in 2002.


Source: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs: Background Note: Switzerland


Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire officially lasted from 962 to 1806. It was one of Europe’s largest medieval and early modern states, but its power base was unstable and continually shifting. The Holy Roman Empire was not a unitary state, but a confederation of small and medium-sized political entities.

When they managed to speak with one voice, the Holy Roman Emperor was one of Europe’s mightiest sovereigns. More often than not, though, the “member states” of the Holy Roman Empire had divergent interests and came into conflict with one another. Other European powers regularly and ruthlessly exploited these divisions. Consequently, weak emperors were almost completely ignored by the heads of the Holy Roman Empire’s lesser states. Strong emperors, on the other hand, fared better at subjugating them to their will, but always had to fight tooth and nail to project and protect their power.

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To make matters worse for the imperial house, the Holy Roman Emperor was elected by an Imperial College. Every new election carried with it the risk of losing the imperial crown to another ambitious family. To prevent this, the ruling dynasty usually had to offer concessions to members of the college to woo their votes. Over time, this hollowed out the imperial family’s power so that - sooner or later - they would enter an election with not much left to offer. These were often the moments when the imperial dynasty was replaced with a new one, only to start the cycle anew.

Therefore, despite its impressive size, the Holy Roman Empire only turned into an imperial juggernaut under the strongest of emperors. The weaker ones were on the receiving end of the political machinery of this confederal elective monarchy, de facto ruling over not much more than their family’s hereditary lands.

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Foundation

During the 8th and 9th centuries, the Franks carved out a humongous realm in Central and Western Europe. On Christmas Day, 800, the Frankish king, Charlemagne, had himself crowned as emperor in Rome. Under his grandsons, however, the Frankish realm swiftly disintegrated. They agreed to split the empire into three parts: the Kingdom of West Francia (the precursor of medieval France), Middle Francia or Lotharingia, and East Francia. The third kingdom evolved into the Kingdom of Germany during the late 9th and early 10th centuries.

Since, in theory, you can only have one emperor at the same time, Charlemagne’s grandsons decided that the ruler of Middle Francia was to carry the imperial title. This agreement broke down quickly because that family line of the Carolingian Dynasty went extinct. As a result, Middle Francia descended into chaos, breaking apart into the Kingdom of Burgundy and the Kingdom of Italy. In the 10th century, the Italian princess Adelaide (931-999) asked Otto I, King of Germany (r. 936-973) and Holy Roman Emperor (r. 962-973), to come and settle affairs south of the Alps. Otto invaded northern Italy, installed order, married Adelaide, and continued to Rome.

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Otto was now King of Germany and, through Adelaide’s family line, King of Italy. In his mind, this called for an imperial title. Fortunately for him, the pope was grateful for the reintroduction of some sense of stability in Italy by the German forces. So he thanked Otto by reviving the vacant imperial title and crowned him emperor. The ‘office’ of the Holy Roman Emperor was hereby formally transferred from Middle Francia to East Francia/Kingdom of Germany, where it would remain for the rest of the Holy Roman Empire’s history. That is why this event, in 962, is usually seen as the start of the Holy Roman Empire. Some historians regard the crowning of Charlemagne, in 800, as the beginning but his empire is now generally referred to as the Frankish or Carolingian Empire.

Otto’s family, the Ottonian Dynasty or Saxon Dynasty, ruled the empire until 1024 CE. They incorporated the Duchy of Bohemia into the empire. Soon after, the Ottonians were replaced by the Salian Dynasty. The Salians added the other, leftover part of Middle Francia, the Kingdom of Burgundy, to the Holy Roman Empire. They thus turned the empire into a composite monarchy with the major building blocks being Germany, Italy, Bohemia, and Burgundy. Meanwhile, the ascendant Salians entered into a major conflict with the medieval church, known as the Investiture Controversy. The growing imperial power in the 11th century raised the question of who reigned supreme in Latin Christianity: the pope or the emperor? After much debate and bloodshed, a compromise was reached the Concordat of Worms in 1122 limited the religious influence of the emperor. The Holy Roman Empire’s next dynasty, the Staufers, nevertheless pushed imperial power in secular matters to its very limit.

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The Staufer Dynasty

The Staufer dynasty was one of the Holy Roman Empire’s most remarkable imperial houses. Under their reign, the Empire reached its greatest territorial extent. At their height of power in the 13th century, the Staufers ruled - in theory - from the southern border of Denmark to the Mediterranean island of Sicily.

The first Staufer emperor, Frederick I (r. 1155-1190), was called Barbarossa, on account of his red beard. He participated in the Second Crusade before he became emperor and accrued a wealth of military experience at a young age. After his imperial coronation, he was challenged again and again by the flourishing mercantile republics in his own Kingdom of Italy. He led over six military expeditions against his Italian subjects. Ultimately, he made so many enemies that several cities allied against him with the pope, Sicily, and even the Byzantine Empire. Barbarossa was beaten and returned north a bitter man. Determined for revenge, he prepared another expedition but was overtaken by events in the Levant. The armies of the Saladin, the Muslim Sultan of Egypt and Syrian r. 1174-1193) had conquered Jerusalem. Barbarossa joined the Third Crusade, intending to reconquer the Holy City. Having progressed quite far on the way to his target, he took a fateful bath in a river in current-day Turkey and drowned.

His grandson, Frederick II (r. 1220-1250) made such an impression on his contemporaries that they called him stupor mundi, meaning “wonder of the world”. He spoke six languages and promoted poetry, philosophy, and medieval literature, also welcoming Muslim and Jewish scholars at his court in Palermo, Sicily. His religious tolerance, combined with his limitless territorial ambitions, brought him into a near-permanent state of conflict with the pope. Frederick was excommunicated three times over and Pope Innocent IV even called him “the Antichrist”. Nevertheless, Frederick saw himself as a paragon of Christianity and sailed to the Holy Land with the Sixth Crusade. Contrary to the aggressiveness which was - by now - characteristic for armies of the crusades, the emperor negotiated with the sultan, al-Kamil (r. 1218-1238), and regained control of Jerusalem. Where the Third Crusade had failed militarily, the Sixth succeeded with diplomacy.

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The centrifugal issues that plagued the Holy Roman Empire were temporarily subdued by Frederick’s overbearing might. But when he died and the Staufer era came to an end in 1250, these challenges came to the fore with increased intensity. The Italian republics as well as the northern cities united in the Hanseatic League jumped into the power vacuum that Frederick’s death created and enlarged their political and economic autonomy. Inland, feudal lords squabbled over the imperial succession but none managed to subjugate the others. A new emperor was only crowned in 1312 - over 60 years after the end of the Staufer Dynasty. This period is known as the Interregnum, meaning “between reigns”.

Culture & Economy

As central authority decreased after the Staufer emperors, a decentralization process kicked in that transferred power from the ancient feudal aristocracy to the late medieval and early modern burgher class, who populated the cities. Because money was reinjected into the economic system, the possession of land was gradually overshadowed by having a big, fat purse. This shift in power did not mean that the empire became democratic in any way. The Imperial College, whose members elected the emperor, still consisted exclusively of feudal lords. Its ecclesiastical members were the archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne. The secular electors were the dukes of the four "nations" of Germany: Franconia, Swabia, Saxony, and Bavaria. After the Staufer dynasty, Franconia, Swabia, and Bavaria were replaced by the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine, and the Margrave of Brandenburg. These and other aristocrats continued to wield great power during the late medieval phase of the Holy Roman Empire, but as cities accumulated more wealth, burghers managed to press for ever-increasing concessions from their feudal overlords, gradually paving the way for an early modern, urbanized society.

It was because of this shift from feudalism to a mercantile business economy that Italy started breaking away from the Holy Roman Empire. The maritime republics of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa had built up a significant amount of autonomy under the Staufer emperors. As central imperial authority over Italy faded, they accelerated this process - eventually setting them on a trajectory towards the Renaissance, when Florence and Milan followed their example. During the post-Staufer period, in addition to their distinct political and economic position, they distanced themselves mentally and culturally from the other, northern inhabitants of the empire and started referring to them as “Teutons” or “Germans”.

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Meanwhile, in the lands north of the Alps, cities negotiated with dukes and counts for greater economic freedom as well. The outcome of these political confrontations was written down in documents called "privileges", usually highly favorable to the city in question. The burgher class put more and more feudal lords on the defensive. Inside the cities, craftsmen started to organize themselves into medieval guilds. These associations soon became political bodies of their own. They controlled the local labor market, the amount of production, and trade tariffs. Furthermore, the most prosperous cities allied in leagues and could extract even more concessions and privileges from the feudal aristocracy. The Lombard League, an alliance of North Italian cities, had been a thorn in Barbarossa’s side, and in the north, the commercial centers along the North Sea and Baltic coasts, such as Hamburg, Bremen, and Danzig, joined forces by forming the Hanseatic League. Already in the 12th century, this union of cities managed to force the English king to exempt its members from all tolls in London.

Evidently, the Holy Roman Empire did not need a strong emperor to flourish. Although imperial authority waned during the Late Middle Ages, cities, guilds, and burghers cooperated to improve their position. In the meantime, the imperial title passed through the Luxembourgish, Bavarian, and Bohemian dynasties to land in the lap of the Austrian Habsburgs in the 15th century. From 1415 CE, this family reigned over the Holy Roman Empire until its final day.

The Reformation

It was under Habsburg rule that the Holy Roman Empire experienced an era of great religious strife, making it one of its darker periods. Whereas the imperial family was staunchly Catholic, in the north of the empire the Protestant Reformation exploded in 1517 when Martin Luther officially broke with the pope and fractured Western Christianity. A large number of cities leaped at this chance to resist the Catholic Habsburgs. They exploited this tectonic shift in church matters and sided with the Reformation, giving it an immediate and inflammable political dimension. The Rhineland, Bohemia, Austria, and the south of the German territories remained mostly Catholic, while the north and cities such as Strasbourg and Frankfurt became bulwarks of Protestantism.

In the meantime, the beleaguered Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1519-1556) was also battling the French and the Turks, who had by now replaced the Byzantines in the Balkan and were threatening Hungary - a Habsburg possession, though formally outside the Holy Roman Empire. Although he tried to juggle all these affairs, in 1555 an exhausted Charles V gave in to Protestant demands and resigned soon thereafter. From that moment, the lord of a "member state", such as the Duke of Saxony or the King of Bohemia, could decide whether his lands were Catholic or Protestant. It was agreed that the emperor would stay out of religious matters outside his own lands. This gave the Holy Roman Empire a somewhat uneasy but rather stable base to work with for the rest of the 16th century. However, this decline of imperial power once again created a power vacuum that led to open conflict.

As Protestantism was still expanding, the Kingdom of Bohemia slowly yet steadily converted to the new creed. The kingdom was under Habsburg rule at the time: next to being emperor, the Habsburgs were also simultaneously kings of Bohemia. In 1618, the Bohemian nobility revolted and deposed Ferdinand II as king of Bohemia (though not as emperor). They offered the crown to a Protestant candidate. Embarrassed as well as offended, Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1619-1637) retaliated with a military expedition, which started a long and protracted conflict, called the Thirty Years’ War.

Initially, the imperial party regained control of Bohemia soon enough. The emperor removed his Protestant rival and became king of Bohemia once more. However, because of the agreement that Charles V had signed in 1555, the emperor was supposed to concentrate on his own hereditary lands and leave other territories unmolested. In the heated religious atmosphere of the 17th century, the imperial meddling in Bohemian (Protestant) affairs was interpreted as the Habsburgs overstepping their authority. As a result, the duke of Holstein - simultaneously the king of Denmark - rebelled and campaigned against his emperor for a couple of years. Ultimately, he was beaten, the growing Habsburg influence scared others. So, after the Danish phase, it was Sweden’s turn to try and strengthen the Protestant cause in northern Germany. The Swedish king warred against the emperor for many years and scored great victories but was slain in battle in 1632.

Because all else had failed, the French - always jealously trying to obstruct Habsburg ambitions - now had no choice but to directly intervene in the conflict as well. Most of the fighting took place on German lands, and the decades of intermittent fighting devastated the country, weakening the imperial position as the conflict dragged on. The combination of internal resistance by Protestant princes and interventions by Danish, Swedish, and French forces ultimately proved to be too much to handle for the Habsburgs. In 1648, after a long period of negotiations, a comprehensive peace package was agreed upon. This Peace of Westphalia finally ended the calamitous conflict, one of the most lethal, ruinous and catastrophic confrontations in European history. At last, peace - both in a religious and secular sense - returned to the Holy Roman Empire.

Decline

After the Treaty of Westphalia, the Habsburgs remained in place as Holy Roman Emperors, but their power was increasingly confined to their own Austrian, Bohemian, and Hungarian possessions. At Vienna, they thwarted a major Ottoman assault on Central Europe with Polish assistance in 1683, and it was with this power base that they kept trying to obstruct the rise of France as a European great power. The Holy Roman Emperors definitively failed at this task when Louis XIV of France (r. 1643-1715) managed to extend his eastern borders to the Rhine river. As threatening as the French might have seemed, the next great challenge to Habsburg authority did not come from Paris, but was - once again - growing inside the Holy Roman Empire.

During these years, the Hohenzollern family ruling the Margraviate of Brandenburg expanded this state into the Kingdom of Prussia. Although this happened mostly with the grudging approval of the emperors, in 1740, the Prussian king launched a swift invasion of Silesia, one of the wealthiest and most productive Habsburg lands. A Habsburg counter-offensive was not altogether unsuccessful, but in the end the emperor had to cede this province to Prussian control. The conflict between Austria and Prussia would continue for a long time afterward and played a major role in the first German national unification in the 19th century CE. However, before that came to pass, the Holy Roman Empire was no more.

Around 1800, the eternal threat from the west, the French, took on a whole new shape. First in the form of revolutionary armies, later in the persona of Napoleon Bonaparte (l. 1769-1821), France marched east with unprecedented success. In 1805, Napoleon inflicted such a crushing defeat on the Holy Roman Emperor that his authority outside his own Habsburg lands ceased to exist. The next year, the Holy Roman Empire was officially dissolved, while the French reorganized most German states into their satellite state called the Confederation of the Rhine. After Napoleon was beaten for good, the confederation idea remained in place. All German states, including Prussia and Austria, joined the new German Confederation. From this alliance of member states modern Germany finally emerged, although Austria and the Habsburgs were ultimately excluded from this project by the continuing expansion of Prussia. In Vienna, the Habsburg family clung to power as Emperors of Austria-Hungary and ruled until the events of the First World War (1914-1918) made this imperial title obsolete as well.


Country Index: Holy Roman Empire - History

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History of the Holy Roman Empire - Imperium Romanum Sacrum - Heiliges Romisches Reich - Sacro Romano Impero

The Holy Roman Empire (HRE German: Heiliges Römisches Reich (HRR), Latin: Imperium Romanum Sacrum (IRS), Italian: Sacro Romano Impero (SRI)) was a German empire that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe. It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes. In its last centuries, its character became quite close to a union of territories. The empire's territory was centered on the Kingdom of Germany, and included neighboring territories, which at its peak included the Kingdom of Italy and the Kingdom of Burgundy. For much of its history, the Empire consisted of hundreds of smaller sub-units, principalities, duchies, counties, Free Imperial Cities and other domains.

In 962 Otto I was crowned Holy Roman Emperor (German: Römisch-Deutscher Kaiser), although the Roman imperial title was first restored to Charlemagne in 800. Otto was the first emperor of the realm who was not a member of the earlier Carolingian dynasty. The last Holy Roman Emperor was Francis II, who abdicated and dissolved the Empire in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars. In a decree following the 1512 Diet of Cologne, the name was officially changed to Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (German: Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation, Latin: Imperium Romanum Sacrum Nationis Germanicæ).

The territories and dominion of the Holy Roman Empire in terms of present-day states comprised Germany (except Southern Schleswig), Austria (except Burgenland), the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Slovenia (except Prekmurje), besides significant parts of eastern France (mainly Artois, Alsace, Franche-Comté, French Flanders, Savoy and Lorraine), northern Italy (mainly Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Trentino and South Tyrol), and western Poland (mainly Silesia, Pomerania and Neumark).

The term sacrum (i.e., "holy" in the sense of "consecrated") in connection with the medieval Roman Empire was used from 1157, under Frederick I Barbarossa ("Holy Empire" the form "Holy Roman Empire" is attested from 1254 onward). The term was added to reflect Frederick's ambition to dominate Italy and the Papacy. Before 1157, the realm was merely referred to as the Roman Empire.

In a decree following the 1512 Diet of Cologne, the name was officially changed to Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (German: Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation, Latin: Imperium Romanum Sacrum Nationis Germanicæ). This form was first used in a document in 1474.

The Holy Roman Empire was named after the Roman Empire and was considered its continuation. This is based in the medieval concept of translatio imperii. The French Enlightenment writer Voltaire remarked sardonically: "This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire."

The Holy Roman Empire looked to Charlemagne, King of the Franks, as its founder, who had been crowned Emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day in 800 by Pope Leo III. The Western Roman Empire was thus revived (Latin: renovatio Romanorum imperii) by transferring it to the Frankish king. This translatio imperii remained the basis for the Holy Roman Empire, at least in theory, until its demise in 1806.

The Carolingian imperial crown was initially disputed among the Carolingian rulers of Western Francia (France) and Eastern Francia (Germany), with first the western king (Charles the Bald) and then the eastern (Charles the Fat) attaining the prize. However, after the death of Charles the Fat in 888, the Carolingian Empire broke asunder, never to be restored. According to Regino of Prüm, each part of the realm elected a "kinglet" from its own "bowels." After the death of Charles the Fat, those crowned Emperor by the Pope controlled only territories in Italy. The last such Emperor was Berengar I of Italy who died in 924.

Around 900, East Francia saw the reemergence of autonomous stem duchies (Franconia, Bavaria, Swabia, Saxony and Lotharingia). After the Carolingian king Louis the Child died without issue in 911, East Francia did not turn to the Carolingian ruler of West Francia to take over the realm but elected one of the dukes, Conrad of Franconia, as Rex Francorum Orientalum. On his deathbed, Conrad yielded the crown to his main rival, Henry of Saxony (r. 919-36), who was elected king at the Diet of Fritzlar in 919. Henry reached a truce with the raiding Magyars and in 933 won a first victory against them in the Battle of Riade.

Henry died in 936 but his descendants, the Liudolfing (or Ottonian) dynasty, would continue to rule the Eastern kingdom for roughly a century. Henry's designated successor, Otto, was elected King in Aachen in 936. He overcame a series of revolts-both from an elder brother and from several dukes. After that, the king managed to control the appointment of dukes and often also employed bishops in administrative affairs.

The Kingdom had no permanent capital city and the kings travelled from residence to residence (called Kaiserpfalz) to discharge affairs. However, each king preferred certain places, in Otto's case, the city of Magdeburg. Kingship continued to be transferred by election, but Kings often had their sons elected during their lifetime, enabling them to keep the crown for their families. This only changed after the end of the Salian dynasty in the 12th century.

In 955, Otto won a decisive victory over the Magyars in the Battle of Lechfeld. In 951, Otto came to the aid of Adelaide, the widowed queen of Italy, defeating her enemies. He then married her and took control over Italy. In 962, Otto was crowned Emperor by the Pope. From then on, the affairs of the German kingdom were intertwined with that of Italy and the Papacy. Otto's coronation as Emperor made the German kings successors to the Empire of Charlemagne, which through translatio imperii also made them successors to Ancient Rome.

This also renewed the conflict with the Eastern Emperor in Constantinople, especially after Otto's son Otto II (r. 967-83) adopted the designation imperator Romanorum. Still, Otto formed marital ties with the east, when he married the Byzantine princess Theophanu.Their son, Otto III, focused his attention on Italy and Rome and employed widespread diplomacy but died young in 1002, to be succeeded by his cousin Henry II, who focused on Germany. When Henry II died in 1024, Conrad II, first of the Salian Dynasty, was then elected king in 1024 only after some debate among dukes and nobles, which would eventually develop into the collegiate of Electors.

Kings often employed bishops in administrative affairs and often determined who would be appointed to ecclesiastical offices. In the wake of the Cluniac Reforms, this involvement was increasingly seen as inappropriate by the Papacy. The reform-minded Pope Gregory VII was determined to oppose such practices, leading to the Investiture Controversy with King Henry IV (r. 1056-1106), who repudiated the Pope's interference and persuaded his bishops to excommunicate the Pope, whom he famously addressed by his born name "Hildebrand", rather than his divine name "Pope Gregory VII". The Pope, in turn, excommunicated the king, declared him deposed and dissolved the oaths of loyalty made to Henry. The king found himself with almost no political support and was forced to make the famous Walk to Canossa in 1077, by which he achieved a lifting of the excommunication at the price of humiliation. Meanwhile, the German princes had elected another king, Rudolf of Swabia. Henry managed to defeat him but was subsequently confronted with more uprisings, renewed excommunication and even the rebellion of his sons. It was his second son, Henry V, who managed to reach an agreement with both the Pope and the bishops in the 1122 Concordat of Worms. The political power of the Empire was maintained but the conflict had demonstrated the limits of any ruler's power, especially in regard to the Church, and robbed the king of the sacral status he had previously enjoyed. Both the Pope and the German princes had surfaced as major players in the political system of the Empire.

When the Salian dynasty ended with Henry V's death in 1125, the princes chose not to elect the next of kin, but rather Lothair, the moderately powerful but already old Duke of Saxony. When he died in 1138, the princes again aimed at checking royal power accordingly they did not elect Lothair's favoured heir, his son-in-law Henry the Proud of the Welf family, but Conrad III of the Hohenstaufen family, close relatives of the Salians, leading to over a century of strife between the two houses. Conrad ousted the Welfs from their possessions, but after his death in 1152, his nephew Frederick I "Barbarossa" succeeded and made peace with the Welfs, restoring his cousin Henry the Lion to his-albeit diminished-possessions.

The Hohenstaufen rulers increasingly lent land to ministerialia, formerly non-free service men, which Frederick hoped would be more reliable than dukes. Initially used mainly for war services, this new class of people would form the basis for the later knights, another basis of imperial power. Another important constitutional move at Roncaglia was the establishment of a new peace (Landfrieden) for all of the Empire, an attempt to (on the one hand) abolish private feuds not only between the many dukes, but on the other hand a means to tie the Emperor's subordinates to a legal system of jurisdiction and public prosecution of criminal acts - a predecessor of the modern concept of "rule of law". Another new concept of the time was the systematic foundation of new cities, both by the Emperor and the local dukes. These were partly caused by the explosion in population, but also to concentrate economic power at strategic locations, while formerly cities only existed in the shape of either old Roman foundations or older bishoprics. Cities that were founded in the 12th century include Freiburg, possibly the economic model for many later cities, and Munich.

Frederick was crowned Emperor in 1155 and emphasised the Empire's "Romanness", partly in an attempt to justify the Emperor's power independently of the (now strengthened) Pope. An imperial assembly at the fields of Roncaglia in 1158 reclaimed imperial rights in reference to Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis. Imperial rights had been referred to as regalia since the Investiture Controversy, but were enumerated for the first time at Roncaglia as well. This comprehensive list included public roads, tariffs, coining, collecting punitive fees and the investiture, the seating and unseating of office holders. These rights were now explicitly rooted in Roman Law, a far-reaching constitutional act.

Frederick's policies were mainly aimed at Italy, where he clashed with the increasingly wealthy and free-minded cities of the north, especially Milan. He also embroiled himself in another conflict with the Papacy by supporting a candidate elected by a minority against Pope Alexander III (1159-81). Frederick supported a succession of antipopes before finally making peace with Alexander in 1177. In Germany, the Emperor had repeatedly protected Henry the Lion against complaints by rival princes or cities (especially in the cases of Munich and Lübeck). Henry's support of Frederick's policies was only lackluster and in a critical situation during the Italian wars, Henry refused the Emperor's plea for military support. After his return to Germany, an embittered Frederick opened proceedings against the Duke, resulting in a public ban and the confiscation of all territories.

During the Hohenstaufen period, German princes facilitated a successful, peaceful eastward settlement of lands previously sparsely inhabited by West Slavs or uninhabited, by German speaking farmers, traders and craftsmen from the western part of the Empire, both Christians and Jews. The gradual Germanization of these lands was a complex phenomenon which should not be interpreted in terms of 19th century nationalism's bias. By the eastward settlement the Empire's influence increased to eventually include Pomerania and Silesia - also due to intermarriage of the local, still mostly Slavic, rulers with German spouses. Also, the Teutonic Knights were invited to Prussia by Duke Konrad of Masovia to Christianise the Prussians in 1226. The monastic state of the Teutonic Order (German: Deutschordensstaat) and its later German successor states of Prussia however never were part of the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1190, Barbarossa participated in the Third Crusade and died in Asia Minor. Under his son and successor, Henry VI, the Hohenstaufen dynasty reached its apex. Henry added the Norman kingdom of Sicily to his domains, held English king Richard the Lionheart captive and aimed to establish a hereditary monarchy, when he died in 1197. As his son, Frederick II, though already elected king, was still a small child and living in Sicily, German princes chose to elect an adult king, which resulted in the dual election of Barbarossa's youngest son Philip of Swabia and Henry the Lion's son Otto of Brunswick, who competed for the crown. Otto prevailed for a while after Philip was murdered in a private squabble in 1208 until he began to also claim Sicily. Pope Innocent III, who feared the threat posed by a union of the Empire and Sicily, now supported Sicily's king Frederick II, who marched to Germany and defeated Otto. After his victory, Frederick did not act upon his promise to keep the two realms separate - though he had made his son Henry king of Sicily before marching on Germany, he still reserved real political power for himself. This continued after Frederick was crowned Emperor in 1220. Fearing Frederick's concentration of power, the Pope finally excommunicated the Emperor. Another point was the crusade, which Frederick had promised but repeatedly postponed. Now, though excommunicated, Frederick led the crusade in 1228, which however ended in negotiations and a temporary restoration of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The conflict with the Pope endured who later supported the election of an anti-king in Germany.

Despite his imperial claims, Frederick's rule was a major turning point towards the disintegration of a central rule in the Empire. While concentrated on establishing a modern, centralised state in Sicily, he was mostly absent from Germany and issued far-reaching privileges to Germany's secular and ecclesiastical princes: In the 1220 Confoederatio cum principibus ecclesiasticis, Frederick gave up a number of regalia in favour of the bishops, among them tariffs, coining, and fortification. The 1232 Statutum in favorem principum mostly extended these privileges to secular territories. Although many of these privileges had existed earlier, they were now granted globally, and once and for all, to allow the German princes to maintain order north of the Alps while Frederick wanted to concentrate on Italy. The 1232 document marked the first time that the German dukes were called domini terræ, owners of their lands, a remarkable change in terminology as well.

After the death of Frederick II in 1250, the German kingdom was divided between his son Conrad IV (died 1254) and the anti-king, William of Holland (died 1256). Conrad's death was followed by the Interregnum, during which no king could achieve universal recognition and the princes managed to consolidate their holdings and became even more independent rulers. After 1257, the crown was contested between Richard of Cornwall, who was supported by the Guelph party, and Alfonso X of Castile, who was recognised by the Hohenstaufen party but never set foot on German soil. After Richard's death in 1273, the Interregnum ended with unanimous election of Rudolph I of Habsburg, a minor pro-Staufen count.

Changes in political structure

The 13th century also saw a general structural change in how land was administered, preparing the shift of political power towards the rising bourgeoisie at the expense of aristocratic feudalism that would characterize the Late Middle Ages.

Instead of personal duties, money increasingly became the common means to represent economic value in agriculture. Peasants were increasingly required to pay tribute for their lands. The concept of "property" began to replace more ancient forms of jurisdiction, although they were still very much tied together. In the territories (not at the level of the Empire), power became increasingly bundled: Whoever owned the land had jurisdiction, from which other powers derived. It is important to note, however, that jurisdiction at this time did not include legislation, which virtually did not exist until well into the 15th century. Court practice heavily relied on traditional customs or rules described as customary.

It was during this time that the territories began to transform into predecessors of modern states. The process varied greatly among the various lands and was most advanced in those territories that were most identical to the lands of the old Germanic tribes, e.g. Bavaria. It was slower in those scattered territories that were founded through imperial privileges.

The difficulties in electing the king eventually led to the emergence of a fixed college of Prince-electors (Kurfürsten), whose composition and procedures were set forth in the Golden Bull of 1356. This development probably best symbolises the emerging duality between emperor and realm (Kaiser und Reich), which were no longer considered identical. This is also revealed in the way the post-Hohenstaufen kings attempted to sustain their power. Earlier, the Empire's strength (and finances) greatly relied on the Empire's own lands, the so-called Reichsgut, which always belonged to the king of the day and included many Imperial Cities. After the 13th century, the relevance of the Reichsgut faded, even though some parts of it did remain until the Empire's end in 1806. Instead, the Reichsgut was increasingly pawned to local dukes, sometimes to raise money for the Empire, but more frequently to reward faithful duty or as an attempt to establish control over the dukes. The direct governance of the Reichsgut no longer matched the needs of either the king or the dukes.

Instead, the kings, beginning with Rudolph I of Habsburg, increasingly relied on the lands of their respective dynasties to support their power. In contrast with the Reichsgut, which was mostly scattered and difficult to administer, these territories were relatively compact and thus easier to control. In 1282, Rudolph I thus lent Austria and Styria to his own sons.

With Henry VII, the House of Luxembourg entered the stage. In 1312, Henry was crowned as the first Holy Roman Emperor since Frederick II. After him all kings and emperors relied on the lands of their own family (Hausmacht): Louis IV of Wittelsbach (king 1314, emperor 1328-47) relied on his lands in Bavaria Charles IV of Luxembourg, the grandson of Henry VII, drew strength from his own lands in Bohemia. Interestingly, it was thus increasingly in the king's own interest to strengthen the power of the territories, since the king profited from such a benefit in his own lands as well.

The "constitution" of the Empire was still largely unsettled at the beginning of the 15th century. Although some procedures and institutions had been fixed, for example by the Golden Bull of 1356, the rules of how the king, the electors, and the other dukes should cooperate in the Empire much depended on the personality of the respective king. It therefore proved somewhat damaging that Sigismund of Luxemburg (king 1410, emperor 1433-37) and Frederick III of Habsburg (king 1440, emperor 1452-93) neglected the old core lands of the empire and mostly resided in their own lands. Without the presence of the king, the old institution of the Hoftag, the assembly of the realm's leading men, deteriorated. The Imperial Diet as a legislative organ of the Empire did not exist at that time. Even worse, dukes often went into feuds against each other that, more often than not, escalated into local wars.

Simultaneously, the Church was in a state of crisis too, with wide-reaching effects in the Empire. The conflict between several papal claimants (two anti-popes and the legitimate Pope) was only resolved at the Council of Constance (1414-18) after 1419, much energy was spent on fighting the Hussites. The medieval idea of unifying all Christendom into a single political entity, of which the Church and the Empire were the leading institutions, began to decline.

With these drastic changes, much discussion emerged in the 15th century about the Empire itself. Rules from the past no longer adequately described the structure of the time, and a reinforcement of earlier Landfrieden was urgently called for. During this time, the concept of "reform" emerged, in the original sense of the Latin verb re-formare, to regain an earlier shape that had been lost.

When Frederick III needed the dukes to finance war against Hungary in 1486 and at the same time had his son, later Maximilian I elected king, he was presented with the dukes' united demand to participate in an Imperial Court. For the first time, the assembly of the electors and other dukes was now called the Imperial Diet (German Reichstag) (to be joined by the Imperial Free Cities later). While Frederick refused, his more conciliatory son finally convened the Diet at Worms in 1495, after his father's death in 1493. Here, the king and the dukes agreed on four bills, commonly referred to as the Reichsreform (Imperial Reform): a set of legal acts to give the disintegrating Empire back some structure. Among others, this act produced the Imperial Circle Estates and the Reichskammergericht (Imperial Chamber Court) structures that would-to a degree-persist until the end of the Empire in 1806.

However, it took a few more decades until the new regulation was universally accepted and the new court actually began to function only in 1512 would the Imperial Circles be finalised. The King also made sure that his own court, the Reichshofrat, continued to function in parallel to the Reichskammergericht. In this year, the Empire also received its new title, the Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation ("Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation").

Reformation and Renaissance

In 1516, Ferdinand II of Aragon, grandfather of the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, died. Due to a combination of (1) the traditions of dynastic succession in Aragon, which permitted maternal inheritance with no precedence for female rule (2) the insanity of Charles's mother, Joanna of Castile and (3) the insistence by his remaining grandfather, Maximilian I, that he take up his royal titles, Charles initiated his reign in Castile and Aragon, a union which evolved into Spain, in conjunction with his mother. This ensured for the first time that all the realms of the Iberian peninsula (save for Portugal) would be united by one monarch under one nascent Spanish crown, with the founding territories retaining their separate governance codes and laws. In 1519, already reigning as Carlos I in Spain, Charles took up the imperial title as Karl V. The balance (and imbalance) between these separate inheritances would be defining elements of his reign, and would ensure that personal union between the Spanish and German crowns would be short-lived. The latter would end up going to a more junior branch of the Habsburgs in the person of Charles's brother Ferdinand, while the senior branch continued rule in Spain and in the Burgundian inheritance in the person of Charles's son, Philip II of Spain.

In addition to conflicts between his Spanish and German inheritances, conflicts of religion would be another source of tension during the reign of Charles V. Before Charles even began his reign in the Holy Roman Empire, in 1517, Martin Luther initiated what would later be known as the Reformation. At this time, many local dukes saw it as a chance to oppose the hegemony of Emperor Charles V. The empire then became fatally divided along religious lines, with the north, the east, and many of the major cities-Strasbourg, Frankfurt and Nuremberg-becoming Protestant while the southern and western regions largely remained Catholic.

From 1515 to 1523, the Habsburg government in the Netherlands also had to contend with the Frisian peasant rebellion, led first by Pier Gerlofs Donia and then by his nephew Wijerd Jelckama. The rebels were initially successful, but after a series of defeats, the remaining leaders were taken and decapitated in 1523. This was a blow for the Holy Roman Empire since many major cities were sacked and as many as 132 ships sunk (once even 28 in a single battle).

Charles V continued to battle the French and the Protestant princes in Germany for much of his reign. After his son Philip married Queen Mary of England, it appeared that France would be completely surrounded by Habsburg domains, but this hope proved unfounded when the marriage produced no children. In 1555, Paul IV was elected pope and took the side of France, whereupon an exhausted Charles finally gave up his hopes of a world Christian empire. He abdicated and divided his territories between Philip and Ferdinand of Austria. The Peace of Augsburg ended the war in Germany and accepted the existence of the Protestant princes, although not Calvinism, Anabaptism, or Zwingliism.

Germany would enjoy relative peace for the next six decades. On the eastern front, the Turks continued to loom large as a threat, although war would mean further compromises with the Protestant princes, and so the Emperor sought to avoid that. In the west, the Rhineland increasingly fell under French influence. After the Dutch revolt against Spain erupted, the Empire remained neutral. A side effect was the Cologne War, which ravaged much of the upper Rhine.

After Ferdinand died in 1564, his son Maximilian II became Emperor, and like his father, accepted the existence of Protestantism and the need for occasional compromise with it. Maximilian was succeeded in 1576 by Rudolf II, a strange man who preferred classical Greek philosophy to Christianity and lived an isolated existence in Bohemia. He became afraid to act when the Catholic Church was forcibly reasserting control in Austria and Hungary and the Protestant princes became upset over this. Imperial power sharply deteriorated by the time of Rudolf's death in 1612. When Bohemians rebelled against the Emperor, the immediate result was the series of conflicts known as the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), which devastated the Empire. Foreign powers, including France and Sweden, intervened in the conflict and strengthened those fighting Imperial power, but also seized considerable territory for themselves. The long conflict so bled the Empire that it never recovered its strength.

At the Battle of Vienna (1683), the Army of the Holy Roman Empire, led by the Polish King John III Sobieski, decisively defeated a large Turkish army, ending the western colonial Ottoman advance and leading to the eventual dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire in Europe. The HRE army was half Polish/Lithuanian Commonwealth forces, mostly cavalry, and half Holy Roman Empire forces (German/Austrian), mostly infantry. The cavalry charge was the largest in the history of warfare.

The actual end of the empire came in several steps. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years' War, gave the territories almost complete sovereignty. The Swiss Confederation, which had already established quasi-independence in 1499, as well as the Northern Netherlands, left the Empire. Although its constituent states still had some restrictions-in particular, they could not form alliances against the Emperor - the Empire from this point was a powerless entity, existing in name only. The Habsburg Emperors instead focused on consolidating their own estates in Austria and elsewhere.

By the rise of Louis XIV, the Habsburgs were dependent on the position as Archdukes of Austria to counter the rise of Prussia, some of whose territories lay inside the Empire. Throughout the 18th century, the Habsburgs were embroiled in various European conflicts, such as the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Polish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession. The German dualism between Austria and Prussia dominated the empire's history after 1740.

From 1792 onwards, revolutionary France was at war with various parts of the Empire intermittently. The German Mediatisation was the series of mediatisations and secularisations that occurred in 1795-1814, during the latter part of the era of the French Revolution and then the Napoleonic Era.

Mediatisation was the process of annexing the lands of one sovereign monarchy to another, often leaving the annexed some rights. Secularisation was the redistribution to secular states of the secular lands held by an ecclesiastical ruler such as a bishop or an abbot.

The Empire formally went into dormancy on 6 August 1806 when the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II (from 1804, Emperor Francis I of Austria) abdicated, following a military defeat by the French under Napoleon (see Treaty of Pressburg). Napoleon reorganized much of the Empire into the Confederation of the Rhine, a French satellite. Francis' House of Habsburg-Lorraine survived the demise of the Empire, continuing to reign as Emperors of Austria and Kings of Hungary until the Habsburg empire's final dissolution in 1918 in the aftermath of World War I.

The Napoleonic Confederation of the Rhine was replaced by a new union, the German Confederation, in 1815, following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It lasted until 1866 when Prussia founded the North German Confederation, a forerunner of the German Empire which united the German-speaking territories outside of Austria and Switzerland under Prussian leadership in 1871. This later served as the predecessor-state of modern Germany.

The Holy Roman Empire was not a highly centralized state like most countries today. Instead, it was divided into dozens-eventually hundreds-of individual entities governed by kings, dukes, counts, bishops, abbots and other rulers, collectively known as princes. There were also some areas ruled directly by the Emperor. At no time could the Emperor simply issue decrees and govern autonomously over the Empire. His power was severely restricted by the various local leaders.

From the High Middle Ages onwards, the Holy Roman Empire was marked by an uneasy coexistence of the princes of the local territories who were struggling to take power away from it. To a greater extent than in other medieval kingdoms such as France and England, the Emperors were unable to gain much control over the lands that they formally owned. Instead, to secure their own position from the threat of being deposed, Emperors were forced to grant more and more autonomy to local rulers, both nobles and bishops. This process began in the 11th century with the Investiture Controversy and was more or less concluded with the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. Several Emperors attempted to reverse this steady dissemination of their authority, but were thwarted both by the papacy and by the princes of the Empire.

The number of territories in the Empire was considerable, rising to approximately 300 at the time of the Peace of Westphalia. Many of these Kleinstaaten ("little states") covered no more than a few square miles, or included several non-contiguous pieces, so the Empire was often called a Flickenteppich ("patchwork carpet"). An entity was considered a Reichsstand (imperial estate) if, according to feudal law, it had no authority above it except the Holy Roman Emperor himself. The imperial estates comprised:

Territories ruled by a hereditary nobleman, such as a prince, archduke, duke, or count.
Territories in which secular authority was held by a clerical dignitary, such as an archbishop, bishop, or abbot. Such a cleric was a prince of the church. In the common case of a prince-bishop, this temporal territory (called a prince-bishopric) frequently overlapped with his often-larger ecclesiastical diocese, giving the bishop both civil and clerical powers. Examples include the three prince-archbishoprics: Cologne, Trier, and Mainz.
Free imperial cities, which were subject only to the jurisdiction of the emperor.
For a list of Reichsstände in 1792, see List of Reichstag participants (1792).

A prospective Emperor had first to be elected King of the Romans (Latin: Rex romanorum German: römischer König). German kings had been elected since the 9th century at that point they were chosen by the leaders of the five most important tribes (the Salian Franks of Lorraine, Ripuarian Franks of Franconia, Saxons, Bavarians and Swabians). In the Holy Roman Empire, the main dukes and bishops of the kingdom elected the King of the Romans. In 1356, Emperor Charles IV issued the Golden Bull, which limited the electors to seven: the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the King of Bohemia, the Duke of Saxony, the Margrave of Brandenburg and the archbishops of Cologne, Mainz, and Trier. During the Thirty Years' War, the Duke of Bavaria was given the right to vote as the eighth elector. A candidate for election would be expected to offer concessions of land or money to the electors in order to secure their vote.

After being elected, the King of the Romans could theoretically claim the title of "Emperor" only after being crowned by the Pope. In many cases, this took several years while the King was held up by other tasks: frequently he first had to resolve conflicts in rebellious northern Italy, or was in quarrel with the Pope himself. Later Emperors dispensed with the papal coronation altogether, being content with the styling Emperor-Elect: the last Emperor to be crowned by the Pope was Charles V in 1530.

The Emperor had to be a man of good character over 18 years. All four of his grandparents were expected to be of noble blood. No law required him to be a Catholic, though imperial law assumed that he was. He did not need to be a German (neither Alfonso X of Castile nor Richard of Cornwall, who contested for the crown in the 13th century, were themselves German). By the 17th century candidates generally possessed estates within the Empire.

The Imperial Diet (Reichstag, or Reichsversammlung) was the legislative body of the Holy Roman Empire and theoretically superior to the emperor himself. It was divided into three classes. The first class, the Council of Electors, consisted of the electors, or the princes who could vote for King of the Romans. The second class, the Council of Princes, consisted of the other princes. The Council of Princes was divided into two "benches," one for secular rulers and one for ecclesiastical ones. Higher-ranking princes had individual votes, while lower-ranking princes were grouped into "colleges" by geography. Each college had one vote.

The third class was the Council of Imperial Cities, which was divided into two colleges: Swabia and the Rhine. The Council of Imperial Cities was not fully happy with the others it could not vote on several matters such as the admission of new territories. The representation of the Free Cities at the Diet had become common since the late Middle Ages. Nevertheless, their participation was formally acknowledged only as late as in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia ending the Thirty Years' War.

The Empire also had two courts: the Reichshofrat (also known in English as the Aulic Council) at the court of the King/Emperor, and the Reichskammergericht (Imperial Chamber Court), established with the Imperial Reform of 1495.

As part of the Imperial Reform, six Imperial Circles were established in 1500 four more were established in 1512. These were regional groupings of most (though not all) of the various states of the Empire for the purposes of defence, imperial taxation, supervision of coining, peace-keeping functions and public security. Each circle had its own parliament, known as a Kreistag ("Circle Diet"), and one or more directors, who coordinated the affairs of the circle. Not all imperial territories were included within the imperial circles, even after 1512 the Lands of the Bohemian Crown were excluded, as were Switzerland, the imperial fiefs in northern Italy, the lands of the Imperial Knights, and certain other small territories like the Lordship of Jever.

The Holy Roman Emperor (German: Römisch-Deutscher Kaiser, or "Roman-German Emperor" Latin: Imperator Romanus Sacer) is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope. After the 16th century, this elected monarch governed the Holy Roman Empire (later called Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation), a Central European union of territories of the Medieval and Early Modern period.

The title of Emperor (Imperator) carried with it an important role as protector of the Catholic Church. As the papacy's power grew during the Middle Ages, Popes and emperors came into conflict over church administration. The best-known and bitterest conflict was that known as the Investiture Controversy, fought during the 11th century between Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII.

After Charlemagne was crowned Roman Emperor by the Pope, his successors maintained the title until the death of Berengar I of Italy in 924. No pope appointed an emperor again until the coronation of Otto the Great in 962. Otto is considered the first Holy Roman Emperor, although Charlemagne is also accounted by some to be the first. Under Otto and his successors, much of the former Carolingian kingdom of Eastern Francia became the Holy Roman Empire. The various German princes elected one of their peers as King of the Germans, after which he would be crowned as emperor by the Pope. After Charles V's coronation, all succeeding emperors were legally emperors-elect due to the lack of papal coronation, but for all practical purposes they were simply called emperors.

The term "sacrum" (i.e. "holy") in connection with the medieval Roman Empire was first used in 1157 under Frederick I Barbarossa. Even though Charlemagne was the first to receive papal coronation as Emperor of the Romans, Otto I is considered the first Holy Roman Emperor in historiography. Charles V was the last Holy Roman Emperor to be crowned by the Pope. The final Holy Roman Emperor-elect, Francis II, abdicated in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars that saw the Empire's final dissolution.

The standard designation of the Holy Roman Emperor was "August Emperor of the Romans" (Romanorum Imperator Augustus). When Charlemagne was crowned in 800, his was styled as "most serene Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor, governing the Roman Empire," thus constituting the elements of "Holy" and "Roman" in the imperial title. The word Holy had never been used as part of that title in official documents.

The word Roman was a reflection of the translatio imperii (transfer of rule) principle that regarded the (Germanic) Holy Roman Emperors as the inheritors of the title of Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, a title left unclaimed in the West after the death of Julius Nepos in 480.

Successions to the kingship were controlled by a variety of complicated factors. Elections meant the kingship of Germany was only partially hereditary, unlike the kingship of France, although sovereignty frequently remained in a dynasty until there were no more male successors. Some scholars suggest that the task of the elections was really to solve conflicts only when the dynastic rule was unclear, yet the process meant that the prime candidate had to make concessions, by which the voters were kept on side, which were known as Wahlkapitulationen (election capitulations).

The Electoral council was set at seven princes (three archbishops and four secular princes) by the Golden Bull of 1356. It remained so until 1648, when the settlement of the Thirty Years' War required the addition of a new elector to maintain the precarious balance between Protestant and Catholic factions in the Empire. Another elector was added in 1690, and the whole college was reshuffled in 1803, a mere three years before the dissolution of the Empire.

After 1438, the Kings remained in the house of Habsburg and Habsburg-Lorraine, with the brief exception of Charles VII, who was a Wittelsbach. Maximilian I (Emperor 1508-1519) and his successors no longer travelled to Rome to be crowned as Emperor by the Pope. Therefore, they could not technically claim the title Emperor of the Romans, but were mere "Emperors-elect of the Romans", as Maximilian named himself in 1508 with papal approval. This title was in fact used (Erwählter Römischer Kaiser), but it was somewhat forgotten that the word "erwählt" (elect) was a restriction. Of all his successors, only Charles V, the immediate one, received a papal coronation. Before that date in 1530, he was called Emperor-elect too.

The Emperor was crowned in a special ceremony, traditionally performed by the Pope in Rome, using the Imperial Regalia. Without that coronation, no king, despite exercising all powers, could call himself Emperor. In 1508, Pope Julius II allowed Maximilian I to use the title of Emperor without coronation in Rome, though the title was qualified as Electus Romanorum Imperator ("elected Emperor of the Romans"). Maximilian's successors adopted the same titulature, usually when they became the sole ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Maximilian's first successor Charles V was the last to be crowned Emperor.

Army of the Holy Roman Empire

The Army of the Holy Roman Empire (German Reichsarmee, Reichsheer or Reichsarmatur Latin exercitus imperii) was created in 1422 and came to an end even before the Empire as the result of the Napoleonic Wars. It must not be confused with the Imperial Army (Kaiserliche Armee) of the Emperor.

Despite appearances to the contrary, the Army of the Empire did not constitute a permanent standing army that was always at the ready to fight for the Empire. When there was danger, an Army of the Empire was mustered from among the elements constituting it, in order to conduct an imperial military campaign or Reichsheerfahrt. In practice, the imperial troops often had local allegiances stronger than their loyalty to the Emperor.

Administrative seats of the Emperor

From 794: Aachen
1328&ndash1347 and 1742&ndash1745: Munich
1355&ndash1437 and 1576&ndash1611: Prague
1437&ndash1576 and 1611&ndash1806: Vienna

Roman Catholicism constituted the single official religion of the Empire until 1555.

Lutheranism was officially recognized in the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, and Calvinism in the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. Those two constituted the only officially recognized Protestant denominations, while various other Protestant confessions such as Anabaptism, Arminianism, etc. coexisted illegally within the Empire.

Largest cities or towns of the Empire by year:

1050: Regensburg 40,000 people. Rome 35,000. Mainz 30,000. Speyer 25,000. Cologne 21,000. Trier 20,000. Worms 20,000. Lyon 20,000. Verona 20,000. Florence 15,000.

1300&ndash1350: Prague 77,000 people. Cologne 54,000 people. Aachen 21,000 people. Magdeburg 20,000 people. Nuremberg 20,000 people. Vienna 20,000 people. Danzig 20,000 people. Strasbourg 20,000 people. Lübeck 15,000 people. Regensburg 11,000 people.

1500: Prague 70,000. Cologne 45,000. Nuremberg 38,000. Augsburg 30,000. Danzig 30,000. Lübeck 25,000. Vratislav 25,000. Regensburg 22,000. Vienna 20,000. Straßburg 20,000. Magdeburg 18,000. Ulm 16,000. Hamburg 15,000.

1600: Prague 100,000. Vienna 50,000. Augsburg 45,000. Cologne 40,000. Nuremberg 40,000. Hamburg 40,000. Magdeburg 40,000. Breslau 40,000. Strasbourg 25,000. Lübeck 23,000. Regensburg 20,000. Ulm 21,000. Frankfurt am Main 20,000. Munich 20,000.


Religious origins

Far more effective in the minds of the barbarian peoples of the West was the idea of the Imperium Christianum, or “Christian Empire,” which took shape after the conversion of Constantine the Great and the reconciliation between Christianity and the Roman Empire. Not only did the Christian church become a state church, including in its liturgy prayers for the empire and the emperor, but it also brought the Roman Empire into the framework of Christian eschatology (doctrine of last things), as the last of the world monarchies whose end would mark the inception of the kingdom of God. Through Christian iconography and through the liturgy the church’s view of the empire as a vehicle of God’s will, for the Christianization of the world, became prevalent. It was expressed with peculiar force in the letters of Charlemagne’s adviser Alcuin.

Apart from the persistence of the idea of a Christian Roman Empire, a third precondition for the establishment of an empire in the West was the existence of a candidate of sufficient power and standing in the person of the Frankish king. The Frankish kingdom expanded until it comprised most of western Europe, and it acquired the Lombard kingdom in northern Italy in 774. The importance of the ties forged by Charlemagne’s immediate predecessors with the papacy are obvious. Though it is scarcely true that Charlemagne’s accession to the empire was simply a consequence of this expansion, his outstanding position was evidently a precondition of his elevation to the imperial throne.


The Pragmatic Sanction

The Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 was an edict issued by Charles VI to ensure that the Habsburg hereditary possessions could be inherited by a daughter, but it was contested after Charles’ death in 1740, resulting in the War of Austrian Succession.

Learning Objectives

Explain the contents of the Pragmatic Sanction and its intended purpose

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Pragmatic Sanction was an edict issued by Charles VI on April 19, 1713, to ensure that the Habsburg hereditary possessions could be inherited by a daughter. It did not affect the office of Holy Roman Emperor because the Imperial crown was elective, not hereditary, although successive elected Habsburg rulers headed the Holy Roman Empire since 1438.
  • In 1703, Charles and Joseph, the sons of Leopold, signed the Mutual Pact of Succession, granting succession rights to the daughters of Joseph and Charles in case of complete extinction of the male line, but favoring Joseph’s daughters over Charles’s because Joseph was older.
  • Charles soon expressed a wish to amend this pact to give his own future daughters precedence over his nieces. Securing the right to succeed for his own daughters, who were not even born yet, became Charles’s obsession. The Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 was the first such document to be publicly announced and as such required formal acceptance by the estates of the realms it concerned.
  • For 10 years, Charles VI labored with the support of his closest advisor Johann Christoph von Bartenstein to have his sanction accepted by the courts of Europe and by Habsburg’s hereditary territories. All the major empires and states agreed to recognize the sanction, but some Habsburg territories, including Hungary and Bohemia, did not initially accept it.
  • After Charles VI died, Prussia and Bavaria contested the claims of Maria Theresa on his Austrian lands. The refusal to accept the Sanction of 1713 resulted in the War of the Austrian Succession.
  • Maria Theresa’s husband was elected Holy Roman Emperor as Francis I in 1745. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 finally recognized Maria Theresa’s rule over the Habsburg hereditary lands. In accordance with tradition, Maria Theresa held the title of the Holy Roman Empress as wife of the Emperor.

Key Terms

  • The Pragmatic Sanction: An edict issued by Charles VI in 1713 to ensure that the Habsburg hereditary possessions could be inherited by a daughter. The Head of the House of Habsburg ruled the Archduchy of Austria, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Kingdom of Croatia, the Kingdom of Bohemia, the Italian territories awarded to Austria by the Treaty of Utrecht, and the Austrian Netherlands. The edict did not affect the office of Holy Roman Emperor because the Imperial crown was elective, not hereditary, although successive elected Habsburg rulers headed the Holy Roman Empire since 1438.
  • Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle: A 1748 treaty, sometimes called the Treaty of Aachen, that ended the War of the Austrian Succession. It was signed 1748 by Great Britain, France, and the Dutch Republic. Two implementation treaties were signed at Nice in 1748 and 1749 by Austria, Spain, Sardinia, Modena, and Genoa.
  • the Mutual Pact of Succession: A succession device secretly signed by Archdukes Joseph and Charles of Austria, the future Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1703. It stipulated that the claim to the Spanish realms was to be assumed by Charles, while the right of succession to the rest of the Habsburg dominions would rest with his elder brother Joseph. The pact also specified they would both be succeeded by their respective heirs male. Should one of them fail to have a son, the other would succeed him in all his realms. However, should both brothers die leaving no sons, the daughters of the elder brother (Joseph) would have absolute precedence over the daughters of the younger brother (Charles), and the eldest daughter of Joseph would ascend all the Habsburg thrones.
  • War of the Austrian Succession: A war (1740–1748) that involved most of the powers of Europe over the question of Maria Theresa’s succession to the realms of the House of Habsburg. The war included King George’s War in North America, the War of Jenkins’ Ear (which formally began in October 1739), the First Carnatic War in India, the Jacobite rising of 1745 in Scotland, and the First and Second Silesian Wars.

The Pragmatic Sanction of 1713

The Pragmatic Sanction was an edict issued by Charles VI on April 19, 1713, to ensure that the Habsburg hereditary possessions could be inherited by a daughter. The Head of the House of Habsburg ruled the Archduchy of Austria, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Kingdom of Croatia, the Kingdom of Bohemia, the Italian territories awarded to Austria by the Treaty of Utrecht ( Duchy of Milan, Kingdom of Naples and Kingdom of Sicily), and the Austrian Netherlands. The Pragmatic Sanction did not affect the office of Holy Roman Emperor because the Imperial crown was elective, not hereditary, although successive elected Habsburg rulers headed the Holy Roman Empire since 1438.

The Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, Act of Emperor Charles VI.

Because Charles VI had no male heirs and earlier arrangements favored his brother’s daughters, he needed to take extraordinary measures to avoid a succession dispute. Charles was ultimately succeeded by his elder daughter Maria Theresa (born 1717). Despite the promulgation of the Pragmatic Sanction, however, her accession in 1740 resulted in the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession.

The Mutual Pact of Succession

In 1700, the senior (oldest, first-in-line) branch of the House of Habsburg became extinct with the death of Charles II of Spain. The War of the Spanish Succession ensued, with Louis XIV of France claiming the crowns of Spain for his grandson Philip and Leopold I (Holy Roman Emperor) claiming them for his son Charles. In 1703, Charles and Joseph, the sons of Leopold, signed the Mutual Pact of Succession, granting succession rights to the daughters of Joseph and Charles in case of complete extinction of the male line, but favoring Joseph’s daughters over Charles’s because Joseph was older.

In 1705, Leopold I died and was succeeded by his elder son, Joseph I. Six years later, Joseph I died leaving behind two daughters, Archduchesses Maria Josepha and Maria Amalia. Charles succeeded Joseph according to the Pact, and Maria Josepha became his heir presumptive. However, Charles soon expressed a wish to amend the Pact to give his own future daughters precedence over his nieces. Securing the right to succeed for his own daughters, who were not even born yet, became Charles’s obsession. The previous succession laws had also forbidden the partition of the Habsburg dominions and provided for succession by females, but they had been mostly hypothetical. On April 19, 1713, the Emperor announced the changes in a secret session of the council. The Pragmatic Sanction was the first such document to be publicly announced and as such required formal acceptance by the estates of the realms it concerned.

Recognition and Failure

For 10 years, Charles VI labored with the support of his closest advisor Johann Christoph von Bartenstein to have his sanction accepted by the courts of Europe and by Habsburg’s hereditary territories. All the major empires and states agreed to recognize the sanction. Hungary, which had an elective kingship, had accepted the house of Habsburg as hereditary kings in the male line. It was agreed that if the Habsburg male line became extinct, Hungary would once again have an elective monarchy. This was also the rule in the Kingdom of Bohemia. Maria Theresa, Charles’ daughter who succeeded her father following his death in 1740, still gained the throne of Hungary (the Hungarian Parliament voted its own Pragmatic Sanction in 1723). Croatia was one of the crown lands that supported the Sanction of 1713, which eventually resulted in Maria Theresa making significant contributions to Croatian matters.

After Charles VI died, Prussia and Bavaria contested the claims of Maria Theresa on his Austrian lands. The refusal to accept the Sanction of 1713 resulted in the War of the Austrian Succession, in which Austria lost resource-rich and strategically located Silesia to Prussia as well as the Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla. The elective office of Holy Roman Emperor was filled by Joseph I’s son-in-law Charles Albert of Bavaria, marking the first time in several hundred years that the position was not held by a Habsburg. As Emperor Charles VII, he lost his own country, Bavaria, to the Austrian army of his wife’s cousin Maria Theresa and soon died. His son, Maximilian III Joseph, Elector of Bavaria, renounced claims on Austria in exchange for the return of his paternal duchy of Bavaria. Maria Theresa’s husband was elected Holy Roman Emperor as Francis I in 1745. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 finally recognized Maria Theresa’s rule over the Habsburg hereditary lands. In accordance with the tradition, Maria Theresa held the title of the Holy Roman Empress as wife of the Emperor. She lost the title with her husband’s death in 1765, although she remained the ruler of the Habsburg lands until her death fifteen years later.


The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation is most commonly referred to as simply the German Empire.

Charlemagne

Many historians state that Charles the Great, more commonly known as Charlemagne founded the Holy Roman Empire. However, actually Charlemagne founded the Carolingian Empire, the Holy Roman Empire was formally established by Otto I. Charles was King of the Franks and expanded his empire to conquer France, Benelux, Germany, North Italy, Northeastern Spain and Greater Moravia, forming a nearly unified Europe for the first time in history. He was crowned as Emperor of the Romans by the pope, which angered Eastern Roman Empress Irene, as she also held the title of Empress of the Romans. Charlemagne died in 814 and the Carolingian Empire was split between his sons Charles, Pepin and Louis.

Crumbling

The empire of Charlemagne now consisted of the Eastern Empire, the Central Empire and Western Empire. The Western Empire eventually formed into France and the Eastern and Central Empires formed the Holy Roman Empire. Europe was once again divided into many states.

Establishment of the Holy Roman Empire

Otto I was Duke of Saxony and began unifying the Kingdom of Germany, ruling with an iron fist. Defending Germany from the Hungarian invasions, he was deemed as the savior of Christian Europe. He also conquered the Kingdom of Italy and he was coronated by the pope as Holy Roman Emperor. Otto I died in 962, his son Otto II succeeded him.

Middle Ages

Over the course of many centuries the empire had its ups and downs. The pope criticized the Emperor and this led to the investiture controversy over who could appoint bishops. One of the last greatest emperors was Frederick I Barbarossa who was a strong king and solidified his empire. He died while leading a crusade, initiating a period of decline of the empire. Eventually it lost Northern Italy and parts of Greater Moravia, mostly just consisting of Germany.

Revival and Centralization

Mary of Burgundy

Mary of Burgundy was the Duchess of Burgundy, one of the most powerful states in medieval Europe. She married Maximilian I who was the only son of Emperor Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor. Unlike in real life, she was ambitious and independent and was a very good leader. She managed to defend her empire from France and she did not die by falling off a horse, instead Maximilian did. She expanded her territory into the Netherlands and Germany and reinstalled the capital in Bruges, which had become the largest city in all of Europe. When the emperor Frederick III died her son, Philip I became Holy Roman Emperor. But she was de facto empress regent and eventually forced him to abdicate and instead took the throne herself as the first Holy Roman Empress. She received many complains from all of Europe, especially from the pope, who did crown her Empress, but with reluctance. Under her more than thirty years reign she centralized and expanded the Roman Empire to cover all of Germany, Benelux, Northern Italy, West Poland, parts of France, Burgundy, Greater Moravia and Hungary. She died in 1525 and was succeeded by her grandson, Charles, later known as Charles V.

Charles V

Mary's grandson, Charles would continue her centralization efforts and expanded the empire even farther, into Southern Italy and into the Roman Empire. He was also King of Spain and ruled half of Europe. However, this was apparently tedious to him, which led to his eventual retirement in 1556. The Holy Roman Empire descended in an irreversible period of decline.

Decline and Modern Period

The Holy Roman Empire lost the Benelux, North Italy, Hungary and parts of Poland by 1600. The last short period of prosperity was when Maria Theresa became Holy Roman Empress, she managed to temporarily expand the empire, before it was permanently limited to Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Bohemia. Most crucial during this time were the "Imperial Reforms" of Francis I, which, unilaterally, solidified the power of the emperor, turning the empire into an absolute monarchy, and united the entire empire as one, singular state under an autocratic emperor. The Holy German Empire was one of the main forces of the Great War, where it allied itself with the Roman Empire and other nations. Under Frederick V, Germany conquered France, the Netherlands, Poland and Denmark. While defeated, Tambapanni stubbornness during negotiations meant that no territory changed hands in the war's resolution. War costs did destroy the economy. However, the empire quickly recovered and was named a "miracle" for its rapid economic growth. Today the empire is the second largest European economy with a GDP of more than 3.85 million USD. It is an important member of the European Union and still exercises some influence over the world.


Holy Roman Empire

The term "Holy Roman Empire" has been used to distinguish the Medieval German Empire from the Ancient Roman Empire and the Greek Roman (Byzantine) Empire in the East. The line of emperors in the Western provinces of the Roman Empire came to an end with the death of Romulus Augustulus in a.d. 476. An Eastern line of Roman emperors continued to rule in Greek Constantinople, and these emperors carried on the traditions of ancient Rome until the city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. They called themselves "Roman," and they were Christian. Like the ancient Romans, they never called their empire "Holy." There was a long interregnum in the West from the death of Romulus Augustulus until Pope Leo III crowned Charles the Great (charle magne) emperor in Rome on Dec. 25, 800. Charles was the king of a Germanic tribe, the franks. Although his new title may have been Roman, his lordship, customs, and concepts of kingship were thoroughly Germanic. In Roman terms he was emperor in name only. The best example of the new empire's Germanic roots is its inheritance laws. Following Germanic customary law, Charles and his successors conceived of their realm as their private, not public, property. When they died, they divided it among their male heirs. They could not imagine that an empire or a kingdom should be an inalienable, unified territory. This practice led to political instability and civil war and, in a short time, a fragmented empire.

After Charlemagne revived the title of emperor in the West, the title "Holy Roman Empire" evolved slowly. Charles had styled himself simply "emperor." In 982 Emperor otto ii began to use the title "emperor Augustus of the Romans." The expansion of the title had political consequences. To validate their assumption of the title "Emperor of the Romans," the Ottonian emperors tried to extend their authority into Italy. They also created even more elevated titles for themselves. Otto III (983 – 1002) adopted Byzantine practices of calling himself "servant of Jesus Christ" and "servant of the apostles." This last title imitated the pope's "servant of the servants of God." Sacral kingship was a widespread notion in the early Middle Ages. Kings and emperors received the unction of consecrated oil at their coronations. It gave them a special liturgical and canonical status. No emperor could received major clerical orders, but he occupied a position above other laymen. The emperor was the Advocate and Defender of the Roman church (advocatus et defensor romanae ecclesiae ) and was also responsible for establishing the City of God on earth and ruling it as the Son of the Church (filius ecclesiae. ). The emperor was consequently the lord of Christendom, universal and omnicompetent, the terrestrial agent of the divine Emperor, God, to whom every faithful Christian (fidelis ) owed obedience and faith (fides ). It is not surprising then that the term "Holy Empire" was used in the letters of Emperor frederick barbarossa (ca. 1157) to describe the territory over which he ruled. If he were the divinely appointed ruler over all Christians, his realm could be justifiably described as holy. Finally, the entire title "Holy Roman Empire" was used for the first time in 1254. Ironically this title was not adopted until after the empire had begun its long decline in the later Middle Ages. When the eighteenth-century French philosopher Voltaire declared that the Holy Roman Empire was "neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire" his epigram had more than a grain of historical truth.

Sacred imagery characterized the rhetoric of the Germanic empire and permeated the language of its documents. The chancellery of Frederick Barbarossa added "holy" to the title of his empire to signify that the empire was divinely ordained and worthy of sharing power and authority with the Roman Catholic Church in the Christian world. The emperor was God's representative on earth. Frederick also asserted that he was the "Lord of the world" (Dominus mundi ) and held a higher office than all other kings. From the early Middle Ages, the Church had been called the "Holy Roman Church." Its title indicated that it represented in the divine order. Kingdoms were not normally labeled "holy." The use of the term "Holy Empire" is an important signpost for understanding the most significant conflict between Church and State in the Middle Ages.

During the high Middle Ages the Germanic empire and the Roman Catholic Church both claimed universal authority over Christendom. Each represented a model of rulership that mirrored the heavenly monarchy. Each represented the unity of Christendom. In the period from 900 to 1250, the "Holy Empire" vied with the "Holy Roman Church" to be the embodiment of Christian universal authority. In the beginning the empire and the Church were not equals. From the time of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, until the middle of the eleventh century, the emperors exercised considerable authority and power over bishops and their clergy. The Germanic emperors who succeeded Charlemagne and other secular princes appointed bishops, abbots, and clergy to ecclesiastical offices. They employed bishops as officials in the imperial courts. Occasionally they even deposed popes and selected their successors. The eleventh century, however, marked a fundamental change in the relationship between the Church and the Empire. Reformers within and outside the Church began to realize that secular lay princes should not exercise authority in ecclesiastical affairs. Pope nicholas ii (1058 – 1061) promulgated a decree that forbade the emperor from participating in the election of the pope in 1059, and Pope gregory vii (1073 – 1085) issued several decrees that forbade the emperor and lay princes from investing bishops with the symbols of their offices. Gregory made Libertas ecclesiae, Freedom of the Church, a principle of canon law and a maxim of ecclesiastical rhetoric. Gregory VII attacked the emperor's sacral, almost clerical, status and his position as the head of Christendom. By forbidding the emperor's investiture of bishops Gregory undermined imperial control of bishops. A long series of events marked the bitter conflict between the Roman church and the Germanic empire. Gregory excommunicated and then deposed Emperor Henry IV (1056 – 1106) in an unprecedented action. Henry retaliated by supporting an anti-pope, Clement III (1080 – 1100) militarily. Emperor Henry V (1106 – 1125) finally acknowledged the autonomy of the Church in the Concordat of worms (September 1122), but that treaty with the papacy did not establish a completely independent Church. The empire was, however, considerably weakened. The emperor gave up his right to bestow the ring and episcopal staff (crozier) that were the symbols of spiritual authority in the Concordat. This was a significant step in recognizing the Church as a separate institution that was completely independent of imperial and lay control. The Concordat was binding only within the empire. It was a compromise that did not ultimately solve the problem of how the Church and the Empire would coexist in Christendom.

During the twelfth century the popes attempted to establish Libertas ecclesiae, which they interpreted as complete freedom from lay interference and control, as a fundamental principle of ecclesiastical government. The emperors, especially Frederick Barbarossa, refused to accept a Church that claimed superiority over them. Consequently, with the emperor's support there were many papal schisms within the Latin church. The emperors opposed papal claims of authority by supporting pro-imperial factions within the Church who elected anti-popes. These anti-popes recognized imperial prerogatives. The emperors ' ecclesiastical policies put enormous strain on the stability of the Church. The twelfth-century emperors supported ten anti-popes. These "popes" reigned for a total of 41 years. Pope Alexander III's (1059 – 1081) agreement with the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa in 1177 brought this long line of "imperial anti-popes" to an end and began a short period of reconciliation between the pope and the empire.

Pope Innocent III's (1198 – 1216) policies posed a new challenge to the relationship of the Sacerdotium (Church) and Regnum (State) that had been established in the twelfth century. Innocent had a high and exalted view of papal power. He claimed that the pope "has his authority because he does not exercise the office of man, but of the true God on earth." He also compared imperial power to the moon and papal power to the sun. The dignity of the empire came from the light that it received from the sun. Innocent clearly wished to place the office of the pope above the emperor's. The most difficult task Innocent faced in his first years as pope was the struggle between Otto of Brunswick and Philip of Hohenstaufen for the office of the emperor after the death of the Emperor Henry VI (1190 – 1197). The German princes had divided their votes between these two candidates for the imperial throne. Innocent had moved quickly to assert his authority to choose between them. This was an unprecedented exercise of papal jurisdiction over an imperial election. He established the right of the pope to choose one of the candidates as emperor in a decretal letter, Venerabilem, which quickly became part of canon law of the Church. Innocent promulgated a number of decrees that in which he claimed papal authority over a number of secular matters. Papal claims of secular authority and power over the Papal States in Central Italy led to further conflicts with the Emperor frederick ii (1212 – 1250) during the thirteenth century. Innocent's successors, popes Gregory IX (1227 – 1241) and Innocent IV (1243 – 1254), carried on Innocent's campaign to establish the papacy as the highest tribunal of Christendom. Gregory and Innocent excommunicated Frederick II when he threatened papal authority and lordship in Italy. Finally Innocent IV convened a general council in the city of Lyon (1245). He summoned Frederick II to stand trial and charged Frederick with a variety of crimes. When the emperor refused to submit to the Council, Innocent excommunicated him and called upon the king of France to launch a crusade against him. Frederick died a few years later.

This last sorry spectacle was the final battle in the war to establish a single, universal authority in Christendom. The Holy Roman Church triumphed over the Holy Roman Empire. After the death of Frederick II and after the long interregnum that followed, the Holy Roman Empire was little more than one medieval kingdom among many. The interregnum was ended in 1273 by the election of Rudolph I of Hapsburg, and under his successors the Medieval Roman Empire grew even more limited in power and territory. The kings of the national monarchies adopted many imperial prerogatives formerly reserved for emperors. In the later Middle Ages some of these kings attempted to exercise lordship over the Church that had similarities to the authority claimed by the Germanic emperors before the Investiture Controversy. From 1438 the Holy Roman Empire came to be the virtual possession of the house of Hapsburg and so lingered on as a mere relic of its medieval greatness, until its final dissolution in 1806.

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