Holy Roman Empire

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See also: Holy Roman Emperors (table)HOLY ROMAN EMPERORS
(including dates of reign)

Saxon dynasty
Otto I, 936–73
Otto II, 973–83
Otto III, 983–1002
Henry II, 1002–24

Salian or Franconian dynasty
Conrad II, 1024–39
Henry III, 1039–56
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Holy Roman Empire,

designation for the political entity that originated at the coronation as emperor (962) of the German king Otto IOtto I
or Otto the Great,
912–73, Holy Roman emperor (962–73) and German king (936–73), son and successor of Henry I of Germany. He is often regarded as the founder of the Holy Roman Empire.
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 and endured until the renunciation (1806) of the imperial title by Francis IIFrancis II,
1768–1835, last Holy Roman emperor (1792–1806), first emperor of Austria as Francis I (1804–35), king of Bohemia and of Hungary (1792–1835).
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. The term itself did not come into usage until several centuries after Otto's accession.

For a list of all emperors from Otto I to Francis II and the dates they reigned, see the table entitled Holy Roman EmperorsHOLY ROMAN EMPERORS
(including dates of reign)

Saxon dynasty
Otto I, 936–73
Otto II, 973–83
Otto III, 983–1002
Henry II, 1002–24

Salian or Franconian dynasty
Conrad II, 1024–39
Henry III, 1039–56
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.

Origins

The Holy Roman Empire was a successor state to the empire founded in 800 by CharlemagneCharlemagne
(Charles the Great or Charles I) [O.Fr.,=Charles the great], 742?–814, emperor of the West (800–814), Carolingian king of the Franks (768–814).
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 (see also CarolingiansCarolingians
, dynasty of Frankish rulers, founded in the 7th cent. by Pepin of Landen, who, as mayor of the palace, ruled the East Frankish Kingdom of Austrasia for Dagobert I.
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), who revived the title of Roman emperor in the West. According to Carolingian theory, the Roman Empire had merely been suspended, not ended, by the abdication of the last Roman emperor in 476. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Roman emperor, probably perceived more as a personal title than as a reference to a particular territorial rule. From the death of Arnulf (899), the last Carolingian to hold the imperial title, until Otto's coronation in Rome by Pope John XII, various rulers bore the imperial title but exercised no authority; among them were Louis III, king of Provence, and Berengar I, king of Italy.

Nature of the Empire

From the time of Otto's reign the imperial office was based on the German kingship. The German king, elected by the German princes, automatically sought imperial coronation by the pope. After 1045 a king who was not yet crowned emperor was known as king of the Romans, a title that asserted his right to the imperial throne and implied that he was emperor-designate. Not every German king became emperor, however, because the popes, especially when elections to the kingships were disputed, often claimed that the selection of the emperor was their prerogative. Despite the fact that the German kingship and the imperial office were technically elective, they tended to become hereditary.

At times the electorselectors,
in the history of the Holy Roman Empire, the princes who had the right to elect the German kings or, more exactly, the kings of the Romans (Holy Roman emperors).
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, the German princes who approved the succession to the German kingship, exercised real authority in choosing the king, although papal confirmation was still necessary for accession to the imperial throne. In 1338 at the diets of Rhense and Frankfurt the German princes proclaimed the electors' right to choose the emperor without papal intervention. The Golden Bull of 1356 issued by Charles IVCharles IV,
1316–78, Holy Roman emperor (1355–78), German king (1347–78), and king of Bohemia (1346–78). The son of John of Luxemburg, Charles was educated at the French court and fought the English at Crécy, where his father's heroic death made
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 reaffirmed this and regulated the election procedure. Emperors continued to be crowned by the pope until after the coronation (1530) of Charles V. Thereafter, following the precedent (1508) of Maximilian I, they were crowned at Frankfurt. Several early emperors were also crowned king of Italy with the iron crown of the Lombards. After 1438 the imperial office was held, with one exception, by the house of HapsburgHapsburg
or Habsburg
, ruling house of Austria (1282–1918). Rise to Power

The family, which can be traced to the 10th cent., originally held lands in Alsace and in NW Switzerland. Otto (d.
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.

The empire was justified by the claim that, just as the pope was the vicar of God on earth in spiritual matters, so the emperor was God's temporal vicar; hence he claimed to be the supreme temporal ruler of Christendom. Actually, the power of the emperor never equaled his pretensions. Although the emperors were accorded diplomatic precedence over other rulers, their suzerainty early ceased over France, S Italy, Denmark, Poland, and Hungary; and their control over England, Sweden, and Spain was never more than nominal. The authority of the emperors in Italy and Germany was sometimes nonexistent, sometimes real.

The territorial limits of the empire varied, but it generally included GermanyGermany
, Ger. Deutschland, officially Federal Republic of Germany, republic (2005 est. pop. 82,431,000), 137,699 sq mi (356,733 sq km). Located in the center of Europe, it borders the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France on the west; Switzerland and Austria on
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, AustriaAustria
, Ger. Österreich [eastern march], officially Republic of Austria, federal republic (2005 est. pop. 8,185,000), 32,374 sq mi (83,849 sq km), central Europe.
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, BohemiaBohemia,
Czech Čechy, historic region (20,368 sq mi/52,753 sq km) and former kingdom, in W and central Czech Republic. Bohemia is bounded by Austria in the southeast, by Germany in the west and northwest, by Poland in the north and northeast, and by Moravia in the
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 and MoraviaMoravia
, Czech Morava, Ger. Mähren, region in the E Czech Republic. The region is bordered on the W by Bohemia, on the E by the Little and White Carpathian Mts., which divide it from Slovakia, and on the N by the Sudetes Mts.
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, parts of N ItalyItaly
, Ital. Italia, officially Italian Republic, republic (2005 est. pop. 58,103,000), 116,303 sq mi (301,225 sq km), S Europe. It borders on France in the northwest, the Ligurian Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west, the Ionian Sea in the south, the Adriatic Sea in
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, present-day BelgiumBelgium
, Du. België, Fr. La Belgique, officially Kingdom of Belgium, constitutional kingdom (2005 est. pop. 10,364,000), 11,781 sq mi (30,513 sq km), NW Europe.
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, and, until 1648, the NetherlandsNetherlands
, Du. Nederland or Koninkrijk der Nederlanden, officially Kingdom of the Netherlands, constitutional monarchy (2005 est. pop. 16,407,000), 15,963 sq mi (41,344 sq km), NW Europe.
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 and SwitzerlandSwitzerland
, Fr. Suisse, Ger. Schweiz, Ital. Svizzera, officially Swiss Confederation, federal republic (2005 est. pop. 7,489,000), 15,941 sq mi (41,287 sq km), central Europe. It borders on France in the west and southwest, with the Jura Mts.
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. Some countries (e.g., HungaryHungary,
Hung. Magyarország, republic (2005 est. pop. 10,007,000), 35,919 sq mi (93,030 sq km), central Europe. Hungary borders on Slovakia in the north, on Ukraine in the northeast, on Romania in the east, on Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia in the south, and on
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) were ruled by the emperor or imperial prince but were outside the empire, while others (e.g., FlandersFlanders
, former county in the Low Countries, extending along the North Sea and W of the Scheldt (Escaut) River. It is divided among East Flanders and West Flanders provs., Belgium; Nord and Pas-de-Calais depts., France; and (to a small extent) Zeeland prov., the Netherlands.
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, PomeraniaPomerania
, region of N central Europe, extending along the Baltic Sea from a line W of Stralsund, Germany, to the Vistula River in Poland. From 1919 to 1939, Pomerania was divided among Germany, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk).
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, SchleswigSchleswig
, Dan. Slesvig, former duchy, N Germany and S Denmark, occupying the southern part of Jutland. The Eider River separates it from Holstein. German Schleswig forms part of Schleswig-Holstein. Danish Schleswig, known as North Schleswig (Dan.
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, and HolsteinHolstein,
former duchy, N central Germany, the part of Schleswig-Holstein S of the Eider River. Kiel and Rendsburg were the chief cities. For a description of Holstein and for its history after 1814, see Schleswig-Holstein.
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) were part of the empire but were ruled by foreign princes who held their lands in fief from the emperor and took part in the imperial dietdiet,
parliamentary bodies in Japan, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, the Scandinavian nations, and Germany have been called diets. In German history, the diet originated as a meeting of landholders and burghers, convoked by the ruler to discuss financial problems.
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.

History

Conflict with the Pope and the Italians

When Otto I became emperor, he renewed the traditions of the Carolingian empire that had been eroding for decades before Arnulf's death. Otto's empire comprised the German duchies, Lorraine (or Lotharingia), Italy, and Burgundy, which had its own nominal king. Burgundy (see Arles, kingdom ofArles, kingdom of,
was formed in 933, when Rudolf II, king of Transjurane Burgundy, united the kingdom of Provence or Cisjurane Burgundy to his lands and established his capital at Arles.
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) was formally annexed in 1033.

The imperial position, however, was precarious from the start. A conflict over the relationship between the papacy and the imperial throne resulted in the investitureinvestiture,
in feudalism, ceremony by which an overlord transferred a fief to a vassal or by which, in ecclesiastical law, an elected cleric received the pastoral ring and staff (the symbols of spiritual office) signifying the transfer of the office.
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 controversy during the reign of Henry IVHenry IV,
1050–1106, Holy Roman emperor (1084–1105) and German king (1056–1105), son and successor of Henry III. He was the central figure in the opening stages of the long struggle between the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy.
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 (1084–1105), who appointed bishops to three sees already under the direction of papal appointees. He was also suspected of tolerating simony and other practices that the pope was trying to curb. In 1076, Henry IV withdrew his obedience to Pope Gregory VII and was excommunicated. Subsequent struggles between the popes Alexander IIIAlexander III,
d. 1181, pope (1159–81), a Sienese named Rolandus [Bandinelli?], successor of Adrian IV. He was a canonist who had studied law under Gratian and had taught at Bologna.
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, Gregory IXGregory IX,
1143?–1241, pope (1227–41), an Italian named Ugolino di Segni, b. Anagni; successor of Honorius III. As cardinal under his uncle, Innocent III, he became, at St. Francis' request, the first cardinal protector of the Franciscans.
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, and Innocent IVInnocent IV,
d. 1254, pope (1243–54), a Genoese named Sinibaldo Fieschi, a distinguished jurist who studied and later taught law at the Univ. of Bologna; successor of Celestine IV. He was of a noble family.
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 and the emperors Frederick IFrederick I
or Frederick Barbarossa
[Ital.,=red beard], c.1125–90, Holy Roman emperor (1155–90) and German king (1152–90), son of Frederick of Hohenstaufen, duke of Swabia, nephew and successor of Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III.
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 and Frederick IIFrederick II,
1194–1250, Holy Roman emperor (1220–50) and German king (1212–20), king of Sicily (1197–1250), and king of Jerusalem (1229–50), son of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI and of Constance, heiress of Sicily.
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 concerned papal sovereignty in Italy. The papacy was victorious, and the emperors ceased to interfere seriously with papal affairs except during the Great Schism (see Schism, GreatSchism, Great,
or Schism of the West,
division in the Roman Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417. There was no question of faith or practice involved; the schism was a matter of persons and politics.
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) of the 15th cent. and in the Italian WarsItalian Wars,
1494–1559, series of regional wars brought on by the efforts of the great European powers to control the small independent states of Italy. Renaissance Italy was split into numerous rival states, most of which sought foreign alliances to increase their
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 of the 16th cent.

Also untenable was the dual position of the emperors as rulers of Germany and of Italy; geography as well as cultural and political conditions separated the two countries. The defense of the empire against foreign attack was made more difficult by the repeated attempts of the emperors to maintain their authority in Italy against the opposition of the city-states (see communecommune
, in medieval history, collective institution that developed in continental Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Because of the importance of the commune in municipal government, the term is also used to denote a town itself to which a charter of liberties was
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), the papacy, and the petty princes. Frederick I failed to suppress the Lombard LeagueLombard League,
an alliance formed in 1167 among the communes of Lombardy to resist Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I when he attempted to assert his imperial authority in Lombardy. Previously the communes had been divided, some favoring the emperor and others favoring the pope.
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, which had papal support. Frederick II, after inheriting Naples and Sicily, was primarily interested in Italian affairs; his conflict with the papacy produced the feud between Guelphs and GhibellinesGuelphs and Ghibellines
, opposing political factions in Germany and in Italy during the later Middle Ages. The names were used to designate the papal (Guelph) party and the imperial (Ghibelline) party during the long struggle between popes and emperors, and they were also used
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 throughout Italy and ruined the imperial authority there.

Conflict in Germany

The death (1254) of Conrad IVConrad IV,
1228–54, German king (1237–54), king of Sicily and of Jerusalem (1250–54), son of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. He was elected (1237) king of the Romans at his father's instigation after Frederick had deposed Conrad's older brother Henry in
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, the last ruling HohenstaufenHohenstaufen
, German princely family, whose name is derived from the castle of Staufen built in 1077 by a Swabian count, Frederick. In 1079, Frederick married Agnes, daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, and was created duke of Swabia.
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, was followed by an interregnum of 19 years. Opposing claimants to the imperial crown were unable to exercise authority during this period, and the power of the emperor declined considerably. The election (1273) of Rudolf IRudolf I
or Rudolf of Hapsburg
, 1218–91, German king (1273–91), first king of the Hapsburg dynasty. Rudolf's election as king ended the interregnum (1250–73), during which time there was no accepted German king or Holy Roman emperor.
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 as the first Hapsburg German king restored some order, but after his death rival claimants renewed the strife. The effect of continued warfare and weak monarchs increased the power of the German princes, particularly the dukes of the great duchies of Bavaria, Saxony, Swabia, Franconia, Thuringia, and Upper and Lower Lorraine. The Golden Bull of 1356 conceded the princes' dominance over the monarchy.

The emperors maintained some authority against the nobles with the support of the towns and of the great ecclesiastical princes (e.g., the archbishop-electors of CologneCologne
, Ger. Köln, city (1994 pop. 962,500), North Rhine–Westphalia, W Germany, on the Rhine River. It is a commercial, financial, and industrial center, a rail and road junction, and a river port.
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, MainzMainz
, city (1994 pop. 185,487), capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, W Germany, a port on the E bank of the Rhine River opposite the mouth of the Main River. Its French name, also sometimes used in English, is Mayence.
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, and TrierTrier
, Latin Augusta Treverorum, city (1994 pop. 99,183), Rhineland-Palatinate, SW Germany, a port on the Moselle (Ger. Mosel) River, near the Luxembourg border. It is also known, in English, as Treves (trēvz) and, in French, as Trèves (trĕv).
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), who were imperial appointees. As the German towns grew in wealth and power, they entered leagues for defense against the nobles. Since they acted as a counterbalance to the nobility, they were generally favored by the emperors, who made them free imperial cities with a voice in the diet. The power of the emperors, however, had come to depend largely on the size and wealth of the emperors' hereditary domains. Thus, the Luxemburg emperors (Henry VIIHenry VII,
c.1275–1313, Holy Roman emperor (1312–13) and German king (1308–13). A minor count of the house of Luxembourg, Henry was elected German king on the death of King Albert I after the electors had set aside the two main contenders, Albert's eldest son,
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, Charles IVCharles IV,
1316–78, Holy Roman emperor (1355–78), German king (1347–78), and king of Bohemia (1346–78). The son of John of Luxemburg, Charles was educated at the French court and fought the English at Crécy, where his father's heroic death made
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, WenceslausWenceslaus,
1361–1419, Holy Roman emperor (uncrowned) and German king (1378–1400), king of Bohemia (1378–1419) as Wenceslaus IV, elector of Brandenburg (1373–76), son and successor of Emperor Charles IV.
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, and SigismundSigismund
, 1368–1437, Holy Roman emperor (1433–37), German king (1410–37), king of Hungary (1387–1437) and of Bohemia (1419–37), elector of Brandenburg (1376–1415), son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.
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) and the Hapsburg emperors concerned themselves with their own lands to the detriment of the unity of the empire.

During the reign of Maximilian IMaximilian I,
1459–1519, Holy Roman emperor and German king (1493–1519), son and successor of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. As emperor, he aspired to restore forceful imperial leadership and inaugurate much-needed administrative reforms in the increasingly
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 (1493–1519) the conflict between the dynastic policy of the Hapsburg emperors and the interests of the German empire (then known as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) became pronounced. The princes attempted to remove the administration of the empire from the emperor and put it in the hands of an imperial council; the council would control all external and internal affairs of the empire. Under pressure Maximilian I created (1500) a council (see ReichsregimentReichsregiment
[Ger.,=government of the empire], imperial council created by the Diet of Augsburg in 1500. It was intended to form the executive branch of the government of the Holy Roman Empire.
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) and an imperial court of justice. However, these were only temporary measures, since the Hapsburgs had no intention of pursuing German policy, which would conflict with their dynastic interests, particularly in Austria.

Dissolution of the Empire

In the 16th cent., under Charles VCharles V,
1500–1558, Holy Roman emperor (1519–58) and, as Charles I, king of Spain (1516–56); son of Philip I and Joanna of Castile, grandson of Ferdinand II of Aragón, Isabella of Castile, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and Mary of Burgundy.
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 and Ferdinand IFerdinand I,
1503–64, Holy Roman emperor (1558–64), king of Bohemia (1526–64) and of Hungary (1526–64), younger brother of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
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, imperial and Austrian affairs were practically identical. This identity was furthered by the ReformationReformation,
religious revolution that took place in Western Europe in the 16th cent. It arose from objections to doctrines and practices in the medieval church (see Roman Catholic Church) and ultimately led to the freedom of dissent (see Protestantism).
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, which generally aligned the German Protestant princes against the emperors, who championed Roman Catholicism. In the Thirty Years WarThirty Years War,
1618–48, general European war fought mainly in Germany. General Character of the War

There were many territorial, dynastic, and religious issues that figured in the outbreak and conduct of the war.
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 (1618–48; see Ferdinand IIFerdinand II,
1578–1637, Holy Roman emperor (1619–37), king of Bohemia (1617–37) and of Hungary (1618–37); successor of Holy Roman Emperor Matthias.
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; Ferdinand IIIFerdinand III,
1608–57, Holy Roman emperor (1637–57), king of Hungary (1626–57) and of Bohemia (1627–57), son and successor of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II.
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; WallensteinWallenstein or Waldstein, Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von
, 1583–1634, imperial general in the Thirty Years War, b. Bohemia.
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; Protestant UnionProtestant Union,
in German history, an alliance of German Protestant leaders of cities and states, founded in 1608 for the avowed purpose of defending the lands, person, and rights of each individual member.
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) the emperor, allied with Spain, opposed the Protestant princes, who were allied chiefly with Sweden and France. The struggle ended with the virtual dissolution of the empire in the Peace of Westphalia (1648; see Westphalia, Peace ofWestphalia, Peace of,
1648, general settlement ending the Thirty Years War. It marked the end of the Holy Roman Empire as an effective institution and inaugurated the modern European state system.
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), which recognized the sovereignty of all the states of the empire; the only limitation was that the princes could not make alliances directed against the empire or the emperor.

Although the imperial title became largely honorific, the outward forms of the empire were retained; the emperors, with their hereditary lands, remained powerful monarchs. While the peace generally legalized the situation that had existed in the empire since the Reformation, it also advanced the growth of particularism and absolutism in the German states. The emperors suffered further loss of prestige in their wars against Louis XIV (see Dutch WarsDutch Wars,
series of conflicts between the English and Dutch during the mid to late 17th cent. The wars had their roots in the Anglo-Dutch commercial rivalry, although the last of the three wars was a wider conflict in which French interests played a primary role.
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 (3); Grand Alliance, War of theGrand Alliance, War of the,
1688–97, war between France and a coalition of European powers, known as the League of Augsburg (and, after 1689, as the Grand Alliance).
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; Spanish Succession, War of theSpanish Succession, War of the,
1701–14, last of the general European wars caused by the efforts of King Louis XIV to extend French power. The conflict in America corresponding to the period of the War of the Spanish Succession was known as Queen Anne's War (see French and
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).

The death (1740) of Charles VICharles VI,
1685–1740, Holy Roman emperor (1711–40), king of Bohemia (1711–40) and, as Charles III, king of Hungary (1712–40); brother and successor of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I. Charles was the last Holy Roman emperor of the direct Hapsburg line.
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 ended the male Hapsburg line, precipitating further conflict (see Austrian Succession, War of theAustrian Succession, War of the,
1740–48, general European war. Causes of the War

The war broke out when, on the strength of the pragmatic sanction of 1713, the Austrian archduchess Maria Theresa succeeded her father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, as ruler
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; Seven Years WarSeven Years War,
1756–63, worldwide war fought in Europe, North America, and India between France, Austria, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and (after 1762) Spain on the one side and Prussia, Great Britain, and Hanover on the other.
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). While the elector of Bavaria was chosen (1742) emperor as Charles VII, Maria TheresaMaria Theresa
, 1717–80, Austrian archduchess, queen of Bohemia and Hungary (1740–80), consort of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and dowager empress after the accession (1765) of her son, Joseph II.
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, daughter of Charles VI, defended her Hapsburg inheritance against the claims of Bavaria, Prussia, and Saxony. By the peace of Hubertusburg (1763), Francis IFrancis I,
1708–65, Holy Roman emperor (1745–65), duke of Lorraine (1729–37) as Francis Stephen, grand duke of Tuscany (1737–65), husband of Archduchess Maria Theresa.
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, husband of Maria Theresa, was recognized as emperor; however, PrussiaPrussia
, Ger. Preussen, former state, the largest and most important of the German states. Berlin was the capital. The chief member of the German Empire (1871–1918) and a state of the Weimar Republic (1919–33), Prussia occupied more than half of all Germany
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, under King Frederick IIFrederick II
or Frederick the Great,
1712–86, king of Prussia (1740–86), son and successor of Frederick William I. Early Life

Frederick's coarse and tyrannical father despised the prince, who showed a taste for French art and literature and no
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, had emerged as the leading German power. Joseph II, successor of Francis I, adhered to the principles of the Enlightenment; he attempted to rationalize the administration of the imperial government but failed in the face of resistance by the particularist princes, especially Frederick II of Prussia.

During the French Revolutionary WarsFrench Revolutionary Wars,
wars occurring in the era of the French Revolution and the beginning of the Napoleonic era, the decade of 1792–1802. The wars began as an effort to defend the Revolution and developed into wars of conquest under the empire.
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 the empire was completely reorganized by the treaty of Lunéville (1801) and by action of the diet in 1803. The number of states was greatly reduced, and the remaining states were aggrandized at the expense of the petty princedoms and ecclesiastical estates. In 1804, Holy Roman Emperor Francis IIFrancis II,
1768–1835, last Holy Roman emperor (1792–1806), first emperor of Austria as Francis I (1804–35), king of Bohemia and of Hungary (1792–1835).
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 took the title Francis I, emperor of Austria, and after the establishment (1806) of the Confederation of the RhineConfederation of the Rhine,
league of German states formed by Emperor Napoleon I in 1806 after his defeat of the Austrians at Austerlitz. Among its members were the newly created kingdoms of Bavaria and Württenberg (see Pressburg, Treaty of), the grand duchies of Baden,
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 under Napoleon I, Francis renounced his title as Holy Roman Emperor. After the fall of Napoleon no attempt was made to restore the empire, but a German ConfederationGerman Confederation,
1815–66, union of German states provided for at the Congress of Vienna to replace the old Holy Roman Empire, which had been destroyed during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It comprised 39 states in all, 35 monarchies and 4 free cities.
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 was established that lasted until 1866.

Bibliography

See H. A. L. Fisher, The Medieval Empire (1898, repr. 1969); J. W. Thompson, Feudal Germany (1928, repr. 1962); G. Barraclough, The Origins of Modern Germany (1946, rev. ed. 1947, repr. 1966); B. Tierney, ed., Crisis of Church and State, 1050–1300 (1964); T. F. Tout, The Empire and the Papacy, 918–1273 (8th ed. 1965); J. Bryce, The Holy Roman Empire (new ed. 1968); R. Folz, The Coronation of Charlemagne (tr. 1974); H. Wolfram, History of the Goths (1988); see also bibliographies under Middle AgesMiddle Ages,
period in Western European history that followed the disintegration of the West Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th cent. and lasted into the 15th cent., i.e., into the period of the Renaissance.
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; GermanyGermany
, Ger. Deutschland, officially Federal Republic of Germany, republic (2005 est. pop. 82,431,000), 137,699 sq mi (356,733 sq km). Located in the center of Europe, it borders the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France on the west; Switzerland and Austria on
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.

Holy Roman Empire

 

(Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation), a medieval empire, consisting principally of Germany but also including parts of Italy, all of Bohemia, the Bur-gundian kingdom (kingdom of Aries), the Netherlands, and the Swiss lands. The various kingdoms, duchies, and lands in the Holy Roman Empire were at various times and in varying degrees subordinate, dejure or de facto, to the emperor.

The Holy Roman Empire was founded by the German king Otto I in 962, after he had subdued northern and central Italy. From the tenth century to the first half of the 13th century, it was a state formation in a real sense, because in Germany itself the monarchy was relatively strong. Consonant with interests of the German feudal lords, the empire conducted an aggressive policy, especially in the lands of the Polabian Slavs in the east and in Italy in the south, where the German kings made regular expeditions to receive the imperial crown from the hands of the pope and to gain the submission of Italy, which in fact had to be conquered anew each time.

From the 11th to 13th centuries, the emperors and the popes clashed over many issues, such as investiture; by the second half of the 13th century, the empire had lost Italy, the emperor’s power had diminished, and the German princes had gained more power. Lands once subordinate to the empire became virtually autonomous, little subject to the will of the emperor. In Germany itself, which had disintegrated into territorial principalities, the emperor’s power grew more tenuous, especially after the interregnum of 1254–73. From the 13th century the emperor was chosen by the electors, a practice confirmed in law by the Golden Bull of Charles IV in 1356. From 1438 the imperial crown was in the hands of the House of Hapsburg. The Reichstag, nominally imperial but really only German, was a representative institution of the estates and was controlled by the princes. At the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries, an imperial tax was introduced, and more effectual central institutions were formed, but all attempts at imperial reform were ultimately in vain.

By the end of the Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Empire had become a political anachronism. As the emperors, particularly Charles V, fought for hegemony in Europe and to preserve their power within the empire, they invariably invoked the reactionary idea of reviving the Holy Roman Empire. This policy represented a threat to the incipient national states, which resisted it. After the Thirty Years’ War, the formal structure of the empire was defined by the provisions of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648; the emperor was ultimately only a figurehead. The Holy Roman Empire existed in a formal sense until 1806, when the last emperor, Francis II, abdicated during the Napoleonic Wars.

REFERENCES

Neusykhin, A. I. “Ocherki po istorii Germanii v srednie veka.” In his book Problemy evropeiskogo feodalizma. Moscow, 1974.
Kolesnitskii, N. F. “Issledovanie po istorii feodal’nogo gosudarstva v Germanii (IX–pervaia pol. XII v.).” Uch. zap. Moskovskogo obl. ped. in-ta, 1959, vol. 81. (Trudy kafedry vseobshchei istorii, issue 2.)
Kolesnitskii, N. F. “‘Sviashchennaia Rimskaia imperiia’ v osveshchenii sovremennoi zapadnogermanskoi istoriografii.” In the collection Srednie veka, fasc. 14. Moscow, 1959.

N. F. KOLESNITSKII

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