Princes of The Holy Roman Empire - Imperial State

Imperial State

See also: imperial state and Reichsstand

The estate of imperial princes or Reichsfürstenstand was first established in a legal sense in the Late Middle Ages. A particular estate of "the Princes" was first mentioned in the 1180 decree issued by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the Imperial Diet of Gelnhausen, in which he divested Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony and Bavaria. About fifty years later, Eike von Repgow codified it as an emanation of feudal law recorded in his Sachsenspiegel, where the lay princes formed the third level or Heerschild in the feudal military structure below ecclesiastical princes. Officially the princely states of the Holy Roman Empire had to meet three requirements:

  • territorial rule and the Droit de régale, i.e. sovereign rights, over an immediate fief of the Empire
  • a direct vote (votum virile) and a seat in the Imperial Diet
  • direct support for the expenses and the military ban of the Empire.

Not all states met all three requirements, so one may distinguish between effective and honorary princes of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Princes of the Empire ranked below the seven Prince-electors designated by the Golden Bull of 1356 (and later electors), but above the Reichsgrafen (Counts), Freiherren (barons) and Imperial prelates, who formed with them the Imperial Diet assemblies, but only held collective votes. About 1180 the secular Princes comprised the Herzöge (Dukes) who generally ruled larger territories within the Empire in the tradition of the former German stem duchies, but also the Counts of Anhalt and Namur, the Landgraves of Thuringia and the Margraves of Meissen.

From the 13th century onwards, further estates were formally raised to the princely status by the emperor. Among the most important of these were the Welf descendants of Henry the Lion in Brunswick-Lüneburg, elevated to Princes of the Empire and vested with the ducal title by Emperor Frederick II in 1235, and the Landgraves of Hesse in 1292. The resolutions of the Diet of Augsburg in 1582 explicitly stated that the status was inextricably linked with the possession of a particular Imperial territory. Later elevated noble families like the Fürstenberg, Liechtenstein or Thurn und Taxis dynasties subsequently began to refer to their territory as a "principality" and assumed the awarded rank of a Prince (Fürst) as a hereditary title. Most of the Counts who ruled territories were raised to Princely rank in the decades before the end of the Empire in 1806.

Ecclesiastical Princes were the Prince-Bishops (including the Prince-Archbishops of Besançon, Bremen, Magdeburg and Salzburg) as well as the actual Prince-abbots. They comprised a number of political entities which were secularized and mediatized after the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, resp. fell to France or the independent Swiss Confederacy.

Read more about this topic:  Princes Of The Holy Roman Empire

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