The Holy Roman Empire
11th c. imperial crown
Europe in 1500
Europe in 1600
The “patchwork carpet” of
Holy Roman Empire, 1648
Europe in 1714
What is the Holy Roman Empire?
political entity that covered a large portion of
centered on Germany
A.D. 800-1806
History of the Holy Roman Empire
476 – fall of the
Roman Empire to
Germanic tribes
History of the Holy Roman Empire
800 – Charlemagne crowned
“emperor” by Pope Leo III
Charlemagne = king of the
Franks, a Germanic tribe
Carolingians believe the title
of Roman emperor in the west
had been suspended, not ended,
with Rome’s fall in 476
est. church backing for HRE &
History of the Holy Roman Empire
1152-1190 – reign of Frederick I, aka Barbarossa,
who adds “Holy” to title of “Roman Emperor”
1254 – origin of the term “Holy Roman Empire”
mid-15th c. – Habsburgs gain the imperial throne,
which remains hereditary
1512 – name changes to “Holy Roman Empire of
the German Nation”
History of the Holy Roman Empire
1806 – Francis II gives up
imperial title
Francis II = Habsburg
ruler of Austria, Hungary,
after losses to Napoleon,
who dictates HRE’s
1815 – German
Confederation replaces
the HRE
German Confederation =
39 states
How was the Holy Roman
Emperor selected?
First voted king of the Romans. From the 14th c.
forward, the voters were the main dukes and
bishops of the German kingdom, called electors.
There were 7 and then 8 electors.
Second the new king went to Rome to be crowned
Emperor by the pope. Later emperors gave up this
practice; Charles V was the last emperor to receive
papal coronation in 1530.
What powers did the Holy
Roman Emperor have?
Very little … from the later Middle Ages forward
his power was mostly symbolic. Most real legal and
administrative power was held in the territorial and
municipal levels.
Peace of Westphalia (1648) gave almost complete
sovereignty to the ≈300 states of the HRE.
Henceforward the HRE primarily existed in name
only. Habsburg emperors focused on consolidating
their own states in Austria, etc.
Voltaire’s Famous Quote (1756)
“This agglomeration which was called and
still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire
was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an
empire in any way.”

A few notes on 16th c. Geography & Dynasties