Holly Rome Empire

Holy Roman Empire - Europe's strangest empire

French philosopher Voltaire described the Holy Roman Empire in the mid 1700’s as "neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire". And soon after he observed this truth another Frenchman, Napoleon Bonaparte forced the abdication of the last Emperor and dissolution of the 844 year old Empire in 1806.

The Holy Roman Empire was always a loose confederation of states who owed varying amounts of allegiance to their elected Emperor. In many respects it was a Medieval version of the European Union. In 962 Otto I, of Saxony, took up the mantel of Charlemagne’s pan-Christendom vision and had himself crowned in Charlemagne’s capital of Aachen, near the Belgian border. Through inheritance, conquest and diplomacy he either controlled or won the allegiance of all German lands, the Low Countries, most of Italy, Czech lands and much of France.

Aiming to revive the grandeur and prestige of Ancient Rome, whose civilising influence was regarded as Divinely mandated, future elected rulers of the Holy Roman Empire took on the title ‘King of the Romans’ but would not assume the title of Emperor until crowned by His Holiness the Pope. Leading rulers of the member states elected the King of the Romans until 1356 when the number of Electors was limited to seven. Therefore many Imperial rulers who were unable to make the journey to Rome were never crowned Emperor. Although the full name of the empire was the ‘Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation’, candidates for the highest office were not restricted to Germans or indeed member states. Many non Germans were elected to the Imperial throne including Spanish King Alfonso X of Castile.

The powers of the Emperor were limited by the local rulers who made up the fragmented states and territories of his Empire. What few powers the Imperial authorities exercised began to erode from the 12th Century and by 1648 the offices of the Holy Roman Empire were largely symbolic and ceremonial in nature. By this time the Empire consisted of more than 300 constituent states each with its own ruler, many barely larger than their Lord’s estates.

For much of the Holy Roman Empire’s life, the highest office was dominated by Austria’s Habsburg Dynasty who used the office as a tool of diplomacy and coercion to maintain dominance over German speaking Europe. In 1529 and again in 1683 the Ottoman Turks attempted to capture the Empire’s capital; Vienna and on their last attempt they left behind their coffee which ultimately resulted in its introduction to European culture.