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Career of Charlemagne, by Guizot, Francois P. G.

Life of Charlemagne

World History Center

Holy Roman Empire, The
Book: Chapter XII: Imperial Titles And Pretensions.
Author: Bryce, James
Date: 1901


Page Thirteen

Why, it may well be asked, seeing that the Roman crown made the Emperor
ruler of the whole habitable globe, was it thought necessary for him to add to
it minor dignities which might be supposed to have been already included in
this supreme one? The reason seems to be that the imperial office was
conceived of as something different in kind from the regal, and as carrying
with it not the immediate government of any particular kingdom, but a general
suzerainty over and right of controlling all. Of this a pertinent
illustration is afforded by an anecdote told of Frederick Barbarossa.
Happening once to inquire of the famous jurists who surrounded him whether it
was really true that he was 'lord of the world,' one of them simply assented,
another, Bulgarus, answered, 'Not as respects ownership.' In this dictum,
which is evidently conformable to the philosophical theory of the Empire, we
have a pointed distinction drawn between feudal sovereignty, which supposes
the prince original owner of the soil of his whole kingdom, and imperial
sovereignty which is irrespective of place, and exercised not over things but
over men, as God's rational creatures. But the Emperor, as has been said
already, was also the East Frankish king, uniting in himself, to use the legal
phrase, two wholly distinct, 'persons,' and hence he might acquire more direct
and practically useful rights over a portion of his dominions by being crowned
king of that portion, just as a feudal monarch was often duke or count of
lordships whereof he was already feudal superior; or, to take a better
illustration, just as a bishop may hold livings in his own diocese. That the
Emperors, while continuing to be crowned at Milan and Aachen, did not call
themselves kings of the Lombards and of the Franks, was probably merely
because these titles seemed insignificant compared to that of Roman Emperor.

In this supreme title, as has been said, all lesser honours were blent
and lost, but custom or prejudice forbade the German king to assume it till
actually crowned at Rome by the Pope ^1. Matters of phrase and title are
never unimportant, least of all in an age ignorant and superstitiously
antiquarian: and this restriction had the most important consequences. The
first barbarian kings had been tribe-chiefs; and when they claimed a dominion
which was universal, yet in a sense territorial, they could not separate their
title from the spot which it was their boast to possess, and by virtue of
whose name they ruled. 'Rome,' says the biographer of St. Adalbert, 'seeing
that she both is and is called the head of the world and the mistress of
cities, is alone able to give to kings imperial power, and since she cherishes
in her bosom the body of the Prince of the Apostles, she ought of right to
appoint the Prince of the whole earth ^2.' The crown was therefore too sacred
to be conferred by any one but the supreme Pontiff, or in any city less august
than the ancient capital. Had it become hereditary in any family, Lothar I's,
for instance, or Otto's, this feeling might have worn off; as it was, each
successive transfer to a new dynasty, to Guido, to Otto, to Henry II, to
Conrad the Salic, strengthened it. The force of custom, tradition, precedent,
is incalculable, when checked neither by written rules nor free discussion.
What sheer assertion will do is shewn by the success of a forgery so gross as
the Isidorian decretals. No arguments are needed to discredit the alleged
decree of Pope Benedict VIII ^3, which prohibited the German prince from
taking the name or office of Emperor till approved and consecrated by the
pontiff, but a doctrine so favourable to papal pretensions was sure not to
want advocacy; Hadrian IV proclaims it in the broadest terms, and through the
efforts of the clergy and the spell of reverence in the Teutonic princes, it
passed into an unquestioned belief ^4. That none ventured to use the title
till the Pope conferred it, made it seem in some manner to depend on his will,
enabled him to exact conditions from every candidate, and gave a colour to his
pretended suzerainty. Since by feudal theory every honour and estate is held
from some superior, and since the divine commission has been without doubt
issued directly to the Pope, must not the whole earth be his fief, and he the
lord paramount, to whom even the Emperor is a vassal? This argument, which
derived considerable plausibility from the rivalry between the Emperor and
other monarchs, as compared with the universal and undisputed ^5 authority of
the Pope, was a favourite with the high sacerdotal party: first distinctly
advanced by Hadrian IV, when he set up the picture ^6 representing Lothar's
homage, which had so irritated the followers of Barbarossa, though it had
already been hinted at in Gregory VII's gift of the crown to Rudolf of Suabia,
with the line, -

'Petra dedit Petro, Petrus diadema Rudolfo.'

Nor was it only by putting him at the pontiff's mercy that this dependence of
the imperial name on a coronation in the city injured the German sovereign ^7.
With strange inconsistency it was not pretended that the Emperor's rights were
any narrower before he received the rite: he could summon synods, confirm
papal elections, exercise jurisdiction over the citizens: his claim of the
crown itself could not, at least till the times of the Gregorys and the
Innocents, be positively denied. For no one thought of contesting the right
of the German nation to the Empire, or the authority of the electoral princes,
strangers though they were, to give Rome and Italy a master. The republican
followers of Arnold of Brescia might murmur, but they could not dispute the
truth of the proud lines in which the poet who sang the glories of Barbarossa
^8, describes the result of the conquest of Charles the Great: -

'Ex quo Romanum nostra virtute redemptum
Hostibus expulsis, ad nos iustissimus ordo
Transtulit imperium, Romani gloria regni
Nos penes est. Quemcunque sibi Germania regem
Praeficit, hunc dives summisso vertice Roma
Suscipit, et verso Tiberim regit ordine Rhenus.'

[Footnote 1: Hence the numbers attached to the names of the Emperors are often
different in German and Italian writers, the latter not reckoning Henry the
Fowler nor Cornad I. So Henry III (of Germany) calls himself 'Imperator
Henricus Secundus;' and all distinguish the years of their regnum from those
of the imperium. Cardinal Baronius will not call Henry V anything but Henry
III, not recognizing Henry IV's coronation, because it was performed by an

[Footnote 2: Life of S. Adalbert (written at Rome early in the eleventh
century, probably by a brother of the monastery of SS. Boniface and Alexius)
in Pertz, M.G.H. iv.]

[Footnote 3: Given by Glaber Rudolphus. It is on the face of it a most
impudent forgery: 'Ne quisquam audacter Romani Imperii sceptrum praepostere
gestare princeps appetat neve Imperator dici aut esse valeat nisi quem Papa
Romanus morum probitate aptum elegerit, eique commiserit insigne imperiale.']

[Footnote 4: The Sachsenspiegel says, 'Die dudeschen solen durch recht den
koning kiesen. Svenne die gewiet wert von den bischopen die dar to gesat sin,
unde uppe den stul to Aken kumt, so hevet he koninglike walt unde koningliken
namen. Svenne yn die paues wiet, so heute he des rikes gewalt unde
keiserliken namen.']

[Footnote 5: Universal and undisputed in the West, which, for practical
purposes, meant the world. The denial of the supreme jurisdiction of Peter's
chair by the eastern churches affected very slightly the belief of Latin
Christendom, just as the existence of a rival emperor at Constantinople with
at least as good a legal title as the Teutonic Caesar, was readily forgotten
or ignored by the German and Italian subjects of the latter.]

[Footnote 6: Odious especially for the inscription, -

'Rex venit ante fores nullo prius urbis honore;
Post homo fit Papae, sumit quo dante coronam.' - Radewic.

Another version of the first line is, -

'Rex stetit ante fores iurans prius urbis honores.']

[Footnote 7: Mediaeval history is full of instances of the superstitious
veneration attached to the rite of coronation (made by the Church almost a
sacrament), and to the special places where, or even utensils with which it
was performed. Every one knows the importance in France of Rheims and its
sacred ampulla; so the Scottish king must be crowned at Scone, an old seat of
Pictish royalty - Robert Bruce risked a great deal to receive his crown there;
so no Hungarian coronation was valid unless made with the crown of St.
Stephen; the possession whereof is still accounted so valuable by the Austrian

Great importance seems to have been attached to the imperial globe
(Reichsapfel) which the Pope delivered to the Emperor at his coronation.]

[Footnote 8: Whether the poem which passes under the name of Gunther Ligurinus
be his work or that of some scholar in a later age, Conrad Celtes as is
commonly supposed, is for the present purpose indifferent. [At present (1886)
the view prevails that the poem belongs to the age of Frederick, that
'Ligurinus' is its title, and that the name of Gunther for the author is
probably wrong.]]

But the real strength of the Teutonic kingdom was wasted in the pursuit
of a glittering toy: once in his reign each Emperor undertook a long and
dangerous expedition, and dissipated in an inglorious and ever to be repeated
strife the forces that might have achieved conquest elsewhere, or made him
feared and obeyed at home.

At this epoch appears another title, of which more must be said. To the
accustomed 'Roman Empire' Frederick Barbarossa adds the epithet of 'Holy.' Of
its earlier origin, under Conrad II (the Salic), which some have supposed ^1,
there is no documentary trace, though there is also no proof to the contrary
^2. So far as is known it occurs first in the famous Privilege of Austria,
granted by Frederick in the fourth year of his reign, the second of his
empire, 'terram Austriae quae clypeus et cor sacri imperii esse dinoscitur
^3:' then afterwards, in other manifestos of his reign; for example, in a
letter to Isaac Angelus of Byzantium, ^4, and in the summons to the princes to
help him against Milan: 'Quia . . . . urbis et orbis gubernacula tenemus . . .
. sacro imperio et divae reipublicae consulere debemus ^5;' where the second
phrase is a synonym explanatory of the first. Used occasionally by Henry VI
and Frederick II, it is more frequent under their successors, William,
Richard, Rudolf, till after Charles IV's time it becomes habitual, for the
last few centuries indispensable. Regarding the origin of so singular a title
many theories have been advanced. Some declared it a perpetuation of the
court style of Rome and Byzantium, which attached sanctity to the person of
the monarch: thus David Blondel, contending for the honour of France, calls it
a mere epithet of the Emperor, applied by confusion to his government ^6.
Others saw in it a religious meaning, referring to Daniel's prophecy, or to
the fact that the Empire was contemporary with Christianity, or to Christ's
birth under it ^7. Strong churchmen derived it from the dependence of the
imperial crown on the Pope. There were not wanting persons to maintain that it
meant nothing more than great or splendid. We need not, however, be in any
great doubt as to its true meaning and purport. The ascription of sacredness
to the person, the palace, the letters, and so forth, of the sovereign, so
common in the later ages of Rome, had been partly retained in the German
court. Liudprand calls Otto 'imperator sanctissimus ^8.' Still this sanctity,
which the Greeks above all others lavished on their princes, is something
personal, is nothing more than the divinity that always hedges a king. Far
more intimate and peculiar was the relation of the revived Roman Empire to the
church and religion. As has been said already, it was neither more nor less
than the visible Church, seen on its secular side, the Christian society
organized as a state under a form divinely appointed, and therefore the name
'Holy Roman Empire' was the needful and rightful counterpart to that of 'Holy
Catholic Church.' Such had long been the belief, and so the title might have
had its origin as far back as the tenth or ninth century, might even have
emanated from Charles himself. Alcuin in one of his letters uses the phrase
'imperium Christianum.' But there was a further reason for its introduction at
this particular epoch. Ever since Hildebrand had claimed for the priesthood
exclusive sanctity and supreme jurisdiction, the papal party had not ceased to
speak of the civil power as being, compared with that of their own chief,
merely secular, earthly, profane. It may be conjectured that to meet this
reproach, no less injurious than insulting, Frederick or his advisers began to
use in public documents the expression 'Holy Empire;' thereby wishing to
assert the divine institution and religious duties of the office he held.
Previous Emperors had called themselves 'Catholici,' 'Christiani,' 'ecclesiae
defensores ^9;' now their State itself is consecrated an earthly theocracy.
'Deus Romanum imperium adversus schisma ecclesiae praeparavit ^10,' writes
Frederick to the English Henry II. The theory was one which the best and
greatest Emperors, Charles, Otto the Great, Henry III, had most striven to
carry out; it continued to be zealously upheld when it had long ceased to be
practicable. In the proclamations of mediaeval kings there is a constant
dwelling on their Divine commission. Power in an age of violence sought to
justify while it enforced its commands, to make brute force less brutal by
appeals to a higher sanction. This is seen nowhere more than in the style of
the German sovereigns: they delight in the phrases 'maiestas sacrosancta ^11,'
'imperator divina ordinante providentia,' 'divina pietate,' 'per misericordiam
Dei;' many of which were preserved till, like those used now by other European
kings, like our own 'Defender of the Faith,' they had become at last more
grotesque than solemn. The freethinking Emperor Joseph II, at the end of the
eighteenth century, was 'Advocate of the Christian Church,' 'Vicar of Christ,'
'Imperial head of the faithful,' 'Leader of the Christian army,' 'Protector of
Palestine, of general councils, of the Catholic faith ^12.'

[Footnote 1: Zedler, Universal Lexicon, s. v. Reich.]

[Footnote 2: It does not occur before Frederick I's time in any of the
documents printed by Pertz; and this is the date which Boeclerus also assigns
in his treatise, De Sacro Imperio Romano, vindicating the terms 'sacrum' and
'Romanum' against the aspersions of Blondel.]

[Footnote 3: Pertz, M. G. H., tom. iv. (legum ii.)]

[Footnote 4: Ibid. iv.]

[Footnote 5: Radewic, ap. Pertz.]

[Footnote 6: Blondellus adv. Chiffletium. Most of these theories are stated
by Boeclerus. Jordanes (Chronica) says, 'Sacri imperii quod non est dubium
sancti Spiritus ordinatione, secundum qualitatem ipsam et exigentiam meritorum
humanorum disponi.']

[Footnote 7: Marquard Freher's notes to Peter de Andlo, book i. chap. vii.]

[Footnote 8: So in the song on the capture of the Emperor Lewis II by
Adalgisus of Benevento, we find the words, 'Ludhuicum comprenderunt sancto,
pio, Augusto.' (Quoted by Gregorovius, Geschichte der Stadt Rom im
Mittelalter, iii. p. 185.)]

[Footnote 9: Goldast, Constitutiones.]

[Footnote 10: Pertz, M. G. H., legg. ii.]

[Footnote 11: 'Apostolic majesty' was the proper title of the king of Hungary.
The Austrian court has recently revived it.]

[Footnote 12: Moser, Romische Kayser.]

The title, if it added little to the power, yet certainly seems to have
increased the dignity of the Empire, and by consequence the jealousy of other
states, of France especially. This did not, however, go so far as to prevent
its recognition by the Pope and the French king ^1, and after the sixteenth
century it would have been a breach of diplomatic courtesy to omit it. Nor
have imitators been wanting: witness such titles as 'Most Christian king,'
'Catholic king,' 'Defender of the Faith ^2.'

[Footnote 1: Urban IV used the title in 1259; Francis I (of France) calls the
Empire 'sacrosanctum.']

[Footnote 2: One may compare 'Holy Russia.' It is almost superfluous to
observe that the beginning of the title 'Holy' has nothing to do with the
beginning of the Empire itself. Essentially and substantially, the Holy Roman
Empire was, as has been shewn already, the creation of Charles the Great.
Looking at it more technically, as the monarchy, not of the whole West, like
that of Charles, but of Germany and Italy, with a claim, which was never more
than a claim, to universal sovereignty, its beginning is fixed by most of the
German writers, whose practice has been followed in the text, at the
coronation of Otto the Great. But the title was at least one, and probably
two centuries later.]

An interesting illustration of the power of the imperial idea in a
country where one would have least looked for it, a country almost wholly cut
off, during the earlier middle age, from the ecclesiastical as well as the
political influences of the European continent, has been supplied me by the
kindness of Sir Henry Maine. In Ireland, before the English Conquest, the
custom was for a chieftain or magnate, who seem to have usually had a
superfluity of cattle, to give them out among his dependants to be pastured;
and thus the expression 'to receive stock' from any one comes to denote the
owning of a subordinate or vassal position, similar to that of the feudal
tenant who receives land as a beneficium from his lord. Now the Brehon law,
after shewing how the inferior princes of the island may receive stock from
the King of Erin - the suzerain of the whole island, who however, even when he
existed, had little more than a titular authority - goes on to say, 'When the
King of Erin is without opposition (i. e. when he holds Dublin, Waterford, and
Limerick, which were usually in the hands of Norsemen or Danes), he receives
stock from the King of the Romans,' i. e. the Emperor. And the commentary
adds that sometimes it is the successor of Patrick who gives stock to the King
of Erin, thereby setting the primate of Ireland in the position beside the
Emperor which continental theory assigned to the Pope.

preserved most of the titles and ceremonies which had existed in the time of
Constantine or Justinian. They were weak, although by no means so weak as
modern historians have been till lately wont to paint them, and the weaker
they grew the higher rose their conceit, and the more did they plume
themselves upon the uninterrupted legitimacy of their crown, and the
ceremonial splendour wherewith custom had surrounded its wearer. It gratified
their spite to pervert insultingly the titles of the Frankish princes. Basil
the Macedonian reproached Lewis II with presuming to use the name of
'Basileus,' to which Lewis retorted that he was as good an emperor as Basil
himself, but that, anyhow, Basileus was only the Greek for rex, and need not
mean 'Emperor' at all. Nicephorus would not call Otto I anything but 'King of
the Lombards ^1,' Conrad III was addressed by Calo-Johannes as 'amice imperii
mei Rex ^2;' Isaac Angelus had the impudence to style Frederick I 'chief
prince of Alemannia ^3.' The great Emperor, half resentful, half-contemptuous,
told the envoys that he was 'Romanorum imperator,' and bade their master call
him self 'Romaniorum' from his Thracian province. Though these ebullitions
were the most conclusive proof of their weakness, the Byzantine rulers
sometimes planned the recovery of their former capital, and seemed not
unlikely to succeed under the leadership of the conquering Manuel Comnenus.
He invited Alexander III, then in the heat of his strife with Frederick, to
return to the embrace of his rightful sovereign, but the prudent pontiff and
his synod courteously declined ^4. The Byzantines were, however, too unstable
and too much alienated from Latin feeling to have held Rome, could they even
have seduced her allegiance. A few years later they were themselves the
victims of the French and Venetian crusaders.

[Footnote 1: Liutprand, Legatio Constantinopolitana. Nicephorus says, 'Vis
maius scandalum quam quod se imperatorem vocat.']

[Footnote 2: Otto of Freysing, i. c. 30.]

[Footnote 3: 'Isaachius a Deo constitutus Imperator, sacratissimus,
excellentissimus, potentissimus, moderator Romanorum, Angelus totius orbis,
heres coronae magni Constantini, dilecto fratri imperii sui, maximo principi
Alemanniae.' A remarkable speech of Frederick's to the envoys of Isaac, who
had addressed a letter to him as 'Rex Alemaniae,' is preserved by Ansbert
(Historia de Expeditione Friderici Imperatoris): - 'Dominus Imperator divina
se illustrante gratia ulterius dissimulare non valens temerarium fastum regis
(sc. Graecorum) et usurpantem vocabulum falsi imperatoris Romanorum, haec
inter caetera exorsus est: - "Omnibus qui sanae mentis sunt constat, quia unus
est Monarchus Imperator Romanorum, sicut et unus est pater universitatis,
pontifex videlicet Romanus; ideoque cum ego Romani imperii sceptrum plusquam
per annos XXX absque omnium regum vel principum contradictione tranquille
tenuerim et in Romana urbe a summo pontifice imperiali benedictione unctus sim
et sublimatus, quia denique Monarchiam praedecessores mei imperatores
Romanorum plusquam per CCCC annos etiam gloriose transmiserint utpote a
Constantinopolitana urbe ad pristinam sedem imperii, caput orbis Romam,
acclamatione Romanorum et principum imperii, auctoritate quoque summi
pontificis et S. catholicae ecclesiae translatam, propter tardum et
infructuosum Constantinopolitani imperatoris auxilium contra tyrannos
ecclesiae, mirandum est admodum cur frater meus dominus vester
Constantinopolitanus imperator usurpet inefficax sibi idem vocabulum et
glorietur stulte alieno sibi prorsus honore, cum liquido noverit me et nomine
dici et re esse Fridericum Romanorum imperatorem semper Augustum."'

Isaac was so far moved by Frederick's indignation that in his next letter
he addressed him as 'generosissimum imperatorem Alemaniae,' and in a third
thus: -

'Isaakius in Christo fidelis divinitus coronatus, sublimis, potens,
excelsus, haeres coronae magni Constantini et Moderator Romeon Angelus
nobilissimo Imperatori antiquae Romae, regi Alemaniae et dilecto fratri
imperii sui, salutem,' &c., &c. (Ansbert, ut supra.)]

[Footnote 4: Baronius, ad ann.]

Though Otto the Great and his successors had dropped all titles save the
highest (the tedious lists of imperial dignities were happily not yet in
being), they did not therefore endeavour to unite their several kingdoms, but
continued to go through four distinct coronations at the four capitals of
their Empire ^1. These are concisely given in the verses of Godfrey of
Viterbo, a notary of Frederick's household ^2: -

'Primus Aquisgrani locus est, post haec Arelati,
Inde Modoetiae regali sede locari
Post solet Italiae summa corona dari:
Caesar Romano cum vult diademate fungi
Debet apostolicis manibus reverentur inungi.'

By the crowning at Aachen, the old Frankish capital, the monarch became
'king;' formerly 'king of the Franks,' or, 'king of the Eastern Franks;' now,
since Henry II's time, 'king of the Romans, always Augustus.' At Monza (or,
more rarely, at Milan) in later times, at Pavia in earlier times, he became
king of Italy, or of the Lombards ^3; at Rome he received the double crown of
the Roman Empire, 'double,' says Godfrey, as 'urbis et orbis:' -

'Hoc quicunque tenet, summus in orbe sedet;'

though others hold that, uniting the mitre to the crown, it typifies spiritual
as well as secular authority. The crown of Burgundy ^4 or the kingdom of
Arles, first gained by Conrad II, was a much less splendid matter, and carried
with it little effective power. Most Emperors never assumed it at all,
Frederick I not till late in life, when an interval of leisure left him
nothing better to do. These four crowns ^5 furnish matter of endless
discussion to the old writers; they tell us that the Roman was golden, the
German silver, the Italian iron, the metal corresponding to the dignity of
each realm ^6. Others say that that of Aachen is iron, and the Italian
silver, and give elaborate reasons why it should be so ^7. There seems to be
no doubt that the allegory created the fact, and that all three crowns were of
gold (or gilded silver), though in that of Italy there was and is inserted a
piece of iron, a nail, it was believed, of the true Cross.

[Footnote 1: See Appendix, Note C.]

[Footnote 2: Godefr. Viterb., Pantheon, in Mur., S.R.I., tom. vii.]

[Footnote 3: Donniges, Deutsches Staatsrecht, thinks that the crown of Italy,
neglected by the Ottos, and taken by Henry II, was a recognition of the
separate nationality of Italy. But Otto I seems to have been crowned king of
Italy, and Muratori (Ant. It. Dissert. iii.) believes that Otto II and Otto
III were likewise.]

[Footnote 4: See Appendix, Note A.]

[Footnote 5: Some add a fifth crown, of Germany (making that of Aachen
Frankish), which they say belonged to Regensburg. - Marquardus Freherus.]

[Footnote 6: 'Dy erste ist tho Aken: dar kronet men mit der Yseren Krone, so
is he Konig over alle Dudesche Ryke. Dy andere tho Meylan, de is Sulvern, so
is he Here der Walen. Dy drudde is tho Rome; dy is guldin, so is he Keyser
over alle dy Werlt.' - Gloss to the Sachsenspiegel, quoted by Pfeffinger.
Similarly Peter de Andlo.]

[Footnote 7: Cf. Gewoldus, De Septemviratu imperii Romani. One would expect
some ingenious allegorizer to have discovered that the crown of Burgundy must
be, and therefore is, of copper or bronze, making the series complete, like
the four ages of men in Hesiod. But I have not been able to find any such.]