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Holy Roman Empire elector

In the Holy Roman Empire, the electors or electoral princes (the German term is Kurfürst, with the plural Kurfürsten) had the function of electing the king of Germany preparatory to his accession as the next emperor, though until the 12th century they often merely formalized what was in fact a dynastic succession.

Varying in number between six and ten from the 13th century to the Empire's end in 1806, the electors were drawn from the senior rulers of lands within the Empire. In a document known as the Golden Bull (1356) their status was regulated by Emperor Charles IV, who recognised them as quasi-independent rulers within their own domains. Each of the rulers was also given a special office, which gave them particular duties.

The Golden Bull stipulated that the dignity of elector should be held by the following:

  1. The Archbishop of Mainz, Archchancellor of the Empire for Germany
  2. The Archbishop of Trier, Archchancellor of the Empire for Gaul
  3. The Archbishop of Cologne, Archchancellor of the Empire for Italy
  4. The King of Bohemia, Archcupbearer of the Empire
  5. The Count Palatine of the Rhine (whose lands were known as the Palatinate), Archsteward of the Empire
  6. The Count Palatine and Duke of Saxony, Archmarshal of the Empire
  7. The Margrave of Brandenburg, Archchamberlain of the Empire

(The Duke of Saxony and Margrave of Brandenburg were, thereafter, normally known as the "Elector of Saxony" and the "Elector of Brandenburg". The Count Palatine of the Rhine was usually called the "Elector Palatine")

The Counts Palatine of Saxony and the Rhine also served as Imperial Vicars, meaning that they were officially in charge of the eastern and western parts of the empire, respectively, during an interregnum.

Origins of the collegiate

The exact origins of the collegiate of the electors are not clear. The suffrage of an exclusive circle of dukes (in place of all the "leading men" of the realm) was, at the latest, established the Staufer dynasty had died out in battles in Italy and, during the so-called Interregnum[?], none of the German dynasties would prove capable of filling the king's empty seat.

There had always been "first votes" in the process of electing the king. At least the archbishops of Mainz, Cologne, and Trier as well as the Count Palatine of the Rhine had traditionally had a prominent position, primarily because their realms were on the Frankish grounds of old times. Probably the other later electors -- the king of Bohemia, the duke of Saxony, and the margrave of Brandenburg -- came into the electorate because, for one, they held the ancient offices of Archcupbearer, Archmarshal, and Archchamberlain (respectively) at the king's court, but on the other hand they belonged to dynasties of earlier kings. It has been suggested that "electing" the German king was actually comparable to a decision in a difficult hereditary case.

The seven electors first appeared as such in 1257, after the death of William of Holland, but the first election did not succeed as both Richard of Cornwall[?] and Alfonso X of Castile each received three votes and the Bohemian king agreed to both. After several such disputes, the electors convened in 1338 to establish for the first time a majority vote: each elector may only vote once, and he who has the majority of the votes shall be king.

Later electors

These rulers remained the Empire's electors until 1623. In 1623, the Elector Palatine Frederick V was banned for his involvement with the revolt of Bohemia, and his electorate was given to the Duke of Bavaria (Maximilian I), who became known as the Elector of Bavaria. In the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, Frederick's son, Charles Louis[?] was restored to the Electoral dignity, but it was made clear that this was a new Electorate, with a new office:

8. Count Palatine of the Rhine, Archtreasurer of the Empire

In 1692, a new electorate was created for the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who became known as the Elector of (Hanover). He was given the office of Archbannerbearer

9. Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Archbannerbearer of the Empire

In 1708, the Elector of Bavaria came under the imperial ban for his support of the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. The Elector Palatine now reclaimed his old office of Archsteward, and the Elector of Hanover became Archtreasurer. In the Treaty of Rastatt[?], the Elector of Bavaria was restored, but the Elector Palatine continued to use the title of Archsteward. Until 1777, when the Elector Palatine inherited Bavaria, the two rulers continued to quarrel over the possession of this office.

During the Napoleonic wars, the Congress of Rastatt reorganized the Empire, secularizing most of the ecclesiastical states and free cities. In its final recess of 1803, it was also decided to reorganize the Diet of Electors. The Archbishops of Trier and Cologne were eliminated, and Karl Theodor von Dalberg[?], the Archbishop of Mainz, was moved to Regensburg and given the title of Prince-Primate of the Empire. Four new electors were also created -

  • The Duke of Württemberg
  • The Margrave of Baden
  • The Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel
  • The Duke of Salzburg (This was the former Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand IV[?], the younger brother of Emperor Franz II, who had been expelled from his Grand Duchy to make way for a Spanish prince to be declared King of Etruria. In the Treaty of Pressburg of December 1805, Salzburg was annexed to Austria, and Ferdinand moved to the Principality of Würzburg, but he retained the title of Elector.)

These new electors never actually participated in an election, as the Holy Roman Empire was abolished in the summer of 1806. Most of the electors took new titles - the Electors of Bavaria, Württemberg, and Saxony made themselves Kings, while that of Baden elevated himself to a Grand Duke. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Hanover was also elevated to a Kingdom. The Elector of Hesse-Kassel, however, who had been dethroned by Napoleon, stubbornly retained his now meaningless title of Electors until 1866, when he was dethroned again, by Bismarck.



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