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The Coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor was a ceremony in which the ruler of Western Europe’s then-largest political entity received the Imperial Regalia at the hands of the Pope, symbolizing both the pope’s right to crown Christian sovereigns and also the emperor’s role as protector of the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy Roman Empresses were crowned as well.

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Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire

The papal coronation was required to acquire the Imperial title until 1508, when Pope Julius II recognized the right of Germanic monarchs elected by the prince-electors to use the Imperial title. Emperor Charles V became the last Holy Roman Emperor to be crowned by a pope, by Clement VII at Bologna, in 1530. Thereafter, until the abolition of the empire in 1806, no further crownings by the Pope were held. Later rulers simply proclaimed themselves Imperator Electus Romanorum or “Elected Emperor of the Romans” after their election and coronation as German king, without the ultimate formality of an imperial coronation by the Pope in Rome.

In crowning the Emperor two separate coronation rituals developed: German and Roman Ritual.

German Ritual

The German coronation ceremony first required the electors to meet at Frankfurt, under the presidency of the Elector-Archbishop of Mainz, who formally summoned the electors and who always had the right of the last vote. Once a candidate was selected, the new emperor was led to the high altar of the cathedral and seated. He was then conducted to a gallery over the entrance to the choir, where he seated himself with the electors while proclamation was made of his election. The coronation itself took place on a subsequent day.

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Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

If the coronation was performed (as it usually was before 1562) at the Palatine Chapel at Aachen, (now the Aachen Cathedral), then the Archbishop of Cologne, as diocesan, was the chief officiant, and was assisted by the two other clerical electors, the Archbishop of Mainz and the Archbishop of Trier.

Roman ritual

The Roman imperial coronation evolved over the thousand years of the empire’s existence from an originally very simple ritual (but which by its very simplicity paralleled and most clearly demonstrated its origins in its Byzantine counterpart) to one of increasing complexity. The oldest manuscript of the Roman imperial coronation ritual is found in the 9th century Gemunden Codex and while it is uncertain for whom (if anyone) the ritual described in it was intended to be used in it we come the closest to seeing the very types of forms which would have been used for Charlemagne himself.

It is unclear as to which crown was used for either the German royal coronation or the Roman imperial coronation. Lord Twining (author wrote the authoritative book History of the Crown Jewels of Europe) suggests that when the German royal coronation still took place at Aachen, the silver-gilt crown on the reliquary bust of Charlemagne was used, since the Imperial Crown or Reichskrone is made of gold. This is reinforced by medieval sources that refer to the Iron Crown of Italy, the silver crown of Germany and the gold crown of the Roman Empire.

Twining indicates that it is also unclear as to what crown was used for the imperial coronation in Rome, and indicates that the Imperial Crown might have been worn by the emperor-elect for his formal entry into the city of Rome, with another gold crown, perhaps provided by the pope, being used in the actual imperial coronation ritual itself. One of these latter crowns, specifically that used for the imperial coronation of Friedrich II, may be the Byzantine style closed crown found in the tomb of his mother, Constance of Sicily, in the Cathedral of Palermo.

Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire

The Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire was the Crown of the Holy Roman Emperor from the 11th century to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. The Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire or Reichskrone, probably made for the coronation of Otto the Great in 962 at the workshops of the imperial monastery of Reichenau, was also later mistakenly identified as the Crown of Charlemagne and as such appeared on the escutcheon of the Arch-Treasurer of the Holy Roman Empire and at the top of the coat of arms of the Habsburg emperors at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.

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Charlemagne (Charles the Great) Emperor of the West

The crown was used in the coronation of the King of the Romans, the title assumed by the Emperor-elect immediately after his election. It was made in the late 10th or early 11th century. Unlike many other crowns, it has an octagonal rather than a circular shape, and is constructed from eight hinged plates. The plate in the front of the crown is surmounted by a cross, with a single arch linking it to a plate at the rear of the crown. The crown is kept in the Imperial Treasury at the Hofburg in Vienna, Austria.

History

The crown was made probably somewhere in Western Germany, either under Otto I (with additions by Conrad II), under Conrad I, or under Conrad III during the late 10th and early 11th centuries. The first preserved mention of it is from the 12th century—assuming it is the same crown, which seems very probable.

Most of the Kings of the Romans of the Holy Roman Empire were crowned with it. Along with the Imperial Cross, the Imperial Sword, and the Holy Lance, the crown was the most important part of the Imperial Regalia. During the coronation, it was given to the new king along with the scepter and the Imperial Orb. The Imperial Regalia of the Holy Roman Empire, especially the Imperial Crown, were kept from 1349–1421 in Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), where the Carlstein Castle was built to protect them. Between 1424–1796 they were all kept in Nuremberg, Franconia—and could only leave the city for the coronation.

Currently, the crown and the rest of the Imperial Regalia are exhibited at the Hofburg in Vienna.

An identical copy is in Aachen in Germany in the Krönungssaal of Charlemagne’s former palace, now the town hall. There are also copies of the crown and regalia in the historic museum of Frankfurt, as most of the later Emperors were crowned in the cathedral of the city, as well in the fortress of Trifels in the Electorate of the Palatinate, where the Imperial Crown was stored in medieval times. The newest authorised copy is kept in the Czech castle of Karlštejn along with a copy of the Crown of Saint Wenceslas.

The Crown of Charlemagne

The Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire is often mistakenly referred to as the Crown of Charlemagne. However the Crown of Charlemagne was used to crown the Kings of the Franks and later Kings of France.

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Charlemagne’s was probably created as a simple circlet of four curved rectangular jewelled plates for Charles II the Bald, the grandson of Charlemagne, but later, four large jewelled fleur-de-lis were added to these four original plates, probably by Philippe II Augustus around 1180 and surmounted by a cap decorated with precious stones. At this time a similar but open crown, the one of the queen, existed too. One of them was melted down in 1590 by the Catholic League during the siege of Paris. The remaining crown was used up to the reign of King Louis XVI, who was crowned in 1775 in the Cathedral in Reims. The crown of Jeanne d’Évreux was then used for the coronation of the queens.