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One of the foundational principles of the Holy Roman Empire is that the Emperor was the preeminent Monarch throughout Europe and that the Empire itself was a genuine extension of the ancient Roman Empire as proclaimed by the Roman Catholic popes.

Not only did the Holy Roman Emperors hold to the contention that they were the preeminent Monarch throughout Europe, they firmly asserted that they were the only Emperor’s entitled to hold the title of Emperor within Europe.

The problem with this view was the fact that throughout the history of the Empire other Emperors began to rise within Europe. Eventually they were formally recognized as Emperors by the Holy Roman Empire. The first was in 1606 when Sultan Ahmed I was recognized as Emperor in the Peace of Zsitvatörök which concluded a long war with Austria.

When Czar Peter I the Great of Russia was created Emperor of Russia in 1721 the Holy Roman Empire was one of the first European states to formally recognize the imperial title. These recognitions were conditional on the fact that the Holy Roman Emperor was always pre-eminent.

The ideal that the Emperor held pre-eminence was an expression of the theory that the Holy Roman Empire, was the universal Christian State within all of Europe. However, this principle was only theoretical because the Holy Roman Empire did not have rule over the entirety of Europe at any time within its history.

Emperor Charlemagne

Furthermore, it was held that Imperial authority was not simply vested in the fact that the Emperor ruled their own Crown lands, even though by the 18th and 19th century the Habsburgs did own a large amount of crown lands, the Imperial authority of the emperor was seen as the highest secular ruler of the world and the paramount Christian champion of the Catholic Church.

Through the evolution of European history many states such as England and France for example, developed centralized government thus creating a stabilized Nation. This centralization did not occur during the lifetime of the Holy Roman Empire. However, this lack of centralization and a dependence upon the emperor’s Crown lands did attempt to establish the idea at the Imperial title was universal because it was not associated with one specific area.

By evoking its preeminence the Holy Roman emperors were seen as the most powerful entities on the European continent, and in foreign affairs, internationally the Holy Roman emperors were recognized as heirs of the old Roman Empire and the foremost Christian rulers which they believed granted them preeminence over other European rulers and monarchs.

Maximilian I (1459 – 1519) was King of the Romans from 1486 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1508 until his death. He was never crowned by the pope, as the journey to Rome was blocked by the Venetians. He proclaimed himself Elected Emperor in 1508 (Pope Julius II later recognized this) at Trent, thus breaking the long tradition of requiring a Papal coronation for the adoption of the Imperial title.

Maximilian I’s grandson and successor, Emperor Charles V defended Vienna from the Ottoman Empire and obtained a coronation as King of Italy and Holy Roman Emperor from Pope Clement VII. This coronation by the pope was the last coronation sanctioned by the Holy See. Ever since that time emperors had been formally titled as “Elected Roman Emperor” without the need for a papal coronation.

The appearance of the universalist character of the empire was sustained through the emperor’s feudal authority extending beyond just the institutions that had been developed within the formal imperial borders.

Imperial territories held by rulers of other realms remained imperial vassals. For instance, the kings of both Sweden and Denmark accepted vassalage in regards to their German lands until 1806, when these lands were formally incorporated into their kingdoms.