Dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire

Last updated
Printed version of the abdication of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor Niederlegung Reichskrone Seite 1.jpg
Printed version of the abdication of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor

The dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire occurred de facto on 6 August 1806, when Emperor Francis II abdicated his title and released all imperial states and officials from their oaths and obligations to the empire. Although the abdication was considered legal, the dissolution of the imperial bonds was not and several states refused to recognise the end of the empire at the time. [1]

Holy Roman Empire varying complex of lands that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe

The Holy Roman Empire was a multi-ethnic complex of territories in Western and Central Europe that developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars. The largest territory of the empire after 962 was the Kingdom of Germany, though it also came to include the neighboring Kingdom of Bohemia, the Kingdom of Burgundy, the Kingdom of Italy, and numerous other territories.

In law and government, de facto describes practices that exist in reality, even if not officially recognized by laws. It is commonly used to refer to what happens in practice, in contrast with de jure, which refers to things that happen according to law. Unofficial customs that are widely accepted are sometimes called de facto standards.


With his victory over Austria at the Battle of Austerlitz on 2 December 1805, the French Emperor Napoleon I "transformed himself from the guarantor of the Reich to the arbiter of its fate." The subsequent Peace of Pressburg (26 December) created deliberate ambiguities in the imperial constitution. Bavaria, Baden and Württemberg were to have plénitude de la souveraineté (full sovereignty) while remaining a part of the Conféderation Germanique (Germanic Confederation), a novel name for the Empire. [2] Likewise, it was left deliberately unclear whether the Duchy of Cleves, the Duchy of Berg and the County of Mark—imperial territories transferred to Joachim Murat—were to remain imperial fiefs or become part of the French Empire. As late as March 1806, Napoleon was uncertain. [3]

Battle of Austerlitz A battle of the Napoleonic Wars

The Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, was one of the most important and decisive engagements of the Napoleonic Wars. In what is widely regarded as the greatest victory achieved by Napoleon, the Grande Armée of France defeated a larger Russian and Austrian army led by Emperor Alexander I and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. The battle occurred near the town of Austerlitz in the Austrian Empire. Austerlitz brought the War of the Third Coalition to a rapid end, with the Treaty of Pressburg signed by the Austrians later in the month. The battle is often cited as a tactical masterpiece, in the same league as other historic engagements like Cannae or Gaugamela.

Peace of Pressburg (1805) peace treaty

The fourth Peace of Pressburg was signed on 27 December 1805 between Napoleon and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II as a consequence of the French victories over the Austrians at Ulm and Austerlitz. A truce was agreed on 4 December, and negotiations for the treaty began. The treaty was signed in Pressburg, Hungary, by Johann I Josef, Prince of Liechtenstein, and the Hungarian Count Ignác Gyulay for the Austrian Empire and Charles Maurice de Talleyrand for France.

Electorate of Bavaria

The Electorate of Bavaria was an independent hereditary electorate of the Holy Roman Empire from 1623 to 1806, when it was succeeded by the Kingdom of Bavaria.

The Free Imperial Knights, who had survived the attack on their rights in Rittersturm of 1803–04, were subject to a second attack and a spate of annexations by those states allied to Napoleon in November–December 1805. In response, the knights' corporation (corpus equestre) dissolved itself on 20 January 1806. With the dissolution of the Empire, the knights ceased to be either free or imperial and were at the mercy of the newly sovereign states. [3] [4]

The so-called Rittersturm was the seizure of the hitherto imperially immediate territories of the Imperial Knights within the Holy Roman Empire by the major powers in 1802–03.


  1. Gagliardo 1980, p. 281.
  2. Whaley 2012, pp. 634–35.
  3. 1 2 Whaley 2012, p. 637.
  4. Godsey 2004, p. 145.


Related Research Articles

Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor also known as Francis I, Emperor of Austria

Francis II was the last Holy Roman Emperor, ruling from 1792 until 6 August 1806, when he dissolved the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation after the decisive defeat at the hands of the First French Empire led by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz. In 1804, he had founded the Austrian Empire and became Francis I, the first Emperor of Austria, ruling from 1804 to 1835, so later he was named the one and only Doppelkaiser in history. For the two years between 1804 and 1806, Francis used the title and style by the Grace of God elected Roman Emperor, ever Augustus, hereditary Emperor of Austria and he was called the Emperor of both the Holy Roman Empire and Austria. He was also Apostolic King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia as Francis I. He also served as the first president of the German Confederation following its establishment in 1815.

Confederation of the Rhine confederation of client states of the First French Empire

The Confederation of the Rhine was a confederation of client states of the First French Empire. It was formed initially from 16 German states by Napoleon after he defeated Austria and Russia at the Battle of Austerlitz. The Treaty of Pressburg, in effect, led to the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, which lasted from 1806 to 1813.

German mediatisation

German mediatisation was the major territorial restructuring that took place between 1802 and 1814 in Germany and the surrounding region by means of the mass mediatisation and secularisation of a large number of Imperial Estates. Most ecclesiastical principalities, free imperial cities, secular principalities, and other minor self-ruling entities of the Holy Roman Empire lost their independent status and were absorbed into the remaining states. By the end of the mediatisation process, the number of German states had been reduced from almost 300 to just 39.

<i lang="de" title="German language text">Reichsdeputationshauptschluss</i>

The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, sometimes referred to in English as the Final Recess or the Imperial Recess of 1803, was a resolution passed by the Reichstag of the Holy Roman Empire on 24 March 1803. It was ratified by the Emperor Francis II and became law on 27 April. It proved to be the last significant law enacted by the Empire before its dissolution in 1806.

Grand Duchy of Würzburg former country

The Grand Duchy of Würzburg was a German grand duchy centered on Würzburg existing in the early 19th century.

Kingdom of Germany 10th-century kingdom of Germany

The Kingdom of Germany or German Kingdom developed out of Eastern Francia, the eastern division of the former Carolingian Empire, over the 9th to 11th centuries. East Francia was formed by the Treaty of Verdun in 843, and was ruled by the Carolingian dynasty until 911, after which the kingship was elective. The initial electors were the rulers of the stem duchies, who generally chose one of their own. After 962, when Otto I was crowned emperor, East Francia formed the bulk of the Holy Roman Empire along with Italy; it later included Bohemia and Burgundy.


Kleinstaaterei is a German word used, often pejoratively, to denote the territorial fragmentation in Germany and neighboring regions during the Holy Roman Empire and during the German Confederation in the first half of the 19th century. It refers to the large number of virtually sovereign small and medium-sized secular and ecclesiastical principalities and Free Imperial cities, some of which were little larger than a single town or the grounds of the monastery of an Imperial abbey. Estimates of the total number of German states at any given time during the 18th century vary, ranging from 294 to 348 or more.

Grand Duchy of Berg grand duchy

The Grand Duchy of Berg was a territorial grand duchy established by Napoleon Bonaparte after his victory at the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz on territories between the French Empire at the Rhine river and the German Kingdom of Westphalia.

Treaty of Leoben

The Treaty of Leoben was a general armistice and preliminary peace agreement between the Holy Roman Empire and the First French Republic that ended the War of the First Coalition. It was signed at Eggenwaldsches Gartenhaus, near Leoben, on 18 April 1797 by General Maximilian von Merveldt and the Marquis of Gallo on behalf of the Emperor Francis II and by General Napoléon Bonaparte on behalf of the French Directory. Ratifications were exchanged in Montebello on 24 May, and the treaty came into effect immediately.

Imperial vicar

An imperial vicar was a prince charged with administering all or part of the Holy Roman Empire on behalf of the Emperor. Later, an imperial vicar was invariably one of two princes charged by the Golden Bull with administering the Holy Roman Empire during an interregnum.

Electorate of Baden

The Electorate of Baden was a State of the Holy Roman Empire from 1803 to 1806. In 1803, Napoleon bestowed the office of Prince-elector to Charles Frederick. This only lasted until 1806, when Francis II dissolved the Empire. When the Holy Roman Empire dissolved, Baden achieved sovereignty, and Charles Frederick became Grand Duke.

Electorate of Württemberg

The Electorate of Württemberg was a short-lived State of the Holy Roman Empire on the right bank of the Rhine river. In 1803, Napoleon raised the Duchy of Württemberg to the Electorate of Württemberg, the highest form of a princedom in the Holy Roman Empire. However, soon afterward, on 1 January 1806 the last Elector assumed the title of King of Württemberg. Later, the last Emperor, Francis II, abolished the Empire in 6 August 1806.

Army of the Holy Roman Empire army, created in 1422, that would be mustered from the constituents of the Holy Roman Empire, during an imperial military campaign (Reichsheerfahrt) during an Imperial War (Reichskrieg) or an Imperial Execution (Reichsexekution)

The Army of the Holy Roman Empire was created in 1422 and came to an end when the Holy Roman Empire dissolved in 1806 as the result of the Napoleonic Wars. It must not be confused with the Imperial Army of the Emperor.

The itio in partes was a procedure of the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire between 1648 and 1806. In this procedure, the members of the diet divided into two bodies (corpora), the Corpus Evangelicorum and the Corpus Catholicorum, irrespective of the college to which they otherwise belonged. That is, the Protestant (Evangelical) members of the College of Electors, the College of Princes and the College of Cities gathered together separately from the Catholic members of the same. The two bodies then negotiated with each other, but debated and voted among themselves. A decision was reached only when both bodies agreed. The itio in partes could be invoked whenever there was a unanimous vote of one body. At first, it could only be invoked in matters affecting religion, but gradually this requirement was dropped.

A Reichskrieg was a war fought by the Holy Roman Empire as a whole against an opponent. After the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, a Reichskrieg was a formal state of war that could only be declared by the Imperial Diet.


In German history, a Reichsexekution was an imperial or federal intervention against a member state, using military force if necessary. The instrument of the Reichsexekution was constitutionally available to the central governments of the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806), the German Empire of 1848–49, the German Empire of 1871–1918, the Weimar Republic (1918–33) and Nazi Germany (1933–45). Under the German Confederation (1815–66) and the North German Confederation (1867–71), the same right belonged to the confederal government and is called Bundesexekution.

Treaty of Schönbrunn (1805)

The Convention of Schönbrunn was signed between France and Prussia at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna on 15 December 1805. The terms were negotiated by Géraud Duroc, who signed for France, and Christian Graf von Haugwitz, who signed for Prussia. The convention was superseded by the Treaty of Paris of 15 February 1806, which incorporated its main terms.

In the Holy Roman Empire, Landeshoheit or superioritas territorialis was the authority possessed by the immediate lords within their own territories. It was possessed by all imperial estates and imperial knights. It has often been conflated with sovereignty, but while it "carried with it nearly all the ingredients or attributes of true sovereignty, [it] was legally distinct from it, and was everywhere in Germany admitted to be so."