Electorate of Cologne

Last updated
Electorate of Cologne

Erzstift und Kurfürstentum Köln
or Kurerzstift Köln
or Kurköln
Locator Electorate of Cologne with Duchy of Westphalia (1560).svg
Map of the Lower Rhine around 1560 with the Electorate of Cologne highlighted in red, including the Duchy of Westphalia
Status State of the Holy Roman Empire
Imperial elector
Capital Cologne (953–1288)
Bonn (1597–1794)
Elector of Cologne  
Archduke Anton Victor of Austria
Historical era Middle Ages
 Bishopric established
Ancient Roman times
 Elevated to archbishopric
  Bruno I archbishop
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blason Lorraine.svg Duchy of Lorraine
Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt Flag of Hesse.svg
Duchy of Nassau Flagge Herzogtum Nassau (1806-1866).svg
Wied-Runkel Wied-Runkel.PNG
Rhin-et-Moselle Flag of France.svg
Roer (department) Flag of France.svg
Cologne Cathedral Cologne Cathedral.jpg
Cologne Cathedral
The Electorate of Cologne (red) and neighboring states in the mid-18th century Cologne, Julich, Berg 1756.jpg
The Electorate of Cologne (red) and neighboring states in the mid-18th century

The Electorate of Cologne (German : Kurfürstentum Köln), sometimes referred to as Electoral Cologne (German: Kurköln), was an ecclesiastical principality of the Holy Roman Empire that existed from the 10th to the early 19th century. It consisted of the Hochstift — the temporal possessions — of the Archbishop of Cologne and ruled by him in his capacity as prince-elector. There were only two other ecclesiastical prince-electors in the Empire: the Electorate of Mainz and the Electorate of Trier. The Archbishop-Elector of Cologne was also Arch-chancellor of Italy (one of the three component titular kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire, the other two being Germany and Burgundy) and, as such, ranked second among all ecclesiastical and secular princes of the Empire, after the Archbishop-Elector of Mainz, and before that of Trier.


The capital of the electorate was Cologne. Conflicts with the citizens of Cologne caused the Elector to move to Bonn. The Free Imperial City of Cologne was recognized after 1475, thus removing it from even the nominal secular authority of the Elector. Cologne and Bonn were occupied by France in 1794. The right bank territories of the Electorate were secularized in 1803 during the German mediatization.

The Electorate should not be confused with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cologne, which was larger and included suffragant bishoprics such as Liège and Münster over which the Elector-Archbishop exercised only spiritual authority (see map below).


Cologne was the ancient Roman city of Colonia Agrippina in the province of Germania Inferior, and has been a bishop's see since Roman times. In 953, the archbishops of Cologne first gained noteworthy secular power, when Bishop Bruno was appointed as duke by his brother Emperor Otto I. To weaken the secular nobility, who threatened his power, Otto endowed Bruno and his successors in the bishop's see with the prerogatives of secular princes. This was the beginning of the electoral state of Cologne. It was formed from the temporal possessions of the archbishopric and included in the end a strip of territory along the left Bank of the Rhine east of Jülich, and the Duchy of Westphalia on the other side of the Rhine, beyond Berg and Mark.

By the end of the 12th century, the Archbishop of Cologne was one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman Emperor. Besides being prince-elector, he was Arch-chancellor of Italy as well, technically from 1238 and permanently from 1263 until 1803. In the Battle of Worringen (1288), the archbishop was captured by soldiers of the city and was forced to grant the city near-complete autonomy. Eventually, the archbishop moved to Bonn to escape jurisdiction conflicts with the city government. In 1475, Cologne became a Free Imperial City, independent from the archbishop. [1] The first pogrom against the Jews was in 1349, when they were used as scapegoats for the Black Death, and therefore burnt in an auto-da-fé . [2] Political tensions arose from issues of taxation, public spending, regulation of business, and market supervision, as well as the limits of corporate autonomy. [3]

Long-distance trade in the Baltic grew, as the major trading towns came together in the Hanseatic League, under the leadership of Lübeck. It was a business alliance of trading cities and their guilds that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe and flourished from the 1200 to 1500 and continued with lesser importance after that. The chief cities were Cologne on the Rhine River, Hamburg and Bremen on the North Sea, and Lübeck on the Baltic. [4] The economic structures of medieval and early modern Cologne were based on the city's major harbor, its location as a transport hub and its entrepreneurial merchants who built ties with merchants in other Hanseatic cities. [5]

During the 16th century, two Archbishops of Cologne converted to Protestantism. The first, Hermann von Wied, resigned the archbishopric on converting, but Gebhard Truchsess von Waldburg, who converted to Calvinism in 1582, attempted to secularize the archbishopric. His marriage the following February, and his refusal to relinquish the territory resulted in the election of a competing archbishop and prince-elector, Ernst of Bavaria, brother of the Wittelsbach Duke of Bavaria. In the Cologne War that followed, the pope funded Italian and Spanish mercenaries and the Catholic Bavarians also sent an army to support Ernst, while the Protestant Netherlands supported von Waldburg. The war ruined most of the Electoral economy, and many villages and towns were besieged and destroyed. The Siege of Godesberg in NovemberDecember 1583 ended with the destruction of Godesberg Castle and the slaughter of most of its inhabitants. After several more sieges, von Waldburg gave up his claim to the see and retired to Strasbourg with his wife. Ernst became archbishop–the first major success of the Counter-Reformation in Germany. Under Ernst's direction, Jesuits supervised the reintroduction of Catholicism in the Electorate. From 1583 to 1761, the archbishopric was effectively a secundogeniture of the Bavarian branch of the House of Wittelsbach. As the archbishop in this period usually also held the Bishopric of Münster (and often the Bishopric of Liège), he was one of the most important princes of northwestern Germany.

From 1597 until 1794, Bonn was the residence the Elector, and consequently the capital of the Electorate.

After 1795, the electorate's territories on the left bank of the Rhine were occupied by France and were formally annexed in 1801. Cologne was part of the département of Roer; Bonn was part of the département of Rhin-et-Moselle. The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss of 1803 secularized the rest of the archbishopric, giving the Duchy of Westphalia to the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt and Vest Recklinghausen to the Duke of Arenberg. Cologne was, however, reestablished as the seat of a Catholic archbishop in 1824, and is an archdiocese to the present day.

List of electors


  1. Harry de Quetteville. "History of Cologne". The Catholic Encyclopedia, Nov 28, 2009.
  2. Liber Chronicarum Mundi
  3. David Nicholas, The Growth of the Medieval City: From Late Antiquity to the Early Fourteenth Century (1997) pp 69-72, 133-42, 202-20, 244-45, 300-307
  4. James Westfall Thompson,Economic and Social History of Europe in the Later Middle Ages (1300-1530) (1931) pp. 146-79
  5. Joseph P. Huffman, Family, Commerce, and Religion in London and Cologne (1998) covers from 1000 to 1300.

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Electorate of Cologne at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 51°0′N6°50′E / 51.000°N 6.833°E / 51.000; 6.833

Related Research Articles

Prince-elector members of the electoral college of the Holy Roman Empire

The Prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire, or Electors for short, were the members of the electoral college that elected the Holy Roman Emperor.

Electoral Palatinate Historical territory of the Holy Roman Empire

The County Palatine of the Rhine, later the Electorate of the Palatinate or simply Electoral Palatinate, was a territory in the Holy Roman Empire administered by the Count Palatine of the Rhine. Its rulers served as prince-electors (Kurfürsten) from time immemorial, were noted as such in a papal letter of 1261, and were confirmed as electors by the Golden Bull of 1356.

Prince-bishop bishop who is a territorial Prince of the Church

A prince-bishop is a bishop who is also the civil ruler of some secular principality and sovereignty. Thus the principality or prince-bishopric ruled politically by a prince-bishop could wholly or largely overlap with his diocesan jurisdiction, since some parts of his diocese, even the city of his residence, could be exempt from his civil rule, obtaining the status of free imperial city. If the episcopal see is an archbishop, the correct term is prince-archbishop; the equivalent in the regular (monastic) clergy is prince-abbot. A prince-bishop is usually considered an elected monarch.

Electorate of Mainz archdiocese

The Electorate of Mainz, previously known in English as Mentz and by its French name Mayence, was one of the most prestigious and influential states of the Holy Roman Empire. In the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the Archbishop-Elector of Mainz was the Primate of Germany, a purely honorary dignity that was unsuccessfully claimed from time to time by other archbishops. There were only two other ecclesiastical Prince-electors in the Empire: the Electorate of Cologne and the Electorate of Trier.

Archbishopric of Magdeburg

The Archbishopric of Magdeburg was a Roman Catholic archdiocese (969–1552) and Prince-Archbishopric (1180–1680) of the Holy Roman Empire centered on the city of Magdeburg on the Elbe River.

Imperial Estate

An Imperial State or Imperial Estate was a part of the Holy Roman Empire with representation and the right to vote in the Imperial Diet. Rulers of these Estates were able to exercise significant rights and privileges and were "immediate", meaning that the only authority above them was the Holy Roman Emperor. They were thus able to rule their territories with a considerable degree of autonomy.

Principality of Regensburg former country

The Principality of Regensburg was a principality of the Holy Roman Empire created in 1803; following the dissolution of the Empire in 1806, it was part of the Confederation of the Rhine until 1810. Its capital was Regensburg.

German mediatisation 19th-century event

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.

Gebhard Truchsess von Waldburg Elector-Archbishop of Cologne

Gebhard Truchsess von Waldburg was Archbishop-Elector of Cologne. After pursuing an ecclesiastical career, he won a close election in the Cathedral chapter of Cologne over Ernst of Bavaria. After his election, he fell in love with and later married Agnes von Mansfeld-Eisleben, a Protestant Canoness at the Abbey of Gerresheim. His conversion to Calvinism and announcement of religious parity in the Electorate triggered the Cologne War.

Primas Germaniae

Primas Germaniae is a historical title of honor for the most important Roman Catholic bishop (Primate) in the German lands. Throughout the history of the Holy Roman Empire, it was claimed by the Archbishops of Mainz, Trier, Magdeburg and Salzburg alike. Actual prerogatives, however, were exercised by bishops holding the rank of an Apostolic legatus natus. While Mainz, Trier and Magdeburg lost the Primate dignity upon the 1648 Peace of Westphalia and the Napoleonic Secularisation in 1802, the Salzburg archbishops bear the title up to today.

Prince-Bishopric of Münster

The Prince-Bishopric of Münster was a large ecclesiastical principality in the Holy Roman Empire, located in the northern part of today's North Rhine-Westphalia and western Lower Saxony. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, it was often held in personal union with one or more of the nearby ecclesiastical principalities of Cologne, Paderborn, Osnabrück, Hildesheim, and Liège.

Vest Recklinghausen

Vest Recklinghausen was an ecclesiastical territory in the Holy Roman Empire, located in the center of today's North Rhine-Westphalia. The rivers Emscher and Lippe formed the border with the County of Mark and Essen Abbey in the south, and to the Bishopric of Münster in the north. In the east, a fortification secured the border with Dortmund and in the west it was bordered by the Duchy of Cleves.

Electorate of Trier

The Electorate of Trier, traditionally known in English by its French name of Trèves, was an ecclesiastical principality of the Holy Roman Empire that existed from the end of the 9th to the early 19th century. It consisted of the temporal possessions of the prince-archbishop of Trier, also prince-elector of the empire. There were only two other ecclesiastical prince-electors in the Empire: the Electorate of Cologne and the Electorate of Mainz, among which Mainz ranked first.

Elector of Mainz Wikimedia list article

The Elector of Mainz was one of the seven Prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire. As both the Archbishop of Mainz and the ruling prince of the territory, the Elector of Mainz held a powerful position during the Middle Ages. The Archbishop-Elector was president of the electoral college, arch-chancellor of the empire and primate of Germany until the dissolution of the empire in 1806.

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cologne archdiocese of the Catholic Church in Germany

The Archdiocese of Cologne is an archdiocese of the Catholic Church in western North Rhine-Westphalia and northern Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany.


Prince-provost is a rare title for a monastic superior with the ecclesiastical style of provost who is a Prince of the Church in the sense that he also ranks as a secular 'prince', notably a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire (Reichsfürst), holding a direct vote in the Imperial Diet assembly coequal to an actual Prince-abbot, as in each case treated below.

Cologne War Cologne War (1583–1588)

The Cologne War (1583–88) was a conflict between Protestant and Catholic factions that devastated the Electorate of Cologne, a historical ecclesiastical principality of the Holy Roman Empire, within present-day North Rhine-Westphalia, in Germany. The war occurred within the context of the Protestant Reformation in Germany and the subsequent Counter-Reformation, and concurrently with the Dutch Revolt and the French Wars of Religion.

Agnes von Mansfeld-Eisleben Countess of Mansfeld and husband of Gebhard von Waldburg

Agnes von Mansfeld-Eisleben (1551–1637) was Countess of Mansfeld and the daughter of Johann (Hans) Georg I, of Mansfeld Eisleben. She converted Gebhard, Seneschal of Waldburg, the Prince-Elector of Electorate of Cologne and archbishop of the Diocese of Cologne to the Protestant faith, leading to the Cologne War (1583–1588).

Siege of Godesberg

The Siege of Godesberg, 18 November – 17 December 1583, was the first major siege of the Cologne War (1583–1589). Seeking to wrest control of an important fortification, Bavarian and mercenary soldiers surrounded the Godesberg, and the village then of the same name, now Bad Godesberg, located at its foot. On top of the mountain sat a formidable fortress, similarly named Godesburg, built in the early 13th century during a contest over the election of two competing archbishops.