In the Holy Roman Empire, the collective term free and imperial cities (German : Freie und Reichsstädte), briefly worded free imperial city (Freie Reichsstadt, Latin : urbs imperialis libera), was used from the fifteenth century to denote a self-ruling city that had a certain amount of autonomy and was represented in the Imperial Diet. An imperial city held the status of Imperial immediacy, and as such, was subordinate only to the Holy Roman Emperor, as opposed to a territorial city or town (Landstadt) which was subordinate to a territorial prince – be it an ecclesiastical lord (prince-bishop, prince-abbot) or a secular prince (duke ( Herzog ), margrave, count ( Graf ), etc.).
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.
German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.
In developmental psychology and moral, political, and bioethical philosophy, autonomy is the capacity to make an informed, uncoerced decision. Autonomous organizations or institutions are independent or self-governing. Autonomy can also be defined from a human resources perspective, where it denotes a level of discretion granted to an employee in his or her work. In such cases, autonomy is known to generally increase job satisfaction. Autonomy is a term that is also widely used in the field of medicine — personal autonomy is greatly recognized and valued in health care.
The evolution of some German cities into self-ruling constitutional entities of the Empire was slower than that of the secular and ecclesiastical princes. In the course of the 13th and 14th centuries, some cities were promoted by the emperor to the status of Imperial Cities (Reichsstädte; Urbes imperiales), essentially for fiscal reasons. Those cities, which had been founded by the German kings and emperors in the 10th through 13th centuries and had initially been administered by royal/imperial stewards ( Vögte ), gradually gained independence as their city magistrates assumed the duties of administration and justice; some prominent examples are Colmar, Haguenau and Mulhouse in Alsace or Memmingen and Ravensburg in upper Swabia.
A Vogt in the Holy Roman Empire was a title of a reeve or advocate, an overlord exerting guardianship or military protection as well as secular justice over a certain territory. The territory or area of responsibility of a Vogt is called a Vogtei. The term also denotes a mayor of a village.
Colmar is the third-largest commune of the Alsace region in north-eastern France. It is the seat of the prefecture of the Haut-Rhin department and the arrondissement of Colmar-Ribeauvillé.
Haguenau is a commune in the Bas-Rhin department of France, of which it is a sub-prefecture.
The Free Cities (Freie Städte; Urbes liberae) were those, such as Basel, Augsburg, Cologne or Strasbourg, that were initially subjected to a prince-bishop and, likewise, progressively gained independence from that lord. In a few cases, such as in Cologne, the former ecclesiastical lord continued to claim the right to exercise some residual feudal privileges over the Free City, a claim that gave rise to constant litigation almost until the end of the Empire.
Basel is a city in northwestern Switzerland on the river Rhine. Basel is Switzerland's third-most-populous city with about 180,000 inhabitants.
Augsburg is a city in Swabia, Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and regional seat of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is the third-largest city in Bavaria with a population of 300,000 inhabitants, with 885,000 in its metropolitan area.
Cologne is the largest city of Germany's most populous federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and its 1 million+ (2016) inhabitants make it the fourth most populous city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. The largest city on the Rhine, it is also the most populous city both of the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region, which is Germany's largest and one of Europe's major metropolitan areas, and of the Rhineland. Centred on the left bank of the Rhine, Cologne is about 45 kilometres (28 mi) southeast of North Rhine-Westphalia's capital of Düsseldorf and 25 kilometres (16 mi) northwest of Bonn. It is the largest city in the Central Franconian and Ripuarian dialect areas.
Over time, the difference between Imperial Cities and Free Cities became increasingly blurred, so that they became collectively known as "Free Imperial Cities", or "Free and Imperial Cities", and by the late 15th century many cities included both "Free" and "Imperial" in their name.Like the other Imperial Estates, they could wage war, make peace, and control their own trade, and they permitted little interference from outside. In the later Middle Ages, a number of Free Cities formed City Leagues (Städtebünde), such as the Hanseatic League or the Alsatian Décapole , to promote and defend their interests.
The Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe. Growing from a few North German towns in the late 1100s, the league came to dominate Baltic maritime trade for three centuries along the coasts of Northern Europe. Hansa territories stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages, and diminished slowly after 1450.
The Décapole was an alliance formed in 1354 by ten Imperial cities of the Holy Roman Empire in the Alsace region to maintain their rights. It was disbanded in 1679.
In the course of the Middle Ages, cities gained, and sometimes — if rarely — lost, their freedom through the vicissitudes of power politics. Some favored cities gained a charter by gift. Others purchased one from a prince in need of funds. Some won it by force of armsduring the troubled 13th and 14th centuries and others lost their privileges during the same period by the same way. Some cities became free through the void created by the extinction of dominant families, like the Swabian Hohenstaufen . Some voluntarily placed themselves under the protection of a territorial ruler and therefore lost their independence.
The Hohenstaufen, also known as Staufer, were a dynasty of German kings (1138–1254) during the Middle Ages. Before ascending to the kingship, they were Dukes of Swabia from 1079. As kings of Germany, they had a claim to Italy, Burgundy and the Holy Roman Empire. Three members of the dynasty—Frederick I (1155), Henry VI (1191) and Frederick II (1220)—were crowned emperor. Besides Germany, they also ruled the Kingdom of Sicily (1194–1268) and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (1225–1268)
A few, like Protestant Donauwörth , which in 1607 was annexed to the Catholic Duchy of Bavaria, were stripped by the Emperor of their status as a Free City — for genuine or trumped-up reasons. However, this rarely happened after the Reformation, and of the sixty Free Imperial Cities that remained at the Peace of Westphalia, all but the ten Alsatian cities (which were annexed by France during the late 17th century) continued to exist until the mediatization of 1803.
There were approximately four thousand towns and cities in the Empire, although around the year 1600 over nine-tenths of them had fewer than one thousand inhabitants.During the late Middle Ages, fewer than two hundred of these places ever enjoyed the status of Free Imperial Cities, and some of those did so only for a few decades. The military tax register (Reichsmatrikel) of 1521 listed eighty-five such cities, and this figure had fallen to sixty-five by the time of the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. From the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 to 1803, their number oscillated at around fifty.
Unlike the Free Imperial Cities, the second category of towns and cities, now called "territorial cities"were subject to an ecclesiastical or lay lord, and while many of them enjoyed self-government to varying degrees, this was a precarious privilege which might be curtailed or abolished according to the will of the lord.
Reflecting the extraordinarily complex constitutional set-up of the Holy Roman Empire, a third category, composed of semi-autonomous cities that belonged to neither of those two types, is distinguished by some historians. These were cities whose size and economic strength was sufficient to sustain a substantial independence from surrounding territorial lords for a considerable time, even though no formal right to independence existed. These cities were typically located in small territories where the ruler was weak.They were nevertheless the exception among the multitude of territorial towns and cities. Cities of both latter categories normally had representation in territorial diets, but not in the Imperial Diet.
Free imperial cities were not officially admitted as own Imperial Estates to the Imperial Diet until 1489, and even then their votes were usually considered only advisory (votum consultativum) compared to the Benches of the electors and princes. The cities divided themselves into two groups, or benches, in the Imperial Diet, the Rhenish and the Swabian Bench.
The following list contains the 50 Free imperial cities that took part in the Imperial Diet of 1792. They are listed according to their voting order on the Rhenish and Swabian benches.
These same cities were among the 85 free imperial cities listed on the Reichsmatrikel of 1521 : the federal civil and military tax-schedule used for more than a century to assess the contributions of all the Imperial Estates in case of a war formally declared by the Imperial Diet. The military and monetary contribution of each city is indicated in parenthesis (for instance Cologne (30-322-600) means that Cologne had to provide 30 horsemen, 322 footmen and 600 gulden). These numbers are equivalent to one simplum. If need be, the Diet could vote a second and a third simplum, in which case each member's contribution was doubled or tripled. At the time, the Free imperial cities were considered wealthy and the monetary contribution of Nuremberg, Ulm and Cologne for instance were as high as that of the Electors (Mainz, Trier, Cologne, Palatinate, Saxony, Brandenburg) and the Dukes of Württemberg and of Lorraine.
By the time of the Peace of Westphalia, the cities constituted a formal third "college" and their full vote (votum decisivum) was confirmed, although they failed to secure parity of representation with the two other colleges. To avoid the possibility that they would have the casting vote in case of a tie between the Electors and the Princes, it was decided that these should decide first and consult the cities afterward.
Despite this somewhat unequal status of the cities in the functioning of the Imperial Diet, their full admittance to that federal institution was crucial in clarifying their hitherto uncertain status and in legitimizing their permanent existence as full-fledged Imperial Estates. Constitutionally, if in no other way, the diminutive Free Imperial City of Isny was the equal of the Margraviate of Brandenburg.
Having probably learned from experience that there was not much to gain from active, and costly, participation in the Imperial Diet's proceedings due to the lack of empathy of the princes, the cities made little use of their representation in that body. By about 1700, almost all the cities with the exception of Nuremberg, Ulm and Regensburg (where by then the Perpetual Imperial Diet was located), were represented by various Regensburg lawyers and officials who often represented several cities simultaneously.Instead, many cities found it more profitable to maintain agents at the Aulic Council in Vienna, where the risk of an adverse judgment posed a greater risk to city treasuries and independence.
The territory of most Free Imperial Cities was generally quite small but there were exceptions, such as Ulm, Nuremberg and Hamburg, which possessed substantial hinterlands or fiefs that comprised dozens of villages and thousands of subject peasants who did not enjoy the same rights as the urban population. At the opposite end, the authority of Cologne, Aachen, Worms, Goslar, Wetzlar, Augsburg and Regensburg barely extended beyond the city walls.
The constitution of Free and Imperial Cities was republican in form, but in all but the smallest cities, the city government was oligarchic in nature [ citation needed ] with a governing town council composed of an elite, hereditary patrician class[ citation needed ], the so-called town council families (Ratsverwandte). They were the most economically significant burgher families who had asserted themselves politically over time.
Below them, with a say in the government of the city (there were exceptions, such as Nuremberg, where the patriciate ruled alone), were the citizens or burghers, the smaller, privileged section of the city's permanent population whose number varied according to the rule of citizenship of each city. To the common town dweller – whether he lived in a prestigious Free Imperial City like Frankfurt, Augsburg or Nuremberg, or in a small market town such as there were hundreds throughout Germany – attaining burgher status (Bürgerrecht) could be his greatest aim in life. The burgher status was usually an inherited privilege renewed pro-forma in each generation of the family concerned but it could also be purchased. At times, the sale of burgher status could be a significant item of town income as fiscal records show. The Bürgerrecht was local and not transferable to another city.
The burghers were usually the lowest social group to have political power and privilege within the Holy Roman Empire. Below them was the disenfranchised urban population, maybe half of the total in many cities, the so-called "residents" (Beisassen) or "guests": smaller artisans, craftsmen, street venders, day laborers, servants and the poor, but also those whose residence in the city was temporary, such as wintering noblemen, foreign merchants, princely officials, and so on.
Urban conflicts in Free Imperial Cities, which sometimes amounted to class warfare, were not uncommon in the Early Modern Age, particularly in the 17th century (Lübeck, 1598–1669; Schwäbisch Hall, 1601–1604; Frankfurt, 1612–1614; Wezlar, 1612–1615; Erfurt, 1648–1664; Cologne, 1680–1685; Hamburg 1678–1693, 1702–1708).Sometimes, as in the case of Hamburg in 1708, the situation was considered sufficiently serious to warrant the dispatch of an Imperial commissionner with troops to restore order and negotiate a compromise and a new city constitution between the warring parties.
The number of Imperial Cities shrank over time until the Peace of Westphalia. There were more in areas that were very fragmented politically, such as Swabia and Franconia in the southwest, than in the North and the East where the larger and more powerful territories, such as Brandenburg and Saxony, were located, which were more prone to absorb smaller, weaker states.
In the 16th and 17th century, a number of Imperial Cities were separated from the Empire due to external territorial change.Henry II of France seized the Imperial Cities connected to the Three Bishoprics of Metz, Verdun and Toul. Similarly, Louis XIV seized many cities based on claims produced by his Chambers of Reunion. That way, Strasbourg and the ten cities of the Décapole were annexed. Also, when the Old Swiss Confederacy gained its formal independence from the Empire in 1648 (it had been de facto independent since 1499), the independence of the Imperial Cities of Basel, Bern, Lucerne, St. Gallen, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, and Zürich was formally recognized.
With the rise of Revolutionary France in Europe, this trend accelerated enormously. After 1795, the areas west of the Rhine were annexed to France by the revolutionary armies, suppressing the independence of Imperial Cities as diverse as Cologne, Aachen, Speyer and Worms. Then, the Napoleonic Wars led to the reorganization of the Empire in 1803 (see German Mediatisation), where all of the free cities but six — Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck, Frankfurt, Augsburg, and Nuremberg — lost their independence and were absorbed into neighboring territories. Finally, under pressure from Napoleon, the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved in 1806. By 1811, all of the Imperial Cities had lost their independence — Augsburg and Nuremberg had been annexed by Bavaria, Frankfurt had become the center of the Grand Duchy of Frankfurt, a Napoleonic puppet state, and the three Hanseatic cities had been directly annexed by France as part of its effort to enforce the Continental Blockade against Britain. Hamburg and Lübeck with surrounding territories formed the département of Bouches-de-l'Elbe , and Bremen the Bouches-du-Weser .
When the German Confederation was established by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen, and Frankfurt were once again made Free Cities,this time enjoying total sovereignty as all the members of the loose Confederation. Frankfurt was annexed by Prussia in consequence of the part it took in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. The three other Free Cities became constituent states of the new German Empire in 1871 and consequently were no longer fully sovereign as they lost control over defence, foreign affairs and a few other fields. They retained that status in the Weimar Republic and into the Third Reich, although under Hitler it became purely notional. Due to Hitler's distaste for Lübeck and its liberal tradition, the need was devised to compensate Prussia for territorial losses under the Greater Hamburg Act, and Lübeck was annexed to Prussia in 1937. In the Federal Republic of Germany which was established after the war, Bremen and Hamburg became constituent states, a status which they retain to the present day. Berlin, which had never been a Free City in its history, also received the status of a state after the war due to its special position in divided post-war Germany.
Regensburg was, apart from hosting the Imperial Diet, a most peculiar city: an officially Lutheran city that nevertheless was the seat of the Catholic prince-bishopric of Regensburg, its prince-bishop and cathedral chapter. The Imperial City also housed three Imperial abbeys: St. Emmeram, Niedermünster and Obermünster . They were five immediate entities fully independent of each other existing in the same small city.
The Peace of Westphalia was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October 1648 in the Westphalian cities of Osnabrück and Münster, largely ending the European wars of religion, including the Thirty Years' War. The treaties of Westphalia brought to an end a calamitous period of European history which caused the deaths of approximately eight million people. Scholars have identified Westphalia as the beginning of the modern international system, based on the concept of Westphalian sovereignty, though this interpretation has been seriously challenged.
The Archbishopric of Bremen, or Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen — not to be confused with the former Archdiocese of Bremen, and the modern Archdiocese of Hamburg, founded in 1994 — was an ecclesiastical principality (787–1566/1648) of the Holy Roman Empire, which after its definitive secularization in 1648, became the hereditary Duchy of Bremen. The prince-archbishopric, which was under the secular rule of the archbishop, consisted of about a third of the diocesan territory. The city of Bremen was de facto and de jure not part of the prince-archbishopric. Most of the prince-archbishopric lay rather in the area to the north of the city of Bremen, between the Weser and Elbe rivers. Even more confusingly, parts of the prince-archbishopric belonged in religious respect to the neighbouring diocese of Verden, making up 10% of its diocesan territory.
The Catholic League was a coalition of Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire formed 10 July 1609. While initially formed as a confederation to act politically to negotiate issues vis-à-vis the Protestant Union, modelled on the more intransigent ultra-Catholic French Catholic League (1576), it was subsequently concluded as a military alliance "for the defence of the Catholic religion and peace within the Empire".
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.
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.
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.
The German town law or German municipal concerns was a set of early town privileges based on the Magdeburg rights developed by Otto I. The Magdeburg Law became the inspiration for regional town charters not only in Germany, but also in Central and Eastern Europe who modified it during the Middle Ages. The German town law was used in the founding of many German cities, towns, and villages beginning in the 13th century.
The Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck was a city-state from 1226 to 1937, in what is now the German states of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
The Prince-Bishopric of Lübeck, or Bishopric of Lübeck, was an ecclesiastical principality of the Holy Roman Empire until 1803. Originally ruled by Roman-Catholic bishops, after 1586 it was ruled by lay administrators and bishops who were members of the Protestant Holstein-Gottorp line of the House of Oldenburg. The prince-bishops had seat and vote on the Ecclesiastical Bench of the College of Ruling Princes of the Imperial Diet.
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.
The Hanseaten is a collective term for the hierarchy group consisting of elite individuals and families of prestigious rank who constituted the ruling class of the free imperial city of Hamburg, conjointly with the equal First Families of the free imperial cities Bremen and Lübeck. The members of these First Families were the persons in possession of hereditary grand burghership of these cities, including the mayors, the senators, joint diplomats and the senior pastors. Hanseaten refers specifically to the ruling families of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen, but more broadly, this group is also referred to as patricians along with similar social groups elsewhere in continental Europe.
The Swedish Wars on Bremen were fought between the Swedish Empire and the Hanseatic town of Bremen in 1654 and 1666. Bremen claimed to be subject to the Holy Roman Emperor, maintaining Imperial immediacy, while Sweden claimed Bremen to be a mediatised part of her dominions of Bremen-Verden, themselves territories immediately beneath the emperor. Sweden was able to gain some territory, but despite forcing a formal oath of allegiance on Bremen, did not gain control of the town.
The Imperial City of Nuremberg was a free imperial city — independent city-state — within the Holy Roman Empire. After Nuremberg gained piecemeal independence from the Burgraviate of Nuremberg in the High Middle Ages and considerable territory from Bavaria in the Landshut War of Succession, it grew to become one of the largest and most important Imperial cities, the 'unofficial capital' of the Empire, particularly because Imperial Diets and courts met at Nuremberg Castle. The Diets of Nuremberg were an important part of the administrative structure of the Empire. The Golden Bull of 1356, issued by Emperor Charles IV, named Nuremberg as the city where newly elected kings of Germany must hold their first Imperial Diet, making Nuremberg one of the three highest cities of the Empire.
The Imperial Abbey of Kempten or Princely Abbey of Kempten was an ecclesiastical state of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries until it was annexed to the Electorate of Bavaria in the course of the German mediatization in 1803.
The Imperial Diet was the deliberative body of the Holy Roman Empire. It was not a legislative body in the contemporary sense; its members envisioned it more like a central forum where it was more important to negotiate than to decide.
Kaiserliche Reichspost was the name of the country-wide postal service of the Holy Roman Empire.