Imperial immediacy (German : Reichsfreiheit or Reichsunmittelbarkeit) was a privileged constitutional and political status rooted in German feudal law under which the Imperial estates of the Holy Roman Empire such as Imperial cities, prince-bishoprics and secular principalities, and individuals such as the Imperial knights, were declared free from the authority of any local lord and placed under the direct ("immediate", in the sense of "without an intermediary") authority of the Holy Roman Emperor, and later of the institutions of the Empire such as the Diet (Reichstag), the Imperial Chamber of Justice and the Aulic Council.
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 in 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.
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 the Holy Roman Empire, the collective term free and imperial cities, briefly worded free imperial city, 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 which was subordinate to a territorial prince – be it an ecclesiastical lord or a secular prince.
The granting of immediacy began in the Early Middle Ages, and for the immediate bishops, abbots and cities, then the main beneficiaries of that status, immediacy could be exacting and often meant being subjected to the fiscal, military and hospitality demands of their overlord, the Emperor. However, with the gradual exit of the Emperor from the centre stage from the mid-13th century onwards, holders of imperial immediacy eventually found themselves vested with considerable rights and powers previously exercised by the emperor.
As confirmed by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the possession of imperial immediacy came with a particular form of territorial authority known as territorial superiority (Landeshoheit or superioritas territorialis in German and Latin documents of the time).In today's terms, it would be understood as a limited form of sovereignty.
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 challenged.
Several immediate estates held the privilege of attending meetings of the Reichstag in person, including an individual vote (votum virile):
A duke (male) or duchess (female) can either be a monarch ruling over a duchy or a member of royalty or nobility, historically of highest rank below the monarch and princes of nobility. The title comes from French duc, itself from the Latin dux, 'leader', a term used in republican Rome to refer to a military commander without an official rank, and later coming to mean the leading military commander of a province.
Margrave was originally the medieval title for the military commander assigned to maintain the defence of one of the border provinces of the Holy Roman Empire or of a kingdom. That position became hereditary in certain feudal families in the Empire, and the title came to be borne by rulers of some Imperial principalities until the abolition of the Empire in 1806. Thereafter, those domains were absorbed in larger realms or the titleholders adopted titles indicative of full sovereignty.
Landgrave was a noble title used in the Holy Roman Empire, and later on in its former territories. The German titles of Landgraf, Markgraf ("margrave"), and Pfalzgraf are in the same class of ranks as Marquess and above the rank of a Graf ("count").
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.
The Golden Bull of 1356 was a decree issued by the Imperial Diet at Nuremberg and Metz headed by the Emperor Charles IV which fixed, for a period of more than four hundred years, important aspects of the constitutional structure of the Holy Roman Empire. It was named the Golden Bull for the golden seal it carried.
Prince of the Holy Roman Empire was a title attributed to a hereditary ruler, nobleman or prelate recognised as such by the Holy Roman Emperor.
They formed the Imperial Estates, together with 99 immediate counts, 40 Imperial prelates (abbots and abbesses), and 50 Imperial Cities, each of whose "banks" only enjoyed a single collective vote (votum curiatum).
Further immediate estates not represented in the Reichstag were the Imperial Knights as well as several abbeys and minor localities, the remains of those territories which in the High Middle Ages had been under the direct authority of the Emperor and since then had mostly been given in pledge to the princes.
The Free Imperial knights were free nobles of the Holy Roman Empire, whose direct overlord was the Emperor. They were the remnants of the medieval free nobility (edelfrei) and the ministeriales. What distinguished them from other knights, who were vassals of a higher lord, was the fact that they had been granted Imperial immediacy, and as such were the equals in most respects to the other individuals or entities, such as the secular and ecclesiastical territorial rulers of the Empire and the Free Imperial cities, that also enjoyed Imperial immediacy. However, unlike all of those, the Imperial knights did not possess the status of Estates (Stände) of the Empire, and therefore were not represented, individually or collectively, in the Imperial Diet.They tended to define their responsibilities to the Empire in terms of feudalized obligations to the Emperor, including personal service and strictly voluntary financial offerings paid to the Emperor himself.
The Imperial Villages were the smallest component entities of the Holy Roman Empire. They possessed imperial immediacy, having no lord but the Emperor, but were not estates. They were unencircled and did not have representation in the Imperial Diet. In all these respects they were similar to the Imperial Knights. The inhabitants of Imperial Villages were free men.
The High Middle Ages, or High Medieval Period, was the period of European history that commenced around 1000 and lasted until around 1250. The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and were followed by the Late Middle Ages, which ended around 1500.
At the same time, there were classes of "princes" with titular immediacy to the Emperor but who exercised such privileges rarely, if at all. For example, the Bishops of Chiemsee, Gurk, and Seckau (Sacken) were practically subordinate to the prince-bishop of Salzburg, but were formally princes of the Empire.
Additional advantages might include the rights to collect taxes and tolls, to hold a market, to mint coins, to bear arms, and to conduct legal proceedings. The last of these might include the so-called Blutgericht ("blood justice") through which capital punishment could be administered. These rights varied according to the legal patents granted by the emperor.
As pointed out by Jonathan Israelin 1528 the Dutch province of Overijssel tried to arrange its submission to Emperor Charles V in his capacity as Holy Roman Emperor rather than as his being the Duke of Burgundy. If successful, that would have evoked Imperial immediacy and would have put Overijssel in a stronger negotiating position, for example given the province the ability to appeal to the Imperial Diet in any debate with Charles. For that reason, the Emperor strongly rejected and blocked Overijssel's attempt.
Disadvantages might include direct intervention by imperial commissions, as happened in several of the south-western cities after the Schmalkaldic War, and the potential restriction or outright loss of previously held legal patents. Immediate rights might be lost if the Emperor and/or the Imperial Diet could not defend them against external aggression, as occurred in the French Revolutionary wars and the Napoleonic Wars. The Treaty of Lunéville in 1801 required the emperor to renounce all claims to the portions of the Holy Roman Empire west of the Rhine. At the last meeting of the Imperial Diet (German : Reichsdeputationshauptschluss) in 1802–03, also called the German Mediatisation, most of the free imperial cities and the ecclesiastic states lost their imperial immediacy and were absorbed by several dynastic states.
The practical application of the rights of immediacy was complex; this makes the history of the Holy Roman Empire particularly difficult to understand, especially for modern historians. Even such contemporaries as Goethe and Fichte called the Empire a monstrosity. Voltaire wrote of the Empire as something neither Holy nor Roman, nor an Empire, and in comparison to the British Empire, saw its German counterpart as an abysmal failure that reached its pinnacle of success in the early Middle Ages and declined thereafter.Prussian historian Heinrich von Treitschke described it in the 19th century as having become "a chaotic mess of rotted imperial forms and unfinished territories". For nearly a century after the publication of James Bryce's monumental work The Holy Roman Empire (1864), this view prevailed among most English-speaking historians of the Early Modern period, and contributed to the development of the Sonderweg theory of the German past.
A revisionist view popular in Germany but increasingly adopted elsewhere argued that "though not powerful politically or militarily, [the Empire] was extraordinarily diverse and free by the standards of Europe at the time". Pointing out that people like Goethe meant "monster" as a compliment (i.e. 'an astonishing thing'), The Economist has called the Empire "a great place to live ... a union with which its subjects identified, whose loss distressed them greatly" and praised its cultural and religious diversity, saying that it "allowed a degree of liberty and diversity that was unimaginable in the neighbouring kingdoms" and that "ordinary folk, including women, had far more rights to property than in France or Spain".
Furthermore, the prestige of the Emperor among the German people outweighed his lack of legal and military authority. One need find no better proof of this than the fact that the constitution of Germany remained little changed for centuries, with hundreds of tiny enclaves co-existing peacefully with much larger and often greedy and militaristic neighbors. Only external factors in form of the French military aggression during the Thirty Years' War and the Revolutionary period served to alter Germany's constitution. Napoleon's overthrow of the Empire in favor of his puppet Confederation of the Rhine was a deep moral blow to many Germans. The cringing attitude of the princes and their avaricious behavior during the mediatizations embarrassed the people and, however much they despised the Empire's weakness, it was still a great and old symbol of Germany. Such symbolism was revived in 1848, when the so-called Provisional Central Power of Germany chose 6 August 1848, the 42nd anniversary of the end of the Empire, as the day the soldiers of Germany should swear oaths of loyalty to the new situation (see Military Parade of August 6th), as well as the German Empire of 1871 referred to as The Second Reich.
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.
Fürst is a German word for a ruler and is also a princely title. Fürsten were, since the Middle Ages, members of the highest nobility who ruled over states of the Holy Roman Empire and later its former territories, below the ruling Kaiser (emperor) or König (king).
Graf (male) or Gräfin (female) is a historical title of the German nobility, usually translated as "count". Considered to be intermediate among noble ranks, the title is often treated as equivalent to the British title of "earl".
In politics and law, mediatisation is the loss of immediacy, the status of persons not subject to local lords but only to a higher authority directly, such as the Holy Roman Emperor. In a feudal context, it is the introduction of an intervening level of authority between a lord and his vassal so that the former is no longer the immediate lord of the latter, but rather his lordship is mediated by another.
Bremen-Verden, formally the Duchies of Bremen and Verden, were two territories and immediate fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire, which emerged and gained imperial immediacy in 1180. By their original constitution they were prince-bishoprics of the Archdiocese of Bremen and Bishopric of Verden.
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.
The Mediatized Houses were ruling princely and comital-ranked houses which were mediatized in the Holy Roman Empire during the period of 1803–15 as part of German mediatization, and were later recognised in 1825-29 by the German ruling houses as possessing considerable rights and rank. With few exceptions, these houses were those whose heads held a seat in the Imperial Diet when mediatized during the establishment of the Confederation of the Rhine in 1806–07, by France in 1810, or by the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15. The Mediatized Houses were organised into two ranks: the princely houses, entitled to the predicate Durchlaucht, which previously possessed a vote on the Bench of Princes (Furstenbank); and the comital houses which were accorded the address of Erlaucht, which previously possessed a vote in one of the four Benches of Counts (Gräfenbank}. Whilst some form of mediatization occurred in other countries, such as France, Italy and Russia, only designated houses within the former Holy Roman Empire legally comprised the Mediatized Houses.
A Prince-abbot is a title for a cleric who is a Prince of the Church, in the sense of an ex officio temporal lord of a feudal entity, notably a State of the Holy Roman Empire. The secular territory ruled by the head of an abbey is known as Prince-abbacy or Abbey-principality. The holder, however, does not hold the ecclesiastical office of a Bishop.
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 imperial ban was a form of outlawry in the Holy Roman Empire. At different times, it could be declared by the Holy Roman Emperor, by the Imperial Diet, or by courts like the League of the Holy Court (Vehmgericht) or the Reichskammergericht.
Princely abbeys and Imperial abbeys were religious establishments within the Holy Roman Empire which enjoyed the status of imperial immediacy (Reichsunmittelbarkeit) and therefore were answerable directly to the Emperor. The possession of imperial immediacy came with a unique form of territorial authority known as Landeshoheit, which carried with it nearly all the attributes of sovereignty.
The Princely Abbey of Kempten was an ecclesiastical principality 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.
Imperial Count was a title in the Holy Roman Empire. In the medieval era, it was used exclusively to designate the holder of an imperial county, that is, a fief held directly (immediately) from the emperor, rather than from a prince who was a vassal of the emperor or of another sovereign, such as a duke or prince-elector. These imperial counts sat on one of the four "benches" of Counts, whereat each exercised a fractional vote in the Imperial Diet until 1806.