Holy Roman Emperor

Not to be confused with Roman emperor.
Emperor of
the Holy Roman Empire

Reichsadler (Imperial Eagle) used by the emperors
of the high medieval period

Double-headed Reichsadler used by the Habsburg emperors of the early modern period
Style His Imperial Majesty
First monarch Charlemagne
Last monarch Francis II
Formation 25 December 800
Abolition 6 August 1806
Appointer see Coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor
Pretender(s) Position abolished

The Holy Roman Emperor (historically Romanorum Imperator "Emperor of the Romans") was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. From an autocracy in Carolingian times the title evolved into an elected monarchy chosen by the Prince-electors. Until the Reformation the Emperor elect (imperator electus) was required to be crowned by the Pope before assuming the imperial title.

The title was held in conjunction with the rule of the Kingdom of Germany and the Kingdom of Italy (Imperial Northern Italy).[1][2][3] In theory, the Holy Roman Emperor was primus inter pares (first among equals) among the other Roman Catholic monarchs; in practice, a Holy Roman Emperor was only as strong as his army and alliances made him.

Various royal houses of Europe, at different times, effectively became hereditary holders of the title, in particular in later times the Habsburgs. After the Reformation many of the subject states and most of those in Germany were Protestant while the Emperor continued to be Catholic. The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved by the last Emperor (who had additionally styled himself as the Emperor of Austria since 1804) as a result of the collapse of the polity during the Napoleonic wars.


Further information: Emperor

From the time of Constantine I (4th century) the Roman emperors had, with very few exceptions, taken on a role as promoters and defenders of Christianity. The title of Emperor became defunct in Western Europe after the deposition of Romulus Augustulus in AD 476, although the rulers of the "barbarian kingdoms" continued to recognize the Eastern Emperor at least nominally well into the 6th century; both the title and connection between Emperor and Church continued in the Eastern Roman Empire until 1453, when it fell to the forces of the Ottoman Empire.

In the west, the title of Emperor (Imperator) was revived in 800, which also renewed ideas of imperial–papal cooperation. As the power of the papacy grew during the Middle Ages, popes and emperors came into conflict over church administration. The best-known and most bitter conflict was that known as the Investiture Controversy, fought during the 11th century between Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII.

After Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans (Imperator Romanorum) by Pope Leo III, his successors maintained the title until the death of Berengar I of Italy in 924. No pope appointed an emperor again until the coronation of Otto the Great in 962. Under Otto and his successors, much of the former Carolingian kingdom of Eastern Francia fell within the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire. The various German princes elected one of their peers as King of the Germans, after which he would be crowned as emperor by the Pope. After Charles V's coronation, all succeeding emperors were called elected Emperor due to the lack of papal coronation, but for all practical purposes they were simply called emperors.

The term "sacrum" (i.e. "holy") in connection with the medieval Roman Empire was first used in 1157 under Frederick I Barbarossa.[4] Charles V was the last Holy Roman Emperor to be crowned by the Pope (1530). The final Holy Roman Emperor-elect, Francis II, abdicated in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars that saw the Empire's final dissolution.

The standard designation of the Holy Roman Emperor was "August Emperor of the Romans" (Romanorum Imperator Augustus). When Charlemagne was crowned in 800, his was styled as "most serene Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor, governing the Roman Empire," thus constituting the elements of "Holy" and "Roman" in the imperial title. The word Holy had never been used as part of that title in official documents.[5]

The word Roman was a reflection of the principle of translatio imperii (or in this case restauratio imperii) that regarded the (Germanic) Holy Roman Emperors as the inheritors of the title of Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, despite the continued existence of the Eastern Roman Empire. In German-language historiography, the term Römisch-deutscher Kaiser ("Roman-German emperor") is used to distinguish the title from that of Roman Emperor on one hand, and that of German Emperor (Deutscher Kaiser) on the other. The English term "Holy Roman Emperor" is a modern shorthand for "emperor of the Holy Roman Empire" not corresponding to the historical style or title.[6]

Succession of the Holy Roman Emperors

Holy Roman Emperors of Habsburg dynasty and their families

Successions to the kingship were controlled by a variety of complicated factors. Elections meant the kingship of Germany was only partially hereditary, unlike the kingship of France, although sovereignty frequently remained in a dynasty until there were no more male successors. Some scholars suggest that the task of the elections was really to solve conflicts only when the dynastic rule was unclear, yet the process meant that the prime candidate had to make concessions, by which the voters were kept on side, which were known as Wahlkapitulationen (election capitulations).

The Electoral council was set at seven princes (three archbishops and four secular princes) by the Golden Bull of 1356. It remained so until 1648, when the settlement of the Thirty Years' War required the addition of a new elector to maintain the precarious balance between Protestant and Catholic factions in the Empire. Another elector was added in 1690, and the whole college was reshuffled in 1803, a mere three years before the dissolution of the Empire.

After 1438, the Kings remained in the house of Habsburg and Habsburg-Lorraine, with the brief exception of Charles VII, who was a Wittelsbach. Maximilian I (Emperor 1508–1519) and his successors no longer travelled to Rome to be crowned as Emperor by the Pope. Maximilian therefore named himself Elected Roman Emperor (Erwählter Römischer Kaiser) in 1508 with papal approval. This title was in use by all his uncrowned successors. Of his successors only Charles V, the immediate one, received a papal coronation.

List of emperors

This list includes all emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, whether or not they styled themselves Holy Roman Emperor. There are some gaps in the tally. For example, Henry the Fowler was King of Germany but not Emperor; Emperor Henry II was numbered as his successor as German King. The Guideschi follow the numeration for the Duchy of Spoleto.

Emperors of the Romans

Traditional historiography assumes a continuity between the Carolingian Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, while a modern convention takes the coronation of Otto I in 962 as the starting point of the Holy Roman Empire (although the term Sacrum Imperium Romanum was not in use before the 13th century).

The rulers who were crowned as Emperors in the West before 962 were as follows:

Image Name Life Coronation Ceased to be Emperor Descent from Emperor Coin
Charles I
2 April 742
28 January 814
25 December 800 28 January 814 Founder of the Holy Roman Empire
Louis I
(Louis the Pious)
20 June 840
11 September 813
5 October 816
20 June 840 son of Emperor Charles I
Lothair I 795
29 September 855
5 April 823 29 September 855 son of Emperor Louis I
Louis II 825
12 August 875
Easter 850
18 May 872
12 August 875 son of Emperor Lothair I
Charles II
(Charles the Bald)
13 June 823
6 October 877
29 December 875 6 October 877 son of Emperor Louis I
Charles III

(Charles the Fat)

13 June 839
13 January 888
12 February 881 13 January 888 grandson of Emperor Louis I

Guideschi dynasty

Image Name Life Coronation Ceased to be Emperor Descent from Emperor Coin
Guy 855
12 December 894
May 891 12 December 894 great-great grandson of Emperor Charles I
Lambert 880
15 October 898
30 April 892 15 October 898 son of Emperor Guy

Carolingian dynasty

Image Name Life Coronation Ceased to be Emperor Descent from Emperor Seal
Arnulph 850
8 December 899
22 February 896 8 December 899 nephew of Charles III
great-grandson of Emperor Louis I

Bosonid dynasty

Image Name Life Coronation Ceased to be Emperor Descent from Emperor Coins
Louis III 880
28 June 928
22 February 901 21 July 905 grandson of Emperor Louis II

Unruoching dynasty

Image Name Life Coronation Ceased to be Emperor Descent from Emperor Seal
Berengar 845
7 April 924
December 915 7 April 924 grandson of Emperor Louis I

There was no emperor in the west between 924 and 962.

Holy Roman Emperors

While earlier Germanic and Italian monarchs had been crowned as western Roman Emperors, the actual Holy Roman Empire is usually considered to have begun with the crowning of the Saxon king Otto I. It was officially an elective position, though at times it ran in families, notably the four generations of the Salian dynasty in the 11th century. From the end of the Salian dynasty through the middle 15th century, the Emperors drew from many different German dynasties, and it was rare for the throne to pass from father to son. That changed with the ascension of the Austrian House of Habsburg, as an unbroken line of Habsburgs would hold the Imperial throne until the 18th century, later a cadet branch known as the House of Habsburg-Lorraine would likewise pass it from father to son until the abolition of the Empire in 1806. Notably, the Habsburgs also dispensed with the requirement that emperors be crowned by the pope before exercising their office. Starting with Ferdinand I, all successive Emperors forwent the traditional coronation.

Ottonian (Saxon) dynasty

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be Emperor Descent from Emperor Seal
Otto I 23 November 912
7 May 973
2 February 962 7 May 973 great-great-great grandson of Emperor Louis I
Otto II 955
7 December 983
961 25 December 967 7 December 983 son of Emperor Otto I
Otto III 980
23 January 1002
June 983 21 May 996 23 January 1002 son of Emperor Otto II
Henry II
6 May 973
13 July 1024
7 June 1002 14 February 1014 13 July 1024 second cousin of Emperor Otto III and great-great-great-great-great grandson of Emperor Louis I

Salian (Frankish) dynasty

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be Emperor Descent from Emperor Seal
Conrad II
4 June 1039
1024 26 March 1027 4 June 1039 great-great-grandson of Emperor Otto I
Henry III 29 October 1017
5 October 1056
1028 25 December 1046 5 October 1056 son of Emperor Conrad II
Henry IV 11 November 1050
7 August 1106
1053 31 March 1084 December 1105 son of Emperor Henry III
Henry V
8 November 1086
23 May 1125
6 January 1099 13 April 1111 23 May 1125 son of Emperor Henry IV

Supplinburg dynasty

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be Emperor Descent from Emperor Seal
Lothair III
9 June 1075
4 December 1137
1125 4 June 1133 4 December 1137 9th generation descendant of Emperor Otto I
and also
11th generation descendant of Emperor Charles II

Staufen (or Hohenstaufen) dynasty

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be Emperor Descent from Emperor Arms
Frederick I 1122
10 June 1190
4 March 1152 18 June 1155 10 June 1190 great-grandson of Emperor Henry IV
Henry VI November 1165
28 September 1197
? April 1169 14 April 1191 28 September 1197 son of Emperor Frederick I

Welf dynasty

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be Emperor Descent from Emperor Arms
Otto IV 1175 or 1176
19 May 1218
9 June 1198 4 October 1209 1215 great-grandson of Emperor Lothair III

Staufen (or Hohenstaufen) dynasty

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be Emperor Descent from Emperor Arms
Frederick II 26 December 1194
13 December 1250
1215 re-election
22 November 1220 13 December 1250 son of Emperor Henry VI

House of Luxembourg

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be emperor Descent from emperor Arms
Henry VII 1275/1279
24 August 1313
1308 29 June 1312 24 August 1313 13th generation descendant of Emperor Louis III

House of Wittelsbach

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be emperor Descent from emperor Arms
Louis IV 1 April 1282
11 October 1347
October 1314 17 January 1328 11 October 1347 6th generation descendant of Emperor Lothair III and 7th generation descendant of Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor

House of Luxembourg

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be emperor Descent from emperor Arms
Charles IV 14 May 1316
29 November 1378
11 July 1346/
17 June 1349 re-election
5 April 1355 29 November 1378 grandson of Emperor Henry VII
Sigismund 14 February 1368
9 December 1437
10 September 1410/
21 July 1411 re-election
31 May 1433 9 December 1437 son of Emperor Charles IV

House of Habsburg

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be emperor Descent from emperor Arms
Frederick III 21 September 1415
19 August 1493
1440 19 March 1452 19 August 1493 10th generation descendant of Emperor Lothair III
Maximilian I 22 March 1459
12 January 1519
16 February 1486 12 January 1519 son of Emperor Frederick III
Charles V 24 February 1500
21 September 1558
28 June 1519 February 1530 16 January 1556 grandson of Emperor Maximilian I
Ferdinand I 10 March 1503
25 July 1564
1531 25 July 1564 grandson of Emperor Maximilian I
Maximilian II 31 July 1527
12 October 1576
November 1562 12 October 1576 son of Emperor Ferdinand I
Rudolph II
18 July 1552
20 January 1612
1575 30 June 1575 20 January 1612 son of Emperor Maximilian II
Matthias 24 February 1557
20 March 1619
1612 23 January 1612 20 March 1619 son of Emperor Maximilian II
Ferdinand II 9 July 1578
15 February 1637
1618 10 March 1619 15 February 1637 grandson of Emperor Ferdinand I
Ferdinand III 13 July 1608
2 April 1657
1636 18 November 1637 2 April 1657 son of Emperor Ferdinand II
Leopold I 9 June 1640
5 May 1705
18 July 1658 6 March 1657 5 May 1705 son of Emperor Ferdinand III
Joseph I 26 July 1678
17 April 1711
6 January 1690 1 May 1705 17 April 1711 son of Emperor Leopold I
Charles VI 1 October 1685
20 October 1740
12 October 1711 22 December 1711 20 October 1740 son of Emperor Leopold I

House of Wittelsbach

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be emperor Descent from emperor Arms
Charles VII 6 August 1697
20 January 1745
24 January 1742 12 February 1742 20 January 1745 great-great grandson of Emperor Ferdinand II, son-in-law of Emperor Joseph I and 12th generation male-line descendant of Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor

House of Habsburg-Lorraine

# Image Name Life Election Coronation Ceased to be emperor Descent from emperor Arms
Francis I 8 December 1708
18 August 1765
13 September 1745 18 August 1765 great-grandson of Emperor Ferdinand III and son-in-law of Emperor Charles VI
Joseph II 13 March 1741
20 February 1790
after 18 August 1765 19 August 1765 20 February 1790 son of Emperor Francis I and maternal grandson of Emperor Charles VI
Leopold II 5 May 1747
1 March 1792
after 20 February 1790 1 March 1792 son of Emperor Francis I and maternal grandson of Emperor Charles VI
Francis II 12 February 1768
2 March 1835
after 1 March 1792 4 March 1792 6 August 1806 son of Emperor Leopold II


The Emperor was crowned in a special ceremony, traditionally performed by the Pope in Rome. Without that coronation, no king, despite exercising all powers, could call himself Emperor. In 1508, Pope Julius II allowed Maximilian I to use the title of Emperor without coronation in Rome, though the title was qualified as Electus Romanorum Imperator ("elected Emperor of the Romans"). Maximilian's successors adopted the same titulature, usually when they became the sole ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.[13] Maximilian's first successor Charles V was the last to be crowned Emperor.

Emperor Coronation date Officiant Location
Charles I 25 December 800 Pope Leo III Rome, Italy
Louis I 5 October 816 Pope Stephen IV Reims, France
Lothair I 5 April 823 Pope Paschal I Rome, Italy
Louis II 15 June 844 Pope Leo IV Rome, Italy
Charles II 29 December 875 Pope John VIII Rome, Italy
Charles III 12 February 881 Rome, Italy
Guy III of Spoleto 21 February 891 Pope Stephen V Rome, Italy
Lambert II of Spoleto 30 April 892 Pope Formosus Ravenna, Italy
Arnulf of Carinthia 22 February 896 Rome, Italy
Louis III 15 or 22 February 901 Pope Benedict IV Rome, Italy
Berengar December 915 Pope John X Rome, Italy
Otto I 2 February, 962 Pope John XII Rome, Italy
Otto II 25 December, 967 Pope John XIII Rome, Italy
Otto III 21 May, 996 Pope Gregory V Monza, Italy
Henry II 14 February 1014 Pope Benedict VIII Rome, Italy
Conrad II 26 March 1027 Pope John XIX Rome, Italy
Henry III 25 December 1046 Pope Clement II Rome, Italy
Henry IV 31 March 1084 Antipope Clement III Rome, Italy
Henry V 13 April 1111 Pope Paschal II Rome, Italy
Lothair III 4 June 1133 Pope Innocent II Rome, Italy
Frederick I 18 June 1155 Pope Adrian IV Rome, Italy
Henry VI 14 April 1191 Pope Celestine III Rome, Italy
Otto IV 4 October 1209 Pope Innocent III Rome, Italy
Frederick II 22 November 1220 Pope Honorius III Rome, Italy
Henry VII 29 June 1312 Ghibellines cardinals Rome, Italy
Louis IV 17 January 1328 Senator Sciarra Colonna Rome, Italy
Charles IV 5 April 1355 Pope Innocent VI's cardinal Rome, Italy
Sigismund 31 May 1433 Pope Eugenius IV Rome, Italy
Frederick III 19 March 1452 Pope Nicholas V Rome, Italy
Charles V 24 February 1530 Pope Clement VII Bologna, Italy

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Holy Roman Emperors.


  1. Peter Hamish Wilson, The Holy Roman Empire, 1495–1806, MacMillan Press 1999, London, page 2
  2. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn: The Menace of the Herd or Procrustes at Large – Page: 164
  3. Robert Edwin Herzstein, Robert Edwin Herzstein: The Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages: universal state or German catastrophe?
  4. Peter Moraw, Heiliges Reich, in: Lexikon des Mittelalters, Munich & Zurich: Artemis 1977–1999, vol. 4, columns 2025–2028.
  5. Bryce, James (1968). The Holy Roman Empire. Macmillan. p. 530.
  6. I.e. the adjective "holy" is not intended as modifying "emperor"; the term "Holy Roman Emperor" begins to become current in the interbellum period (1920s to 1930s), e.g. The New International Encyclopædia vol. 10 (1927), p. 675; Carlton J. H. Hayes, A Political and Cvltvral History of Modern Europe vol. 1 (1932), p. 225. Formerly the title was also rendered "German-Roman emperor" in English.
  7. Egon Boshof: Ludwig der Fromme. Darmstadt 1996, p. 89
  8. enumerated as successor of Henry I who was German King 919–936 but not Emperor.
  9. enumerated as successor of Conrad I who was German King 911–918 but not Emperor
  10. Barraclough, Geoffrey (1984). The Origins of Modern Germany. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-30153-2.
  11. enumerated as successor of Lothair II, who was King of Lotharingia 855–869 but not Emperor
  12. enumerated as successor of Rudolph I who was German King 1273–1291.
  13. ” Wir Franz der Zweyte, von Gottes Gnaden erwählter römischer Kaiser Imperator Austriae, Fransiscus I (1804), Allerhöchste Pragmatikal-Verordnung vom 11. August 1804, The HR Emperor, p. 1
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/26/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.