Imperial Palace of Goslar, built 1030−1055. One of the few original, albeit heavily restored, palaces remaining.

The term Kaiserpfalz (German: [ˈkaɪzɐˌpfalts], "imperial palace") or Königspfalz (German: [ˈkøːnɪçsˌpfalts], "royal palace", from Middle High German phal[en]ze to Old High German phalanza from Middle Latin palatia [plural] to Latin palatium "palace"[1]) refers to a number of palaces and castles across the Holy Roman Empire that served as temporary seats of power for the Holy Roman Emperor in the Early and High Middle Ages.

The dukes and bishops of the empire also owned palaces, which were sometimes referred to as "pfalzen", especially since they were obliged to accommodate the emperor and his court when they were in transit, a duty referred to as Gastungspflicht (obligation to accommodate).

Origin of the name

Kaiserpfalz is a German word that is a combination of Kaiser, meaning "emperor", which is derived from "caesar"; and Pfalz, meaning "palace", and itself derived from the Latin palatium, meaning the same (see palace). Likewise Königspfalz is a combination of König, "king", and Pfalz, meaning "royal palace".

Because pfalzen were built and used by the king as a ruler of the Kingdom of Germany, the correct historical term is Königspfalz or "royal palace". The term Kaiserpfalz is a 19th-century appellation that overlooks the fact that a king of Germany did not bear the title of the Holy Roman Emperor (granted by the Pope) until after his imperial coronation which required expeditions to Italy (Italienzug), which mostly were only undertaken years after his accession to the throne and in many cases not at all.

Tradition of the “Itinerant Courts”

Artist's impression of the Königspfalz at Aachen (Palace of Aachen), built in the 790s

Like their peers in France and England, the medieval emperors of the Holy Roman Empire did not rule from a capital city, but had to maintain personal contact with their vassals on the ground. This was the so-called "itinerant kingship" or "itinerant court"; in German called Reisekönigtum ("travelling kingdom").

The Merovingians in the Frankish Empire already ruled according to the feudal principle in which a ruler does not rule over a territory with specific land boundaries with the support of administrative officials, as in a territorial state, but rather his sovereignty was based on a personal relationship of dependence between feudal lords and their vassals (Personenverbandsstaat, a "personal dependency state"). Therefore, this dependency had to be constantly maintained and renewed, including through the allocation of positions or land. This was one of the reasons why kings and emperors constantly traveled around their realm and held Hoftage (court days, i. e. meetings with the powerful of the empire) and court sessions (to settle disputes and punish offenses to prove their authority) alternately in different parts of the country. A second reason was a lack of communication options over long distances at a time when there were often hardly any solid roads. Therefore, the court had to show its presence in order to keep the realm under control. A third reason was supply bottlenecks: Due to inadequate transport routes, it was not yet possible until the 13th century to provide long-term food supply for hundreds of people who had traveled to the same place, in addition to the local population. Consequently, instead of sending food to royal courts, the courts went to the food.

In France and England, from the 13th century onwards, stationary royal residences began to develop into capitals that grew rapidly and developed corresponding infrastructure: the Palais de la Cité and the Palace of Westminster became the respective main residences. This was not possible in the Holy Roman Empire because no real hereditary monarchy emerged, but rather the tradition of elective monarchy prevailed (see: Imperial election, List of royal and imperial elections in the Holy Roman Empire) which led to kings of very different regional origins being elected. But if they wanted to control the empire and its rebellious regional rulers, they could not limit themselves to their home region and their private palaces. As a result, kings and emperors continued to travel around the empire well into modern times. It was only King Ferdinand I, the younger brother of the then Emperor Charles V, who moved his main residence to the Vienna Hofburg in the middle of the 16th century, where most of the following Habsburg emperors subsequently resided. However, Vienna never became the official capital of the empire, just of a Habsburg hereditary state (the Archduchy of Austria). The emperors continued to travel to their elections and coronations at Frankfurt and Aachen, to the Imperial Diets at diffent places and to other occasions. The Perpetual Diet of Regensburg was based in Regensburg from 1663 to 1806. Rudolf II resided in Prague, the Wittelsbach emperor Charles VII in Munich.

Purpose, locations, description

Unlike the common notion of "palace", a pfalz was not a permanent residence but a place where the emperor stayed for a certain time, at most a few months; itineraries suggest that the monarch rarely would stay for longer than a few weeks. Moreover, they were not always grand palaces in the accepted sense: some were small manor houses or fortified hunting lodges, such as Bodfeld in the Harz. But generally they were large manor houses (Gutshöfe), that offered catering and accommodation for the king and his companions, often running to hundreds of staff, as well as numerous guests and their staff and horses. For accommodation there were wooden outbuildings around the mostly stone main buildings. In Latin, such a royal manor was known as a villa regia or curtis regia. It is these expressions (and not pfalz) that are mostly mentioned in contemporary Latin documents. Unlike a pfalz, where the itinerant ruler stayed for a while and enacted his sovereign duties, a royal estate (Königshof) was just a farm with a smaller manor owned by the kingdom, which was occasionally used by the kings as a transit station.[2] However, they were mostly mentioned in documents using the same Latin expressions.

Pfalzen were often located near the remaining urban remnants of Roman times, the oldest cities in Germany, which were also mostly located on navigable rivers, which enabled quick and comfortable travel and also made supplies easier, mainly on the Rhine, Main and Danube. Old bishoprics were often located in these places, which also had the advantage that bishops were usually more loyal to the king than the dukes, who pursued their own dynastic goals. The kings even appointed the bishops, until the investiture controversy.[3] Furthermore, such houses were often located in the countryside in the middle of royal estates or near important abbeys. Pfalzen and smaller royal manors were generally built at intervals of 30 kilometres (18 miles), which at that time corresponded to a day's journey by the royal train of horses and chariots. (Individual riders managed much longer distances on dry ground.)

Model of the Royal Pfalz at Frankfurt with the Salvator church from the 9th century, in the background the main house, used from the 8th to 11th centuries.

At a minimum, a pfalz consisted of a palas with its Great Hall or Aula Regia, an imperial chapel (Pfalzkapelle) and an estate (Gutshof). It was here that kings and emperors carried out the business of state, held their imperial court sessions, where they met with the greats of the empire at court days (Hoftag) and celebrated important church festivals. The most important of them were administered by a count palatine, who executed jurisdiction in the region in the emperor's stead. The most powerful of these counts, the Count palatine of the Rhine, would eventually rise to the title of Prince-elector of the Electoral Palatinate.

The pfalzen that the rulers visited varied depending on their function. Especially important were those palaces in which the kings spent the winter (winter palaces or Winterpfalzen), where they spent several months and which therefore had to provide considerable resources and comfort, while in the summer they often only stayed for a shorter time while spending much time traveling across the country, including military campaigns, often using tent camps where there were no palaces, monasteries or cities.[4] Other important palaces were the festival palaces (Festtagspfalzen), Easter being the most important and celebrated, at Easter palaces (Osterpfalzen such as Quedlinburg). The larger palaces were often in towns that had special rights (e.g. imperial immediacy), but could also be bishop's seats or imperial abbeys.

In the Hohenstaufen era of the Roman-German kingdom, important imperial princes began to demonstrate their claims to power by building their own pfalzen. Important examples of these include Henry the Lion's Dankwarderode Castle in Brunswick and the Wartburg above Eisenach in Thuringia. Both buildings followed the basic design of Hohenstaufen pfalzen and also had the same dimensions.

End of the Pfalzen

In the middle of the 13th century, after the fall of the Hohenstaufens, the royal power temporarily lapsed during the interregnum. One weak king after another was elected, but no one was able to exercise sovereign power. Princes and bishops tried to expand their territories. They oppressed less powerful nobles, fought the urban rulers (patricians and guilds), illegally seized imperial fiefdoms, introduced customs duties, new taxes and even royal regalia. Feuds, the law of the fist and robber barons escalated. In this situation, the barely fortified pfalzen no longer offered sufficient security to the German kings. Most were abandoned, repurposed by cities or local princes, disappeared under new development or fell into disrepair.

Instead of the pfalzen, the heavily fortified imperial castles were built, which - unlike the pfalzen, which were usually located in towns, lowlands, valleys or on river banks - were often hilltop castles like Nuremberg Castle or Trifels Castle. Kings also liked to stay in free imperial cities loyal to them, which had long since surpassed the old imperial abbeys in prosperity. The ruling patricians of these cities not only entertained the kings generously, but - like the Augsburg merchant and banker Jakob Fugger - financed their wars with huge loans.[5]

List of Holy Roman Imperial palaces

Digital reconstruction of the aula regia of Ingelheim Imperial Palace (around 790)
Imperial Palace of Paderborn (from 1015), reconstructed

Examples of surviving imperial palaces may be found in the town of Goslar and at Düsseldorf-Kaiserswerth.

See also


  1. ^ Eintrag Pfalz in Duden online
  2. ^ Michael Gockel: Karolingische Königshöfe am Mittelrhein. Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 1970.
  3. ^ Jan Dhondt: Das frühe Mittelalter (The early Middle Ages), Fischer Weltgeschichte, Vol 10, publisher Fischer, Frankfurt 2000, p. 201.
  4. ^ Ferdinand Opll, Friedrich Barbarossa (Frederick Barbarossa), Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1990, ISBN 3-534-04131-3.
  5. ^ Mark Häberlein: Die Fugger. Geschichte einer Augsburger Familie (1367–1650), publisher Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2006, pp. 61–63, referring to Maximilian I who ended his life gravely in debt.
  6. ^ Die Geschichte von Kraisdorf
  7. ^ Hansmartin Schwarzmaier (1983), "Die Reginswindis-Tradition von Lauffen. Königliche Politik und adelige Herrschaft am mittleren Neckar" (PDF), Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins/N.F. (in German), vol. 131, ISSN 0044-2607, retrieved 2014-02-21[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Zeitschrift des Harz-Vereins für Geschichte und Altertumskunde
  9. ^ Ortsteil Stallbaum