The Holy Roman Empire was a highly decentralized state for most of its history, composed of hundreds of smaller states, most of which operated with some degree of independent sovereignty. Although in the earlier part of the Middle Ages, under the Salian and Hohenstaufen emperors, it was relatively centralized, as time went on the Emperor lost more and more power to the Princes. The membership of the Imperial Diet in 1792, late in the Empire's history but before the beginning of the French Revolutionary Wars, gives some insight as to the composition of the Holy Roman Empire at that time.

Structure of the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire in 1792

The year 1792 was just before the vast changes inspired by the French Revolutionary incursions into Germany. The empire was, at that time, divided into several thousand immediate (unmittelbar) territories, but only about three hundred of these had Landeshoheit (the special sort of quasi-sovereignty enjoyed by the states of the Empire), and had representation in the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire (German Reichstag). The Imperial Diet was divided into three so-called collegia—the Council of Electors, the Council of Princes, and the Council of Cities. As those who received votes had gradually changed over the centuries, many princes held more than one vote. Certain territories which had once held votes in the Diet, as for instance the County of Waldeck or the Duchy of Jülich-Kleve-Berg, no longer retained them, due to the extinction of a dynasty or other causes.

The Council of Electors

The council included the following eight members:

The Council of Princes

This is ordered based on the official order of voting in the Diet:

The Ecclesiastical Bench

These last two were groups of lesser abbots, who together had a joint vote. Unlike those who had a full vote, they were not considered fully sovereign.

The Secular Bench

The Council of Cities

The Council of Imperial Free Cities was theoretically equal to the others, but in actuality it was never allowed to cast a deciding vote and in practice its vote was only advisory. In 1792, there were 51 Free Cities, divided amongst two benches.

Rhenish Bench

Swabian Bench

Membership of single-vote colleges

The two benches of the Council of Princes each contained single-vote colleges. The membership of each of these was as follows:

The Prelates of Swabia

The Prelates of the Rhine

The Counts of the Wetterau

The Counts of Swabia

The Counts of Franconia

The Counts of Westphalia

See also

Notes

  1. ^ This was the vote exercised by the Spanish Habsburgs prior to 1714. The Duchy of Burgundy was a part of France and the Habsburgs had relinquished it definitively in 1529, but the ducal title was retained. It corresponded to the Austrian Netherlands. Cf. Gordon E. Sherman (1915), "The Permanent Neutrality Treaties", The Yale Law Journal, 24(3): 234.

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