Historical evolution of the Holy Roman Empire

This list of states in the Holy Roman Empire includes any territory ruled by an authority that had been granted imperial immediacy, as well as many other feudal entities such as lordships, sous-fiefs, and allodial fiefs.

The Holy Roman Empire was a complex political entity that existed in central Europe for most of the medieval and early modern periods and was generally ruled by a German-speaking Emperor. The states that composed the Empire, while enjoying a unique form of territorial authority (called Landeshoheit) that granted them many attributes of sovereignty, were never fully sovereign states in the sense that term is understood today.[1] In the 18th century, the Holy Roman Empire consisted of approximately 1,800 such territories, the majority being tiny estates owned by the families of Imperial Knights.[2] This page does not directly contain the list but discusses the format of the various lists and offers some background to understand the complex organisation of the Holy Roman Empire. The lists themselves can be accessed via the alphabetical navigation box below; each letter will lead the reader to a page on which states of the Empire that began with that letter are listed. For a more complete history of the empire, see Holy Roman Empire.

Table of states

While any such list could never be definitive, the list attempts to be as comprehensive as possible. It is sorted alphabetically and split into separate articles linked below. There is also a separate list of Free Imperial Cities, as well as a list of participants in the Imperial Diet as of 1792.


Circles Benches
Aust Austrian EL Council of Electors, the exclusive elite formally electing the Holy Roman Emperor
Bav Bavarian EC Spiritual Bench of the Council of Princes (individual voice)
Burg Burgundian PR Secular Bench of the Council of Princes (individual voice)
El Rhin Electoral Rhenish Circle RP Rhenish prelates (Council of Princes)
Franc Franconian SP Swabian prelates (Council of Princes)
Low Rhen Lower Rhenish-Westphalian FC Franconian counts (Council of Princes)
Low Sax Lower Saxon SC Swabian counts (Council of Princes)
Upp Rhin Upper Rhenish WE Westphalian counts (Council of Princes)
Upp Sax Upper Saxon WT Wetterau counts (Council of Princes)
Swab Swabian RH Rhenish Bench of the Council of Imperial Cities
None "Circle-free" SW Swabian Bench of the Council of Imperial Cities

Note that in the "Circle" column, "n/a" denotes a state that had ceased to exist before the Reichsreform.

Other abbreviations used in the list are:

Abp. Archbishopric
Bp. Bishopric
Co. Countship (sometimes also called county)
D. Duchy
Ldg. Landgraviate
Mrg. Margraviate
Pr. Principality
RA Reichsabtei (Imperial abbacy, a monastery enjoying Imperial immediacy)

Definition of terms

Notes column

The "Notes" column shows, in capsule form,

Estate of the Empire (Reichsstand)

The following excerpt from François Velde's Unequal and Morganatic Marriages in German Law provides an excellent overview on what an Estate (or State) of the Empire is.[4] For his purpose, the author deals only with the hereditary territorial rulers but it should be remembered that the Estates also included a substantial number of non-hereditary territorial rulers such as the ecclesiastical states (prince-bishoprics and imperial abbeys) and free imperial cities.

The special status of these families manifested itself in the constitution of the Empire as it evolved in the 16th c. To the status of territorial ruler corresponded a seat and vote in one of the colleges of the Reichstag, the Imperial Diet. In the late 16th c., the multiplication of votes due to territorial fragmentation led to reforms. After the Diet held at Augsburg in 1582, the list of votes remained fixed, notwithstanding further territorial divisions. Furthermore, the right to vote became attached to a land, rather than to a person or family (of course, land was inheritable within families). A member of the Diet with seat and vote (individual or shared) was called a Reichsstand, or state of the Empire.

At some point (Abt 1911, 103 n2 cites various possible dates, from the turn of the 16th c. to 1653 to the 18th c.[5]), the definition of Hochadel became congruent with being a Reichsstand (adjective: reichsständisch). The reason is that the Emperor, as "fons nobilitatium," had the power to create new princes, counts and barons of the Empire, a power which he began to use more frequently. The existing princes, counts and barons were obviously loath to see the value of their title diminished. The members of the Diet complained and, after 1582, it became the rule that such new princes and counts would not of right have a seat at the Diet. Furthermore, in 1653 the Electoral Capitulation included strict rules on the process by which the Emperor could create new states of the Empire. In particular, any new member had to possess an immediate territory of sufficient size, and had to be accepted by his peers (princes or counts).

Thus a distinction emerged between

  1. families that were part of the Diet in 1582: the "old princely" and "old comital" (altfürstliche, altgräfliche) families
  2. families who were admitted to the Diet between 1582 and 1803: the "new princely" (neufürstliche) and "new comital" (neugräfliche) families
  3. families or individuals who received the title of Reichsfreiherr, Reichsgraf or Reichsfürst but were not admitted to the Diet

Only the first two groups were part of the Hochadel. Those in the third group were titular counts and princes but in no way accepted as part of the Hochadel.

Thus it would seem that having seat and vote in the Reichstag would be a clear criterion for belonging to the Hochadel. But there were further complications:

Consequently, whereas, in the 16th century, it was fairly easy to say who was in the upper nobility and who wasn't, it had become more difficult by the turn of the 19th century.

Three concepts came into play:

  1. immediacy (Reichsunmittelbarkeit),
  2. sovereignty over a territory (Landeshoheit),
  3. a seat and vote at the Imperial Diet (Reichsstandschaft).

The three were "usually" related, in that the sovereign of a territory was a state of the Empire, and a state of the Empire usually had sovereignty over an immediate territory; but there were exceptions both ways. Various authors emphasized one or a combination of these elements. Thus, Runde (1791) required all three; Pütter emphasized sovereignty; Gönner[6] and Leist[7] emphasized seat and vote at the Diet. Among 19th century authors, the main division was between those who required all three criteria, and those who considered Reichsstandschaft to be the sole criterion (Hohler, Klüber, Zoepf, Rehm).

Using the second, slightly broader concept, at the end of the 18th century the high nobility consisted of those families which had seat and vote at the Imperial Diet, with title of either prince or count (the last baronial family died out in 1775), numbering about 25 princely (fürstliche) and 80 comital (gräfliche) families.

Grouped lists

The following lists are going to be included into the table above.

Ecclesiastical orders

Livonian territories

Territories of old princely families

Italian territories

Territories of new princely families

See also


  1. ^ Gagliardo, G., Reich and Nation, The Holy Roman Empire as Idea and Reality, 1763–1806, Indiana University Press, 1980, p. 4-5.
  2. ^ Gagliardo, p. 12-13.
  3. ^ Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, 1989
  4. ^ François Velde: Unequal and Morganatic Marriages in German Law. 2004–2007. Retrieved 2012 October 09.
  5. ^ Abt, Emil. Mißheiraten in den deutschen Fürstenhäusern unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der standesherrlichen Familien. Heidelberg, 1911. Carl Winter. (Diss.)
  6. ^ Gönner, Nikolaus Thaddäus. Teutsches Staatsrecht. Landshut : Krüll, 1804. §74.
  7. ^ Leist, Justus Christoph. Lehrbuch des Teutschen Staatsrechts. Göttingen : Schneider, 1803. §32.

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