Holy Roman Emperor

Emperor of the
Holy Roman Empire
Imperator Romanorum
Double-headed Reichsadler used by the Habsburg emperors of the early modern period
First to reign
25 December AD 800 – 28 January AD 814
First monarchCharlemagne (AD 800 formation)
Otto the Great (AD 962 formation)
Last monarchFrancis II
Formation25 December 800 /
2 February 962
Abolition6 August 1806

The Holy Roman Emperor, officially the Emperor of the Romans (Latin: Imperator Romanorum), and also the German-Roman Emperor[1] (German: Römisch-deutscher Kaiser, lit. 'Roman-German emperor'), was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. The Empire was considered by the Roman Catholic Church to be the only legal successor of the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages and the early modern period. The title was held in conjunction with the title of King of Italy (Rex Italiae) from the 8th to the 16th century, and, almost without interruption, with the title of King of Germany (Rex Teutonicorum, lit. 'King of the Germans') throughout the 12th to 18th centuries.[2]

In theory and diplomacy, the Emperors were considered primus inter pares, regarded as first among equals among other Roman Catholic monarchs across Europe.[3] In practice, an emperor was only as strong as his army and alliances, including marriage alliances, made him.

From an autocracy in Carolingian times (AD 800–924) the title by the 13th century evolved into an elective monarchy, with the Emperor chosen by the Prince-Electors. Various royal houses of Europe, at different times, became de facto hereditary holders of the title, notably the Ottonians (962–1024) and the Salians (1027–1125). Following the late medieval crisis of government, the Habsburgs kept possession of the title without interruption from 1440–1740. The final emperors were from the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, from 1765–1806. The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved by Francis II, after a devastating defeat to Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz.

The Emperor was widely perceived to rule by divine right, though he often contradicted or rivaled the Pope, most notably during the Investiture controversy. The Holy Roman Empire never had an empress regnant, though women such as Theophanu and Maria Theresa exerted strong influence. Throughout its history, the position was viewed as a defender of the Roman Catholic faith. Until Maximilian I in 1508, the Emperor-elect (Imperator electus) was required to be crowned by the Pope before assuming the imperial title. Charles V was the last to be crowned by the Pope in 1530. Even after the Reformation, the elected Emperor was always a Roman Catholic. There were short periods in history when the electoral college was dominated by Protestants, and the electors usually voted in their own political interest.



From the time of Constantine I (r. 306–337), the Roman emperors had, with very few exceptions, taken on a role as promoters and defenders of Christianity. The reign of Constantine established a precedent for the position of the Christian emperor in the Church. Emperors considered themselves responsible to the gods for the spiritual health of their subjects, and after Constantine they had a duty to help the Church define orthodoxy and maintain orthodoxy. The emperor's role was to enforce doctrine, root out heresy, and uphold ecclesiastical unity.[4] Both the title and connection between Emperor and Church continued in the Eastern Roman Empire throughout the medieval period (in exile during 1204–1261). The ecumenical councils of the 5th to 8th centuries were convoked by the Eastern Roman Emperors.[5]

In Western Europe, the title of Emperor became defunct after the death of Julius Nepos in 480, although the rulers of the barbarian kingdoms continued to recognize the authority of the Eastern Emperor at least nominally well into the 6th century. In 797, the Eastern Emperor Constantine VI was deposed and replaced as monarch by his mother, Irene. The Papacy, which up until this point had continued to recognize the rulers in Constantinople as Roman Emperors, viewed the imperial throne as vacant since in their mind, a woman could not rule the empire.[6]

For this reason, Charlemagne, the King of the Franks and King of Italy, was crowned Emperor of the Romans (Imperator Romanorum) by Pope Leo III, as the successor of Constantine VI as Roman Emperor under the concept of translatio imperii.[6] On his coins, the name and title used by Charlemagne is Karolus Imperator Augustus and in his own documents he used Imperator Augustus Romanum gubernans Imperium ("August Emperor, governing the Roman Empire") and serenissimus Augustus a Deo coronatus, magnus pacificus Imperator Romanorum gubernans Imperium ("most serene Augustus crowned by God, great peaceful emperor governing the empire of the Romans"). The Eastern Empire eventually relented to recognizing Charlemagne and his successors as emperors, but as "Frankish" and "German emperors", at no point referring to them as Roman, a label they reserved for themselves.[7]

The title of Emperor in the West implied recognition by the pope. 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 the coronation of Charlemagne, his successors maintained the title until the death of Berengar I of Italy in 924. The comparatively brief interregnum between 924 and the coronation of Otto the Great in 962 is taken as marking the transition from the Frankish Empire to the Holy Roman Empire. Under the Ottonians, much of the former Carolingian kingdom of Eastern Francia fell within the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire.

Since 911, the various German princes had elected the King of the Germans from among their peers. The King of the Germans would then be crowned as emperor following the precedent set by Charlemagne, during the period of 962–1530. Charles V was the last emperor to be crowned by the pope, and his successor, Ferdinand I, merely adopted the title of "Emperor elect" in 1558. The final Holy Roman Emperor-elect, Francis II, abdicated in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars that saw the Empire's final dissolution.

The term sacrum (i.e., "holy") in connection with the German Roman Empire was first used in 1157 under Frederick I Barbarossa.[8]

The standard designation of the Holy Roman Emperor was "August Emperor of the Romans" (Romanorum Imperator Augustus). When Charlemagne was crowned in 800, he 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.[9]

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, i.e., the adjective "holy" is not intended as modifying "emperor"; the English term "Holy Roman Emperor" gained currency in the interbellum period (1920s to 1930s); formerly the title had also been rendered "German-Roman emperor" in English.[1]


The elective monarchy of the kingdom of Germany goes back to the early 10th century, the election of Conrad I of Germany in 911 following the death without issue of Louis the Child, the last Carolingian ruler of Germany. 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. The process of an election meant that the prime candidate had to make concessions, by which the voters were kept on the side, which was known as Wahlkapitulationen (electoral capitulation).

Conrad was elected by the German dukes, and it is not known precisely when the system of seven prince-electors was established. The papal decree Venerabilem by Innocent III (1202), addressed to Berthold V, Duke of Zähringen, establishes the election procedure by (unnamed) princes of the realm, reserving for the pope the right to approve of the candidates. A letter of Pope Urban IV (1263), in the context of the disputed vote of 1256 and the subsequent the interregnum, suggests that by "immemorial custom", seven princes had the right to elect the King and future Emperor. The seven prince-electors are named in the Golden Bull of 1356: The Archbishop of Mainz, the Archbishop of Trier, the Archbishop of Cologne, the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony and the Margrave of Brandenburg.

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.

The Elector Palatine's seat was conferred on the Duke of Bavaria in 1621, but in 1648, in the wake of the Thirty Years' War, the Elector Palatine was restored, as the eighth elector. Electorate of Hanover was added as a ninth elector in 1692. The whole college was reshuffled in the German mediatization of 1803 with a total of ten electors, a mere three years before the dissolution of the Empire.

List of emperors

This list includes all 47 German monarchs crowned from Charlemagne until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806).

Several rulers were crowned King of the Romans (King of Germany) but not emperor, although they styled themselves thus, among whom were: Conrad I of Germany and Henry the Fowler in the 10th century, and Conrad IV, Rudolf I, Adolf and Albert I during the interregnum of the late 13th century.

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).

Frankish emperors

The rulers who were crowned as Roman emperors in Western Europe between AD 800 and 915 were as follows:

800–888: Carolingian dynasty

Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Charles I, the Great (Charlemagne)
25 December 800 28 January 814
Louis I, the Pious
11 September 813[10] 20 June 840 Son of Charles I
Lothair I
5 April 823 29 September 855 Son of Louis I
Louis II
29 September 855 12 August 875 Son of Lothair I
Charles II, the Bald
29 December 875 6 October 877 Son of Louis I
Charles III, the Fat
12 February 881 13 January 888 Grandson of Louis I

891–898: Widonid dynasty

Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Guy I
891 12 December 894 Great-great grandson of Charles I
Lambert I
30 April 892 15 October 898 Son of Guy I

896–899: Carolingian dynasty

Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
22 February 896 8 December 899 Nephew of Charles III

901–905: Bosonid dynasty

Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)

Louis III, the Blind
22 February 901 21 July 905 Grandson of Louis II

915–924: Unruoching dynasty

Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Berengar I
December 915 7 April 924 Grandson of Louis I

Holy Roman Emperors

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

While earlier Germanic and Italian monarchs had been crowned as 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 held the imperial throne until the 18th century. Later a cadet branch known as the House of Habsburg-Lorraine passed it from father to son until the abolition of the Empire in 1806. Notably, the Habsburgs were 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.

962–1024: Ottonian dynasty

Image Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Otto I, the Great
2 February 962 7 May 973 Great-great-great grandson of Louis I
Otto II, the Red
25 December 967 7 December 983 Son of Otto I
Otto III
21 May 996 23 January 1002 Son of Otto II
Henry II[note 1]
14 February 1014 13 July 1024 Second cousin of Otto III

1027–1125: Salian dynasty

Portrait Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Conrad II, the Elder[note 2]
26 March 1027 4 June 1039 Great-great-grandson of Otto I
Henry III, the Black
25 December 1046 5 October 1056 Son of Conrad II
Henry IV
5 October 1056 7 August 1106 Son of Henry III
Henry V[11]
13 April 1111 23 May 1125 Son of Henry IV

1133–1137: Supplinburg dynasty

Portrait Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Lothair II[note 3]
4 June 1133 4 December 1137 Great-Grandnephew of Henry III

1155–1197: Staufen dynasty

Portrait Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Frederick I Barbarossa
8 June 1155 10 June 1190 Great-grandson of Henry IV
Henry VI
14 April 1191 28 September 1197 Son of Frederick I

1198–1215: Welf dynasty

Portrait Coat of arms Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Otto IV
9 June 1198 1215 Great-grandson of Lothair II

1220–1250: Staufen dynasty

Portrait Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Frederick II,
Stupor Mundi (1194–1250)
22 November 1220 13 December 1250 Son of Henry VI

The interregnum of the Holy Roman Empire is taken to have lasted from the deposition of Frederick II by Pope Innocent IV (1245, alternatively from the death of Frederick 1250 or the death of Conrad IV 1254) to the election of Rudolf I of Germany (1273). Rudolf was not crowned emperor, nor were his successors Adolf and Albert. The next emperor was Henry VII, crowned on 29 June 1312 by Pope Clement V.

1312–1313: House of Luxembourg

Portrait Coat of arms Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Holy Roman Emperor
Coats of arms
Henry VII
29 June 1312 24 August 1313 Great x11 grandson of Charles II

1314–1347: House of Wittelsbach

Portrait Coat of arms Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Holy Roman Emperor
Coats of arms
Louis IV, the Bavarian
October 1314 11 October 1347 Far descendant of Henry IV and great-great-great-great-grandson of Lothair II

1346–1437: House of Luxembourg

Portrait Coat of arms Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Holy Roman Emperor
Coats of arms
Charles IV
11 July 1346 29 November 1378 Grandson of Henry VII
Holy Roman Emperor
Coats of arms
31 May 1433 9 December 1437 Son of Charles IV

1440–1740: House of Habsburg

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. Maximilian's first successor Charles V was the last to be crowned Emperor.

Portrait Coat of arms Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Frederick III, the Peaceful
2 February 1440 19 August 1493 second cousin of Albert II of Germany, Emperor designate.
Maximilian I
19 August 1493 12 January 1519 Son of Frederick III
Charles V
28 June 1519 (crowned 1530) 27 August 1556 Grandson of Maximilian I
Ferdinand I
27 August 1556 (crowned 1558) 25 July 1564 Brother of Charles V
Maximilian II
25 July 1564 12 October 1576 Son of Ferdinand I
Rudolph II[note 4]
12 October 1576 20 January 1612 Son of Maximilian II
13 June 1612 20 March 1619 Brother of Rudolf II
Ferdinand II
28 August 1619 15 February 1637 Cousin of Matthias
Ferdinand III
15 February 1637 2 April 1657 Son of Ferdinand II
Leopold I
18 July 1658 5 May 1705 Son of Ferdinand III
Joseph I
5 May 1705 17 April 1711 Son of Leopold I
Charles VI
12 October 1711 20 October 1740 Brother of Joseph I

1742–1745: House of Wittelsbach

Portrait Coat of arms Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Charles VII
12 February 1742 20 January 1745 Great-great grandson of Ferdinand II; Son-in-law of Joseph I

1745–1765: House of Lorraine

Portrait Coat of arms Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Francis I
13 September 1745 18 August 1765 Great-grandson of Ferdinand III; Son-in-law of Charles VI

1765–1806: House of Habsburg-Lorraine

Portrait Coat of arms Name Reign Relationship with predecessor(s) Other title(s)
Joseph II
18 August 1765 20 February 1790 Son of Empress Maria Theresa, de facto ruler of the empire, and Francis I.
Leopold II
30 September 1790 1 March 1792 Son of Empress Maria Theresa,de facto ruler of the empire, and Francis I. Brother of Joseph II.
Francis II
5 July 1792 6 August 1806 Son of 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.[12] 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


  1. ^ Enumerated as successor of Henry I who was German King 919–936 but not Emperor.
  2. ^ Enumerated as successor of Conrad I who was German King 911–918 but not Emperor
  3. ^ Enumerated also Lothair III as successor of Lothair II, who was King of Lotharingia 855–869 but not Emperor
  4. ^ Enumerated as successor of Rudolph I who was German King 1273–1291.


  1. ^ a b 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.
  2. ^ Peter Hamish Wilson, The Holy Roman Empire, 1495–1806, MacMillan Press 1999, London, p. 2. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn: The Menace of the Herd or Procrustes at Large – p. 164. Robert Edwin Herzstein, Robert Edwin Herzstein: +The Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages: universal state or German catastrophe?"[year needed][page needed]
  3. ^ Terry Breverton (2014). Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Tudors but Were Afraid to Ask . Amberley Publishing. p. 104. ISBN 9781445638454.
  4. ^ Richards, Jeffrey. The Popes and the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages 476–752 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979) pp. 14–15.
  5. ^ Richards, Jeffrey. The Popes and the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages 476–752 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979) p. 16.
  6. ^ a b James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, The Holy Roman Empire, 1864, pp 62–64
  7. ^ Klewitz, Hans-Walter (1943). "Eduard Eichmann, die Kaiserkrönung im Abendland. Ein Beitrag zur, Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des kirchlichen Rechts, der Liturgie und der Kirchenpolitik" . Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte: Kanonistische Abteilung. 32: 509–525. doi:10.7767/zrgka.1943.32.1.509 .
  8. ^ Peter Moraw, Heiliges Reich, in: Lexikon des Mittelalters, Munich & Zurich: Artemis 1977–1999, vol. 4, columns 2025–2028.
  9. ^ Bryce, James (1968). The Holy Roman Empire. Macmillan. p. 530.
  10. ^ Egon Boshof: Ludwig der Fromme. Darmstadt 1996, p. 89
  11. ^ Barraclough, Geoffrey (1984). The Origins of Modern Germany . W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-30153-3.
  12. ^ " 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

External links

Categories: Holy Roman Emperors | Lists of monarchs | German monarchs | Holy Roman Empire-related lists

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