Kingdom of Germany

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Map of the Kingdom of the Germans (regnum Teutonicorum) within the Holy Roman Empire, circa 1000

The Kingdom of Germany or German Kingdom (Latin: regnum Teutonicorum "Kingdom of the Germans", regnum Teutonicum "German kingdom", regnum Alamanie "Kingdom of Germany"; German: Deutsches Königreich or Deutsches Königtum) was the mostly Germanic-speaking East Frankish kingdom of Germania, which was formed by the Treaty of Verdun in 843, especially after the kingship passed from Frankish kings to the Saxon Ottonian dynasty in 919. The king was elected, initially by the rulers of the stem duchies, who generally chose one of their own. After 962, when Otto I was crowned emperor, East Francia formed the bulk of the Holy Roman Empire, which also included the Kingdom of Italy and, after 1032, the Kingdom of Burgundy.


After his conquest of the German lands, Charlemagne administered the area like he did the rest of his kingdom, or empire (Reich), through his counts and bishops. He established his primary residence at Aachen (in Germany), which was not far from the conquered territories, though his decision probably had more to do with the town’s hot springs than with strategic planning. His son Louis I (Louis the Pious) remained involved in the affairs of the German, Danish, and Slavic lands, but his primary focus was on the regions of his empire where the Romance, or proto-Romance, language was spoken. In 817, however, he issued the Ordinatio Imperii, an edict that reorganized the empire and established the imperial succession. As part of the restructuring, Louis awarded his young son Louis II (Louis the German; 804–876) with the government of Bavaria and the lands of the Carinthians, Bohemians, Avars, and Slavs. Becoming the king of Bavaria in 825, Louis the German gradually extended his power over all of Carolingian Germany. Louis the German’s rise to power, however, was not a smooth one, because internal turmoil plagued the Carolingian empire in the 830s and early 840s. Although he would ultimately rescue Louis the Pious on both occasions, the younger Louis was involved in revolts against his father in 830 and 833–834. In the final settlement of the succession, Louis the German’s inheritance was restricted to Bavaria by his father, who had reconciled with his oldest son and the heir to the imperial throne, Lothar. After their father’s death, the surviving sons of Louis fell into three years of civil war, which led to the division of the Carolingian empire. During these civil wars, Louis took side with his brother Charles the Bald and confirmed this alliance in the famous Oath of Strasbourg in 842 (an important political and linguistic document that contains versions of the Romance language and Old High German). The success of Charles and Louis against their older brother Lothar led to a formal end to the civil wars in the Treaty of Verdun in 843, which divided the realm among the three leaders and laid out the rough outlines of late medieval France and Germany. In this settlement, Louis received the eastern kingdom, which included the lands east of the Rhine River (Bavaria, Franconia, Saxony, Swabia, and Thuringia). As ruler of the eastern Frankish kingdom, Louis faced the challenge of maintaining the unity of a very diverse kingdom as well as asserting his place in the wider Carolingian world and protecting the frontiers from invaders. Like his brothers, Louis sought to establish his preeminence in the old empire. On two occasions he invaded Charles the Bald’s kingdom and on a third occasion supported the invasion of the kingdom by his son. Louis also invaded the territory of the heirs of Lothar and attempted to seize the imperial crown. Moreover, much of Louis’s reign was taken up with campaigns against neighbouring Slavs. Although he faced attacks by the Slavs and Vikings and the challenge of powerful aristocratic families, Louis maintained stability and royal authority over the aristocracy as a result of his external focus. By 870 Louis’s dominions reached almost the boundaries of medieval Germany. On the east they were bordered by the Elbe and the Bohemian mountains; on the west, beyond the Rhine, they included the districts afterward known as Alsace and Lorraine. Ecclesiastically, they included the provinces of Mainz, Trier, Cologne, Salzburg, and Bremen. Although the close kinship and rivalries of the descendants of Charlemagne still united the eastern and western Frankish lands, the eastern region was taking on the identity of Germany, and the west was emerging as France. Louis’s long reign provided a degree of unity and continuity for the peoples of his varied kingdom and also laid the foundation for developments in later medieval Germany. His appointment of his sons as subkings over regions of the kingdom foreshadowed the later territorial dukes, and his support for and reliance on monasteries prefigured the policy of the Saxon dynasty in the 10th century. In good Carolingian tradition, he promoted missionary activity in concert with his military campaigns in the east. Louis also cultivated the German language and literature for the first time as a source of self-conscious cultural and political identity. Under his patronage the Gospels were translated into German dialects, and the first attempts at writing German poetry with Christian and traditional themes were undertaken. After his death the kingdom was divided among his three sons according to Frankish tradition, but the deaths of two of them, in 880 and 882, restored its unity under Charles III (Charles the Fat). The ceaseless attacks by Danes, Saracens, and Magyars in the later 9th and 10th centuries, however, weakened the kingdom’s cohesion and led to the creation of new kingdoms within the boundaries of the Carolingian realm. Incompetence in mounting effective resistance to invaders also led to revolts and civil wars, as for instance in 887 when Arnulf, an illegitimate son of Louis the German’s son Carloman, led an army of Bavarians in a successful revolt against his uncle, Charles the Fat. Arnulf, however, was not equally successful in defending his eastern possessions. After his death in 899, the German kingdom came under the nominal rule of the last Carolingian king of Francia Orientalis, his young son, Louis IV (Louis the Child), and in the absence of strong military leadership it became the prey of the Magyar horsemen and other invaders from the east. [...]
When in 911 Louis the Child, last of the East Frankish Carolingians, died without leaving a male heir, it seemed quite possible that his kingdom would break into pieces. In at least three of the duchies—Bavaria, Saxony, and Franconia—the ducal families were established in the leadership of their regions; in Swabia (Alemannia) two houses were still fighting for hegemony. Only the church, fearing for its endowments, had an obvious interest in the survival of the monarchy, its ancient protector. Against the growing authority of the dukes and the deep differences in dialect, customs, and social structure among the tribal duchies there stood only the Carolingian tradition of kingship; but, with Charles III (Charles the Simple) as ruler of the West Frankish kingdom, its future was uncertain and not very hopeful. Only the Lotharingians put their faith in the ancient line and did homage to Charles, its sole reigning representative. The other component parts of the East Frankish kingdom did not follow suit. On November 10, 911, Saxon and Frankish leaders ended Carolingian rule in Germany when they met at Forchheim in Franconia to elect Conrad, duke of the Franks, as their king. The rejection of the Carolingian dynasty was motivated by the dynasty’s inability to protect the kingdom from invaders and related internal political matters. In the early 10th century, the Germanic peoples in the lands east of the Rhine and west of the Elbe and Saale rivers and the Bohemian Forest—as rudimentary and as thinly spread as their settlements were—had to face even more primitive and pagan races pressing in from farther east, especially the Magyars. The Saxons, headed by the Liudolfing duke Otto—who refused to be considered a candidate for the royal crown—were threatened by more enemies on their frontiers than any other tribe; Danes, Slavs, and Magyars simultaneously harassed their homeland. A king who commanded resources farther west, in Franconia, might therefore prove to be of help to Saxony. The Rhenish Franks, on the other hand, did not wish to abdicate from their position as the leading and kingmaking people, which gave them many material advantages. Conrad of Franconia, elected by Franks and Saxons, was soon recognized also by Arnulf, duke of Bavaria, and by the Swabian clans. In descent, honours, and wealth, however, Conrad was no more than the equal of the dukes who had accepted him as king. To surmount them, to found a new royal house, and to acquire those wonder-working attributes that the Germans venerated in their rulers long after they had been converted to Christianity, he had yet to prove himself able, lucky, and successful. [...] The transition of the crown from the Franks to the Saxons for a time enhanced the self-sufficiency of the southern German tribes. The Swabians had kept away from the Fritzlar election. The Bavarians believed that they had a better right to the Carolingian inheritance than the Saxons (who had been remote outsiders in the 9th century) and in 919 elected their own duke Arnulf as king. They, too, wanted to be the royal and kingmaking people. Henry I’s regime rested in the main on his own position and family demesne in Saxony and on certain ancient royal seats in Franconia. His kingship was purely military. He hoped to win authority by waging successful frontier wars and to gain recognition through concessions rather than to insist on the sacred and priestlike status of the royal office that the church had built up in the 9th century. At his election he refused to be anointed and consecrated by the archbishop of Mainz. In settling with the Bavarians, he abandoned the policy of supporting the internal opposition that the clergy offered to Duke Arnulf, a plank to which Conrad had clung. To end Arnulf’s rival kingship, Henry formally surrendered to him the most characteristic privilege and honour of the crown: the right to dispose of the region’s bishoprics and abbeys. Arnulf’s homage and friendship entailed no obligations to Henry, and the Bavarian duke pursued his own regional interests—peace with the Hungarians and expansion across the Alps—as long as he lived. [...] In 925 Henry I brought Lotharingia (the region between the upper Meuse and Schelde rivers in the west and the Rhine River in the east that contained Charlemagne’s capital Aachen) back to the East Frankish realm. Whoever had authority in that region could treat the neighbouring kingdom of the West Franks as a dependent. The young Saxon dynasty thus won for itself and its successors a hegemony over the west and the southwest that lasted at least until the mid-11th century. The Carolingian kings of France, as well as the great feudatories who sought to dominate if not to ruin them, became, in turn, petitioners to the German court during the reign of the Ottos. The kings of Burgundy—whose suzerainty lay over the valleys of the Saône and the Rhône, the western Alps, and Provence—fell under the virtual tutelage of the masters of Lotharingia. Rich in ancient towns, this region, once the homeland of the Carolingians, was more thickly populated and wealthier than the lands east of the Rhine.
Greater prestige still and a claim to imperial hegemony fell to the Saxon rulers when they broke the impetus of the Hungarian (Magyar) invasions, against which the military resources and methods of western European society had almost wholly failed for several decades. In 933, after long preparations, Henry routed a Hungarian attack on Saxony and Thuringia. In 955 Otto I (Otto the Great; reigned 936–973), at the head of a force to which nearly all the duchies had sent mounted contingents, annihilated a great Hungarian army on the Lech River near Augsburg. The battle again vindicated the efficiency of the heavily armed man skilled in fighting on horseback. With a Saxon dynasty on the throne, Saxon nobles gained office and power, with opportunities for conquest along the eastern river frontiers and marches of their homeland. Otto I implemented an eastern policy that aimed at getting more than slaves, loot, and tribute. Between 955 and 972 he founded and richly endowed an archbishopric at Magdeburg, which he intended to be the metropolis of a large missionary province among the Slavic Wends beyond the Elbe, who remained faithful to their traditional polytheistic religion. This would have brought their tribes under German control and exploitation in the long run, but the ruthless methods of the Saxon lay lords led to a rebellion that forced Otto to scale back his plans. In the 10th century there was little or no German agricultural settlement beyond the Elbe. Far too much forested land remained available for clearing and colonization in western and southern Germany. The Saxons attempted to secure their tenuous military victories in the region between the Elbe and Oder rivers by building and garrisoning forts. Beyond the Wends of Brandenburg and Lusatia, meanwhile, new Slavic powers rose; the Poles under Mieszko I and, to the south, the Czechs under the Přemyslids received missionaries from Magdeburg and Passau without falling permanently under the political and ecclesiastical domination of Saxons and Bavarians. The Wends, who had been subjugated by the Saxon margraves, resisted conversion to Christianity. They rebelled in 983 against the German military occupation, which collapsed along with the missionary bishoprics that had been founded at Oldenburg, Brandenburg, and Havelberg. Farther south the defenses of the Thuringian marches between the Saale and the middle Elbe remained in German hands, but only after a long and fierce struggle against Polish invaders early in the 11th century. The northern part of the frontier reverted to its position before Otto’s trustees, Hermann Billung and Gero, had begun their wars. Missionary enterprises directed into Wendish territory from Bremen and Magdeburg achieved little before the 12th century. The Saxon ruling class and margraves must bear the responsibility for the fiasco of eastward expansion in the 10th century. The prelates, too, saw their missions as means to found ecclesiastical empires of subject dioceses that would exact tribute from the conquered Wends. The Slavic tribes across the Elbe remained unconverted and implacable foes, a standing menace to the nearby churches. The wars also left a legacy of savagery on both sides, so that from about 1140 onward the colonization of conquered Slavic lands by German settlers became the common policy of both the church and the princes. [...]
Thus there arose in nearly all German lands, whether the ducal office survived or not, powerful lines of margraves, counts, and hereditary advocates who enriched themselves at the expense of the church (which meant also the crown) and in competition with one another. From the abler, more fortunate, and long-lived of these dynasties sprang the territorial princes of the later 12th and 13th centuries, absorbing and finally inheriting most of the rights of government. The king was the personal overlord of all the great. His court was the seat of government, and it went with him on his long journeys. The German kings, even more than other medieval rulers, could make their authority respected in the far-flung regions of their kingdom only by traveling ceaselessly from duchy to duchy, from frontier to frontier. Wherever they stayed, their jurisdiction superseded the standing power of dukes, counts, and advocates, and they could collect the profits of local justice and wield some control over it. As they came into each region, they summoned its leaders to attend their solemn crown wearings, deliberated with them on the affairs of the kingdom and the locality, presided over pleas, granted privileges, and made war against peacemakers at home and enemies abroad. The royal revenues came from the king’s demesne and from his share of the tributes that Poles, Czechs, Wends, and Danes paid whenever he could enforce his claims of overlordship. There were also profits from tolls and mints that had not yet been granted away. The king’s demesne was his working capital. He and his household lived on its produce during their wanderings through the Reich, and he used its revenue to provide for his family, to found churches, and to reward faithful services done to him, especially in war. To swell his army, the king needed to add new vassals, and he inevitably had to grant land to some of them from his own demesne. Although the Salians inherited the remains of Ottonian wealth as an imperial demesne, they brought little of their own to make up for its diminution. The last Ottonian, Henry II (1002–24), and after him Conrad II, accordingly took to enfeoffing vassals with lands taken from the monasteries. Since the beneficiaries were often already powerful and wealthy men in their own right, no class of freeborn, mounted warriors linked permanently with the crown resulted from the loyalties established and rewards granted during but one or two reigns. In any case, the lion’s share of grants went to the German church. From the Carolingians the German kings inherited their one and only institution of central government: the royal chapel, with the chancery that does not seem to have been distinct from it. Service there became a recognized avenue of promotion to the episcopate for highborn clerics. In the 11th century bishops and abbots conducted the affairs of the Reich much more than the lay lords, even in war. They were its habitual diplomats and ambassadors. Unlike Henry I, Otto I and his successors sought to free the prelates from all forms of subjection to the dukes. The king appointed most of them, and to him alone, as to one sent by God, they owed obedience.[1]

German royal chancery

Under the Ottonian dynasty, which came to power in the eastern division of the original Carolingian empire early in the 10th century, the German royal chancery developed the organization that was to characterize it throughout the remainder of the Middle Ages. The heads of the chancery were the archchancellors, but the office was entirely honorary and soon came to be automatically held, as far as Germany was concerned, by whoever was archbishop of Mainz. When the German kings or emperors established administrations in Italy, Italian bishops were at first made archchancellors for Italy, but in 1031 the office was attached to the archbishopric of Cologne. From the 11th century, Burgundian bishops were archchancellors for Burgundy, but, in the second half of the 13th century, the archbishop of Trier took over the office. The actual heads of the chancery were the chancellors. At first there was a chancellor, as well as an archchancellor, for each separate part of the empire—Germany, Italy, and Burgundy—but from 1118 there was only one chancellor for all three kingdoms. But even the chancellors, all of whom were clerics, were rarely involved in the actual composition and engrossing of documents, being usually engaged, as important advisers to the king or emperor, in much weightier matters. They do seem to have been especially concerned, however, with decisions about the granting of charters, and they supervised the work of the scribes or notaries. From among the ranks of these notaries, a group of protonotaries gradually developed after the mid-12th century, as a result of influence from the chancery of the Norman rulers of Sicily. Often called upon to deputize for the chancellor, the protonotaries, from the late 13th century onward, frequently titled themselves vice chancellors. From the 12th century onward, the documents issued by the German royal chancery were divided into various classifications. The diploma, by then usually called a privilege, existed in two categories, the solemn and the simple privilege. A solemn privilege included the invocatio, the signum and recognition line, and a detailed dating or at least one of these three elements, which were entirely lacking in simple privileges. Gradually, simple privileges merged into documents called mandates; it is not always easy to distinguish between them, but, in general, privileges were concerned with rights in perpetuity, while the mandates dealt mainly with matters of only temporary importance. From the early 14th century, mandates were superseded by the use of letters patent and letters close (open or closed letters). Privileges continued to be sealed with a hanging seal; the seal on letters patent was impressed on the document and was used to seal up letters close. As the power of the German kings declined during the later Middle Ages, so that of the archchancellors increased, and in the 14th century they attempted to win control of the chancery. But, despite fluctuations in the power struggle, the king retained control of the chancellor, who, by the end of the 15th century, held the title of imperial vice chancellor.[2]

List of Kings of Germany

The title "King of the Romans" (Latin: Rex Romanorum; German: König der Römer), used in the Holy Roman Empire from the reign of Henry II (1002–1024, emperor from 1014) onward, was considered equivalent to King of Germany. A king was chosen by the German electors at the Reichstag, would be crowned by a German archbishop and would then proceed to Rome to be crowned Roman-German Emperor (German: römisch-deutscher Kaiser) by the pope. The "Kings of Germany" must not be confused with German rulers of German kingdoms of Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Württemberg and so on.

  • Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor (962–73) and German King (936–73)
    • Many historians consider Henry the Fowler (Heinrich I.), father of Otto I, the first German king (King of East Francia from 919 until his death in 936).
  • Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor (973–83) and German King (961–83)
  • Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor (996–1002) and German King (983–1002)
  • Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor (1014–24) and German King (1002–24), last of the Saxon line
  • Conrad II, Holy Roman Emperor (1027–39) and German King (1024–39), first of the Salian dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire
  • Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor (1046–56) and German King (1039–56)
  • Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor (1084–1105) and German King (1056–1105)
  • Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor (1111–25) and German King (1105–25)
  • Lothair II, also called Lothair III, Holy Roman Emperor (1133–37) and German King (1125–37)
  • Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor (1155–90) and German King (1152–90)
  • Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor (1191–97) and German King (1190–97)
  • Constance, Holy Roman empress, wife of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI
  • Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor (1209–15) and German King (1208–15)
  • Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (1220–50) and German King (1212–20), King of Sicily (1197–1250), and King of Jerusalem (1229–50)
  • Henry VII, Holy Roman Emperor (1312–13) and German King (1308–13)
  • Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor (1328–47) and German King (1314–47), Duke of Upper Bavaria
  • Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor (1355–78), German King (1347–78), and King of Bohemia (1346–78)
  • Wenceslaus, Holy Roman Emperor (uncrowned) and German King (1378–1400), King of Bohemia (1378–1419) as Wenceslaus IV, Elector of Brandenburg (1373–76)
  • Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor (1433–37), German King (1410–37), King of Hungary (1387–1437) and of Bohemia (1419–37), Elector of Brandenburg (1376–1415)
  • Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor (1452–93) and German King (1440–93)
  • Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor and German King (1493–1519)
  • Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1519–58) and, as Charles I, King of Spain (1516–56)
  • Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor (1558–64), King of Bohemia (1526–64) and of Hungary (1526–64)
    • Ferdinand I to Joseph I: King of Germany, King of Bohemia, King of Hungary, King of Croatia, Archduke of Austria
  • Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor (1564–76), King of Bohemia (1562–76) and of Hungary (1563–76)
  • Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor (1576–1612), King of Bohemia (1575–1611) and of Hungary (1572–1608)
  • Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor (1612–19), King of Bohemia (1611–17) and of Hungary (1608–18)
  • Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor (1619–37), King of Bohemia (1617–37) and of Hungary (1618–37)
  • Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor (1637–57), King of Hungary (1626–57) and of Bohemia (1627–57)
  • Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor (1658–1705), King of Bohemia (1656–1705) and of Hungary (1655–1705)
  • Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor (1705–11), King of Hungary (1687–1711) and of Bohemia (1705–11)
  • Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor (1711–40), King of Bohemia (1711–40) and, as Charles III, King of Hungary (1712–40)
  • King of Germany, King of Bohemia, King of Hungary, King of Croatia, Archduke of Austria, King of Naples, King of Sicily, King of Sardinia, Duke of Luxemburg, Duke of Teschen, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, Count of Flanders
  • Charles VII, Holy Roman Emperor (1742–45) and, as Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria (1726–45)
  • Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor (1745–65), Duke of Lorraine (1729–37) as Francis Stephen, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1737–65)
    • King of Germany, Archduke of Austria, Grand Duke of Tuscany, Duke of Lorraine
  • Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor (1765–90), King of Bohemia and Hungary (1780–90)
  • Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor (1790–92), King of Bohemia and Hungary (1790–92), as Leopold I Grand Duke of Tuscany (1765–90)
    • King of Germany, King of Bohemia, King of Hungary and Croatia, Archduke of Austria, Grand Duke of Tuscany
  • Francis II, last Holy Roman Emperor (1792–1806), first Emperor of Austria as Francis I (1804–35), King of Bohemia and of Hungary (1792–1835)
    • King of Germany, King of Bohemia, King of Hungary and Croatia, Archduke of Austria, 1st Emperor of Austria

Subordinate kings

The Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy. No person had a legal right to the succession simply because he was related to the current Roman-German Emperor. However, the Emperor could, and often did, have a relative (usually a son) elected to succeed him after his death. This elected heir apparent bore the title "King of the Romans". The election was in the same form as that of the senior ruler, and theoretically meant that both men were equal co-rulers of the Empire. In practice, however, the actual administration of the Empire was always managed by the Emperor, with at most certain duties delegated to the heir. The following were subordinate kings to another Holy Roman Emperor (usually, but not always, their father) for the dates specified.

Name Date acceded Date relinquished Reason Relation Reigning Emperor
Otto II 961 7 May 973 succeeded as King (Emperor 967) son Otto I
Henry III 1028 4 June 1039 succeeded as King (Emperor 1046) son Conrad II
Henry IV 1053 5 October 1056 succeeded as King (Emperor 1084) son Henry III
Conrad 1087 April 1098 deposed son Henry IV
Henry V 6 January 1099 1105 succeeded as King (Emperor 1111) son Henry IV
Henry Berengar 30 March 1147 1150 died son Conrad III
Henry VI 1169 10 June 1190 succeeded as King (Emperor 1191) son Frederick I
Frederick II 1196 28 September 1197 succeeded and abdicated (via regency) 1197
elected King (with opposition) 1212
Emperor 1220
son Henry VI
Henry (VII) 1220 4 July 1235 deposed son Frederick II
Conrad IV 1237 13 December 1250 succeeded as King son Frederick II
Wenceslaus 10 June 1376 29 November 1378 succeeded as King son Charles IV
Maximilian I 16 February 1486 19 August 1493 succeeded as King (Emperor 1508) son Frederick III
Ferdinand I 5 January 1531 3 May 1558 succeeded as Emperor brother Charles V
Maximilian II 28 November 1562 25 July 1564 succeeded as Emperor son Ferdinand I
Rudolph II 27 October 1575 12 October 1576 succeeded as Emperor son Maximilian II
Ferdinand III 22 December 1636 15 February 1637 succeeded as Emperor son Ferdinand II
Ferdinand IV 31 May 1653 9 July 1654 died son Ferdinand III
Joseph I 23 January 1690 5 May 1705 succeeded as Emperor son Leopold I
Joseph II 27 March 1764 18 August 1765 succeeded as Emperor son Francis I

See also