Holy Roman Emperor

Emperor of
the Holy Roman Empire
Shield and Coat of Arms of the Holy Roman Emperor (c.1200-c.1300).svg
Reichsadler (Imperial Eagle) used by the emperors
of the high medieval period
Holy Roman Empire Arms-double head.svg
Double-headed Reichsadler used by the Habsburg emperors of the early modern period
Style His Imperial Majesty
First monarch Charlemagne
Last monarch Francis II
Formation 25 December 800
Abolition 6 August 1806
Appointer see Coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor
Pretender(s) Position abolished

The Holy Roman Emperor (historically Romanorum Imperator "Emperor of the Romans") was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. The title was almost without interruption held in conjunction with the rule of the Kingdom of Germany. [1] [2] [3]

From an autocracy in Carolingian times the title evolved into an elected monarchy chosen by the prince-electors. The Holy Roman Emperor was widely perceived to rule by divine right by Roman Catholic rulers in Europe, and he often contradicted or rivaled the Pope, most notably during the Investiture controversy. In theory, the Holy Roman Emperor was primus inter pares (first among equals) among other Catholic monarchs. In practice, a Holy Roman Emperor was only as strong as his army and alliances made him.

After the Reformation, many of the subject states in Germany turned Protestant while the Emperor continued to be a Roman Catholic. Until the Reformation, the Emperor elect (imperator electus) was required to be crowned by the Pope before assuming the imperial title.[ citation needed] Various royal houses of Europe, at different times, became hereditary holders of the title. In particular the Habsburgs kept the longest possession of the title. The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved by Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor as a result of the collapse of the polity during the Napoleonic wars.


Coats of arms of prince electors surround the Holy Roman Emperor's; from flags book of Jacob Köbel (1545). Electors voted in an Imperial Diet for a new Holy Roman Emperor.

From the time of Constantine I (4th century) the Roman emperors had, with very few exceptions, taken on a role as promoters and defenders of Christianity[ citation needed]. The title of Emperor became defunct in Western Europe after the deposition of Romulus Augustulus in AD 476, although the rulers of the " barbarian kingdoms" continued to recognize the Eastern Emperor at least nominally well into the 6th century; both the title and connection between Emperor and Church continued in the Eastern Roman Empire,also known as the Byzantine Empire, until 1453, when it fell to the forces of the Ottoman Empire.

In the west, the title of Emperor (Imperator) was revived in 800, which also renewed ideas of imperial–papal cooperation. 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 Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans (Imperator Romanorum) by Pope Leo III, his successors maintained the title until the death of Berengar I of Italy in 924. No pope appointed an emperor again until the coronation of Otto the Great in 962. Under Otto and his successors, much of the former Carolingian kingdom of Eastern Francia fell within the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire. The various German princes elected one of their peers as King of the Germans, after which he would be crowned as emperor by the Pope. After Charles V's coronation, all succeeding emperors were called elected Emperor due to the lack of papal coronation, but for all practical purposes they were simply called emperors.[ citation needed]

The term "sacrum" (i.e. "holy") in connection with the medieval Roman Empire was first used in 1157 under Frederick I Barbarossa. [4] Charles V was the last Holy Roman Emperor to be crowned by the Pope (1530). The final Holy Roman Emperor-elect, Francis II, abdicated in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars that saw the Empire's final dissolution.

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. [5]

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" gains currency in the interbellum period (1920s to 1930s); formerly the title had also been rendered "German-Roman emperor" in English. [6]

Other Languages
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Імпэратары Сьвятой Рымскай імпэрыі
Bahasa Indonesia: Kaisar Romawi Suci
Bahasa Melayu: Maharaja Suci Rom
norsk nynorsk: Tysk-romerske keisarar
Simple English: Holy Roman Emperor