Sorry History Buffs, the Holy Roman Empire WAS Holy, Roman, and an Empire

1. Holy:
Crowned by the Pope, loyal to the Roman Catholic Church for most of its existence, the Holy Roman Empire was as Holy (from the Catholic Church in Rome’s perspective) as a medieval state comes.

2. Roman
The Western Roman Empire before the East split off:

The Carolingian Empire (Holy Roman Empire before it was made that) when Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans:

As the first guy to reunite a significant chunk of the former territory of the Western Roman Empire, the Pope (as the last surviving major official of the former Western Roman government) decided it was appropriate to crown Charlemagne the new Emperor. Also, Rome was a part of the empire (therefore, Roman).

3. Empire
There was an emperor, and multiple medieval kingdoms and kings – like Bohemia and Italy – were subordinate to the emperor. 

Next time someone pulls a “well actually” on the Holy Roman Empire, feel free to “well actually” them right back.

Charlemagne had himself crowned Roman Emperor by the same process; he went to Rome, the people of the City hailed him as Emperor, and then the Bishop of Rome placed a crown on his head. As an Emperor ruling over the city of Rome, and crowned in Rome by the Bishop of Rome according to the constitution of the Roman Empire, he surely had as much right to be called a Roman Emperor as Augustus, Hadrian, Constantine or Theodosius.
In the technical sense, the state was an Empire because that was its official name (Sacrum Imperium Romanum in Latin, Heiliges Römisches Reich in German). European diplomacy gave the Emperor formal precedence over all other secular rulers for ceremonial purposes.
The Empire was made up of several constituent kingdoms — the Kingdom of Germany, Kingdom of Italy, Kingdom of Burgundy and Kingdom of Bohemia. (Stephen Tempest)

One thought on “Sorry History Buffs, the Holy Roman Empire WAS Holy, Roman, and an Empire

  1. By the time of Voltaire (who was the first to term the HRE as "not holy, roman, or an empire"), cuius regio, eius religio was already in effect, and half the entity was Protestant (or at least non-Catholic). In addition, the emperors of the HRE also at times fought the Popes over the right to appoint bishops in the former’s domain–not what one would expect from an entity with "Holy" as part of its official title.

    The Franks (and the rest of the Empire) were Germanic. Much of the territory the HRE held was not in the Roman Empire, but rather in what the Romans called Magna Germania. The Papal States left the Empire in the late 12th century. For most of it’s existence, then, the title of "Roman" is either irrelevant or obsolete.

    The HRE emperors were unable to bring the kind of centralization needed for the HRE to actually become an empire. When your vassals can wage war on each other (and you yourself on you own vassals), when you can walk ten miles on one direction and trespass on the territories of as many lords, when your tax collectors are shunned on all lands save your personal demesne, and when you cannot even enforce the unity of your state religion on the rest of your Empire–then you do not have an empire.

    Much of the ridicule heaped towards the Holy Roman Empire is caused not because people doubt the title itself (the HRE was declared by the Pope, and was the largest Catholic state in its heyday; Charlemagne and Otto I were crowned as Emperor of the Romans; and the HRE, and the Carolingians which preceded it, was declared as the successor to the Western Roman Empire in all but name), but rather because the Empire failed to live up to it’s title.


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