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The High Nobility and the Imperial Constitution

Copyright © V. Rozn 1999-2009
Comments and questions can be mailed to the author

Last updated : April 3, 2002

The Last years of the Ancient Empire

The Holy Roman Empire loses the Left Bank of the Rhine

By 1792, there were approximately 150 secular territorial rulers with the status of the Imperial Estate.

The French Revolutionary wars drastically changed the political map of Central Europe. In 1793-1794 the French armies occupied lands of the Empire on the left bank of the Rhine and many reigning houses lost their immediate territories. The French invasion also dispossessed rulers in North Italy.

The following is the list of the secular Imperial estates, who lost their position of territorial rulers as a result of the French invasion in the Imperial lands on the left bank of the Rhine:
- the Duke of Arenberg;
- the Count of Aspremont-Lynden in Reckheim;
- the Prince of Bretzenheim;
- the Prince of Leiningen-Hartenburg;
- the Count of Leiningen-Güntersblum;
- the Count of Leiningen-Heidesheim;
- the Prince of Ligne in Fagnolles;
- the Countess of Manderscheid (a widow of - the Count of Sternberg) in Blankenheim & Gerolstein;
- the Countess of Mark-Lumman (a widow of Duke of Arenberg) in Schleiden & Saffenburg;
- the Count of Metternich in Winneburg & Beilstein;
- the Count of Ostein in Mylendonk;
- the Count of Plettenberg in Wittem & Eyss;
- the Count of Quadt in Wykradt;
- the Count of Salm-Grumbach;
- the Prince of Salm-Kyrburg;
- the Count of Salm-Reifferscheidt-Bedbur;
- the Count of Salm-Reifferscheidt-Dyck;
- the Count of Schäsberg in Kerpen & Lommersum;
- the Count of Sinzendorf in Winterrieden;
- the Count of Törring-Jettenbach in Gronsfeld;
- the Count of Waldbott of Bassenheim in Ollbrück;
- the Count of Wallmoden in Neustadt & Gimborn;
- the Count of Wartenberg.

The Final Recess of the Imperial Deputation of 1803

The treaty of Lunéville (1801) recognized these territorial losses and promised to compensate the secular rulers. The Imperial Assembly created a special Imperial deputation to distribute the compensation. By the provision of the Final Recess of the Imperial Deputation (Reichsdeputationshauptschluss) (February 1803) the secular rulers, which have the status of Imperial Estate, were compensated with the secularized ecclesiastical territories and territories of the Imperial free cities. Only three ecclesiastical rulers preserved their status of terrirorial rulers:
- Karl-Theodor of Dalberg, the Imperial Arch-chancellor for Germany, Elector and Archbishop of Mainz (His new possessions became Regensburg, Wetzlar and Aschaffenburg);
- the Grand Prior of the Malta Order (St John Knights);
- the High-Master of the Teutonic Order;

Of the 48 free cities that still existed, only six were left: Lübeck, Hamburg, Bremen, Nuremberg (Nürnberg), Augsburg, Frankfurt. Most of the dispossessed secular rulers from left bank of the Rhine restored their status of sovereign rulers. The restored rulers, both princes and - the Counts, were to receive at least the same status as Imperial and Imperial Circle estates they had as owners the lost territories. Some Imperial - the Counts were compensated for their immediate territories only with an annual rent:
- the Count of Salm-Reifferscheidt for Dyck,
- the Count of Limburg-Styrum for Oberstein,
- the Countess of Hillesheim and the Countess of Parkstein (a widow of Prince of Isenburg-Birstein) for Reipoltskirchen,
- the Count of Goltstein for Schlenacken,
- the Countess of Öttingen (a wife of the Count of of Colloredo-Mansfeld) for Dahstuhl,

The Final Recess changed the composition of the Councils of the Imperial Assembly.
Now in the Council of Electors were represented:
1. Bohemia,
2. Regensburg (transferred from Mainz),
3. Saxony,
4. Brandenburg,
5. Palatinate-Bavaria,
6. Salzburg (in 1805 transferred to Würzburg),
7. Hesse-Kassel,
8. Baden and
9. Württemberg.

The composition of the Council of Princes was also changed.
The voices of the territories annexed by France were excluded (e.g. voices of Burgundy, Mömpelgard (Montbeliard), Palatinate-Zweibrücken,Palatinate-Lautern, Palatinate-Veldenz, Savoy, etc).

The voices of the former ecclesiastical territories, but not of free cities, went to their new owners, mostly the Ancient Princely houses.

The Ancient Princely houses got individual voices for the territories they owned for long time but without representation in the Imperial Assembly:
- Bavaria for Sulzbach, the Lower Bavaria, and Berg;
- Austria for Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Tyrol;
- Brunswick-Hanover for Göttingen;
- Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel for Blankenburg;
- Electoral Saxony for Meissen (the margraviate), Meissen (the burgraviate), Thuringia and Querfurt;
- Holstein for Plön;
- Hesse-Kassel for Hanau;
- Württemberg for Tübingen and Teck;

The number of the New Princely houses was increased.
Several reigning houses that possessed the Princely rank but had only currial voices in Colleges of Imperial - the Counts now received individual voices:
1. Nassau-Usingen,
2. Nassau-Weilburg,
3. Waldeck,
4. Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg ( former Rochefort),
5. Öttingen-Spielberg ,
6. Öttingen-Wallerstein,
7. Solms-Braunfels,
8. Hohenlohe-Neuenstein,
9. Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst,
10. Hohenlohe-Bartenstein,
11. Isenburg-Birnstein,
12. Kaunitz-Rietberg,
13. Reuss-Greiz,
14. Leiningen-Hartenburg,
15. Ligne.

Salm-Kyrburg that shared an individual voice with Salm-Salm got its own individual voice.

The Princes of Fürstenberg, Schwarzenberg, Thurn-Taxis were given the second voice.

The Sigmaringen branch of the House of Hohenzollern received a separate individual voice.

Two dispossessed Italian rulers were compensated in Germany :
1. Archduke Ferdinand, a brother of Emperor Franz II and the former Grand Duke of Tuscany, received Salzburg, Eichstaedt, Berchtesgaden and three individual voices in the Council of Princes and one voice in the Council of Electors.
2. Hercules(Ercole) of Este, the former Duke of Modena, was given Breisgau and Ortenau and two individual voices in the Council of Princes. Hercules' heir was Archduke Ferdinand, an uncle of Emperor Franz II.

The Duke of Arenberg was compensated for the loss of immediate territories that belonged his mother's (the born Countess of the Mark), where he was an administrator.

The Prince of Dietrichstein exchanged his lordship Tarasp in Switzerland for Neu-Ravensberg in Swabia.

The former lands of the dispossessed Dukes of Croÿ and of Looz-Corswarem were not recognized as immidiate to the Empire.
Nevertheless, the dukes were given new territories with the right of as immediate Imperial fiefs.
The Duke of Looz-Corswarem was to receive an individual voice in the Council of Princes for Rheina-Wolbeck.

The End of the Holy Roman Empire

The War of the Third Coalition against France in 1805 led to the defeat of Austria. The treaty of Pressburg (December 1805) rewarded German allies of Napoleon I with new territories and titles. Archduke Ferdinand, the heir to the house of Modena-Este(see above) was dispossessed, and his lands, Breisgau and Ortenau, were assigned to Baden. The Electors of Württemberg and Bavaria would be recognized as Kings (without leaving the Empire). Emperor Franz II lost all of the Habsburg lands in Southwest Germany (Hohenberg,Nellenburg,Burgau,Tyrol, Hohenems, Lindau, Rothenfels, etc). His brother Ferdinand had to exchange Salzburg for Würzburg, but preserved his status of Elector.

In December 1805 posssession of the Elector and Duke of Brunswick-Hanover (the King of Great Britain), which had been occupied by the French since 1803, were given to Elector and Margrave of Brandenburg (the King of Prussia).

In January 1806 Napoleon I acquired the Duchies of Kleve (from Brandenburg) and Berg (from Bavaria). He then gave both Duchies to Joachim Murat, his brother-in-law (March 1806). Kleve and Berg remained in the Empire, nevertheless, the status of Joachim Murat as an Imperial Estate was not defined.

The authority of Emperor Franz II declined in the Empire. Because small Imperial Estates traditionally supported the Roman Emperors, Napoleon I preferred that in Germany there would be several midsize states. In July 1806, 16 rulers of South and West Germany, encouraged by Napoleon I, left the Empire and mediatized , i.g. submitted to their overlordship, all other immediate territorial rulers of this region. In August 1806, Emperor Franz II laid down the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. All Imperial Estates, which were not mediatized, received the unlimited sovereignty.