Friday, January 16, 2009

Imperial Politics

The Empire is a complex web of overlapping jurisdictions. Ultimately, overlordship over the entire Sacrum Romanum Imperium rests with Sigismund, King of the Romans and Emperor-Elect. However, the practical realties of Imperial politics and the privileges enjoyed by the Universal Church or accrued by numerous local guilds and towns, privide many exceptions to this dominion. The chains of fealty do not follow a consistent pattern and a Knight might have several overlords or owe his allegiance directly to Sigismund himself. This means that while the major political players are the Dukes and other great lords, both secular and sacred, there are numerous largely independant entities of quite minor power. This lends a complex and shifting undercurrent alongside the schemeing of the great Electors. Thus, even the Emperor-Elect himself may find his plans undone by the swift emergence of a previously unseen network of minor nobles and merchants.

The title "King of the Romans" (the German Kingship) has been an elected one throughout the Empire' s history. Due to the central importance of the Electors to Imperial politics, who actually got to be an Elector was hotly contested. After all, those with the ability to uplift a lord to the highest position in the Empire were always well rewarded for their promise of support. Particular debate centered around whether the Electors should all be German nobles with the King of Bohemia making forcible claims to the Electoral dignity. All debates were resolved by the "Golden bull" of Emperor Charles IV in 1356 which fixed the number of Electors at seven and determined which nobles would hold these positions. There are three Archbishops: The Prince-Archbishop of Cologne, the Prince-Archbishop of Mainz and the Prince-Archbishop of Trier. And four Secular great lords: The Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony, the King of Bohemia (also an elective Kingship) and the Margrave of Brandenburg.

Free Cities
Are accounted in this time as "Imperial free cities" but instead won their independence form their former overlord (usually an Archbishop) rather than purchasing it directly form the Emperor. In the case of Koln, the Archbishop (and overlord of the city) was forcibly ejected by that city's Burghers and subsequently barred from returning. This Archbishop then worked, unsuccessfully, to secure his return and retake the city by force of arms. They actually enjoy a greater degree of autonomy than the proper Imperial Free Cities as they have few direct obligations to the Emperor (they would formerly have owed these obligations to their feudal overlord, of which they now have none). They must only support crusades and maintain their own defenses.

Imperial Free Cities
These great cities have purchased their independence directly from the Emperor. Rather than being subject to a feudal overlord, the heads of the rich merchant families (Burghers) control the cities affairs directly and are subject only to the Emperor himself. All of the great cities in the German lands of the Empire have this status. In the case of Lubeck, this independence underpins the political power of a great league of merchant cities. This independence is constantly contested, it may be revoked or reconfirmed by Emperors and is always challenged by the land's great lords. They also owe the Emperor taxes and must provide military support for his campaigns.

Imperial Knight
A hereditary title and benefice (source of income, usually one or a number of manors) granted in return for service to the Emperor. These individuals are direct subjects of the Emperor.

King of the Romans
The title "King of the Romans" is held by the individual chosen by the Electors to be the new Holy Roman Emperor. This is his sole Imperial (he may also have other titles, eg :"King of Hungary") title until such a time as he is actually crowned Emperor by the Pope. this may take some time to secure (Sigismund is as yet uncrowned for a decade) and requires the Emperor-elect to personally journey to Italy to have the Iron Crown placed upon his head. In order to reduce confusion, I use the term Emperor-elect (which didn't exist in the early 15th Century) rather than "King of the Romans".

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