The Holy Roman Empire
This timeline forms part of our close-up on: A close-up on: the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, 12 July, 1806.
The king of the Germans (936) and king of the Lombards (951) Otto I, descendant of Henri l’Oiseleur, who had himself elected “Roman emperor” at the head of an empire which encompassed territories in Germany and Italy and which in the 12th century was to become known as the Holy Roman Empire.
1356, promulgation of the Golden Bull
In 1356, the German king Charles IV, crowned emperor the previous year (5 April), promulgated in Metz a Golden Bull, which created a system whereby the Holy Roman Emperor was to be elected by seven Prince Electors (Mainz, Cologne, Trier, Bohemia, the Rhine Palatinate, Brandenburg and Saxony). Aachen rather than Rome was to be the place of coronation.
250 years later, during the Thirty Years’ War, the Count Palatinate of the Rhine had his status of elector taken from him and given to the Duke of Bavaria, only to have it returned to him in 1648. Thenceforward the electoral college had eight members. During the 18th century, the college gained an elector in the shape of the Duke of Brunswick Luneburg, with the title elector of Hanover (1708). It however was to lose another when the House of Bavaria disappeared and the Count Palatinate (becoming Duke of Bavaria) took over his electorship.
The effect of the Reformation
The electors were split into two camps, Catholic (Mainz, Cologne, Trier, Bohemia, and Bavaria) and Protestant (Brandenburg, Saxony, and Hanover). Since the Catholic vote was in the majority, a member of the House of Habsburg was always voted in.
24 October, 1648, the Treaties of Westphalia: With the Treaties of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years’ War, the German princes were authorised to sign treaties of alliance either amongst themselves or with foreign powers. As a result, a Rhine league of princes favourable to France was founded in the period from 1658 to 1668, and this was to form the blueprint for the future Confederation of the Rhine. In a similar development, the United Provinces of the Netherlands were recognised as an independent state, outside the Holy Roman Empire.
At the end of the 18th century, the Holy Roman Empire comprised a large group of states, for the most part in German, but not exclusively, with a population of nearly 30 million inhabitants over an area of 660,000 km2. 1 There were all in all 1,200 princes, 294 of which took their seats in the Imperial Diet at Ratisbon/Regensburg.
The French Revolution changes the map of Europe
17 October, 1797, the Treaty of Campoformio: General Bonaparte’s First Italian Campaign resulted in a treaty most unfavourable to Austria. As part of the treaty signed in the small village Campo Formido Austria was forced to hand over to France her possessions on the left bank of the Rhine and the Austrian Netherlands.
The Holy Roman Empire versus the Consulate
9 February, 1801: The Peace of Lunéville signed by the First Consul Bonaparte and the emperor Francis II confirmed the clauses of the treaty of Campoformio.
25 February, 1803: The Reichdeputationshauptschluss (in other words, a decision made by the Imperial Diet) ratified the Convention de Paris signed on 26 December, 1802, by France and Austria. The convention gave guidelines for the changes brought about by the Peace of Lunéville, particularly the attribution of new territories as compensation for territories lost because of the French possession of the left bank of the Rhine. The Holy Roman Empire lost almost 10 % of its territory and 13 % of its population.
The Confederation of the Rhine begins to take shape
11 August, 1804: Francis II took the hereditary title of emperor of Austria and king of Bohemia and Hungary under the name of Francis I, becoming absolute sovereign over the states outside the Holy Roman Empire. He kept the title and dignity of emperor elect of the Holy Roman Empire.
2 December, 1805, Victory at Austerlitz: Napoleon’s decisive victory gave him a powerful position with respect to Francis II of Austria and Czar Alexander I of Russia.
10-12 December, 1805: In Brünn, France signed a treaty with Bavaria, giving the latter additional territory and its ruler the title of king. On 11 and 12 December, France signed similar treaties with the rulers of Württemberg and Baden, the former receiving the title king, the latter being made Grand Duke. All three loosened their links with the Holy Roman Empire since the treaty emphasised their full sovereignty and autonomy.
26 December, 1805: Signing of the Peace of Presbourg. Not only was Francis II forced to hand over the territories of Venetia, Istria and Dalmatia to the kingdom of Italy , he was also obliged to recognize the kingly titles taken by the electors of Bavaria and Württemberg (who also received more land, some at Austria’s expense), and elector of Baden, who was promoted to Grand Duke. A further secret clause stipulated that Francis should renounce the title of emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
13 January, 1806: Napoleon set in motion his familial foreign policy by marrying his step-son, the viceroy of Italy, Eugène de Beauharnais, to Augusta, daughter of the king of Bavaria. A few months later, on 8 April, he wed his adopted daughter, Stéphanie de Beauharnais (second cousin to Eugène and Hortense), to the crown prince of Baden.
In 1808, Antoinette Murat, niece of Joachim Murat, was to marry Antoine-Louis de Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, and one of Josephine’s cousins, Stéphanie de Tascher de la Pagerie, was to wed the son of the Prince d’Arenberg.
18 March, 1806: Napoleon joined the duchy of Clèves to the duchy of Berg, creating the Grand Duchy of Berg and Clèves, over which he set his brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, as ruler. The Grand Duke of Berg and Clèves became prince elector of the Holy Roman Empire.
The birth of the Confederation of the Rhine
12 July, 1806, Signature of the Treaty of Paris, creating the Confederation of the Rhine or Rheinbund: Sixteen German states were grouped under the presidency of a Prince Primat. Napoleon I became the Protector of the Confederation and received the power to nominate the Prince Primat’s successor on the latter’s death. The first Prince Primat was Carl Theodor von Dalberg (1744-1817), civilian governor of Erfurt in 1772, bishop of Constanz in 1800, Prince-Archbishop of Mainz in 1802 and as a result of this title Archchancellor elector of the Holy Roman Empire. His seat of office was transferred From Mainz to Regensberg, the city in which he died in 1817.
Napoleon, in his role as protector, garrisoned (at the host’s expense) more than 200,000 men in the various states, whilst each member state of the Confederation promised to provide Napoleon with a military contingent totalling 63,000 men. The sixteen members, divided up into two colleges, one of kings and another of princes, met at the Federal Diet with its seat of office in Frankfurt am Main; the diet’s role was to manage the internal affairs of the Confederation.
The college of kings had 6 members:
– The archbishop of Mainz (president of the college)
– The king of Bavaria (who was to provide 30,000 men)
– The king of Württemberg (who was to provide 12,000 men)
– The Grand Duke of Baden (who was to provide 8,000 men)
– The Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt (who was to provide 4,000 men)
– And the Duke of Berg and Clèves (who was to provide 5,000 men), the latter two being raised to the dignity of Grand Duke with the title Royal Highness.
The college of princes had 10 members:
– The Prince of Nassau-Usingen (president of the college)
– The duke of Arenberg, the prince of Nassau-Weilburg
– The princes of Salm-Salm and of Salm-Kyrburg
– The princes of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and of Hohenzollern-Hechingen
– The princes of Isenburg-Birstein and of Liechtenstein
– The Count of Leyen elevated to the rank of prince
Each of the members of the college of princes was to provide a contingent of 4,000 men.
The death of the Holy Roman Empire and the rise of the Confederation of the Rhine
1 August, 1806: The members of the Confederation of the Rhine leave the Holy Roman Empire definitively.
6 August, 1806: Francis II of Austria made a declaration whereby he recognised that he was no longer able to fulfil the duties associated with the title and dignity of the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The empire thus disappeared, almost even without a whimper. Goethe famously remarked that he was more interested in a dispute between his coachman and the footman than he was in the news that the empire was dead. See Thierry Lentz, Nouvelle Histoire du Premier Empire, tome I : Napoléon et la conquête de l’Europe 1804-1810, Fayard, 2002, p. 224.
23 September, 1806: The Grand Duke of Wurzburg joined the Confederation of the Rhine and the college of kings, promising to provide a contingent of 2,000 men.
11 December, 1806: The king of Saxony joined the Confederation and the college of kings (bringing with him 20,000 men), and then on 15 December, he was joined by the dukes of Saxe-Weimar, of Saxe-Gotha, of Saxe-Meiningen, of Saxe-Hilburghaussen, and of Saxe-Coburg (all joining the college of princes, and bringing with them a total of 2,000 men).
11 April, 1807: The Confederation welcomed into their college of princes the dukes of Anhalt-Bernburg, of Anhalt-Dessau and of Anhalt-Coethen (each bringing with them 700 men), the Prince de Waldeck (bringing with him 400 men), the princes of Lippe-Detmold and of Schaumburg-Lippe (each bringing with them 650 men), the princes of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen (each bringing with them 650 men), and the four princes of Reuss, both the elder branch (Reuss-Greitz) and the younger branch (Reuss-Ebersdorf, Reuss-Schleitz, and Reuss-Lobenstein) (each bringing with them 400 men).
9 July, 1807: In parallel with the Franco-Russian agreement hammered out at Tilsit on 7 July, Prussia was forced to cede the duchy of Warsaw (which was changed into a kingdom), Danzig and the kingdom of Westphalia.
15 November, 1807: Jerome Bonaparte (just recently acceded to the throne of the Westphalia) joined the confederation and the new college of kings, agreeing to provide a contingent of 25,000 men.
18 February, 1808: The Duke of Mecklembourg-Strelitz joined the confederation and the college of princes and was asked to provide 400 men.
22 March, 1808: The Duke of Mecklembourg-Schwerin joined the confederation and the college of princes and was asked to provide 1,900 men.
14 October, 1808: The Duke of Oldenburg was allowed to enter the confederation and the college of princes in return for providing 800 men.
24 April, 1809: The Order of the Teutonic Knights was abolished and its property distributed between the sovereigns of the confederation. In 1810, the Confederation of the Rhine stretched over more than 350 000 km2 and boasted a population of 14.5 million. The 39 sovereigns of the confederation were to supply their protector with about 120 000 men.
16 February, 1810: Treaty with the Prince Primate of the Confederation of the Rhine
A treaty was signed in Paris by Dalberg, Prince Primate. The archbishop of Mainz received the principalities of Fulda and of Hanau, was secularised under the name of Grand Duchy of Frankfurt. Dalberg became Grand Duke of Frankfurt, but on his death the Grand Duchy was to return to the viceroy of Italy, Eugène de Beauharnais.
28 February, 1810: Franco-Bavarian Treaty of Paris. Bavaria receives the margravate of Bayreuth and the principality of Regensburg in exchange for the South Tyrol ceded to the Kingdom of Italy, certain Swabian territories ceded to Baden, and some lands in Franconia ceded to Württemberg.
9 March, 1810: Treaty of marriage signed between Napoleon I and Francis I, emperor of Austria, father of the archduchess Marie-Louise.
The Confederation of the Rhine faced with the Napoleonic Empire
5 August, 1810: The Trianon Decree and 9 October, the Fontainebleau Decree
After the setting up of the continental system designed to prevent British goods entering the continent (Berlin Decree of 21 November, 1806), smuggling began to occur in the states of the Confederation of the Rhine. As a result, Napoleon decided to place heavy tariffs on raw materials (notably cotton) and on colonial produce (sugar, coffee, etc.). This decree of 5 August was followed by a decree dated 19 October (Fontainebleau Decree) ordering the destruction of all British merchandise found in territories occupied by Napoleon, included within which were the states of the Confederation.
13 December, 1810: In an attempt to firm up the continental system and to prevent smuggling, Napoleon annexed the northern state of Oldenburg, the two principalities of Salm, the duchy of Arenberg, removing them from the Confederation of the Rhine.
1813: Throughout the whole year, Prussia and Austria pursued a policy of encouraging people in the Confederation to complain about the presence of the French and Napoleon’s ‘protectorate’.
7 August, 1813: The allies required Napoleon to give up his title of Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine.
9 September, 1813: Treaty of Toeplitz. In a secret article in the treaty, Austria, Prussia and Russia agreed to prepare the dissolution of the Confederation of the Rhine.
8 October, 1813: Bavaria decided to join the new coalition against Napoleonic France and offered the allies more than 60,000 men.
26 October, 1813: King Jerome was driven out of Kassel. The Grand Duke of Wurtzburg left the Confederation.
30 October, 1813: Austro-Bavarian defeat at the hands of Napoleon at Hanau.
4 November, 1813: The dissolution of the Confederation of the Rhine was pronounced by the Allies.
The Confederation of the Rhine is dead, long live the Germanic Confederation
2-29 November, 1813: Several states negotiated with the allies in an attempt to keep their territory intact and to hold onto their sovereignty: the Treaty of Fulda on 2 November with Württemberg, the Treaties of Frankfurt on 2 November with Hesse-Darmstadt, on 20 November with Baden, on 24 November with Nassau and on 29 with Saxe-Cobourg.
8 June, 1815: Creation of a Germanic confederation, comprising 39 states and covering almost precisely the territory occupied by what used to be Holy Roman Empire (excluding the bishoprics of Liège and the Austrian Netherlands). Some states which remained loyal to Napoleon disappeared (notably the Grand Duchy of Frankfurt and the principalities of Leyen and of Isenburg), other had parts of their territory lopped off (such as Saxony).
Irène Delage tr. P.H., June 2006