The Holy Roman Empire’s Imperial Diet: Electoral Votes in 1792
Originally founded by the Treaty of Verdun in 843, the Holy Roman Empire had, by 1792, evolved into a complicated patchwork of large and small sovereign states. Spread out over several European regions, this medieval instution was not governed by an hereditary monarch, but by an elected Emperor (who was later crowned by the Pope) .
In theory, the Imperial electoral process allowed any member of the nobility to acquire the title of Emperor; in practice, however, the politically-powerful Austrian Hapsburg family had managed to keep the title for itself since 1438. Responsibility for the election of a future Emperor lay with the Council of Electors (Kurfurstenrat) and the Council of Princes (Furstenrat) within the Imperial Diet. The Council of Imperial or Free Cities cast only an advisory vote.
For the election of the last Holy Roman Emperor in 1792 – in which Franz I, Archduke of Austria was elected as Emperor Franz II – the Diet was composed of:
I. The Council of Electors: 8 votes
II. The Council of Princes: 100 votes
A. Ecclesiastical Bench: 37 votes (30 votes + 7 electoral votes)
B. Secular Bench: 63 votes (41 ¾ votes + 21 ¼ electoral votes)
1. Imperial Princes
III. The Council of Imperial or Free Cities (Collegium der Reichstadt): 1 advisory vote
To be eligible for a seat on the Diet, a member of the nobility had to possess land – immediate territories with the status of ‘Imperial Estates’ – within the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire (the city-councils of the Free or Imperial cities also had this status). The clerical members of the Ecclesiastical Bench did not possess this land personally (it was the property of the Church). Consent of the Council of Princes was also required for a new member to join its ranks.
Determining the ownership of an electoral vote [called ‘a voice’] within the Diet was an exceptionally-complicated exercise . All of the following permutations were present in 1792:
In addition, several German and foreign princes of the ancient nobility voted in different councils or colleges – usually because they had acquired more than one immediate territory through marriage or inheiritance. In his capacity as Kurfurst zu Braunschweig-Luneburg, King George III of England’s votes were:
1. One vote in the Council of Electors:
2. Six votes in the Council of Princes:
3. Three partial votes in the College of Imperial Counts of Westphalia
Other foreign monarchs who held Imperial titles were Gustavus III, King of Sweden (1771-1792), Christian VII, King of Denmark (1766-1808), Victor-Amadeus III, King of Sardinia (1773-1796) and Friedrich-Wilhelm II, King of Prussia (1786-1797). Wilhelm V, Furst zu Oranien-Nassau, was also Stadtholder of the Netherlands (1751-1806).
In the information given below, one of two styles of dates are given next to the name of the vote-holder: (1775-1806) indicates the dates of his reign; [1775-1806] indicates the lifetime of the vote-holder.
 After 1508, Holy Roman Emperors dispensed with the Papal coronation; these monarchs were (strictly-speaking) ‘emperors-elect’.
 The principle of ‘one noble one vote’ only applied in the Imperial Circles. The Imperial Circles were territories in a common area grouped together. There were ten Imperial Circles: Bavaria, Burgundy, Franconia, Electoral Rhine, Lower Saxony, Austria, Upper Rhine, Upper Saxony, Swabia and Lower Rhine-Westphalia. These Circles were regional diets in which cities and the different ranks of the nobility all had an equal vote.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2005
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