The Erbreichsplan was a plan formed by the Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor
The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...

 Henry VI
Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor
Henry VI was King of Germany from 1190 to 1197, Holy Roman Emperor from 1191 to 1197 and King of Sicily from 1194 to 1197.-Early years:Born in Nijmegen,...

 to change the Holy Roman Empire from an elective
Elective monarchy
An elective monarchy is a monarchy ruled by an elected rather than hereditary monarch. The manner of election, the nature of the candidacy and the electors vary from case to case...

 to a hereditary monarchy
Hereditary monarchy
A hereditary monarchy is the most common type of monarchy and is the form that is used by almost all of the world's existing monarchies.Under a hereditary monarchy, all the monarchs come from the same family, and the crown is passed down from one member to another member of the family...

. Such a move would have drastically changed the character of the Empire, but Henry was unable to garner sufficient support for the plan and it was ultimately forgotten.


Henry, who had been crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1191, was known for being highly aggressive in guarding and expanding the rights of the imperial crown. In 1194 he also invaded the Kingdom of Sicily
Kingdom of Sicily
The Kingdom of Sicily was a state that existed in the south of Italy from its founding by Roger II in 1130 until 1816. It was a successor state of the County of Sicily, which had been founded in 1071 during the Norman conquest of southern Italy...

 and conquered it from its king, William III
William III of Sicily
William III was briefly king of Sicily for 10 months in 1194.He was the second son of King Tancred of Sicily and Sibylla of Acerra. At the age of four, shortly after the death of first his older brother Roger V, Duke of Apulia, and then a few weeks later of his father the king , William was...

. That same year his wife Constance
Constance of Sicily
Constance of Hauteville was the heiress of the Norman kings of Sicily and the wife of Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor...

 gave birth to a son, Frederick II
Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick II , was one of the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors of the Middle Ages and head of the House of Hohenstaufen. His political and cultural ambitions, based in Sicily and stretching through Italy to Germany, and even to Jerusalem, were enormous...

, who would, if all went well, inherit both the Imperial title and the Kingdom of Sicily. It was Henry's dream to have the Empire and Sicily permanently unified under the House of Hohenstaufen.

Unfortunately for Henry's plans, however, the Empire was an elective monarchy, meaning that the Hohenstaufens' hold on the imperial title depended on a favorable election by the princes
The Prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire were the members of the electoral college of the Holy Roman Empire, having the function of electing the Roman king or, from the middle of the 16th century onwards, directly the Holy Roman Emperor.The heir-apparent to a prince-elector was known as an...

 after the death of every Emperor. The dynasty's hold on the empire could never be secure as long as the princes controlled the electoral process. Henry was aware of developments in other European countries such as France
Kingdom of France
The Kingdom of France was one of the most powerful states to exist in Europe during the second millennium.It originated from the Western portion of the Frankish empire, and consolidated significant power and influence over the next thousand years. Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, developed a...

, where the principle of hereditary monarchy was firmly established and the strength of the crown was increasing. Henry ultimately decided on pursuing a way to change the imperial title into a hereditary one, and attempted to gain the support of the princes of the Empire.

The secular princes, for their part, feared Henry's extensive powers. Although hereditary succession for princes (Leihezwang) had become customary within the Empire, it was still not a formal right and on multiple occasions Henry refused to enfeoff the direct heir of a deceased prince with the latter's territory (the most notable example of this being Henry's seizure of the Margraviate of Meissen in 1195 as a vacant fief after the death of Albrecht the Proud, rather than enfeoffing Albrecht's brother Dietrich I with the margraviate). As a result, the princes were nervous about their rights of inheritance and were willing to grant certain concessions to the Emperor in exchange for the preservation of these rights.

The Plan

After his capture of Sicily in 1194 Henry was busy organizing for a possible crusade and negotiating over the election of his son Frederick as his successor within the Empire. The secular princes in the meantime made their desire for hereditary imperial fiefs, and for the recognition of the capacity for inheritance by the female line as well, known. By agreeing to consider these demands Henry was able to gain the acceptance by a majority of the secular princes for the idea of hereditary monarchy. Henry also bought the support of the ecclesiastical princes by announcing that he would be willing to give up the right of jus spolii
Jus Spolii
Jus Spolii, Latin for Right of Spoil, also called Jus Exuviarum or Rapite Capite, was a claim, exercised in the feudal era, of succession to the property of deceased clerics, at least such as they had derived from their ecclesiastical benefices.-History:It was an outcome of ancient canons which...

, which had for years been used against Church lands.

Despite the high degree of support he had from the secular and ecclesiastical princes for the idea, however, Henry was unable to secure an agreement in writing. The first obstacle to the plan was the Archbishop of Cologne, Adolf of Altena
Adolf of Altena
Adolf of Altena, Adolf of Berg or Adolf of Cologne, was Archbishop of Cologne from 1193 to 1205.-Biography:...

. Besides being opposed towards Henry's rule in general, Adolf was unwilling to give up the significant level of influence that his position traditionally held over the imperial election. When he aroused the resistance of several Saxon
Saxony (disambiguation)
Saxony may refer to several Holy Roman Empire era, German Empire or later modern German states in different locations along the Elbe river:Free State of Saxony, Freistaat Sachsen...

 and Thuringia
The Free State of Thuringia is a state of Germany, located in the central part of the country.It has an area of and 2.29 million inhabitants, making it the sixth smallest by area and the fifth smallest by population of Germany's sixteen states....

n princes against the Emperor, Henry realized that he would be unable to establish hereditary monarchy without resistance.

Henry next turned to the papacy, hoping that if he could get the support of the pope that the matter would be settled. Pope Celestine III
Pope Celestine III
Pope Celestine III , born Giacinto Bobone, was elected Pope on March 21, 1191, and reigned until his death. He was born into the noble Orsini family in Rome, though he was only a cardinal deacon before becoming Pope...

, however, had many reasons to oppose such a plan, including the classic papal opposition to the expansion of Imperial power in Italy. Henry tried to compromise with Celestine, offering to meet several papal demands and probably offering a financial incentive. Ultimately the pope decided that the hazards of a hereditary monarchy were too great and refused to support Henry.

Henry now found his campaign to turn his office into a hereditary one stalled. He gave up on his plans for the time being, in the meantime securing the election of Frederick as King of the Romans
King of the Romans
King of the Romans was the title used by the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire following his election to the office by the princes of the Kingdom of Germany...

 in late 1196. Over the next year he was bogged down by a revolt in Sicily and preparations for the Crusade, when he suddenly died in September 1197. His death put a definitive end to his plans for hereditary Imperial succession; the issue was quickly forgotten as the Empire quickly descended into civil war between Philip of Swabia
Philip of Swabia
Philip of Swabia was king of Germany and duke of Swabia, the rival of the emperor Otto IV.-Biography:Philip was the fifth and youngest son of Emperor Frederick I and Beatrice I, Countess of Burgundy, daughter of Renaud III, count of Burgundy, and brother of the emperor Henry VI...

 and Otto IV. Henry's attempts to turn the Imperial title into a hereditary one were ultimately futile, and the Holy Roman Empire remained an elective monarchy all the way up until its dissolution in 1806.
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