Imperial State
An Imperial State or Imperial Estate was an entity in the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

 with a vote in the Imperial Diet (Reichstag) assemblies. Several territories of the Empire were not represented, while some officials (such as the Hereditary Usher) were non-voting members; neither qualified as Imperial States.

Rulers of Imperial States were immediate, which meant that they had no authority above them except the Holy Roman 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...

 himself; furthermore, they possessed several important rights and privileges, including a degree of autonomy in the rule of their territories. On the other hand, the Imperial Knight
Imperial Knight
The Free Imperial Knights, or the Knights of the Empire was an organisation of free nobles of the Holy Roman Empire, whose direct overlord was the Emperor, remnants of the medieval free nobility and the ministeriales...

s, as well as several Imperial abbeys and minor territories, had an immediate status without admittance to membership of the Imperial Diet.


Imperial States could be either ecclesiastic or secular. The ecclesiastical states were led by:
  • the three clerical Prince-elector
    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...

    s: the Archbishops of Cologne, Mainz
    Archbishopric of Mainz
    The Archbishopric of Mainz or Electorate of Mainz was an influential ecclesiastic and secular prince-bishopric in the Holy Roman Empire between 780–82 and 1802. In the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, the Archbishop of Mainz was the primas Germaniae, the substitute of the Pope north of the Alps...

     and Trier;
  • Prince-Archbishops
    A Prince-Bishop is a bishop who is a territorial Prince of the Church on account of one or more secular principalities, usually pre-existent titles of nobility held concurrently with their inherent clerical office...

     and Prince-Bishops as well as Prince-Abbot
    A Prince-Abbot is a title for a cleric who is a Prince of the Church , in the sense of an ex officio temporal lord of a feudal entity, notably a State of the Holy Roman Empire. The secular territory ruled by the head of an abbey is known as Prince-Abbacy or Abbey-principality...

    s and Prince-Provost
    Prince-Provost is a rare title for a monastic superior with the ecclesiastical style of provost who is a Prince of the Church in the sense that he also ranks as a secular 'prince' , notably a Reichsfürst of the Holy Roman Empire, holding a direct vote in the Reichstag assembly coequal to an actual...

    s of the Empire;
  • Imperial Prelates, immediate Prior
    Prior is an ecclesiastical title, derived from the Latin adjective for 'earlier, first', with several notable uses.-Monastic superiors:A Prior is a monastic superior, usually lower in rank than an Abbot. In the Rule of St...

    s and Provosts
    Provost (religion)
    A provost is a senior official in a number of Christian churches.-Historical Development:The word praepositus was originally applied to any ecclesiastical ruler or dignitary...

  • Grand Master
    Grand Master (order)
    Grand Master is the typical title of the supreme head of various orders of knighthood, including various military orders, religious orders and civil orders such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Orange Order...

    s of military order
    Military order
    A military order is a Christian society of knights that was founded for crusading, i.e. propagating or defending the faith , either in the Holy Land or against Islam or pagans in Europe...

    s like the Teutonic Knights
    Teutonic Knights
    The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem , commonly the Teutonic Order , is a German medieval military order, in modern times a purely religious Catholic order...

     or Knights Hospitaller
    Knights Hospitaller
    The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta , also known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta , Order of Malta or Knights of Malta, is a Roman Catholic lay religious order, traditionally of military, chivalrous, noble nature. It is the world's...


The secular estates, most notably:
  • the four Prince-Electors of the County Palatine of the Rhine, Saxony
    Electorate of Saxony
    The Electorate of Saxony , sometimes referred to as Upper Saxony, was a State of the Holy Roman Empire. It was established when Emperor Charles IV raised the Ascanian duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg to the status of an Electorate by the Golden Bull of 1356...

    , Brandenburg
    Margraviate of Brandenburg
    The Margraviate of Brandenburg was a major principality of the Holy Roman Empire from 1157 to 1806. Also known as the March of Brandenburg , it played a pivotal role in the history of Germany and Central Europe....

     and Bohemia
    Kingdom of Bohemia
    The Kingdom of Bohemia was a country located in the region of Bohemia in Central Europe, most of whose territory is currently located in the modern-day Czech Republic. The King was Elector of Holy Roman Empire until its dissolution in 1806, whereupon it became part of the Austrian Empire, and...

    , later also Bavaria
    History of Bavaria
    The history of Bavaria stretches from its earliest settlement and its formation as a stem duchy in the 6th century through its inclusion in the Holy Roman Empires to its status as an independent kingdom and, finally, as a large and significant Bundesland of the modern Federal Republic of...

     and Hanover;
  • Imperial Princes
    Princes of the Holy Roman Empire
    The term Prince of the Holy Roman Empire denoted a secular or ecclesiastical Imperial State, who ruled over an immediate fief directly assigned by the Holy Roman Emperor...

     including Grand Duke
    Grand Duke
    The title grand duke is used in Western Europe and particularly in Germanic countries for provincial sovereigns. Grand duke is of a protocolary rank below a king but higher than a sovereign duke. Grand duke is also the usual and established translation of grand prince in languages which do not...

    s, Duke
    A duke or duchess is a member of the nobility, historically of highest rank below the monarch, and historically controlling a duchy...

    s, Counts Palatine
    Count palatine
    Count palatine is a high noble title, used to render several comital styles, in some cases also shortened to Palatine, which can have other meanings as well.-Comes palatinus:...

    , Margrave
    A margrave or margravine was a medieval hereditary nobleman with military responsibilities in a border province of a kingdom. Border provinces usually had more exposure to military incursions from the outside, compared to interior provinces, and thus a margrave usually had larger and more active...

    s and Landgrave
    Landgrave was a title used in the Holy Roman Empire and later on by its former territories. The title refers to a count who had feudal duty directly to the Holy Roman Emperor...

  • Reichsgrafen
    Graf is a historical German noble title equal in rank to a count or a British earl...

    and other rulers of comital rank, Freiherr
    The German titles Freiherr and Freifrau and Freiin are titles of nobility, used preceding a person's given name or, after 1919, before the surname...

    (Barons) and some Princes;
  • the Free and Imperial cities
    Free Imperial City
    In the Holy Roman Empire, a free imperial city was a city formally ruled by the emperor only — as opposed to the majority of cities in the Empire, which were governed by one of the many princes of the Empire, such as dukes or prince-bishops...


Until 1582 the votes of the Free and Imperial Cities were only advisory. None of the rulers below the Holy Roman Emperor ranked as Kings, with the exception of the Kings of Bohemia.

Statehood was normally attached to a particular territory within the Empire, but there were some reichsständische Personalisten, or Imperial Stately Personalists. Originally, the Emperor alone could grant statehood, but in 1653, several restrictions on the Emperor's power were introduced. The creation of a new state required the assent of the College of Electors and of the College of Princes (see Reichstag below). The ruler was required to agree to accept imperial taxation and military obligations. Furthermore, the state was required to obtain admittance into one of the Imperial Circles. Theoretically, personalist states were forbidden after 1653, but exceptions were often made.

Once a territory attained statehood, it could lose the attribute under very few circumstances. A territory ceded to a foreign power ceased to be a state; furthermore, a mediatized
German Mediatisation
The German Mediatisation was the series of mediatisations and secularisations that occurred in Germany between 1795 and 1814, during the latter part of the era of the French Revolution and then the Napoleonic Era....

 state (that is, a state that came to be under the authority but not the sovereignty of a foreign power) could lose statehood. From 1648 onwards, inheritance of the state was limited to one family; a territory inherited by a different family ceased to be a state unless the Emperor explicitly allowed otherwise. Finally, a territory could lose statehood by being subjected to the Imperial ban (the most notable example involved the Elector Palatine Frederick V
Frederick V, Elector Palatine
Frederick V was Elector Palatine , and, as Frederick I , King of Bohemia ....

, who was banned in 1621 for his participation in the Bohemian Revolt
Thirty Years' War
The Thirty Years' War was fought primarily in what is now Germany, and at various points involved most countries in Europe. It was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history....


Rights and privileges

Rulers of Imperial States enjoyed precedence over other subjects in the Empire. Electors were originally styled Durchlaucht
Serene Highness
His/Her Serene Highness is a style used today by the reigning families of Liechtenstein and Monaco. It also preceded the princely titles of members of some German ruling and mediatised dynasties as well as some non-ruling but princely German noble families until 1918...

(Serene Highness), princes Hochgeboren
Hochwohlgeboren is a form of address for members of the lower German nobility or landed gentry. The English translation is High Well Born.-German usage:...

(High-Born) and counts Hoch- und Wolhgeboren (High and Well-Born). In the eighteenth century, the electors were upgraded to Durchläuchtigste (Most Serene Highness), princes to Durchlaucht (Serene Highness) and counts to Erlaucht (Illustrious Highness).

Imperial States enjoyed several rights and privileges. Rulers had autonomy insofarasmuch as their families were concerned; in particular, they were permitted to make rules regarding the inheritance of their states without imperial interference. They were permitted to make treaties and enter into alliances with other Imperial States as well as with foreign nations. The electors, but not the other rulers, were permitted to exercise certain regalian powers, including the power to mint
Mint (coin)
A mint is an industrial facility which manufactures coins for currency.The history of mints correlates closely with the history of coins. One difference is that the history of the mint is usually closely tied to the political situation of an era...

 money, the power to collect toll
To tax is to impose a financial charge or other levy upon a taxpayer by a state or the functional equivalent of a state such that failure to pay is punishable by law. Taxes are also imposed by many subnational entities...

s and a monopoly over gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 and silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...


Imperial Diet

From 1489 onwards, the Imperial Diet was divided into three collegia: the Council of Electors
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...

, the Council of Princes and the Council of Cities. Electoral states belonged to the first of the aforementioned councils; other states, whether ecclesiastical or secular, belonged to the Council of Princes.

Votes were held in right of the states, rather than personally. Consequently, an individual ruling several states held multiple votes; similarly, multiple individuals ruling parts of the same state shared a single vote. These rules were not formalized until 1582; prior to this time, when multiple individuals inherited parts of the same state, they sometimes received a vote each. Votes were either individual or collective. Princes and senior clerics generally held individual votes (but such votes, as noted above, were sometimes shared). Prelate
A prelate is a high-ranking member of the clergy who is an ordinary or who ranks in precedence with ordinaries. The word derives from the Latin prælatus, the past participle of præferre, which means "carry before", "be set above or over" or "prefer"; hence, a prelate is one set over others.-Related...

s (abbots and priors) without individual votes were classified into two benches — the Bench of the Rhine and the Bench of Swabia
Swabian Circle
The Swabian Circle was an Imperial Circle of the Holy Roman Empire established in 1500 on the territory of the former German stem-duchy of Swabia. However, it did not include the Habsburg home territories of Swabian Austria, the member states of the Swiss Confederacy nor the lands of the Alsace...

 — each of which enjoyed a collective vote. Similarly, Counts and Lords were grouped into four comital benches with a collective vote each — the Upper Rhenish
Upper Rhenish Circle
The Upper Rhenish Circle was an Imperial Circle of the Holy Roman Empire established in 1500 on the territory of the former Duchy of Upper Lorraine and large parts of Rhenish Franconia including the Swabian Alsace region and the Burgundian duchy of Savoy....

 Bench of Wetterau
The Wetterau is a fertile undulating tract, watered by the Wetter, a tributary of the Nidda River, in the western German state of Hesse, between the hilly province Oberhessen and the north-western Taunus mountains....

, the Swabian Bench, the Franconian
Franconian Circle
The Franconian Circle was an Imperial Circle established in 1500 in the centre of the Holy Roman Empire. It comprised the eastern part of the former Franconian stem duchy — roughly corresponding with the present-day Bavarian Regierungsbezirke of Upper, Middle and Lower Franconia — while western...

 Bench and the Westphalian
Lower Rhenish-Westphalian Circle
The Lower Rhenish–Westphalian Circle was an Imperial Circle of the Holy Roman Empire. It comprised territories of the former Duchy of Lower Lorraine, Frisia and the Westphalian part of the former Duchy of Saxony....


No elector ever held multiple electorates; nor were electorates ever divided between multiple heirs. Hence, in the Council of Electors, each individual held exactly one vote. Electors who ruled states in addition to their electorates also voted in the Council of Princes; similarly, princes who also ruled comital territories voted both individually and in the comital benches. In the Reichstag in 1792, for instance, the Elector of Brandenburg
Brandenburg is one of the sixteen federal-states of Germany. It lies in the east of the country and is one of the new federal states that were re-created in 1990 upon the reunification of the former West Germany and East Germany. The capital is Potsdam...

 held eight individual votes in the Council of Princes and one vote in the Bench of Westphalia. Similarly, among ecclesiastics, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order held one individual vote in the Council of Princes and two in the Bench of the Rhine.
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