|Coronation of Otto the Great of Germany|
This issue of titles can be very confusing but it is rather important in understanding why certain historical events were so important when, on the surface, it may seem as though there should have been no difficulty about them. Even the title at the very top, “Emperor of the Romans” was rather complicated. Technically, a Roman was and is simply a native of the city of Rome, however the title could be seen, and was, to refer to “Romans” in the broader sense of basically all Europeans or at least all Christian Europeans which, eventually, they all were. Maps might show the actual city of Rome as being part of the Holy Roman Empire but the emperors did not usually rule Rome but rather the popes ruled the city of Rome and part of the reason why there was so much ‘storm and stress’ between the popes and the emperors was because, originally, the popes were supposed to be superior to the emperor in their spiritual capacity but subjects of the emperors in the temporal sphere. It did not usually work out this way in practice though as neither wished to be overruled by the other on any issue.
|Emperor Romulus surrenders his crown|
In the first place, relatively soon after Odoacer became King of Italy, the Eastern Roman Empire invaded and recaptured the southern half of the peninsula and later other conquerors did as well so that different political entities were established there and the King of Italy only actually held even nominal rule over the northern half of the peninsula. Yet, even then, the German emperor who was King of Italy did not usually rule even northern Italy himself because of the nature of the empire. Northern Italy was ruled by people like the Doge of Venice, the Duke of Milan, the Duke of Savoy and so on who may or may not have been loyal to the German emperor and their nominal king depending on the situation. Quite often, to prevent the emperors from ruling Italy, the pope would form a coalition of the rulers of the northern Italian states to band together in opposition to the emperors. Sometimes they succeeded, such as under Pope Alexander III, and sometimes they did not, such as under Pope Clement VII. His defeat, by the way, is what resulted in the victorious Charles V being the last Emperor to be crowned by the Pope himself.
|Crown of Prussia|
At the very end of the life of the Holy Roman Empire, this ban on more than one king was thrown completely out the window as the victorious Napoleon Bonaparte began to redraw the map of central Europe as he negotiated a new continental order centered around France. This is when, in addition to the King of Prussia, you suddenly had a King of Saxony, a King of Bavaria and a King of Wurttemberg within the historic lands of Germany and different imperial electors than there had been before. Ultimately, however, none of that really mattered as by then the Empire had become so nominal as to be practically nonexistent anyway. Even before the time of Napoleon, when one spoke of the “Emperor” they actually meant the ruler of Austria as he clearly did not rule the whole of the German nation. In 1804 the Emperor Francis II, wishing to end the charade as well as preventing Napoleon himself from being elected, abolished the Holy Roman Empire of the Germans and declared himself Emperor Francis I of Austria, which later became the “Dual-Monarchy” of Austria-Hungary under Francis Joseph.
|Emp. Ferdinand wearing the Crown of Italy|
The subject can be much more complicated if one chooses to go into all of the details and all of the changes over time but, I hope this little summary will at least give those unfamiliar a better grasp of the titles associated with the Holy Roman Empire and perhaps make certain past (and future) articles easier to understand.