Ancient History & Civilisation

Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire

Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire lasted a thousand years, far longer than ancient Rome. Yet this formidable dominion never inspired the awe of its predecessor. Voltaire distilled the disdain of generations when he quipped it was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire. Yet as Peter Wilson shows, the Holy Roman Empire tells a millennial story of Europe better than the histories of individual nation-states. And its legacy can be seen today in debates over the nature of the European Union.

Heart of Europe traces the Empire from its origins within Charlemagne’s kingdom in 800 to its demise in 1806. By the mid-tenth century its core rested in the German kingdom, and ultimately its territory stretched from France and Denmark to Italy and Poland. Yet the Empire remained stubbornly abstract, with no fixed capital and no common language or culture. The source of its continuity and legitimacy was the ideal of a unified Christian civilization, but this did not prevent emperors from clashing with the pope over supremacy―the nadir being the sack of Rome in 1527 that killed 147 Vatican soldiers.

Though the title of Holy Roman Emperor retained prestige, rising states such as Austria and Prussia wielded power in a way the Empire could not. While it gradually lost the flexibility to cope with political, economic, and social changes, the Empire was far from being in crisis until the onslaught of the French revolutionary wars, when a crushing defeat by Napoleon at Austerlitz compelled Francis II to dissolve his realm.


Family Trees

PART I: Ideal

Chapter 1. Two Swords

Chapter 2. Christendom

Chapter 3. Sovereignty

PART II: Belonging

Chapter 4. Lands

Chapter 5. Identities

Chapter 6. Nation

PART III: Governance

Chapter 7. Kingship

Chapter 8. Territory

Chapter 9. Dynasty

PART IV: Society

Chapter 10. Authority

Chapter 11. Association

Chapter 12. Justice

Chapter 13. Afterlife


Appendix 1: Emperors 800–1806

Appendix 2: German Kings to 1519

Appendix 3: Kings of Italy 774–962



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