The Holy Roman Empire 800 AD to 1806 - The Thousand Year Reich

Despite Voltaire's alleged comment that the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, Roman, nor an Empire, it dominated central and eastern Europe for a thousand years: from the coronation of Charlemagne as western Roman emperor by the Pope on Christmas Day 800 AD to its dissolution by Napoleon in 1806. Once derided as an anachronism, recent scholarship on the Empire has emphasized not only its remarkable longevity but also its capacity to adapt and survive in the face of religious and military challenges which might have defeated other states.

My interest in the Holy Roman Empire began while undertaking research for a course on Louis XIV. Louis always seemed to be fighting the Empire, but not only was the Empire able to resist the 'Sun King' it did so whilst simultaneously resisting the threat of the Ottomans Turks in the east who besieged Vienna in 1689. The Empire emerged victorious and pushed both the Ottomans and the French into submission. My admiration for a state which could wage war successfully on two fronts made me determined to look further into this strange and relatively unknown phenomena called 'the Holy Roman Empire.'

This course will provide an introduction to this remarkable institution, its unique constitutional structure which enabled the Empire to responded successfully to the challenges of the Reformation of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries which culminated in the Thirty Years War of 1618 - 1648. We will then look at the ways in which the Empire recovered in the late seventeenth century and, as I have said, successfully fought a two-front war against the French in the west and the Ottoman Turks in the east. The military recovery of the Empire was accompanied by a cultural renaissance which we will explore by considering the place of the arts, music and patronage in the eighteenth-century Empire. Finally, we will discuss the Empire's clash with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France and why this should have eventually brought the Thousand Year Reich to a close.

Out of the ashes of the Empire arose the multi-national Habsburg Monarchy and Bismarck's German Empire; states destined to be swept away in the holocaust of the First World War. The study of the Holy Roman Empire is not only interesting in itself, it provides the essential background to an understanding of European history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Dr Andrew Lacey
September 2018

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