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For the period from the Middle Ages to the modern era, a sovereign is the owner of the sovereignty in a territory where he exercised the highest authority. The sovereign was usually an owner or administrator of a domain and a member of the nobility or the high clergy, determined by birthright or feudal law .

In the Holy Roman Empire , the rulers of the individual territories or individual members of the empire (the imperial estates ) were the sovereigns of the areas they ruled. The term sovereignty has been attested since the 15th century. The exact interpretation based on the source statements is problematic, but the term sovereign / sovereign is used in historical research as an abstraction to denote the rule of secular and spiritual greats in the Holy Roman Empire.

The sovereign enjoyed a comparatively strong political position vis-à-vis the Roman-German king or emperor and at the same time was obliged to safeguard the law and peace in his territory. The basic requirement for the term sovereign is the connection of the possession of goods, real estate and rule in his territory. A central feature of sovereignty was therefore not a prominent rank of the respective ruler, but the property law aspect of the rule. In the Middle Ages, sovereigns initially only had a bundle of different individual rights (such as coinage and jurisdiction ), but with the formation of a more closed territorial complex , more and more rights were fixed more precisely. The transfer of the respective jurisdiction from the kingship to the secular and clerical lords within the framework of feudal law also increased the legitimacy of the sovereigns. In the course of the late Middle Ages, the sovereigns expanded the state administrations (including the chancellery, notary's office, courts, financial administration and local officials) and thus achieved a "intensification of rule" that the Roman-German king did not manage at the level of the empire. However, the sovereign was not an absolute ruler either and had to convene the estates on certain issues .

As early as the 12th century, more independent territorial rulers developed in the Holy Roman Empire, this process accelerated in the 13th century through the two important privileges Confoederatio cum principibus ecclesiasticis and Statutum in favorem principum . In the latter privilege from 1231/32, the term domini terrae is used for the first time , but this is to be understood specifically in the sense of lords of property. The sovereign rulers finally established themselves as the strongest political power after kingship in the late Middle Ages. The development of sovereignty in the empire is connected with numerous research problems.

In the Middle Ages there were numerous imperial counties, but this only succeeded in gaining a seat and vote in the Imperial Council of the Reichstag in 1495, so that only afterwards one speaks of an imperial estate of these houses, which were counted among the high nobility . The imperial knighthood, on the other hand, was also directly subordinate to the emperor and was thus directly imperial, but the imperial knights themselves were not part of the imperial estates and were hardly considered as sovereigns of their tiny territories. They joined together to form knight circles, such as the Franconian Knight Circle , the Swabian Knight Circle and the Rhenish Knight Circle , which were dissolved at the end of the empire in 1806. Numerous princes and counts who had previously been imperial direct, all church princes as well as the imperial knights came under the rule of member states of the German Confederation through mediatization .

Since the time of the Reformation , the principle of Cuius regio, eius religio has developed in relation to the level of sovereign rulers . The largely independent state rule in the empire was now also legally secured.


Web links

Wiktionary: sovereign  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Overview of the following with further literature from Dietmar Willoweit: Landesherr, Landesherrschaft. In: Concise dictionary on German legal history . 2nd, completely revised and enlarged edition. Volume 3 (18th delivery), pp. 431-436 ( online article ).
  2. ^ Reinhold Zippelius: Small German constitutional history. 7th edition Munich 2006, p. 62ff.
  3. See for example Klaus Herbers, Helmut Neuhaus: Das Heilige Römische Reich. 2nd edition Cologne a. a. 2006, p. 120.
  4. Ulf Dirlmeier , Gerhard Fouquet , Bernd Fuhrmann: Europe in the late Middle Ages 1215-1378. Munich 2003, p. 96.
  5. Klaus Herbers, Helmut Neuhaus: The Holy Roman Empire. 2nd edition Cologne a. a. 2006, p. 129.
  6. Ernst Schubert: Princely rule and territory in the late Middle Ages. 2nd edition Munich 2006, p. 51ff.