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Title page of the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss dated February 25, 1803

The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss (more precisely: the main conclusion of the extraordinary Reichsdeputation ), drawn up on February 25, 1803 in the old town hall of Regensburg , was the basis for the last important law of the Holy Roman Empire . In the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss ( main conclusion = "fundamental resolution") it was stipulated that the secular princes should be compensated for their loss of territory on the left bank of the Rhine to France . This happened through the secularization of ecclesiastical and mediatization of smaller secular rulers of previous imperial estates on the right of the Rhine. A total of 2  electoral principalities , 9 imperial bishoprics, 44 imperial abbeys and 45 imperial cities were dissolved. 45,000 km² of land and almost 5 million people received new sovereigns.


After the resurgence of hostilities between revolutionary France and the Habsburg Monarchy in the Second Coalition War , the First Consul and later French Emperor Napoleon crossed the Great St. Bernhard and defeated the Austrian army on June 14, 1800 in the Battle of Marengo . At the same time, the French general Jean-Victor-Marie Moreau pushed the Austrians back across the Rhine to the Isar . On December 3, 1800, he enclosed the Austrian and Bavarian troops near Hohenlinden and thus forced Austria to withdraw from the war. In the so-called Peace of Lunéville (February 9, 1801), the Emperor as head of the Holy Roman Empire then confirmed the cession of the left bank of the Rhine to France, which had already been agreed in the Treaty of Basel in 1795 with Prussia and in the Peace of Campo Formio with Austria in 1797 . Already in the secret clauses of the treaties of Basel and Campo Formio as well as in the resolutions of the Rastatt Congress (1797–1799) it was stipulated that the losses of the imperial princes on the left bank of the Rhine should be compensated through secularization and partly also through mediation in Germany on the right bank of the Rhine. With the Peace of Lunéville - and not just with the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss - their dissolution was already decided. Only the specific division of the territories and countries was not yet regulated at this point in time.

Due to the worsening foreign policy weather situation, Napoleon felt compelled in the summer of 1802 to conclude the German compensation negotiations as quickly as possible. The next war was already looming with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland . The Russian tsarist empire under Alexander I threatened to turn away from France. Prussia's neutrality became uncertain. In order to give the negotiations between the Empire and France a legitimate look, Napoleon still needed the legal consent of the Emperor in Vienna . With the admission that part of the Eichstätt bishopric should go to the later Electorate of Salzburg , ruled by the Habsburgs, Napoleon succeeded in persuading the emperor to commission the Perpetual Diet to conduct the talks. As early as October 2, 1801 , the Reichstag proposed that the compensation plans be drawn up by a separate commission, the so-called Reichsdeputation. This should consist of representatives of the Electors of Mainz , Saxony , Brandenburg , Bohemia and Bavaria as well as the Duke of Württemberg , the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel and the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order . Even before the Reich Deputation could meet in August 1802 , Napoleon, in cooperation with the Tsarist Empire, had a compensation plan , the so-called Mediation Act of June 3, 1802 , drawn up as a "basis for discussion". While Saint Petersburg was interested in supporting the dynastic kinship of the Tsarist House in southern Germany, Paris was concerned with installing a counterweight to Austria. The Reich Deputation was only supposed to confirm these Franco-Russian ideas, but was only able to effect small changes.

Before and during the meeting of the Imperial Deputation, the imperial princes made great efforts to induce the French government to make the greatest possible concessions by means of money and gifts. The French Foreign Minister Talleyrand alone allegedly took in 15 million French francs from the compensation negotiations. Since, for example, Duke Friedrich II of Württemberg had not made any corruption payments because of his family ties to the Russian Tsar, a messenger from Talleyrand warned the Württemberg ambassador that France would negotiate with the Württemberg estates instead of the Duke if he did not pay 300,000 francs soon. Even Prussia and Austria poured large amounts of money into Paris. The Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, the Margrave of Baden and the Duke of Württemberg authorized their envoys to proceed without further inquiry up to a certain amount of money. However, as it turned out, the payments did not have the desired effect. The main French decision-makers did not allow themselves to be dissuaded from their geopolitical goals despite the bribery.

Composition of the Imperial Deputation 1802/1803

In the Reich General Power of Attorney of August 3, 1802, the following Reich estates were appointed to the Reich Deputation to clarify the question of compensation:

The management of the deputation was incumbent on Johann Aloys Josef Freiherr von Hügel , the imperial consignor to the Perpetual Reichstag in Regensburg .

From the main deputation closing to the Reich closing

The Reichsdeputation met for 50 sessions, the first on August 24, 1802 and the last on May 10, 1803 (i.e. after the Reichstag had passed the main conclusions of the Reichsdeputation (Reichsgutachten) and ratified it by the Kaiser). The location of the meetings was the town hall of Regensburg. Already at the third meeting, which took place on September 8, 1802, the Imperial Deputation gave in to Franco-Russian pressure and approved their draft compensation plan in principle, whereby in addition to details of the land allocations, in particular the compensation of the clerical dignitaries and the assumption of the debts of the clergy Territories still remained open.

At its 46th meeting on February 25, 1803, the so-called main conclusion was passed by the deputation and presented to the general assembly of the Reich. The Imperial Assembly did not meet as a uniform assembly, but rather separately in the three colleges ( Electoral Council , Imperial Prince Council , Imperial City College ). After the deliberations of the three colleges had been completed, on March 24, 1803, the responsible electoral Mainz chancellery prepared an expert report for the empire , which was submitted to the emperor for ratification. After ratification by Emperor Franz II on April 27, 1803, the Imperial Report became the force of law as the final of the Reich .

The ecclesiastical imperial estates and the imperial cities, which should lose their imperial estates after the content of the main conclusion, were declared "absent" in the meetings of the colleges and could not take part in deliberations and voting. In the deliberations of the Imperial Cities College on March 4 and 7, 1803, only the six remaining Imperial cities according to the main closing took part and agreed.

Since the mediating powers (France and Russia) had repeatedly and unmistakably expressed their expectation of a quick ratification of the main conclusion by the general imperial assembly, the real implementation of the main conclusion in the main (occupation of the assigned territories) was already completed in December 1802 and the dignitaries of the secularized clergy had already negotiated their financial compensation, the ratification of the main closing by the Imperial Assembly and the Emperor was only a matter of form.

The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss was unanimously adopted by the Reichstag in March 1803. However, by the end of 1802, most of the clergy princes had renounced their secular rulership rights and thus their seat and vote in the Reichstag. The imperial estates involved in the imperial deputation, such as the archbishop of Salzburg, the bishops of Passau, Freising, Trient and Brixen, the prince provost of Berchtesgaden and the Swabian imperial prelates had agreed in January 1803 not to take part in the final deliberations of the Reichstag on the imperial deputation . They wanted to avoid that the Reichstag would vote on their fate and the dissolution of their domains. In this respect, the decision was formally legally unanimous, but not with the consent of all imperial estates. Emperor Franz II supported this vote in April - albeit with reservations.


Level of empire

Map of Germany and Italy after the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss 1803

Of the former 51 imperial cities , 45 were added to the neighboring large principalities. Only Lübeck , Hamburg , Bremen , Frankfurt am Main , Nuremberg and Augsburg were able to maintain their independence. Augsburg and Nuremberg were to lose their sovereignty in the course of the Peace Treaty of Pressburg in 1805 and with the Rhine Confederation Act in 1806.

The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss ended an exception in the Empire that had existed since the 10th century : apart from the Papal States, the Holy Roman Empire was meanwhile the only political entity in Europe in which ecclesiastical / ecclesiastical and secular government offices were linked. This was expressed in a large number of spiritual electoral principalities, monasteries and imperial abbeys. The annexation of these territories in favor of the major principalities, which has been emerging since the Peace of Lunéville at the latest, was not prevented by Pope Pius VII and his curia. Since the aristocratic prince-bishops in particular were used to handling their office relatively detached from Rome, the Pope welcomed their dissolution. The later bishops, who came from the bourgeoisie and peasantry, enabled Rome to push through a renewal of the Catholic Church in Germany on the basis of Febronianism and Episcopalism . As the sole ruler of a spiritual principality, Karl Theodor von Dalberg , the last Archbishop of Mainz and Arch Chancellor of the empire, was compensated. The remaining territory of Kurmainz on the right bank of the Rhine was transferred to the Principality of Aschaffenburg . In addition to the Principality of Aschaffenburg, he ruled over the Principality of Regensburg and the County of Wetzlar . Furthermore, he was allowed to carry the titles of prince and elector.

The Teutonic Order and the Order of Malta were initially excluded from secularization . At the same time, the princes of Württemberg , Baden and Hesse-Kassel received the electoral dignity of the extinct electorates of Kurköln , Kurmainz and Kurtrier ; a new spa office was installed for the new duchy of Salzburg .

The north-west German bishoprics, however, disappeared from the political map with the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss. The dangers of secularization threatened the dioceses of Paderborn, Hildesheim, Cologne, Münster and Osnabrück as early as the 18th century. The reasons for this were the neighboring, up-and-coming Protestant princely states; in the north Hanover, which is linked to Great Britain through a personal union, in the south the later Electorate of Hesse-Kassel and in the east and west the Hohenzollern state of Prussia. The Diocese of Hildesheim came under the control of Hanover during the War of the Spanish Succession , but had to be given up again after the end of the war. Only the formation of an episcopal empire under Clemens August , which was dynastically linked to the Bavarian ducal house of the Wittelsbach family, could still prevent the secularization of the north-west German bishoprics.

Role in the fall of the Old Kingdom

According to the historian Anton Schindling , the main research question is whether the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss can actually mark the beginning of the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Schindling sees the event as a last attempt to reform and reorganize the empire. The military pressure exerted by France had revealed that imperial cities, imperial knighthoods and ecclesiastical principalities were unable to defend themselves. The larger secular princely states, on the other hand, seemed more able to counter the French expansion. The dissolution of smaller rulers through secularization and mediatization in favor of larger states can, according to Schindling, be understood as a process to preserve the empire.

The historian Christopher Clark sees in the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss a "geopolitical revolution" that irrevocably brought the foundations of the Holy Roman Empire to collapse. The “raison d'être” of the empire was to protect the “political and class diversity of old Central Europe”. However, due to the downfall of the ecclesiastical principalities and most of the imperial cities brought about by the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, the ambition of the larger and medium-sized principalities for state sovereignty gained in importance. Higher-level institutions of the empire such as the Perpetual Reichstag or the Reich Chamber of Commerce opposed these princely ambitions, so that the solution from the Reich Association and the alliance with France could become more and more attractive.

The southern German principalities of Wuerttemberg, Baden and Bavaria in particular benefited from the territorial gains and ranks of the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss. As French allies, they should form a buffer zone vis-à-vis Austria. Napoleon and his foreign minister Talleyrand wanted on the one hand to enlarge them territorially so that they would be able to support France in its wars, but on the other hand to keep them small enough that they could not endanger France's position. In this way, French foreign policy used the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss to loosen the centuries-old ties between the Roman-German emperor as head of the empire and the southern German states.

On 12 July 1806, founded archchancellor with Bavaria , Württemberg , Baden , Hesse-Darmstadt , Nassau , Cleves-Berg and other principalities with the signing of the Act of Confederation, in Paris the Rhine Confederation , served as the protector Napoleon. On August 1, the members of the Confederation declared their withdrawal from the Reich. Even in the Peace of Pressburg , which ended the Third Coalition War, Franz II had to accept that Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden were given full sovereignty and thus Prussia and Austria were on an equal footing. Since then, these countries have actually been outside the imperial constitution.

On August 6, 1806, Emperor Franz II laid down the imperial crown and declared the empire dissolved. If this step had been planned for some time, the decisive factor was an ultimatum from Napoleon on July 22nd: If Emperor Franz did not abdicate by August 10th, then French troops would attack Austria. In order to anticipate the long-foreseeable loss of status, however, Franz II had proclaimed the Austrian Empire two years earlier on August 11, 1804 and called himself Franz I of Austria from August 6, 1806.

Religious-political consequences

On the compensation payments for secularization that still exist today → State benefit

One of the positive side effects of the Reichsdeputation Hauptschluss also included the fact that, with the dissolution of the spiritual principalities, a policy of tolerance towards the three denominations began to be implemented across the whole of the Reich for the first time. Before 1803, according to Schindling, there was no formal legal equality for non-Catholics in either the monasteries or the prince-bishops. Larger secular princely states such as Württemberg and Baden were forced to give up their previous denominational uniformity in the long term due to the integration of newly acquired territories. The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss thus became the catalyst for religious freedom in the German states, although Jews and other non-Christians were still exempt from tolerance.

The secularization and the subsequent mediatization completely changed the empire. With the clergy princes and the traditionally loyal imperial cities, imperial cohesion lost its mainstay. With this the Reich Church ceased to exist. The anti-clerical positions of France contributed significantly to the downfall of the imperial church, especially as they robbed the emperor of an important position of power. Catholic princes also enforced desires.

In this way, the Imperial Council of Princes , which had previously been dominated by Catholics, became predominantly Protestant, as did the Council of Electors. After the imperial knighthood and many small principalities had also lost their independence by 1806, the number of territories immediately adjacent to the empire was reduced from a few hundred to around thirty-four. The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss created a manageable number of small and medium-sized states from a large number of small and very small areas.

After difficult negotiations with the Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic states, it took the Catholic Church two decades to consolidate itself on a new basis through endowment agreements and the reorganization of the dioceses .

Level of the individual states of the empire

Territorial and population losses or gains (rounded)
losses Profits
km² People km² People
Prussia 2,000 140,000 12,000 600,000
Bavaria 10,000 600,000 14,000 850,000
to bathe 450 30,000 2,000 240,000
Württemberg 400 30,000 1,500 120,000

Principalities such as Baden , Bavaria or Württemberg were able to record large territorial gains that were only partially justified by losses, for example in the case of the House of Wittelsbach through the loss of Jülich and Berg , the Electoral Palatinate and the electoral dignity of Cologne, which was often occupied by family members. The margrave of Baden , for example, received more than eight times as many subjects as he had to cede on the left bank of the Rhine. As a justification for his demands, Baden cited that, as a border country, it suffered particularly from the contributions to France during the coalition wars.

Prussia took possession of spiritual territories even before the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss. It had already agreed on this in a state treaty dated May 23, 1802 with France. From the Prussian point of view, the idea of ​​secularization was not new. As early as the 1740s, the Hohenzollern state raised claims to spiritual territories - but ultimately unsuccessfully. The Hochstift Hildesheim and the eastern part of the Hochstift Münster were occupied by Prussian troops in 1802. The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss finally legally approved the military action of Prussia. In addition, Prussia was awarded the Principality of Paderborn (converted into the Principality of Paderborn ), Eichsfeld , the imperial cities of Mühlhausen / Thuringia , Nordhausen and Goslar and the imperial monasteries of Quedlinburg , Elten , Essen , Herford and Werden .

The Electorate of Hanover was not affected by any loss of territory, as it did not have any territories to the left of the Rhine for which it could have demanded compensation. Nevertheless, it was able to incorporate the Hochstift Osnabrück at the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss . However, Hanover's claim to the possession of the duchy of Hildesheim could not be realized. Negotiations with Prussia, which provided for an exchange of the Prussian-occupied Hildesheim with the bishopric of Osnabrück, failed and made it possible for Prussia to station troops in the immediate vicinity of Hanover. The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss thus created the prerequisite for Hanover to be briefly annexed by Prussia at the end of January 1806.

In the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, Württemberg received a total of nine imperial cities, one village and eight ecclesiastical lordships as compensation for territories on the left bank of the Rhine that had been annexed by France, such as the county of Mömpelgard and the dominion of Reichenweier . Schwäbisch Hall, Esslingen, Reutlingen, Heilbronn, Weil, Rottweil, Aalen, Giengen and Schwäbisch Gmünd were now owned by Württemberg. Friedrich , who was elected Elector of Württemberg in the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, used his territorial new acquisitions to expand his absolutist power base. In contrast to the original state of Württemberg , in which the estates formed a kind of “constitutional counterweight” to the prince, Friedrich ruled in Neuwuerttemberg without their say. Württemberg's area on the right bank of the Rhine doubled, in particular the Catholic Upper Swabia , which previously belonged to Austria and various monasteries, was added.

Austria emerged as a loser from the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, because it lost its most important allies in the Reich with the imperial cities, clerical principalities and imperial knighthoods. As head of the empire, the Habsburgs had saved them for centuries from being swallowed up by their larger neighbors. From a legal point of view, too, they were far more dependent on the Roman-German Empire than the large sovereign territories. The Austrian territorial gains with the two archbishoprics of Brixen and Trient were extremely small. Front Austria , which had secured a strong presence for the Habsburgs in the south-west of the empire for centuries, was largely lost. In place of the emperor as the protector of the Holy Roman Empire, Napoleon increasingly took the place of the protector of the German middle states.

The Landgraviate of Hessen-Kassel was able to make little profit from the negotiations. Landgrave Wilhelm IX. Refused to pay bribes to the French government, contrary to the advice of his advisers. His distrust of his ambassadors limited their room for negotiation in Regensburg. As a result of Wilhelm's adherence to Prussia in foreign policy, the southern German states were more important to France as allies. At the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, Wilhelm only acquired the cities of Fritzlar , Naumburg , Amöneburg and Neustadt, which originally belonged to Kurmainz , and the imperial city of Gelnhausen, which had already been pledged to Hessen-Kassel . On May 16, 1803, Wilhelm was made the last of the four new electors. The elector had a three-day festival in Kassel to celebrate the increase in rank, which his predecessors had longed for. The title of elector turned out to be insignificant, however, as there would be no more elections for emperors until the fall of the empire.


  • Joachim P. Heinz: The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss (1803) and the dissolution of the Palatinate counties Wartenberg, Sickingen and von der Leyen. In: Communications of the Historical Association of the Palatinate. Volume 111, 2013, pp. 185-265.
  • Ulrich Hufeld (Ed.): The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss of 1803. A documentation on the fall of the Old Reich . Böhlau, Cologne 2003, ISBN 3-8252-2387-6 .
  • Harm Klueting (Ed.): 200 years of the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss. Secularization, mediatization and modernization between the old empire and the new statehood. Conference of the Historical Commission for Westphalia from 3. – 5. April 2003 in Corvey. Aschendorff, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-402-05616-X .
  • Ingo Knecht: The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss of February 25, 1803. Legality, legal effectiveness and constitutional significance . Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-428-12213-4 .
  • Hermann Uhrig: The compatibility of Art. VII of the Peace of Lunéville with the imperial constitution. 5 volumes. Verlag Traugott Bautz, Nordhausen 2014, ISBN 978-3-88309-862-3 . (also extended legal dissertation Tübingen, 2011, urn : nbn: de: bsz: 21-opus-56749 )
  • Peter Wolf: Reichsdeputationshauptschluss and the end of the Reichstag . In: Reichsstadt and Immerwährender Reichstag (1663–1806) (= Thurn and Taxis Studies. Vol. 20.) Verlag Michael Lassleben, Kallmünz 2001, ISBN 3-7847-1522-2 , pp. 63–75

Web links

Wiktionary: Reichsdeputationshauptschluss  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Reichsdeputationshauptschluss  - Sources and full texts


  1. According to Kaspar von Stieler : "decretum principale, caput constituti".
  2. Eberhard Weis: Montgelas. A biography 1759–1838. Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-57287-1 , p. 36.
  3. Eberhard Weis: Montgelas. A biography 1759–1838. Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-57287-1 , p. 51.
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  5. Paul Sauer: The Swabian Tsar. Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 1984, p. 175.
  6. a b Ludolf Pelizaeus: The long and stony path from Hessen-Kassel to the highest imperial dignity (PDF)
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  11. s. Minutes of the Extraordinary Reich Deputation in Regensburg , Volume 1, Regensburg 1803 (first to twenty-fifth sessions - August 24, 1802 to November 9, 1802), pp. 45–58; here in particular p. 52 “I assume,…, this plan is generally provisional,…” online in the Google book search
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