Reichshof Chancellery

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The Imperial Court Chancellery had been the permanent chancellery of the Holy Roman Empire since 1559 . It went back to older predecessors. Her nominal position was the Archbishop of Mainz as Imperial Arch Chancellor . The real leader was the Reich Vice Chancellor .

Reich chancellery wing of the Vienna Hofburg as the seat of the Reichshof chancellery


In the Middle Ages , the Germanic-Romanic empires that had established themselves after the fall of West Rome (see Migration of Nations ) each had their own law firms. Despite the decline of the former Roman administrative institutions (which were still functional in the late late antiquity ), written records and documentation of correspondence were still indispensable. In the Franconian Empire , the early Merovingian kings also employed laypeople who knew how to write, whereas the Carolingians had to rely entirely on clergy, as only these had the necessary reading and writing skills. Nothing in this principle changed in Eastern Franconia and in the resulting Roman-German Empire until the late Middle Ages .

The royal chancellery was the main administrative royal body. In particular, she was responsible for the execution of the royal documents and all correspondence of the ruler. In the early Middle Ages , the chancellery was part of the court chapel and was subordinate to the arch chaplain. In the Roman-German Empire since 965 this was the Archbishop of Mainz, who had held the title of Arch Chancellor for the German part of the Empire from the 11th century. The Archbishop of Mainz also remained the nominal head of the chancellery when it was separated from the court chapel in the 12th century. However, the royal chancellery was not a permanent institution, until the 15th century it was reorganized every time there was a change of rule and it was only at this time that a continuously managed archive is documented. The Roman-German Empire was administered much more weakly than was the case in England and France. Although the Archbishop of Cologne remained Arch Chancellor for Italy and the Archbishop of Trier Arch Chancellor for Burgundy, the actual official business was also in the hands of the Chancellor.

The authority's influence fluctuated strongly over the centuries. Since the 13th century, the Archbishop of Mainz lost influence on the chancellery, the Golden Bull of 1356 limited him to a purely formal role. Since the 12th century, the actual leader has been a chancellor appointed by the respective king. This in turn relied on a protonotary, who was usually a learned lawyer and regulated the administrative processes; he was therefore also referred to as Vice Chancellor from the late 13th century. In the time of Maximilian I , however, the Archbishop of Mainz regained influence for a short time, as he had secured the right to run the Imperial Chancellery again when the king was elected in 1486. In 1498, Maximilian created a court chancellery as a counterbalance. Originally also intended for imperial affairs, jurisdiction was soon limited to matters relating to the Austrian hereditary lands and Burgundy. During the first Reich regiment between 1500 and 1502, the Reich Chancellery was the regiment's office. After the failure of the Reich regiment, the powers were again curtailed. It temporarily lost control of the imperial seal, and the court chancellery again claimed responsibility for imperial affairs. In fact, the court chancellor was also the imperial chancellor.

Reichshof Chancellery

At the time of Ferdinand I , the court chancellery initially continued to deal with imperial matters. In 1559 the court and imperial chancellery were combined. In addition to issuing documents and handling correspondence, the chancellery kept the imperial seal and was responsible for the imperial archives. The chancellery regulations, which were enacted in the first year, provided for the separation of affairs of the Reich and the hereditary countries. However, this provision was never actually implemented.

The Reich Vice Chancellor also belonged to the secret conference after 1669 . He thus played an independent political role in the affairs of the empire. The actual occupation of this office was often controversial between the king and archbishop until the end of the empire. At first the archbishop was able to name the vice-chancellor, later only to suggest him at times. Since 1660, the emperor has respected the archbishop's right to appoint the imperial vice-chancellor and the rest of the staff.

The costs were met from taxes levied by the firm itself. She was always settled at the court of the king and emperor. As a rule, their seat was therefore in Vienna . Under Rudolf II it was mostly in Prague and at the time of Charles VII from the House of Wittelsbach in its vicinity.

In 1620 the Austrian chancellery was spun off for Austrian affairs and questions of the House of Habsburg . In the period that followed, the Reichshof Chancellery gradually lost its influence in competition with the new authority. Under Joseph I, the business processes of the Austrian and the Reich Chancellery were separated more strongly. There are different opinions about the influence of the empire on Viennese politics during this period. Max Braubach and others assume a weakening, while Johannes Burkhardt says that the empire was represented at least in a balanced way. If you follow this, the importance of imperial politics reached a culmination point. During the interlude of the Wittelsbach empire of Charles VII , there was inevitably a spatial separation between the imperial authorities and the Habsburg administration. After their return, the representatives of the Reich had to look for their place again in Vienna. Vice Chancellor Rudolph Joseph von Colloredo advised Franz I. Stephan . For Colloredo, the ore house was just as dependent on the empire as the kingdom on the ore house. There was still a network between the two levels. However, in case of doubt, Maria Theresa and Austria's interests had priority. Since Joseph II at the latest , it no longer played a role in questions of foreign policy.

Arch Chancellor

Reich Vice Chancellor


  • Peter Csendes et al. a .: Chancellery, Chancellor. In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages . Vol. 5 (1999) Col. 910-929.
  • Gerhard Taddey : Reichshof Chancellery . In: Gerhard Taddey (Hrsg.): Lexicon of German history. People, events, institutions. From the turn of the times to the end of the 2nd World War. 2nd revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-520-80002-0 , p. 1023.
  • Reinhold Zippelius : Small German constitutional history. From the early Middle Ages to the present ( Beck'sche Reihe vol. 1041). 6th revised edition. Beck, Munich, 2002, ISBN 3-406-47638-4 , p. 43.

Web links

Commons : Reichshofkanzlei  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. See Michael Kotulla : Chancellery. In: Concise dictionary on German legal history . 2nd Edition. Volume 2 (2011), Col. 1595-1597.
  2. ^ Johannes Burkhardt: Completion and reorganization of the early modern empire 1648–1763. Stuttgart 2006, pp. 287f.
  3. ^ Johannes Burkhardt: Completion and reorganization of the early modern empire 1648–1763. Stuttgart 2006, p. 393.