Imperial Knight

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Imperial Knight is a name for nobles in the Holy Roman Empire , which members of the free imperial knights were (see: caste system ) . The prefix “Reichs-” should indicate that these nobles were subordinate to the king or emperor of the empire and not to a sovereign prince . They were thus directly imperial , but did not belong to the imperial estates , as they did not have their own seat with voting rights in the Reichstag . They are therefore also assigned to the lower and not to the high nobility .

Members of the Imperial Knighthood

“Imperial Knighthood” is the generic term for the members of corporations of the imperial-free or “immediate” lower nobility in the Holy Roman Empire. Especially in Swabia , Franconia and the Rhineland , nobles had been able to maintain their direct feudal relationship with the emperor and empire for their possessions from the Middle Ages . Historically, the Imperial Knights were either the descendants (and heirs) of holders of medieval fiefdoms, whose fiefs had died out, so that the Oberlehen had reverted to the Reich and its head (and was not subsequently reissued), or descendants of old Reichsministeriales , who had always taken their fiefs directly from the empire.

When in 1495 the Reichstag and its seats - bound to certain territories - became a permanent institution of the imperial constitution through a contract between the emperor and the imperial estates , only the holders of large imperial fiefs (electors, dukes, princes, counts and imperial prelates) received such seats allocated. The imperial knights, whose manors mostly corresponded in size to only average manors that were fiefdoms of a sovereign, received no such seats and thus no imperial estate . The owners of the smaller imperial fiefs then joined forces in Swabia, Franconia and the Rhineland in the three corresponding "knight circles", which in turn were divided into "cantons" in order to assert their political interests. By inheriting or buying such an imperial fief, a noble family could later be accepted into these knight circles and thus become imperial knights.

Imperial knights could also be elevated to the status of barons or counts by the emperor and then often referred to themselves as imperial barons or imperial counts . As a rule, however, this was not associated with the rise from the imperial knight to the imperial estate, since the latter was linked to the territories , not the title. Only by acquiring a territory with a seat and a vote in the Reichstag was it possible to rise to the ranks of imperial princes and thus become imperial estates. (The exception was admission as a personalist , but this was not hereditary.) Only in very rare cases were new hereditary seats in the Reichstag created.

As "imperial barons" or "imperial counts", however, those nobles were also referred to who had received their titles from the emperor, but without being the owners of imperial direct dominions or belonging to the imperial knighthood. Such titleholders also remained in the lower nobility.

The Franconian Knight Circle , the Swabian Knight Circle and the Rhenish Knight Circle were dissolved at the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and the Imperial Knights came under the rule of member states of the German Confederation through mediation . At the end of the Old Kingdom , the imperial knighthood comprised around 350 families with around 450,000 subjects.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Werner Hechberger : Nobility, ministerialism and knighthood in the Middle Ages . Munich 2004, p. 41.