Imperial estates

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Symbolic representation of the imperial estates on an engraving from 1606

The imperial estates of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation were those persons and corporations that had a seat and vote in the Reichstag .


In the early modern period these were more than 300 ecclesiastical and secular princes , prelates , counts and lords as well as representatives of orders of knights and free cities and imperial cities . The imperial status could also be conferred by the emperor on those who did not have any territory ( personalists ). From 1654, however, it was necessary to own an imperial territory to acquire the imperial estate , i.e. H. a fiefdom that was awarded directly by the Holy Roman Emperor. In addition, the imperial license to practice medicine, admission to the relevant body of the Reichstag and the consent of the entire Reichstag as well as admission to a certain Reichskreis were necessary. In addition, the assumption of a certain contribution to the military burdens ( Roman month ) and to the maintenance of the chamber court ( chamber target ) was usually required. All imperial estates were recorded in the imperial register.

Spiritual imperial estates were:

The secular imperial estates included:

Since 1489, the ranks in the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire were divided into three colleges. A distinction was made between the Electoral College / the Electoral Council, the Imperial Prince Council and the College of Imperial Cities . The counts and gentlemen were not represented within the imperial council with individual or virile votes, but as members of initially two, later four count banks, each with one curiate vote .

Although the Imperial Knights were directly involved in the Empire, they were not represented as classes at the Reichstag; they tried several times in vain to gain at least a corporate imperial estate for themselves.

Business at the Reichstag

The consent of all three colleges was required for a Reichsschluss .

Each elector, prince and prince-bishop had their own voice in the Reichstag, the so-called viril voice (from the Latin vir for 'man'). The counts, on the other hand, were united in four colleges, the Westphalian , the Wetterauische , the Franconian and the Swabian Count Bank , each of which had only one common curate vote . The Free Imperial Cities also formed two colleges, the Rhenish and Swabian banks.

The imperial estates were subject to imperial taxation and had to provide troop contingents to the imperial army . All imperial estates were obliged to personally attend the diets; it was possible to send a representative. In return, no general imperial law could be passed without approval by the imperial estates. They could decide on the declaration of the Imperial War and on the conclusion of treaties between the Reich and other states as well as on the establishment of new principalities.


  • Gerhard Köbler : Historical lexicon of the German countries. The German territories from the Middle Ages to the present. 7th, completely revised edition. CH Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-54986-1 .
  • Carl Wilhelm von Lancizolle : Overview of the German imperial class and territorial relations before the French Revolutionary War, the changes that have occurred since then and the current components of the German Confederation and the federal states . Dümmler, Berlin 1830 ( digitized version )
  • Gerhard Oestreich , E. Holzer: Overview of the imperial estates . In: Herbert Grundmann (Ed.): Gebhardt. Handbook of German History , Volume 2. From the Reformation to German absolutism . 9th edition. Ernst Klett Verlag, Stuttgart 1973, pp. 769-784, ISBN 3-8002-1013-4
  • Valentin Trichter: Curious riding, hunting, fencing, Tantz or knight exercise lexicon . Johann Friedrich Gleditsch, Leipzig 1742.