Electorate of Cologne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Electorate of Cologne
Erzstift und Kurfürstentum Köln
or Kurerzstift Köln
or Kurköln
State of the Holy Roman Empire
Imperial elector




Flag Coat of arms
Map of the Lower Rhine around 1560, Electorate of Cologne,
highlighted in red, including the Duchy of Westphalia
Capital Cologne (953–1288)
Bonn (1597–1794)
Government Elective principality
Elector of Cologne
 -  1801–1803 Archduke Anton Victor of Austria
Historical era Middle Ages of 1D
 -  Bishopric established Ancient Roman times
 -  Elevated to archbishopric 953
 -  Bruno I archbishop 953
 -  Arch-chancellor of Italy 1031
 -  Cologne made Free Imperial City 1288
 -  Joined Electoral Rhenish Circle 1512
 -  German Mediatisation 1803
The Electorate of Cologne and neighboring states in the mid-18th century

The Electorate of Cologne (German: Kurfürstentum Köln), sometimes referred to as Electoral Cologne (German: Kurköln), was an ecclesiastical principality of the Holy Roman Empire and existed from the 10th to the early 19th century. It consisted of the temporal possessions of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cologne (German: Erzbistum Köln). It was ruled by the Archbishop in his capacity as prince-elector. There were only two other ecclesiastical prince-electors in the Empire: the Electorate of Mainz and the Electorate of Trier. The Archbishop-Elector of Cologne was also Arch-chancellor of Italy (one of the three component titular kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire, the other two being Germany and Burgundy) and, as such, ranked second among all ecclesiastical and secular princes of the Empire, after the Archbishop-Elector of Mainz, and before that of Trier.

The capital of the electorate was Cologne until the Elector moved to Bonn (after the 1288 defeat) to avoid jurisdiction conflicts with the authorities of the Free City of Cologne, who largely escaped its authority. The Electorate was secularized in 1803 during the German Mediatisation.

The territory of the Electorate of Cologne was smaller than the Archdiocese of Cologne, which included suffragant bishoprics such as Liège and Munster (see map below).


Cologne is the ancient Roman city of Colonia Agrippina within Germania Inferior and has been a bishop's see since Roman times. In 953, the archbishops of Cologne first gained noteworthy secular power, when bishop Bruno was appointed as duke by his brother Emperor Otto I. In order to weaken the secular nobility, who threatened his power, Otto endowed Bruno and his successors on the bishop's see with the prerogatives of secular princes. This was the beginning of the electoral state of Cologne. It was formed by the temporal possessions of the archbishopric and included in the end a strip of territory along the left Bank of the Rhine east of Jülich, as well as the Duchy of Westphalia on the other side of the Rhine, beyond Berg and Mark.

By the end of the 12th century, the Archbishop of Cologne was one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman Emperor. Besides being prince elector, he was Arch-chancellor of Italy as well, technically from 1238 and permanently from 1263 until 1803. Following the Battle of Worringen in 1288, Cologne gained its independence from the archbishops and became a Free City. Eventually, the archbishop moved to Bonn to escape jurisdiction conflicts with the Free City.[1] The first pogrom against the Jews was in 1349, when they were used as scapegoats for the Black Death, and therefore burnt in an auto de fe.[2] Political tensions arose from issues of taxation, public spending, regulation of business, and market supervision, as well as the limits of corporate autonomy.[3]

Long-distance trade in the Baltic grew, as the major trading towns came together in the Hanseatic League, under the leadership of Lübeck. It was a business alliance of trading cities and their guilds that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe and flourished from the 1200 to 1500, and continued with lesser importance after that. The chief cities were Cologne on the Rhine River, Hamburg and Bremen on the North Sea, and Lübeck on the Baltic.[4] The economic structures of medieval and early modern Cologne were based on the city's major harbor, its location as a transport hub and its entrepreneurial merchants who built ties with merchants in other Hanseatic cities.[5]

During the 16th century, two Archbishops of Cologne converted to Protestantism. The first, Hermann von Wied, resigned the archbishopric on converting, but Gebhard Truchsess von Waldburg, on converting to Calvinism in 1582, attempted to secularize the archbishopric. His marriage the following February, and his refusal to relinquish the territory, resulted in the election of a competing archbishop and prince-elector, Ernst of Bavaria. The pope funded Italian and Spanish mercenaries and the Catholic Bavarians also sent an army; while the Protestant Dutch states supported the Calvinists in the Electorate. The Cologne War ruined most of the Electoral economy, and many villages and towns were besieged and destroyed. The Siege of Godesberg in November–December 1583 ended with the destruction of the Godesburg castle and the slaughter of most of its inhabitants. After several more sieges, the Protestant contender, Gebhard Truchsess von Waldburg, gave up his claim to the see and retired to Strasbourg with his wife. A Bavarian army installed the brother of the Duke of Bavaria, Ernst as archbishop-—the first major success of the Counter-Reformation in Germany. Under Ernst's direction, Jesuits supervised the reintroduction of Catholicism in the Electorate. From then until the mid-18th century, the archbishopric was effectively a secundogeniture of the Wittelsbach rulers of Bavaria. As the archbishop in this period usually also held the Bishopric of Münster (and often the Bishopric of Liège), he was one of the most important princes of northwestern Germany.

From 1597 until 1794, Bonn was the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and residence of the Archbishops and Prince-electors of Cologne, most of them belonging to the Bavarian branch of the House of Wittelsbach (from 1583 to 1761).

After 1795, the electorate's territories on the left bank of the Rhine were occupied by France, and were formally annexed in 1801. The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss of 1803 secularized the rest of the archbishopric, giving the Duchy of Westphalia to the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt. Cologne was, however, reestablished as the seat of a Catholic archbishop in 1824, and is an archdiocese to the present day.

List of electors[edit]

For the electors of Cologne, see Archbishop of Cologne.


  1. ^ Harry de Quetteville. "History of Cologne". The Catholic Encyclopedia, Nov 28, 2009.
  2. ^ Liber Chronicarum Mundi
  3. ^ David Nicholas, The Growth of the Medieval City: From Late Antiquity to the Early Fourteenth Century (1997) pp 69-72, 133-42, 202-20, 244-45, 300-307
  4. ^ James Westfall Thompson,Economic and Social History of Europe in the Later Middle Ages (1300-1530) (1931) pp. 146-79
  5. ^ Joseph P. Huffman, Family, Commerce, and Religion in London and Cologne (1998) covers from 1000 to 1300.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°0′N 6°50′E / 51.000°N 6.833°E / 51.000; 6.833