German mediatization

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The German mediatization was the series of mediatizations and secularizations that took place in Germany between 1795 and 1814, which drastically altered the political map of the country under relentless military and diplomatic pressure from revolutionary France and later Napoleon.

"Mediatization" was the process of suppressing the imperial immediacy of a secular or an ecclesiastical state or a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire and annexing that entity to another one, usually leaving the dispossessed prince, in the case of a secular principality, with some rights and privileges. The mediatization of an ecclesiastical state is usually called secularization[1] and did not always involve the annexation of the secularized state to another state.[2]

Following the collapse of the Carolingian Empire, due to the equal heritage splitting prescribed by Salic law, and the rise of feudalism, much of Europe had been reduced to an array of self-governing states of various sizes. Successive Kings of Germany and Holy Roman Emperors vested temporal authority in many bishoprics and abbeys, and also granted free city rights to many cities and villages throughout Germany. Unlike more centralized kingdoms, such as England, France, or Spain, the Holy Roman Empire did not coalesce into a centralized entity. On the eve of the French Revolution, Germany still consisted of well over 200 self-governing states.[3]

Map of the Holy Roman Empire in 1789, showing the large mix of states
The Rhineland in 1789: The annexation of the entire left bank of the Rhine by the French Republic set in motion the mediatization process

The lengthy tractations surrounding the mediatization process usually involved the French Foreign Minister Talleyrand. The states that benefited from or were saved from mediatization were expected to pay fees and form alliances with the French Republic, then the new Napoleonic Empire.[4]

Final Recess of February 1803[edit]

The Final Recess of the Reichsdeputation (German: Reichsdeputationshauptschluss Latin: Recessus principalis deputationis imperii) was a resolution passed on 25 February 1803 by the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire. It proved to be the last significant law enacted by the Empire before its dissolution in 1806.

First page of the Final Recess of February 1803

Based on a plan agreed in June 1802 between France and Austria, and broad principles outlined in Article 7[5] the Treaty of Lunéville of 1801, the law established a major redistribution of territorial sovereignty within the Empire, to compensate numerous German princes for their possessions to the west of the Rhine that had been annexed by France as a result of the wars of the French Revolution. The Treaty had referred only to the compensation of "hereditary princes", which excluded from any claim to compensation the ecclesiastical princes (prince-electors, prince-bishops, imperial abbots), Free Imperial Cities and Imperial Knights who had also been dispossessed.

Deed of the Reichsdeputation dated February 1803 granting ownership of the secularized abbey of Ochsenhausen to Count Georg Karl von Metternich, father of Klemens von Metternich, who had lost his county of Winneburg-Bilstein when France annexed the left bank of the Rhine.
The prince-bishoprics on the eve of secularization

The Final Recess was ratified unanimously by the Imperial Diet in March, 1803, and was approved by the emperor, Francis II, the following month. However, the emperor made a formal reservation in respect of the reallocation of votes within the Imperial Diet, as the balance between Protestant and Catholic states had been shifted heavily in the former's favour.

The redistribution was achieved by a combination of two processes: secularization of ecclesiastical principalities, and mediatization of nearly all the Free imperial cities.


From the re-establishment of the Holy Roman Empire by the Salian and Saxon Emperors in the 10th and 11th centuries, the feudal system had turned Germany and northern Italy into a vast network of territories of various sizes each with its own specific privileges, titles and autonomy. To help administer Germany in the face of growing decentralization and local autonomy, many bishoprics, abbeys and convents throughout Germany were granted temporal estates by successive Emperors. The personal appointment of bishops by the Emperors had sparked the investiture controversy, and in its aftermath the emperors were unable to use the bishops for this end. Following this, some of the bishops and abbots had begun to run their territories as temporal lords as opposed to spiritual lords. In the course of the Reformation, several of the prince-bishoprics were secularized, mostly to the benefit of Protestant princes. In the later sixteenth century the Counter-Reformation attempted to reverse some of these secularizations, and the question of the fates of secularized territories became an important one in the Thirty Years War (1618–1648). In the end, the Peace of Westphalia confirmed the secularizations which had already occurred, but also stabilized the situation.

Austrian soldiers and monks at Salem Abbey at the time of secularization

In 1794, the armies of revolutionary France overran the Rhineland, and by the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797, the Holy Roman emperor, Francis I of Austria, recognized French annexation of all imperial territories west of the Rhine river. By granting them new realms, the emperor sought to compensate the now stateless or diminished monarchs who lost their lands. The only available lands were those held by the Prince-Bishops, so most were secularised and dispersed amongst the monarchs of Germany.

The territory of secularized ecclesiastical principalities was usually annexed whole to a neighboring secular principality or, in the case of several prince-abbeys, granted to one of the princes or imperial counts whose lands on the west bank of the Rhine had been annexed by France. Only three survived for a relatively short time as non-secular states: the Archbishopric of Mainz, which became the Archbishopric of Regensburg, incorporating the latter bishopric and part of the archbishopric, and the lands of the Teutonic Knights and Knights of Saint John. Also of note is the former Archbishopric of Salzburg, which was secularised as a duchy with an increased territorial scope, and was also made an electorate.

Monasteries and abbeys lost their means of existence as they had to abandon their lands, and most were closed. The remaining ecclesiastical states were also secularized after the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.The lands of the Knights of Saint John were secularized in 1806, Regensburg was annexed by Bavaria in 1809, and in the same year Napoleon dissolved the Teutonic Knights and gave their lands to neighboring princes, particularly the King of Württemberg.

The mediatization of Schwäbisch Hall in contemporary imagery

The outcome of the Final Recess of 1803 was the most extensive redistribution of property in German history before 1945. Approximately 73,000 km2 of ecclesiastical territory, with some 2.36 million inhabitants and 12.72 million guildens per annum of revenue was transferred to new rulers.[6] The rationale behind the Final Recess had been to compensate those rulers who had lost territory to France, but considerably more territory was gained through massive secularization: Baden received over seven times as much territory as it had lost, Prussia nearly five times. Hanover gained the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück, even though it had lost nothing. Austria also did very well.[7]

The position of the established Roman Catholic Church in Germany, the Reichskirche, was not only diminished, it was nearly destroyed. The Church lost its constitutional role in the Empire; most of the Catholic universities were closed, as well as thousands of monasteries; and many Catholic foundations closed down. The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss did to German land ownership what the Revolution had done to France.[8]

Secularised states[edit]

Bishops and archbishops[edit]

Abbeys, convents, and provostries[edit]


Although the number of German states had been steadily decreasing since the Thirty Years' War, there still remained approximately 200 states by the advent of the French republic. The defeat of the First Coalition resulted in the secularization of the ecclesiastical states and the annexation by France of all lands west of the Rhine.

Allies of Napoleon obtained gains in both territory and status on a number of occasions in the following years.

Württemberg doubled its size after it had absorbed some 15 Free Imperial Cities (in orange) as well as many prince-abbeys, principalities and other small territories during the mediatizations and territory swappings of 1803-1806 and 1810.

Mediatization transferred the sovereignty of small secular states to their larger neighbours. In addition to about 100 principalities, all but a handful of the Imperial cities would also be annexed to their neighbours.

In 1803, most of the free cities in Germany were mediatised. On 12 June 1806, Napoleon established the Confederation of the Rhine to extend and help secure the eastern border of France. In reluctant recognition of Napoleon's dismemberment of imperial territory, on 6 August 1806, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II declared the Empire abolished, and claimed as much power as he could retain as ruler of the Habsburg realms. To gain support from the more powerful German states, the former Holy Roman Emperor accepted, and Napoleon encouraged, those that remained to mediatise minor neighbouring states.

Before the Battle of Waterloo and the final abdication of Napoleon in 1815, the Congress of Vienna was held from 1814 to 1815 by the Great Powers to redraw the borders of Europe. It was decided the mediatised principalities, free cities and secularised states would not be recreated. Instead their former rulers were to enjoy an improved aristocratic status, being deemed equal to the still-reigning monarchs for marital purposes, and entitled to claim compensation for their losses. But it was left to each of the annexing states to compensate mediatised dynasties, and the latter had no international right to redress if dissatisfied with the new regime's reimbursement decisions.

Mediatized principalities[edit]

As the Houses of Ostein, Sinzendorf and Wartenberg became extinct after the mediatization but before 1830, they are not always counted among the Mediatised Houses. For varying reasons, Aspremont-Lynden, Bentinck, Bretzenheim, Limburg-Styrum and Waldeck-Limpurg are also sometimes excluded. Hesse-Homburg was never considered sovereign by Hesse-Darmstadt and therefore was not technically mediatised, and Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel) was annexed into the Kingdom of Westphalia but later had its sovereignty restored. The Schönburgs had been mediatised to the Elector of Saxony in the 18th century and were only counted amongst the Mediatised Houses at the Electors' insistence.

Mediatized free imperial cities[edit]

Most of the mediatizations occurred in 1806 after the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine. Also mediatised 1806–1814 were several states created by Napoleon for his relatives and close allies. These include:

The only free cities in Germany not abolished in 1803 were:

Later mediatizations were:


The mediatization brought about a massive change to the political map of Germany. Literally hundreds of states[dubious ] were eliminated, with only around forty surviving. A number of the surviving states made significant territorial gains (most notably Baden, Bavaria, and Hesse-Darmstadt); and Baden, Hesse-Kassel, and Württemberg gained status by being made electorates (to replace three that had been lost in the changes). Of the imperial cities, only Augsburg, Bremen, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, Lübeck, and Nuremberg survived as independent entities.

Area and population losses or gains (rounded)
Losses Gains
 Prussia 2,000 km²
140,000 people
12,000 km²
600,000 people
 Bavaria 10,000 km²
600,000 people
14,000 km²
850,000 people
 Baden 450 km²
30,000 people
2,000 km²
240,000 people
 Württemberg 400 km²
30,000 people
1,500 km²
120,000 people

See also[edit]


References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ In the present context, secularization means "the transfer (of property) from ecclesiastical to civil possession or use" (Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, 1989.
  2. ^ Several prince-abbeys were secularised then given as a secular principality to a prince whose land on the left bank of the Rhine had been annexed to France.
  3. ^ The total of 200 or 300 states that is often given represents the number of states with "voice and vote" at the Diet (Reichstag) in the 18th century. It accounts for over 95% of the territory and population of Germany then. However, if we count, as we should, all the separate territories enjoying imperial immediacy, then the total is 1700–1800, mostly the tiny territories belonging to the Imperial Knighthood plus a number of immediate lordships (Herrschafts), subjected to the authority of the emperor only, and consequently, more or less "independent" like any other state of the Empire. Gagliardo, J., Reich and Nation, The Holy Roman Empire as Idea and Reality, 1763–1806, Indiana University Press, 1980, p. 4–5.
  4. ^ After receiving an acceptable financial offer from one minor prince, the humorous Talleyrand wrote in the margin of the treaty concerning him: "La République française est charmée de faire connaissance avec le prince von Reuss" (The French Republic is delighted to get acquainted with prince von Reuss), Alan Schom, One Hundred Days, Napoleon's Road to Waterloo, Michael Joseph Ltd, 1992, p. 94
  5. ^ Art. 7. "And since the transfer of territory from the Empire to the French Republic has dispossessed in whole or in part several Princes and Imperial Estates, and since it is the collective responsibility of the Holy Roman Empire to bear the losses resulting from the provisions of this treaty, it is agreed between H.M. the Emperor and King, in his name and on behalf of the German Empire, and the French Republic, that, in accordance with the principles formally established at the Congress of Rastatt, the Empire will be required to grant to the hereditary princes who lose their possessions on the left bank of the Rhine a compensation that will be taken from within the said Empire, according to the terms of an arrangement to be determined later".
  6. ^ Whaley, J., Germany and the Holy Roman Empire (1493-1806), Oxford University Press, 2011, vol. 2, p. 620.
  7. ^ Whaley, p. 621
  8. ^ Whaley, p. 623.

External links[edit]