Golden Bull of 1356

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For other uses, see Golden Bull.
Golden Bull of 1356
Goldene-bulle 1c-480x475.jpg
The golden seal that earned the decree the name
Created January 10, 1356
(chapters 1-23);
December 25, 1356
(chapters 24-31)
Location Austrian State Archives, Vienna (Bohemian and Mainz editions);
Academic library of the Darmstadt University of Technology (Cologne edition);
Bavarian State Archives, Munich (Electorate of the Palatinate edition and Nuremberg copy);
Baden-Württemberg Main State Archives, Stuttgart (Trier edition);
Frankfurt Institute for the History of the City (copy)
Author(s) Delegates of the Imperial Diet held in Nuremberg and Metz
Purpose Franchise of the seven Prince-electors voting for the King of the Romans

The Golden Bull of 1356 was a decree issued by the Imperial Diet at Nuremberg and Metz (Diet of Metz (1356/57)) headed by the Emperor Charles IV which fixed, for a period of more than four hundred years, important aspects of the constitutional structure of the Holy Roman Empire. It was named the Golden Bull for the golden seal it carried.

In June 2013 the Golden Bull was included in the UNESCO's Memory of the World Register.[1]


According to the written text of the Golden Bull of 1356

We have promulgated, decreed and recommended for ratification the subjoined laws for the purpose of cherishing unity among the Electors, and of bringing about a unanimous election, and of closing all approach to the aforesaid detestable discord and to the various dangers which arise from it.[2]

After the long-time struggle of his predecessor Louis IV with the anti-king Frederick the Fair, Charles IV felt that it was necessary to change the existing system of electing the "King of the Romans". He thought that without this new decree the world would never be rid of envious and ambitious politicians.[3]

The Golden Bull explicitly named the seven Prince-electors (Kurfürsten) who were to choose the King of the Romans, who would then usually go on to be crowned as Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope: "Three prelates were archchancellors of Germany (Mainz), Gaul and Burgundy (Trier), and Italy (Cologne) respectively, the Bohemia cupbearer, the Palsgrave seneschal, Saxony marshal, and Brandenburg chamberlain."[4] Consequently, the Bull speaks of the rex in imperatorem promovendus, the "king to be promoted emperor", although the distinction between the two titles would become increasingly irrelevant, and virtually nonexistent after Maximilian I had renounced his coronation as Emperor in 1508.

Page from the Golden Bull manuscript of King Wenceslaus, about 1400, Austrian National Library

Even though the practice of election had existed earlier than 1356 and most of the dukes named in the Golden Bull had been involved in the election, and although the practice had mostly been written down in an earlier document, the Declaration of Rhense from 1338, the Golden Bull was more precise in several ways. For one, the dukedoms of the Electors were declared indivisible, and succession to them was regulated to ensure that the votes would never be divided. Secondly, the Bull prescribed that four votes would always suffice to elect a new King; as a result, three Electors could no longer block the election, and the principle of majority voting was explicitly stated for the first time in the Empire. Finally, the Bull cemented a number of privileges for the Electors, confirming their elevated role in the Empire. It is therefore also a milestone in the establishment of largely independent states in the Empire, a process to be concluded only centuries later, notably with the Peace of Westphalia of 1648.


Imperial Diet in Metz during which the Golden Bull of 1356 was issued.

The bull regulated the whole election process in great detail, listing explicitly where, when, and under which circumstances what should be done by whom, not only for the prince-electors but also (for example) for the population of Frankfurt, where the elections were to be held, and also for the counts of the regions the prince-electors had to travel through to get there. The decision to hold the elections in Frankfurt reflected a traditional feeling dating from East Frankish days that both election and coronation ought to take place on Frankish soil.[4] However, the election location was not the only specified location; the bull specified that the coronation would take place in Aachen, and Nuremberg would be the place where the first diet of a reign should be held.[5] The elections were to be concluded within thirty days; failing that, the bull prescribed that the prince-electors were to receive only bread and water until they had decided:

Latin: Quod si facere distulerint infra triginta dies, a die prestiti juramenti prefati continuo numerandos, extunc transactis eisdem triginta diebus amodo panem manducent et aquam et nullatenus civitatem exeant antedictam, nisi prius per ipsos vel majorem partem ipsorum rector seu temporale caput fidelium electum fuerit, ut prefertur.[6]
English: But if they shall fail to do this within thirty days, counting continuously from the day when they took the aforesaid oath: when those thirty days are over, from that time on they shall live on bread and water, and by no means leave the aforesaid city unless first through them, or the majority of them, a ruler or temporal head of the faithful shall have been elected, as was said before.[7]
Chapter 2, §3. The city referred to, emboldened here, is Frankfurt.

Besides regulating the election process, the chapters of the Golden Bull contained many minor decrees. For instance, it also defined the order of marching when the emperor was present, both with and without his insignia. A relatively major decision was made in chapter 15, where Charles IV outlawed any conjurationes, confederationes, and conspirationes, meaning in particular the city alliances (Städtebünde), but also other communal leagues that had sprung up through the communal movement in mediaeval Europe. Most Städtebünde were subsequently dissolved,[citation needed] sometimes forcibly, and where refounded, their political influence was much reduced .[citation needed] Thus the Golden Bull also strengthened the nobility in general to the detriment of the cities .[citation needed]

Incunable of the Golden Bull in Early New High German, late 15th century, University of Jena

The pope's involvement with the Golden Bull of 1356 was basically nonexistent, which was significant in the history of relations between the popes and the emperors. When Charles IV laid down procedure for electing a King of the Romans, he mentioned nothing about receiving papal confirmation of the election. However, Pope Innocent VI did not protest this because he needed Charles’s support against the Visconti.[8] Pope Innocent continued to have good relations with Charles IV after the Golden Bull of 1356 until the Pope's death in 1362.[9]

The Habsburg dynasty, long-time rivals of the Luxembourgs, got nothing from the decree of the Golden Bull. Therefore Duke Rudolf IV of Austria gave order to draw up the Privilegium Maius, a fake document meant to empower the Austrian rulers on a par with the Prince-electors. On the other hand the Wittelsbachs were invested with the electoral dignity twice, both as Counts Palatine of the Rhine and as Margraves of Brandenburg at that time. Nevertheless the Golden Bull caused a conflict between Emperor Charles IV and the Wittelsbach dukes Louis V and Stephen II of Bavaria since also the Bavarian branch of the dynasty got nothing.


  1. ^ Memory of the World - The “Golden Bull” – All seven originals and the “King Wenceslaus’ luxury manuscript copy” of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek ,
  2. ^ Charles IV, Golden Bull of 1356. translated into English, Yale
  3. ^ Heer, Friedrich, trans. Janet Sondheimer, The Holy Roman Empire (New York: Federick A. Praeger Publishers, 1968), p. 117
  4. ^ a b Bryce, James, The Holy Roman Empire (London: The Macmillan Company, new edition, 1978), p. 243
  5. ^ Friedrich Heer, The Holy Roman Empire, trans. Janet Sondheimer, (New York: Federick A. Praeger Publishers, 1968), 117.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Yves Renouard, The Avignon Papacy 1305–1403, (Connecticut : Archon Books, 1970), 127.
  9. ^ D.S. Chambers, Popes, Cardinals and War, (London: I.B. Tauris, 2006), 28.

External links[edit]


  • Bryce, James, The Holy Roman Empire (London: The Macmillan Company, A New Edition, 1978), 243.
  • Chambers. D.S., Popes, Cardinals and War (London: I.B. Tauris, 2006), 28.
  • Renouard, Yves, The Avignon Papacy 1305–1403 (Connecticut : Archon Books, 1970), 127.
  • Heer, Friedrich, trans. Janet Sondheimer, The Holy Roman Empire (New York: Federick A. Praeger Publishers, 1968), 117.