King of the Romans

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King of the Romans (Latin: Rex Romanorum; German: König der Römer) was the title used by the German king following his election by the princes from the reign of Henry II (1002–1024, emperor from 1014) onward. The title predominantly amounted to being the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a title long dependent upon coronation by the pope.

The title originally referred to any elected German king who had not yet been granted the imperial regalia and title of emperor at the hands of the pope. Later, it came to be used solely for the heir-designate to the imperial throne between his election (during the lifetime of a sitting emperor) and his succession upon the death of the emperor. The title became functionally obsolete with the abolition of the requirement for emperors to be crowned by the pope in 1508 but continued to be used as part of the emperor's formal titles until the end of the Empire in 1806.

The actual title varied over time. During the Ottonian period, it was King of the Franks (German: König der Franken, Latin: Rex Francorum), from the late Salian period it was Roman King (Römischer König) or King of the Romans (German: König der Römer, Lat.: Rex Romanorum). In the Modern Period, the title King in Germania (German: König in Germanien, Lat.: Germaniae Rex) came into use. Finally, modern German historiography established the term Roman-German King (Römisch-deutscher König) to differentiate it both from the classical Roman emperor as well as from the modern German emperor. The title "King of Germany" occasionally appears in English texts, but seldom in German sources as there was never a de jure Kingdom of Germany.[citation needed]

Ruling kings[edit]

History and usage[edit]

The territory of East Francia was not referred to as the Kingdom of Germany or Regnum Teutonicum by contemporary sources until the 11th century. During this time, the king's claim to coronation was increasingly contested by the papacy culminating in the fierce Investiture Controversy. After the Salian heir apparent Henry IV, a six-year-old minor, had been elected to rule the Empire in 1056 he adopted Romanorum Rex as a title to emphasize his sacred entitlement to be crowned Emperor by the Pope. Pope Gregory VII insisted on using the derogatory term Teutonicorum Rex ("King of the Germans") in order to imply that Henry's authority was merely local and did not extend over the whole Empire. Henry continued to regularly use the title Romanorum Rex until he finally was crowned Emperor by Antipope Clement III in 1084. Henry's successors imitated this practice, and were also called Romanorum Rex before and Romanorum Imperator after their Roman coronations.

Medieval practice[edit]

Candidates for the kingship were at first the heads of Germanic stem duchies. As these units broke up, rulers of smaller principalities and even non-Germanic rulers were considered for the position. The only requirements generally observed were that the candidate be an adult male, a Catholic Christian, and not in holy orders. The kings were elected by several Imperial Estates (secular princes as well as Prince-Bishops), often in the imperial city of Frankfurt after 1147, a custom recorded in the Schwabenspiegel code in about 1275.

Originally all noblemen present could vote by unanimous acclamation, but later a franchise was granted to only the most eminent bishops and noblemen, and according to the Golden Bull of 1356 issued by Emperor Charles IV only the seven Prince-electors had the right to participate in a majority voting as determined by the 1338 Declaration of Rhense. They were the Prince-Archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne as well as the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Saxon duke, and the Margrave of Brandenburg. After the Investiture Controversy, Charles intended to strengthen the legal status of the Rex Romanorum beyond Papal approbation. Consequently, among his successors only Sigismund and Frederick III were still crowned Emperors in Rome and in 1530 Charles V was the last king to receive the Imperial Crown at the hands of the Pope (in Bologna). The Golden Bull remained effective as constitutional law until the Empire's dissolution in 1806.

Coronation of Archduke Joseph as King of the Romans in the Imperial Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew in Frankfurt, 3 April 1764

After his election, the new king would be crowned as King of the Romans (Romanorum Rex), usually at Charlemagne's throne in Aachen Cathedral by the Archbishop of Cologne. Though the ceremony was no more than a symbolic validation of the election result, it was solemnly celebrated. The details of Otto's coronation in 936 are described by the medieval chronicler Widukind of Corvey in his Res gestae saxonicae. The kings received the Imperial Crown from at least 1024, at the coronation of Conrad II. In 1198 the Hohenstaufen candidate Philip of Swabia was crowned Rex Romanorum at Mainz Cathedral (as was King Rupert centuries later), but he had another coronation in Aachen after he had prevailed against his Welf rival Otto IV.

At some time after the ceremony, the king would, if possible, cross the Alps, to receive coronation in Pavia or Milan with the Iron Crown of Lombardy as King of Italy. Finally, he would travel to Rome and be crowned Emperor by the Pope. Because it was rarely possible for the elected King to proceed immediately to Rome for his crowning, several years might elapse between election and coronation, and some Kings never completed the journey to Rome at all. As a suitable title for the King between his election and his coronation as Emperor, Romanorum Rex would stress the plenitude of his authority over the Empire and his warrant to be future Emperor (Imperator futurus) without infringing upon the Papal privilege.

Not all Kings of the Romans made this step, sometimes because of hostile relations with the Pope, or because either the pressure of business at home or warfare in Germany or Italy made it impossible for the King to make the journey. In such cases, the king might retain the title "King of the Romans" for his entire reign.

Later developments[edit]

The title Romanorum Rex became functionally obsolete after 1508, when the Pope permitted King Maximilian I to use the title of Electus Romanorum Imperator ("elected Emperor of the Romans") after he failed in a good-faith attempt to journey to Rome. At this time Maximilian also took the new title "King of the Germans" or "King in Germania" (Germaniae rex, König in Germanien), but the latter was never used as a primary title.

The rulers of the Empire thereafter called themselves "Emperors" without going to Rome or soliciting Papal approval, taking the title as soon as they were crowned in Germany or upon the death of a sitting Emperor if they were elected as heir to the throne.


The regnal dates given are those between either the election as king or the death of his predecessor and either becoming emperor, deposition or death. '*' means that the man in question had previously been elected as king in his predecessor's lifetime - see list below. Disputed holders are in italics.

King Became King Became Emperor/died Notes
Henry II 1002 1014 crowned Emperor
Conrad II 1024 1027 crowned Emperor
Henry III *1039 1046 crowned Emperor
Henry IV 17 July 1054 1084 crowned Emperor
Rudolf 25 May 1077 15 Oct 1080 died Anti-king
Hermann 6 Aug 1081 28 Sept 1088 died Anti-king
Henry V *1105 1106 in opposition to Henry IV
1106 1111 crowned Emperor
Lothair III 1125 1133 crowned Emperor
Conrad III 1127 1135 in opposition to Lothair
1138 1152 died
Frederick I 1152 1155 crowned Emperor
Henry VI *1190 1197 crowned Emperor
Philip 1198 1208 died
Otto IV 1198 1208 in opposition to Philip
1208 1209 crowned Emperor
Frederick II 1212 1250 crowned Emperor
Henry Raspe 22 May 1246 16 February 1247 died Anti-king
William of Holland 1247 28 January 1256 died Anti-king until 21 May 1254, then King until his death
Conrad IV *1250 1254 died
Richard of Cornwall 1257 1272 died Candidacy opposed by Saxony, Brandenburg and Trier who supported Alfonso X of Castile. Crowned in Aachen in 1257.
Alfonso X of Castile 1257 1275 renounced
Rudolf I 1273 1291 died
Adolph of Germany 1292 1298 deposed and killed
Albert I 1298 1308 died
Henry VII 1308 1312 crowned Emperor
Frederick the Fair 1314 1330 died jointly with Louis IV
Louis IV 1314 1328 crowned Emperor jointly with Frederick the Fair
Charles IV 1346 1347 opposed to Louis IV
1347 1355 crowned Emperor
Günther von Schwarzburg 1349 1349 died opposed to Charles IV
Wenceslaus *1378 1400 deposed
Frederick I, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel 1400 1400 died unclear whether he was actually elected
Rupert 1400 1410 died
Jobst of Moravia 1410 (October) 1411 died opposed to Sigismund
Sigismund 1410 (September) 1411 second election (1411) opposed to Jobst
1411 1433 crowned Emperor
Albert II 1438 1439 died
Frederick III 1440 1452 crowned Emperor
Maximilian I *1493 1508 assumed title of Emperor-elect. Introduced the title Rex in Germania.[1]

erwelter Romischer kayser, zu allen zeiten merer des Reichs, in Germanien zu Hungern, Dalmatien, Croatien etc. kunig […][2]

Charles V 1519 1530 crowned Emperor

After Charles V, Holy Roman Emperors assumed the title of "King of the Romans" at the same time as being elected emperor. The titles of "Roman Emperor-elect" (erwählter Römischer Kaiser) and "King in Germania" (König in Germanien) continued to be used as part of the full style of the emperors until 1806. When Francis II founded the Austrian Empire in 1804, he used as his style for the last two years before the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire:

We, Francis II, by the grace of God elected Roman Emperor, at all times Increaser of the Realm, hereditary Emperor of Austria, King in Germania, in Jerusalem, in Hungary, in Bohemia...[3]

Heirs designate[edit]

Detail of the imperial coronation mantle, drawing from 1857

The Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy. No person had a legal right to the succession simply because he was related to the current Emperor. However, the Emperor could, and often did, have a relative (usually a son) elected to succeed him after his death. This elected heir apparent bore the title "King of the Romans".[4]

The election was in the same form as that of the senior ruler, and theoretically meant that both men were equal co-rulers of the Empire. In practice, however, the actual administration of the Empire was always managed by the Emperor, with at most certain duties delegated to the heir.


Armor of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, created when he was still King of the Romans in 1549.

The following were subordinate kings to another Holy Roman Emperor (usually, but not always, their father) for the dates specified.

Name Date acceded Date relinquished Reason Relation Reigning Emperor
Otto II 961 7 May 973 succeeded as King (Emperor 967) son Otto I
Henry III 1028 4 June 1039 succeeded as King (Emperor 1046) son Conrad II
Henry IV 1053 5 October 1056 succeeded as King (Emperor 1084) son Henry III
Conrad 1087 April 1098 deposed son Henry IV
Henry V 6 January 1099 1105 succeeded as King (Emperor 1111) son Henry IV
Henry Berengar 30 March 1147 1150 died son Conrad III
Henry VI 1169 10 June 1190 succeeded as King (Emperor 1191) son Frederick I
Frederick II 1196 28 September 1197 succeeded and abdicated (via regency) 1197
elected King (with opposition) 1212
Emperor 1220
son Henry VI
Henry (VII) 1220 4 July 1235 deposed son Frederick II
Conrad IV 1237 13 December 1250 succeeded as King son Frederick II
Wenceslaus 10 June 1376 29 November 1378 succeeded as King son Charles IV
Maximilian I 16 February 1486 19 August 1493 succeeded as King (Emperor 1508) son Frederick III
Ferdinand I 5 January 1531 3 May 1558 succeeded as Emperor brother Charles V
Maximilian II 28 November 1562 25 July 1564 succeeded as Emperor son Ferdinand I
Rudolph II 27 October 1575 12 October 1576 succeeded as Emperor son Maximilian II
Ferdinand III 22 December 1636 15 February 1637 succeeded as Emperor son Ferdinand II
Ferdinand IV 31 May 1653 9 July 1654 died son Ferdinand III
Joseph I 23 January 1690 5 May 1705 succeeded as Emperor son Leopold I
Joseph II 27 March 1764 18 August 1765 succeeded as Emperor son Francis I

King of Rome[edit]

When Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, had a son and heir, Napoleon II (1811–32), he revived the title as King of Rome (Roi de Rome), styling his son as such at birth. The boy was often known colloquially by this title throughout his short life. However, from 1818 onward, he was styled officially as the Duke of Reichstadt by his maternal grandfather, Emperor Francis I of Austria.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Elisabeth Rothmund: Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672). Kulturpatriotismus und deutsche weltliche Vokalmusik. "Zum Auffnehmen der Music, auch Vermehrung unserer Nation Ruhm“, 2004, p. 79. H. Weisert: Der Reichstitel bis 1806. In: Archiv für Diplomatik|Archiv für Diplomatik, Schriftgeschichte, Siegel- und Wappenkunde 4 (1994), 441–513 (p. 449).
  2. ^ Ernest Troger, Georg Zwanowetz (ed.): Neue Beiträge zur geschichtlichen Landeskunde Tirols. Festschrift für Univ. Prof. Dr. Franz Huter anlässlich der Vollendung des 70. Lebensjahres. Wagner, Innsbruck 1969, p. 269.
  3. ^ Wir, Franz der Zweyte, von Gottes Gnaden erwählter Römischer Kaiser, zu allen Zeiten Mehrer des Reichs, erblicher Kaiser von Österreich, König in Germanien, zu Jerusalem, zu Hungarn, zu Böheim, [...] Franz Gall: Österreichische Wappenkunde. Handbuch der Wappenwissenschaft. 2. Auflage. Böhlau, Wien 1992, p. 63.
  4. ^ A junior King of the Romans was normally chosen only when the senior ruler bore the title of Emperor. Only on one occasion (1147-1150) was there both a ruling King of the Romans (King Conrad III) and a King of the Romans as heir (Henry Berengar). From the 16th century on, the senior ruler took the title of 'Emperor' from the time of his accession or succession; King of the Romans accordingly came to refer solely to the heir apparent.


This article uses material translated from the corresponding article in the German-language Wikipedia, which, in turn, cites a source that contains further references:

  • H. Beumann: Rex Romanorum, in: Lexikon des Mittelalters (Dictionary of the Middle Ages, 9 vols., Munich-Zürich 1980-98), vol. 7, col. 777 f.