Last modified: 2006-08-19 by jarig bakker
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image by Jaume Ollé
Emperor's Banner until 1401
Starting around the 14th century, the Empire had a diet called the Reichstag
(early it had a somewhat similar gathering called the Hofstag).
Although it never had the power to adopt, as opposed to proposing, it had
considerable de facto authority during the late middle ages. During
and after the 30 Years War, it basically lost most of its power. It had
something over 200 members (called Reichstände) which were princes,
bishops or Imperial cities. The last completely regular Reichstag
was in the mid 17th century. The following one, the Reichstag of
1663 did not adjourn until the abolition of the Empire in 1806. Despite
appearances, this was accompanied by increasing irrelevence of the institution
although it continued meeting irregularly in Regensburg [Bavaria].
With the foundation of the German League, its
diet which consisted of the princes was named the Bundestag
Norman Martin, 5 October 2000
1. The Reichssturmfahne was not a flag, but a banner. Meyer's Lexikon
of 1897 says s. v. Banner:
"On the German Imperial Banner, which the Emperor or the supreme commander appointed by him mounted, when assembling the Imperial army, was depicted at the time of Henry I and Otto the Great the archangel Michael, at the time of Frederic I (Barbarossa) an eagle, in the time of Otto IV an eagle hovering over a dragon, since the time of Sigmund, and perhaps earlier, the Imperial eagle; that was a black eagle in yellow, bearing the arms of the Emperors house on it's breast.
When investing a fief, the Emperor had together with this Imperial banner in black and yellow a second banner in red for the investion with penal judicature. This is probably the reason of combining the colours black, red and yellow to form a tricolor against the rules of heraldry....
The Reichssturmfahne was smaller than the Imperial banner, more like a chaffron..."
Since this Reichssturmfahne was part of the arms of the Duchy of Wuerttemberg since 1495 and of the royal house of Wuerttemberg up to 1918, we have 19th century pictures of it.
2. I don't think it wise to have the Holy Roman Empire sub GERMANY,
since the Empire was an supranational entity, Germany being only the most
important of its successor states. These successor states are in full:
Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland (independent
since 1648), Italy (except the southern parts), San Marino, Monaco, Luxemburg,
Belgium and the Netherlands (independant since 1648).
Big parts of the Empire belong now to France and Poland, small parts to Slovenia and Croatia. Mark: East and West Prussia as well as Venice where not part of the Empire. That means, in the late middle ages it embraced all territory between the Rhone , Saone and Maas (Meuse) in the west to the Oder valley in the East, and from Holstein in the North to Tuscany in the south.
Legaly there was no GERMANY and no King of Germany. Even the title German King was very rarely used. The official title was up to the 11th century Rex Francorum (King of the Francs) and later Rex Romanorum (King of the Romans). The latter title was used in the interval between election and coronation at Rome or for sons of an Emperor, when they were elected kings in their fahthers lifetime. Because the German king was in fact Rex Francorum, he was elected by the peoples of the eastern part of the Kingdom of the Francs, living in the dukedoms of Eastern Franconia, Frisia, Saxonia, Thuringia, Bavaria, Alemannia (Suebia) and
Bohemia. Later they were represented by the seven princely electors, one of which was the King of Bohemia.
As an example: Karl IV, duke of Luxemburg and King of Bohemia, educated at the court of the of French king, was elected king in 1346 at Rhens and crowned king at Bonn (again in 1349 at the correct place Aachen/Aix). By this act he was legally king of Italy and Burgundy and had the right to be crowned Emperor at Rome. 1355 he was crowned as king of Italy in Milano and as Roman Emperor at Rome, 1365 as king of Burgundy at Arles (Provence).
Since 1508 the Imperial title was Elected Roman Emperor. The only place of coronation was in modern times Aachen.
3. Organs of the Empire were the Emperor, the Electors, the Reichstag
(diet), and since about 1520 the Imperial circles. The circles were responsible
for defence, trunk roads, and other things of common interest. The Reichstag
had is sessions from 1594 at Regensburg and was permanent since 1664. The
states (Stände) were then represented by comissioners. Hereditary
Imperial commissioner was the Prince of Thurn and Taxis, better known to
the public as Imperial postmaster general.
The circles had diets of their own. At the Reichtsag Italian states were not represented, but in modern times some Burgundianstates (Duchy of Savoya, Archbishop and Imperial City of Besançon, Principality of Mombeliard etc.).
4. The cross was a common symbol of Christian states, and especially
of the Holy Empire. The Meyer says: "The banner of the Holy Empire bore
a cross even before 1200; it is the st. George's banner... Emperor Friedrich
III took the cross officially as part of the Imperial arms, but some of
his successors did not use it." So you can find the cross on thousands
of pictures. Most Imperial cities had it in their arms. So it was quite
normal for the Imperial city of Genova to use it (see
A. Birken, 22 Aug 2002
Nevertheless the Emperor had a banner, consisting of a black eagle,
armed red, generally on a gold (yellow) field. Sometimes the same eagle
is portrayed on a white field; a flag chart early in the 18th century has
the yellow flag as the flag of the emperor and the white one as that of
the empire, but it is uncertain as to whether this represents a real distinction.
After 1400, the eagle became two-headed; possibly this reflected the practice
of the defunct Byzantine Empire, their main competitor
to the claim to being the Roman Empire. Increasingly, but not uniformly,
the eagle acquired a sword and orb, as well as a crown. The coat of arms,
but rarely the banner, also sometimes had a red border. A good representation
of the early pattern can be found in Crampton
1990. I found some nice 15th century representations in a small book
called Kaiser Heinrichs Romfahrt (Emperor Henry's Pilgrimage), published
in Koblenz in 1895; Smith 1975 has one
of these illustrations on p.114.
Norman Martin, 14 Jan 1998
Two additional flags associated with the Empire worth mentioning are
the Sankt Georg Fahne —a white St. George's cross on a red field
frequently with a Schwenkel— (Smith
1975, p.115, labels this the Imperial War Flag) and the Reichsturmfahne.
Norman Martin, 14 Jan 1998
Even though I found no reference to the Sankt Georg Flagge as war flag
except in Smith 1975, it is clear that
its primary use was military and in view of Smith's identification, I would
not be surprised if it were sometimes or even frequently called Reichskriegsflagge.
Norman Martin, 15 Mar 2000