First Reich...800 to 1806, History Highlights

The First Reich, or first German Empire, lasted 1000 years. It was established in 800 AD, was reconfirmed in 962 AD and dissolved in 1806. Officially it was known as the Holy Roman Empire.

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This image shown here is the double headed Eagle of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, adopted in 1440 to replace the original single headed eagle used since 800 AD. The hand-colored woodcut, showing the states of the Holy Roman Empire in 1510, was produced in Augsburg by Hans Burgkmair and Jost de Negker. The woodcut shows 56 coats of arms from the Empire. The top, larger shields, are those of the seven Prince Electors. On the right wing are the ecclesiastical: Trier, Cologne and Mainz as well as of the titular “Prefect of Rome” … on the left wing are the secular: Bohemia, Electorate of the Palatinate, Saxony and Brandenburg.

The Empire was always a decentralized, limited elective monarchy composed of hundreds of sub-units, principalities, duchies, counties, Free Imperial Cities, and other domains. The power of the emperor was limited, and while the various princes, lords, and dukes of the Empire were vassals and subjects who owed the emperor their allegiance, they also possessed an extent of privileges that gave them de facto sovereignty within their territories.

Austria led the German Empire for its last 369 years and dissolved the Empire in 1806, after its defeat by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz. Germany was split apart and ruled by France for 7 years, until the successful Freedom Wars of 1813. From then on, for the next 58 years, there was a general yearning for a new stronger German Empire and a period of growing nationalism ensued.

Eventually Prussia proved itself the strongest German state and succeeded in uniting all German states, except Austria, into the new German Reich in 1871. In a strong symbolic show of force, the new Reich was announced in France, the country that ended the first empire in 1806. Prussian King Wilhelm, the victor of the Franco-Prussian War, was hailed as Germany’s new Emperor in the halls of the Versailles Palace in France.

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