The ‘loose association of territories that preceded the creation of the modern German state.’ (Tim Kirk)
Usually considered to have come into being with the coronation of Charlemagne as ‘Emperor of the Romans’ in 800, but the term Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation ( Heiliges R ömisches Reich deutscher Nation ) was formally adopted in 1512.
At its greatest extent it encompassed modern-day Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium and parts of France and Italy.
After the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) which ended the Thirty Years War there were still 234 territories and 51 ‘Imperial Cities’.
The territories that made up the HRE were self-governing, but their sovereigns owed allegiance to the Emperor, who was elected by 7 Elector-Princes (3 ecclesiastical, 4 secular).
Rudolf von Habsburg, Duke of Austria, became Emperor in 1273. His descendents ruled the Empire off and on until it was abolished. From the 15 th Century there were no non-Habsburg Emperors.
The Holy Roman Empire was formally dissolved on 6 August 1806 by the Treaty of Pressburg, after the defeat of Austria by Napoleon.
The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, 1789-1815
Exported the principles of liberty, equality and brotherhood ( Libert é , égalité , fraternité )
Broke the power of the old Monarchical regimes and states in Central Europe.
Saw the emergence of the idea of ‘Nationalism’ – the term first appeared in the writings of the Jesuit Abbé Barruel in 1798
‘ The Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars witnessed the first upsurge of Nationalism in European history, partly under the inspiration of the French armies and message of liberation, partly in reaction against those armies and the realities of occupation and oppression.’ Robert Gildea, Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914 (Oxford: OUP, 1996)
Dismissed as professor of philosophy at the University of Jena in 1799 for his support of the French Revolution.
Addresses to the German Nation (1807-08): Argued that France now represented despotism and that it was therefore up to ‘the German nation’ to be the champion of liberty. The Volk (people) should thus rise up and drive out the invader.
Designed to help preserve the status quo rather than as a basis for a United Germany.
The Austrian Chancellor Metternich saw it as a means of preserving Austrian dominance over Germany.
The Federal Diet (parliament) met at Frankfurt and was made up of (unelected) representatives of all the states. It was always chaired by the Austrian representative. In theory the Diet could appoint ambassadors, negotiate treaties on behalf of members and organize a Federal Army. In practice little was ever done because the unanimous agreement of all 39 states was required.
Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803): The Volk (‘nation’ or ‘race’) is the decisive determinant of human identity. The nation is therefore identified not with the state (which is an artificial body), but with the ‘organic body’ of the Volk .
Johann Goethe (1749-1832): No need for a nation-state – Germany was a ‘cultural community’ like Ancient Greece.
Geog Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831): An individual only achieved their full potential through service to the state.
German nationalism based on the idea of a racial/cultural community with shared language, history, traditions, myths etc.
5 March 1848: The Heidelberg Declaration: calls for a single German state governed by a united German parliament.
31 March: 574 representatives from the German states met in Frankfurt to agree on what form the new German parliament would take (the Vorparlament ).
After elections in April the parliament met in Frankfurt in May 1848. It was largely made up of liberal middle-class professionals (teachers, lawyers etc.) and was moderate in character.
The Assembly soon became bogged down in debate over what form a united Germany should take and how it should be governed.
June: A provisional government led by the Habsburg Archduke John was elected, but it had no real power and an ill-defined role.
March 1849: A Constitution for a united German Empire agreed and the Imperial crown was offered to the King of Prussia, who refused it. The rulers of Bavaria, Saxony and Hanover also rejected the Constitution.
May 1849: The parliament expelled from Frankfurt and moved to Stuttgart.
June 1849: The parliament forcibly broken up by the King of W ürttemberg’ s troops.
Prussian Tariff Reform Law (1818): Designed to protect Prussian industry from cheap imports & break down internal barriers to free trade.
1818-34: Prussia tried to encourage free trade within Germany by forming customs unions with neighbouring states.
By 1836 the Prussian Customs Union ( Zollverein ) was made up of 25 states with a population of 26 million. Trade barriers & customs duties between members were abolished and there were moves towards standardization of weights and measures and currency.
1849-50: Austrian attempts to join the Zollverein come to nothing, leaving Austria as the political leader of the German Confederation, but economically isolated.
1850: The ‘Capitulation at Olmutz’ – Prussia forced to abandon her plan to replace the German Confederation with a union led jointly by Prussia and Austria.
1862: Bismarck demanded that Austria recognize Prussia as its equal within Germany.
1864: German-Danish War – Austria & Prussia co-operate to prevent Denmark from annexing the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. By the terms of the Convention of Gastein Schelswig was ceded to Prussia and Holstein to Austria.
1866: Seven Weeks (Austro-Prussian) War – Austria brings an action against Prussia in the Federal Diet & Prussia walks out declaring the end of the German Confederation. Prussia decisively defeats Austria a Sadowa (K öniggrätz) on 3 July.