Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.


Friday, 24 April 2020

How to elect a Holy Roman Emperor

Following on from the previous post, and especially its coverage of the church of St Bartholomew in Frankfurt where Kings of the Romans were elected and where from the reign of the Emperor Ferdinand I in the mid-sixteenth century onwards Holy Roman Emperors were crowned, I thought it might be appropriate to add a note about how the Emperors were elected.

In the mid-fourteenth century there were positive reforms to regulate the process and to seek to avoid disputed elections. This resulted in the Golden Bull issued by the Emperor Charles IV in 1346, and which underpinned all subsequent elections down to the last, of Emperor Francis II, in 1792. The good Wikipedia account of it is to be seen at Golden Bull of 1356

The provision that after thirty days the seven Electors should be reduced to bread and water for their diet is reminiscent of the similar provision, but after a shorter time, to reducing the Cardinal electors to a similarly straitened regime in Papal Conclaves in Pope Gregory X’s ‘Ubi Periculum’ of 1274. This having been disregarded in the next few elections was formally made the law of the Church by Pope Boniface VIII in 1298. The Wikipedia entry about that can be read at Ubi periculumIt has basically regulated Papal elections ever since.


Thus the two governing institutions - at least in the minds of successive Popes and Emperors - of Christendom successfully stabilised their processes of election and succession in that period of transition as both faced greater challenges with the increasing confidence of the national monarchies and civic republics of that era.


In 1806 the Emperor Francis II, who had assumed the additional title of Emperor of Austria in 1804, announced through his heralds the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Much of its prestige and ethos remained around him as Emperor Francis I, and his heirs retained and retain that. So, in Gibbonesque mood, one can perhaps think of him being succeeded in spirit by other Holy Roman Emperors - Ferdinand IV, Francis Joseph I, Charles VIII, Otto V and Charles IX...


If you think I am, even by my standards, pushing my luck there please remember that the older rite for Good Friday retains in the Solemn Prayers a petition for the Holy Roman Emperor.  The later editions of the Missal add a note that as there is no Emperor at present the prayer should be omitted. However I have been assured that in at least one church in this country in recent years the celebrant, following the pre-1955 rubrics, prayed by name for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles...


A word of explanation:


A Golden Bull or chrysobull was a gold seal (a bulla aurea or "golden seal" in Latin), attached to a law, grant or treaty of particular importance issued by Byzantine Emperors and later by some monarchs in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The term was originally used for the golden seal itself but came to be applied to the entire decree. Such decrees were known as golden bulls in western Europe and chrysobullos logos, or chrysobulls, in the Byzantine Empire (χρυσός, chrysos, being Greek for gold).

2 comments:

Zephyrinus said...

Dear John. Your Readers may be interested to know that, fairly recently, I had the privilege and honour to Serve an Easter Vigil Mass (Pre-1955, of course) where The Celebrant insisted on saying The Prayer for The Holy Roman Emperor "because it was in The Missal". The Liturgy is alive and well, Deo Gratias.

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