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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Imperial immediacy (German: Reichsfreiheit or Reichsunmittelbarkeit) was a privileged feudal and political status, which an imperial city, religious entity or feudal principality of minor lordship could attain within the Holy Roman Empire. A reichsfrei city, abbey or territory was under the direct authority of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Imperial Diet, without any intermediary liege lord(s). In modern terms, it would be understood as a form of sovereignty.


Advantages and disadvantages

Some additional advantages could include the right to collect taxes and tolls, hold a market, mint coins, bear arms, and conduct legal proceedings. The latter could include the so called Blutgericht (or "blood justice") through which capital punishment could be administered. These rights depended on the legal patents granted by the emperor.

Some disadvantages could include the direct intervention by imperial commissions, such as those that happened in several of the southwestern cities after the Schmalkaldic War and the potential restriction or outright loss of previously held legal patents. Other disadvantages could include the loss of all immediate rights, if the Emperor and/or the Imperial Diet could not defend those rights against outside aggression, such as that which occurred in the French Revolutionary wars and the Napoleonic Wars. The Treaty of Lunéville in 1801 required the emperor to renounce all claim to portions of the Holy Roman Empire. At the last meeting of the Imperial Diet (German: Reichsdeputationshauptschluss) in 1802-03, also called the German Mediatisation, most of the free imperial cities and the ecclesiastic states lost their imperial immediacy and were absorbed by several dynastic states.

Problems in understanding the Empire

map of the Holy Roman Empire (central Europe) in 1789 showing the several hundred states, in different colors
The Holy Roman Empire in 1789. Each of these states (different colors) on the map would have had a specific set of legal rights that governed its social, economic, and juridical relationships between the state and the emperor, and among the states themselves.

Understanding the practical application of the rights of immediacy makes the history of the Holy Roman Empire particularly difficult to understand, especially among modern historians. Even such contemporaries as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Gottlieb Fichte called the empire a monstrosity. Mid-19th century historians wrote of the Empire as something neither Holy nor Roman, nor an Empire, and in comparison to the British "empire," saw its German counterpart as an abysmal failure that reached its pinnacle of success in the early Middle Ages and declined thereafter.[1] For nearly a century after the publication James Bryce's (1838-1922) monumental work on the Empire, aptly titled "The Holy Roman Empire," this view prevailed among most historians of the Early Modern period, and contributed to the development of the Sonderweg theory of the German past.[2]


  1. ^ James Bryce (1838-1922), Holy Roman Empire, London, 1865.
  2. ^ James Sheehan, German History 1770-1866, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989. Introduction, pp. 1-8.

See also


  • Braun, B.: Reichsunmittelbarkeit in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland. Version of 2005-05-03. URL last accessed 2006-11-29.
  • Bryce, James (1838-1922), Holy Roman Empire, London, 1865.
  • Sheehan, James, German History 1770-1866, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989.


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