Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why Am I Telling You All This?

"The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire." Like most cliches, this one is incorrect and catchy. "Holy" -- each and every Holy Roman Emperor for a period of nearly 700 years, from Charlemagne through Frederick III, was crowned by the Pope, and many of them afterwards. "Roman" -- see "Holy." "Empire" -- it was mostly German, true, but also contained many bits and pieces of other nationalities, different bits and pieces at different times.

Not all Holy Roman Emperors were German. By the way, when I refer to the Holy Roman Empire I mean the political entity which began in the year 800 with the coronation of Charlemagne. Those who insist the the Holy Roman Empire only began with the coronation of Otto I in 962 are stupid and wrong and should be mocked and shunned. Seriously, folks, it's the same empire from Charlemagne all the way to Francis II (1792-1806). The Guideschi dynasty were Italian, and consisted of Guy, Emperor from 891 to 894, and his son Lambert, co-Emperor from 892 to 894 and sole Emperor until 898. Then there was Louis III, the Blind, from Provence, Emperor from 901 to 905. You know what? Scratch that, they were all German. Even Guy, Lambert and Louis III, the Blind, were all descended from Charlemagne one way or another. Some people, Germans mostly, insist for some reason that Charles V was not a German, but screw that. Charles was a Habsburg, and a Hapbsburg before there were Spanish Habsburgs. The first Spanish Habsburg king was Charles' son, Philip II, the one they say never laughed except when he received news of the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, the one with the Armada. (I wonder whether Spaniards also think of him as creepy.)

If you're going to dispute the German-ness of Charles V you must also dispute that of Frederick II, Emperor from 1220 to 1250. Charles's extraction was as German as Frederick's, and Charles spent much more time in Germany, warring with Lutherans, than did Frederick. Frederick was raised in Rome under the care and tutelage of Popes and future Popes. He spoke German better than Charles did, but no better than he spoke Italian, French, Latin, Greek and Arabic, yes, kiddies, Frederick was fluent in six languages. It's no surprise that his enemies called him the Antichrist.

Where was I? Who cares about all of this? When I tell you that there was 61-year gap between Emperors after Frederick's death in 1250, during which time there were seven Kings of Rome, including an Englishman, Richard of Cornwall, and at the same time a Spaniard, King Alfonso X of Castile, each of these two disputing the other's Roman kingship -- a King of Rome was elected by seven Electors, and then either eventually crowned Emperor by the Pope, or not -- yes, it's somewhat complicated if you're not used to it, I guess -- all seven of them lacking only the Papal coronation in order to become Emperor, why would you care? Or a 39-year gap between Emperor Berenger's death and the coronation of Emperor Otto I? Or a 44-year gap between the death of Charles IV in 1378 and the coronation of his son Sigismund in 1433? And if you were to ask me, hey Steve, how come such long gaps? I wouldn't really know for sure. Two possible contributing factors upon which I would speculate are the difficulty of Medieval travel, actually not inconsiderable and having to do with war and plague besides mere technological and logistical considerations, and, perhaps much more the crux of the biscuit, the reluctance of Popes to perform the crowning until sufficient favors were done by the elected King in return. But I don't really know. But I do know, and perhaps you didn't, that both Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France attempted to gain the Imperial crown in competition with the eventual Emperor Charles V. (You wanna talk about Charles V not being German?!)

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