German Mediatisation

German Mediatisation

The German Mediatisation was the series of mediatisations and secularisations that occurred in Germany between 1795 and 1814, during the latter part of the era of the French Revolution and then the Napoleonic Era.

Mediatisation – or loss of imperial immediacy – was the process of annexing the lands of one sovereign monarchy to another, often leaving the annexed some rights. Secularisation was the redistribution to secular states of the secular lands held by an ecclesiastical ruler such as a bishop or an abbot.

Following the collapse of the Carolingian Empire, due to the equal heritage splitting prescribed by Salic Law, and the rise of feudalism, much of Europe had been reduced to an array of small, independent statelets. Successive Kings of Germany and Holy Roman Emperors vested temporal authority in many bishoprics, abbacies and convents, and also granted free city rights to many cities and villages throughout Germany. Unlike Western European unitary states like Great Britain, France, or Spain, the German kings were unable to coalesce their realms into a fully centralised kingdom, so over the course of centuries Germany had come to consist of no less than 300 independent sovereign states.

Map of the Holy Roman Empire in 1789, showing the large mix of states

The details of the negotiations were largely arranged by the French minister Talleyrand. The benefiting states were expected to pay fees and to form alliances with Bonaparte's new empire.



The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss (formally the Hauptschluss der außerordentlichen Reichsdeputation, or "Principal Conclusion of the Extraordinary Imperial Delegation") was a resolution passed on 25 February 1803 by the Reichstag (Imperial Diet) of the Holy Roman Empire. It proved to be the last significant law enacted by the Empire before its dissolution in 1806.

Based on a plan agreed in June 1802 between France and Austria, and broad principles outlined in the Treaty of Lunéville of 1801, the law established a major redistribution of territorial sovereignty within the Empire, to compensate numerous German princes for territories to the west of the Rhine that had been annexed by France as a result of the wars of the French Revolution.

The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss was ratified unanimously by the Reichstag in March, 1803, and was approved by the emperor, Francis II, the following month. However, the emperor made a formal reservation in respect of the reallocation of votes within the Reichstag, as the balance between Protestant and Catholic states had been shifted heavily in the former's favour.

The redistribution was achieved by a combination of two processes: secularization of ecclesiastical principalities, and mediatization of numerous small secular principalities and free cities.


From the re-establishment of the Holy Roman Empire by the Salian and Saxon Emperors in the 10th and 11th centuries, the feudal system had turned Germany and northern Italy into a vast network of small statelets, each with its own specific privileges, titles and autonomy. To help administer Germany in the face of growing decentralisation and local autonomy following the rise of feudalism, many bishoprics, abbeys and convents throughout Germany were granted temporal estates and noble titles - such as prince, duke, or count— by successive Holy Roman Emperors. The personal appointment of bishops by the Holy Roman Emperors had sparked the investiture controversy, and in its aftermath the emperors were unable to use the bishops for this end. Following this, the bishops and abbots had begun to run their newfound realms as temporal lords as opposed to spiritual lords. Allegations of corruption and decadence that followed had led to the falling from grace of the ecclesiastical rulers and eventually helped bring about the Protestant Reformation, when several of the former prince-bishoprics were secularized and became the territory of secular princes. In the later sixteenth century the Counter-Reformation attempted to reverse some of these secularizations, and the question of the fates of secularized territories became an important one in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). In the end, the Peace of Westphalia confirmed the secularizations which had already occurred, but also stabilized the situation to prevent any further changes.

In 1794 the armies of revolutionary France overran the Rhineland, and by the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797 the Emperor recognized French annexation of all imperial territories west of the Rhine river. The Emperor sought to compensate the now stateless or diminished monarchs who lost their lands by granting them new realms. The only available lands were those held by the Prince-Bishops, so most were secularised and dispersed amongst the monarchs of Germany.

The ecclesiastical states were generally annexed to neighbouring secular principalities. Only three survived as non-secular states: the Archbishopric of Regensburg, which was raised from a bishopric with the incorporation of the Archbishopric of Mainz, and the lands of the Teutonic Knights and Knights of Saint John. Also of note is the former Archbishopric of Salzburg, which was secularised as a duchy with an increased territorial scope, and was also made an electorate.

Monasteries and abbeys lost their means of existence as they had to abandon their land and most were closed. The remaining ecclesiastical states were also secularized after the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. The lands of the Order of St. John were secularized in 1806, Regensburg was annexed by Bavaria in 1809, and in the same year Napoleon dissolved the Teutonic Knights and gave their lands to neighboring princes, particularly the King of Württemberg.

Secularised states

Bishops and archbishops

Abbeys, convents, and provostries


Although the number of German states had been steadily decreasing since the Thirty Years' War, there still remained approximately 200 states by the advent of the Napoleonic Era. The defeat of the First Coalition resulted in the secularisation of the ecclesiastical states and the annexation by France of all lands west of the Rhine.

Allies of Napoleon obtained gains in both territory and status on a number of occasions in the following years.

Mediatisation transferred the sovereignty of small secular states to their larger neighbours. In addition to numerous principalities, all but a handful of the Imperial cities would also be annexed to their neighbours.

In 1803, most of the free cities in Germany were mediatised. On 12 June 1806, Napoleon established the Confederation of the Rhine to extend and help secure the eastern border of France. In reluctant recognition of Napoleon's dismemberment of imperial territory, on 6 August 1806, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II declared the Empire abolished, and claimed as much power as he could retain as ruler of the Habsburg realms. To gain support from the more powerful German states, the former Holy Roman Emperor accepted, and Napoleon encouraged, those that remained to mediatise minor neighbouring states.

Before the Battle of Waterloo and the exile of Napoleon to Saint Helena, the Congress of Vienna was held from 1814 to 1815 by the Great Powers to re-establish the old borders of Europe. It was decided that Germany would retain the benefit of Napoleon's disrupton of the status quo ante: the mediatised principalities, free cities and secularised states would not be recreated. Instead their former rulers were to enjoy dynastic status, being deemed equal to the still-reigning monarchs for marital purposes, and entitled to claim compensation for their losses. But it was left to each of the annexing states to compensate mediatised dynasties, and the latter had no international right to redress if dissatisfied with the new regime's reimbursement decisions.

Mediatised principalities

As the Houses of Ostein, Sinzendorf and Wartenberg became extinct after the mediatisation but before 1830, they are not always counted among the Mediatised Houses. For varying reasons, Aspremont-Lynden, Bentinck, Bretzenheim, Limburg-Styrum and Waldeck-Limpurg are also sometimes excluded. Hesse-Homburg was never considered sovereign by Hesse-Darmstadt and therefore was not technically mediatised, and Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel) was annexed into the Kingdom of Westphalia but later had its sovereignty restored. The Schönburgs had been mediatised to the Elector of Saxony in the 18th century and were only counted amongst the Mediatised Houses at the Electors' insistence.

Abolished free and imperial cities

Most of the mediatisations occurred in 1806 after the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine. Also mediatised 1806–1814 were several states created by Napoleon for his relatives and close allies. These include:

The only free cities in Germany not abolished in 1803 were:

Later mediatisations were:


The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss brought about a massive change to the political map of Germany. Literally hundreds of states were eliminated, with only around forty surviving. A number of the surviving states made significant territorial gains (most notably Baden, Bavaria, and Hesse-Darmstadt); and Baden, Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel), and Württemberg gained status by being made electorates (to replace three that had been lost in the changes). Of the imperial cities, only Augsburg, Bremen, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, Lübeck, and Nuremberg survived as independent entities.

Area and population losses or gains (rounded)
Losses Gains
 Prussia 2.000 km²
140.000 people
12.000 km²
600.000 people
 Bavaria 10.000 km²
600.000 people
14.000 km²
850.000 people
 Baden 450 km²
30.000 people
2.000 km²
240.000 people
 Württemberg 400 km²
30.000 people
1.500 km²
120.000 people

See also


Texts on Wikisource:

  • Arenberg, Jean Engelbert. The Lesser Princes of the Holy Roman Empire in the Napoleonic Era. Dissertation, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., 1950 (later published as Les Princes du St-Empire a l'epoque napoleonienne., Louvain: Publications universitaires de Louvain, 1951).
  • Gollwitzer, Heinz. Die Standesherren. Die politische und gesellschaftliche Stellung der Mediatisierten 1815–1918. Stuttgart 1957 (Göttingen 1964)

External links

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