King of the Romans

King of the Romans (Latin: Rex Romanorum; German: König der Römer) was a title used by Syagrius, then by the German king following his election by the princes from the time of Emperor Henry II (1014–1024) onward. The title was predominantly a claim to become Holy Roman Emperor and was dependent upon coronation by the Pope.

The title originally referred to any elected king who had not yet been granted the Imperial Regalia and title of "Emperor" at the hands of the Pope. Later it came to be used solely for the heir apparent to the Imperial throne between his election (during the lifetime of a sitting Emperor) and his succession upon the death of the Emperor.

Their actual title varied over time. During the Ottonian period it was King of the Franks (German: König der Franken, Latin: Rex Francorum), from the late Salian period it was Roman King (Römischer König) or King of the Romans (German: König der Römer, Lat.: Rex Romanorum). In the Modern Period, the title King in Germania (German: König in Germanien, Lat.: Germaniae Rex) came into use. Finally, modern German historiography established the term Roman-German King (Römisch-deutscher König) to differentiate it from the ancient Roman Emperor as well as from the modern German Emperor.

Ruling kings

History and usage

The territory of East Francia was not referred to as the Kingdom of Germany or Regnum Teutonicum (Latinised from Old High German diutisc) by contemporary sources until the 11th century. During this time, the king's claim to coronation was increasingly contested by the papacy culminating in the fierce Investiture Controversy. After the Salian heir apparent Henry IV, a six-year-old minor, had been elected to rule the Empire in 1056 he adopted Romanorum Rex as a title to emphasize his sacred entitlement to be crowned Emperor by the Pope. Pope Gregory VII insisted on using the derogatory term Teutonicorum Rex ("King of the Germans") in order to imply that Henry's authority was merely local and did not extend over the whole Empire. Henry continued to regularly use the title Romanorum Rex until he finally was crowned Emperor by Antipope Clement III in 1084. Henry's successors imitated this practice, and were also called Romanorum Rex before and Romanorum Imperator after their Roman coronations.

Medieval practice

Candidates for the kingship were at first the heads of the Germanic stem duchies. As these units broke up, rulers of smaller principalities and even non-Germanic rulers were considered for the position. The only requirements generally observed were that the candidate be an adult male, a Catholic Christian, and not in holy orders. The kings were elected by several Imperial Estates (secular princes as well as Prince-Bishops), often in the imperial city of Frankfurt after 1147, a custom recorded in the Schwabenspiegel code in about 1275.

Originally all noblemen present could vote by unanimous acclamation, but later a franchise was granted to only the most eminent bishops and noblemen, and according to the Golden Bull of 1356 issued by Emperor Charles IV only the seven Prince-electors had the right to participate in a majority voting as determined by the 1338 Declaration of Rhense. They were the Prince-Archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne as well as the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Saxon duke, and the Margrave of Brandenburg. After the Investiture Controversy, Charles intended to strengthen the legal status of the Rex Romanorum beyond Papal approbation. Consequently, among his successors only Sigismund and Frederick III were still crowned Emperors in Rome and in 1530 Charles V was the last king to receive the Imperial Crown at the hands of the Pope (in Bologna). The Golden Bull remained effective as constitutional law until the Empire's dissolution in 1806.

After his election, the new king would be crowned as King of the Romans (Romanorum Rex), usually at Charlemagne's throne in Aachen Cathedral by the Archbishop of Cologne. Though the ceremony was no more than a symbolic validation of the election result, it was solemnly celebrated. The details of Otto's coronation in 936 are described by the medieval chronicler Widukind of Corvey in his Res gestae saxonicae. The kings received the Imperial Crown from at least 1024, at the coronation of Conrad II. In 1198 the Hohenstaufen candidate Philip of Swabia was crowned Rex Romanorum at Mainz Cathedral (as was King Rupert centuries later), but he had another coronation in Aachen after he had prevailed against his Welf rival Otto IV.

At some time after the ceremony, the king would, if possible, cross the Alps, to receive coronation in Pavia or Milan with the Iron Crown of Lombardy as King of Italy. Finally, he would travel to Rome and be crowned Emperor by the Pope. Because it was rarely possible for the elected King to proceed immediately to Rome for his crowning, several years might elapse between election and coronation, and some Kings never completed the journey to Rome at all. As a suitable title for the King between his election and his coronation as Emperor, Romanorum Rex would stress the plenitude of his authority over the Empire and his warrant to be future Emperor (Imperator futurus) without infringing upon the Papal privilege.

Not all Kings of the Romans made this step, sometimes because of hostile relations with the Pope, or because either the pressure of business at home or warfare in Germany or Italy made it impossible for the King to make the journey. In such cases, the king might retain the title "King of the Romans" for his entire reign.

Later developments

The title Romanorum Rex became functionally obsolete after 1508, when the Pope permitted King Maximilian I to use the title of Electus Romanorum Imperator ("elected Emperor of the Romans") after he failed in a good-faith attempt to journey to Rome. At this time Maximilian also took the new title "King of the Germans" or "King in Germany" (Germaniae rex, König in Germanien), but the latter was never used as a primary title.

The rulers of the Empire thereafter called themselves "Emperors" without going to Rome or soliciting Papal approval, taking the title as soon as they were crowned in Germany or upon the death of a sitting Emperor if they were elected as heir to the throne.


The regnal dates given are those between the election as king and either the election as emperor, deposition or death.

KingBecame KingBecame Emperor/diedNotes
Otto III983996crowned Emperor
Henry II10021014crowned Emperor
Conrad II10241027crowned Emperor
Henry III10391046crowned Emperor
Henry IV10561084crowned Emperor
Rudolf25 May 107715 Oct 1080diedAnti-king
Hermann6 Aug 108128 Sept 1088diedAnti-king
Henry V11051106in opposition to Henry IV
11061111crowned Emperor
Lothair III11251133crowned Emperor
Conrad III11271135in opposition to Lothair
Frederick I11521155crowned Emperor
Henry VI11901197crowned Emperor
Otto IV11981208in opposition to Philip
12081209crowned Emperor
Frederick II12121220crowned Emperor
Henry Raspe22 May 124616 February 1247diedAnti-king
William of Holland124728 January 1256diedAnti-king
Conrad IV12501254died
Richard of Cornwall12571272diedCandidacy opposed by Saxony, Brandenburg and Trier who supported Alfonso X of Castile. Crowned in Aachen in 1257.
Rudolf I12731291died
Adolph12921298deposed and killed
Albert I12981308died
Henry VII13081312crowned Emperor
Frederick the Fair13141330diedjointly with Louis IV
Louis IV13141328crowned Emperorjointly with Frederick the Fair
Charles IV13461347opposed to Louis IV
13471355crowned Emperor
Jobst of Moravia14101411diedopposed to Sigismund
Sigismund14101411second electionopposed to Jobst
14111433crowned Emperor
Albert II14381439died
Frederick III14401452crowned Emperor
Maximilian I14931508assumed title of Emperor-elect.Introduced the title Rex in Germania.[1]

erwelter Romischer kayser, zu allen zeiten merer des Reichs, in Germanien zu Hungern, Dalmatien, Croatien etc. kunig […][2]

Charles V15191530crowned Emperor

After Charles V, Holy Roman Emperors assumed the title of "king of the Romans" at the same time as being elected emperor. The titles of "Roman Emperor elect" (erwählter Römischer Kaiser) and "king in Germany" (König in Germanien) continued to be used as part of the full style of the emperors until 1806. When Francis II founded the Austrian Empire in 1804, he used as his style for the last two years before the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire:

"We, Francis II, by the grace of God elected Roman Emperor, at all times Increaser of the Realm, hereditary Emperor of Austria, King in Germania, in Jerusalem, in Hungary, in Bohemia [...].[3]

Heirs designate

The Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy. No person had a legal right to the succession simply because he was related to the current Emperor. However, the Emperor could, and often did, have a relative (usually a son) elected to succeed him after his death. This elected heir apparent bore the title "King of the Romans".[4]

The election was in the same form as that of the senior ruler, and theoretically meant that both men were equal co-rulers of the Empire. In practice, however, the actual administration of the Empire was always managed by the Emperor, with at most certain duties delegated to the heir.


The following were subordinate kings to another Holy Roman Emperor (usually, but not always, their father) for the dates specified.

NameDate accededDate relinquishedReasonRelationReigning Emperor
Otto II9617 May 973succeeded as King (Emperor 967)sonOtto I
Henry III10284 June 1039succeeded as King (Emperor 1046)sonConrad II
Henry IV10535 October 1056succeeded as King (Emperor 1084)sonHenry III
Conrad1087April 1098deposedsonHenry IV
Henry V6 January 10991105succeeded as King (Emperor 1111)sonHenry IV
Henry Berengar30 March 11471150diedsonConrad III
Henry VI116910 June 1190succeeded as King (Emperor 1191)sonFrederick I
Frederick II119628 September 1197succeeded and abdicated (via regency) 1197
elected King (with opposition) 1212
Emperor 1220
sonHenry VI
Henry (VII)12204 July 1235deposedsonFrederick II
Conrad IV123713 December 1250succeeded as KingsonFrederick II
Wenceslaus10 June 137629 November 1378succeeded as KingsonCharles IV
Maximilian I16 February 148619 August 1493succeeded as King (Emperor 1508)sonFrederick III
Ferdinand I5 January 15313 May 1558succeeded as EmperorbrotherCharles V
Maximilian II28 November 156225 July 1564succeeded as EmperorsonFerdinand I
Rudolph II27 October 157512 October 1576succeeded as EmperorsonMaximilian II
Ferdinand III22 December 163615 February 1637succeeded as EmperorsonFerdinand II
Ferdinand IV31 May 16539 July 1654diedsonFerdinand III
Joseph I23 January 16905 May 1705succeeded as EmperorsonLeopold I
Joseph II27 March 176418 August 1765succeeded as EmperorsonFrancis I

First French Empire

When Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, had a son and heir, Napoleon II (181132), he revived the title as King of Rome (Roi de Rome), styling his son as such at birth. The boy was often known colloquially by this title throughout his short life. However, from 1818 onward, he was styled officially as the Duke of Reichstadt by Emperor Francis I of Austria.

See also


  1. Elisabeth Rothmund: Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672). Kulturpatriotismus und deutsche weltliche Vokalmusik. „Zum Auffnehmen der Music, auch Vermehrung unserer Nation Ruhm“, 2004, p. 79. H. Weisert: Der Reichstitel bis 1806. In: Archiv für Diplomatik|Archiv für Diplomatik, Schriftgeschichte, Siegel- und Wappenkunde 4 (1994), 441–513 (p. 449).
  2. Ernest Troger, Georg Zwanowetz (ed.): Neue Beiträge zur geschichtlichen Landeskunde Tirols. Festschrift für Univ. Prof. Dr. Franz Huter anlässlich der Vollendung des 70. Lebensjahres. Wagner, Innsbruck 1969, p. 269.
  3. Wir, Franz der Zweyte, von Gottes Gnaden erwählter Römischer Kaiser, zu allen Zeiten Mehrer des Reichs, erblicher Kaiser von Österreich, König in Germanien, zu Jerusalem, zu Hungarn, zu Böheim, […] Franz Gall: Österreichische Wappenkunde. Handbuch der Wappenwissenschaft. 2. Auflage. Böhlau, Wien 1992, p. 63.
  4. A junior King of the Romans was normally chosen only when the senior ruler bore the title of Emperor. Only on one occasion (1147-1150) was there both a ruling King of the Romans (King Conrad III) and a King of the Romans as heir (Henry Berengar). From the 16th century on, the senior ruler took the title of 'Emperor' from the time of his accession or succession; King of the Romans accordingly came to refer solely to the heir apparent.


This article uses material translated from the corresponding article in the German-language Wikipedia, which, in turn, cites a source that contains further references:

  • H. Beumann: Rex Romanorum, in: Lexikon des Mittelalters (Dictionary of the Middle Ages, 9 vols., Munich-Zürich 1980-98), vol. 7, col. 777 f.

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