A prince-bishop is a bishop who is also the civil ruler of some secular principality and sovereignty. Thus the principality or prince-bishopric ruled politically by a prince-bishop could wholly or largely overlap with his diocesan jurisdiction, since some parts of his diocese, even the city of his residence, could be exempt from his civil rule, obtaining the status of free imperial city. If the episcopal see is an archbishop, the correct term is prince-archbishop; the equivalent in the regular (monastic) clergy is prince-abbot. A prince-bishop is usually considered an elected monarch.

In the West, with the decline of imperial power from the 4th century onwards in the face of the barbarian invasions, sometimes Christian bishops of cities took the place of the Roman commander, made secular decisions for the city and led their own troops when necessary. Later relations between a prince-bishop and the burghers were invariably not cordial. As cities demanded charters from emperors, kings, or their prince-bishops and declared themselves independent of the secular territorial magnates, friction intensified between burghers and bishops.

In the Byzantine Empire, the still autocratic Emperors passed general legal measures assigning all bishops certain rights and duties in the secular administration of their dioceses, possibly as part of a development to put the Eastern Church in the service of the Empire, with its Ecumenical Patriarch almost reduced to the Emperor's minister of religious affairs.

Holy Roman Empire

Bishops had been involved in the government of the Frankish realm and subsequent Carolingian Empire frequently as the clerical member of a duo of envoys styled Missus dominicus, but that was an individual mandate, not attached to the see. Prince-bishoprics were most common in the feudally fragmented Holy Roman Empire, where many were formally awarded the rank of an Imperial Prince Reichsfürst, granting them the immediate power over a certain territory and a representation in the Imperial Diet (Reichstag).

The stem duchies of the German kingdom inside the Empire had strong and powerful dukes (originally, war-rulers), always looking out more for their duchy's "national interest" than for the Empire's. In turn the first Ottonian (Saxon) king Henry the Fowler and more so his son, Emperor Otto I, intended to weaken the power of the dukes by granting loyal bishops Imperial lands and vest them with regalia privileges. Unlike dukes they could not pass hereditary titles and lands to any descendants. Instead the Emperors reserved the implementation of the bishops of their proprietary church for themselves, defying the fact that according to canon law they were part of the transnational Catholic Church. This met with increasing opposition by the Popes, culminating in the fierce Investiture Controversy of 1076. Nevertheless, the Emperors continued to grant major territories to the most important (arch)bishops. The immediate territory attached to the episcopal see then became a prince-diocese or bishopric (Fürstbistum).[1] The German term Hochstift was often used to denote the form of secular authority held by bishops ruling a prince-bishopric with Erzstift being used for prince-archbishoprics.

Emperor Charles IV by the Golden Bull of 1356 confirmed the privileged status of the Prince-Archbishoprics of Mainz, Cologne and Trier as members of the electoral college. At the eve of the Protestant Reformation, the Imperial states comprised 53 ecclesiastical principalities. They were finally secularized in the 1803 German Mediatization upon the territorial losses to France in the Treaty of Lunéville, except for the Mainz prince-archbishop and German archchancellor Karl Theodor Anton Maria von Dalberg, who continued to rule as Prince of Aschaffenburg and Regensburg. With the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the title finally became defunct. However, in some countries outside of French control, such as in the Austrian Empire (Salzburg, Seckau, and Olomouc) and the Kingdom of Prussia (Breslau), the institution nominally continued, and in some cases was revived; a new, titular type arose.

No less than three of the (originally only seven) prince-electors, the highest order of Reichsfürsten (comparable in rank with the French pairs), were prince-archbishops, each holding the title of Archchancellor (the only arch-office amongst them) for a part of the Empire; given the higher importance of an electorate, their principalities were known as Kurfürstentum ("electoral principality") rather than prince-archbishoprics:

Arms Name Rank Local name(s) Imperial immediacy Imperial
Cologne Archbishopric Electorate German: Erzstift Köln, Kurköln 953–1803 Electoral Rhenish  Germany Prince-elector and Arch-Chancellor of Italy. Duke of Westphalia since 1180. Cologne became a Free Imperial City in 1288.
Mainz Archbishopric Electorate German: Erzbistum Mainz, Kurmainz c.780–1803 Electoral Rhenish  Germany Prince-elector and Arch-Chancellor of Germany.
Trier Archbishopric Electorate German: Erzbistum Trier, Kurtrier
French: Archevêque Trèves
772–1803 Electoral Rhenish  Germany Prince-elector and Arch-Chancellor of Burgundy.
Aquileia Patriarchate Latin: Patriarchæ Aquileiensis
Italian: Patriarcato di Aquileia
1077–1433 None  Italy Conquered by Venice in 1420, officially incorporated after the 1445 Council of Florence
Augsburg Bishopric German: Hochstift Augsburg c.888–1803 Swabian  Germany Augsburg became a Free imperial City in 1276.
Bamberg Bishopric German: Hochstift Bamberg 1245–1802 Franconian  Germany
Basel Bishopric French: Principauté de Bâle
German: Fürstbistum Basel
1032–1803 Upper Rhenish  France
Basel joined the Old Swiss Confederacy as the Canton of Basel in 1501. A tiny fraction of the bishopric is not now in Switzerland: Schliengen and Istein are both now in Germany; a very small part of the Vogtei of St Ursanne is now in France.
Besançon Archbishopric French: Archévêqué de Besançon
German: Erzstift Besantz
None  France The archbishops had been rulers over Besançon, an Imperial city from 1307, which in 1512 joined the Burgundian Circle.
Brandenburg Bishopric German: Hochstift Brandenburg c.1165–1598 Upper Saxon  Germany Founded in 948, annihilated 983, re-established c.1161, continued by Lutheran administrators after Reformation in 1520, secularized and incorporated to the Margraviate of Brandenburg in 1571.
Bremen Archbishopric German: Erzstift Bremen 1180–1648 Lower Saxon  Germany Continued by Lutheran administrators after Reformation in 1566 until 1645/1648. Bremen itself became autonomous in 1186, and was confirmed as a Free Imperial City in 1646.
Brescia Bishopric Italian: Principato vescovile di Brescia None  Italy Bishop Notingus was made count of Brescia in 844.
Breslau Bishopric German: Fürstbistum Breslau
Polish: Biskupie Księstwo Wrocławskie
Lower Silesian: Brassel
None  Poland In 1344 Bishop Przecław of Breslau (present-day Wrocław) bought the town of Grottkau (Grodków) from the Silesian duke Bolesław III the Generous and added it to the episcopal Duchy of Neisse (Nysa), becoming Prince of Neisse and Duke of Grottkau as a vassal to the Bohemian Crown.
Brixen Bishopric German: Hochstift Brixen
Italian: Principato vescovile di Bressanone
1027–1803 Austrian  Italy secularized to Tyrol
Cambrai Bishopric, then Archbishopric French: Principauté de Cambrai
German: Hochstift Kammerich
1007–1678 Lower Rhenish / Westphalian  France To France by 1678 Peace of Nijmegen
Cammin Bishopric German: Bistum Kammin
Polish: Biskupie Księstwo Kamieńskie
1248–1650 Upper Saxon  Poland Lost Reichsfreiheit to Duchy of Pomerania in 1544, secularized in 1650, to Brandenburg Province of Pomerania
Chur Bishopric German: Bistum Chur
Romansh: Chapitel catedral da Cuira
Italian: Principato vescovile di Coira
831/1170–1526 Austrian   Switzerland
Constance Bishopric German: Hochstift Konstanz 1155–1803 Swabian  Austria
Greatly reduced during the Reformation, when significant parts of Swabia and Switzerland became Protestant.
Eichstätt Bishopric German: Hochstift Eichstätt 1305–1802 Franconian  Germany
Freising Bishopric German: Hochstift Freising 1294–1802 Bavarian  Austria
Fulda Abbey, then Bishopric German: Reichskloster Fulda, Reichsbistum Fulda 1220–1802 Upper Rhenish  Germany Imperial Abbey until 5 October 1752, when it was raised to a bishopric. Secularized in 1802 in the German Mediatization
Geneva Bishopric French: Évêché de Genève
German: Fürstbistum Genf
1154-1526 Upper Rhenish  France
De jure Reichsfrei since 1154, de facto dominated by their guardians, the counts of Geneva (until 1400) and Savoy (since 1401). Geneva joined the Old Swiss Confederacy in 1526.
Halberstadt Bishopric German: Bistum Halberstadt 1180–1648 Lower Saxon  Germany
Havelberg Bishopric German: Bistum Havelberg 1151–1598 Lower Saxon  Germany Founded in 948, annihilated 983, re-established 1130, continued by Lutheran administrators after Reformation in 1548 until 1598
Hildesheim Bishopric German: Hochstift Hildesheim 1235–1803 Lower Saxon  Germany
Lausanne Bishopric French: Prince-Évêché de Lausanne
German: Bistum Lausanne
1270–1536 None   Switzerland Conquered by the Swiss city canton of Bern in 1536.
Lebus Bishopric German: Fürstbistum Lebus
Polish: Diecezja lubuska
1248–1598 None  Germany
Seated in Fürstenwalde since 1385; Reichsfreiheit challenged by Brandenburg, continued by Hohenzollern Lutheran administrators after Protestant Reformation in 1555 until secularization in 1598.
Liège Bishopric French: Principauté de Liége
German: Fürstbistum Lüttich
Walloon: Principåté d' Lidje
980–1789/1795 Lower Rhenish / Westphalian  Belgium
Lübeck Bishopric German: Hochstift Lübeck 1180–1803 Lower Saxon  Germany Seated in Eutin since the 1270s; Reformation started in 1535, continued by Lutheran administrators since 1586 until secularization in 1803. Lübeck became a Free Imperial City in 1226.
Lyon Archbishopric French: Archevêque de Lyon
Arpitan: Arch·evèque de Liyon
1157-1312 None  France Seated in Lyon; Reichsfrei confirmed by Frederick Barbarossa in 1157. Annexed by the Kingdom of France in 1312.
Magdeburg Archbishopric German: Erzstift Magdeburg 1180–1680 Lower Saxon  Germany Continued by Lutheran administrators between 1566 and 1631, and again since 1638 until 1680.
Merseburg Bishopric German: Bistum Merseburg 1004–1565 None  Germany Administered by the Lutheran Electorate of Saxony between 1544 until 1565.
Metz Bishopric French: Évêché de Metz
German: Hochstift Metz
10th century–1552 Upper Rhenish  France One of the Three Bishoprics ceded to France by the 1552 Treaty of Chambord.
Minden Bishopric German: Hochstift Minden 1180–1648 Lower Rhenish / Westphalian  Germany
Münster Bishopric German: Hochstift Münster 1180–1802 Lower Rhenish / Westphalian  Germany
Naumburg Bishopric German: Bistum Naumburg-Zeitz  Germany Under guardianship of Meissen from 1259, administrated by Saxony from 1564.
Olomouc Bishopric Czech: Biskupství olomoucké
German: Bistum Olmütz
None  Czech Republic The Czech bishopric (later Metropolitan) of Olomouc, as a vassal principality of the Bohemian crown, was the peer of the margraviate of Moravia, and from 1365 its prince-bishop was 'Count of the Bohemian Chapel', i.e., first court chaplain, who was to accompany the monarch on his frequent travels.
Osnabrück Bishopric German: Hochstift Osnabrück 1225/1236–1802 Lower Rhenish / Westphalian  Germany Alternated between Catholic and Protestant incumbents after the Thirty Years' War, secularized in 1802/1803
Paderborn Bishopric German: Fürstbistum Paderborn 1281–1802 Lower Rhenish / Westphalian  Germany
Passau Bishopric German: Hochstift Passau 999–1803 Bavarian  Austria
Princely title was confirmed at Nuremberg in 1217.
Ratzeburg Bishopric German: Bistum Ratzeburg 1236–1648 Lower Saxon  Germany Ruled by Lutheran administrators between 1554 and 1648.
Regensburg Bishopric German: Hochstift Regensburg 1132?–1803 Bavarian  Germany Regensburg became a Free Imperial City in 1245.
Salzburg Archbishopric German: Fürsterzbistum Salzburg 1278–1803 Bavarian  Austria Raised to an electorate in 1803, but simultaneously secularized; see Electorate of Salzburg. Since 1648, the archbishop has also borne the title Primas Germaniae, First [Bishop] of Germania. The powers of this title – non-jurisdictional – are limited to being the Pope's first correspondent in the German-speaking world, but used to include the right to preside over the Princes of the Holy Roman Empire.
Schwerin Bishopric German: Bistum Schwerin 1180–1648 Lower Saxon  Germany Ruled by an administrator between 1516 and 1648.
Sion Bishopric French: Prince-Évêché de Sion
German: Bistum Sitten
999–1798 None   Switzerland A classic example of unified secular and diocesan authority
Speyer Bishopric German: Hochstift Speyer 888–1803 Upper Rhenish  Germany Territories to the east of the Rhine were annexed by France in 1681, confirmed in 1697. Speyer became a Free Imperial City in 1294.
Strasbourg Bishopric Alemannic German: Bistum Strossburi
French: Évêché de Strasbourg
German: Fürstbistum Straßburg
982–1803 Upper Rhenish  France
Territories to the east of the Rhine were annexed by France in 1681, confirmed in 1697. Speyer became a Free Imperial City in 1262.
Tarentaise Archbishopric French: Prince-évêque de Tarentaise
Arpitan: Prince Evèque de Tarentèsa
Italian: Principato vescovile di Tarantasia
1186-1769 Upper Rhenish  France Made Count of Tarentaise since 996, Reichsfrei since 1186, de facto dominated by their guardians Savoy (since 1271). Secularized and annexed by the Kingdom of Sardinia 1769.[2]
Toul Bishopric French: Principauté de Toul
German: Bistum Tull
10th century – 1552 Upper Rhenish  France One of the Three Bishoprics ceded to France by the 1552 Treaty of Chambord, confirmed in 1648.
Trent Bishopric Italian: Principato vescovile di Trento
German: Fürstbistum Trient
1027–1803 Austrian Circle  Italy Secularized to Tyrol in 1803.
Utrecht Bishopric Dutch: Sticht Utrecht 1024–1528 Lower Rhenish / Westphalian  Netherlands Sold to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1528, after which it was moved to the Burgundian Circle. Founding member of the Dutch Republic in 1579/1581, confirmed in 1648.
Verden Bishopric German: Hochstift Verden 1180–1648 Lower Rhenish / Westphalian  Germany Continued by Lutheran administrators after Reformation until 1645/1648, when it was continued as a secular and independent principality until its disestablishment in 1807. It became a part of the Kingdom of Hanover in 1815.
Verdun Bishopric French: Principauté de Verdun
German: Bistum Wirten
10th century – 1552 Upper Rhenish  France One of the Three Bishoprics ceded to France by the 1552 Treaty of Chambord, confirmed in 1648.
Worms Bishopric German: Bistum Worms 861–1801 Upper Rhenish  Germany Worms city rule established by Bishop Burchard (1000–25), episcopal residence at Ladenburg from 1400, held large estates in the former Lahngau region, territories left of the Rhine lost by the 1797 Treaty of Campo Formio, secularized at first to French Empire, finally Baden and Hesse-Darmstadt in 1815.
Würzburg Bishopric German: Hochstift Würzburg 1168–1803 Franconian  Germany Duke of Franconia

The suffragan-bishoprics of Gurk (established 1070), Chiemsee (1216), Seckau (1218), and Lavant (1225) sometimes used the Fürstbischof title, but never held any reichsfrei territory. The bishops of Vienna (established 1469) and Wiener Neustadt (1469–1785) didn't control any territory, nor did they claim a princely title.

State of the Teutonic Order

Upon the incorporation of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword in 1237, the territory of the Order's State largely corresponded with the Diocese of Riga. Bishop Albert of Riga in 1207 had received the lands of Livonia as an Imperial fief from the hands of German king Philip of Swabia, he however had to come to terms with the Brothers of the Sword. At the behest of Pope Innocent III the Terra Mariana confederation was established, whereby Albert had to cede large parts of the episcopal territory to the Livonian Order. Albert proceeded tactically in the conflict between the Papacy and Emperor Frederick II: in 1225 he reached the acknowledgement of his status as a Prince-Bishop of the Empire, though the Roman Curia insisted on the fact that the Christianized Baltic territories were solely under the suzerainty of the Holy See. By the 1234 Bull of Rieti, Pope Gregory IX stated that all lands acquired by the Teutonic Knights were no subject of any conveyancing by the Emperor.

Within this larger conflict, the continued dualism of the autonomous Riga prince-bishop and the Teutonic Knights led to a lengthy friction. Around 1245 the Papal legate William of Modena reached a compromise: though incorporated into the Order's State, the archdiocese and its suffragan bishoprics were acknowledged with their autonomous ecclesiastical territories by the Teutonic Knights. The bishops pursued the conferment of the princely title by the Holy Roman Emperor to stress their sovereignty. In the original Prussian lands of the Teutonic Order, Willam of Modena established the suffragan bishoprics of Culm, Pomesania, Samland and Warmia. From the late 13th century onwards, the appointed Warmia bishops were no longer members of the Teutonic Knights, a special status confirmed by the bestowal of the princely title by Emperor Charles IV in 1356.

Arms Name Rank Local name(s) Territory Modern
Courland Bishopric German: Hochstift Kurland
Latvian: Kurzemes bīskapija
Low German: Bisdom Curland
Terra Mariana  Latvia Established about 1234, the smallest of the Livonian dioceses. Secularized in 1559 and occupied by Prince Magnus of Denmark. From 1585 under the suzerainty of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, part of the Duchy of Livonia. To Russia in the 1795 Third Partition of Poland.
Dorpat Bishopric Estonian: Tartu piiskopkond
German: Hochstift Dorpat
Low German: Bisdom Dorpat
Terra Mariana  Estonia Bishop Hermann, appointed by his brother Bishop Albert of Riga, received the title of a prince-bishop by King Henry VII of Germany in 1225. Dorpat (Estonian: Tartu) remained a suffragan diocese of Riga. Dissolved in the course of the Protestant Reformation in 1558.
Ösel-Wiek Bishopric Estonian: Saare-Lääne piiskopkond
German: Bistum Ösel-Wiek
Low German: Bisdom Ösel-Wiek
Terra Mariana  Estonia Established on Saaremaa island in 1228 under Bishop Gottfried, appointed by Bishop Albert of Riga, vested with the title of a prince-bishop by King Henry VII of Germany. It remained a suffragan diocese of Riga. Dissolved in the course of the Protestant Reformation in 1559.
Riga Archbishopric German: Erzbistum Riga
Latvian: Rīgas arhibīskapija
Low German: Erzbisdom Riga
Terra Mariana  Latvia Episcopal see at Üxküll 1186–1202. In 1225 Albert of Riga received the title of a Prince-bishop of Livonia by Emperor Frederick II. Last Archbishop William of Brandenburg resigned in 1561 during the Livonian War, territory fell to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, to Sweden in 1621.
Warmia Bishopric German: Hochstift Ermland
Polish: Biskupie Księstwo Warmińskie
Prussia  Poland Established by Papal legate William of Modena in 1243, princely title documented in the Golden Bull of 1356. Incorporated into the Jagiellon kingdom of Poland in 1466 and re-established as an autonomous prince-bishopric under the Polish crown in 1479. Abolished in the course of the Prussian annexation in 1772 during the First Partition of Poland.



The Bishops of Durham were also territorial prince-bishops, with the extraordinary secular rank of Earl palatine, for it was their duty not only to be head of the large diocese, but also to help protect the Kingdom against the Scottish threat from the north. The title survived the union of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 until 1836. The first Prince-bishop was William Walcher who purchased the earldom and constructed additional buildings of Durham Castle.[3]

Except for a brief period of suppression during the English Civil War, the bishopric retained this temporal power until it was abolished by the Durham (County Palatine) Act 1836 with the powers returned to the Crown.[4]


Apart from territories formerly within the Holy Roman Empire, no French diocese had a principality of political significance linked to its see.

However, a number of French bishops did hold a noble title, with a tiny territory usually about their seat; it was often a princely title, especially Count. Indeed, six of the twelve original Pairies (the royal vassals awarded with the highest precedence at Court) were episcopal: the Archbishop of Reims, the Bishop of Langres, and the Bishop of Laon held a ducal title, the bishops of Beauvais, Chalôns, and Noyon had comital status.

They were later joined by the Archbishop of Paris, who was awarded a ducal title, but with precedence over the others.


The bishops of Cetinje, Montenegro, who took the place of the earlier secular (Grand) Voivodes in 1516 had a unique position of Slavonic, Orthodox prince-bishops of Montenegro under Ottoman suzerainty.[5] They actually became the secularized, hereditary princes and ultimately Kings of Montenegro in 1852, as reflected in their styles:

  • first Vladika i upravitelj Crne Gore i Brda ("Bishop and Ruler of Montenegro and the Highlands")
  • from 13 March 1852 (New Style): Po milosti Božjoj knjaz i gospodar Crne Gore i Brda ("By the grace of God Prince and Sovereign of Montenegro and the Highlands")
  • from 28 August 1910 (New Style): Po milosti Božjoj kralj i gospodar Crne Gore ("By the grace of God, King and Sovereign of Montenegro")


From 1472 to 1967, the bishop of Coimbra held the comital title of Count of Arganil, being thus called "bishop-count" (Portuguese: Bispo-Conde). The comital title is still held de jure, but since Portugal is a republic and nobility privileges are abolished, its use declined during the 20th century.

Special cases

The Bishop of Urgell, who no longer has any secular rights in Spain, remains one of two co-princes of Andorra, along with the French head of state (currently its President)[6][7]

See also


  1. Joachim Fernau: 'Deutschland, Deutschland über alles — Geschichte der Deutschen'
  2. Borrel, E.L. (1889). "Origine composition territoriale & Démembrements Successifs des Fiefs de l'évéché de Tarentaise". Books on Google Play Recueil des mémoires et documents de l'Académie de la Val d'Isère. 5: 254–262.
  3. "Durham Castle". United Nations. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  4. The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. His Majesty's Statute and Law Printers. 1836. p. 130.
  5. Sima Milutinović Sarajlija: MONTENEGRO lead by its Bishops from Историја Црне Горе (The History of Montenegro, 1835) (in Serbian)
  6. "The constitution of the Principality of Andorra".
  7. "Why is the President of France Co-Prince of Andorra?". Royal Central. 7 October 2019. Retrieved 9 November 2019. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, serves as Co-Prince of Andorra in addition to his duties as French President and is one of the few examples of a democratically elected leader serving in a royal capacity in another country. Since 2003, the other Co-Prince is the Catholic Bishop of Urgell from Spain, Joan-Enric Vives i Sicília. But how did the president and bishop become co-princes of another country? The answer lies in a political arrangement stretching back over seven centuries.
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