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Holy Roman Empire 962-1806 (Germany)

Heiliges Römisches Reich deutscher Nation, Sacrum Romanorum Imperium nationis Germanicae, 1. Reich

Last modified: 2002-06-14 by santiago dotor
Keywords: germany | holy roman empire | heiliges römisches reich | reichsturmfahne | sankt georg fahne | saint george's flag | banner of arms | eagle (black) | cross (white) |
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[Emperor's Banner until 1401 (Holy Roman Empire, Germany)]
Emperor's Banner until 1401
by Jaume Ollé

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Before 1815, there was no state called Germany, in the sense we now use. There was the Holy Roman Empire, with a ruler called (officially in Latin) the Roman Emperor and which claimed to be in principle the continuation of the Roman Empire which ruled basically all of what is now Germany, as well as pieces of Italy, Austria, the Low Countries [nowadays Belgium and the Netherlands] and a few more. Intermittently earlier and continuously after around 1400, one of the emperor's titles was King of Germany, but this does not mean there was anything like a German government. There was an imperial court and an imperial chancellory, but except in imperial cities like Frankfurt, the authority of the Emperor was to a great extent dependent on the cooperation of the territorial princes.

Increasingly, the separate territories of the Empire acquired their own flags. More significantly, after 1500, the Emperor was always an Austrian Hapsburg and the always limited power and authority of the Emperor more or less disappeared behind the policy and power of Austria.

With Napoleon's forced dissolution of the Empire in 1806, the story changes. The Emperor became Emperor of Austria (he was previously Archduke of Austria, but as I mentioned Imperial policy had pretty much become Austrian anyway) and many of the imperial insignia became, with minor changes, Austrian.

Norman Martin, 14 January 1998

The Emperor in the Holy Roman Empire was not Emperor of Germany, he was Roman Emperor. He was also King of Germany, and in the last centuries of existance, these two titles were always upheld by the same person (while in the middle ages, the emperor could be the king of Italy or the Frankish king instead). Germany before the 19th Century never really was a national state unlike countries like France, Great Britain, Spain or Sweden.

Elias Granqvist, 4 September 2000

Starting around the 14th century, the Empire had a diet called the Reichstag (early it had a somewhat similar gathering called the Hofstag). Although it never had the power to adopt, as opposed to proposing, it had considerable de facto authority during the late middle ages. During and after the 30 Years War, it basically lost most of its power. It had something over 200 members (called Reichstände) which were princes, bishops or Imperial cities. The last completely regular Reichstag was in the mid 17th century. The following one, the Reichstag of 1663 did not adjourn until the abolition of the Empire in 1806. Despite appearances, this was accompanied by increasing irrelevence of the institution although it continued meeting irregularly in Regensburg [Bavaria]. With the foundation of the German League, its diet which consisted of the princes was named the Bundestag

Norman Martin, 5 October 2000

Emperor's Banner

Imperator Romanorum Semper Augustus

Nevertheless the Emperor had a banner, consisting of a black eagle, armed red, generally on a gold (yellow) field. Sometimes the same eagle is portrayed on a white field; a flag chart early in the 18th century has the yellow flag as the flag of the emperor and the white one as that of the empire, but it is uncertain as to whether this represents a real distinction. After 1400, the eagle became two-headed; possibly this reflected the practice of the defunct Byzantine Empire, their main competitor to the claim to being the Roman Empire. Increasingly, but not uniformly, the eagle acquired a sword and orb, as well as a crown. The coat of arms, but rarely the banner, also sometimes had a red border. A good representation of the early pattern can be found in Crampton 1990. I found some nice 15th century representations in a small book called Kaiser Heinrichs Romfahrt (Emperor Henry's Pilgrimage), published in Koblenz in 1895; Smith 1975 has one of these illustrations on p.114.

Norman Martin, 14 January 1998

Imperial War Flag or St. George's Flag

Sankt Georg Fahne

[Imperial War Flag (Holy Roman Empire, Germany)]
by Jaume Ollé

Two additional flags associated with the Empire worth mentioning are the Sankt Georg Fahne —a white St. George's cross on a red field frequently with a Schwenkel— (Smith 1975, p.115, labels this the Imperial War Flag) and the Reichsturmfahne.

Norman Martin, 14 January 1998

In an article by Ottfried Neubecker on the cross as a Christian and national symbol in Genealogica & Heraldica, 14, one of the illustrations showed this flag with the caption (by Neubecker, I assume):

"6. Eine von den Polen 1410 bei Tannenberg eroberte Fahne, von Jan Dl/ugosz wohl irrig als St. Georgs-Fahne bezeichnet, aber mit dem Vermerk versehen, dass unter ihr tapfere Ritter aus verschiedenen Stämmen Deutschlands kämpfend gefallen seien. Nach Joanis Dl/ugoszii Banderia Prutenorium, edidit Carolus Górski, Warschau 1958, S. 78."

Ole Andersen, 5 December 1999

Even though I found no reference to the Sankt Georg Flagge as war flag except in Smith 1975, it is clear that its primary use was military and in view of Smith's identification, I would not be surprised if it were sometimes or even frequently called Reichskriegsflagge.

Norman Martin, 15 March 2000

Maybe one of our German list members could give a precise translation of this? I believe Neubecker states that this flag was mistakenly called the 'St George Flag' by Jan Dlugosz in his Banderia Prutenorium manuscript, a mistake which we still make in FOTW. This is the fifth flag shown in the Choragwie Pruskie cz. 1 - Jan Dlugosz [Jan Dlugosz's Prussian Standards] website.

Santiago Dotor, 26 March 2001

I have made a tentative translation:

"6. One of the flags captured at Tannenberg 1410 by the Poles, fully mistakenly identified by Jan Dl/ugosz as St. George's Flag, but with the added caption that brave knights from several noble families of Germany fell fighting under it. Source: Joanis Dl/ugoszii Banderia Prutenorium, edidit Carolus Górski, Warsaw 1958, p. 78."

Santiago Dotor, 15 March 2002

Imperial Assault Flag


Like the Imperial flag above [black (one-headed) eagle on a gold field] with a red Schwenkel.

Norman Martin, 14 January 1998

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