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Holy Roman Empire

Political entity in medieval Europe. The empire's founding may be dated to Otto I (962), although the precise term “holy” was first used in 1157. A long struggle between the emperors and popes beginning with the Investiture Controversy* in 1076 undermined the empire, while the growing power of kings elsewhere in Europe and a deteriorating situation in Italy destroyed it as a supranational institution. The Golden Bull (1356) which delineated the rights of the electors revealed clearly that it had become essentially a German institution. The failure of imperial reform under Maximilian I and the religious cleavage of the Reformation left the German princes autonomous and entrenched in their rights. Although Hapsburgs occupied the throne continuously from 1438 (except 1742- 45), their dynastic interests took preference over the empire. After 1648 it was merely a loose federation, and responding to Napoleon's expansionist pressures, Francis II dissolved it on 6 August 1806.

See F. Heer, The Holy Roman Empire (1968).