The New International Encyclopædia/Electors, German Imperial

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Edition of 1905.  See also Prince-elector on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

ELECTORS, German Imperial (Lat., from eligere, to choose). In the Holy Roman Empire, the college of lay and ecclesiastical princes in whom the right of choosing the King of the Romans was vested. With the extinction of the Carolingian line after the breaking up of the Empire of Charles the Great, the kingship in Germany became elective, the right of election residing in certain of the great feudatories, though just in whom or on what grounds is not clear from the early mediæval accounts. An electoral body is vaguely mentioned in chronicles of 1152, 1198, and 1230, but there is no clear indication as to who composed the body. A letter of Pope Urban IV. in 1263 says that the right belongs by immemorial custom to seven persons. The electoral college was first clearly defined in 1356 in the Golden Bull, a constitution for the Holy Roman Empire, issued by the Emperor Charles IV. This document also prescribed the exact form and manner of election cf the ‘King of the Romans and future Emperor.’ The statements in this document seem to indicate that the right of election had been attached to certain hereditary offices in the Imperial Court, as each prince elector is associated with such an office. The electors were the Archbishop of Mainz (Mayence), Arch-Chancellor of the Holy Empire for Germany; the Archbishop of Cologne, Arch-Chancellor for Italy; the Archbishop of Treves (Trier), Arch-Chancellor for the Gallic Provinces and Arles; the King of Bohemia, Arch-Cupbearer; the Count Palatine of the Rhine, Arch-Steward; the Duke of Saxony, Arch-Marshal; and the Margrave of Brandenburg, Arch-Chamberlain. These electors had special dignities and privileges, which were elaborately set forth in the Golden Bull. They had no especial legal powers beyond that of election, but through that they exercised a strong influence on imperial affairs. The German princes held that an election as King of the Romans by the German electors was also an election as Holy Roman Emperor: but the popes contended that they alone, as vicars of God, could bestow the imperial dignity. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) created an eighth electorate for the heirs of the Count Palatine, Frederick V., who had been despoiled of his electorate in behalf of the Duke of Bavaria in the Thirty Years' War. A ninth, that of Brunswick-Lüneburg, was created in 1692, and fully established in 1710, as the electorate of Hanover. In 1777 the inheritance of Bavaria by the Elector Palatine restored the number to eight. In 1803, just before the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, changes were made, the number being increased. Among the rulers raised at this time to the dignity of elector was the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, in whose house the title was retained till the extinction of the State in 1866. From the fifteenth century the electors constituted a separate college in the Imperial Diet. Consult: Bryce, The Holy Roman Empire (London, 1892); Turner, The Germanic Constitution (New York, 1888). The Golden Bull is translated in Henderson, Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages (London, 1892). See Holy Roman Empire.