First English edition of the Nuremberg chronicle: being the Liber chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel…

In what manner and form the election of a new Roman emperor was to be undertaken, held, and accomplished by the seven electors at Frankfurt on Main, is clearly made known by the Golden Bull

Golden Bull, the general designation of any charter decorated with a golden seal or bulla. The name, however, has become practically restricted to a few documents of unusual political importance, the golden bull of the empire, the golden bull of Brabant, the golden bull of Hungary, and the golden bull of Milan—and of these the first is undoubtedly the golden bull par excellence. The main object of the golden bull was to provide a set of rules for the election of the German kings, or kings of the Romans, as they are called in this document. Since the informal establishment of the electoral college about a century before, various disputes had taken place about the right of certain princes to vote at the elections, these and other difficulties having arisen owing to the absence of any authoritative ruling. Under these circumstances the emperor Charles IV determined by an authoritative pronouncement to make such uncertainty impossible in the future, and at the same time to add to his own power and prestige, especially in his capacity as king of Bohemia. In its first form the bull was promulgated at the diet of Nuremberg on January 10th, 1356, but it was not accepted by the princes until some modifications had been introduced, and in its final form it was issued at the diet of Metz on December 25th following.

The text of the golden bull consists of a prologue and of 31 chapters. The early chapters are mainly concerned with details of the elaborate ceremonies that are to be observed on the occasion of an election. The number of electors is fixed at seven, the duke of Saxe-Wittenberg, not the duke of Saxe-Lauenberg, receiving the Saxon vote, and the count palatine, not the duke of Bavaria, obtaining the vote of the Wittelsbachs. The electors were arranged in order of the precedence thus: the archbishops of Mainz, of Trier and of Cologne, the king of Bohemia, the count palatine of the Rhine, the duke of Saxony and the margrave of Brandenburg. The work of summoning the electors and of presiding over their deliberations fell to the archbishop of Mainz, but if he failed to discharge this duty the electors were to assemble without summons within three months of the death of a king. Elections were to be held at Frankfurt; they were to be decided by a majority of votes, and thus subsequent coronation at Aix-la-Chapelle was to be performed by the archbishop of Cologne. During a vacancy in the empire the work of administering the greater part of Germany was entrusted to the count palatine of the Rhine, the duke of Saxony being responsible, however, for the government of Saxony, or rather for the districts ubi Saxonica jura servantur (‘where Saxon laws were kept’).

The chief result of the bull was to add greatly to the power of the electors. To these princes were given sovereign rights in their dominions, which were declared indivisible and were to pass according to the rule of primogeniture. Except in extreme cases, there was to be no appeal from sentences of their tribunals, and they were confirmed in the right of coining money, of taking tolls, and in other privileges, while conspirators against their lives were to suffer the penalties of treason. One clause gave special rights and immunities to the king of Bohemia, who, it must be remembered, at this time was Charles himself, and others enjoined the observance of the public peace. Provision was made for an annual meeting of the electors, to be held at Metz four weeks after Easter. This arrangement, however, was not carried out, although the electors met occasionally. Another clause forbade the cities to receive Pfahlbürger, i.e., forbade them to take men dwelling outside their walls under their protection. It may be noted that there is no admission whatever that the lection of a king needs confirmation from the pope.

issued by Charles (Carolus) the Fourth in the imperial diet at Nuremberg in the year 1356. Before being anointed and crowned, our emperors are called Roman kings, to show that the imperial name is to be more respected than the royal one. The ancient Romans, after driving out their haughty king, Tarquinus, through hatred of that king completely abolished the royal title, and made a statute that henceforth it should not be proper for anyone to assume the title of king of Rome; but that those who conducted wars against the enemy should be called imperators—whom we call emperors. For among the Romans there were three stages of the greater dignities—king, dictator, and emperor. The kingship was the highest; the dictatorship was second; emperor was third. And although Julius Caesar, because of his frequent victories over the enemy, was called imperator; yet the name of king was so despised at Rome that Julius achieved the name of dictator, and not that of emperor or king. But when he later coveted the royal title, and the unwillingness and hostility of the people in this matter gave him some concern, he collected an army against the Parthians; and he pretended that in the Sibyllian books it was written that the Parthians could not be overcome by anyone other than a king; and so he provided that he was to be called king. This was the cause of his sudden death. In order that we may realize what the imperial sovereignty or name previously was among the Romans, we note that he was called an imperator or emperor, who was vested with the command of the army for the protection, advancement, and enhancement of the common welfare and status. But now the imperial name has enlarged its scope.