The Title of King of the Romans

King of the Romans (Latin: Romanorum Rex; German: Römisch-deutscher König) was, from the time of Emperor Henry II (1014–1024), the title used by the German king following his election by the princes. The title was predominantly a claim to become Holy Roman Emperor, a title, which in contemporary views of the Middle Ages, also had a religious aspect and was dependent on the coronation by the Pope.

The title originally referred to any elected king who had not yet been granted the Imperial Regalia and title of "Emperor" at the hands of the Pope; later it came to be used solely for the heir apparent to the Imperial throne between his election (during the lifetime of a sitting Emperor) and his succession on the Emperor's death.

History and Usage

Contemporary sources did not refer to the territory of East Francia as Regnum Teutonicum (Latinised from Old High German diutisc, i.e. Kingdom of Germany) until the 11th century. During that time, the king's claim to coronation was increasingly contested by the papacy, culminating in the fierce Investiture Controversy: After the Salian heir apparent Henry IV, a six-year-old minor, had been elected to rule the Empire in 1056, Romanorum Rex became his standard title to emphasize the sacred entitlement to be crowned Emperor by the Pope.

Nevertheless Pope Gregory VII insisted on using the derogatory term Teutonicorum Rex ("King of the Germans") in order to imply that Henry's authority was merely local and did not extend over the whole Empire. In reaction to Gregory's usage, Henry began to regularly use the title Romanorum Rex until he finally was crowned Emperor by Antipope Clement III in 1084. Henry's successors imitated this practice, and were called Romanorum Rex before and Romanorum Imperator after their Roman coronation.

Medieval Practice

Candidates for the kingship were at first the heads of the German stem duchies; as these units broke up over time, rulers of smaller principalities and even non-German rulers came to be considered for the position. The only requirements generally observed were that the candidate be an adult male, a Catholic Christian, and not in holy orders. The kings were elected by several Imperial estates (secular princes as well as Prince-Bishops), since 1147 commonly in the Imperial city of Frankfurt, a custom recorded in the Schwabenspiegel code about 1275.

Originally all noblemen present could vote per unanimous acclamation, but later an actual franchise was narrowed to the most eminent bishops and noblemen, and according to the Golden Bull of 1356 issued by Emperor Charles IV only the seven Prince-electors had the right to participate in a majority voting as determined by the 1338 Declaration of Rhense: The Prince-Archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne as well as the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Saxon duke, and the Margrave of Brandenburg. After the distortions during the Investiture Controversy, Charles intended to strengthen the legal status of the Rex Romanorum beyond papal approbation. Consequently, among his successors, only Sigismund and Frederick III were still crowned emperors in Rome and in 1530 Charles V was the last king to receive the Imperial Crown at the hands of the Pope (in Bologna). As constitutional law, the Golden Bull remained effective until the Empire's dissolution in 1806.

After his election, the new king would proceed to be crowned as King of the Romans (Romanorum Rex), usually at Charlemagne's throne in Aachen Cathedral by the Archbishop of Cologne. Though the ceremony was not more than a symbolic validation of the preceding election result, it was solemnly celebrated. The details of Otto's coronation in 936 are described by the medieval chronicler Widukind of Corvey in his Res gestae saxonicae. At least since the coronation of Conrad II in 1024, the kings received the Imperial Crown. In 1198 the Hohenstaufen candidate Philip of Swabia was crowned Rex Romanorum at Mainz Cathedral, however, he made good for another coronation in Aachen, after he had prevailed against his Welf rival Otto IV—as did Charles IV and King Rupert centuries later.

At some time after the ceremony, the king would, if possible, cross the Alps, and might receive coronation (in Pavia or Milan) with the Iron Crown of Lombardy as King of Italy. Finally he would travel to Rome and be crowned emperor by the pope. As it was rarely possible for the elected King to proceed immediately to Rome for his crowning, several years might elapse between election and coronation; and some Kings never achieved the journey to Rome at all. As suitable title for the King between his election and his coronation as Emperor, Romanorum Rex would stress the plenitude of his authority over the Empire and his warrant to be future Emperor (Imperator futurus) while not infringing upon the Papal privilege. Not all Kings of the Romans made this step, sometimes because of hostile relations to the current Pope, at other times because the pressure of business at home, or warfare in Germany or Italy, made it impossible for the King to make the journey. In such cases, the king might retain the title "King of the Romans" for his entire reign.

Later Developments

The title Romanorum Rex became functionally obsolete after 1508, when, after King Maximilian I failed in a good-faith attempt to journey to Rome, the Pope permitted him to use the title of Electus Romanorum Imperator ("elected Emperor of the Romans"). Maximilian also at this time took the new title "King of Germany" (Germaniae rex, König in Germanien), but the latter was never used as a primary title. The rulers of the Empire thereafter called themselves "Emperors" without going to Rome or soliciting Papal approval, taking the title as soon as they were crowned in Germany or, if elected as heir to the throne, upon the death of a sitting Emperor.

List I - Ruling Kings of the Romans

The following were ruling Kings of the Romans; that, is men ruled the Kingdom without subordination to another King, but who had not yet been crowned Emperor.

King Became King Became Emperor - Died Other
Otto III 983 996 crowned Emperor
Henry II 1002 1014 crowned Emperor
Conrad II 1024 1027 crowned Emperor
Henry III 1039 1046 crowned Emperor
Henry IV 1056 1084 crowned Emperor
Rudolf 25 May 1077 15 Oct 1080 died Antiking
Hermann 6 Aug 1081 28 Sept 1088 died Antiking
Henry V 1105 1106
in opposition to Henry IV
1106 1111 crowned Emperor
Lothair III 1125 1133 crowned Emperor
Conrad III 1127 1135
in opposition to Lothair
1138 1152 died
Frederick I 1152 1155 crowned Emperor
Henry VI 1190 1191 crowned Emperor
Philip 1198 1208 died
Otto IV 1198 1208
in opposition to Philip
1208 1209 crowned Emperor
Frederick II 1212 1220 crowned Emperor
Henry Raspe 22 May 1246 16 February 1247 died Antiking
William of Holland 1247 28 January 1256 died Antiking
Conrad IV 1250 1254 died
Richard of Cornwall 1257 1272 died Never effective ruler of Germany
Alfonso of Castile 1257 1275 abdicated Antiking to above, never effective ruler of Germany
Rudolph I 1273 1291 died
Adolph 1292 1298 deposed and killed
Albert I 1298 1308 died
Henry VII 1308 1312 crowned Emperor
Frederick the Fair 1314 1330 died jointly with Louis IV
Louis IV 1314 1328
jointly with Frederick the Fair
1328 1347 crowned Emperor
Charles IV 1346 1347
opposed to Louis IV
1347 1355 crowned Emperor
Wenceslaus 1378 1400 deposed
Rupert 1400 1410 died
Jobst of Moravia 1410 1411 died opposed to Sigismund
Sigismund 1410 1411 second election opposed to Jobst
1411 1433 crowned Emperor
Albert II 1438 1439 died
Frederick III 1440 1452 crowned Emperor
Maximilian I 1493 1508 assumed title of Emperor-elect
Charles V 1519 1530 crowned Emperor


Heirs Designate

The Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy. No person had a legal right to the succession simply because he was related to the current Emperor. However, the Emperor could, and often did, have a relative (usually a son) elected to succeed him after his death. This elected heir apparent bore the title "King of the Romans".

The election was in the same form as that of the senior ruler, and theoretically meant that both men were equal co-rulers of the Empire; in practice, however, the actual administration of the Empire was always managed by the senior Emperor, with at most certain duties delegated to the heir.

List II - Surbordinate Kings of the Romans

The following were subordinate kings to another Holy Roman Emperor (usually, but not always, their father) for the dates specified.

Name Date acceded Date relinquished Reason Relation Reigning Emperor
Otto II 961 7 May 973 succeeded as King (Emperor 967) son Otto I
Henry III 1028 4 June 1039 succeeded as King (Emperor 1046) son Conrad II
Henry IV 1053 5 October 1056 succeeded as King (Emperor 1084) son Henry III
Conrad 1087 April 1098 deposed son Henry IV
Henry V 6 January 1099 1105 succeeded as King (Emperor 1111) son Henry IV
Henry Berengar 30 March 1147 1150 died son Conrad III
Henry VI 1169 10 June 1190 succeeded as King (Emperor 1191) son Frederick I
Frederick II 1196 28 September 1197 succeeded and abdicated (via regency) 1197
elected King (with opposition) 1212
Emperor 1220
son Henry VI
Henry (VII) 1220 4 July 1235 deposed son Frederick II
Conrad IV 1237 13 December 1250 succeeded as King son Frederick II
Wenceslaus 10 June 1376 29 November 1378 succeeded as King son Charles IV
Maximilian I 16 February 1486 19 August 1493 succeeded as King (Emperor 1508) son Frederick III
Ferdinand I 5 January 1531 3 May 1558 succeeded as Emperor brother Charles V
Maximilian II 28 November 1562 25 July 1564 succeeded as Emperor son Ferdinand I
Rudolph II 27 October 1575 12 October 1576 succeeded as Emperor son Maximilian II
Ferdinand III 22 December 1636 15 February 1637 succeeded as Emperor son Ferdinand II
Ferdinand IV 31 May 1653 9 July 1654 died son Ferdinand III
Joseph I 23 January 1690 5 May 1705 succeeded as Emperor son Leopold I
Joseph II 27 March 1764 18 August 1765 succeeded as Emperor son Francis I


King of Rome - First French Empire

When Napoleon I of France had a son and heir, Napoleon II, he revived the title as King of Rome, styling his son as such. The boy was often known colloquially by the title throughout his short life, although after 1815 he was more commonly referred to as the Duke of Reichstadt.