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    Despite the pope’s aversion to temporal glory, his authority tended to fill the vacuum in the West left when the last Western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus, was deposed in 476. The pope would continue to do so until 800, when Charlemagne would allow himself to be crowned Emperor of the West in Rome upon receiving his crown from Pope Leo III. This created modern Europe and was the culmination of two centuries of papal policy aimed at securing its independence from the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople. 

    Before Charlemagne’s coronation, there had been no formal break with Constantinople, but recognizing Charlemagne aimed to ensure the Roman Empire was reborn in the West. For the papacy, the new empire, now commonly referred to as the Holy Roman Empire, secured its independence from Constantinople since the new emperor had received his crown from the Church. The popes maintained and would continue to maintain for centuries that the imperial power lay in their hands as the heirs and custodians of ancient Rome, and that they had delegated that power to the King of the Franks. The papacy would guard this doctrine jealously, and for centuries it held that no man could call himself emperor until the pope had placed the Crown of Charlemagne upon his head. 

    Naturally, many Holy Roman emperors disputed the pope’s interpretation of their authority, and the battles between popes and emperors shaped European history for much of the Middle Ages. Pope Gregory VII (r. 1073-1085) famously declared that the pope had no earthly judge and that he might depose emperors and absolve their subjects from the oaths of allegiance. He demonstrated this power by forcing Emperor Henry IV, in penitential garb, to wait upon him in the snow outside the walls of Canossa, and after three days the pope deigned to absolve him from excommunication. For a time, the popes were masters of Europe, but in the end their power was eroded by the growing tide of nationalism, religious indifference, and the papacy’s own corruption. 

    As this suggests, the Holy Roman Empire was a fascinating institution as well as one of the most perplexing and contradictory. It was both German and universal. It was created by the Catholic Church, yet in the end enshrined confessional freedom in its constitution. It was both an empire and a collection of loosely federated principalities and city-states. It was Roman, but based in Germany, and for most of its existence it either ignored the Vatican or was at war with it. The Swabian League, an alliance of cities and states in the southwest of Germany within the Holy Roman Empire was interesting in itself both for the way it influenced imperial politics and for how it shaped the German nation and thus the history of Europe. 

    There were two Swabian Leagues, with the first in the High Middle Ages and the second being formed during the Renaissance. The Protestant Reformation tore apart the alliances in the 16th century, and the divisions continued to influence the history of Germany well beyond the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. In fact, it can be argued that the Swabian League created the German nation as it exists today, and its influence lives on through the autonomous Swabian peoples who live in the federal German state of Baden-Wurttemberg. 

    The Swabian League: The History and Legacy of the Mutual Defense Pact for the Holy Roman Empire’s Imperial Estates examines the events that led to the formation of the Swabian League, and what eventually brought about its demise. You will learn about the Swabian League like never before.

    ©2020 Charles River Editors (P)2020 Charles River Editors

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