Your RDA of Irony

Eugene’s Guide to Social Climbing

Anticipating the need for a Jeopardy category, Emperor Charles VI created the principality of Liechtenstein on this day in 1719. Even if the Holy Roman Empire was–in the words of Voltaire–neither holy, nor Roman nor an Empire, its Emperor still had an important and unique prerogative. He alone could create titles.

In case you were wondering or were nurturing megalomaniacal ambitions, you can’t just declare yourself a King or a Grand Duke. The title has to be officially established. So, who can you charm or bribe? Well, no one now. Even the Pope does not have that authority, although he certainly could add some prestige to your coronation. While the Holy Roman Empire existed, the Emperor alone had the power to create a title.

For example, the de Medicis had more money than God and proved it by buying a Papal election. Yet, they couldn’t get themselves declared Dog Catchers of Tuscany without the consent of the reigning Hapsburg. In fact, when Medici were opposing Emperor Charles V, their social standing was stuck at “upper-middle class.” Once, however, they learned to grovel, the Emperor rewarded their kneeling by elevating them to Grand Dukes of Tuscany.

At the onset of the War of the Spanish Succession, Emperor Charles VI wanted the assistance of the Prussian army. He secured that aid by elevating the rank of the Prussian ruler from elector to King. The newly crowned Frederick I proved that one could social-climb and goosestep at the same time.

The Holy Roman Emperor did not have the power to abolish a title once conferred, but he could always change his mind about creating a title. Charles the Rash (1433-1477) was NOT content to be a mere duke. Ruling an area encompassing modern Belgium and Holland, Charles thought that he had the land, wealth and power worthy of a king. So, in a campaign combining pleas, bribes and military threats, the Duke sought to be elevated to a king. In 1473, Emperor Frederick III finally agreed and arranged to invest Charles at the town of Trier. Meeting the Duke on the eve of the ceremony, the Emperor found him unbearable. Rather than spending another moment with Charles–and making him a King, the Emperor slipped out of town that night. So Charles never got to be a King.

(Ironically, the only child of the Duke ended up marrying the oldest son of the Emperor. However, it was not an awkward wedding. Charles was already dead, having proved his rashness in one battle too many.)

Only one man did not respect the prerogative of the Holy Roman Emperor. Napoleon made himself an Emperor in 1804.

So, perhaps there is still hope for you megalomaniacs.

  1. david traini says:

    Charles the Rash? I call my rash Buddy and scratch it whenever it itches.

  2. Thank you for not providing an accompanying videotape.

  3. Hal Gordon says:

    Well, well. Even Homer nods on rare occasions. The first King of Prussia was Frederick I. Frederick William was Frederick I’s son, father of Frederick II — the Great.

  4. And a Frederick William was also the father of Frederick I. Originality was not a trait among the Hohenzollerns.

    However, you are correct. The first King IN Prussia was Frederick I. And the correction has been made. Thank you.

  5. Mary Ann Jung says:

    I still think the Flintstones got the title thing right. You may call me and mine Grand Poobahs!

  6. Mary Ann,

    When the Holy Roman Emperors got out of the title business, it was left to the European Congresses to dole out titles. For instance, in 1815 the Congress of Vienna decided that the House of Orange–after ruling the Netherlands for two centuries–might as well be the kings there.

    Various other congresses anointed kings in Greece, Bulgaria, Romania.

    After World War I, the British Empire appointed kings in Jordan and Iraq; the latter didn’t last.

    So, as the surviving vestige of the Empire, Queen Elizabeth may have the prerogative to dub you Grand Poobah.

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