Your RDA of Irony

Eugene’s Guide to Social-Climbing

January 23, 1719:  The Fun of Being a Hapsburg

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 Leopold I wanted the assistance of the Prussian army. He secured that aid in 1701 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 crown did come with a catch;  Frederick was “King in Prussia” and he could only be royal sovereign of those territories not formally part of the Holy Roman Empire.  Within the Empire, Frederick was still a glorified Drill Sergeant.)

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. Cindy Starks says:

    Another fun post, Eugene. And in honor of my birthday, when I’m not a lady or a duchess or a Queen even. What a guy!



  2. Susan says:

    The life of a nobleman is filled with pitfalls!

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