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Interregnum und Late Mediaeval Period



Wilhelm von Holland


Richard von Cornwall


Alfons von Kastilien


Rudolf von Habsburg


Adolf von Nassau


Albrecht I.


Heinrich VII.

The Interregnum and the rise of territorial states


The Interregnum of 1245/50 until 1273 was a transition period after the end of the ruling Staufer dynasty until the formation of the late mediaeval imperial constitution in the fourteenth century.

Whether it was, as Friedrich Schiller wrote, ‘a terrible time’, depends, as always, on the observer’s viewpoint. Certainly the elected German kings in these years did not succeed in being crowned emperor by the Pope, as their predecessors had. This was due to the fact that after the Staufers there was no longer a strong dynasty available, to take over the royal title. In addition the electors had little interest in promoting strong and powerful rulers. At the cost of weaker kings they could expand their own power. Often at this time two kings were fighting for recognition.

In the Middle Rhine region this led to a considerable reduction in imperial estates. Often the kings were forced, out of financial necessity, to sell parts of this estate to powerful, aspiring territorial lords. However, the decline in royal power increased at the same time the importance of the ‘Rhine Route’ for German politics as four of the most important electors came from this area: the Archbishop of Cologne, the Archbishop of Trier, the Archbishop of Mainz and the Count Palatinate by Rhine. They were successful in strengthening their own power and ultimately in deciding about the monarchy.

Of course the kings attempted to assert their influence along the Rhine and show their presence, like their predecessors the Ottonians, Salians or Staufer. Despite this they could no longer guarantee peace and imperial security. For the towns in the Middle Rhine region and their inhabitants, these were years full of privation with feuds, battles and destruction.

In the mediaeval chronicles by Thomas Wykes he says of the situation in the Middle Rhine area for the year 1269: ‘It is an angry madness with which the Germans, from their invincible castles which they build on the banks of the Rhine, without consideration for peace and quiet, and greedy for the acquisition or rather extortion of money do not recoil from any contemptible deed. It is impossible for the ships which come down the river with groceries or all types of goods, to avoid the castles. People are forced to get off their boats and from each and every one outrageous and unacceptable customs duties are extorted, with no reservation before God or the King.’
(quoted after Jörg Schwarz, Herrschaft und Herrschaftskonzeption des römisch-deutschen Königs Richard von Cornwall, in: Neugebauer, Richard von Cornwall, S. 86)

Fighting around Boppard and the fading power of the empire


Immediately after Frederick II was deposed as emperor by the Pope in 1245, dispute flared up about the heir to the Staufer.

The Middle Rhine area was also affected by this. When William of Holland, the rival king elected in 1247, attacked the Staufer in the Middle Rhine region, Boppard positioned itself on the side of the Staufer. Three times, in 1247, 1249 and 1250, William failed in his attempts to occupy the town. It wasn’t until the autumn of 1251 that he succeeded. In 1250 the Archbishop of Trier offered military support to the king in Boppard, which perhaps points towards the interest of the influential territorial lords of Trier in the development of the imperial town Boppard. Perhaps the Archbishop of Trier saw an opportunity here to advance his own interest in the Middle Rhine area, with the backdrop of arguments about the throne.

In 1254 numerous towns, including Boppard, joined together to form the large Rhine town association. In this way the towns tried to defend their economic interests and protect trading routes.

Richard of Cornwall


In 1257 two German kings were elected at the same time, and neither really had any property or influence in the Roman-German empire: King Alfonso X of Castile and Richard of Cornwall, a relation of the English king.

Whilst Alfonso of Castile never set foot on German soil, Richard, who had stayed in his regency exclusively in the Rhineland, tried to at least to establish his kingdom there. Although Richard did have important property in England and could make use of considerable financial resources, he had no independent power basis in the Empire. First he had to fight for one. In the 15 years of his kingship, Richard spent only three years and nine months in the empire. An important piece of the jigsaw in the struggle for influence and power in the Rhine area was the disputed possession of Boppard.

Boppard was fought over by the supporters and opponents of Richard. In 1257 the new king appeared with his most important allies in front of the town gates and was able to take it after successful besiegement. Sources also report of struggles for the Boppard castle. There is a lot of evidence which points towards this being the royal court in front of the town gates and not the Electoral Castle situated in town described later in this context.

Yet one can assume that the building of the Electoral Castle had already begun in the time of Richard of Cornwall. Dendrochronological samples of a part of a timber wedge from the masonry of the tower point to this and indicate the year 1265. The tower could have served to protect the royal customs station in Boppard.

In 1260 and 1262Richard of Cornwall stayed in Boppard again. On 3 September 1262 he issued a certificate for the Marienberg convent. The support of the convent made it clear that the king saw himself in the tradition of his Staufer forefathers, who had generously provided the cloisters in Boppard with privileges.

Rudolf of Habsburg and the imperial regalia


For every newly elected ruler it was important to obtain possession of the imperial regalia as quickly as possible, especially the Holy Lance and the Imperial Crown.

In a time in which symbols and visual signs were of great importance, he was able to demonstrate the legality of his king ship in an impressive way. This was particularly important for the periods of time in which – such as in the turbulent Interregnum – the kingship was fought over by two ‘elected’ rulers. Over many years the imperial regalia were kept and secured in the imperial Trifels castle in the Palatinate region.

In 1273 the four electoral princes in the Rhine area, the Archbishop of Mainz, the Archbishop of Cologne, the Archbishop of Trier and the Count Palatinate by Rhine agreed in Boppard on the choice of Count Rudolf of Habsburg to be the German king. After his election on 1 October in 1273 in Frankfurt am Main, the imperial regalia were given to him in Boppard on 16 October on his way to the coronation in Aachen. In the years of his rule he frequently stayed in the imperial city in the Middle Rhine area.

Henry VII and the end of Boppard as an Imperial City


Even though the electoral princes of the Rhineland made important decisions for the kingdom at this time and also repeatedly met in Boppard, this did not mean that the kingdom was able to reconsolidate its power in the Middle Rhine area.

The situation had changed: the electoral princes were no longer dependent on the King, but the kings became ever more dependent on the powerful electoral princes. These were influential territorial lords in the Rhine area, who wanted to extend their property in the Middle Rhine region at the cost of the imperial estate. They had no interest in the existence of free cities, because they had no influence over them. Also they were not particularly interested in strong German kings. In 1308 they agreed on the choice of Henry, a Luxembourg Count. Like his predecessors, he didn’t have a large powerbase and thus did not represent a danger.

In contrast the young Archbishop of Trier, Baldwin of Luxembourg, one of Henry’s brothers and the real ‘elector’, stood to gain a great deal. In Boppard the consequences of Baldwin’s close relationship with the new King soon became apparent. On 18 July 1312 Henry VII pledged the towns of Boppard and Oberwesel to him for 12,000 pounds in Heller or 4,000 Marks in silver. He ordered the citizens of Boppard to be obedient in future to Baldwin. Thus the history of Boppard as an imperial city came to an end, even if the town staged protests against its new lord. Baldwin became the most powerful territorial lord in the Middle Rhine area.

The Boppard War


The Electoral Prince Baldwin had the castle buildings which lay in the town extended, which were soon given the name Electoral Castle.

It was supposed to be a visible sign, day after day, to the recalcitrant citizens of Boppard that the Electoral Prince of Trier was the new town ruler, and the times of independence now belonged to the past. The Boppard residents needed lots of time however, and a war, to resign themselves to the new circumstances.

In 1497 a long time after it was pledged to Baldwin of Trier, the town rose up against the sovereign of Trier. The course and success of the conflict clearly showed how much the balance of power had now changed. The rise of territorial lords and the incorporation of previously free cities in their territory could not be reversed. The Electoral Prince of Trier gathered impressive military force in front of the gates of Boppard: the town could not seriously oppose around 12,000 men and more than 50 canons and guns. After a short bombardment, the town was taken by the Electoral Prince’s troops. The gravestone of the knight Siegfried von Sachwalbach, who was shot on 27 June in the gateway Lyhenpforte am Balz, can still be seen today in the Carmelite church.


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