Review: The Holy Roman Empire; a Thousand Years of Europe’s History by Peter H Wilson (2017) Assessment 8 out of 10

This is a great Book, but not easy reading.

It should be read and re-read as a source book for further study.

It runs to 686 pages, plus maps, family trees, a glossary, index, notes, chronology. and lists of emperors, and German and Italian kings, The product of a lifetime’s study, it covers the thousand year existence of the Holy Roman Empire from 800 to 1806 but extends over a longer period from its antecedents into its historiography in subsequent German and European history. A thematic approach is adopted, covering law, society, territory and governance. This results in some repetition and, without regular reference to the maps and chronology, the thread can be difficult to follow.

The Empire was complex and changing covering separate and developing power structures, princely, feudal, and episcopal, urban and peasant. From it emerged the Alpine communities which became Switzerland. There also emerged Italian city states, the Hanseatic League and the Netherlands. Austria and Prussia from within the Empire included hereditary territory and power bases beyond its bounds. The rulers of England, Denmark, Sweden,even Russia were all rulers of co-dominion territory, which at various times formed part of the Empire.

The concepts of empire, kingship and lordship are explained. The Holy Roman Empire and Papacy interacted and conflicted, but were interdependent. There wasn’t always an Emperor but the Empire continued. There wasn’t a dominant central city, medieval Emperors, based in different localities, progressing in person through its territories.

The Empire’s continuity provides alternatives to national history and the nation state and, through the EU, or what it becomes, a possible model for their successors

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