Archbishopric Electorates

John I, Duke of Brabant, at the Battle of Worringen, Codex Manesse, about 1340

Positions of forces at the beginning of the Battle of Worringen.

Archdiocese Cologne

Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons records the existence of a Christian community in Cologne (Köln) by the late second century. Maternus, later bishop of Trier and the first documented bishop of Cologne, was present at the synod of Rome (313) and Arles (314). The troubles attending the arrival of the Franks in Cologne produced a gap in the list of bishops from the death of Bishop Severin (397) to ca. 565–567, but, through the patronage of the bishops of Trier and of the Frankish ruling house, the Cologne church was revived by the time of Bishop Kunibert’s pontificate (ca. 626–648).

The late sixth century began a long period of close relations between the Cologne bishopric and the German monarchy that would last until the thirteenth century. The bishops served Merovingian kings as royal councilors, as ambassadors, and as regents for the Austrasian court in Cologne. The Carolingians established a special amicitia (friendly relationship) with the Cologne bishops, which found its fullest expression when Charlemagne raised Bishop Hildebald to metropolitan status over a vast province in 794/795. The archbishopric of Cologne would eventually encompass most of northwest Germany from Friesland and Saxony to lower Lotharingia, and include the bishoprics of Utrecht, Osnabrück, Minden, Münster, and Liège. The Norman destruction of the city interrupted Cologne’s rise to predominance in the lower Rhineland and western Saxony, but the see was quickly revived under the Saxon monarchy. Emperor Otto I (936–973) appointed his youngest brother, Bruno, as both archbishop of Cologne and archidux of Lotharingia. Bruno I (r. 953–965) also served as imperial regent from 961–965 and laid the foundations for archiepiscopal lordship over the city of Cologne and its environs which would last until 1288. During this period, archbishops of Cologne exercised royal rights of high justice, tolls, weights and measures, mints, markets, and defense.

By the mid-eleventh century the archbishops of Cologne had emerged as the preeminent ecclesiastics of the German episcopate. Since the pontificate of Archbishop Heribert (999–1021) they had enjoyed the right to crown and anoint the king-elect at Aachen, thereby playing a central role in all royal elections. As imperial princes, the archbishops became deeply involved in the emperors’ Italian affairs; to expand their authority in this realm, they were given the office of chancellor of Italy from 1031 onward. Anno II (1256–1275) and Engelbert I (1215–1225) would also periodically continue to fulfill the role of imperial regent. Pope Leo IX confirmed these prerogatives in 1052, and added to them the authority to preside over the provincial synod.

Of course, this mixture of secular and spiritual lordship drew the archbishops of Cologne directly into the Investiture Controversy. In general the archbishops stood on the side of the Salian monarchs; yet, after the Concordat of Worms (1122), imperial influence over episcopal elections dwindled. Rainald of Dassel (1159–1167) and Philip of Heinsberg (1167–1191) were the last two archbishops who were raised to the see by imperial command without allowing for canonical elections. Thereafter, the local noble houses of Berg and Hochstaden competed within the cathedral chapter for the archiepiscopal honor, placing a combined eleven of the seventeen archbishops during the years 1132–1297.

In 1180 the archbishops added the duchy of Westphalia to their ducal domains in lower Lotharingia. Philip of Heinsberg received the newly created duchy by virtue of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa’s dismantling of Welf ducal lands in Saxony. This period marks the high point of archiepiscopal involvement in imperial politics, a role requiring the archbishops to be away from Cologne for extended periods for embassies throughout Europe and for military campaigns in Italy during the papal schism.

By the early thirteenth century, however, the archbishops of Cologne moved away from a pro-Staufen policy and began to establish their own independent territorial principality. Archbishop Adolf I of Altena (1193–1203; 1212–16), during the Welf-Staufen struggle for the throne (Thronstreit), alternately supported Welf or Staufen candidates depending on the advantage that might pertain to his territorial independence. His coronation prerogative ensured that the Cologne archbishop would be at the center of political intrigue surrounding royal elections, but in Adolf I’s case, this proved a mixed blessing. Although he was able, with English financial support, to obtain the election of Otto IV, his subsequent abandonment of the Welf for Philip of Swabia led to excommunication and deposition by Pope Innocent III as well as to deep discord with the burghers of Cologne.

Although Archbishop Engelbert I of Berg returned to the Staufen camp as regent of the young Henry (VII) and imperial regent for Emperor Frederick II, by the 1240s, Archbishop Conrad of Hochstaden (1238–1261) had joined the pope and archbishop of Mainz in an effective anti-Staufen policy that curtailed imperial power in Germany. The result was the establishment of the archbishop’s territorial principality based on two duchies and provincial ecclesiastical authority.

Thereafter, the archbishops of Cologne were the real holders of royal authority in northwest Germany. In 1258 the archbishop Conrad of Hochstaden confirmed this status by obtaining from his personal candidate for royal election, Richard of Cornwall, not only confirmation of full imperial authority throughout the territorial principality, but, also, the right to install new bishops in the name of the king. By this time many nobles held fiefs of the archbishop of Cologne: the duke of Limburg, the counts of Saffenberg, Jülich, Berg, Are, Geldern, Kleve, Kessel, Zutphen, Armsberg, Altena, Mark, and Tecklenburg, and the lords of Hochstaden, Isenburg, Tomburg, Heinsberg, and Lippe.

At the peak of princely power in the mid-thirteenth century, the archbishops sought to tighten control over the autonomous burghers of Cologne and the local nobility of lower Lotharingia and Westphalia. This led to a half-century of civil wars, which culminated in the collapse of the archbishop’s ducal power when Archbishop Siegfried of Westerburg was defeated at the Battle of Worringen (1288) at the hands of a coalition of Cologners and nobles from Brabant, Jülich, Berg, and Kleve. From this time on, the archbishops no longer resided in Cologne, but rather at their palaces in Bonn and Brühl.

By the late thirteenth century, the papacy had secured the right to appoint the archbishops of Cologne, and subsequent archbishops maintained good relations with Rome throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. As loyalists to the Avignon papacy, Archbishops Henry II of Virneburg (1304–1332) and Walram of Jülich (1332–1349) refused to recognize Ludwig of Bavaria’s kingship. Archbishop William von Gennep (1349–1362) was influential in the kingship of Charles IV (1346–1378) and in the editing of the Golden Bull (1356). But, by the mid-fifteenth century, the archbishopric had declined to a second-class power and no longer played a leading role in imperial politics.

Evidence for the beginning of a parish system on the left bank of the Rhine can be found in the sixth century, and for Westphalia by the end of the eighth century. Many of these episcopal parishes and tithes were eventually given to religious foundations and cloisters during the ninth and tenth centuries. By the eleventh century, the archdiaconate and the college of priors were fully functioning in the archdiocese. The cathedral chapter of canons is first documented in 866, but evidence suggests its origin in the seventh century. By the end of the twelfth century, there were thirty-six benefices for canons, sixteen supplementary benefices, and twenty benefices for cathedral scholars (magistri). Since around 1216, eight of the benefices had been reserved for canon priests.

As a sign of its importance in the archdiocese, the cathedral chapter had its own seal by 1106/1109. It often struggled with the college of priors in episcopal elections however, and by the mid-thirteenth century, had successfully asserted its independence and power. The chapter separated from the archbishopric (Erzstift) through the establishment of its own assembly and independent benefices, and by removing itself from liability for the archbishop’s debts. Final success was achieved in 1250, when the college of priors was removed from episcopal elections and sons of ministerials and burghers were no longer accepted as candidates for the cathedral chapter. Thereafter, the canons lived the life of independent, powerful, and princely churchmen, certain to become archbishops.

Battle of Worringen, (June 5, 1288)

During a long fight between the Archbishop Siegfried von Westerburg of Cologne (1275–1297) and the city of Cologne, which was trying to become independent of the archiepiscopal government, a dispute over the inheritance of Limburg sparked a broader regional war. Allied with powerful lords like the counts of Luxemburg and Nassau, the archbishop faced an alliance of Cologne and the counts of Berg, Jülich, and Cleves, as well as the duke of Brabant. The Brabantine and Cologne forces met the archbishop’s army near his castle of Worringen. In the course of the massive battle on June 5, 1288, over two thousand were killed, including the commander of the Cologne city troops. But Brabant and the city prevailed, managing to surround and capture the archbishop.

This defeat left Cologne as an independent, self-governing city, forcing the archbishops to move their main residence to Bonn. The territorial rule of the archbishops on the lower Rhine also continued to decline in competition against the secular dynasts.


Droege, G. “Das kölnische Herzogtum Westfalen.” In Heinrich der Löwe, ed. Wolf-Dieter Mohrmann. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980, pp. 275–304.

Ennen, Edith. “Erzbishof und Stadtgemeinde in Köln bis zur Schlacht von Worringen (1288).” In Gesammelte Abhandlungen. Bonn: Rohrscheid, 1977, vol. 1, pp. 388–404.

Erkens, Franz-Reiner. Der Erzbischof von Köln un the deutsche Königswahl. Siegburg: F.Schmitt, 1987.

Janssen, Wilhelm. “Die Erzbischöfe von Köln un ihr “Land” Westfalen im Spätmittelalter.” Westfalen 58 (1980): 82–95.

——.”Die Kanzlei der Erzbischöfe von Köln im Spätmittelalter.” Münchener Beiträge zur Mediävistik und Renaissane-Forschung (1984): 147–169.

Kallen, Gerhard. “Das Kölner Erzstift und der ‘ducatus Westfalie et Angarie’ (1180).” Jahrbuch des Kölnischen Geschichtsveriens 31/32 (1956–57): 78–107.

Knipping, Richard, et al., ed. Die Regensten der Erzbischöfe von Köln im Mittelalter, 4 vols. Bonn: P. Hanstein, 1901–61.

Oediger, Frederick Wilhelm. Das Bistum Köln von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des 12. Jahrhunderts, 2nd ed. Cologne: J.P.Bachem, 1972.

Pötter, Wilhelm. Die Ministerialität der Erzbischöfe von Köln vom Ende des 11. bis zum Ausgang des 13. Jahrhunderts. Düsseldorf: Schwann, 1967.

Vollrath, Hanna and Stefan Weinfurter, ed. Köln: Stadt und Bistum in Kirche und Reich des Mittelalters: Festschrift für Odilo Engels zum 65. Geburtstag. Cologne: Böhlau, 1993.

Delbrück, Hans. Medieval Warfare, trans. Walter J.Renfroe Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

Der Tag bei Worringen, 5. Juni 1288, ed. Wilhelm Janssen and H.Stehkämper. Cologne: Böhlau, 1988; special issue of Blätter für deutsche Landesgeschichte 124 (1988).

Torunsky, Vera. Worringen 1288: Ursachen und Folgen einer Schlacht. Cologne: Rheinland-Verlag, 1988.

Ulrich, Lehnart. Die Schlacht von Worringen 1288: Kriegführung im Mittelalter: der Limburger Erbfolgekrieg unter besonderer Brücksichtigung der Schlacht von Worringen, 5. 6. 1288. Frankfurt am Main: AFRA-Verlag, 1994.

Archdiocese Mainz

Medieval Mainz grew up within the walls of the Roman military base and provincial capital Mogontiacum, located at the point where the Main River flows into the Rhine. In the Carolingian period, the city became the ecclesiastical center of Germany under Archbishop Saint Boniface (746/747–754). Boniface’s successor, Lul, succeeded in getting the office of archbishop, which had originally been granted to Boniface personally, permanently associated with Mainz. Under Charlemagne, the archbishop of Mainz supervised a large number of suffragan bishops, governed the largest ecclesiastical province in the Western world, and was primate of the church in Germania. As chancellor, the archbishop represented the emperor, and as the highest-ranking elector, he cast the first vote for king. The accumulation of appointments and honors associated with the position of archbishop of Mainz made this one of the most desirable episcopal sees, but it also presented problems for the city in its progress toward self-government.

With the erection of the cathedral, Archbishop Willigis (975–1011) created a new spiritual center in the city. In the Ottonian and Salian eras, the establishment of cloisters, parish churches, and other foundations also depended largely on the bishop.

By the early Gothic, which should be considered Mainz’s golden age, the artistic initiative of the archbishop had given way to that of the citizens and the monastic orders. The union of Rhenish cities in 1254, the privileges extracted by the city government from the archbishop, and the increasing wealth of the city’s patriciate created the necessary conditions for extensive building activity. Archbishop Siegfried III (d. 1249) granted the citizens the right to elect their government and handle its finances, which made the city virtually independent of the archbishop’s rule. In the next century this would lead to constant discord between the city’s secular and religious leaders. The conflict peaked in 1462 in a catastrophe that brought the city’s economy as well as its artistic production to a standstill. Archbishop Adolf II of Nassau conquered the burning city after a bloody ten-hour battle in its streets. Eight hundred men, including Johannes Gutenberg, were banished, and all rights gained by the city since the thirteenth century were revoked.

Although destroyed five times by fire, the cathedral of St. Martin still reflects the same plan as the first building erected by Archbishop Willigis. Its basilical form is modeled on that of Old St. Peter’s in Rome, with the main choir in the west preceded by a transept. Like the earlier church at Fulda (791–819), also a foundation of Boniface, and the later churches at Bamberg, Augsburg, and Regensburg, the cathedral at Mainz combines this “reverse orientation” with a secondary choir in the east. The erection of a church dedicated to the Virgin of the Steps (St. Maria ad gradus) on axis outside the east choir also depends on the Roman model; with the cathedral it provided an appropriate space for the royal coronation ceremony, which took place seven times in Mainz. In 975 Willigis had the pope confirm the right of the archbishop of Mainz to crown the German kings.

On the day before the consecration in 1009, the cathedral burned; it was quickly rebuilt by Willigis’s successor, Bardo, and consecrated in 1036. The eastern parts and the nave were rebuilt after a second fire in 1081. About 1200 the dilapidated vaults of the nave were replaced and a new west choir built on a triconch (with three apses) plan. The addition of side chapels with tracery windows along the aisles between 1279 and 1320 introduced the Gothic architectural vocabulary. At this point the cathedral had attained the state in which it remains today.

The unusual cycle of medieval archbishops’ tombs documents the continuity of episcopal power. The two oldest preserved tomb reliefs show Siegfried III von Eppstein (d. 1249) and Peter von Aspelt (d. 1320) crowning two and three smaller kings, respectively, in a unique tomb iconography. The later tombs follow an almost formulaic type that continues into the seventeenth century: a Gothic arch in low relief frames the fully vested archbishop holding a crosier and a book. The episcopal power displayed by the tombs reveals the self-consciousness of the powerful archbishops. Rather than serving a primarily memorial or liturgical function, the tombs represent the continuity of the political institution of the office of archbishop.

Looting and destruction have been responsible for the loss of much of the cathedral’s medieval decoration including Willigis’s massive gold cross weighing six hundred pounds, all the stained glass windows, and the western rood screen, of which only fragments remain. The preserved bronze doors from about 1100 attest to the splendor of the church’s furnishings. The inscription on the doors emphasizes that these were the first metal doors since Charlemagne’s time, made by Master Berenger for Archbishop Willigis.

One of the churches in the cathedral complex, St. Johannis, the supposed predecessor of the cathedral, stands outside the cathedral’s west choir. The earliest source mentioning this church dates from about 600; it tells of the king’s daughter Berthoara, who supported the bishop Sidonius in the building of the church. In 754 the body of the martyred St. Boniface was prepared here for burial in Fulda. The building as reerected after World War II dates in large part to the building campaign of Archbishop Hatto (891–913), who simultaneously erected the church at Reichenau Oberzell. In both churches the individual spaces are separated by strongly projecting piers. As at the cathedral, the primary choir and transept at St. Johannis are in the west.

The archbishop’s palace chapel dedicated to St. Gotthard (1137) is attached to the cathedral. The four supports divide each of the two stories of the chapel into nine bays, with the middle bay left open to allow contact between the two stories. The structure thus belongs in the tradition of palace chapels with an identical ground plan attached to cathedrals, as at Speyer and formerly at Trier and Cologne.

Apart from three eighteenth-century examples, all the churches of Mainz were erected in the few decades around 1300, when sixteen large-scale projects were realized. Among the buildings still standing today, St. Stephan’s was built as a collegiate church in the first half of the fourteenth century. The wealthy citizens, eager to embellish their city with larger, more modern houses of worship, rebuilt the parish churches of St. Emmeran, for which an indulgence dated 1296 exists, St. Quintin (1300–1330), and St. Christoph (1292–1352). The cloister churches of the Poor Clares (about 1334), the Rich Clares (begun 1272), and the Carmelites (second half of the fourteenth century) still stand; destroyed are those of the Dominicans (mid-thirteenth century), the Franciscans (begun 1253), the Augustinians (founded before 1260), the Teutonic Order (1302), the Carthusians (1330), Our Lady (begun 1285), the Magdalens, as well as Dalheim (third quarter of the thirteenth century) and St. Agnes, for which indulgences in favor of the building project were issued between 1274 and 1295. The side chapels along the aisles in the cathedral and the west choir of St. Johannis also date in this period of rich building activity.

Among these Gothic churches St. Quintin, which is already mentioned in 774 as a parish church, is the oldest foundation. The plan shows the optimal use of the small space available. As at St. Stephan’s and the church of the Virgin, the new building, begun about 1300 and finished in 1330, uses the hall church form favored in Mainz. The type was transferred to Mainz from St. Elizabeth’s in Marburg via other sites in Hesse. The relatively short nave flanked by the tall aisles creates the unusual effect of a light-flooded, airy cube; the destroyed church of the Virgin outside the cathedral must have produced a similar impression.

St. Stephan’s is the largest church after the cathedral. Founded by Willigis on an exposed hill inside the city walls, the church had become structurally unsound by the middle of the thirteenth century. The new building was financed by numerous indulgences, whose dates between 1257 and 1338 establish the period of construction. This building too takes the form of a hall church, but in the more typical oblong shape than the shortened churches of St. Quentin and the Virgin. In addition, St. Stephan’s has a transept as in the Hessian hall churches at Marburg, Haina, and Friedberg. Like the cathedral and St. Johannis, it exhibits a second choir in the west, which is accentuated by a tower. A late Gothic cloister with fine net vaults was erected between 1462 and 1499.

The cloister of the Antonite monks is first mentioned in 1334; it was taken over in 1620 by the Poor Clares and today is referred to by their name. Because the Antonites dedicated themselves to care of the sick and raising pigs, they chose a site outside the city center, although still within the walls. The small aisleless church in the Gothic style is unusual for its completely intact vault painting, executed before 1350. Framed by painted tracery, saints, apostles, and the fathers of the church surround the figure of Christ, who presides over the assembly from the choir vault.

Early-fifteenth-century paintings grace the choir vaults of the Carmelite church. These represent in grisaille the suffering Christ surrounded by angels and prophets. The church, erected between 1326 and 1404, has the long choir typical of churches of the Mendicant orders, which needed more room for the choir stalls; the basilical nave is relatively short.

When St. Maria ad gradus, the church within the cathedral complex dedicated to the Virgin, burned in 1285, the decision was made to rebuild in a high Gothic style; the citizens supported the new building with unusually generous donations. Finished in 1311, the new church, erected over a nearly square plan, provided, with the neighboring cathedral, a defining element in the city’s silhouette until its destruction by French bombardment in 1793. In contrast to the other, undecorated churches of Mainz, the church of the Virgin possessed richly decorated portals; the sculpture is close in style to that of the Naumburg Master.

The Roman walls within which the medieval city developed traced a square of about one kilometer’s distance on each side. This area sufficed for the city’s growth into the nineteenth century, with the exception of a single extension along the Rhine in the thirteenth century. By 1300 some 20,000–25,000 people lived in the city, whose western slopes provided space for orchards and even vineyards. Most of the city’s gates pierced the east wall, in order to accommodate trade from the ship traffic along the Rhine. With the exception of the Iron Tower (about 1200), the Wood Tower (fourteenth century), and short passages of the east wall between them, the city wall was entirely demolished in the eighteenth century.

After 1300 a sort of citizens’ center developed to the northeast of the cathedral quarter. Here the market hall, the hospital, the city hall, and the surrounding market and business district clearly expressed the aspirations of the citizenry. The market hall, dated about 1320, was also used for large public festivals. Unlike the more typical wooden market halls with open sides, that at Mainz was a defensible building in stone, reflecting both the value of the goods stored there and the importance of trade in the city’s economy. Only the sculptural decoration—reliefs representing the seven electors and the king from the crenellations of the building’s upper defenses—is preserved.

The hospital dedicated to the Holy Spirit from the second quarter of the thirteenth century is one of the few preserved medieval hospitals in Germany. Its two-story elevation is comparable to that of St. John’s Hospital in Niederweisel in Hesse. The lower story, originally a seven-aisled hall, probably served as the infirmary.

Despite conditions that were sometimes conducive, no particular style of painting, sculpture, goldsmith work, or manuscript illumination developed in Mainz, and the idea of a Middle Rhenish school, cultivated in art historical scholarship for decades, must be discarded. The patrons of Mainz repeatedly looked to other centers for artists, for example, the renowned Naumburg Master, who sculpted the cathedral’s now fragmentary west choir screen before 1250. Characteristic for the art of the city is the constant reprocessing of new influences from Burgundy, France, Bohemia, Germany, and the Netherlands; works from Mainz are always up-to-date without having a typical local character.


Arens, Fritz. Das goldene Mainz: Bauten und Bilder aus zweitausend Jahren. Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1952.

——. Die Kunstdenkmäler der Stadt Mainz, 1: Kirchen St. Agnes bis Hl. Kreuz. Die Kunstdenkmäler von Rheinland-Pfalz 4,1, ed. Werner Bornheim gen. Schilling. Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1961.

Brück, Anton P. Mainz von Verlust der Stadtfreiheit bis zum Ende des dreissigjährigen Krieges (1462–1648). Geschichte der Stadt Mainz 5. Düsseldorf: W.Rau, 1972.

Brush, Kathryn Louise. “The West Choir Screen at Mainz Cathedral: Studies in Program, Patronage and Meaning.” (Ph.d. diss., Brown University, 1987.

Denkmaltopographie Bundesrepublik Deutschland; Kulturdenkmäler in Rheinland-Pfalz 2.2. Düsseldorf: Schwann, 1988.

Falck, Ludwig. Mainz im frühen und hohen Mittelalter (Mitte 5. Jh. bis 1244). Geschichte der Stadt Mainz 2. Düsseldorf: W.Rau, 1972.

——. Mainz in seiner Blütezeit als Freie Stadt (1244–1328). Geschichte der Stadt Mainz 3. Düsseldorf: W.Rau, 1973.

Hause, Melissa Thorsen. “A Place in Sacred History: Coronation Ritual and Architecture in Ottonian Mainz.” Journal of Ritual Studies, no. 1 (1992): 133–157.

Nagel, Ewald. Stadt Mainz: Altstadt. Herausgegeben im Auftrag des Kultusministeriums vom Landesamt für Denkmalpflege.

Neeb, Ernst, and Fritz Arens. Die Kunstdenkmäler in Hessen, Stadtkreis Mainz. vol. 2, part 2: Bestehende und verschwundene Mainzer Kirchen. Darmstadt: A. Bergsträsser Nachfolger, 1940.

Archdiocese Trier

The Romans founded the city of Trier during Caesar Augustus’s reign. They gave it the unusual name of Augusta Treverorum, after a local Celtic tribe, the Treveri. The Romans at first took advantage of its useful location on the Mosel River, across which they soon built a stone bridge to provision the Roman military outposts along the Rhine. The city soon grew into a major center of trade and imperial administration, becoming a provincial capital. At its height, its population probably exceeded sixty thousand, surpassing most of the cities of northern Gaul. A brief decline followed the Roman Empire’s troubles of the third century, probably including a sacking by the Alamans in 276. Some of the city walls and the famous Porta Nigra (Black Gate) commemorate this period. Shortly thereafter the city experienced a new revival under Constantius Chlorus and his son, Constantine. Emperor Constantine especially promoted the city as one of his residences, for which he had built his famous basilica and baths.

By the end of the fourth century, with the destabilization of the Roman Empire, Trier had lost its important status. At the beginning of the fifth century invading Germans began to sack the city repeatedly. The Ripuarian Franks finally absorbed the city into their realm by the end of the century. While much of Trier lay in ruins and its population had been reduced to a few thousand, some importance was preserved because the city was the seat of a bishop. Indeed, the bishops of Trier would lead the slow revival of the city’s fortunes, and not just as religious prelates. They soon became political rulers, namely, prince-bishops. They would turn the desolate city into the capital of a middle-sized political territory spreading from the lower Moselle across the Rhine and along the lower Lahn Rivers.

The bishops necessarily took on civic leadership because of the chaos created by the Germanic invasions. Soon they began to cooperate with the Frankish kings, who often used the episcopacy as part of their methods of government. By the eighth century, the bishops exercised broad authority in the city and its surroundings. Yet the election of Frankish nobles as bishops also meant the prelates became more secularized, sometimes scandalously leading a noble lifestyle of hunting and warfare. In reaction, the Carolingians trimmed back some of the bishops’ political power to reemphasize the spiritual office. Charlemagne transferred the royal ban and rights to mint money to a local count. At the same time, Charlemagne likewise preserved the bishops’ preeminent position in the region, especially in a reorganization of the church hierarchy. Shortly before 800 the prelates were elevated to be metropolitan archbishops with suffragans (representatives) in Metz, Toul, and Verdun.

In the wake of late Carolingian civil wars and invasions by Vikings (who sacked Trier in 882), effective royal authority waned. Again the archbishops slowly rebuilt the city and reasserted their governance over the surrounding area. By the tenth century the patronage of the kings of the Ottonian and Salian dynasties became especially helpful. Emperor Otto I, for example, confirmed or added to their immunity protection, their freedom from tolls, and their possession of a large forest and monasteries. Other kings gave them more forests, minting rights, market privileges for the city of Trier, and even the surrounding counties. The grant of Coblenz in 1018 was very important for the future. Forming a bridgehead on the Rhine, it provided a motive for the archbishops to connect that city with Trier along the Moselle and through the Eifel and Himsrück hills to the north and south. By the mid-eleventh century, the archbishops of Trier had become a major political force in the Rhineland.

The Investiture Controversy opened up a period of disturbances as pope and emperor tried to assert control over the bishops throughout the empire. Gradually the archbishops of Trier increased their independence from the king as they tried to preserve and defend order in their diocese. At the same time they faced increasing competition from local dynasts, like the counts Palatine by the Rhine or the counts of Luxembourg, to name the most powerful, who were trying to consolidate their own territorial rule. Meanwhile, the bishops had been increasingly using ministerials, or servile knights for their local administration. Many of these, however, soon began to act like free nobles and sought their own interests before those of their master, the archbishop. At the beginning of Archbishop Albero of Montreuil’s reign (1131–1152), the burggrave of Trier had taken political and economic leadership from the previous weak prelates: he commanded the soldiery and controlled the revenues. Albero reclaimed the archbishop’s paramount position, reducing Ludwig to the status of servant. Additionally, in a seven-year war over the substantial properties of the abbey of St. Maximin by Trier, Albero also excluded the abbey’s advocates, the counts of Luxembourg, from the area around the city.

Tension also began to increase between the archbishop and the citizens of Trier, who increasingly sought to form their own government. In 1157, residents of Trier formed a sworn conspiracy to organize communal government, independent of the prelate. Archbishop Hillin briefly suppressed the movement with the aid of a judgment by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Then, while Hillin was on a military campaign in Italy during 1161, the movement revived, this time with the cooperation of Conrad von Staufen, the count Palatine by the Rhine and half-brother of Emperor Frederick. Fortunately for the archbishop, once again the emperor reinforced the archbishop’s regime.

By the mid-thirteenth century not only the citizens of the towns but also the cathedral chapter began to demand a greater share in political rule. The cathedral chapter’s membership was largely drawn from the nobility of the countryside. By the end of the century the chapter was demanding capitulations from candidates before election to archiepiscopal office. These capitulations tended to guarantee more and more power to the canons, limiting the political choices of the archbishops. By the late Middle Ages regional nobles would often join forces with their relatives in the chapter and the city leaders of Trier. Eventually they were able to establish a corporate system where the archbishop shared some power with the estates.

In the late Middle Ages, the most effective of Trier’s rulers was Baldwin von Luxembourg (1307–1354), ironically, a member of an old rival noble family. He opposed his own relatives, the counts of Luxembourg, while constructing a more effective archiepiscopal government. First, he checked the local nobility through force (sieges and battles) and the enforcement of laws. He reformed the chancery, both reviewing old and producing new documents. Second, he expanded the territory through purchase, trade, and feudal contracts. Third, Baldwin augmented archiepiscopal power through royal privileges. The most famous, the Golden Bull of 1356, granted by his nephew Charles IV, assured the archbishop’s preeminence in the empire as one of the electoral princes and tightened his control over cities like Trier and Coblenz. From this foundation regional dynasts would never again be able to threaten the core of archiepiscopal rule.

Schisms inflicted by divided cathedral canons did, however, damage the territory’s political development. One of the worst occurred in 1430 as one faction elected Jacob von Sierck and another voted for Ulrich von Manderscheid; subsequently the pope rejected both and provided Hraban von Helmstätt, who was already prince-bishop of Speyer. Ulrich and his supporters not only took up arms, they appealed to the Council of Basel. The soon-to-be-famous humanist Nicholas of Cusa went to argue Ulrich’s case, even though the prelate was less than the best role model (by the time of his death, he had four natural children). Although the council supported the papal candidate, Hraban of Speyer, Ulrich fought on, financing his efforts by mortgaging the precious rights, privileges, and key places of the territory and diocese. The schism ended with Ulrich’s death in Italy in 1437. The territory took decades to recover from this civil war.

And at the end of the Middle Ages, the city of Trier made one last attempt at achieving the status of a free imperial city independent of the archbishop’s authority. But the Imperial Chamber Court decided once and for all in favor of the archbishop in 1580. Surviving the famous rebellion of Franz von Sickingen (1522–1523) and the Reformation intact, the Electoral Principality of Trier remained a not insignificant player in German politics. Only the wars of the French Revolution, as they demolished the Holy Roman Empire, likewise destroyed the temporal rule of the archbishops of Trier.


Anton, Hans Hubert. Trier im frühen Mittelalter. Paderborn: Schöningh, 1987.

Erkens, Franz-Reiner. Die Trierer Kirchenprovinz im Investiturstreit. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 1987.

Mötsch, Johannes, and Heyen, Franz-Josef, ed. Balduin von Luxemburg: Erzbischof von Trier—Kurfürst des Reiches, 1285–1354: Festschrift aus Anlass des 700. Geburtsjahres. Mainz: Verlag der Gesellschaft für Mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte, 1985.

Pauly, Ferdinand. Aus der Geschichte des Bistums Trier. Pt. 1, Von der spätrömischen Zeit bis zum 12. Jahrhundert. Trier: Selbstverlag des Bistumsarchiv Trier, 1968.

——. Aus der Geschichte des Bistums Trier. Pt. 2, Die Bischöfe bis zum Ende des Mittelalters. Trier: Paulinus Verlag, 1969.

Pavlac, Brian A. “Excommunication and Territorial Politics in High Medieval Trier.” Church History 60 (1991): 20–36.

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