The Carolingian Empire in the 8th and 9th centuries laid the basis for the subsequent Holy Roman Empire. In effect, the Holy Roman Emperor effectively ruled as the king of both Italy and Germany, with the title of the “Emperor” being bestowed only by the Pope, after the consent of notable German princes had been given.
Typically, the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors reigned during the early High Middle Ages. From then onwards, the power of the Emperor became more and more dependent upon the German princes. Following are some of the most famous Holy Roman Emperors.
Otto I originally ascended to power as the King of the Germans in 936. He immediately launched efforts to unify all German tribes into a single identity while at the same time, extending his powers as a King at the expense of the nobility. He accomplished this through strategic marriage alliances and appointing his family members to positions of power. He then subdued Italy and was crowned the King of Italy in 951, although he soon relinquished the title and held the kingdom as a fiefdom.
He defeated the Magyars of Hungary in 955, stemming a serious threat of invasion and was hailed as the Saviour of Christendom for the feat. In 961, he led another campaign into Italy and this time, he was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope. In Germany, Otto I further consolidated his power by bringing ecclesiastical authorities under imperial control. He died in 973, having firmly established a new Empire.
Frederick I was chosen the King of the Germans in 1152 and the King of Italy in 1155. The same year, he was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope. Frederick I was one of the most notable monarchs in all of medieval Europe. He extensively campaigned militarily throughout his life, actively patronized arts and sciences at his court and implemented many reforms which permanently became a part of Central European culture. However, he wasn’t as successful militarily and had to lead multiple campaigns to subdue Italy. In doing so, he was often pitted against the Papacy, a protracted dispute which resolved only in 1188. He then left for the Third Crusade with an army and died in 1190.
Frederick III was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1452 to 1493. His long reign was relatively peaceful and during his reign, he laid the firm basis for the Habsburg dynasty to remain in power for several subsequent centuries. Although he had to face opposition from close relatives, he patiently subdued them and gradually increased the amount of land inherited by his family. He was able to force ‘Charles the Bold’ to make Burgundy a part of the Empire.
Frederick III died in 1493. The vast inheritances which he was able to secure for his family through alliances, marriages into royal families of Europe and wars ensured that the House of Habsburg would remain one of the most powerful families of Europe for many centuries.