The meaning of the word "Mediatize"
(as in "The Mediatized Princely Houses")

by William Addams Reitwiesner

One of the major questions about the Mediatized Houses is the word "Mediatized". What does it mean?

The word was used mostly in the operation of the Holy Roman Empire and its successor States in what is now Germany. The root of the word is the Latin word "media", meaning "between", and its use comes from the number of layers of allegiance (in a feudal sense) between a nobleman and his suzerain, who, in the Holy Roman Empire, was the Emperor. If nobleman A and nobleman B held their fiefs directly from the Emperor, then these were "immediate" fiefs ("im"-"mediate", nothing in between). If for some reason nobleman A's fief was placed under the authority of nobleman B, then nobleman A's fief was no longer "immediate", it was "mediate". The act of degrading the type of allegiance in this way is called "mediatizing".

For various reasons (none of which will be discussed here), Germany did not coalesce into a modern nation the same way as, say, France and Spain. While over the centuries there had been fitful attempts at bringing the Germanies together, and various people used the title "King of Germany", there was no such thing as "Germany" until the Weimar Republic of 1919. Even the 1871 "German Empire" was not Germany -- the King of Prussia simply took a higher-sounding title that did not affect the sovereignty or indepencence or territory of any of the other German States.

How many of these German States existed under the Holy Roman Empire, and which of these States could be considered to have been sovereign? The answers are "several hundred" and "only some of them". Having an immediate fief (see above) was not enough.

To quote from Prince Jean Engelbert d'Arenberg, in his dissertation The Lesser Princes of the Holy Roman Empire in the Napoleonic Era [Washington, D.C., 1950], later published as Les Princes du St-Empire a l'epoque napoleonienne [Louvain, 1951], starting on p. 15:
            The Imperial States [Reichsstand] were the real
        pillars of the Holy Roman Empire.  They consisted
        mainly of the Princes and Counts of the Empire who
        posessed immediate territories therein; i.e., fiefs
        which were held directly of the Emperor himself, and
        who had, each of them, a vote and a seat in the
        Imperial Diet.  The holders of these Imperial States
        and all those who were of equal birth with them
        constituted the High Nobility [Hochadel] ...

            The dignity of States of the Empire was in general
        attached not to the person but to the fief.  Such a
        territory had to enjoy sovereign rights under the
        suzerainty of the Empire. ... The States of the Empire
        accordingly exercised sovereignty over various Imperial
        Territories.  But the fact of sovereignty under the
        suzerainty of the Emperor was not in itself sufficient
        to constitute a State of the Empire.  Of equal
        importance was the fact of having a vote and a seat in
        the Imperial Diet.  Still another requirement was the
        recognition of the quality of a State of the Empire
        either by usage or by special legal authorization.  In
        a few cases this authorization was granted to persons
        even without an immediate territority.  The following
        legal requirements were met by all Imperial States,
        except by those who had received that dignity for their
        person and not for their territory:

            1. The possession of an immediate
            Principality, County or Lordship invested with
            the right of Sovereignty [Landeshoheit].

            2. The consent of the Emperor and of all the
            Councils of the Imperial Diet, in the case of
            an Electorate; the consent of the Emperor, of
            the Council of Electors and of the Council of
            Princes in all other cases.

            3. The assumption of an appropriate share in
            supplying the financial, military and other
            needs of the Empire.

            4. The membership in one of the ten Imperial
These Imperial Circles had been set up by Maximilian I, and were for military purposes. As such, they won't be described further here.

In the Council of Princes [Reichsfürstlicheskollegium] of the Imperial Diet [Reichstag] of 1792 there were 108 seats and votes, allocated as follows, with the name of the dynasty holding the seat given in (parentheses): This is also the order in which the Princes voted.

Several points can be made about this list. First, there are a number of Habsburg domains, such as Hungary and Moravia, which are not on this list. This is because they were not part of the Holy Roman Empire. For that matter, Prussia (the territory that the Elector of Brandenburg was King of) was not in the Empire either. Second, note the concentration of votes in just a few houses -- for example the Palatine Elector had six votes and the Elector of Hanover had seven. The Elector of Hanover was, at that time (1792), also King of Great Britain, which illustrates how many non-German sovereigns played a role in the Empire (on the other hand the Kings of Sardinia, while they had a seat in the Diet, seldom bothered even to send a representative).

Note also the distinction between "Old Princes" and "New Princes". All of the "Old Princes" were present in the Diet of 1582, and the "New Princes" were added afterwards. Starting in 1641, the Emperor would award the title of "Reichsfürst" [Prince of the Empire] to those persons or Houses he thought worthy, and once the recipient person or dynasty was able to satisfy the other requirements, they were admitted to the Diet. Most though not all Reichsfürst creations were for persons or Houses which already had a territory and a function in the Empire. The Houses which had received the title of Reichsfürst but which had not fulfilled the other requirements remained in the Councils of the Counts of the Empire. These Councils comprised, as of around 1792, the following members: Those who are shown as [personaliter] were personal, not hereditary, members of their Council.

Note also that these are not by any means the only titled persons in the Empire. Nor are these the only people who held immediate or non-immediate fiefs, or the people who comprised any of the ten Imperial Circles. The people listed above are those who had a voice, however small, in the Imperial decision-making process.

By the time of the 1792 Diet, the Empire's western neighbor, France, had already sunk into revolution. France achieved some measure of stability under the Republic and the Directorate, and its armies, especially under the command of Bonaparte, won some major victories against the Empire, particularly at Marengo (14 June 1800). In the Treaty of Luneville (9 February 1801), the Empire lost some twenty-five thousand square miles of territory. The only way for the Emperor to compensate the dispossessed Princes was to sieze the remaining ecclesiastical territories. An Imperial Delegation did so, and published on 25 February 1803 the famous Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, which reorganized the Empire and the Imperial Diet. The Diet ratified this decision on 24 March 1803, and the Emperor ratified it on 27 April 1803 except for the paragraph (Paragraph 32) which dealt specifically with the reorganization of the Diet. The Emperor's objections were never overcome, thus the reorganization of the Diet based on the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss cannot be considered lawful, even though a tentative list of seats was drawn up. What little business transacted by the Diet between 1803 and its dissolution in 1806 was based on the list, part of which (the Council of Princes) was printed in Prince Arenberg's dissertation (cited above) on pp. 61-64 and is given here, territory first with name of the dynasty in (parentheses): In all, 131 seats in the Council of Princes, after the proposed reorganization of the Diet, based on the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss of 1803.

The Princes who would have benefited from this reorganization by finally gaining a seat in the Diet, such as Leiningen and Waldeck, started acting as though they had become sovereign (though still under the suzerainty of the Emperor), and have continued to be credited, in otherwise accurate references works, as having achieved sovereignty by virtue of the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, even though the 1803 reorganization of the Diet cannot be considered lawful.

Also in 1803 the number of secular Electors was almost doubled, from 5 (Bohemia, Palatinate, Electoral Saxony, Brandenburg, and Hanover) to 9 (with Baden, Hesse-Cassel, Württemberg, and Salzburg [later Würzburg, and held by the Grand Duke of Tuscany] added), while the Ecclesiastial Electors dropped from 3 (Mainz, Trier, and Cologne) to one (Mainz, the other two being secularized).

After Bonaparte proclaimed himself Emperor of the French on 18 May 1804, the Holy Roman Emperor proclaimed himself Emperor of Austria on 11 August 1804, followed immediately by the Electors of Bavaria and Württemberg, who took advantage of the confusion and lack of Imperial control to proclaim themselves Kings, and started gobbling up smaller States, starting on 19 November 1805 when Württemberg annexed Fürstenberg. The formal end of the Empire was signalled on 13 January 1806 when the King of Sweden refused to send a representative to the Imperial Diet because of the violations of its constitution by its members.

After his victory at Austerlitz (2 Dec 1805), Bonaparte tried to break up the Empire by driving a wedge between Brandenburg (the power in the north) and Austria (the power in the south), by offering to set up a federation of the German States under his protection. Those States which left the Empire and joined the federation could increase their territories at the expense of those States which did not. On 12 July 1806 the Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine was signed, and the Confederation came into legal existance. The States which initially joined the Confederation, their dynasties and their date of joining were:
King of Bavaria Wittelsbach 12 July 1806
King of Württemberg Württemberg 12 July 1806
Grand Duke of Baden Zähringen 12 July 1806
Grand Duke of Frankfurt Dalberg 12 July 1806
Grand Duke of Cleves and Berg Murat 12 July 1806
Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt Hesse 12 July 1806
Duke of Nassau-Usingen Nassau 12 July 1806
Prince of Nassau-Weilburg Nassau 12 July 1806
Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen Hohenzollern 12 July 1806
Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen Hohenzollern 12 July 1806
Prince of Salm-Salm Salm 12 July 1806
Prince of Salm-Kyrburg Salm 12 July 1806
Prince of Isenburg-Birstein Isenburg 12 July 1806
Duke of Arenberg Ligne-Arenberg 12 July 1806
Prince of Liechtenstein Liechtenstein 12 July 1806
Prince von der Leyen Leyen 12 July 1806

Note that many of these upgraded their title when they joined.

Articles 13-25 of the Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine described in detail the territorial exchanges between the States which joined the Confederation, and annexations by the member States of the territories of the Princes and Counts who did not join. The Princes and Counts whose territories were annexed, and who were thus mediatized on 12 July 1806, under the terms of Articles 13-25 of the Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine, were: It should be noted that these were the Princes and Counts who had immediate fiefs which were mediatized by the annexations described in Articles 13-25 of the Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine. Some of these Princes and Counts had a seat and a vote in the Council of Princes (before or after the 1803 reorganization of the Imperial Diet), and some of these Princes and Counts had a seat and a vote in one of the Councils of the Counts of the Empire, and some of them had neither seats nor votes. Mediatization of a fief refers only to the degrading of the immediacy of that fief, and does not imply anything else about the holder of the fief. Note also that mediatization under the Confederation of the Rhine is slightly different from mediatization under the Empire, because of the levels of feudal alliance involved.

On 1 August 1806, ten States (Bavaria, Württemberg, the Arch-Chancellor, Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Hohenzollern-Hechingen, Salm-Salm, Salm-Kyrburg, and Isenburg) presented a note to the Imperial Diet stating that they were seceeding from the Empire and the Diet. Two weeks later Arenberg, von der Leyen, Nassau-Usingen and Nassau-Weilburg were added to the note, but by then the Emperor had abdicated and the Empire dissolved (6 August 1806).

More States joined the Confederation:

Grand Duke of Würzburg Lorraine-Tuscany 25 Sept 1806
King of Saxony Wettin 11 Dec 1806
Duke of Saxe-Weimar Wettin 15 Dec 1806
Duke of Saxe-Gotha Wettin 15 Dec 1806
Duke of Saxe-Meiningen Wettin 15 Dec 1806
Duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen Wettin 15 Dec 1806
Duke of Saxe-Coburg Wettin 15 Dec 1806
Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt Schwarzburg 18 Apr 1807
Prince of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen Schwarzburg 18 Apr 1807
Duke of Anhalt-Bernburg Anhalt 18 Apr 1807
Duke of Anhalt-Dessau Anhalt 18 Apr 1807
Duke of Anhalt-Köthen Anhalt 18 Apr 1807
Prince of Lippe-Detmold Lippe 18 Apr 1807
Prince of Schaumburg-Lippe Lippe 18 Apr 1807
Prince of Waldeck Waldeck 18 Apr 1807
Prince of Reuss-Greiz Reuss 18 Apr 1807
Prince of Reuss-Schleiz Reuss 18 Apr 1807
Prince of Reuss-Lobenstein Reuss 18 Apr 1807
Prince of Reuss-Ebersdorf Reuss 18 Apr 1807
King of Westphalia Bonaparte 7 Dec 1807
Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz Mecklenburg 18 Feb 1808
Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin Mecklenburg 22 Mar 1808
Duke of Oldenburg Oldenburg 14 Oct 1808
Grand Duke of Cleves and Berg Bonaparte (Murat had abdicated on 1 Aug 1808) 3 March 1809

The details of the activities of the Confederation of the Rhine can fill several books and need not concern us here, except that Napoleon's military demands constantly increased. Napoleon at least maintained the appearance of legality in his dealings with the States of the Confederation, until 13 December 1810 when he, without pretext, incorporated the Duchy of Oldenburg, the Duchy of Arenberg, the Principalities of Salm-Salm and Salm-Kyrburg, and large parts of the Grand Duchy of Cleves and Berg, of the former Electorate of Hanover, and of the Kingdom of Westphalia, into France. This followed his swallowing of Holland (9 July 1810). The 13 December 1810 action was later cited by Alexander I of Russia (brother-in-law of the Duke of Oldenburg) as one of the reasons why he (Alexander I) joined the Great Coalition against Napoleon.

The Confederation started unravelling after the Treaty of Kalisch (28 February 1813), which provided that the Confederation should be dissolved after an Allied victory. The Mecklenburg Dukes promptly quit the Confederation and joined the Allies, followed by the Anhalt Dukes and most of the rest. Among the last to leave were the Princes of Hohenzollern on 24 November 1813, leaving behind the King of Saxony, the Grand Duke of Frankfurt, Prince von der Leyen, and the Prince of Isenburg, but by then the Confederation of the Rhine was effectively dead.

The Congress of Vienna was charged with bringing some sort of order to Europe after the fall and exile of Napoleon. Again the details of the negotiations need not concern us, but one result was the German Federal Act [Deutschen Bundesakte] of 8 June 1815, which dealt with the Mediatized houses in Article 14. In this, the Mediatized Houses were counted among the highest nobility with the right of equality with the reigning houses [Ebenbürtigkeit], the Heads of the Mediatized Houses were the first vassals [Standesherren] of those States in which their former territories were located, they were exempt from military service, given civil and penal jurisdiction at the lowest level, etc., but always within the framework of the laws of the new State and under the supervision of the government of the new State. Many of the Mediatized Houses protested violently against the terms of this Article, but they were powerless to prevent it. At no point, though, did the Congress of Vienna decide exactly which Houses had been mediatized, and thus deserving of these higher privileges, leaving that up to the discretion of the individual States.

The astute reader may have noticed that the lists of those Houses which had a seat and vote in the Council of Princes of the Imperial Diet both before and after the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, and the lists of those Houses which either joined the Confederation of the Rhine, or whose territories were mediatized by the Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine, bear little or no relation to the list of families we usually refer to as "Mediatized". There's an explanation for this, though perhaps not a reason.

After the Congress of Vienna, Europe settled down. The sovereign States in the area which used to be the Holy Roman Empire were the States that are familiar to us: Several of these States acknowledged various Standesherren among the nobility in their country, under the terms of Article 14 of the Deutsches Bundesakte, and on 18 August 1825, the German Diet recognized the predicate of "Most Serene Highness" [Durchlaucht] for the Heads of the princely Houses that were recognized as Standesherren, and later on 13 February 1829 the Diet recognized the predicate of "Most Illustrious Highness" [Erlaucht] for the Heads of the countly Houses that were recognized as Standesherren.

Note that the Standesherren were the highest nobility in their countries, and that these predicates of "Durchlaucht" and "Erlaucht" denoted nothing more than social status within and among these countries. The Almanach de Gotha, an annual publication, which up until the 1835 edition had divided its genealogical pages into two Parts, Part I showing the Sovereign houses and Part II showing the non-sovereign Princely houses, added a Part III starting in its 1836 issue. This Part III, "Maisons Princieres et Comtales", listed those Princes and Counts who had been recognized as Standesherren, with the predicates of "Durchlaucht" and "Erlaucht", and the States in which the Standesherren had been recognized: The list of Houses the German Diet considered to have been Mediatized seems fairly odd when compared to historical events (mentioned above) in the Holy Roman Empire and in the Confederation of the Rhine, but since the decisions as to which Prince or Count was to be recognized as a Standesherr was left up to the individual States, there was no reason for the States to be overly concerned about what had happened before. The major change for these mediatized houses was that they now had a new predicate (Durchlaucht or Erlaucht) by which they should be addressed. Even these honors were lightly given, as on 12 June 1845 the German Diet extended the recognition of "Erlaucht" to the Count of Bentinck, who was not even a Standesherr in any of the German States (though Oldenburg later made the Count of Bentinck a Standesherr).

These divisions of genealogical section of the Almanach de Gotha (Part I the Sovereign houses, Part II the non-Sovereign Princely houses including those Standesherren who were Princes, and Part III the Standesherren Counts of the German States) continued until the Franco-Prussian War and the King of Prussia naming himself "Emperor of Germany" (1871). A pan-German triumphalism appeared in the German States, and the editors of the Almanach de Gotha followed along. In a fairly nasty bit of Germanic chauvinism, the 1876 Almanach de Gotha combined Parts II and III into a single Part II.

In the Preface of the 1876 edition, the editors claim that their reason for doing this was that some of the houses in Part III belonged to the same dynasty as some of the houses in Part II (no examples were given in the Preface, though Fugger, Isenburg, and Leiningen are good examples), and they thought it would be easier for the reader to deal with these houses when they were combined into a single list. This was bad enough (insinuating that a higher-ranking noblemen in a small German State, such as the Counts of Görtz or the Counts of Pappenheim, were in some way comparable to the Princes of Rohan or the Princes Kinsky or the Princes of Chigi-Albani), but what happened with the next edition was worse.

In the 1877 Almanach de Gotha, the new Part II was divided into two sub-Parts, A and B. Part II A was for the mediatized German nobles, and Part II B was for the other German Princes and the non-German Princes. The criteria used for inclusion in Part II A were listed on page 90 of the 1877 edition, and were solely the decisions of the German Diet on 18 August 1825, 13 February 1829, and 12 June 1845 mentioned above about the Durchlaucht and Erlaucht predicates. This means that, according to the editors of the Almanach de Gotha, the Counts of Görtz and the Counts of Pappenheim were not just comparable to the Princes of Rohan or the Princes Kinsky or the Princes of Chigi-Albani, they were superior.

The 1890 edition changed the name of Part II A to Part II, and the name of Part II B to Part III, but other than that there has been no alteration in the structure of either the Almanach de Gotha or its successor, the Genealogisches Handbuch der Fürstlichen Häuser sub-series of the Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels.

A case could be made that the Reichsstanden of the Holy Roman Empire, that is, those Princes who held a seat and vote in the Imperial Diet (at least those who held a seat and vote before the non-lawful reorganization of the Diet in 1803) could be considered to have had some level of Sovereignty, or even co-Sovereignty, under the suzerainty of the Emperor, but the assertions of the Almanach de Gotha are, at best, ludicrous. What's impressive, though, is the number of other genealogical works, such as Burke's Royal Families of the World, vol. I, pp. 547-557, which uncritically accept the opinions of the editors of the Almanach de Gotha as being in any way representative of the historical record.

One last quote from Prince Arenberg's dissertation (pp. 203-205):
        All the Princes of the Holy Roman Empire, except the Emperor,
     the Elector of Brandenburg in his capacity as King of Prussia, the
     Elector of Hanover in his capacity as King of England and a few
     other Princes in similar positions, were not full-fledged
     sovereigns because they recognized the suzerainty of the Empire
     over their territories.  The personification of this suzerainty
     was the Emperor, who was for his own hereditary territories
     Sovereign and Suzerain at the same time.  But this situation
     changed with the establishment of the Confederation of the Rhine. 
     The Sovereigns of the Confederation announced their succession
     from the Empire and assumption of full sovereignty.  That act, in
     itself, could of course never constitute a legal termination of
     the Suzerainty of the Emperor.  But Francis II, in his
     proclamation of August 6, 1806, abdicated for himself and for his
     descendants, released the officials of the Empire from their oath
     and effectuated the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire.  The
     position of the Emperor had legally never been that of a
     hereditary monarch.  The imperial dignity was elective, and,
     therefore, contingent upon a sort of contract between the
     Electoral States of the Empire and one particular State to whom
     they wished to transfer the supreme authority.  With much more
     justice than in the case of the German Empire as created by
     Bismarck, one can say of the Holy Roman Empire that it was a
     republic of Princes with one of them as elected chairman.  The
     Sovereigns of the Confederation of the Rhine constituted a
     minority of the total number of the States of the Empire, and
     their secession, therefore, could not become legal until the
     elected chairman agreed to bring about the end of the whole
     system.  But once this was done, the Princes of the Confederation
     became independent in virtue of both their own act and of the
     renunciation of their legal Suzerain.
Whether in the future someone will publish a genealogical handbook of those families which were fully Sovereign, and including (or not) the Reichsstanden (the Imperial States), and including (or not) the Houses which were allegedly promoted by the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, and including (or not) the States which joined the Confederation of the Rhine, in other words a genealogical handbook whose criteria for inclusion is something closer to historical accuracy than the social-precedence whims of the German Diet or the belligerent nationalism of a nineteenth-century publisher is, of course, beyond the scope of this paper.

January 1998

William Addams Reitwiesner