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The Golden Bull (1356)

This first great act of the law of the late medieval Empire was issued in 1356 by Emperor Charles IV (1316-78), King of the Romans since 1346 and King of Bohemia since 1347. It remained in force until 1803. Named for its golden seal, the Golden Bull regulated the Imperial succession. It named the royal electors and fixed their number at seven – four temporal (Bohemia, Palatinate, Saxony, and Brandenburg) and three spiritual (Mainz, Cologne, and Trier) – and declared their temporal lands indivisible. With the Golden Bull, the Empire acquired the first elements of the constitutional structure it would possess for the next 450 years. Note the highly symbolic language of the introduction (and compare the language with that of the Public Peace of 1495). We may very well doubt that the German aristocracy was moved by the reference to the Greek furies, a conceit of Charles’s chancery, in which neo-classical learning was prized. Entirely traditional, on the other hand, was the manner in which the statute dealt with the problem of instability almost entirely in terms of persons, not impersonal institutions. The latter would begin to appear during the course of the fifteenth century.

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The Golden Bull of 1356
The Nuremberg Book of Laws. January 10, 1356

Almighty, eternal God, sole Hope of the world, Who dost reveal Yourself to be Shaper of the heavens and Creator of the earth, look down upon Your people! From the heights of heaven graciously look upon us, so that we do not turn our steps into those realms where Eris commands, Alecto rules, and Megaera fashions the laws. Help Your people, O gracious God, by the power of Your beloved son, Charles, this illustrious emperor, that under his faithful leadership this people may be brought through the green fields of Paradise, ever-blooming forests, and blessed lands to those sacred springs, where the germs of life are enlivened with divine water, and where the young seeds, quickened by the heavenly springs, can be purified by the plucking out of the thorns. Then, the harvest will become God's own cause, and the hundred-fold yield of future benefits will be heaped up in great barns.

List of Chapters

1. What sort of escort the electors should have, and who should provide it
2. On the election of a King of the Romans
3. On the order of precedence among the Archbishops of Trier, Cologne, and Mainz
4. On the electors in general
5. On the rights of the Elector Palatine and also of the Duke of Saxony
6. On the electors in comparison with other, ordinary princes
7. On the succession of the electors
8. On the legal immunities of the King of Bohemia and of Bohemia's inhabitants
9. On gold mines, silver mines, and other mines
10. On the right to mint
11. On the legal immunity of the electors
12. On the meetings of the electors
13. On the revocation of privileges
14. On the withdrawal of fiefs from those deemed unworthy
15. On conspiracies
16. On the Pfahlbürger (external citizens)
17. On feuds
18. On the form of announcing an election
19. On the form that an elector must give his fully authorized representatives on the execution of the election
20. On the unity of the electorates and the laws relating to it
21. On the precedence of the spiritual electors in processions
22. On the precedence of the electors as carries of insignia in processions
23. On the conferral of blessings by the spiritual electors in the presence of the Emperor

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