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Forgery in Favor of Territorial Sovereignty – Privilegium Maius (1358/59)

This notorious Austrian forgery dates from the fourteenth century, when the practical devolution of royal authority to the princes was in full swing. Commissioned by Duke Rudolf IV of Austria, it illustrates the degree of independence to which the great princely dynasties of the Empire aspired, but did not yet possess. The forged document purports to be a charter issued by Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa in 1156, which aims to improve the position of the House of Austria within the Empire, among other things. It describes an event that never took place, the transformation of an Imperial fief into a hereditary principality through the devolution of regalian (royal) rights to the archdukes of Austria. Emperor Charles IV (1316-1378) did not confirm the Privilegium Maius since he doubted its authenticity; it was eventually confirmed by the Habsburg Emperor Frederick III (1415-1493) in 1453, however. The document wasn’t officially proven to be forgery until 1852, at which time the Holy Roman Empire no longer existed.

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Privilegium Maius

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity, Frederick, by the power of God's grace Roman Emperor and ever Conserver of the Empire. Although a mutation of things can gain legality through personal intervention, and although that which was originally legal cannot be overturned by any objection, yet, so that no doubt attaches to an act undertaken, Our Imperial authority is hereby asserted.

Know, therefore, the living and future faithful servants of Christ, of the Empire, and of Us, that, with the cooperation of the grace of He Who has sent peace from heaven to humanity on earth, at a general assembly held ceremoniously at Regensburg on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary [September 8], in the presence of many clergy and faithful, the legal disputes and quarrels that have long raged between Our highly revered uncle, Henry, Duke of Austria, and Our highly revered cousin, Henry, Duke of Saxony, over the Duchy of Bavaria and the March above the River Enns*, have been settled. They have been settled in such a manner that the Duke of Austria has surrendered the Duchy of Bavaria and the aforesaid March to Us, and after this surrender We thereupon granted this Duchy of Bavaria in fief to the Duke of Saxony. The aforesaid Duke of Saxony, however, surrendered all rights and claims, including his feudal rights, to the aforesaid March. In order that the honor and dignity of Our highly revered uncle shall in no way be diminished by this act, We have, with the advice and consent of the princes—whereby Ladislaus, the illustrious Duke of Bohemia spoke in the name of all the princes present—transformed the Margraviate of Austria and the aforesaid March above the Enns into a Duchy, and We have endowed this Duchy with all the hereinafter named rights, privileges, and graces and by virtue of Imperial magnanimity conferred them on the aforesaid Henry, Our beloved uncle, his most noble consort, Theodora, and their children.

Based on the unique favor we have for Our beloved uncle, Henry of Austria, his most noble consort, Theodora, and their successors, and for the land of Austria—which, as is well known, forms the shield and heart of the Holy Roman Empire—We have, with the advice and consent of the Imperial princes, given to, freely conferred upon, and presented to the aforesaid couple and their successors in this duchy and the aforementioned land of Austria the rights, powers, and authorities named below, which grant is made fully and perpetually by authority of the Imperial office.

[1] First, the Duke of Austria, no matter what obligations to aid and assist he may have assumed—is not obliged to the Holy Roman Empire or anyone else, with the sole exception that he is bound to serve with twelve mounted and armored men for a month in the Kingdom of Hungary at his expense, and this constitutes proof that he remains a prince of the Empire.

[2] Further, to assume the fief he is not obliged to travel outside the boundaries of Austria, but the enfeoffment shall be given to him within the land of Austria. If it is refused him, he may request enfeoffment from the Empire thrice in writing, and thereafter he may hold his fief without injury to the Empire, as though he had been granted it in person.

[3] Further, the Duke of Austria is not bound to appear at an assembly called by the Empire or by anyone else, though he may do so voluntarily.

* The Enns River was [and is] the border between the two parts of the original duchy of Austria, Upper Austria [capital at Linz] and Lower Austria [capital at Vienna] – trans.

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