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The Golden Bull of Charles IV 1356

This document created the constitutional structure of late imperial Germany. For many centuries the German emperors had been sacrificing crown rights in Germany in order to carry out their Italian policy. Charles IV attempted to fix the actual rights of the various German princes. For instance the number of electors of the emperor had been fixed at seven since 1273, but it was not always clear which seven princes ere the electors. As Charles himself was King of Bohemia, and knowing it was useless to try and restore German kingship, he exerted himself to to secure for Bohemia all possible advantages. The historian Lord Bryce wrote that this document "codified anarchy and called it a constitution." Germany was to remain disunited until Bismarck's efforts in 1871.


Chapter I.- Escort and Safe-Conduct for the Electors

1. We decree and determine by this imperial edict that, whenever the electoral princes are summoned according to the ancient and praiseworthy custom to meet and elect a king of the Roman and future emperor, each of them shall be bound to furnish demand an escort and safe-conduct to his fellow electors or their representatives, within his own lands and as much farther as he can, for the journey to and from the city where the election is to be held. Any electoral prince who refuses to furnish escort and safe-conduct shall be liable to the penalties for perjury and to the loss of his electoral vote for that occasion.

16. When the news of the death of the king of the Romans has been received at Mainz, within one month from the date of receiving it the archbishop of Mainz shall send notices of the death and of the approaching election to all the electoral princes. But if the archbishop neglects or refuses to send such notices, the electoral princes are commanded on their fidelity to assemble on their own motion and without summons at the city of Frankfort within three months from the death of the emperor, for the purpose of electing a king of the Romans and future emperor.


Chapter II. The Election of the King of the Romans

1 . (Mass shall be celebrated on the day after the arrival of electors. The archbishop of Mainz administers this oath, which the other electors repeat:)

2. "I, archbishop of Mainz, archchancellor of the empire for Germany, electoral prince, swear on the holy gospels here before me, and by the faith which I owe to God and to the holy Roman empire, that with the aid of God, and according to my best judgment and knowledge, I will cast my vote, in this election of the king of the Romans and future emperor, for a person fitted to rule the Christian people. I will give my voice and vote freely, uninfluenced by any agreement, price, bribe, promise, or any thing of the sort, by whatever name it may be called. So help me God and all the saints."

3. After the electors have taken this oath, they shall proceed to the election, and shall not depart from Frankfort until the majority have elected a king of the Romans and future emperor, to be ruler of the world and of the Christian people. If they have not come to a decision within thirty days from the day on which they took the above oath, after that they shall live upon bread and water and shall not leave the city until the election has been decided.

4. Such an election shall be as valid as if all the princes had agreed unanimously and without difference upon a candidate. If any one of the princes or his representatives have been hindered or delayed for a time, but arrives before the election is over, he shall be admitted and shall take part in the election at the stage which had been reached at the time of his arrival. According to the ancient and approved custom, the king of the Romans elect, immediately after his election and before he takes up any other business of the empire, shall confirm and approve by sealed letters for each and all of the electoral princes, concessions, ancient customs, and dignifies, and whatever else the princes held and possessed from the empire at the time of the election; and he shall renew the confirmation and approval when he becomes emperor. The original confirmation shall be made by him king, and the renewal as emperor. It is his duty to do this graciously and in good faith, and not to hinder the princes in the exercise of their rights.

5. In the case where three of the electors vote for a fourth elector prince, his vote shall have the same value as that of the other to make a majority and decide the election.


Chapter IX.- Mines of Gold, Silver, and Other Metals

We decree, by this present law, that our successors, the kings of Bohemia, and all the electoral princes, ecclesiastical and secular, shall hold and possess with full rights, all mines of gold, silver, tin, copper iron, lead, or other metals, and all salt works, both those already discovered and those which shall be discovered in the future, situated within their lands, domains, and dependencies. They shall also have authority to tax Jews, the right to collect tolls already in force and all other rights which they or their predecessors have possessed to the present day.


Chapter X.- Coinage

1 . We also decree that our successors, the future kings of Bohemia shall possess and exercise in peace the rights of coinage of gold and silver, in all parts of their dominions and of the lands b longing to their subjects, in such form and manner as they m determine; a right which is known to have belonged to our predecessors, the former kings of Bohemia.

2. We also grant to the future kings of Bohemia forever the right to buy, purchase, or receive as gift or in payment, any lands, castles, possessions, or goods from any princes, magnates, counts, or other persons; such lands and property to remain, however, in their former legal status and to pay the customary dues and services to the empire.

3. We extend this right by the present law to all the electoral princes, ecclesiastical and secular, and to their legal heirs, under the same conditions and form.


Chapter XI.- The Immunities of the Princes

1. We decree also that no count, baron, noble, vassal, burggrave, knight, client, citizen, burgher, or other subject of the churches of Cologne, Mainz, or Trier, of whatever status, condition, or rank, shall be cited, haled, or summoned to any authority before any tribunal outside of the territories, boundaries, and limits of these churches and their dependencies, or before any judge, except the archbishops and their judges.... We refuse to hear appeals based upon the authority of others over the subjects of these princes; if these princes are accused by their subjects of injustice, appeal shall lie to the imperial diet, and shall be heard there and nowhere else....

2. We extend this right by the present law to the secular electoral princes, the count palatine of the Rhine, the duke of Saxony, and the margrave of Brandenburg, and to their heirs, successors, and subjects forever.


Chapter XII.- Assemblies of the Princes

... It has been decided in the general diet held at Nurnburg with the electoral princes, ecclesiastical and secular, and other princes and magnates, by their advice and with their consent, that in the future, the electoral princes shall meet every year in some city of the empire four weeks after Easter; this year they are to meet at that date in the imperial city of Metz; on that occasion, and on every meeting thereafter, the place of assembling for the following year shall be fixed by us with the advice and consent of the princes. This ordinance shall remain in force as long as it shall be pleasing to us and to the princes; and as long as it is in effect, we shall furnish the princes with safe-conduct for that assembly, going, staying, and returning....


Chapter XVII. Renunciation of Allegiance

If any person renounces his allegiance or alliance without due notice and in a place where he does not have his residence, even if he thinks he has just grounds, we declare that he shall not have the right to inflict injury or violence upon those from whom he has in this manner withdrawn. And since fraud and deceit cannot constitute legal defence, we hereby declare that renunciation of this sort from the society or association of any lord or person shall not be valid, and may not be used as pretext for making war, unless the renunciation has been announced to those who are concerned personally or publicly in the place where they have their regular residence, three full days before, and the notification can be proved by good witnesses. Whoever shall make war on another without making renunciation in this form, shall be branded with infamy, just as if he had never made any renunciation, and he shall be punished as a traitor by all judges. We forbid and condemn also all unjust wars and strife, all unjust burning, wasting, and rapine, all unusual and unjust tolls and exactions for safe-conduct, under penalties fixed by the laws of the empire.


From 0. J. Thatcher and E. H. McNeal, trans., A Source Book for Mediaeval History, (New York: Charles Scribner's, 1905), pp. 284-298.


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

(c)Paul Halsall Jan 1996
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© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 5 June 2023 [CV]