Book Review: The Holy Roman Empire: A Short History


by Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. Pp. xvi, 166. Illus., map, append., biblio., index. $24.95. ISBN: 0691179115

A Much Maligned State

In this revisionist work, originally published in Germany in 2013, Prof. Stollberg-Rilinger (Münster), who specializes in the European Enlightenment, argues that the HRE was a far more effective institution than generally accepted since Voltaire smeared it as “Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire”.

Stollberg-Rilinger covers the period from about 1500 through the Empire’s demise in 1806 in a very tightly written, but surprisingly comprehensive treatment. She makes a very good case that the Habsburg emperors who held the throne from the mid-fifteenth century, developed several institutions which, in conjunction with the older, more informal ties of tradition and loyalty, tied the Empire’s “German Core” into a fairly effective federal state.

The strength of these institutions can be seen in the way in which the Empire managed to cope with several challenges – the Reformation, the Ottomans, Louis XIV. By the late eighteenth century, however, the rise of Prussia and the Hapsburg’s own Danubian-centered estates – both only partially within the empire – greatly weakened the empire. The centripetal pressures caused by these two new entities, which led to the collapse of the Empire during the French and Napoleonic wars.

Stollberg-Rilinger unfortunately says little about the empire’s military institutions, which proved surprisingly resilient in several wars.

An impressive work, The Holy Roman Empire is primarily for readers with an interest the political interactions of Enlightenment Europe or the Empire itself.


Note: The Holy Roman Empire is also available in several e-editions


 StrategyPage reviews are shared with The New York Military Affairs Symposium
Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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