The Principal Conclusion of the Extraordinary Imperial Delegation (Reichsdeputationshauptschluss)

The Principal Conclusion of the Extraordinary Imperial Delegation
(Reichsdeputationshauptschluss) 1803

James Harvey Robinson and Charles Austin Beard, From the Opening of the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day, Outlines of European History 2 (New York 1912), 188–91:

In the Treaty of Lunéville, the Emperor had agreed on his the own part, as the ruler of Austria, and on the part of the Holy Roman Empire [of the German Nation], that the French republic should thereafter possess in full sovereignty the territories of the Empire which lay on the left bank of the Rhine, and that thereafter the Rhine should form the boundary of France from the point where it left the Helvetic Republic to the point where it entered the Batavian Republic.

As an inevitable consequence of this cession, numerous rulers and towns — nearly a hundred in number — found themselves dispossessed wholly or in part of their lands. The territories involved included the Palatinate and the duchy of Jülich (both of which then belonged to Bavaria), the possessions of the archbishops of Treves and Cologne and of the bishop of Liége, the ancient free cities of Worms, Speyer, and Cologne, Prussia’s duchy of Cleves, besides the tiny realms of dozens of counts and abbots.

The Empire bound itself by the treaty to furnish the hereditary princes who had been forced to give up their territories to France “an indemnity within the Empire.” Those who did not belong to the class of hereditary rulers were of course the bishops and abbots and the free cities.

The ecclesiastical princes were forbidden as clergymen to marry, and consequently could have no lawful heirs. Hence if they were deprived of their realms they might be adequately indemnified by a pension for life, with no fear of injustice to their heirs, since they could have none.

As for the towns, once so prosperous and important, they now seemed scarcely worth considering to the more powerful rulers of Germany. Indeed it seemed absurd at the opening of the nineteenth century that a single town should be permitted to constitute an independent state with its own system of coinage and its particular customs lines.

There was, however, no unoccupied land within the Empire with which to indemnify even the hereditary princes, like the elector of Bavaria, the margrave of Baden, the king of Prussia, or the Emperor himself, who had seen their possessions on the left bank of the Rhine divided up into French departments.

It was understood by France, and by the princes concerned, that the ecclesiastical rulers and the free towns should pay the costs of this cession by sacrificing their territories on the right bank as well as on the left. The secularization of the church lands, — as the process of transferring them to lay rulers was called, — and the annexation of the free towns implied a veritable revolution in the old Holy Roman Empire, for the possessions of the ecclesiastical princes were vast in extent and were widely scattered, thus contributing largely to the disunion of Germany.

A commission of German princes was appointed to undertake the reconstruction of the map; and the final distribution was preceded by an undignified scramble among the hereditary rulers for bits of territory. All turned to Paris for favors, since it was really the First Consul and his minister, Talleyrand, who determined the distribution. Needy princelings are said to have caressed Talleyrand’s poodle and played “drop the handkerchief” with his niece in the hope of adding a monastery or a shabby village to their share. At last the Imperial Commission, with France’s help, finished its intricate task and the Reichsdiputationshauptschluss, as the outcome of their labors was officially called, was ratified by the diet in 1803.

All the ecclesiastical states except Mayence [Mainz] were turned over to lay rulers, while of the forty-eight imperial cities only six were left. Three of these Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck — still exist as members of the new German Empire. No map could make clear all the shiftings of territory which the Imperial Commission sanctioned [ed. note: see below]. A few examples will serve to illustrate the complexity of their procedure and the strange microscopic divisions of the Empire.

Prussia received in return for Cleves and other small territories the bishoprics of Hildesheim and Paderborn, a part of the bishopric of Münster and of the lands of the elector of Mayence, the territories of the abbots, or abbesses, of Herford, Quedlinburg, Elten, Essen, Werden, and Kappenberg, and the free towns of Mühlhausen, Nordhausen, and Goslar, — over four times the area that she had lost.

The elector of Bavaria, for more considerable sacrifices on the left bank, was rewarded with the bishoprics of Würzburg, Bamberg, Freising, Augsburg, and Passau, besides the lands of twelve abbots and of seventeen free towns; which materially extended his boundaries.

Austria got the bishoprics of Brixen and Trent; the duke of Würtemberg and the margrave of Baden also rounded out and consolidated their dominions.

A host of princes and counts received their little allotments of land or were assigned an income of a few thousand gulden to solace their woes, but the more important rulers carried off the lion’s share of the spoils.

Bonaparte wished to add Parma as well as Piedmont to France, so the duke of Parma was given Tuscany, and the grand duke of Tuscany was indemnified with the archbishopric of Salzburg.

These bewildering details are only given here to make clear the hopelessly minute subdivision of the old Holy Roman Empire and the importance of the partial amalgamation which took place in 1803. One hundred and twelve sovereign and independent states lying to the east of the Rhine were wiped out by being annexed to larger states, such as Prussia, Austria, Bavaria, Würtemberg, Baden, Hesse, etc., while nearly a hundred more had disappeared when the left bank of the Rhine was converted into departments by the French.

Editor’s note: Leaving in abeyance the exact details of every locale listed and the meaning of the color coding, the following map excerpt of Germany after these changes trenchantly demonstrates the complexity of what happened following Lunéville and the ensuing territorial compensations and secularizations (Central Europe 1803: After the Peace of Lunéville 1801 and the Secularisations 1803, from The Cambridge Modern History Atlas, ed. Sir Adolphus William Ward et al.[London 1913]):


© 2018 Doug Stott