14. The Catholic Church created the Holy Roman Empire as an extension of the defunct Roman Empire
On Christmas Day, 800 CE, Pope Leo III bestowed upon Charlemagne, King of the Franks, the title of Emperor, its first appearance in Western Europe since the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire. The newly created Holy Roman Empire extended, by divine right of kings, to the legitimate emperors of Rome, according to its adherents. The individual bearing the title of Holy Roman Emperor became the “king of kings” among Europe’s monarchs, with supreme authority over disputes among the Catholic rulers, answerable directly to the Pope. At least, in theory. The title remained with Charlemagne’s heirs until the late ninth century, when a series of religious wars led to it being held by Italian royal houses.
The intent of the throne was a unification of the Germanic and Italian kingdoms, duchies, principalities, electorates, and other dynastic states into a system more reflective of those of Western Europe. By the time of the Reformation, the throne of the Holy Roman Emperor was filled by the concurrence of a majority of the various rulers of the numerous states. Political compromises and resistance of the states over which the Emperor held authority limited his power. So did the waning influence of the papacy on Europe’s political affairs. By the mid-16th century the Holy Roman Emperor no longer received his crown from the hand of the pope.
In 1756, French writer and philosopher Francois Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire, wrote, “The Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire”. By then, the throne was in the hands of the Austrian Habsburgs. At the end of the 18th century the King of Austria styled himself as Emperor Francis II by virtue of his holding the title of Holy Roman Emperor. As King of Austria he reigned as Francis I. Francis II dissolved the Holy Roman Empire after his military defeat at the hands of Napoleon, though he retained his imperial title by creating the Austrian Empire in 1806. The Holy Roman Empire lasted over 1,000 years, with each of its rulers being male, and Roman Catholic.