The End of an Empire

On this day, the 6th of August 1806 emperor Francis II put down the Imperial crown and brings the Holy Roman Empire to its end. The Holy Roman Empire had existed for over 1000 years, from the coronation of Charlemagne at Christmas 800 AD until 1806. Charlemagne himself did not actually believe he had founded an empire but rather saw himself as taking on the Roman imperial title of antiquity, which he believed vacant since the Eastern Empire was ruled by a woman, the empress Irene.

The crown was believed to be the “Crown of Charlemagne”, though it was most likely made in the 10th century for Otto the Great (936-972) and altered by Konrad II (1024-1039).

In real terms the empire had already ceased to exist in 1804. However there was still some prestige associated with the imperial crown. After Francis had resigned the title he kept the Imperial insignia, including the crown in Vienna – rather than return it to Nürnberg where they were normally kept. He was afraid Napoleon could crown himself Holy Roman Emperor. Though Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm and Hitler all requested the crown to be handed over, the Austrians refused so that various copies were made. Only Hitler could enforce a transfer to Nurnberg, but in 1945 the crown returned to Vienna where it is still today.

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