To the casual observer, the Holy Roman Empire seems locked in time, continuing its almost feudal tradition even while every other part of Europe was consolidating into nations and empires. By the time Prussia conquered the rest of what we now call Germany, Britain and France and Spain had been (at least nominally) unified under single heads of state for the better part of a millennium.

What took so long? Why didn't Germany get consolidated alongside her neighbors into a single empire? And what kept the other major powers of Europe from gobbling the pieces of the Holy Roman Empire up amongst themselves?

2 Answers 2


Other nations were formed as a result of major wars, some would say civil wars.

Arguably the first nation-state was that of France, after the end of the Hundred Years' War in 1453. If you've been at war for over 100 years, it really defines your loyalties.

Spain was defined by the war that united Andulusia with Castile, ending in 1492, then an 1640 war that led to the (permanent) independence of Portugal, and a war ending later in 1652 that resulted in Catalonia staying with Castile.

Britain was shaped by the War of the Roses of the 1450s, the English Civil War of the 1640s, and the Glorious Revolution of 1689. It was arguably after this, that England reached its modern form.

The first ("civil") war of modern Germany was the Thirty Years' War, 1618-48. The war of Austrian Succession (1740-45) and Seven Years' War (1756-63) were basically civil wars. The last one took place in 1866, when Austria was excluded from the rest of "Germany." This led to German unification in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian war. Meanwhile, Prussia's successes in these wars prevented other nations from gobbling up German -speaking territory (other than Austria, which remained separate).


It didn't - Germany was united several times even prior to the unification of France, Spain or England under strong central governments. Otto I and Frederick I (Barbarossa) being two examples of Emperors who united Germany long before Spain united under the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1469; Louis XIV captivated his nobles and courtiers at Versailles c 1670 to entrench royal supremacy over them; or even William the Conqueror dispersed awards to his Norman nobles across the length and breadth of England to prevent any unruly independent Dukes, such as he himself had been in Normandy.

I would go even further and venture that even England did not truly have a lasting strong central government until the establishment of the Supremacy of Parliament in the Glorious Revolution. Yes, individual monarchs such as Edward I and Elizabeth I led strong central governments, but those are no different in kind than the tenures of Otto I and Frederick I in Germany.

The history of modern Germany, say since 1648, is really about the slow supplanting of the Hapsburg Kaiser in Vienna by the Prussian Kaiser in Berlin, and is in some ways akin to a colonization of Germany by Prussia as summarized here

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.