According to Wikipedia, The Holy Roman Emperor was also called "King of italy", and it says there that he ruled over a big part of Italy.

But I have also read that throughout the Middle Ages, many cities in Northern and Central Italy were autonomous city-states.

So what was the King's role in Italy?

  • 2
    You might as well ask what was the Emperor's role in the whole Empire ;)
    – NSNoob
    Jan 3 '17 at 13:15

It is said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

  • The HRE was a feudal empire. The relative strength of the central power and the subordinate power groups changed over the centuries, and sometimes from place to place. A powerful duke or king could defy his nominal ruler, a powerful emperor could reimpose central control.
  • Talking about Italy is iffy as well. I'll use it to describe a region, not a nation.
  • The great time of the Italian city states like Venice or Florence was in the late middle age. The great time of the HRE was in the early and high middle age.

At times, the emperor took an active role in Italy, for example Frederick I. Henry IV had to publicly submit to the pope, but he still meddled in Italy. He bribed the cities with privileges.

  • I know that the great time of the Italian city states was at late middle age, but people have claimed to be "King of Italy", according to wikipedia, for even much later.
    – MrJack320
    Jan 3 '17 at 15:53
  • @MrJack320, the HRE ended in 1806, but it stopped being a significant power by itself own right much earlier.
    – o.m.
    Jan 3 '17 at 17:03

The Lombard kingdom had never been very centralized and usually became less so over time, especially since the Emperors usually spent most of their time outside of Italy.

However, Italian rulers sometimes underestimated the power of the Holy Roman Empire and came to regret it. During the War of the Spanish Succession of 1701 to 1714 French armies invaded and occupied northern Italy and many Italian rulers collaborated with them.

Then Austrian armies drove the French out of northern Italy and occupied it. Joseph I, emperor of the Romans, (reigned 1705-1711) collected millions of Florins in imperial war tax from northern Italy in 1708, more than from the states in the Kingdom of Germany except for his hereditary domains. Some Italian fiefs were confiscated from their owners for treason. Most famously, the Duchies of Montferrat and Mantua were confiscated from Duke Ferdinand Charles for his treason.


The "Holy Roman Emperor" reigned over a loosely confederated bunch of states in modern Germany and Italy whose rulers were (mostly) less than "kings." The most common title was "Duke."

So in Italy, the Holy Roman Empire included "Duchies" such as Florence, Lombardy and Venice, but not the "Papal States" (under the Pope) or the Kingdom of the two Sicilies. These (tenuous) claims to parts of Italy helped support the claim to the "Roman" empire.

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