Holy Roman Empire - Middle Ages for Kids
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Later Holy Roman Empire

Emperor and electors
The emperor and two of his electors

After the gap from 1254 to 1273 AD when there was no Holy Roman Emperor, new emperors took charge, but they never got back the power of the earlier emperors. The Holy Roman Empire had pretty much given up on controlling Italy, which now operated as a group of independent city-states like Florence and Genoa. By 1338 AD, the Holy Roman Emperors had lost the power to choose their own successors, and instead a group of rich men, the Electors, met to elect an emperor. Unlike in the earlier Holy Roman Empire, now the men didn't let any women get into power. These Electors soon realized that they didn't want to elect any strong rulers, who would just push them around - as long as they picked weak Emperors, the Electors could run things themselves. So that's what they did. Gradually local rulers formed their own governments that collected taxes, minted money, and ran their own court systems. Many of the Holy Roman Emperors stayed mainly on their own personal land, leaving the rest of their empire to run itself.

Frederick III
Frederick III

The Black Death, a plague which killed about a third of the people in the Holy Roman Empire in the years after 1350 AD, also made Germany poorer than it had been before. Because German Christians blamed the Jews for the plague and attacked them, many Jews moved to Poland, taking their money with them.

The Holy Roman Empire also found itself ringed by more powerful states - Poland, Hungary, and France especially - that it could not fight effectively.

Maximilian I
Maximilian I

In 1440, the Electors elected Frederick III, a member of the Habsburg family, and most Holy Roman Emperors were from the Habsburg family from then on. Finally, in 1508 Frederick's son Maximilian I decided not to bother making the dangerous trip to Rome so the Pope could crown him as an earlier Pope had crowned Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor. Instead, Maximilian chose to be crowned nearer to home, in Aachen, Charlemagne's capital.

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