As the Holy Roman Empire weaves its way through the Middle Ages and into the early Modern Era, it is a title that is not in constant use during that time. What countries make up the Holy Roman Empire also undergo many changes from 962 A.D. until the Empire, ruled by Germany, was dissolved practically and conceptually during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century.
Otto the Great of Germany was deemed the first Holy Roman German Emperor and Francis II was the last. Otto was enamored by the name and the power that was to follow the title. Early on the kings traveled to Rome and were crowned by the seated Pope.
Feudalism in the 11th century took larger territories and divided them into smaller estates. With so much fragmentation, a new method of organizing land evolved into what was known as Circles. By 1512, there were 10 political Circles within the Empire.
The Holy Roman Empire maintained two Supreme Courts with one being more supreme than the other. If a territorial jurisdiction also possessed legal power, then the Supreme Courts had to defer to the lower court's legal jurisdiction in that particular territory.
In 1512, by decree, the name of the Holy Roman Empire was changed to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Francis II abdicated his reign and dissolved the Empire in its entirety in the year 1806. Interestingly enough, throughout most of the history of the Holy Roman Empire, Rome did not exist within the borders of the Empire. Emperors were elected by the regional magistrates and princes, not by the general populace.
During its peak era the Holy Roman Empire encompassed the Kingdoms of Germany, Italy and Burgundy and many counties and principalities. The territory was extensive and included today's states of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Slovenia. Portions of France, Italy and Poland were also a part of the Empire.
The Reichstag or the legislative body was made up of the dukes of all the territories and the king. The king was to have the final say in all matters. As time passed, more power was given to the individual states and territories through the passages of certain laws. This took place in the 12th century and eventually this initial distribution of power through enacted laws would lead to the downfall of a centralised authority.
During the 13th century, power began to slip away from the central government and move to the counties and the duchies. This shift in power began to weaken the Empire until it was all but obliterated by the 17th century. The Thirty Years War of the 17th century nearly destroyed the Empire. The Empire lost a portion of its land acquisitions and more than 30 percent of its population.
The French philosopher Voltaire jokingly suggested that the nation was not Roman, nor Holy and not even an Empire. This joke was told many times over during the 18th century.