Emperors, Kings, Counts, and the Most Important Cannon in European History
During his lifetime, Charles IV drew into his person enormous amounts of power not seen in the Holy Roman Empire since the time of Frederick II Hohenstaufen. As well as being Emperor, he was the king of Bohemia, king of Italy, king of Burgundy, Count of Luxembourg, and Margrave and Elector of Brandenburg. Upon his death, all of his titles went to his son Wenceslaus, except the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which went to his younger son Sigismund along with the title of Elector.
Four years later, Sigismund’s wife, Mary, became king (not queen) of Hungary and he became her co-ruler, though in reality he was to be the true monarch. Sigismund pawned Brandenburg to his cousin Jobst, already the Margrave of Moravia and duke of the new Duchy of Luxembourg, for money to keep his unstable throne. Nine years of tribulation follow, but Sigismund was finally able to sit secure as king of Hungary. His wife Mary died in 1395 in a riding accident while heavily pregnant.
Meanwhile in Germany, the unpopular Wenceslaus was deposed as King of the Romans by Rupert, the Elector Palatine, in 1400. Rupert, now King of Germany, ruled for ten years, but like his predecessor was never able to secure the title of Emperor. Rupert lacked real support in the Empire and failed to achieve lasting peace, though he kept his throne due to the laziness of Wenceslaus at reclaiming it.
When Rupert died in 1410, Jobst was elected as King of Germany by four of the imperial electors, with three supporting Sigismund. Sigismund disputed Jobst’s claim to Brandenburg and sent his loyal friend and ally Frederick Hohenzollern, Burgrave of Nuremberg, to represent him at the imperial election. Jobst’s mysterious death in 1411 removed all problems for Sigismund, who was duly elected King of Germany and became the most powerful sovereign in the west. Sigismund would make his way to Rome to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1433, just four years before his death.
But what of Frederick? For all his services in war and peace, Frederick was given the Margraviate of Brandenburg along with the Electorate, with one stroke making the Hohenzollerns one of the most important and powerful families in Germany. The Brandenburgian nobles were not pleased and it took Frederick years to crush their rebellions. And crush them he did, borrowing Faule Grete from the Teutonic Order. The cannon, almost 5 tons in weight and capable of firing a ball 50 cm in diameter, brought the rebels to heel in weeks. Firmly established, the House of Hohenzollern would rule Brandenburg for the next 500 years.
Pictures, top row, left to right- Charles IV, Charles’ Bohemian holdings
Middle: Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary
Bottom: Jobst of Moravia, Frederick I Elector of Brandenburg