Cologne ~ Archbishopric


COLOGNE ~ Archbishopric.   KÖLN.

Coat of arms of Cologne diocese

Coat of arms of Cologne diocese (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The most northerly of the three Electoral Archbishoprics of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Archbishop’s province occupied the northwest of the Empire. It extended northwards along the middle and lower Meuse (from about the present frontier between France and Belgium), along the lower Rhine (from somewhat below its confluence with the Mosel), and along the entire Ems. In its easternmost diocese (Minden), it reached beyond the Weser and the Aller.

The Bishopric of Cologne, which had existed since Roman times, became the head of the missionary province for the Saxons in 794/5, during Charlemagne’s reign. It reached potentially towards Scandinavia, but with the creation of the Archbishopric of Hamburg in 834, Cologne’s days as a missionary province, except to the Frisians, were done.

The Archbishop’s temporal principality, acquired over centuries, extended in a long strip along the left bank of the Rhine from some way above Bonn towards the County (later Duchy) of Cleves, where the Rhine starts  to swing westwards towards its delta. The city of Cologne however was virtually independent long before it was recognised as an Imperial Free City in 1474. The Archbishops resided in Bonn and ruled their principality from there, its first taste as a capital city.

Somewhat higher up the Rhine the Archbishops acquired small territories on the right bank around Altwied and on the left bank as a result of the breakup of the County of Ahr.  In the northeast, south of the River Lippe, beyond the Rhine and the County of Berg, the Archbishops acquired the district around Recklinghausen in the 13th century.   In the east, beyond both Berg and Mark, they held the County of Arnsberg, which was acquired in two parts, one in 1102 and the other in 1368.

The Archbishops acquired ducal rights between the Rhine and the Meuse in 1151, and in Westphalia and Engern (the west and centre of the Duchy of Saxony) in 1180, when Henry the Lion was deposed from the Duchy. The County of Arnsberg, the Archbishops’ possession, became known as the Duchy of Westphalia, even though it only occupied a small part of that region.

Though the Archbishops enjoyed lofty sounding authority their actual power was circumscribed by their neighbours, and twice in the later middle ages they endured galling defeat.

In 1288 the Duke of Brabant gained control over the Duchy of Limburg against a coalition backed by the Archbishop, who had no wish to see so powerful a prince encamped in a principality east of the Maas and bordering on Jülich, the refractory neighbour that the Archbishop would like to control.

In 1449 the Duke of Cleves, who was also Count of Mark, succeeded after several years in wresting the town of Soest in the Duchy of Westphalia and adding it to Mark.   By then the Archbishops had the ambitious Valois Duke of Burgundy with their vast Netherlandish territories as near neighbour.   The death of the last Valois Duke in 1477 did nothing to ease the Archbishops’ concerns, because the Habsburgs inherited his Netherlandish realm.   In 1511/1521 the Jülich and the Cleves complexes came together, uniting the two most powerful of Cologne’s immediate neighbours.

In the later middle ages the Archbishops came in general from the higher nobility and lesser princes, with the odd major family occasionally providing the Elector, but in 1583, after the Archbishop had married and been deposed, his successor was a Bavarian Wittelsbach.

That family turned Cologne into a family preserve until 1761, by which time they were dying out in the male line.  The last Archbishop was a Habsburg, and so was his elected successor in 1801, but the left bank lands had already been annexed by France and were about to be ceded by the Empire, so the last elected Archbishop renounced the throne.

With the secularisation of the Archbishopric in 1802-3, its southern right bank lands were divided between Wied-Runkel and Nassau-Usingen (and reunited under the latter in 1806).  Recklinghausen went to the Duke of Aremberg and in 1810 to the Grand Duchy of Berg, whilst the Duchy of Westphalia became part of the Grand Duchy of Hesse.

In 1815 all the lands of the former Electorate, left- and right-bank, were included in Prussia and by 1824 were divided between the Rheinprovinz and Westfalen.

Cologne again became an Archbishopric in 1821, with its province in the western Prussian lands.  The province has been reorganised since.

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