If you thought you properly understood how the Empire worked at long last – then think again! There was always some wrinkle or exception to the rule, but perhaps no rules were more important than those concerning the role of Electors. We touched on them in the last episode, but here we place them in their proper context, and unwrap what specifically made them so important to the functioning of the Empire. The Habsburgs, powerful though they were, depended upon the Electors for their legitimacy, and after the Reformation, the seven invaluable votes which could be offered were split along these lines. What was the solution? To a generation of Habsburg rulers, it was quite simple – maintain such a monopoly on power that the votes come in regardless. How to manage this feat? Marriage, of course!
Into this examination we throw several wrenches, including the Julich-Cleve Crisis of 1609-14, which provided a dangerous training ground for the two ideological blocs of the Empire to square off. Another incident, the destruction of the city of Donauworth in 1608, and its capture by the Duke of Bavaria, also deserves mention. The Empire, stable though it somehow remained, was in danger of a major rupture if calmer heads did not prevail. Somewhere to the west, an individual was seeking an opportunity to capitalise, and bring his Kingdom to the front of the Emperor’s lists of problems. Henry IV, the King of France, had emerged triumphant from the French Wars of Religion, but this scion of the House of Bourbon had a way to go before he could sponsor the showdown with the Habsburgs that his son and grandson were to pursue. Tune into episode 3 to see exactly how Europe sustained such domineering personalities and powers!
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