Source: Oliver J. Thatcher and Edgar Holmes McNeal, eds., Source Book for Mediæval History (New York: Scribners, 1905; reprint AMS Press, 1971), 271-76. Transcribed and with analysis by Stephanie Corrigan.
We, Adolf, by the grace of
God count of Nassau, etc. Long before the empire was made vacant by the
death of Rudolf, king of the Romans, we had vowed to God to go on a crusade,
if it were possible, and to render a pleasing service to god for the remission
of our sins. Now we could do much more for the honor of God and the
recovery of the holy land, if we, although unworthy, were elected king
of the Romans. Since our reverend father, Siegfried, archbishop of
Cologne, is laboring for our election and will vote for us, of our own
free will and accord we promise and bind ourselves by our word of honor
and by our oath to do the following things:
(1) If we are elected king of the Romans, we will protect and defend the church and all ecclesiastical persons in all their rights and liberties, and if damage is done them, we will endeavor to make it good. And we promise this especially of the church of Cologne, which has now for a long time been suffering from her heavy losses and misfortunes.
(2) Even if the other electors do not vote for us, we will accept the election at the hands of the archbishop of Cologne, and we will never give up the right to the crown which his vote gives us.
(3) And because the empire can not prosper if the holy church of Cologne, which has suffered so many losses and misfortunes, is not first restored by the aid of the empire, we promise and by our own free will and accord bind ourselves by our word of honor and by our oath that if the archbishop votes for us, we will surrender to him and to his successors and to the church of Cologne the fortresses and strongholds, Cochem, Wied, Landskrone, Sinzig, Duisburg, and Dortmundm in order that he may better defend and preserve the right of the realm and of the empire in those parts, and also the rights of the church of Cologne, against their enemies and opponents. We will free these places from the claims of those who now hold them, and we will give them, with all their rights, income, jurisdiction, tolls and belongings, to be held and possessed by the said archbishop and his successors and the church of Cologne as long as we live. And we will never demand them, or any part of their income, of the archbishop as long as we live. We grant that all their income, rolls, and profits during our reign to the archbishop in return for his services in holding them against out enemies and those of the empire. We reserve for ourselves only the free right to enter the said places whenever it may be necessary.
(4) The said archbishop and the church of Cologne had pawned their castles, Leggenich, Wied, Waldenburg, Rodenburg, and Aspel, to count Adolf de Monte for a certain sum of money in order to liberate the archbishop from captivity; but the Roman church has ordered and said count under threat of excommunication and interdict to restore freely and entirely the said castles to the archbishop and his church and had commissioned Rudolf, the late king of the Romans, to see that he did so. We promise therefore that we will compel count Adolf and his heirs to surrender the said castles and the village of Deutz to the archbishop and his church without any loss and without the payment of any money.
(5) We also promise to restore to the said archbishop the advocacy and jurisdiction in Essen, and the manors of Westhoven, Brakel, and Elnenhorst, and we guarantee to him the peaceable possession of them.
(6) We also promise to maintain the archbishop and his successors in the possession of the castles Wassenberg and Leidberg, and we will aid them against the duke of Brabant and the count of Flanders and all others who may attempt to invade and seize these possessions.
(7) If the archbishop or his successors and the church of Cologne wish at their own expense to rebuild that castles, Worrigen, Ysenburg, Werl, Minden, Ravensberg, Volmarstein, Hallenberg, and the other castles of the church of Cologne which were destroyed during the captivity of the archbishop, we promise to resist all violence offered them while doing so, and we will use our royal power against those who try to prevent them from rebuilding them.
(8) We also promise to confirm the archbishop in the possession of the tolls at Andernach and Rheinberg, and we will renew all the grants which have been made by emperors and kings to the said church.
(9) We also promise to restore to the archbishop and to the church of Cologne the castle and possessions at Zelten, of which the archbishop was deprived during his captivity by the count of Veldenz.
(10) We also promise to compel the citizens of Cologne to make the proper satisfaction to the archbishop and the church of Cologne for their offences against the archbishop. They have now been excommunicated a year and a day and their offence is notorious, and if they do not make the proper satisfaction to the archbishop, we will, at the request of the archbishop and the church of Cologne, proscribe the citizens confiscate their property. And we will labor with all our might and at our own expense to aid the archbishop and his successors and the church of Cologne against the citizens and all who aid them. We will not cease to make war on them nor will we make a peace, truce, or agreement with them without the consent of the archbishop, and in such matters we will follow his wishes.
(11) We also promise that if the citizens submit to the archbishop, or are subjected by him, we will not in any way interfere in the affairs of the city, nor will we require and oath of fidelity and homage from the citizens, because the city belongs completely to the archbishop and he has the jurisdiction over it in all matters both spiritual and temporal.
(12) We also promise to renew and confirm the archbishop and the church of Cologne their protection of the monastery of Corvey, which was granted them by Rudolf, king of the Romans, and we will recover for the church of Corvey all the castles and strongholds which have been violently taken from her.
(13) We promise to give the archbishop and the church of Cologne 25,000 silver marks toward defraying the necessary expenses which he and the church of Cologne are bound to have in performing the services which they owe to the empire.
(14) In order to secure the observance of these promises, we agree to get the castles, Nassau, Dillenburg, Ginsberg, and Segen, with the full consent of count Henry, his wife, and his brother, Emicho, and also Braubach, Rheinfels, Limburg, and the castle and town of Velmar, with the consent of their lords and their heirs, and we will put all these places into the hands of the archbishop, his successors, and the church of Cologne, to be held at our expense. We will name fifty nobles and knights as good and legal security, and if the archbishop wishes, we will go to Bonn with these fifty nobles within fifteen days and we will not leave Bonn until each and all of these promises have been fulfilled, or security given that they will be fulfilled to the satisfaction of the archbishop.
(15) We also agree that if we act contrary to there our promises, or fail to give the archbishop security, we shall thereby be deposed and we shall lose the kingdom to which we have been elected, and in that case we will renounce all claim upon the realm which we acquired by the election. And the electors shall proceed to elect another king, if the archbishop think it best
(16) We will not demand the coronation, or consecration, or installation, in Aachen from the archbishop, nor in any way trouble him about it until we have given him full security that we will do all that we have promised.
(17) We will likewise cancel the debt which the archbishop owes us on account of the tolls at Andernach, which he had pawned to us.
(18) We further promise to call before our court the trial which is pending between the archbishop and the count of Nassau for the recovery of losses and damages, and we will decide it according to the desire of the archbishop.
(19) We also promise to seek the friendship and favor of Otto “with the arrow,” the margrave of Brandenburg, for the archbishop and the church of Cologne, as well as the favor of count Otto of Everstein.
(20) If the children of the late William, brother of Walram, who is now count of Julich, bring suit or make war on the present count, Walram, for the possession of the county or other possessions we will assist count Walram. And we will aid him against the duke of Brabant, the count of Flanders, and others who may make war on him.
(21) We will give the said count Walram the town of Duren as long as we live.
(22) The office of Schultheiss of Aachen, with all the rights of that office, we will give to whomsoever the archbishop may choose.
(23) Rudolf, king of the Romans, was in debt to the said count, Walram, and had given him his note. In regard to this debt we will consult our friends and the archbishop, and we will do what is right and in come way satisfy the count.
(24) We also promise that so long as we live we will be favorable and friendly to the archbishop and the church of Cologne, and we will aid them against their enemies, and without the consent of the archbishop and his successors, we will never take the counts of Monte and Marka, or the duke of Brabant, or other enemies of the church of Cologne into our counsel and confidence.
(25) In testimony of this we have attached our seal to this writing.
(26) We, John, lord of Limburg; Ulric, lord of Hagenau; Godfrey of Merenberg; and John of Rheinberg, at the command of count Adolf, have sworn and promised that we will compel the said count Adolf to fulfill each and all of these promises without treachery or fraud. And we have affixed our seals to this document.
(27) Besides we, Adolf, promise under the threat of the aforesaid punishments, that we will not enfeoff (sic) anyone with the duchies of Austria and Limburg, which have reverted to the crown, nor will we make any disposition of them without the express and written consent and permission of the archbishop.
This document was authored
by Adolf, Count of Nassau, during his candidacy for the throne of the Holy
Roman Empire. As a nobleman one might expect his tone of address
to reflect an inbred sense of importance. He does make use of the
royal “we” as if he has already been elected, but the primary tone of the
document shows great restraint and supplication rather than arrogance.
He makes major concessions and promises to the archbishop of Cologne, even
saying the empire could not prosper without a powerful Cologne. As
a candidate for the throne he must appear not as a nobleman, but as a public
official trying to prove himself the best candidate. Just as politicians
today attempt to give the impression that they serve the public’s best
interest, Adolf must prove he represents the archbishop’s best interests.
He does this well, proving himself a politician as well as a nobleman.
The document appears to be a private letter. It is written explicitly to gain the favor of the archbishop, and bribes, generally not considered in a positive light, are usually kept private. Several things about this document imply, however, that, while written in the form of private discourse, it may have been intended for the public eye. Certainly, the archbishop would want others to know the promises made to him, so that, were Adolf to default on his word, he could raise support. Also, the letter is a very formal communication between two very public officials, and it concerns other people. While all the promises benefit the archbishop, some also involve others, such as item twenty, which makes promises to count Walram of Julich. Clearly, Adolf means for this document to reach Walram, as well as other people he mentions. Had Adolf intended the document to remain private, it would have been more informal and contained only promises to the archbishop. Though directed to a single person, this document, would likely have become public domain.
Adolf wrote this letter in 1292 while campaigning for Holy Roman Emperor to secure the vote of the archbishop of Cologne, one of the empire’s electors. He makes a long list of promises that he intends to fulfill during his reign, swears to give up his crown if he fails, and includes witnesses who pledge to make him complete all these tasks. The intense nature of the promises makes clear how desperate Adolf is for this vote, and the intent of the letter is clear. As noted earlier, he is a good politician with no scruples about how he gets what he wants. One can not even say Adolf was persuading the archbishop; the purpose of this letter is outright bribery.
The document is directed to Archbishop Siegfried, a powerful church leader who also serves as an elector for the Holy Roman Empire, which speaks of the relations between church and state at the time. Adolf, campaigning to become ruler of a secular empire, must beg favor from a religious figure. Clearly, the archbishop of Cologne has much secular power in addition to his ecclesiastical power, and he seems very interested in worldly matters, as the promises Adolf makes are secular in nature. He does not assure the archbishop that he will travel through the empire making certain people live like proper Christians, or even that he will expel Jews from the empire. Instead, he promises castles, land, money, and political power, temporal effects of which a truly religious man should think naught. Reading this document, it becomes apparent that there was little or no separation of church and state in this time, as religious leaders held political power, and that church leaders were more concerned with their secular powers than their ecclesiastical duties.
This document consists entirely of political promises. Today, political promises are often made and broken, and politicians in the thirteenth century were probably just as untrustworthy. Adolf makes Archbishop Siegfried numerous excessive promises, offering him money and large amounts of land and other holdings. He is clearly quite desperate to win the election and will say whatever he deems necessary. Therefore, while the basic facts of the letter should not be doubted, and the integrity of the document as a whole has not been damaged, one should question the intent behind it. At the very least his promises are unrealistic because he pledges to give the archbishop lands currently under the control of other people, something he simply may not be able to do. Thus, the archbishop should have been skeptical about whether Adolf could fulfill his promises and even more skeptical about whether he intended to, as the likelihood of honesty seems questionable.
The nature of this letter and the promises therein imply that political maneuverings of this sort were commonplace. As campaign promises are today a matter of course, so they seem in this era. The extravagant nature of Adolf’s promises imply that he is trying to outdo other people who have come before him, as well as the people running against him in 1292. The very first attempted political bribe would likely not involve pledges of this magnitude, nor would they be presented in such a formal, matter-of-fact manner, that would certainly be seen by the public. Even more telling is the fact that the person he attempts to bribe is an archbishop, a high church official. Adolf does not fear insulting the archbishop by attempted bribery. In fact, it seems to be an accepted part of the election process. Adolf’s assumption that bribery is the best way to achieve his goals shows the widespread corruption of both the political system and the church during the Middle Ages.
The two things about the society that produced this document that are most apparent from reading it are the shameless way in which candidates for Holy Roman Emperor bribed electors and the great secular power of church officials. Something else that can be noted from this document, however, is that the Holy Roman Emperor did not have much real authority. Often, when one thinks of kings one envisions absolute power, but these leaders clearly have no such influence. First, Adolf and other emperors must be elected, granting immense power to the nobles who serve as electors. Even after the election, Adolf will continue to be subject to those around him. To keep his promises he must spend much time fulfilling the wishes of the archbishop of Cologne and the other electors. His power rests with the favor of the archbishop, as he promises to give up the throne if he does not keep his word. Also, he promises to consult both the archbishop and his other friends (likely other influential nobles) on important decisions. This greatly empowers nobles while limiting the power of the emperor. Adolf’s letter makes clear the fact that the Holy Roman Emperors ruled weakly over a state controlled by influential, power-hungry nobles.
Though much about this society can be inferred from Adolf’s letter, there are several things which it hints at without providing a full explanation. As a result, the reader is left with questions about the people and society that produced this document. For example, who was Adolf of Nassau and were his promises successful in getting him elected? Adolf, Count of Nassau did win the 1292 election for Holy Roman Emperor (Strauss 487), during a very interesting period in the Holy Roman Empire’s political history. From 1250 until 1273, a period known as the Interregnum, no Holy Roman Emperor was elected. During this time the nobles grew very powerful, so when they finally decided to elect a new emperor they wanted him to be weak (“Holy” 298). They chose the first Hapsburg emperor, Rudolf I, an ambitious member of a relatively new noble family. Rudolf proved too ambitious for the elector princes, conquering lands to increase his family’s power. Upon his death the electors avoided choosing his son Albert for fear of a growing Hapsburg dynasty (Lodge 11). They wanted a prince even smaller and less powerful than Rudolf. Thus, they chose Adolf, a poor count of a small area (Strauss 487). The electors wanted Adolf to be emperor even before the promises he gave to the various electors made him an even more desirable choice. The promises could only be fulfilled by limiting imperial power, which was the electors’ goal (Lodge 11).
In his letter to Siegfried Adolf seems excessively submissive, everything the electors were looking for, but it says nothing of his true character or his real goals as emperor. As soon as he was elected, Adolf defaulted on all his promises (Lodge 11-12). Like Rudolf before him, Adolf proved more ambitious then the electors had anticipated. He made deals with lesser nobles, conquered lands to help his family, and made alliances with England and France (Strauss 487). In 1298 the electors deposed him in favor of Rudolf’s son Albert, and he was killed at the Battle of Gollheim fighting to keep his throne (Lodge 13).
The document also mentions, without elaboration, the system of elections. It fails to answer the question of how the election process developed and who served as electors. From the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire, rulers were elected, and originally the elections were fairly open to the general public. It was not until the twelfth century that the voting was restricted to the nobles (Rowan 491). In 1292 candidates for emperor were nominated by all the nobles. Then a group of the seven highest nobles voted for the final choice (Rowan 491). In the early days of the empire there was much conflict as to who would hold each electoral position, as formal electors were not chosen until the passing of a document known as the Golden Bull in 1356 (Lodge 116-117). By the end of the Interregnum, however, the policies for election were established as during that period the Pope offered many influential opinions on how the elections should be conducted, and the topic was under much discussion by scholars (Rowan 492). Thus, the electors and their ceremonial jobs were much the same in 1292 as they were when officially designated in 1356. The seven electors were the archbishops of Mainz, Cologne, and Trier as well as the count-palatine of the Rhine, the duke of Saxony, the Margrave of Brandenburg, and the king of Bohemia (Strauss 487). Each of the secular electors had a ceremonial job which they performed at coronations. The count-palatine was the lord steward, the duke of Saxony was lord marshal, the Margrave was lord chamberlain, and the king of Bohemia was lord butler (Rowan 491). These electors represented the most powerful nobles in Germany, and the common policy of bribing electors allowed them often to increase their powers (Thatcher 270). Also, with the passing of the Golden Bull, they gained more official powers raising them higher above the other nobility (Lodge 116-117).
Another unanswered question deals with Archbishop Siegfried and his captivity. It clearly caused Cologne and the archbishop to lose power, but the exact circumstances are unclear. Siegfried always had an interest in secular matters, and when first chosen archbishop he attempted to obtain more land and influence. This thirst for power led to war between Cologne and the dukes of Brabant and in 1288 Siegfried was taken prisoner at the Battle of Worrington. During his captivity, the duke of Brabant took many of Siegfried’s holdings (Thatcher 270).
He also lost land and power to the people of Cologne. For hundreds of years the archbishop served as overlord for the vast duchy of Cologne. Due to his great secular power, the office of archbishop was generally held by a local churchman chosen by election. Siegfried, however, was a foreigner that the Pope placed in power, overriding the people’s election (Mahler 31-32). At first the people of Cologne accepted Siegfried as their leader partly because of ongoing hostilities between Cologne and Julich (Mahler 51-52). Despite the united front, however, the people resented being lorded over by someone they had not chosen, and, during Siegfried’s imprisonment by the duke of Brabant, the people of Cologne revolted and seized much of the land Brabant had left and destroyed numerous castles (Thatcher 270). The people refused to return anything they had taken, and though the archbishop remained an influential elector, the losses suffered at the Battle of Worrington cost him much of his political power (Mahler 100).
Adolf supported Siegfried in the Battle of Worrington which explains why Siegfried would support him for emperor (Mahler 100). The political situation of the archbishop also makes it easier to understand some of his more obscure demands on Adolf. In the above document Adolf promises to consider the people of Cologne enemies until such time as they reimburse their archbishop. He also promises to support the current count of Julich over the descendents of the previous count who had warred against Siegfried (Mahler 53), and to help in war against the duke of Brabant who was responsible for the archbishop’s imprisonment. In addition, he pledges to force Count Adolf of Monte to return the land he received in return for the money used to secure Siegrfried’s release. He had been ordered by the pope to free Siegfried of his debts but had refused to do so, retaining possession of many of Siegfried’s holdings (Mahler 98-99). All of these things seem fairly disjointed after a simple reading of the letter, but upon closer study they all result from the losses the archbishop suffered during the Battle of Warrington and his captivity.
The archbishop of Cologne is an ecclesiastical authority as are two of the other electors. Adolf consequently must agree to surrender much of his power not only to an independent noble but to a representative of the larger church. Clearly, the church has a large degree of power in the Holy Roman Empire, but the relations between the two are not well defined in the document. From the beginning of the empire, much of its authority rested with the Catholic Church. Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, was crowned by Pope Leo III in 800 AD, and many of the other emperors were consequently crowned by the Pope (Pennington 41). For several hundred years land passed back and forth between the empire and the church as they struggled for power. The emperor struggled to unite Germany and control both Italy and the pope (Flick 11). For a while, he controlled the power to choose archbishops and other officials within the empire and sometimes even controlled papal elections (Pennington 43). However, the emperor lost power to the pope as well as the nobles during the Interregnum. It was Pope Gregory IX who demanded an end to the Interregnum, and advised the electoral college to choose a leader with limited powers (Mahler 25). This was the policy they held for the next 150 years, electing only weak rulers so that Germany failed in its goals to unify and to control the papacy (“Holy” 298). After Rudolf the connection between the empire and the church slowly dissolved and few of the emperors went to Rome to be crowned (Flick 11). At the time of Adolf, the church was still struggling to subjugate the emperors, as reflected in the large concessions that Adolf made to the archbishop. The Golden Bull of 1356, which served as a constitution for the empire until its fall, made no allowances for the Pope to choose emperors or to rule in their absence as had previously been done (Lodge 117). Thus the empire and the church, once very closely linked, became separate as the empire grew weaker. The time of Adolf’s election was one of transition between empire and church powers.
This document provides fascinating insight into the political workings of the Holy Roman Empire. Adolf’s list of campaign promises to Archbishop Siegfried show the strong, though corrupt, secular power of the church, and the weakness of the Holy Roman Emperors. It also provided hints to further research for a more complete understanding of the period. The time surrounding Adolf’s election was marked by internal and external power struggles, as the empire grappled with the church, and the nobles fought with the emperors.
Flick, Alexander Clarence. The Decline of the Medieval Church. New York: Burt Franklin, 1967.
“Holy Roman Empire.” World Book Encyclopedia. Vol 9. 1999 ed. Chicago: World Book, 1999. 298-299.
Lodge, R. The Close of the Middle Ages. 4th ed. London: Rivingtons, 1910.
Mahler, Jan. The Battle of Worrington, 1288: The History and Mythology of a Notable Event. Diss. U of Alberta, 1993.
Pennington, K. “Holy Roman Empire.” New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol 7. Ed. Marthaler, Bernard L. New York: Thomas Gale, 2003.
Rowan, Stephen. “Germany: Electors.” Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Vol 5. Ed. Joseph R. Botroyer. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985. 491-493.
Strauss, Gerald. “Germany: 1254-1493.” Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Vol 5. Ed. Joseph R. Botroyer. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons 1985. 485-491.
Thatcher, Oliver J. A Source Book for Medieval History.
New York: AMS press, 1971.
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