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The Imperial Villages (Reichsdörfer, singular Reichsdorf) were the smallest component entities of the Holy Roman Empire.[1] They possessed imperial immediacy, having no lord but the Emperor, but were not estates. They were unencircled and did not have representation in the Imperial Diet. Their inhabitants were free men.[2]

The Imperial Villages—relics of the royal demesne during the era of the Hohenstaufen—were all located in southern and western Germany and in Alsace.[2] Originally there were 120 villages, but this number was greatly reduced by the early modern period. At the time of the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss—the final imperial reform—in 1803, there were only five: Gochsheim, Sennfeld, the Free Men of the Leutkircher Heath, Soden and Sulzbach. These had preserved their rights of justice and their free status for centuries without force of arms, a "testimony to the progressive 'juridification' of the Reich".[2] Although constitutionally the smallest entities of the Empire, the size of an Imperial Village varied. The territory of the Free Men of the Leutkircher Heath surrounded the Imperial City of Leutkirch on three sides and its area was nearly four times as large.

The Imperial ValleyEdit

The Imperial Valley (Reichstal) of the Harmersbach was an immediate territory in the Harmersbach river valley of the Black Forest near the Kinzig, which existed in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Politically, it possessed a similar structure to the Free Men of the Leutkircher Heath, being something of a free peasant republic, yet was the only officially designated Reichstal in the Empire. The Reichstal was approached from the Free Imperial City of Zell am Harmersbach at the mouth of the valley. Although medieval leases placed the Reichstal under the legal power of Zell, disputes finally led the Emperor Leopold I to dissolve the contract in 1689, and the valley's complete immediacy to the Emperor was recognized in 1718. The Reichstal was annexed by Baden in 1806.

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Whaley 2012, p. 44: "the most minuscule and least significant independent entities of the Reich".
  2. ^ a b c Whaley 2012, p. 44.

SourcesEdit

  • Kümin, Beat (2015). "Rural Autonomy and Popular Politics in Imperial Villages". German History. 33 (2): 194–213.
  • Whaley, Joachim (2012). Germany and the Holy Roman Empire, Volume I: Maximilian I to the Peace of Westphalia, 1493–1648. Oxford: Oxford University Press.