Council of Princes (and Counts)
by V. Rozn (edited by Guy Stair Sainty)
Council of Princes(Fürstenrat)
consisted of two benches or banks (see Appendix): Ecclesiastical (Geistlichebank)
and secular or lay (Weltlichebank). (The house of Austria had the
voices (votes) of Austria and Burgundy on the Ecclesiastical bench).
the end of the 18th century there were one hundred voices (votes)
in the Council of Princes. Usually, a large immediate territory had an
individual voice (Virilstimme). Small territories were grouped in
Curias and had collective or curial voices (Kuriatstimmen).
were two collective voices in the Ecclesiastical bench and four collective
voices on the Secular bench of the Council of Princes.
four collective voices in the Secular bench of the Council of Princes belonged
to the Colleges of the Imperial Counts (Reichsgrafenkollegium) of
Franconia, Swabia, Wetterau and Westphalia.
Colleges of the Imperial Counts of Franconia and Swabia also included so-called Personalists.
They were the Imperial counts that had no immediate territory attached to the
Imperial Circles. The houses which enjoyed voices in the Council before 1582,
were called the Old Princely houses (Altfürstliche Häuser) .
the number of
individual secular voices in the Council of Princes was not fixed, and depended
on divisions and inheritance within the ruling families. Each branch of a
princely family had a separate voice. From the end of the 16th century, when new
branches were established, they no longer receives a separate voice
automatically. For example, all branches of the house of Anhalt had to share one
voice in the Council. Also voices of extinct princely houses were preserved and
given to other princely houses that acquired corresponding territories; voices
of extinct branches of princely houses went to their relatives from other
1648 the treaty of Westphalia granted several secularized (former)
ecclesiastical territories and their voices in the Council of Princes to
secular princely houses:
of these former ecclesiastical territories were transferred to the secular bench
(Weltlichebank) of the Council of Princes. In the 17th century similar
rules were introduced in the Colleges of Imperial Counts. Princely houses could
own parts of curial voices of the Colleges. Some branches of the Old Princely
houses were able to accumulate several voices. For example, in 1793, the Hanover
line of the house of Brunswick had six voices in the Council and 3 parts in the
voice of the Westphalian College of Imperial Counts. These houses that received
the right to vote in the Council in the 17th and 18th centuries were called the
New Princely houses (Neufürstliche Häuser). 
the Emperors granted the title of Imperial Prince to immediate comital families,
or to families that did not possess immediate territories, they were not
accepted in the Council of Princes automatically. To obtain the right to vote in
the Council, a new candidate had to meet certain requirements. The most
important of these was ownership of an immediate territory included in one of
the Imperial Circles. Furthermore, the new candidate had to obtain the consent
of other members of the Council.
were two distinct categories of the New Princely houses:
houses that owned Imperial immediacy before the 14th century. All of these apart
from Schwarzenberg were ancient comital houses.
The families that acquired small immediate territories in the 17th or 18th
centuries to satisfy the above-mentioned requirement. 
After the 15th century, most ruling houses gradually started to introduce the principle of primogeniture. Thus, principalities and counties were no longer divided among multiple heirs. Sometimes younger sons of rulers were given territories as apanages without sovereign rights (e.g. Brandenburg-Schwedt, Hesse-Philippsthal, Lippe-Biesterfeld, Lippe-Weissenfels, Reuss-Köstritz, Holstein-Sonderburg etc).
Princely houses of the Empire at the end of the 16th century:
Dukes of Saxony-Lauenburg
(the house of Ascanien);
of Saxony-Wittenberg(the house of Wettin);
of Lorraine (then as Marquises/Markgraves of Nomeny);
of Bavaria, Counts Palatine of Rhine (the house of Wittelsbach);
of Anhalt(the house of Ascanien);
of Mecklenburg (the house of Niklot);
of Brandenburg (the house of Hohenzollern);
of Baden and Hochberg (the house of Zaehringen);
of Hesse (the house of Brabant or Louvain);
of Austria, Dukes of Carinthia and Styria, Counts of Tirol,etc (the house of
of Brunswick and Luneburg (the house of Este or Welf);
of Jülich, Kleve and Berg;
of Brabant, Gelderland, Limburg and Luxembourg (the house of Habsburg)(King of
Spain as Duke of Burgundy);
of Holstein (the house of Oldenburg);
of Württemberg and Counts of Mömpelgard;
houses of Pomerania, Habsburg, Henneberg, Jülich-Kleve and Leuchtenberg became
extinct. Other continued to rule until the 20th century. No other house in the
Empire had the power and influence comparable of the Old Princely houses.
house of Arenberg received the rank of Prince in 1576.
As a rule, voices of extinct Old Princely houses went to other Old princes:
voice of Saxony-Lauenburg to Dukes of Brunswick;
voice of Pomerania to Markgraves of Brandenburg and Kings of Sweden;
voice of Archdukes of Austria, etc to Dukes of Lorraine;
voice of Duke of Burgundy to Archdukes of Austria;
voice of Leuchtenberg to Dukes of Bavaria;
voice of Henneberg to Dukes of Saxony-Wittenberg;
were two exceptions:
One of the voices of Pomerania went to Vasa, the royal house of Sweden. This
dynasty was succeeded in Sweden by the houses of Palatinate-Zweibrücken, Hesse-Kassel
and Holstein-Gottorp, which did belong to the Old Princely houses.
1708, during the war of the Spanish succession the Landgravate of Leuchtenberg was
given to Princes of Lamberg. The Lambergs did not belong to Old Princely houses.
In 1712 Leuchtenberg was returned to Dukes of Bavaria. The house of Lamberg
owned no immediate territories before 1708 and after 1712.
voices of extinct Old Princely houses were excluded from the Council of Princes
even in the 17th century. E.g. the voice of the Marburg line of the house of
Hesse, which became extinct in 1604, was not preserved; the voice of Duke of Jülich,
Kleve and Berg was also excluded from the Council (the Markgraf of Brandenburg and
the Count Palatine in Neuburg, heirs to the last Duke, could not come to an agreement).
The New Princely houses accepted in the Council of Princes with an individual
voice between 1582 and 1803:
Eggenberg (the voice became extinct in 1717);
Piccolomini (the voice became extinct in 1656);
Nassau-Hadamar & Nassau-Siegen;
Nassau-Dillenburg & Nassau-Diez;
Portia (Porcia) (the voice became extinct in 1665);
East Frisia (Ostfriesland);
Waldeck-Eisenberg (the voice became extinct in 1692);
Churchill-Marlborough (the voice became extinct in 1714);
Thurn & Taxis;
The immediate territories acquired by the New Princely houses were:
Gradisca in the Imperial
Circle of Austria acquired by Eggenberg;
in the Imperial Circle of Bavaria acquired by Lobkowitz;
in the Imperial Circle of Austria acquired by Dietrichstein;
in the Imperial Circle of Swabia acquired by Auersperg;
in the Imperial Circle of Swabia acquired by Churchill-Marlborough;
& Vaduz in the Imperial Circle of Swabia acquired by Liechtenstein;
and then Sheer & Friedberg in the Imperial Circle of Swabia acquired by Thurn &
house of Auersperg, did not acquire an immediate territory until after it was
accepted as a member of the Council. The voices of Princes Piccolomini and Portia became
extinct in the first generation because they failed to acquire an immediate
lordship of Mindelheim was returned to Bavaria in 1714 and its voice in the
Council became extinct. Bavaria did not have any vote for this territory until 1803.