Die Goldene Bulle

The Golden Bull of Emperor Charles IV (1356) at the Institute for the History of Frankfurt is an outstanding document of Germany’s constitutional history. Its seven existing copies and the illuminated manuscript of King Wenceslas (1400) were listed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in June 2013. In the foyer of the institute visitors find a media point, which enables them to flip through the original as well as various text versions (Latin text, English translation, 1371 Frankfurt translation, modern German translation) and to access extensive information about the seal itself, the content and the reception. Additionally a CD-ROM made for an exhibition celebrating the 650 year jubilee of the Golden Bull in 2006, which offers the same contents as the media point and the digital presentation excluding the English translation, is available in the institute. The purpose of this media point is to give you an intensive digital glimpse of this important item in our global documentary heritage. As the original is highly vulnerable, it is not available for public viewing but is kept in the vaults of the Institute.

However, you can browse (Manuscript) the original Golden Bull in digitised form (“Page View”). You can either select

To show the translations, click on the arrow on the left of the ribbon and select the option "Activate Fulltext". The respective translation will now appear next to the original.

Golden Bull
© ISG FFM, Foto: Uwe Dettmar

Information concerning the Golden Bull and the UNESCO-“Memory of the World” Register

1. Introduction
2. The Document
3. The Seal
4. The Reception
5. UNESCO Memory of the World Register
6. Index of the Golden Bull

1. Introduction

The Golden Bull was the most important constitutional document of the Holy Roman Empire until the Empire came to an end during Napoleonic times in 1806. Written in Latin, it specified the procedure for electing German Emperors and was created at the initiative of the Roman-German Emperor Charles IV (1346/49-1378). The name, which is derived from the golden seal of the document, came to be used from the 15th century onwards. The decree expressed in the Golden Bull was an important act in a period of European history when many different cultures and nations belonged to the Holy Roman Empire. After repeated disputes and wars concerning the imperial succession, Emperor Charles IV issued the Golden Bull as an Empire-wide regulation on the election of a new King. The purpose of this constitutional document was to stabilise the Holy Roman Empire and to avoid future conflicts within this large and heterogeneous political structure.

Today’s federal structure of Germany is in many ways based on the Golden Bull. In order to obtain the consent of the Prince Electors for the regulations on royal elections, Charles IV granted them a range of important royal rights. This strengthened their territories towards the imperial throne and ultimately led to today’s large number of cultural centres in Germany.

The Golden Bull was also crucial for Frankfurt. What made Frankfurt such as central hub beyond the demise of the Old German Empire was not just its good geographical position, its two exhibition centres and – since 1585 – the stock exchange, but particularly also its status as an election venue, as specified in the Golden Bull, and – from 1562 onwards – its function as a coronation venue. In 1816 Frankfurt became the seat of the Bundestag (Federal Convention) of the Deutsche Bund (German Confederation), and in 1848/49 the Nationalversammlung (National Assembly), Germany’s first democratically elected parliament, which was convened at the Paulskirche (St Paul’s Church) in Frankfurt. In 1949, when a federal capital was chosen for post-war West Germany, Frankfurt was only very narrowly defeated by Bonn. The city’s historic and economic significance also explains its role in accommodating the European Central Bank.

In 2013 the Golden Bull was recorded in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. This programme has two major purposes: first, to provide worldwide access to culturally significant and historically important documents, and secondly to save such documentary heritage from oblivion and destruction.

Further details of the Golden Bull in general and the Frankfurt copy in particular can be found in the following publications:

  • Evelyn Brockhoff and Michael Matthäus (eds.), UNESCO-Weltdokumentenerbe Goldene Bulle, Frankfurt am Main 2015 (available from the Institute for the History of Frankfurt).
  • Evelyn Brockhoff and Michael Matthäus (eds.), Die Kaisermacher – Frankfurt am Main und die Goldene Bulle 1356–1806, Aufsätze, Frankfurt am Main 2006 (available from the Institute for the History of Frankfurt).
  • Ulrike Hohensee, Mathias Lawo, Michael Lindner, Michael Menzel, Olaf B. Rader (eds.), Die Goldene Bulle: Politik – Wahrnehmung – Rezeption, 2 volumes, Berlin 2009.

2. The Document

The Golden Bull was issued by Emperor Charles IV (1346-1378) in 1356 and is regarded as one of the most important documents of German constitutional history and as a first “Basic Law” of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. For the first time binding political rules were established for royal elections. Moreover, the document was not the result of a ruler’s absolute power, but of a carefully negotiated balance of interests among a small group of political protagonists. The election rules of the Golden Bull continued to be in force until the end of the Old German Empire.

When Emperor Charles IV and the Prince Electors set up their joint document, they did so on the basis of experience: “A kingdom that is divided within itself will become desolate.” For one and a half centuries there had been double elections and elections of counter-kings – a situation which often led to armed conflict, e.g. upon Charles IV’s election in 1346 and 1349. Also, the controversy over the Pope’s influence on the election of German kings had split the Empire quite a few times. The purpose of the Golden Bull was to summarise and clarify rules which, until then, had been no more than traditional customs, and it was hoped that this would have a stabilising effect on the future and maintain peace. Papal demands were tacitly ignored and thus de facto finally rejected.

The Golden Bull contains the resolutions taken at two Court Diets, promulgated in Nuremberg on 10 January 1356 (chapters 1-23) and in Metz on 25 December 1356 (chapters 24-31). After his coronation as Emperor in Rome (5 April 1355) Charles IV convened a Court Diet in Nuremberg on 15 November with the purpose of discussing the five most important issues of the Empire: the selection of secular Prince Electors, regulations for royal elections, a coinage reform, the lowering of toll fees on the Rhine and the securing of public peace.

Negotiations with the Electors proved tedious and required the Emperor to use all his diplomatic skills. Ultimately, however, the wording of the Golden Bull was a compromise: Although Charles IV eventually came to an agreement with the Prince Electors on the procedures for royal elections and on the composition of the Electoral College, he could only obtain their consent through major concessions, i.e. by giving them numerous royal rights (regalia). The other three issues had to be abandoned completely as there was too much resistance from the Prince Electors.

After each chapter had been edited, no further editorial work was applied to the Golden Bull as a whole, but the individual chapters were left in the order in which they had been decided upon. As a result, some of the text may appear unsystematic. Below we will therefore try to summarise the most important points of the Golden Bull under thematic headings.

Emperor, empress and the seven prince electors as dining company
Woodcut from the first illustrated print of the Golden Bull from 1485.
© Die güldin bulle. Straßburg 1485,
Bl. VIIr

The royal election procedure

The Golden Bull ultimately specified Frankfurt as the electoral venue. After all, this was where, until then, most elections had customarily taken place since the mid-12th century. On the other hand, coronations were to be held in Aachen, the main residence of Charlemagne, while the first Court Diet after the election and coronation was to be held in Nuremberg (chapter 29:1). Once the Archbishop of Mainz as the Arch-Chancellor of Germany had learnt of the Emperor’s death, he was given one month to convene the Princes for an election. They then had to travel to Frankfurt within three months of being summoned (chapter 1:15-16). The Golden Bull also contains templates for a letter of intimation (chapter 18) and authorisation (i.e. formal representation) for a Prince Elector’s envoy (chapter 19). During the vacancy of the imperial throne the Count Palatine of the Rhine and the Duke of Saxony were to act as Administrators of the Empire (chapter 5). The Electors’ escorts to Frankfurt were specified in detail (chapter 1:1-14), and such an escort was not permitted to exceed 200 mounted followers and, among them, 50 armed men. If an Elector or his duly authorised envoy failed to take part in an election, he forfeited his right to vote on this occasion (chapter 1:18).

On the morning after their arrival in Frankfurt the Electors were to report to St Bartholomew’s Church where a mass was sung to the Holy Spirit and they then had to swear an electoral oath (chapter 2:1), using the wording provided in the Golden Bull (chapter 2:2). The Archbishop of Mainz, as the electoral officer, asked the other Electors to cast their votes in a specified order (Treves, Cologne, Bohemia, Palatine, Saxony and Brandenburg), concluding with his own vote at the request of his colleagues (chapter 4:2). If the Prince Electors failed to elect a ruler within 30 days, they were to be given a diet of bread and water, thus following the same pattern as cardinals electing a Pope (chapter 2:3). Also, the Golden Bull specified a majority principle whereby a proper election required a majority of votes (chapter 2:4), with the elected person’s vote being the decisive one (chapter 2:5).

Furthermore, the group of Electors was now limited to seven Princes: the Archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Treves, the King of Bohemia, the Court Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony(-Wittenberg) and the Margrave of Brandenburg.

Start of the ceremonial procession of the emperor and the prince electors
Woodcut from the first illustrated print of the Golden Bull from 1485.
© Die güldin bulle. Straßburg 1485,
Bl. XVIv

The order of precedence among Prince Electors in processions and at Court Diets

Nearly one third of the chapters in the Golden Bull contains ceremonial regulations and is about the order of precedence among the Electors and in relation to the remaining Princes. The ranking at ceremonies was not just an embellishment, but had constitutional significance, as it served to stabilise power and dominion and to visualise the Empire’s order and constitution. Mediaeval orders of precedence had very rarely been fixed in writing, so that the Golden Bull was in fact an exception.

The ceremonial regulations of the Golden Bull concerned the positions of the Prince Electors at the imperial table, their order of precedence in ceremonial processions and the performance of their offices. The first point that was specified for Court Diets, in chapter 6, was the preeminence of the Electors over all the other Princes. The King of Bohemia, in particular, took precedence over all the other Kings.

The seating order of the three ecclesiastical Prince Electors and the four secular Prince Electors at a Court Diet shows the ranking of the Electors: the most coveted place to the right of the ruler was the privilege of the Archbishop of Mainz whenever the venue of the convention was in his own archdiocese and lay within the territory of his arch-chancellorship, except the archdiocese of Cologne. Here and within the arch-chancellorship of Italy and Gaul the Archbishop of Cologne was seated at the Emperor’s right hand (chapter 3). Arch-chancellorships were distributed as follows: The Archbishop of Mainz functioned as the Arch-Chancellor for Germany, Cologne for Italy, and Treves for Gaul. The Archbishop of Treves always sat opposite the ruler. Next to the Archbishop of Mainz or Cologne, on the right, sat the King of Bohemia and the Count Palatine of the Rhine, and next to the Archbishop on the left sat the Duke of Saxony and the Margrave of Brandenburg (chapter 4:1). At a banquet the Emperor’s table was 3 feet higher than the Empress’s which, in turn, was 3 feet higher than the Prince Electors’ tables which were all on the same level (chapter 28:1). A Prince Elector’s authorised envoy, on the other hand, was not given a place at the table (chapter 29:2).

Two chapters were devoted to the order of precedence among Prince Electors at ceremonial processions. Following the same rationale as the seating order, the Archbishop of Treves preceded the Emperor, whereas the Archbishops of Mainz and Cologne – depending on their archdiocese or arch-chancellery – marched on his right or left (chapter 21). The Duke of Saxony was the Emperor’s sword-bearer, marching between the ruler and the Archbishop of Treves. The Count Palatine marched to the right of the Duke, bearing the imperial orb, and the Margrave of Brandenburg proceeded on the left, bearing the sceptre. Immediately behind the Emperor marched the King of Bohemia (chapter 22), followed by the ruler’s wife and her entourage (chapter 26:2). Chapter 26 clarified again for all Prince Electors how they were to proceed and which insignia they had to wear at Court Diets. These regulations also included the signet, which was to be borne by the relevant Arch-Chancellor.

The office of the clerical prince electors
Woodcut from the first illustrated print of the Golden Bull from 1485.
© Die güldin bulle. Straßburg 1485,

Procession of Prince Electors according to the Golden Bull (chapters 3, 21 and 22)

Procession of Prince Electors according to the Golden Bull
© Institut für Stadtgeschichte
nach Prof. Dr. Bernd Schneidmüller

The performance of offices at Court Diets was specified as follows: first, the Duke of Saxony was to exercise his office as Arch-Marshall, which involved taking a measure of oats from a heap and handing it to a servant. Once the Emperor or King had taken his seat, the ecclesiastical Prince Electors would each give a benediction, following a specified order of precedence. Next, the relevant Arch-Chancellor, helped by the other two Arch-Chancellors, brought a silver staff with the royal seals and signets to the table, but then received them back again immediately. He was not to hand back these items to the Court Chancellor until he had returned to his accommodation. The Margrave of Brandenburg as the Imperial Arch-Chamberlain would present to the ruler a basin of water and a towel, so that he could wash his hands; the King of Bohemia as the Arch-Cupbearer would offer the first drink (water and wine mixed); and the Count Palatine as the Arch-Foodbearer would bring the food (chapter 4:3 and 27). The order of precedence among ecclesiastical Prince Electors for the giving of benedictions in the Emperor’s presence proceeded according to seniority: the person who had served the longest number of years said the benediction on the first day, etc. (chapter 23).

The Duke of Saxony as Arch-Marshal
Woodcut from the first illustrated print of the Golden Bull from 1485.
© Die güldin bulle. Straßburg 1485,

The rights of the Prince Electors (Electoral Constitution)

As soon as the new King had been elected, his first act of office – and then again upon his coronation as Emperor – was to confirm the rights and privileges of the Prince Electors (chapter 2:4). At the same time the Prince Electors were exempted from the payment of fealty that was due upon the receipt of feudal property (chapter 30). Any privileges that were at odds with those of the Prince Electors had to be revoked (chapter 13).
The electoral principalities were indivisible (chapter 25), and the electoral rights, offices, honours and privileges of the Prince Electors were indivisibly associated with their principalities (chapter 20). The succession of Prince Electors was determined through primogeniture, i.e. only the oldest legitimate lay (i.e. non-clerical) son was permitted to inherit the electoral privilege (chapters 7 and 25).

If there was no son, then the privilege passed to the next oldest lay brother. All Prince Electors were given two privileges: de non evocando, whereby none of their subjects could be taken to court outside their own territory, and de non appellando which meant that a subject could not appeal to an outside court (chapter 11). However, a special right was granted to the King of Bohemia. Conspiracies against Prince Electors were to be punished severely (chapter 24). In return for consenting to the regulations on royal elections, Charles IV granted the Princes a range of royal rights (regalia) which he had originally wanted to secure for the Kingdom of Bohemia alone, i.e. for himself. These rights concerned mining, toll fees and the taxation of Jews (chapter 9) as well as the right of coinage (chapter 10).

The Golden Bull also specified annual meetings of the Prince Electors four weeks after Easter, to discuss the affairs of the Empire (chapter 12). However, this did not happen. Another regulation that was probably never implemented ruled that the successors of secular Prince Electors had to learn Latin, Italian and Czech between the ages of seven and fourteen (chapter 31).

The Margrave of Brandenburg as Arch-Chamberlain
Woodcut from the first illustrated print of the Golden Bull from 1485.
© Die güldin bulle. Straßburg 1485,

General provisions

The Golden Bull contained a number of general provisions designed to ensure the public peace, although many of them largely benefited the Prince Electors. Any alliances (and thus conspiracies) were prohibited unless they served to secure public peace (chapter 15). This included, in particular, the formation of leagues between cities, as they might try to protect themselves from Princes wanting to incorporate them in their territories. Another ban concerned the practice of burgess citizenship whereby a Prince’s subject could take citizenship in a city but remain resident within the territory of his former master (chapter 16). The Golden Bull thus displayed a certain hostility towards cities.

Moreover, anyone proving unworthy of their feudal property was to forfeit his feudal property. This concerned, in particular, any misuse of feudal law, i.e. instances where a vassal unlawfully revoked his fief, followed by a declaration of feud in order to gain possession of the relevant feudal estate (chapter 14). The document also prohibited any unlawful feuds and declarations of the same as well as any unlawful wars, arson attacks, robbery campaigns, looting and the extortion of unprecedented toll fees and escorts (chapter 17).

The Count Palatine of the Rhine as Arch-Steward
Woodcut from the first illustrated print of the Golden Bull from 1485.
© Die güldin bulle. Straßburg 1485,

Privileges for the King of Bohemia

Emperor Charles IV used the Golden Bull to secure a number of privileges for his Kingdom and Electorate of Bohemia. If the Bohemian dynasty were to die out, Bohemia would not follow the pattern of the other secular electorates and become the Emperor’s property and thus subject to reallocation as a feudal estate. Instead the relevant entitled individuals in Bohemia were permitted to elect a new king by themselves (chapter 7:2). Like all other electorates, Bohemia, too, was granted the two privileges de non evocando and de non appellando, but expressly excluding the clause inserted for the other Prince Electors whereby a denial of rights might permit an appeal to the Imperial or Royal Court (chapter 8).

At Court Diets the King of Bohemia was to be granted preeminence over all other kings (chapter 6), and, when exercising his office, he was free to wear his royal crown (chapter 4:3). In chapter 10 the King of Bohemia was granted the privilege to acquire goods of any kind from anyone, but was required to preserve the legal status of those goods. Also, any lands that had been incorporated into the Kingdom of Bohemia had to continue meeting their traditional liabilities towards the Empire.

The King of Bohemia as Arch-Cupbearer
Woodcut from the first illustrated print of the Golden Bull from 1485.
© Die güldin bulle. Straßburg 1485,
Bl. XIXr

Interests of Frankfurt

The citizens of Frankfurt were required to swear an oath of security whereby they undertook to protect the Prince Electors and their followers (chapter 1:19), denying access to any aliens on the day of an election and removing aliens from the city on such a day (chapter 1:20). If they failed to comply, they would incur an imposition of the imperial ban and the loss of all privileges. According to chapter 1:17, Frankfurt City Council had to ensure that the followers of the Prince Electors did not exceed the numbers detailed in the Golden Bull, i.e. 200 mounted followers, including no more than 50 armed men. What was not mentioned in the Golden Bull but was taken for granted was the Council’s obligation to ensure the availability of accommodation, food, firewood, etc. In chapter 29 the document expressly reiterates Frankfurt as the election venue. This was probably the merit of the Frankfurt envoys who had been present in Metz, whereas the Council had not sent any envoys to the Court Diet in Nuremberg.

The Golden Bull made Frankfurt the election venue for German rulers for the next 450 years. Considering, in particular, that most coronations, too, were subsequently held in Frankfurt, from 1562 onwards, Frankfurt thus became a major hub within the Old German Empire.

The Frankfurt copy

The Golden Bull became available in seven copies: Bohemia (summer 1356), Mainz, Cologne, Treves and Palatine (early 1357) and then also Frankfurt (in late 1366) and Nuremberg (between 1366 and 1378). In 1366, immediately after the guild riots (probably in early December), the Frankfurt City Council asked the Imperial Chancellery for a copy of their own. This was made possible by the Sheriff of Frankfurt, Siegfried von Marburg zum Paradies, who had an excellent relationship with the Emperor. Shortly afterwards, in 1371, the City Council commissioned a German translation of the document – probably the earliest of its kind, although the original manuscript was burnt during World War II, in 1944.

There were two reasons why the City Council wanted a special copy. First, the Golden Bull contained an imperial act whereby Frankfurt was to be the election venue – a function which the city had already held as a customary practice since 1152. Secondly, the City Council wanted to have the authentic wording of the provisions, as it was responsible for compliance.

The Frankfurt copy consists of 44 sheets of parchment, with the first and last sheets glued to the leather cover, so that the document comprises 86 written pages in quarto format (approx. 23.5 cm high and 17 cm wide). The original red of the calf leather cover has only survived in residues, and the gilt edge has disappeared altogether. The Frankfurt copy bears the seal of Charles IV’s imperial golden bulla – hence the name. The Latin name Aurea Bulla was first used in 1400 in connection with the deposition of King Wenceslas.

3. The Seal

The Frankfurt copy of the Golden Bull was sealed with the golden bulla (hence the name) of Emperor Charles IV. The Latin word bulla originally meant a hollow cavity. In the Middle Ages, however, the word was generally used to denote a seal, particularly a metal seal.

The obverse side shows the typical seal of a ruler, also known as a throne seal: Charles IV seated on his throne, holding the insignia of his rule – a crown, sceptre and imperial orb. The circumscription says:


(Charles IV Emperor of the Romans by the grace of God, expander of the Empire and King of Bohemia for all times). This title is pictorially emphasised by the two coats of arms, one with the imperial eagle and the other with the Bohemian lion.

Obverse side of the golden bulla of Charles IV
© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Uwe Dettmar

The reverse shows a fictitious gate, marked by the inscription AUREA ROMA (Golden Rome) as a symbolic representation of the city of Rome. The circumscription proclaims the Emperor’s universal claim to power:
(Rome, the capital of the world, directs the reins of the earth)

It was a reference to the ancient Roman Empire, renewed in 800 through the imperial coronation of Charlemagne and in 962 through the imperial coronation of Otto I, when it was reinstated as the Holy Roman Empire (of the German Nation).

The Imperial Chancellery used golden bullae (aurea bullae) for highly important documents and also upon the recipient’s request. They were more durable but also far more expensive for the recipient than wax seals, which were used for less important documents.

Reverse side of the golden bulla of Charles IV
© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Uwe Dettmar

A golden bulla consisted of two thin gold sheets with edges and plugged into each other like a tin can. The two parts were prevented from falling apart by a three-part channel soldered inside the bulla, bearing the seal cord. To make the bulla more robust, the inside cavity was filled with (red) wax. The golden bulla of Emperor Charles IV was about 6.4 cm in diameter and 0.4 to 0.7 cm thick. It was created in several copies at an early stage: the day of his coronation as Emperor in Rome (5 April 1355). The same stamp had previously been used for the reverse of his royal golden bulla whereas the stamp for the obverse had to be redesigned from scratch. This was because the circumscription needed to be changed from “REX” to “IMPERATOR”, and the image on the seal, too, had to be replaced.

Seals were used for the legalisation of documents, and a document was only considered legally valid if it bore an intact seal. When, after frequent wear and tear, the seal cord of the Frankfurt Golden Bull had to be replaced – first in 1642 and then in 1710 – it was an act with Empire-wide legal significance, especially as Frankfurt City Council were convinced that their copy was the imperial copy. The Council therefore turned to the Archbishop of Mainz as the Imperial Arch-Chancellor, whose deputies had to witness this act of replacement, which was also documented by a notary public.
Whenever a document was created in the Middle Ages, the dignity of the ruler’s office was expressed through the design of the writing, various decorative elements and the seal, so that it became a tool of political communication. By returning to a depiction of Rome, which had been common since the 11th century, Charles IV distanced himself from his predecessor, Louis the Bavarian, who had used a totally new representation of Rome. He wanted to demonstrate, in 1328, that he had obtained his imperial coronation against the will of the Pope and (supposedly) in the name of the people. Louis’ golden bulla was the first of its kind to feature a perspective representation of Rome, showing several recognisable antique and mediaeval buildings. The centre space was occupied by the Palazzo Senatario, the seat of Rome’s city government, thus purporting to legitimise Louis’ imperial claim as approved by the Senate and the people of Rome.

The successor of Charles IV then used a depiction of Rome that followed the same principles. From 1508, after obtaining the Pope’s consent, but no coronation, Maximilian I described himself as the “elected Roman Emperor”, and the picture of Rome was replaced by the imperial coat of arms.

Reverse side of the golden emperors bull of Ludwig of Bavaria (1314-1347)
Left page(from above): Colosseum (Photograph: Alessandro Ferri), Santa Maria Maggiore (Photograph: lalupa), Marcus-Aurelius-Column on the Piazza Colonna (Photograph: jimmyweee/Roma), Augustus-Mausoleum (Photograph: Sakari Karppinen), Porta del Popolo (Photograph: Dguendel), Pantheon (Photograph: Klaus Falk)

Rechte Seite (von oben): Pyramide of Caius Cestius / Porta San Paolo (Photograph: Lalupa), Arch of Titus(Photograph: Dror Feitelson), Santa Maria in Trastevere (Photograph: Dolf Kalenders), Old St. Peter (Predessecor of St. Peter; Illustration: H.W. Brewer), Castel Sant'Angelo (Mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian; Photograph: Colin W.), Palace of the Senators on the Capitol (Photograph: Berthold Werner)
© Gestaltung: eichfelder artworks

4. The Reception

The Frankfurt Copy in Research and Literature

Of all the copies of the Golden Bull, the Frankfurt specimen gained the greatest fame. Although it was issued relatively late, ten years after the original text, it was soon regarded as the “imperial copy”, because it was available at the election venue and was consulted at each election. It was used as the basis for numerous further copies as well as for prints and commentaries, while other specimens fell into oblivion at times. The Frankfurt copy is also the only one that was kept consistently at its original location. Yet it was only during the 18th century that researchers discovered that it was not the imperial copy. At the end of the 19th century historians finally established the number of original copies and how they related to one another.

In the 17th century the Frankfurt copy was displayed at the Römer (city hall) where it could be viewed against payment of a fee. An anecdote has it that an Englishman once visited Frankfurt and, misunderstanding the word “Bull”, expected to see a golden statue of a male bovine. However, any kings and princes visiting Frankfurt were exempted from the charge if they wanted to view the Golden Bull. Whenever this occurred, Frankfurt City Council were very happy to spend time and money, hoping to gain political advantages in return.

The Golden Bull was described in travelogues and eulogies as one of the city’s main attractions. Nevertheless, evaluations differ considerably. In 1786 the American freedom fighter and painter John Trumbull described the document as the “Magna Carta of Germany”. In doing so he was comparing it with the Magna Carta of 1215 which was widely regarded as the origin of Britain’s parliamentary system. By contrast, only three years later, shortly after the start of the French Revolution, the Danish philosopher Jens Baggesen, described it as a “barbaric little gem”.

The Frankfurt copy is also mentioned in the works of some famous writers. In Poetry and Truth Goethe describes in lofty words how, in his youth, he once took part in a viewing of the Golden Bull and had the document explained to him by Alderman Johann Daniel von Olenschlager who was working on a commentary at the time. On the other hand, the Frankfurt publicist Ludwig Börne expressed himself rather negatively about the Golden Bull in 1827, as Heinrich Heine reported in his paper About Ludwig Börne (1840).

Golden Bull
© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Uwe Dettmar

5. UNESCO Memory of the World Register

Presentation of the UNESCO-certificate
Presentation of the UNESCO-certificate on Dezember 8th 2014 in the Institut for the History of Frankfurt (from left to right): Prof. Joachim-Felix Leonhard, PhD, chairman of the German National Commitee for the Memory of the World Register, Evelyn Brockhoff, PhD, extecutive director of the Institut for the History of Frankfurt, and Prof. Felix Semmelroth, PhD, head of departement of culture and science of the city Frankfurt am Main
© Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Foto: Uwe Dettmar

In February 2013 seven cultural institutions – five archives and two libraries (in Germany and Austria) – jointly submitted an application that all seven sealed copies of the Golden Bull and also the illuminated manuscript of King Wenceslas (1400) should be listed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register . The request was granted by UNESCO in June 2013, thus acknowledging the outstanding significance of this important constitutional document which continued in its validity until 1806. The UNESCO Memory of the World Register is a worldwide network of outstanding selected documents: valuable collections of books, manuscripts, scores, unique items and numerous photographic, audio and video documents. The aims are to secure documentary testimonies of extraordinary value in archives, libraries and museums and to make them accessible through new methods in information technology. These aims are clearly met by the Institute at this media point and through a supplementary digital presentation on its website.

Over the last few years the Institute has spent a substantial amount of time and effort on researching and presenting the Golden Bull. To celebrate the 650th anniversary of Emperor Charles IV’s Golden Bull in 2006, four cultural institutes in Frankfurt – the Institute for the History of Frankfurt, the Historical Museum, the Frankfurt Cathedral Museum and the Frankfurt Jewish Museum – gave a joint exhibition entitled “The Emperor Makers – Frankfurt am Main and the Golden Bull, 1356-1806”. The Institute for the History of Frankfurt, where the Frankfurt copy the Golden Bull is kept, served as the venue where the original was shown and where its background and traditions were explained.

UNESCO Memory of the World

On 8 December 2014, preceding the presentation of the UNESCO certificate, the Institute held an academic symposium at the Carmelite Monastery. In all, four talks were given, providing an overview of the state of research on the Golden Bull. On the same evening a festive event was held at which Prof. Joachim-Felix Leonhard, PhD, Chairman of the German national committee for the UNESCO programme Memory of the World, presented the certificate and delivered the keynote address.
All welcoming addresses, speeches, talks and the keynote address of 8 December 2014 were printed in a commemorative publication (2015):
Evelyn Brockhoff and Michael Matthäus (eds.), UNESCO-Weltdokumentenerbe Goldene Bulle, Frankfurt am Main 2015 (available from the Institute for the History of Frankfurt)

The book starts with a presentation of the history which led to the Golden Bull and then focuses on its origin and content. An entire article is dedicated to the ceremonial regulations, processions and banquets of the Emperor and Prince Electors and the way these occasions illustrated to mediaeval observers the order of precedence among the Princes and thus the Constitution of the Empire. Another article is about the position of the Golden Bull in the constitutional history of the Old German Empire until 1806, showing that, over the centuries, it was gradually supplemented to include further important constitutional documents. The reader will also find details of the circumstances surrounding the creation and subsequent tradition of the Frankfurt copy, as well as a presentation and explanation of the UNESCO programme Memory of the World.

Places where the copies of the Golden Bull are kept today

By 1357 the Imperial Chancellery had created five copies of the Golden Bull – for the King of Bohemia, the Archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Treves and the Count Palatine of the Rhine. However, the other two Prince Electors – the Duke of Saxony and the Margrave of Brandenburg – did not receive their own copies, probably for political reasons.

The City of Frankfurt was given its own copy in early December 1366, immediately after the end of the guild riots. The copy for the City of Nuremberg, created between 1366 and 1378, is the only one that does not bear the seal of the golden bulla (which gave the document its name), but Charles IV’s wax seal.

The seven copies and the illuminated manuscript of the Golden Bull, commissioned by the deposed King Wenceslas in 1400, can now be found at the following archives and libraries:

Vienna: Austrian State Archives, Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (House, Court and State Archives):
Bohemian copy (B)

Signatur: AUR, 1356 I 10
Online facsimile
(Files: AUR_001.jpg to AUR_074.jpg)

Mainz copy (M)
Reference number: AUR, 1356 I 10 Online facsimile
(Files: AUR-MEA_001.jpg to AUR-MEA_033.jpg)

Darmstadt University and State Library:
Cologne copy (C)

Reference number: Hs 3065
Online facsimile
Printed facsimile: Kurt Hans Staub and Jörg-Ulrich Fechner (intr.), Konrad Müller (transl.), Die Goldene Bulle Kaiser Karls IV. von 1356 – Faksimile der Ausfertigung für den Kurfürsten von Köln, Darmstadt 1982

Stuttgart: State Archives of Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart State Archives:
Treves copy (T)

Reference number: H 51 U 589
Online facsimile

Munich, Bavarian State Archives:
Palatine copy (P)

Reference number: Electoral Palatinate Documents 1
Online facsimile

Frankfurt am Main, Institute for the History of Frankfurt:
Frankfurt copy (F)

Reference number: Privileges 107
Online facsimile
CD-ROM available from the Institute.

Nuremberg, State Archives:
Nuremberg copy (N)

Reference number: Imperial City of Nuremberg Documents 938
Facsimile: CD-ROM available from Nuremberg State Archives.

Vienna, Austrian National Library
King Wenceslas’ illuminated manuscript of 1400

Reference number: Cod. 338 Han
Online facsimilile
Printed facsimile: Die Goldene Bulle – King Wenceslas’ manuscript, complete facsimile edition in the original format of the Codex Vindobonensis 338 of the Austrian National Library, commentary by Armin Wolf, Graz 1977, in a smaller format: Die Goldene Bulle – King Wenceslas’ manuscript – Codex Vindobonensis 338 of the Austrian National Library, commentary by Armin Wolf, Graz 2002 (licensed edition: Darmstadt 2003)

6. Index of the Golden Bull

Prayer p. 1
Table of contents (only chapters I – XXI) pp. 2 – 3

Chapters 1–23 Resolutions of the Nuremberg Court Diet, 10 January 1356 pp. 4 – 68
Introductory Speech (Proemium) pp. 4 – 6
Chapter 1 What sort of escort the Electors should have, and by whom furnished pp. 6 – 21
Chapter 2 Concerning the election of a King of the Romans pp. 22 – 26
Chapter 3 Concerning the seating of the Bishops of Treves, Cologne and Mainz pp. 26 – 28
Chapter 4 Concerning the Prince Electors in common pp. 29 – 31
Chapter 5 Concerning the right of the Count Palatine and also of the Duke of Saxony pp. 31 – 33
Chapter 6 Concerning the comparison of Prince Electors with other, ordinary Princes pp. 33 – 34
Chapter 7 Concerning the successors of the Princes pp. 34 – 37
Chapter 8 Concerning the immunity of the King of Bohemia and his subjects pp. 37 – 40
Chapter 9 Concerning mines of gold, silver and other specie pp. 40 – 42
Chapter 10 Concerning money pp. 42 – 43
Chapter 11 Concerning the immunity of the Prince Electors pp. 43 – 46
Chapter 12 Concerning the coming together of the Princes pp. 46 – 48
Chapter 13 Concerning the revocation of privileges pp. 49 – 50
Chapter 14 Concerning those from whom, as being unworthy, their feudal possessions are taken away pp. 50 – 52
Chapter 15 Concerning conspiracies pp. 52 – 54
Chapter 16 Concerning pfalburgers (burgess citizens) pp. 54 – 57
Chapter 17 Concerning challenges of defiance pp. 57 – 58
Chapter 18 Letter of intimation pp. 58 – 60
Chapter 19 Formula of representation sent by that Prince Elector who shall decide to send his envoys to carry on an election pp. 60 – 62
Chapter 20 Concerning the unity of the electoral principalities and of the rights connected with them pp. 62 – 64
Chapter 21 Concerning the order of marching, as regards the Archbishops pp. 64 – 66
Chapter 22 Concerning the order of proceeding of the Prince Electors, and by whom the insignia shall be carried pp. 66 – 67
Chapter 23 Concerning the benedictions of the Archbishops in the presence of the Emperor S. 67 – 68

Chapters 24-31 Resolutions of the Metz Court Diet, 25 December 1356 S. 68 – 86
Parenthetical note (formula of promulgation) S. 68 – 69
Chapter 24 Concerning conspiracies against the Prince Electors S. 69 – 72
Chapter 25 Indivisibility of the electoral principalities and the succession of secular Prince Electors S. 72 – 74
Chapter 26 Ceremonial regulations for Prince Electors at Court Diets S. 74 – 75
Chapter 27 Concerning the offices of the Prince Electors in the Solemn Courts of the Emperors or Kings of the Romans S. 75 – 79
Chapter 28 Order of precedence at the imperial or royal table S. 79 – 81
Chapter 29 Election venue, coronation venue and the venue of the first Court Diet S. 81 – 82
Chapter 30 Concerning the rights of court officials when the Prince Electors receive their feudal possessions from the Emperor or Roman King S. 82 – 84
Chapter 31 The Prince Electors’ knowledge of foreign languages S. 85 – 86

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