The Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire: A Thousand Years of Europe’s History by Peter H. Wilson (Penguin Books 2017, ISBN 978-0-141-04747-8) is an astonishing thousand-page tome of which about 300 pages are devoted to maps, color plates, family trees, chronology, glossary, and an enormous index. I’m not aware of anyone doubting the thoroughness or scholarly quality of this work; however, frequent criticism has been addressed to its organization.

Chapter by chapter, Wilson does not cover the HRE chronologically but instead thematically. Four parts structure the book by the broad topics of Ideal, Belonging, Governance, and Society. Individual chapters then proceed roughly chronologically within their specific subtopics. Quite a few readers found this confusing but given the sheer scale of the book, I think it was the correct decision. Strictly chronological progression across a great variety of subjects is how bad school classes work, the ones where you struggle to memorize dates and fail to grasp broader outlines. Indeed, while I somewhat restructured my excerpts compared to Wilson I retained the same thematic rather than chronological organization as I found it quite effective.

And with that I direct you to said collection of quotes which I must say has grown embarrassingly big thanks to the excellent content of the book — hopefully not big enough to trigger a copyright complaint! You should certainly buy the book if you find these excerpts intriguing. One small criticism is that Wilson adds a tad too many HRE apologetics that could have been excised, but it’s an understandable reaction to a public opinion that by now considers the HRE little more than a ridiculous backward monstrosity, an opinion that Wilson soundly refutes.

2 thoughts on “The Holy Roman Empire”

  1. Been seeing your tweets on this books for what like six months? The book seems absolutely massive. It also seems extremely necessary. The HRE was a literal Thousand Year Reich and yet it’s generally ignored by history. I guess based on what you are saying, even in Germany. Honestly the only reason I know anything at all about it is from playing AOE II, Total War and CK2 for so many years.

    Thinking I should probably get the thing, even if I don’t get around to reading it for a few years, it will look impressive on the shelf.

    1. Yes, it might have been six months and the book is indeed absolutely massive. Paradox probably deserves a lot of credit to raise public awareness! Anyone interested in the HRE should definitely get the book, it’s a slow read but IMO the topical rather than chronological organization actually helps to keep one interested. Also, there are many amusing or surprising vignettes some of which I quoted in my excerpts.

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