Catalogue description Secretaries of State: State Papers Foreign, Holy Roman Empire

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Details of SP 80
Reference: SP 80
Title: Secretaries of State: State Papers Foreign, Holy Roman Empire

Correspondence and papers of the Secretary of State concerning the Holy Roman Empire (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, etc.).

The records are mainly in-letters and despatches (with some copies) from the British representatives (often designated envoys extraordinary or ministers plenipotentiary) at the court of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The letters are usually dated at Vienna, though there are a number from Prague, particularly during the reign of Emperor Rudolf II (1576-1612) who made Prague his principal residence.

Some letters or copies of letters from other special envoys or agents acting on behalf of the British government are included, together with a number of draft letters or letters in copy form from the Secretary of State. Several original letters or memorials from the Emperor's court, from generals, and other prominent and less prominent persons within the Empire are amongst the papers, particularly during the turbulent years of the Counter Reformation and the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). During these years the Emperors were often in conflict with their Protestant princes, who looked for support from the British monarch.

Many despatches contain military intelligence, or plans or maps.

Date: 1578-1780

The records are arranged generally in chronological order.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English and French
Physical description: 240 bundles and volumes
Publication note:

Selected documents dated before August 1589 are described in the Calendar of State Papers Foreign Series of the Reign of Elizabeth I ed A J Butler S C Lomas and R B Wernham (London 1901-1950). For references to the more important papers for the period August 1589 to December 1595 see the List and Analysis of State Papers Foreign Series Elizabeth I I-VI ed by Richard Bruce Wernham (London 1964-1993). Please speak to staff at the Map and Large Document Room enquiry desk for the precise location.

Administrative / biographical background:

The Thirty Years' War devastated Germany. By the Peace of Westphalia 1648, the Emperor's powers and area of jurisdiction were much reduced, and the Empire became a loose collection of semi-independent states under his nominal authority.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Imperial title and the German kingship were virtually hereditary in the Austrian House of Habsburg (Habsburg-Lorraine after 1740), although the formal procedure of electing the King of Germany (and hence the Emperor) was maintained.

Within the period 1578-1780, in addition to Germany, the Empire included Austria, Styria, Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and parts of Hungary and Croatia on the frontier with the Ottoman Empire. The Emperor had nominal authority for certain other territories besides the aforementioned (eg the Swiss Confederation before 1648). For much of the period there was a military threat from the Turks who in 1683 were able to reach and besiege Vienna. The Empire was dissolved in 1806, the last Emperor being unable to defend his title against Napoleon's ambitions.

Robert Keith, the British Minister Plenipotentiary, was recalled as a consequence of the insult to King George II by the Imperial Resident Minister, Count Colloredo, departing from the Court of St James without taking leave of the King. It appears that the relationship between Vienna and London was always a difficult one and ambassadors were rarely sent to Vienna, envoys or ministers being appointed instead. After the recall of Viscount Stormont (1772), the post reverted to a legation.

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