Unitas and Diversitas: Sigismund’s Empire as
a Model of Late Medieval Rulership

Bernd Schneidmüller

Heidelberg University

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Hungarian Historical Review Volume 13 Issue 2  (2024):172-194 DOI 10.38145/2024.2.172

This article analyzes the emperorship of Sigismund (1368–1437) as a particular configuration of rule in the fifteenth century. Research on the medieval Holy Roman Empire in the Latin West has traditionally focused on the great emperors from the ninth century to the thirteenth. In contrast, imperial coronations and imperial rule in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries have received much less attention. The article first presents the structural features of the Holy Roman Empire and then focuses on the significant changes to this structure in the late Middle Ages. Discontinuities made imperial rule the exception rather than the rule. Long intervals between imperial coronations always required reinventions of traditions, which led to situational negotiations among popes, authorized cardinals, and emperors. In 1433, Sigismund was the first emperor since 1220 to receive his coronation from the pope himself in Rome. The article makes it clear that Sigismund was a master in the creation of new rituals and symbols. During his reign, the imagery of the empire expanded significantly. Alongside unity (unitas) came diversity (diversitas). The article shows how differently the imperial coronation of 1433 was perceived and narrated by contemporaries in Italy and Germany.

Keywords: Holy Roman Empire, emperorship in the late Middle Ages, coronation, Emperor Sigismund, Roman popes, perceptions of power