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Documentary heritage

Memory of the World  
Photo: © Austrian National Library

The Golden Bull
Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, Austrian National Library, inscription 2013 (together with Germany)

The Golden Bull of Emperor Charles IV was the most important legal text in the Holy Roman Empire and contains the legal framework conditions for electing a Roman-German king and emperor.

At the time the Golden Bull was written, the Holy Roman Empire stretched across Central Europe and part of Southern Europe. The name comes from its golden seal (“bulla” in Latin) that was prevalent from the 15th century.

Emperor Charles IV created this document in 1356 in order to prevent the outbreak of wars when a new Roman-German king and emperor was being elected. It served to record the rules of behaviour, which largely already existed, in Latin. This included the election of the king, the rights of electors and the exclusion of the papal power of co-decision. Seven original copies were created for the seven electors, all of whom received one. As Austria was not yet an electorate at this point in time and the Habsburgs were therefore not taken into account, in 1359, Duke Rudolf IV, a Habsburg, had the Privilegium Maius written to equip the Habsburgs with claims to sovereignty.

Of the seven originals, the excellent copy of King Wenceslaus is stored in the Austrian National Library, two are kept in the Austrian State Archives and the others are preserved in German archives. 

© Österreichische Nationalbibliothek
© Andy Wenzel/BKA
© Andy Wenzel/BKA

Global significance

The Golden Bull was crucial for stability within the multi-ethnic Holy Roman Empire. In addition to the Magna Carta (1215), the agreement between the English nobility and their king on their political rights, the Golden Bull is one of the most important documents in European legal history.

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