The revival of interest in the Holy Roman Empire has been sustained and has placed it firmly back on the agenda of historical research. Significantly, it is no longer the domain of narrow constitutional history, as its importance to other avenues of historical enquiry has been demonstrated beyond doubt. Though never corresponding in practice to its own constitutional theory, the Empire was neither moribund nor irrelevant to the lives of its inhabitants. It provided the framework within which a variety of political cultures could flourish. These were neither fully progressive, nor entirely reactionary, combining instead numerous, often contradictory strands, as outlined in Chapter 1. For this reason, it is not possible to chart the Empire’s political development through simple phases of decline, or to see it as deviating from some standard European norm. Moreover, the Empire’s political history cannot be reduced to a dualism between a fading medieval monarchical ideal and a dynamic, modernizing impulse supposedly inherent in absolutism. Absolutism did not displace older forms of representative government which persisted in the survival of the territorial estates and certain imperial institutions such as the Reichstag.
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Peter H. Wilson
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