Heart of Europe

Heart of Europe : A History of the Holy Roman Empire

3.76 (648 ratings by Goodreads)
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The Holy Roman Empire lasted a thousand years, far longer than ancient Rome. Yet this formidable dominion never inspired the awe of its predecessor. Voltaire distilled the disdain of generations when he quipped it was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire. Yet as Peter Wilson shows, the Holy Roman Empire tells a millennial story of Europe better than the histories of individual nation-states. And its legacy can be seen today in debates over the nature of the European Union.

Heart of Europe traces the Empire from its origins within Charlemagne's kingdom in 800 to its demise in 1806. By the mid-tenth century its core rested in the German kingdom, and ultimately its territory stretched from France and Denmark to Italy and Poland. Yet the Empire remained stubbornly abstract, with no fixed capital and no common language or culture. The source of its continuity and legitimacy was the ideal of a unified Christian civilization, but this did not prevent emperors from clashing with the pope over supremacy-the nadir being the sack of Rome in 1527 that killed 147 Vatican soldiers.

Though the title of Holy Roman Emperor retained prestige, rising states such as Austria and Prussia wielded power in a way the Empire could not. While it gradually lost the flexibility to cope with political, economic, and social changes, the Empire was far from being in crisis until the onslaught of the French revolutionary wars, when a crushing defeat by Napoleon at Austerlitz compelled Francis II to dissolve his realm.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 1008 pages
  • 156 x 235 x 60.96mm | 1,542.21g
  • The Belknap Press
  • Cambridge, Mass., United States
  • English
  • 10 color illustrations, 10 halftones, 20 line illustrations
  • 0674058097
  • 9780674058095
  • 177,462

Review quote

In his remarkable book, Wilson argues that a broad and deep perspective on the old Reich--broader and deeper than those available to either Charles IV or Goethe--discloses a fundamentally positive vision of that much-maligned institution. Wilson has set himself a staggering task, but it is one at which he succeeds heroically. Over the course of nearly a thousand pages, Wilson recounts with unflagging lucidity the history of an empire spanning continental Europe from the North Sea to the Vistula and from the Baltic to southern Italy, which endured for more than a millennium, between Charlemagne and Napoleon. Wilson does more. He tracks the medieval Empire back to its ancient roots, and he excavates its subterranean modern afterlife. His book amounts to a panoramic vision of pre-modern Europe, expanding outward from the vast and varied landscapes of the Reich...Despite its vast sweep, this is remarkably fine-grained history.-- (06/15/2016)
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About Peter H. Wilson

Peter H. Wilson is Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford.
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Rating details

648 ratings
3.76 out of 5 stars
5 23% (149)
4 40% (262)
3 27% (178)
2 8% (49)
1 2% (10)
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