A prince-bishop is a bishop who is also the civil ruler of some secular principality and sovereignty. Thus the principality or prince-bishopric ruled politically by a prince-bishop could wholly or largely overlap with his diocesan jurisdiction, since some parts of his diocese, even the city of his residence, could be exempt from his civil rule, obtaining the status of free imperial city. If the episcopal see is an archbishopric, the correct term is prince-archbishop; the equivalent in the regular (monastic) clergy is prince-abbot. A prince-bishop is usually considered an elected monarch.
In the West, with the decline of imperial power from the 4th century onwards in the face of the barbarian invasions, sometimes Christian bishops of cities took the place of the Roman commander, made secular decisions for the city and led their own troops when necessary. Later relations between a prince-bishop and the burghers were invariably not cordial. As cities demanded charters from emperors, kings, or their prince-bishops and declared themselves independent of the secular territorial magnates, friction intensified between burghers and bishops.
In the Byzantine Empire, the still autocratic Emperors passed general legal measures assigning all bishops certain rights and duties in the secular administration of their dioceses, but that was part of a caesaropapist development putting the Eastern Church in the service of the Empire, with its Ecumenical Patriarch almost reduced to the Emperor's minister of religious affairs.
Bishops had been involved in the government of the Frankish realm and subsequent Carolingian Empire frequently as the clerical member of a duo of envoys styled Missus dominicus, but that was an individual mandate, not attached to the see. Prince-bishoprics were most common in the feudally fragmented Holy Roman Empire, where many were formally awarded the rank of an Imperial Prince Reichsfürst, granting them the immediate power over a certain territory and a representation in the Imperial Diet (Reichstag).
The stem duchies of the German kingdom inside the Empire had strong and powerful dukes (originally, war-rulers), always looking out more for their duchy's "national interest" than for the Empire's. In turn the first Ottonian (Saxon) king Henry the Fowler and more so his son, Emperor Otto I, intended to weaken the power of the dukes by granting loyal bishops Imperial lands and vest them with regalia privileges. Unlike dukes they could not pass hereditary titles and lands to any descendants. Instead the Emperors reserved the implementation of the bishops of their proprietary church for themselves, defying the fact that according to canon law they were part of the transnational Catholic Church. This met with increasing opposition by the Popes, culminating in the fierce Investiture Controversy of 1076. Nevertheless, the Emperors continued to grant major territories to the most important (arch)bishops. The immediate territory attached to the episcopal see then became a prince-diocese or bishopric (Fürstbistum). The German term Hochstift was often used to denote the form of secular authority held by bishops ruling a prince-bishopric with Erzstift being used for prince-archbishoprics.
Emperor Charles IV by the Golden Bull of 1356 confirmed the privileged status of the Prince-Archbishoprics of Mainz, Cologne and Trier as members of the electoral college. At the eve of the Protestant Reformation, the Imperial states comprised 53 ecclesiastical principalities. They were finally secularized in the 1803 German Mediatization upon the territorial losses to France in the Treaty of Lunéville, except for the Mainz prince-archbishop and German archchancellor Karl Theodor Anton Maria von Dalberg, who continued to rule as Prince of Aschaffenburg and Regensburg. With the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the title finally became defunct. However, in some countries outside of French control, such as in the Austrian Empire (Salzburg, Seckau, and Olomouc) and the Kingdom of Prussia (Breslau), the institution nominally continued, and in some cases was revived; a new, titular type arose.
No less than three of the (originally only seven) prince-electors, the highest order of Reichsfürsten (comparable in rank with the French pairs), were prince-archbishops, each holding the title of Archchancellor (the only arch-office amongst them) for a part of the Empire; given the higher importance of an electorate, their principalities were known as Kurfürstentum ("electoral principality") rather than prince-archbishoprics:
|Arms||Name||Rank||Local name(s)||Imperial immediacy||Imperial
|Cologne||Archbishopric Electorate||German: Erzstift Köln, Kurköln||953–1803||Electoral Rhenish||Germany||Prince-elector and Arch-Chancellor of Italy. Duke of Westphalia since 1180. Cologne became a Free Imperial City in 1288.|
|Mainz||Archbishopric Electorate||German: Erzbistum Mainz, Kurmainz||c. 780–1803||Electoral Rhenish||Germany||Prince-elector and Arch-Chancellor of Germany.|
|Trier||Archbishopric Electorate||German: Erzbistum Trier, Kurtrier
French: Archevêque Trèves
|772–1803||Electoral Rhenish||Germany||Prince-elector and Arch-Chancellor of Burgundy.|
|Aquileia||Patriarchate||Latin: Patriarchæ Aquileiensis
Italian: Patriarcato di Aquileia
|1077–1433||None||Italy||Conquered by Venice in 1420, officially incorporated after the 1445 Council of Florence|
|Augsburg||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Augsburg||c. 888–1803||Swabian||Germany||Augsburg became a Free imperial City in 1276.|
|Bamberg||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Bamberg||1245–1802||Franconian||Germany|
|Basel||Bishopric||French: Principauté de Bâle
German: Fürstbistum Basel
|1032–1803||Upper Rhenish|| France
|Basel joined the Old Swiss Confederacy as the Canton of Basel in 1501. A tiny fraction of the bishopric is not now in Switzerland: Schliengen and Istein are both now in Germany; a very small part of the Vogtei of St Ursanne is now in France.|
|Besançon||Archbishopric||French: Archévêqué de Besançon
German: Erzstift Besantz
|None||France||The archbishops had been rulers over Besançon, an Imperial city from 1307, which in 1512 joined the Burgundian Circle.|
|Brandenburg||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Brandenburg||c. 1165–1598||Upper Saxon||Germany||Founded in 948, annihilated 983, re-established c. 1161, continued by Lutheran administrators after Reformation in 1520, secularized and incorporated to the Margraviate of Brandenburg in 1571.|
|Bremen||Archbishopric||German: Erzstift Bremen||1180–1648||Lower Saxon||Germany||Continued by Lutheran administrators after Reformation in 1566 until 1645/1648. Bremen itself became autonomous in 1186, and was confirmed as a Free Imperial City in 1646.|
|Brescia||Bishopric||Italian: Principato vescovile di Brescia||None||Italy||Bishop Notingus was made count of Brescia in 844.|
|Breslau||Bishopric||German: Fürstbistum Breslau
Polish: Biskupie Księstwo Wrocławskie
Lower Silesian: Brassel
|None||Poland||In 1344 Bishop Przecław of Breslau (present-day Wrocław) bought the town of Grottkau (Grodków) from the Silesian duke Bolesław III the Generous and added it to the episcopal Duchy of Neisse (Nysa), becoming Prince of Neisse and Duke of Grottkau as a vassal to the Bohemian Crown.|
|Brixen||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Brixen
Italian: Principato vescovile di Bressanone
|1027–1803||Austrian||Italy||secularized to Tyrol|
|Cambrai||Bishopric, then Archbishopric||French: Principauté de Cambrai
German: Hochstift Kammerich
|1007–1678||Lower Rhenish / Westphalian||France||To France by 1678 Peace of Nijmegen|
|Cammin||Bishopric||German: Bistum Kammin
Polish: Biskupie Księstwo Kamieńskie
|1248–1650||Upper Saxon||Poland||Lost Reichsfreiheit to Duchy of Pomerania in 1544, secularized in 1650, to Brandenburg Province of Pomerania|
|Chur||Bishopric||German: Bistum Chur
Romansh: Chapitel catedral da Cuira
Italian: Principato vescovile di Coira
|Constance||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Konstanz||1155–1803||Swabian|| Austria
|Greatly reduced during the Reformation, when significant parts of Swabia and Switzerland became Protestant.|
|Eichstätt||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Eichstätt||1305–1802||Franconian||Germany|
|Freising||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Freising||1294–1802||Bavarian|| Austria
|Fulda||Abbey, then Bishopric||German: Reichskloster Fulda, Reichsbistum Fulda||1220–1802||Upper Rhenish||Germany||Imperial Abbey until 5 October 1752, when it was raised to a bishopric. Secularized in 1802 in the German Mediatization|
|Geneva||Bishopric||French: Évêché de Genève
German: Fürstbistum Genf
|Upper Rhenish|| France
|De jure Reichsfrei since 1154, de facto dominated by their guardians, the counts of Geneva (until 1400) and Savoy (since 1401). Geneva joined the Old Swiss Confederacy in 1526.|
|Halberstadt||Bishopric||German: Bistum Halberstadt||1180–1648||Lower Saxon||Germany|
|Havelberg||Bishopric||German: Bistum Havelberg||1151–1598||Lower Saxon||Germany||Founded in 948, annihilated 983, re-established 1130, continued by Lutheran administrators after Reformation in 1548 until 1598|
|Hildesheim||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Hildesheim||1235–1803||Lower Saxon||Germany|
|Lausanne||Bishopric||French: Prince-Évêché de Lausanne
German: Bistum Lausanne
|1270–1536||None||Switzerland||Conquered by the Swiss city canton of Bern in 1536.|
|Lebus||Bishopric||German: Fürstbistum Lebus
Polish: Diecezja lubuska
|Seated in Fürstenwalde since 1385; Reichsfreiheit challenged by Brandenburg, continued by Hohenzollern Lutheran administrators after Protestant Reformation in 1555 until secularization in 1598.|
|Liège||Bishopric||French: Principauté de Liége
German: Fürstbistum Lüttich
Walloon: Principåté d' Lidje
|980–1789/1795||Lower Rhenish / Westphalian|| Belgium
|Lübeck||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Lübeck||1180–1803||Lower Saxon||Germany||Seated in Eutin since the 1270s; Reformation started in 1535, continued by Lutheran administrators since 1586 until secularization in 1803. Lübeck became a Free Imperial City in 1226.|
|Magdeburg||Archbishopric||German: Erzstift Magdeburg||1180–1680||Lower Saxon||Germany||Continued by Lutheran administrators between 1566 and 1631, and again since 1638 until 1680.|
|Merseburg||Bishopric||German: Bistum Merseburg||1004–1565||None||Germany||Administered by the Lutheran Electorate of Saxony between 1544 until 1565.|
|Metz||Bishopric||French: Évêché de Metz
German: Hochstift Metz
|10th century–1552||Upper Rhenish||France||One of the Three Bishoprics ceded to France by the 1552 Treaty of Chambord.|
|Minden||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Minden||1180–1648||Lower Rhenish / Westphalian||Germany|
|Münster||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Münster||1180–1802||Lower Rhenish / Westphalian||Germany|
|Naumburg||Bishopric||German: Bistum Naumburg-Zeitz||Germany||Under guardianship of Meissen from 1259, administrated by Saxony from 1564.|
|Olomouc||Bishopric||Czech: Biskupství olomoucké
German: Bistum Olmütz
|None||Czech Republic||The Czech bishopric (later Metropolitan) of Olomouc, as a vassal principality of the Bohemian crown, was the peer of the margraviate of Moravia, and from 1365 its prince-bishop was 'Count of the Bohemian Chapel', i.e., first court chaplain, who was to accompany the monarch on his frequent travels.|
|Osnabrück||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Osnabrück||1225/1236–1802||Lower Rhenish / Westphalian||Germany||Alternated between Catholic and Protestant incumbents after the Thirty Years' War, secularized in 1802/1803|
|Paderborn||Bishopric||German: Fürstbistum Paderborn||1281–1802||Lower Rhenish / Westphalian||Germany|
|Passau||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Passau||999–1803||Bavarian|| Austria
|Princely title was confirmed at Nuremberg in 1217.|
|Ratzeburg||Bishopric||German: Bistum Ratzeburg||1236–1648||Lower Saxon||Germany||Ruled by Lutheran administrators between 1554 and 1648.|
|Regensburg||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Regensburg||1132?–1803||Bavarian||Germany||Regensburg became a Free Imperial City in 1245.|
|Salzburg||Archbishopric||German: Fürsterzbistum Salzburg||1278–1803||Bavarian||Austria||Raised to an electorate in 1803, but simultaneously secularized; see Electorate of Salzburg. Since 1648, the archbishop has also borne the title Primas Germaniae, First [Bishop] of Germania. The powers of this title – non-jurisdictional – are limited to being the Pope's first correspondent in the German-speaking world, but used to include the right to preside over the Princes of the Holy Roman Empire.|
|Schwerin||Bishopric||German: Bistum Schwerin||1180–1648||Lower Saxon||Germany||Ruled by an administrator between 1516 and 1648.|
|Sion||Bishopric||French: Prince-Évêché de Sion
German: Bistum Sitten
|999–1798||None||Switzerland||A classic example of unified secular and diocesan authority|
|Speyer||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Speyer||888–1803||Upper Rhenish||Germany||Territories to the east of the Rhine were annexed by France in 1681, confirmed in 1697. Speyer became a Free Imperial City in 1294.|
|Strasbourg||Bishopric||Alemannic German: Bistum Strossburi
French: Évêché de Strasbourg
German: Fürstbistum Straßburg
|982–1803||Upper Rhenish|| France
|Territories to the east of the Rhine were annexed by France in 1681, confirmed in 1697. Speyer became a Free Imperial City in 1262.|
|Toul||Bishopric||French: Principauté de Toul
German: Bistum Toul
|10th century – 1552||Upper Rhenish||France||One of the Three Bishoprics ceded to France by the 1552 Treaty of Chambord, confirmed in 1648.|
|Trent||Bishopric||Italian: Principato vescovile di Trento
German: Fürstbistum Trient
|1027–1803||Austrian Circle||Italy||Secularized to Tyrol in 1803.|
|Utrecht||Bishopric||Dutch: Sticht Utrecht||1024–1528||Lower Rhenish / Westphalian||Netherlands||Sold to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1528, after which it was moved to the Burgundian Circle. Founding member of the Dutch Republic in 1579/1581, confirmed in 1648.|
|Verden||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Verden||1180–1648||Lower Rhenish / Westphalian||Germany||Continued by Lutheran administrators after Reformation until 1645/1648, when it was continued as a secular and independent principality until its disestablishment in 1807. It became a part of the Kingdom of Hanover in 1815.|
|Verdun||Bishopric||French: Principauté de Verdun
German: Bistum Verdun
|10th century – 1552||Upper Rhenish||France||One of the Three Bishoprics ceded to France by the 1552 Treaty of Chambord, confirmed in 1648.|
|Worms||Bishopric||German: Bistum Worms||861–1801||Upper Rhenish||Germany||Worms city rule established by Bishop Burchard (1000–25), episcopal residence at Ladenburg from 1400, held large estates in the former Lahngau region, territories left of the Rhine lost by the 1797 Treaty of Campo Formio, secularized at first to French Empire, finally Baden and Hesse-Darmstadt in 1815.|
|Würzburg||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Würzburg||1168–1803||Franconian||Germany||Duke of Franconia|
The suffragan-bishoprics of Gurk (established 1070), Chiemsee (1216), Seckau (1218), and Lavant (1225) sometimes used the Fürstbischof title, but never held any reichsfrei territory. The bishops of Vienna (established 1469) and Wiener Neustadt (1469–1785) didn't control any territory, nor did they claim a princely title.
Upon the incorporation of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword in 1237, the territory of the Order's State largely corresponded with the Diocese of Riga. Bishop Albert of Riga in 1207 had received the lands of Livonia as an Imperial fief from the hands of German king Philip of Swabia, he however had to come to terms with the Brothers of the Sword. At the behest of Pope Innocent III the Terra Mariana confederation was established, whereby Albert had to cede large parts of the episcopal territory to the Livonian Order. Albert proceeded tactically in the conflict between the Papacy and Emperor Frederick II: in 1225 he reached the acknowledgement of his status as a Prince-Bishop of the Empire, though the Roman Curia insisted on the fact that the Christianized Baltic territories were solely under the suzerainty of the Holy See. By the 1234 Bull of Rieti, Pope Gregory IX stated that all lands acquired by the Teutonic Knights were no subject of any conveyancing by the Emperor.
Within this larger conflict, the continued dualism of the autonomous Riga prince-bishop and the Teutonic Knights led to a lengthy friction. Around 1245 the Papal legate William of Modena reached a compromise: though incorporated into the Order's State, the archdiocese and its suffragan bishoprics were acknowledged with their autonomous ecclesiastical territories by the Teutonic Knights. The bishops pursued the conferment of the princely title by the Holy Roman Emperor to stress their sovereignty. In the original Prussian lands of the Teutonic Order, Willam of Modena established the suffragan bishoprics of Culm, Pomesania, Samland and Warmia. From the late 13th century onwards, the appointed Warmia bishops were no longer members of the Teutonic Knights, a special status confirmed by the bestowal of the princely title by Emperor Charles IV in 1356.
|Courland||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Kurland
Latvian: Kurzemes bīskapija
Low German: Bisdom Curland
|Terra Mariana||Latvia||Established about 1234, the smallest of the Livonian dioceses. Secularized in 1559 and occupied by Prince Magnus of Denmark. From 1585 under the suzerainty of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, part of the Duchy of Livonia. To Russia in the 1795 Third Partition of Poland.|
|Dorpat||Bishopric||Estonian: Tartu piiskopkond
German: Hochstift Dorpat
Low German: Bisdom Dorpat
|Terra Mariana||Estonia||Bishop Hermann, appointed by his brother Bishop Albert of Riga, received the title of a prince-bishop by King Henry VII of Germany in 1225. Dorpat (Estonian: Tartu) remained a suffragan diocese of Riga. Dissolved in the course of the Protestant Reformation in 1558.|
|Ösel-Wiek||Bishopric||Estonian: Saare-Lääne piiskopkond
German: Bistum Ösel-Wiek
Low German: Bisdom Ösel-Wiek
|Terra Mariana||Estonia||Established on Saaremaa island in 1228 under Bishop Gottfried, appointed by Bishop Albert of Riga, vested with the title of a prince-bishop by King Henry VII of Germany. It remained a suffragan diocese of Riga. Dissolved in the course of the Protestant Reformation in 1559.|
|Riga||Archbishopric||German: Erzbistum Riga
Latvian: Rīgas arhibīskapija
Low German: Erzbisdom Riga
|Terra Mariana||Latvia||Episcopal see at Üxküll 1186–1202. In 1225 Albert of Riga received the title of a Prince-bishop of Livonia by Emperor Frederick II. Last Archbishop William of Brandenburg resigned in 1561 during the Livonian War, territory fell to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, to Sweden in 1621.|
|Warmia||Bishopric||German: Hochstift Ermland
Polish: Biskupie Księstwo Warmińskie
|Prussia||Poland||Established by Papal legate William of Modena in 1243, princely title documented in the Golden Bull of 1356. Incorporated into the Jagiellon kingdom of Poland in 1466 and re-established as an autonomous prince-bishopric under the Polish crown in 1479. Abolished in the course of the Prussian annexation in 1772 during the First Partition of Poland.|
The bishops of Cetinje, Montenegro, who took the place of the earlier secular (Grand) Voivodes in 1516 had a unique position of Slavonic, Orthodox prince-bishops of Montenegro under Ottoman suzerainty. They actually became the secularized, hereditary princes and ultimately Kings of Montenegro in 1852, as reflected in their styles:
The Bishops of Durham were also territorial prince-bishops, with the extraordinary secular rank of Earl palatine, for it was their duty not only to be head of the large diocese, but also to help protect the Kingdom against the Scottish threat from the north. The title survived the union of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 until 1836.
Apart from territories formerly within the Holy Roman Empire, no French diocese had a principality of political significance linked to its see.
However, a number of French bishops did hold a noble title, with a tiny territory usually about their seat; it was often a princely title, especially Count. Indeed, six of the original Pairies (the royal vassals awarded with the highest precedence at Court) were episcopal: the Archbishop of Reims and five other bishops (suffragans to Reims, except the Bishop of Langres); the three highest ones held a ducal title and the others a comital title.
From 1472 to 1967, the bishop of Coimbra held the comital title of Count of Arganil, being thus called "bishop-count" (Portuguese: Bispo-Conde). The comital title is still held de jure, but since Portugal is a republic and nobility privileges are abolished, its use declined during the 20th century.
While one might expect that the Protestant Schism, Counter-Reformation and more modern regimes than the traditional feudal principality would have eradicated the prince-bishopric, this was not quite the case. Even when the true prince-(arch)bishoprics disappeared from the map of Europe as it was redrawn by Napoleon I Bonaparte (who caused the end of the Holy Roman Empire) and the Congress of Vienna after his defeat, the title found a new, titular use.
In the Habsburg dynasty's "new" empire, the Danubian double monarchy of Austria-Hungary, reduced to the parts south of Prussia's (German) sphere of dominance that would become the (largely Protestant) German Empire, actual territorial power was no longer held by the bishops, but the status of Fürst(erz)bischof was maintained, and could be given a similar political role in the more modern, almost standardized Cisleithanian provincial level, the Kronland (crown land), as ex officio members of its Landtag, the representative and legislative assembly, often with Virilstimme, while other bishops could collectively be represented as a "prelate's bench" (an elected Kurie).
The Emperors of Austria now bestowed the title upon bishops even without any feudal principality, but as a princely style and rank (as had been usual for centuries with secular noble titles of peerage ranks) awarded to episcopal sees, carrying the privilege of a seat in the estates, e.g., for the bishop of Laibach (as a consolation prize for the see's loss of metropolitan rank to Görz), the archbishop of Vienna (probably due to Vienna's rank as Imperial residence) and for the archbishop of Esztergom (here reflecting his longstanding role as the first magnate of Hungary).
The ultimate prince-bishop is the Bishop of Rome, i.e. the Pope, universal head (Supreme Pontiff) of the Roman Catholic Church. His claims to territorial power were bolstered by the forged early-medieval document Donation of Constantine, and the authentic Donation of Pepin, establishing the Patrimonium Petri which was further extended as the powerful Papal States. Pope Pius IX was the last of the true, sovereign prince-bishops, divested of territorial powers when the Papacy was forced to surrender the rule of Rome in 1870 to the united Kingdom of Italy, which was supported by liberal-nationalists. The pope however re-gained sovereign power over Vatican City in 1929 after successful negotiations with the Italian government under Benito Mussolini, leading to the Lateran Treaties.