Karl Theodor Anton Maria von Dalberg

Karl Theodor Anton Maria von Dalberg
  • Elector of Mainz
  • Arch-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire
  • Prince of Regensburg
  • Prince-Primate of the Confederation of the Rhine
  • Grand Duke of Frankfurt

Portrait of Karl Theodor von Dalberg by Franz Stirnbrand, 1812
Other posts
  • Prince-Bishop of Worms (1787-1817)
  • Bishop of Konstanz (1788-1817)
  • Bishop of Regensburg (1805-1817)
Ordination 3 February 1788
Consecration 31 August 1788
by Friedrich Karl Joseph von Erthal
Personal details
Born (1744-02-08)8 February 1744
Herrnsheim, Holy Roman Empire
Died 10 February 1817(1817-02-10) (aged 73)
Denomination Roman Catholic
Previous post Titular Archbishop of Tarsus (1788–1800)

Karl Theodor Anton Maria von Dalberg (8 February 1744 – 10 February 1817) was Prince-Archbishop of Regensburg, Arch-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire, Bishop of Constance and Worms, Prince-Primate of the Confederation of the Rhine and Grand Duke of Frankfurt.


Born in Herrnsheim near Worms, Germany, he was the son of Franz Heinrich, administrator of Worms, one of the chief counsellors of the Prince-elector and Archbishop of Mainz. Karl devoted himself to the study of Canon law, and entered the church. Having been appointed in 1772 governor of Erfurt, he won further advancement by his successful administration. In 1787 he was elected coadjutor cum iure successionis of the Archbishopric of Mainz and the Bishopric of Worms, and in 1788 of the Bishopric of Constance; at the same time, he became titular archbishop of Tarsus in Cilicia and was ordained priest (11/11/1787) and bishop (8/31/1788). While he did succeed the respective bishops in Constance (1800) and Worms (1802), he failed to succeed in Mainz as bishop, though he did succeed in Mainz's temporal rights and also, de facto, in the pastoral ones as far as the right bank of the Rhine was concerned.

Coat of arms of the Grand Duke

As statesman, Dalberg was distinguished by his patriotic attitude, whether in ecclesiastical matters, in which he leaned to the Febronian view of a German national church, or in his efforts to galvanize the atrophied machinery of the Empire into some sort of effective central government of Germany. Failing in this, he turned to the rising star of Napoleon, believing that he had found in him the only force strong enough to save Germany from dissolution.

By the Treaty of Lunéville in 1801, in which all territories on the left bank of the river Rhine were ceded to France, Dalberg's predecessor had to surrender Mainz and Worms; the concordat of 1801 had reduced Mainz zu a simple diocese in the province of Mechelen that conscribed the French department of Donnersberg (including the city of Worms). For Mainz, Joseph Ludwig Colmar was soon appointed as bishop. (Worms, though it had lost its city, remained an extant diocese on the right bank of the Rhine, so Dalberg could succeed there.) In the Final Recess of the Extraordinary Imperial Deputation of 1803, it was decided to compensate German princes for their losses to France by distributing the Church land among them, so Dalberg lost a couple of territories there (among other things, Constance), though (due to the prominent position of the Arch-Chancellor of the Empire, and perhaps also due to his personality and skilled diplomatics), he would be the only spiritual prince to retain at least some territory for temporal government: the Mainzian lands around Aschaffenburg, the Reichsstadt (Free Imperial City) of Wetzlar (with the rank of a Countship) and the Principality of Regensburg containing the Imperial City, the bishopric, and some independent monasteries. (Regensburg was also where the Imperial Deputation had taken place.) In addition, he was designated Archbishop of the (former Salzburg suffragan) Regensburg, to which (spiritually now) the former Mainz lands on the right bank of the Rhine, and the former Mainzian suffragans were attached.

This was, of course, the decision of a state authority which, in its spiritual part, could not take effect until ratified by the Pope; in any case, Regensburg's bishop, Schroffenberg, was still alive at the time. So, Dalberg did not exercise spiritual authority in the older part of the Regensburg diocese until Bishop Schroffenberg died, at which point he made himself elected vicar capitular of the diocese; finally, on February 1st, 1805, he received the papal assent and was Archbishop of Regensburg.

After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire n 1806, he together with other princes joined the Confederation of the Rhine. He formally resigned the office of Arch-Chancellor in a letter to Emperor Francis II, and was appointed by Napoleon Prince primate of the Confederation of the Rhine. At that point, the Reichsstadt of Frankfurt was included among his territories. Not long after, he appointed Napoleon's uncle, Cardinal Fesch, coadjutor in his archdiocese (a move for which he had no canonical rights).

After the Treaty of Schönbrunn (1810) was elevated by the French to the rank of Grand Duke of Frankfurt. This greatly augmented his territories, although he had to cede Regensburg to the Kingdom of Bavaria. As Grand Duke of Frankfurt he ordered all restrictions on the Jews of Frankfurt lifted. This was opposed by the Christian town council, until 1811, when he issued a proclamation ending the requirement that Jews live in the ghetto or pay special taxes.

In 1813 he resigned from all his temporal offices in favor of Napoleon's stepson Eugène de Beauharnais, who had been heir apparent since 1810.

He died in 1817 in Regensburg.

Though Dalberg's political subservience to Napoleon was resented by later generation in Germany, as a man and prelate he is remembered as amiable, conscientious and large-hearted. Himself a scholar and author, he was a notable patron of letters, and was the friend of Goethe, Schiller and Wieland.



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    Catholic Church titles
    Preceded by
    Maximilian Christof von Rodt
    as Prince-Bishop
    Bishop of Constance
    Prince-Bishop until 1803
    Bishopric dissolved1
    Preceded by
    Friedrich Karl Joseph von Erthal
    Elector of Mainz, then Regensburg
    Arch-Chancellor of Germany
    Holy Roman Empire dissolved, territories mediatised
    Preceded by
    Friedrich Karl Joseph von Erthal
    Bishop of Worms
    Prince-Bishop until 1803
    Prince-Bishopric secularised,
    spiritually returned to Mainz
    Preceded by
    Joseph Konrad von Schroffenberg-Mös
    Archbishop of Regensburg
    Prince-Archbishop until 1810
    Sede vacante
    Title next held by
    Johann Nepomuk von Wolf
    as Bishop of Regensburg
    Political offices
    Preceded by
    Kurmainzischer Governor of Erfurt
    Succeeded by
    Preceded by
    Coadjutor of Mainz and Worms
    Succeeded by
    Preceded by
    Coadjutor of Constance
    Succeeded by
    New creation Prince-Primate of the Confederation of the Rhine
    Succeeded by
    Eugène de Beauharnais
    New office Grand Duke of Frankfurt
    Notes and references
    1. The Bishopric of Constance was dissolved by Pope Pius VII in 1821, without recognising Ignaz Heinrich von Wessenberg, who had been elected in 1817.
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