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German War Eagle

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For several centuries, Central Europe was split into a few large- or medium-sized states and hundreds of tiny entities, which while ostensibly being within the Holy Roman Empire ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor, operated in a largely independent fashion. When an existing Emperor died seven secular and ecclesiastical princes would elect a new Emperor. Over time the Empire became smaller and by 1789 came to consist of primarily German peoples (aside from Bohemia, Tyrol, the southern Netherlands and Slovenia). Aside from five years (1740-1745), the Habsburg family, whose personal territory was Austria, controlled the Emperorship from 1440 to 1806, although it became increasingly ceremonial only as Austria found itself at war at certain times with other states within the Empire, such as Prussia, which in fact defeated Austria during the War of Austrian Succession to seize the state of Silesia in 1742. While Austria was traditionally considered the leader of the German states, Prussia became increasingly powerful and by the late 18th century was ranked as one of the great powers of Europe. Francis II's abolition of the office of Holy Roman Emperor in 1806 also deprived him of his imperial authority over most of German-speaking Europe, though little true authority remained by that time; he did, however, retain firm control of an extensive multi-ethnic empire (most of it outside the previous boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire). After 1815, the German states were once again reorganized into a loose confederation: the German Confederation, under Austrian leadership.

First depiction of the Reichsadler as double-headed (coat of arms of Otto IV from the Chronica Majora , c. 1250)


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