GOLDEN BULL, a charter authenticated by a golden seal, or bulla. Historically, this name refers only to a few charters of great political significance, including the Golden Bulls of the Holy Roman Empire, of Hungary, Milan, and the duchy of Brabant. The most important was the German imperial Golden Bull of 1356.
After the death of Emperor Frederick II in 1250, most of the real power in Germany came into the hands of great ecclesiastical and political princes, who claimed the right to elect the German kings. During the second half of the 13th century and the early 14th century, bitter conflicts arose over which princes should have the right of election. In 1356 the newly crowned Emperor Charles IV (king of Germany, 1346-1378) issued a set of electoral rules clarifying procedure, at the diet of Nuremberg. This docu-ment, the Golden Bull, was amended and then approved by the German princes at the diet of Metz on Dec. 25, 1356.
According to the provisions of the Golden Bull, there were to be seven princely electors: the archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne, the king of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony, and the Margrave of Brandenburg. Election was to be by majerity vote. The chief beneficiaries of the Golden Bull were the prince-electors because the right of the king to interfere in their lands was virtually denied. The other princes and the German imperial and free cities lost political power, as did the papacy, because one provision stated that the election of a king required no papal con-firmation. Although German kings were elected according to the provisions of the Golden Bull until 18Û6, the new procedure only contributed to German particularism.