The Golden Bull (1356) specifying the rules of election for Holy Roman Emperors resulted in a diminution of imperial authority. By the end of the 15th century there was a recognition, even amongst the electors, that the empire’s constitution rendered it vulnerable to the growing might of the Ottomans, and of powerful centralized states like France. From 1495–1512, Diets at Worms, Augsburg, Trier and Cologne established a streamlined imperial government and cabinet, a Common Penny tax to pay for troops and, ultimately, ten Imperial Circles. The Circles were administrative groupings for the collection of tax and the organization of the empire’s defence. However, there were substantial exemptions: the kingdom of Bohemia, the Italian territories, and the Swiss Confederation were unencircled. There were also no less than 85 ‘free cities’, plus a collection of villages and estates enjoying the limited self-government of ‘imperial immediacy’.
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