King Ruprecht

Exactly 600 years ago today, King Ruprecht died. The only Prince Elector from Heidelberg ever to seize the throne was buried in Heiliggeistkirche, the church he founded as a burial site worthy of a royal family. Today, this tomb slab doesn’t mark the spot where Ruprecht and his wife Elisabeth are buried. It was moved around the church a couple of times and can now be found in a side aisle. It was even turned 180 degrees so that visitors can step up to face the king just like you’d do at any other graveyard. It used to be the other way round, so that the deceased could face the altar and, in fact, the rising sun.

Ruprecht’s story is one of a huge failure. He seized power in 1400 when most of the kingdom’s princes grew more and more impatient with king Wenzel of Bohemia. Ruprecht had inherited the Electoral Palatinate from his father, Ruprecht, in 1398, which made him one of seven princes entitled to chose a king. He combined with the archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne. They ousted Wenzel and chose Ruprecht in his place – with a majority of 4 against three including his own vote.

As king, Ruprecht failed miserably, though, starting with his first and only mission to Italy to be crowned Emperor. He had to disband parts of his army even before reaching the alps cause he couldn’t pay them. After failing to get past rivalling Milano, he returned north beaten and absolutely broke. He twice had to pawn his own crown to pay his debts. After his death, his sons didn’t even attempt to inherit the crown – a one-off in medieval history. The palatinate could just not sustain a king. In the words of one historian, the dreams about the crown were “radically over”.

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