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A Prince-Bishop is a bishop who is a territorial Prince of the Church on account of one or more secular principalities, usually pre-existent titles of nobility held concurrently with their inherent clerical office. Thus the principality ruled politically by a prince-bishop could wholly or largely overlap with his diocesan jurisdiction, but not necessarily; several lost their actual see (the city itself), which could obatin the status of free imperial city. If the see is an archbishopric, the correct term is prince-archbishop; the equivalent in the regular (monastic) clergy is prince-abbot.

In the West, with the decline of imperial power from the 4th century onwards in the face of the barbarian invasions, sometimes Christian bishops of cities took the place of the Roman commander, made secular decisions for the city and led their own troops when necessary. Later relations between a prince-bishop and the burghers were not invariably cordial. As cities demanded charters from emperors, kings, or their prince-bishops and declared themselves independent of the secular territorial magnates, friction intensified between burghers and bishops.

In the Byzantine Empire, the still autocratic Emperors passed general legal measures assigning all bishops certain rights and duties in the secular administration of their dioceses, but that was part of a caesaropapist development putting the Eastern Church in the service of the Empire, with its Ecumenical Patriarch almost reduced to the Emperor's minister of religious affairs. The Russian Empire went even further, abolishing its own patriarchy and placing the church under direct control of the secular government.

The German term Hochstift was often used to denote the form of secular authority held by bishops ruling a prince-bishopric with Erzstift being used for prince-archbishoprics.


Holy Roman Empire

Bishops had been involved in the government of the Frankish realm and subsequent Carolingian Empire frequently as the clerical member of a duo of envoys styled Missus dominicus, but that was an individual mandate, not attached to the see.

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