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The Prince-electors (or simply Electors) of the Holy Roman Empire (German: Kurfürst (About this sound listen ), pl. Kurfürsten, Latin: Princeps Elector) were the members of the electoral college of the Holy Roman Empire, having the function of electing the Roman king or, from the middle of the 16th century onwards, directly the Holy Roman Emperor.

The heir-apparent to a prince-elector was known as an electoral prince (German: Kurprinz). The dignity of Elector was extremely prestigious and second only to King or Emperor.



The Holy Roman Empire was in theory an elective monarchy, but from the 15th century onwards the electors often merely formalised what was a dynastic succession within the Austrian House of Habsburg, with the title usually passing to the eldest surviving son of the deceased Emperor. Despite this, the office was not legally hereditary, and the heir could not title himself "Emperor" without having been personally elected.

Formally they elected a King of the Romans, who was elected in Germany but became Holy Roman Emperor only when crowned by the pope. Charles V was the last to be a crowned Emperor; his successors were all Emperors by election (German: erwählter Römischer Kaiser; Latin: electus Romanorum imperator) only.

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