Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

King of Germany and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, b. 15 February, 1361, at Nuremberg ; d. at Znaim, Bohemia, 9 December, 1437. He was the second son of the Emperor Charles IV, who betrothed him to Maria, the oldest daughter of King Louis of Hungary and Poland, and thus prepared the way for a great extension of the power of the House of Luxemburg. During the reign of his elder brother, King Wenceslaus, Sigismund was able, upon the death of the King of Hungary, to maintain his claims to Hungary though only after a hard struggle, and on 31 March, 1387, he was crowned King of Hungary. In 1389 he was obliged to defend the boundaries of his new kingdom against the Turks. In this year Sultan Amurath I had overthrown the Servian kingdom in the battle on the Plain of Kossovo (Plain of the Blackbirds). Amurath's son, Bajazet, defeated a Christian army under Sigismund at Nicopolis, and the lands along the Danube were only saved by the renewed advance of the Osmanli. In 1389 the clergy and nobility of Bohemia rebelled against the administration of the Government by the favorites of King Wenceslaus; they were supported both by Jost of Moravia and Sigismund. After this the intrigues in the royal family of Luxemburg were incessant. When, therefore, King Wenceslaus was deposed as emperor in 1400 at Oberlahnstein by the electors, and Rupert was elected emperor in his stead, Wenceslaus appointed his brother imperial vicar for Germany and governor and administrator of Bohemia. However, the accord between the brothers was not of long duration, because Wenceslaus was not willing to confer the succession in Bohemia upon Sigismund. For a time Sigismund was held prisoner by rebellious Hungarian subjects. The Emperor Rupert died on 18 May, 1410, at a time of intense excitement when the ecclesiastical confusion of the Great Schism had reached its height. There was a double election of a king of the Romans. On 20 September, 1410, Sigismund was chosen, and on 1 October of the same year his cousin, Jost of Bohemia, was also chosen. The empire, like the Church, had now three rulers. The death of Jost of Moravia made it easier for Sigismund to gain recognition, for the electors who had chosen Jost agreed to the election of Sigismund on 21 July, 1411. The new emperor was King of Hungary and Margrave of Brandenburg, and thus had a dynastic power which might have restored real power to the German Empire. He had large ambitions, his aim was to lead a united Christendom against the power of Islam, but he lacked steadiness and perseverance. Although highly talented he was too easily carried away by Utopian schemes. He also neglected to protect the base of his power, his hereditary possessions, which were disorganized by bad administration and civil disorder. The first matter of importance during his reign was the Great Schism.

To Sigismund, undoubtedly, belongs the credit of bringing about the great reform Councils of Constance and Basle. In 1414 he went to Italy on an expedition against Venice ; while there he forced Pope John XXIII, who was hard-pressed by King Ladislaus of Naples, to call a council which met at Constance on 1 November, 1414. For a time Sigismund was the soul of the council, and this no doubt served once more to emphasize the importance of Germany. However, the interest of the emperor in the council diminished in proportion as its proceedings failed to meet his views. The sole result of the council so far as Sigismund was concerned was that he brought upon himself the hatred of his Bohemian subjects by his sacrifice of John Hus. During the course of the council Sigismund turned his efforts at reform to internal policies, especially to the establishment of a general peace in the empire. He failed, however, in these efforts. Important consequences resulted from his granting to Frederick Hohenzollern, Burgrave of Nuremberg, the Mark of Brandenburg in fief, to which he added on 30 April, 1415, the electoral dignity and the office of lord high chancellor. In this way Sigismund gained support for himself against the independent policy of the electors. On the death of Wenceslaus (16 August, 1419), Sigismund became King of Bohemia ; where, directly after the close of the Council of Constance , Hussite disorders had begun. The king sought to re-establish order by severe measures, but, as this method failed, Martin V at Sigismund's request proclaimed a crusade. Religious and national fanaticism brought a bloody victory to Ziska's hordes on 1 November, 1420, at Wyschehrad, and also on 8 January, 1422, at Deutschbrod. The position of Sigismund, who was now also threatened by the Turks, was an exceedingly precarious one. The only effective aid offered him was that of Duke Albert V of Austria to whom Sigismund had married his only daughter Elizabeth and whom he had made the presumptive heir of the Hungarian and Bohemian crowns. The Hussite armies now threatened the neighboring German territories. Forthwith it became apparent how wretched was the military organization of the empire and how desperate were the divisions among the German princes. Attempts at reform began, but the emperor lacked the vigor to carry out these attempts. Sigismund's failure to effect the needed imperial reforms was not wholly due to weakness of character ; the selfish policy of the estates opposed insuperable obstacles to his good intentions. In 1424 the electors attempted to take the defense of the empire in their own hands. Though the coalition soon broke up, it had proclaimed the political programme of the following decades: reform of the empire with the controlling assistance of the estates As Sigismund was unable to enforce these reforms he could bring about the reconciliation of Bohemia by way of negotiations only; these were entrusted to the Council of Basle. Probably to emphasize before the councils his European position, Sigismund had himself crowned King of Lombardy on 25 November 1431, and German emperor at Rome, 31 May, 1433. Quarrels between the moderate Calixtines and the radical Taborites helped along the negotiations. By the so-called Compact of Prague the councul brought back the Hussite movement, at least so far as essentials were concerned, to lines compatible with the authority of the Church. The only concession was the granting of the cup to the laity. At the Diet of Iglau in 1436 after Sigismund had recognized the Compact of Prague he was acknowledged as regent of Bohemia. After this Sigismund took no further interest in large undertakings and retired to Bohemia. When, however, his reactionary measures led to a fresh outbreak, in which his wife, Barbara of Citti, joined, he retired to Znaim where he died.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 4:7-16
7 On each one of us God's favour has been bestowed in whatever way Christ ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5
1 [Song of Ascents Of David] I rejoiced that they said to me, 'Let us go ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:1-9
1 It was just about this time that some people arrived and told him about ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 22nd, 2016 Image

St. Pope John Paul II
October 22: Karol J. Wojtyla, known as John Paul II since his ... Read More