For the early German kingdom all evidence suggests that candidacies were pursued individually according to their merit and, where necessary, by force of arms. There was little or no possibility of political factions forming and continuing from one election to the next, because each point of succession posed its own individual set of problems, which candidates would seek to resolve through their own particular credentials. With the papal-imperial schism of the late eleventh century, however, there were ready-made factions exerting a definitive influence on succession.
The shift of politics towards factions can be accounted for by two circumstances. The first is the growth of ecclesiastical power in administrating electoral conventions. This new-found power clashed directly with the circumstances of heritability in 1125, when Frederick of Staufen possessed an impeccable hereditary claim as nephew of Emperor Henry V. No comparable claim existed; hence when Lothar of Supplinburg was elected on the grounds of a much more diffuse claim, the battle lines essentially were drawn between the descendants of those two candidates.
The other significant circumstance is the “situation on the ground.” The imperial schism had led to forfeitures where two relatives adhering to opposing parties might claim all the estates and titles belonging to the other. An excellent example is the low-grade civil war conducted between the papally sponsored King Hermann of Salm and his cousin Henry of Laach. Eventually Hermann’s sons offered fealty to the Salian emperors, but their desire to be fully restored to their father’s estates caused ongoing strife. Lothar of Supplinburg was their relative, and he showed them favor, whereas Lothar’s successor Konrad of Staufen was of the faction of their enemies, and they suffered once more.
The tendency to form factions continued throughout the twelfth century in conjunction with the Welf-Staufen conflict. Presumably Emperor Henry VI’s plan of 1196 for hereditary succession of the monarchy was intended to break the cycle of factional strife associated with the succession. The failure of that plan resulted in the disputed election of 1198 and the intimate involvement of the papacy in the imperial succession, with enormous repercussions for the political history of the next century.
Factions may also have played a peculiarly intimate role in the thirteenth-century formation of the imperial college of electors, where ultimately one particular legal viewpoint appears to be instituted to the prejudice of all other viewpoints regarding the definitive composition of the electoral college. Marriage pacts involving the newly elected monarch and his foremost supporters are a striking feature of the imperial elections, and the Golden Bull of 1356 literally institutionalized this means of ensuring adherence to the result of an election.