History of position
The office of chancellor has a long history, stemming back to the Holy Roman Empire. The title was at times used in several states of German-speaking Europe. The power and influence of this office varied strongly over time. Otto von Bismarck in particular had a great amount of power, but it was not until 1949 that the chancellor was established as the central executive authority of Germany.
Due to his administrative tasks, the head of the chapel of the imperial palace during the Holy Roman Empire was called chancellor. The Archbishop of Mainz was German chancellor until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 while the Archbishop of Cologne was Chancellor of Italy and the Archbishop of Trier of Burgundy. These three Archbishops were also Prince-electors of the empire. Already in medieval times the chancellor had political power like Willigis of Mainz (Archchancellor 975–1011, regent for Otto III 991–994) or Rainald von Dassel (chancellor 1156–1162 and 1166–1167) under Frederick I.
The modern office of chancellor was established with the North German Confederation, of which Otto von Bismarck became chancellor of the Confederation (official German title: Bundeskanzler) in 1867. After unification of Germany in 1871, the office became known in German as Reichskanzler ("Reich Chancellor", literally "Chancellor of the Realm"). Since the adoption of the current constitution of Germany (the "Basic Law" or "Grundgesetz") in 1949 the formal title of the office is once again Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor).
In the now defunct German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), which existed from 7 October 1949 to 3 October 1990 (when the territory of the former GDR was reunified with the Federal Republic of Germany), the position of chancellor did not exist. The equivalent position was called either Minister President (Ministerpräsident) or Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the GDR (Vorsitzender des Ministerrats der DDR). (See Leaders of East Germany.)
- See the article Chancellor for the etymology of the word.