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Germany
(Part 23)




HISTORY OF GERMANY (cont.)

Later Mediaeval Period


Henry the Proud was confident that he would succeed Lothair ; but, by a hasty and irregular election, Conrad, duke of Franconia, was chosen king. Conrad III. (1137-52), an impulsive and not every wise ruler, found himself at once in serious perplexities. Henry the Proud, knowing that evil was designed against him, rebelled whereupon he was declared to have forfeited his duchies ; and Saxony was granted to Albert the Bear, a strong and truly great Saxon noble, while Bavaria fell to Leopold, margrave of Austria. Thus again the country was ravaged by war, for Henry the Proud, although he was unpopular in Bavaria—the duchy he had inherited—was powerfully upheld in Saxony, which, ever since Henry IV. had alienated it, had always been ready to join in an attack on the monarchy. Henry suddenly died, but the struggle was continued by his brother Duke Welf ; and, but for the opportune death of some of the chief combatants, among them Leopold of Bavaria, it seemed probable that it would go hard with the king. Welf, hoping to be made Leopold’s successor, agreed to a compromise, by which Saxony, with the assent of Albert the Bear, was granted to Henry—afterwards Henry the Lion—the young son of Henry the Proud. Bavaria, however, was in the end given to Henry Jasomirgott (so called from his habit of saying "Ja so mir Gott helfe!"), margrave of Austria, a rough noble, who was afterwards found to have a decidedly inconvenient temper. Welf again took to arms, and for years contended with his rival. Notwithstanding this and many other sources of confusion, Conrad was persuaded by the passionate eloquence of St Bernard to take part in the second crusade. He came back broken, dispirited, and near his end, to find Henry the Lion at the head of a great army, claiming Bavaria in addition to Saxony,—a claim which Conrad in vain attempted to dispute.

German now passed under one of the greatest of her sovereigns, Frederick Barbarossa (1152-90), nephew of Kind Conrad, and son of the Frederick, duke of Swabia , who had fought along with Conrad against Henry the Proud. He was a man of large and noble nature, capable indeed, if resisted, of great harshness, but a passionate lover of justice, with far-reaching ideals, ready to battle with gigantic difficulties, yet knowing how to recognize and submit to the inevitable. Allied to the Welfs through his mother, and having a personal regard for Henry the Lion, he was anxious to bring to an end the strife of the Welfic and the Hohenstaufen families, and began his reign by promising to secure for Henry the duchy of Bavaria. For his adventurous and imaginative spirit the splendour of the imperial name had an irresistible charm ; and two years after he ascended the throne, in 1154, he went to Rome to be crowned emperor. After this the best years of his life were spent in Italy, where, in his obstinate struggle with the Lombard cities and with Pope Alexander III., he chiefly acquired his fame. Although it was conducted on his side mainly with German troops, it properly comes under Italian history, in which the record of his reign forms a bloody page, while his name is associated with one of the most peaceful and prosperous periods in the internal history of Germany.

The promise that Bavaria should be granted to Henry the Lion was not easily fulfilled, for Henry Jasomirgott doggedly refused to give it up. At last, however, Frederick after his return from his first expedition to Italy, in 1156, reconciled the surly prince by detaching Austria, his native march, from Bavaria, and making it a duchy with certain special privileges,—an important step in the process by which Austria gradually became the centre of a powerfully state. Henry the Lion then became duke both of Bavaria and of Saxony. This prince often gave offence by a haughty and aggressive disposition, but few German dukes won so true a title to the good-will of posterity. Since the time of Otto II. and Otto III. Slavonic countries to the east of Saxony had been very imperfectly held in subjection. Henry devoted himself to the conquest of the territory along the shores of the Baltic, and he succeeded as no one before him had ever done. But he was not a mere conqueror ; he built towns and encouraged those which already existed, founded bishoprics in the newly-won lands, and planted in them bodies of industrious colonist. While he south of him by Albert the Bear, the first margrave of Brandenburg, who, by just energetic rule, worthily prepared the land for its great, although far-off, destinies.

Early in his reign, by settling a dispute between two brothers who claimed the crown of Denmark, Frederick brought the king of that country once more into the position of a vassal of Germany. He broke into Poland also, and compelled its ruler to do homage, and, in return for great services rendered in his Polish campaign, raise the duke of Bohemia to royal,—a charge which in no way affected his duties to the German crown, but which gave him a certain precedence over all other subject princes. The king of Hungary, although no attempt was made to subdue him, became a useful ally of Frederick. Thus the ancient fame of Germany, which was lost during the confusion that came after Henry III., was to a large extent restored in the neighbouring countries. Frederick reasserted the royal authority in Burgundy, and added to the kingdom, by right of marriage, Upper Burgundy, or, as it was afterwards called, Franche Comté. Internal quiet he established by stricly applying such laws as existed against those who should break the peace ; and the robber nobles never found a more implacable enemy. The cities flourished during his reign, and the he attached them to himself by granting to many of them the very liberties which, by a too literal interpretation of his imperial rights, he withheld from the cities of Lombardy. Yet, with all this, the nobles appears to have been enthusiastically devoted to him. They followed him time after time into Italy, going through incredible sufferings that he might assert claims were of no advantage to them, and which had been a curse to their notion. On one occasion, when a too confident legate read before the diet a papal letter, which seemed to imply that the empire was a fief of the papacy, indignant murmurs broke from the assembly, and the life of the offender was saved only by a intervention of Frederick himself. The secret of this great popularity was partly the national pride excited by his foreign achievements, partly the ascendency which his genius gave him over other minds, partly the conviction that, while he would abate nothing of his rights, he would ask no more than the laws of the empire sanctioned.

In the later years of Frederick’s reign, Henry the Lion had the misfortune to incur hid deep displeasure. The duke, rendered arrogant by success, positively refused, because his conditions were not admitted, to attend the emperor in the Italian campaign which resulted in the fatal battle of Legnano. Ascribing this defeat wholly to Henry Frederick returned to Germany resolved to work his ruin. Summoned on three different occasions to attend the diet, Henry held aloof ; whereupon, by judgment of his peers he was condemned to the loss of both his duchies. After some resistance he submitted ; but the utmost faviour he could secure was permission to retain Brunswick and Lüneburg, while his term of banishment to England was reduced from seven years to three. Bavaria was granted to Otto of Wittelsbach, but it lost much of its importance, for, among other changes, Styria was taken from it and made a separate duchy. Saxony was finally broken up. The duchy was confined to a comparatively small territory to the east of Brunswick and Lüneburg, and conferred upon Bernard, son of Albert the Bear, while most of the western half of the country was attached, as the duchy of Westphalia, to the archbishopric of Cologne. The chief prelates of Saxony, and many of the most important vassals of the duke, such as the counts of Oldenburg, of Holstein, and of Schwerin, were made virtually independent of all control save that of the crown. Frederick’s object in thus disintegrating the crown. Frederick’s object in thus disintegrating the two greatest duchies in the kingdom was, by playing off the nobles against each other, to secure imperial authority. But, in reality, he made it doubly certain that the princes would one day shake off imperial power altogether ; for it was incomparably more difficult for the sovereign to contend with scores to petty nobles than with two or three great lords.

Towards the close of Frederick’s carreer fortune appeared to smile upon him. Germany was at peace ; even in Italy, since the force of events had persuaded him that the time was past for too severe a straining of his lawful claims, he had been well received by the cities which had wrought him so much disaster ; pope and emperor were temporarily reconciled ; and, by the marriage of his son Henry with the princess Constantia, he had reason to hope that the empire would soon include Naples and Sicily. Resolving that the sunset of his life should be even more splendid than its dawn, he undertook the third crusade, and started with a great army for the Holy Land. When the news reached Germany that he had been drowned, men felt that evil days must come, since the elements of strife no longer be controlled by his strong hand.

Evil days did not, however, come in the time of Henry VI. (1190-97), who, although without his father’s greatness of sould, had hid determination and energy. Partly by means of the immense ransom obtained from his prisoner Richard of England, he was able to beat down resistance in the south Italian kingdom to which his marriage entitled him; and the papacy was more completely subject to him than it had ever been to Frederick. In Germany he was so powerful that he not only secured the election of his infant son Frederick as king of the Romans (as a king elected during the lifetime of an emperor was now and henceforth called), but he made proposals that the crown should be declared hereditary. To secure this important end, he offered so many concessions that, but for his sudden death, it would probably have been achieved.

Great as was Henry’s authority, there had been a dangerous conspiracy against even him, and after his death the princes who had taken part in it refuse to recognize his son. There was now a double election, those who were favourable to the Hohenstaufen dynasty choosing Philip, Henry’s brother, their, enemies appointing Otto, son of Henry the Lion. Had Germany had no relation to the papacy, or had the papacy continued as weak as in the days of Henry VI., there could have been no doubt how the strife would end. A large majority of the princes were on Philip’s side, and his personal character commanded universal respect, while Otto was a man without principle, harsh and violent. But, to Germany’s misfortune, the papal see was at this time held by Innocent III., a pope in whom were revived the ambition, statesmanship, and force of Hildenbrand. After a little delay he decided for Otto, and thenceforward for some years the country was desolated by civil war. Even with the help of the pope, Otto by and by lost ground; and Philip, had he not been murdered, in 1208, would soon have been universally acknowledged. After hid death, however, there was no longer any excuse fro war, and Otto, was crowned emperor. While his position was undecided he remained a humble suppliant of the pope, but after his coronation he cast aside hid pledges, and began to act as in independent sovereign. Up to this time Frederick, the son of Henry VI., had lived in his southern kingdom, nominally under the guardianship of Innocent, but in reality left to be trained by the severe discipline of practical life. Although the pope did not altogether like him, he now resolved to punish Otto by bringing forward this young prince as a candidate for the German throne. A partly among the princes was easily induced to elect him, and in 1214 he started, full of youthful hope, on his journey across the Alps. In the period which followerd, he displayed an unsurpassed power of managing men ; while Otto, thinking to injure him by indirectly striking a heavy blow at his patron the pope, was short-sighted enough to leave Germany and to support John of England against the French king, Philip Augustus. In the battle of Bouvines, memorable alike in the history of England, France, and Germany, his fate was sealed. After so crushing a defeat nothing remained for him but to make way for his rival by withdrawing from public life.

Frederick II. (1212-50), if not the strongest, was personally the most brilliant, of the German kings, With the medieaeval passion for adventure he combined the intellectual freedom and culture of a modern gentlemen. A lover of poetry, of science, and of art, he was also a great statesman ; with a power of will which the most adverse circumstances could not break, he knew how to adapt his policy to changing circumstances, and how to move men by appealing at one time to their selfishness and weakness, at another to the most ideal qualities of human nature. And for outward splendour his position never was surpassed, since, when the died, he possessed no fewer than six crowns,—the imperial crown, and the crowns of Germany, Burgundy, Lombardy, Sicily, and Jerusalem. But Germany, his proper kingdom, profited not at all by his magnificent gifts. In 1220 he left it for a space of 15 years, to accomplish his famous crusade, to carry on his bitter contest with the Lombard cities and Pope Gregory IX., and to rule Sicily, with an insight into its needs that made it the most prosperous land in Christendom. In his absence he was represented in Germany by his young son Henry, who was crowned king of the Romans, and in whose name the country was government by two successive regents. Throughout the kingdom the princes did very much what seemed good in their own eyes ; and in the north a confused warfare was carried on between the Germans and the Danes. As there was now no powerful Saxon duke to uphold the northern interests of the kingdom, and as the central Government did not choose, or was unable, to act with energy, the Danes had decidedly the best of this struggle, and extended their power along the Baltic coast. At the same time Prussia was conquered for Christianity and for civilization by the knights of the Teutonic Order, who here slowly built up the state which ultimately, in association with Brandenburg, was to influence so profoundly the course of history. Crusading knights from all lands came to their help against the Prussian heathen, and their strength was permanently increased by their union with the Knights of the Sword, who, before their appearance in Prussia, had been subduing Livonia and Courland. In all these countries Christian institutions were introduced, and German settlers brought with them the peaceful arts.

As young King Henry grew up, he displayed none of the good characteristics of his house, and in 1235 he openly rebelled. So confident was Frederick of his own position that he entered Germany with only a few personal attendants, and his presence had the effect he anticipated. At Mainz, amid circumstances of unprecedented pomp, he held at diet which was attended by nearly all the princes and Henry was solemnly deposed. Yet Frederick was in reality watched with sullen suspicion. The princes did not know what might be implied in his extraordinary display of imperial power ; they resented his evident dislike of their country ; as royal sons of the church, they could not but hold somewhat aloof from one who was believed to be at heart a Mahometan. It was significant of the limits of his influence that, in declaring private war to be unlawful, he had to except cases in which justice could no be obtained ; and that , although desirous of setting up courts of justice which should make private war unnecessary, he could only establish a tribunal from whose jurisdiction princes of the empire were excluded.

Some years after this, gulf between Frederick and the nation was further widened by his indifference to a fearful danger by which Germany was threatened. Hordes of Mongols appeared on the eastern frontiers, yet Frederick had neither counsel nor help for his subject; the peril was warded off independently of him by the brave margrave, Henry of Liegnitz. At that time he was once more absorbed by his Italian wars. In Innocent IV. he found an enemy quite as persistent as Gregory IX. Innocent grasped at the old and well-tried weapon, the ambition of the princes; and he succeeded so far as to induce a number of them, mostly prelates, to accept his sentence of deposition, and to appoint a rival king. The king of their choice was Henry Raspe, landgrave of Thuringia, a rude noble, who had extended hid territories at the expense of his dead brother, husband, of the famous St Elizabeth of Hungary. Frederick’s younger son, Conrad, who had some time before been elected king of the Romans, resisted the parson’s king, as Henry Raspe was popularly called ; and the rebellion did not at any time assume dangerous proportions. After Henry Raspe’s death, the papal party elected William, count of Holland , a prince who had no quality to recommend him, except that he was young and weak, and therefor likely to be a willing tool in the hands of his friends. Had Frederick chosen to leave the Lomabard cities, he might still have found sources of strength in Germany ; but the prefferred to remain at what he considered the centre of his empire, and King Conrad had not influence enough to restore harmony. At the time of the emperor’s death, when he was almost ready to make a new spring at his enemies, but when to the world he seemed to have lost everything, the prospects of his supporters were dark indeed. They acknowledged Conrad IV. as their lawful soverign, but he, too, fought in Italy rather than at home, and the country continued till his death, in 1254, to be torn by the two contending factions.

With King Conrad IV. the Hohenstaufen line came to an end in Germany, and William of Holland received a nominal allegiance. In two years he followed his predecesors, and then there was a double election, that of Alphonso, king of Castile, and Richard, earl of Cornwall, brother of Henry III. of England. Richard was crowned, but he went to Germany only three times, and the majority of his subjects probably hardly knew his name. Alphonso never even visited the country of which he also claimed to be the sovereign.

The age of the Hohenstaufen emperors is, in many respects, the most interesting the mediaeval history of Germany. Everywhere there were dramatic contrasts of character; in the innumerable struggles of the time we are struck, now by the heroic devotion, again by almost incredible selfishness ; a gay enjoyment of the world as it is existed side by side with almost superhuman spirituality. Chivalry was in full bloom, with much in its nature that was fantastic and insincere, but keeping alive a beautiful ideal of manliness, courtesy, and generosity. Women never held a higher place, nor, on the whole, did they ever respond more nobly to the honours freely lavished upon them. The excitement of the crusades, contact with the life of Italy( in that age presenting so many elements fitted to awaken even dull minds), and study of the Provençal poets revealed worlds that had been hitherto unknown ; while the national genius for the first time followed in the romances and lyrics of the Minnesänger. In the cities, magnificent churches in the Gothic style gave expression to high aspiration, and gratified a cultivated feeling for art. And the problems of government were seen in new lights, partly from the study of Roman law which passed from Italy to Germany, partly from the summaries of native custom in the "Sachsenspiegel" and "Schwabenspiegel," Altogether, Germany has seen no more fascinating epoch, none more full of life, movement, and colour.





Yet it was in this age that the German nation utterly lost its political strength Even after Lothair the Saxon, a line of sovereign rigidly confining themselves to their own kingdom might have mastered the many influences which were making for disunion. But the Hohenstufen family, like their Saxon and Franconian predecessors, would be content with nothing short of the world dominion ; and thus the crown which had once been significant of power and splendour gradually sank into contempt. Under the strong rule of Frederick Barbarossa and his son the process was temporarily stopped, but only to advance the more rapidly when they were gone. During the confusion of the civil war carried on by Otto IV. and Philip, the princes, being subjects to hardly any check, seized crown lands and crown rights ; and the mischief was too extensive to be undone by Frederick II. In 1220, in order to secure the adhesion of the church to his son Henry, he formally confirmed the spiritual princes in their usurpations, agreeing not to introduce into their territories, without their consent, new coinage, or customs, or toils. Fifteen years later the rebel king, Henry, was isolated by similar advantages being granted to the secular princes. The two pragmatic sanctions in which Frederick made these concessions formed the lawful basis of the independence of the princely class. Such authority as he reserved he could ill exercise from a distant land in which his energies were otherwise occupied. His immediate successors can hardly be said to have exercised any authority whatever ; and they lost hold of the border countries which had hitherto been dependent upon or connected with Germany. Denmark and Poland rendered no homage thenceforth to the German crown, and Burgundy was gradually absorbed by France.

The country was not now divided into a few duchies which, with skilful management, might still on difficult emergencies have been made to act together. The age of the great duchies was past. As we have seen, Bavaria was shorn of extensive lands, over which new dukes were placed, and the duchy of Saxony was altogether broken up. Swabia and Fraconia also ceased to have dukes, and Lorraine gave place to the duchy of Brabant and other small immediate states. Thus there were prelates, dukes, palsgraves, margraves, landgraves, counts—forming together a large body—each of whom claimed to have no superior save the emperor, whose authority they and their predecessors has slowly destroyed. All immediate nobles were not princes ; but even petty knights or barons, who possessed little more than the rude towers from which they descended upon passing travellers, if their only lord was the emperor recognized no law save their own wall. Another independent element of the state was composed of the imperial cities. So long as the emperor really reigned, they enjoyed only such liberties as they could wring from him, or as he voluntarily conferred. But when the sovereign’s power decayed, and imperial cities were really free republics, governing themselves according to their own ideas of law and justice. Besides the imperial cities, and the princes and other immediate nobles, there were the mediate nobles, the men who held land in fief of the highest classes of the aristocracy, and who, in virtue of this feudal relation, thought themselves entitled to look down upon allodial proprietors or freemen, and upon simple burghers. There were also mediate towns, acknowledging the supremacy of some lord other than the sovereign. Beneath all these, forming the mass of the agricultural population, were the peasantry and the serfs, the latter attached to the lands, the former ground down by heavy taxes.

The period which followed the death of Conrad IV., called the Great Interregnum, was made good use of by the prices for the extension of their territories and the confirmation of their authority. On several occasions the crown had seemed to be on the verge of becoming hereditary ; but the jealousy of the papacy, and the growing influence of the aristocracy, had succeeded in keeping it elective. Although each election needed the sanction of the whole class of immediate nobles, the right of appointing the king had long been virtually in the hands of the leading princes. During the interregnum, mainly through the influence of Pope Urban IV., it was definitely transferred to the archbishops of Mainz, Cologne, and Treves, the house of Wittelsbach and Saxony, the margrave of Bradenburg, and the king of Bohemia. After this the electors became a distinct element in the state. Their importance consisted in this, that they could maintain the existing disunion by imposing rigid conditions on candidates for the crown, and by taking care that it should be conferred on no prince likely to be dangerous to the aristocracy.

Up to the time of the interregnum the territories of a prince were never divided among his descendants, the reason being that, although the private fiefs of the princes were hereditary, their offices as rulers were in theory at the disposal of the crown. This principle was now set aside. Otto, duke of Bavaria, of the house of Wittelsbach, had become by marriage lord also of the Rhenish palatine. After his death these extensive lands were ruled in common by his sons ; but a formal division soon took place, by which the powerful family of Wittelsbach was separated into two branches, the Palatine and the Bavarian. The small duchy of Saxony was also divided into two duchies, that of Wittenberg and that of Luenburg, the former to the south, the latter to the north, of the great march of Brandenburg. About the same time there were like divisions in Nassau, Brunswick, Meissen, and Holstein. It was thus practically settled that the offices and territories, as well as the private fiefs, of the princes were hereditary, to be disposed of by them at their pleasure. This being thoroughly established, it would have been hard, perhaps impossible, even for a sovereign of the highest genius, to reassert in anything like its full extent the royal authority. The process of divisions and subdivision which steadily went on broke up Germany into a bewildering multitude of principalities; but as a rule the members of each princely house held together against common enemies. Ultimately they learned to arranged by private treatise that no territory should pass from the family while a single representative of it survived.

This consolidation of the power of the princes was contemporary with the rise of the cities into new importance. The destruction of imperial authority compelled them to organize their resources, so as to be at all times prepared against ambitious neighbours. They began to form leagues which the greatest princes, and combinations of princes, could not afford to despise. Of these leagues the chief at this time was the Rhenish Confederation, which was founded by Mainz and Worms, and which, within a year of its formation—so pressing was the need of union—included about 70 cities—among them Cologne, Strasburg, Basel, and towns far to the east and north, such as Nuremberg, Erfurt, and Bremen. Great importance was also acquired by the Hanseatic League, which had originated some time before the interregnum in a treaty of alliance between Lübeck and Hamburg. It ultimately included more than 80 cities, and become one of the greatest commercial powers in Europe.

A political system which allowed the princes to do as they pleased was exactly to their liking ; and had they been able to follow their own impulses, it is improbable that they would have placed over the country even a nominal king. Buy the papacy intervened. It found from its troubles at home and from its diminished northern revenues that it would still be convenient to have in Germany a sovereign who would, like his predecessors, be the protector of the church. Pope Gregory X. therefore, after the death of Richard, let the electors know that if they did not choose a king he himself would against one. This threat was effective. The electors met, and raised to the throne Rudolf, count of Hapsburg, a petty Swabian noble who was suppose to be too unimportant to do much harm. Rudolf (1273-91) however, proved himself to have much more energy than the electors supposed. For a long time the most powerful prince in Germany had been Ottocar, king of Bohemia. He had by marriage and conquest obtained a great territory beyond his native state, including the Austrian possessions of the house of Babenberg, of which the male line had died out. As he had himself expected to received the German crown, he refused to do homage to the new sovereign, who could not for a time compel his allegiance. At last, in a great battle at the Marchfeld, Ottocar was defeated and slain. Rudolf has often been called the restorer of the German kingdom, but he has no real claim to this honourable title. In the later years of his life the made attempts to maintain the public peace, and he distinguished himself by the vigour with which he punished robber barons ; he also won back some of the crown lands and dues which had been stolen during the interregnum. But he made no essential change in the condition of Germany. There was but one way in which a king could hope still to overcome the arrogance of the princes, and that was to encourage the cities and to form with them a close and enduring alliance. This was the policy pursued by the French kings, and it was pursued with splendid effect. But Rudolf invariably favoured the princes rather than the cities. The latter had a peculiar class of citizens called "pfahlbürger," who dwelt in the open country beyond the city palisades, and could claim the protection of the city authorities. As freemen were able, by becoming pfahlbüger, to escape from the tyranny of local despots, the princes vehemently opposed the right of the towns to receive them Rudolfd not only took the side of despotism in this important struggle, but harassed and weakened the cities by subjecting them to severe imposts. He had all the sympathies and prejudices of a noble ; and the supreme object of his life was not to increase the authority of the state, but to add to the greatness of his own family. In this he was brilliantly successful. Some years after the fall of Octtocar he obtained the assent of the princes, notwithstanding their dislike of the scheme, to the granting of Austria, Styria, and Carniola in fief to his son Albert. Carinthia was given to Meinhard, count of Tyrol, on condition that on the dying out of his male line it should fall to Rudolf’s descendants. Thus Rudolf made himself memorable as the founder of the house of Hapsburg, which from his time formed one of the most influential forces in the national life of Germany.

In vain Rudolf sought to obtain the crown for his son; the electors would not take a step that might endanger their special rights. Guided mainly by the archbishop of Cologne, they chose Adolf, count of Nassau (1291-98), a noble of even less importance than Rudolf had been. He had, however, a considerable reputation for valour and ability. Edward I. of England persuaded him to form an alliance against France. Instead of applying the large sum sent from England to promote the objects of the alliance, Adolf was unprincipled enough to expend it in the purchase of Thuringia from the worthless landgrave, Albert the Degenerttes. As the transfer was resisted by Alberts’ sons, it led to a war in which Adolf was opposed by several princes. It his general policy he was much more enlightened than in these wretched proceedings, for he detected what had escaped his predecessor, the value of the cities as the true support of the monarchy. He relieved them of some of their burdens, and upheld them in the controversy respecting the pfahlbürger. Taking alarm, the electors met, and by an irregular vote proclaimed him dethroned. Adolfs resisted, but lost his life in a battle near Worms.





Now that there could be no pretext for asserting that the crown had been obtained by inheritance, Duke Albert of Austria, Rudolf’s son, was chosen to be Adolf’s successor. Albert I. (1298-1308), like his father, made it his principal object to extend the power of his house, and he came very near to securing Bohemia and Thuringia ; but his schemes were cut short by a violent death. Although a hard, stern man, he had a keen sense of justice when his selfish interests were not involved, and few of the German kings possessed so strongly practical an intelligence. He encouraged the cities even more effectually than his predecessor, and was not content with issuing proclamation against private war, but formed alliance with the princes in the order to enforce his decrees. The serfs, whose wrongs seldom attracted notice in an age indifferent to human dignity, found a friend in this severe monarch, and he protected even the despised and persecuted Jews.

Albert’ successor was Henry, count of Luxemburg, Henry VII. (1308-13) was fortunate enough to obtain for his son John the crown of Bohemia, but the aggrandisement of his family was not the main object of this remarkable sovereign, the last of the German kings of the old, grandly ambitious type. It was the memory of the empire which stirred his blood ; and form the beginning of his reign he looked forward to the assumption of the Lombard and imperial crown. His purpose of crossing the Alps at the head of a mighty force hailed with delight in Italy by the Ghibelline faction, whose aspirations found noble utterance in Dante’s prose; but the emperor live too short a time to fulfill the hopes of his friends. The effect of the connexion of Germany with the empire was in his time, as in former ages, altogether mischievous; for before the starting for Rome he tried to conciliate the princes by adding to their already enormous privileges and by repressing the energies of the cities.

The electors, which their dread of the crown becoming hereditary, would not appoint Henry’s son, John, the young king of Bohemia. But they were unable to agree on any one else, and the result of their disputes was a double election—one party choosing Frederick the Fair, duke of Austria, son of Albert I. ; another, Louis, duke of Bavaria. War at once broke out and lasted for about nine years. In 1322 the rival claims were set at rest by the battle of Mühlberg, in which Frederick’s army was decisively routed. Louis had no personal ill-will to his opponent, who was the friend of his youth ;and in 1325 he agreed that they should rule in common. Frederick III., however, being without strength of character, sank into insignificance, and in 1330 he died.

The success of Louis IV. (1314-47) in the war with Frederick was to a large extent due to the imperial cities, which clung to him from the first. They not only willingly paid high taxes, but made splendid voluntary contributions; and they often stimulated anew the king of their choice, when he himself would have preferred to give up a struggle in which the sympathies of most of the princes and nobles were with his enemy. He was even more indebted to the memorable conflict between the house of Hapsburg and the League composed of Schwyz, uri, Uri, and Unterwalden. The inhabitants of these districts claimed to have never owed allegiance to any sovereign save the emperor. Although this claim had been confirmed by King Adolf and Henry VII., the dukes of Austria would not recognize it ; and when Frederick was chosen king by his party among the electors, he sent bailiffis into the country to bring it under the rule of his family. Probably the tyranny of these officers, although it occurred at a later time than that to which the Tell legend refers, afterwards gave rise to the romantic tales which gathered around the name of the mythical champion of Swiss independence. At any rate it brought on a conflict between Austria and the confederates, which strained the resources of Frederick at the very time when he needed them in defence of his royal claims. It was not only Louis who profited by this struggle, for the splendid battle of Morgatten Pass laid the foundation of the structure which we now see in free Switzerland.

Had Louis been a wise prince it would have been easy for him to rise to a great position after the battle of Mühlberg ; but he was wayward, treacherous, and selfish. He mortally offended King John of Bohemia, who had been of great service to him, but who now became his bitter and unrelenting enemy. Pope John XXII., stirred up by Charles IV. of France, who had some hope of obtaining the empire for himself, took advantage of the strife of the two princes, and arrogantly claimed that the German crown could not be worn but with papal sanction. When Louis gave the answer that was to be expected, the pope responded by excommunicating him and by placing under the interdict all places by which he should be supported. Thus is seemed that the ancient struggle between the papacy and the empire was to be revived ; but the pope and his French master had altogether misread the signs of the times. The princes had no longer, as in former ages, reason to dread an ambitious ruler ; the kingdom was their own, and therefore they could not tolerate that its destinies should be decided by a foreign power. Even the spiritual princes for the most part took this view. The electors had of course the strongest of all motives for resisting the papal claim, since, had it been conceded, they would have been deprived of their importance. As fro the cities, they had stood beside the empire in the most difficult crises of its contest with Rome, and they were not likely to desert it now. Encouraged, or rather driven forward, by the national sentiment. Louis continued to maintain the independence of his crown, and even made a descent upon Italy, where he was crowned emperor by his won anti-pope. This enterprise ended disastrously, but it made no difference in the conditions of the controversy. Louis was personally very much frightened by the possible consequences of excommunication, and intrigued incessantly with Pope John and his successors Benedict XII. to be taken into the church. In order to win papal favour he basely betrayed Edward III. of England, with he had formed an alliance against the French king, Philip VI. The nation, however, stood fast, and in 1338 the electors, with the exception of King John of Bohemia, met at Rense, near Coblentz and formally declared that the German king and emperor, if appointed by a majority of the electors, received his authority from God alone, and needed not papal sanction in the exercise of his rights. This declaration was accepted as the fundamental law of the empire by a diet which Louis summoned in Frankfort, and which was largely attended by princes, nobles and citizens.

Louis did not maintain the popularity forced upon him by this conflict. His greed of territory for his family made him so unscrupolous, and excited so many jealousies, that the Bohemia king Succeeded forming a partly against him; and in 1346 a number of the electors voted his deposition, and appointed in his place Charles, margrave of Moravia, King John’s son. The cities persisted in their loyalty, and few of the princes were willingly to involve themselves in another great war ; so that for a time the sentence of deposition had no effect. But after King John had met his death, fighting heroically despite his blindness as the French king’s ally, on the field of Crécy, Charles who succeeded him on the Bohemian throne, began to make vogorous preparations ; and probably the sudden death of Louis prevented Germany from being once more rent by civil strife.

Notwithstanding the defects of Louis’s personal character his reign was one of the most important in German history. The claim of the papacy to political supremacy received in his time deathblow, and the popes themselves sowed the seeds of the spiritual alienation from Rome which was effected at the Reformation. In regard to the public peace, Louis persistently followed the lines laid down by Albert I. He encouraged the princes to form alliances for its maintenance, and at the time of his death such alliances existed in all parts of the country. To the cities he usually showed himself a faithful friend. In many of them there had bee for more than a century a struggle between the old patrician families an the guilds composed of workmen and trades-people. Louis could not always follow his own impulses; but whenever he could, he associated himself with the latter party. Thus in his day the government of the imperial cities became more democratic, and industry and trade flourished as they had never before done. The steady dislike of the princes was the best proof of the importance of the cities. They contained elements capable of enormous development ;and had a great king arisen he might even yet, by their means, have secured for Germany a truly national life.

The friends of Louis elected Günther, count of Schwarzburg, but charles IV. (1347-78), by a liberal use of bribes, bought over has his enemies ; and Günther himself resigned his claim, and soon afterwards died. Charles was an accomplished diplomatist, of a keen and penetrating intellect, but capable of almost any trickery in order to gain his ends. Apparently the most pliant of men, he had in reality great persistence of character, and if foiled in one set of plans readily turned round and reached his goal by a wholly different path. The result of his endless intrigues was that, when he died, he wore the crowns of Bohemia, of Germany, of Burgundy, of Lombardy, and of the empire ; and he succeeded in adding to his native kingdom Lusatia, Silesia, and Brandenburg. As a Bohemian king he marked high among the rulers of his days. He so carefully organized the administration, and practiced such strict economy in government, that no German country was so lightly taxed as Bohemia ; and it became, under his rule, a home of learning and of the arts. Towards Germany he was cynically indifferent, caring for it only in so far as it could add to his personal welfare. It never stood in more urgent need of a personal welfare. It never in more urgent need of a strong and beneficent ruler than in the early years of his reign, for the Black Death swept over the land, the half-mad population rose in fury against the Jews, who were supposed to have in some way caused the evil. In dealing with this monstrous outburst of fanaticism, many of the princes, both spiritual and secular, displayed vigour and humanity ; buy Charles saw in the suffering of the downtrodden race, which was peculiarly under his protection, only an excuse for robbing it of its wealth.

His most famous achievement is the Golden Bull. Although the principle of election to the crown had long been settled, it was surrounded by many practical difficulties. It had never, for instance, been decided whether all the princes of each electoral house were entitled to vote ; nor was it certain, when choice was made among several branches of a family, by what law the choice ought to be regulated. The Golden Bull, which was granted as the result of many tedious negotiations in 1356, was primarily intended to set at rest such doubts as these ; but it did very much more. It decided that the number of electors should be strictly limited to seven, that the spiritual electorates should belong as before to the archbishops of Mainz, of Cologne, and of Treves, and the secular electorates to the king of Bohemia, the Rhenish palsgrave, the, duke of Saxony ( Sachsen-Wittenberg), and the margrave of Brandenburg. That there might be no possibility of dispute between the princess of the single house, these countries were declared to be indivisible, and to be heritable only on the principle of primogeniture. The electors were invested with full sovereign rights within their territories, and their subjects were allowed to appeal to the royal or imperial tribunals only if the administration of justice should be refused. The king of Bohemia received precedence among the secular electors, but it is difficult to believe that this alone was his aim in making these vast concessions. Whatever may have been his motives, the effect of the Golden Bull was to perpetuate the disunion of the state. With such powers the electors collectively were of more importance than the sovereign ; and their greatness stimulated the other princes to seize every chance of acquiring like privileges.

If we except the Golden Bull, the true interest of Charles’s reign is not in his unimportant labours for Germany, but in the movements beyond the range of his influence. It is significant that at this time the Fehmgerichte, for whose origin we must go back to the 12th century, vastly extended the sphere of there activity, and that in the utter absence of central authority they were respected as a rough check upon the lawlessness even of high princes. The cities, notwithstanding every kind of discouragement, formed new associations for mutual defence, or strengthened those already existed. The Hanseatic League carried on war with the Danish king and forced him to come to terms, and its commerce was extended to nearly every part of the known world. A powerful league was formed by the Swabian towns, but it was defeated in the battle of Altheim by a confederation of princes who regarded its growth with fear and jealousy.

Wenceslaus (1378-1400), son of Charles IV., and also king of Bohemia, had some good natural qualities ; but he had been badly trained, and when he became his own master was indolent and capricious. His bloodhounds had stronger attractions for him than the duties of governement, and even more than his father he left Germany to look after itself. The tendency to association became the deepest of the time; princes allied themselves against cities, cities against princes, and nobles against both. For a brief period the prospects of the cities seemed to be splendid, for the Swabian League recovered from the effects of its reverse, extended its relations far and wide, and formed an alliance with the Swiss confederates. The latter won the brilliant victories of Sempach and Näfels, and had the Swabian League taken advantages of the opportunity, it might have definietely gained predeminance. But it gave the princes time to reorganize their scattered forces, and in 1388, in the battle of Döffingen, it suffered complete defeat. So crushing was this blow that the Swabian cities were never again so strong, and all over Germany it encouraged the princes to fresh aggression.

The confusion caused by the king’s neglect of his most elementary duties gave rise to a conspiracy against him, in which Rupert, the elector of the palatinate, took a leading part. Wenceslaus was deposed, and after much intrigue the crown was granted to Rupert (1400-10). He was an excellent elector, and under favourable circumstances would have been a good king; but such were the jealousies and divisions of the state that he found no space for his energy beyond his native dominions. He made an attempt to reach Rome, but the result covered him with ridicule. After his death Jobst, margrave of Moravia, and Sigismund, king of Hungary, brother of Wenceslaus, were elected by opposing parties. Jobst soon died, and then Sigismund was generally recognized. Sigismund (1410-37) was an intelligent and cultivated prince, but vain, restless, and shifty, He could form great plans, but had not determination to execute them, and was easily moved by flattering counsellors. The commanding questions of his reign were ecclesiastical. It was the age of the great schism, and through all ranks of the church there was an urgent cry for thorough reform. Unfortunately, the council of Constance, summoned mainly through the efforts of Sigismund, marred its labours by the judicial murder of Huss and Jerome of Prague. This atrocious act, for which the king to a large extent responsible, stirred vehement rage among the Bohemians ; and when, after the death of Wenceslaus, Sigismund, as his heir, claimed the crown, they broke into revolt. Led for a time by the blind general Zisca, and afterwards by commanders who, although his inferiors in genius, were of equally resolute temper, they defeated army, and spread havoc through the neighbouring Geman lands. So divided was Germany, and so poor was Sigismund himself, that for fifteen years he could not collect a force sufficient to put down the rebellion ; and he at last succeeded only because the Hussites gradually spirit into two factions, the Calixtines and Taborites, and he was able to conciliate the less extreme party.

Sigismund, who was of lavish habits, never had enough money for his wants; sometimes he had even to force himself upon princes and cities as an unwelcome guest This undignified poverty had one good result. In return for 400,000 gulden he granted to his friend Frederick, count of Hohenzollern, first as a pledge, afterwards as a permanent fief, the march of Brandenburg. Thus Brandenburg passed into the hands of the family under whom it was destined to become the centre of a mighty kingdom.

Sigismund was succeeded by Albert, duke of Austria, who, as his son-in-law, became king of Bohemia and Hungary. Although the German crown remained elective it was henceforth always conferred on a member of the house of Hapsburg until the extinction of the male line; and the same family never willingly lost its grip of the two countries which now fell to it, and of which it ultimately gained complete possession. Albert II. (1438-39) evidently meant well by Germany ; but his reign was too short to enable him to do more than indicate his good intentions. He was succeeded by Frederick, duke of Styria. Frederick IV. (1440-93), unfortunately for his subjects, occupied the throne longer than any other sovereign. He was a solemn trifler, obstinate without being firm, and bent on promoting only the interest of his family. The council of Basel having met after the council of Constance, King Albert accepted its reforming decrees ; and it appeared probable that the abuses which scandalized Christendom were about to the brought to an end. But Frederick, whose dull mind did not see that in the changed circumstances of the world the papacy could be strong only in proportion to its purity, fancied that in its existing condition it might be made a powerful ally of the empire. He accordingly carried his submissiveness so far as to sign in 1148 the concordat of Aschaffenburg, perpetuating the very evils from which the church had aimed at delivering itself. After his assent had been obtained it was comparatively easy to overcome the scruples of the princes, so that the chances of a voluntary reformation were lost ; the upheaval of the 16th century was rendered inevitable.

Frederick’s career is one of great importance in Austrian history ; he was involved in wars with the Turks, with the Hungarians, with his brothers, and with his own subjects. In 1452 he was crowned emperor, being the last who passed through the ceremony in Rome. He had no influence in Italy ; and in Burgundy he could neither check the towering ambition of Charles the Bold, nor after Charles’s death prevent the seizure of the duchy of Burgundy by the French king. In Germany he hardly made a pretence of exercising supreme authority, and many private wars were waged especially between the cities and the princes. The most famous of these was the margraves’ war, carried on byAlbert of Brandenburg with a number of princely allies against Nuremberg, which had the support of the Swiss League and upwards of 70 cities. The war was in every respect a critical one. Head the cities gained they might still have aimed at balancing the power of the princes; but owing partly to their imperfect union, partly to the necessity of fighting with hired troops, they were not successful. They won, indeed, great advantages in the course of the war; but after the conclusion of peace it was felt that on the whole they had decidedly lost ground. After this struggle, which lasted seven years, there could be no doubt as to the element in which the centre of gravity of the state was to be found.

The princes, however, did not have everything their own way. About this time their power was seriously limited by the formation of diets in nearly all the principalities. These bodies were composed of the mediate prelates the mediate nobles, and representatives of the mediate cities They were not summoned because the princes wished their aid, but because arms could be had only with the consent of the nobles, and money only with that of the cities and the clergy. When once formed, the local diets soon extended their functions. They claimed the right of sanctioning taxation ; they had something to say as to the expenditure of the public revenues ; they insisted on justice being administered. Such institutions as these were clearly of the highest importance, and for two centuries they did much to make up for the lack of a genuine monarchy.

During this reign the conditions of warfare began to be radically changed. The discovery of gunpowder made small bodies of men, properly armed, more than a match for great forces equipped in the mediaeval style. Hence the custom of hiring mercenary troops came into use; and a prince could never fell sure, however numerous his vassals, that the advantage would not rest with his opponent. This fact, added to the influence of the local diets, made even the princes sick of war ; and everywhere a demand arose for the reform of the national institutions. In 1488 a great Swabian confederation, consisting of princes, nobles, and towns, was created for the establishement of peace ; and its effects were excellent. But obviously no partial remedy of this kind could suffice ; it was essential that there should be some central reform by which every part of the kingdom could be effectually reached. Had the proposal been that the imperial authority should be directly strengthened, Frederick would not have objected ; but the scheme repeatedly forced upon him was that he should in some form delegate to others the power which theoretically belonged to him, so that it might really be put in force. The emperor doggedly withheld his assent, and the nation impatiently waited in the hope that his successor would be more pliant.

Maximilian I. (1493-1519) mounted the throne with unusual advantages. He was not only lord of the great Austrian lands, but, as husband of the princess Mary, daughter of Charles the Bold, administered the Low Countries and the free country of Burgundy. These territories he soon gave up to their lawful ruler, his son Philip ; but the fact that they were the possession of his family added to his influence, which was still further increased when Philip, by marrying the infanta Joanna, had the prospect of becoming king of Spain. From this time the empire exercised in the affairs of Europe an authority which had not belonged to it for several centuries. The reason was not that the empire itself was stronger, but that the crown was held by princes who were in their own right mighty sovereigns.

This emperor is often called the last of the knights, and in some respects the name is strikingly appropriate. He had not, indeed, sufficient dignity to rank among the greatest representatives of chivalry. A knight who was also emperor ought not for instance, as Maximilian did at the siege of Terouenne, to have served a foreign prince for pay. But he possessed many of the more prominent qualities suggested by the word chivalry ; he was a man of fascinating manner, a lover of poetry and art, and endowed with a bold and adventurous spirit. Above all, he was a knight in his political opinions. Maximilian never could learn that the world had changed since the time of the Hohenstaufen dynasty ; that the old order of society was passing away, and a new order arising, was altogether hidden from him. An irresistible fascination attracted him to the glitter of the mediaeval empire, and had the best part of his life he spent in vague schemes for its revival. The agitation for reform in the direction indicated by the princes and the cities met his unqualified disapproval. During the whole course of his reign the diet, which was now composed of three colleges, the electors, the princes, and representatives of the imperial cities, urged him with even greater importunity than it had displayed toward his father, to adapt himself to the circumstances of the time. The only occasions on which it could bend him to its will were when he needed money for his military enterprises ; and by taking advantage of these opportunities it obtained his sanction to the division of the kingdom into ten circles, each with its own administrators, appointed for the purpose of preventing private war. These institutions were of genuine of service, but no other real concession could be wrung from Maximilian. In his first diet held at Worms in 1495, a permanent public peace was proclaimed, and he unwillingly consented to the formation of an imperial chamber, consisting of a president and assessors, the former to be appointed by the emperor, the latter by the states. This chamber was to judge between princes of the empire, and to act as a court of appeal for parties of lower grade ; and partly for the payment of its expenses a tax called the common penny was granted. Maximilian, who was always in straits for money, took much interest in the common penny ; but to the imperial, which limited the rights of the crown, he was so persistently hostile that it did no good in his day. An administrative council to which, after his defeat by the Swiss League in 1499, he was forced to agree, also failed in consequence of his opposition.

The famous invasion of Italy by Charles VIII. of France in 1494 brought Maximilian into the field, and ever afterwards he mixed himself up in the confused struggles to the south of the Alps, hoping to assert the ancient claims of the German kings, at least in northern Italy. In 1508 he joined the infamous League of Cambray against the Venitian republic, and at a later time he took part in the conflict of the Holy League against Louis XII. of France. He was everywhere baffled, for his own territories, great as they were, did not suffice for his vast undertakings, and Germany refused to let herself be dragged into conflicts in which she was not directly concerned.


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