HISTORY OF GERMANY (cont.)
Period of the Reformation
The reign of Maximilian must be regarded as in many respects the end of the Middle Ages. The feudal relation between the king and the princes, and between the princes and their vassals, had become purely nominal. No real control was exerted by the crown over the heads of the various states, and now that war was carried on mainly by mercenary troops, the mediate nobles did not hold their lands on condition of military service. The princes were soveregins, not merely feudal lords ; and by the institution of local diets in their territories an approach was made to modern conceptions of government. The age of war was far indeed from being over, but men had at least begun to see that unnecessary bloodshed is an evil, and that the true outlet for the mass of human energies is not conflict but peaceful industry. By the growth of the cities in social if not in political importance the products of labour were being more and more widely diffused; and it was now incomparably easier than at any previous time for the nation to be moved by common ideas impulses. The discovery of the New World, the invention of printing, the revival of learning and many other causes and contributed to effect a radical change in the point of view from which the world was regarded; and the strongest of all mediaeval relations that of the nation to the church, was about to pass through the fiery trial of The Reformation. This vast movement, which began in the later years of Maximilian, definitely severed the mediaeval from the modern world.
The seeds of the Reformation were laid at so remote a time as that of the conflict between the papacy and the empire. The arrogance and the ambition of the popes then stamped upon the minds of the people an impression that was never effaced. During the temporary struggle of Louis IV. with the popes of his day the old feeling revived with fresh intensity ; all classes, clerical as well as lay, looked upon resistance to papal pretensions as a necessity imposed by the national honour. At the same time the spiritual teaching of the mystics awakened in many minds an aspiration which the church, in its corrupt state could ill satisfy, and which was in any case unfavourable to a merely external authority. The Hussite movement, shaking as it did many ancient beliefs and shasttering many ancient institutions, further weakened the spell of the church. Still more powerful, because touching deeper elements of human nature and affecting a more important class, was the influence of the Renaissance, which, towards the end of the 15th century, passed from Italy to the universities of Germany. The men of the new learning did not sever themselves from Christianity, but they became indifferent to it ; its conceptions seemed to them dim and faded, while there was a constantly increasing charm in literature, in philosophy, and in art. No kind of effort was made by the church to prepare for the storm which might have been foreseen. The spiritual princes, besides dis-playing all the faults of the secular princes, had special defects of their own ; and as simony was universally practised, the lived of multitudes of the inferior clergy were a public scandal, while their services were cold and unimpressive. The moral sense was outraged by such a pope as Alexander VI.; and neither the military ambition of Julius II. nor the refined paganism of Leo X. could tend to revive the decaying faith in the spirituality for money, and his unscrupulous methods of obtaining it, awakened bitter hostility in every class of the community.
The popular feeling for the first time found expression when Luther, in 1517, nailed to a church door in Wittenberg the theses in which he contested the doctrine at the root of the detestable traffic carried on for the pope by Tetzel and his accomplices. In appearance a slight circumstance, this was in reality an event of vast significance ; for it brought to the front, as the exponent of the national sentiment, one of the mightiest spirit whom Germany has produced,a man who had certainly many faults, but who amply made up for them by the force of his intellect, the loftiness of his aims, and the rare combination of caution and audacity with which he devoted himself to noble causes. Under the influence of Luthers great personality the most active and progressive elements of the nation were soon in more or less open antagonism to the papacy.
When Maximilian died, the throne was competed for by his grandson Charles, by Henry VIII. of England, and by Francis I. of France. The first and the last were the only real candidates, and ultimately Charles was chosen. By the time he reached Germany in 1521, Luther had passed through his famous controversy with Eck ; he had confronted the papal legate, Cajetan ; he had burned the popes bull. After this, retreat was impossible ; and his innumerable adherents waited with keen excitement to see on which side the new king would declare himself. Charles V. (1520-55), although a boy in years, was not really young. He soon made up his mind as to the general lines of his policy, and no one who knew his grave and obstinate spirit supposed that any influence would cause him to diverge from his path. He had no adequate conception of the strength of the feeling which had been aroused. He fancied, as had at first been imagined in Rome, that he had to deal with a monkish quarrel ; at one time he even supposed that a little money would easily set the difficulty at rest. Nor did he ever comprehend the real nature of the questions which stirred the heats of his subjects. For Charles, although a diplomatist of astonishing skill, was a man of cold and narrow nature ; it was incredible to him that men should be genuinely moved by aspirations to which he was himself a stranger. Even if his knowledge had been far more exact, he would not have turned against the church. Since the interregnum none of the emperors, with the exception of Maximilian, had been powerful princes apart from the empire, and some of them had been wretchedly poor and insignifacant. Maximilian himself could not complete on equal terms with the leading European monarchs. Charles, however, was by far the most important sovereign of his time. He was king of Spain and the Two Sicilies, with the resources of the New World at his command, lord of the Low Countries and of the country Burgundy, co-regent with his brother Ferdinand of the great Austrian inheritance ; and now he had made king of Germany with a right to the imperial crown. To such a potentate it naturally seemed possible to restore the splendour of Charles the Great, and he early set before himself this ideal. But the protection of the church had always been looked upon as the chief function of the empire; he could not, therefore, desert it at the very time when it seemed to be in need of his services. He reserved to himself the same right as his predecessor to resist it in the realm of politics ; in the realm of faith he considered that he owed it his entire allegiance. Moreover, he intended to complete the task at which his grandfather had worked in vain, the subjection of northern Italy ; and in order to realize this scheme it was of high importance that he should in no way needlessly offend the pope. Hence. In 1521, in the diet of Worms, without really examining the positions of Luther, Charles issued an edict denouncing him and his followers, and placing him under the ban of the empire.
Alarmed lest the emperors great power should be too freely applied in Germany, the electors had before his appointment exacted a promise that he would respect German liberties and institute the reforms which had been vainly demanded of Maximilian. At the diet of Worms steps were taken to give effect to these conditions. An administrative council was nominated for the government of Germany while Charles should be away ; and the imperial chamber was so effectually re-established that, with the aulic council (which was at first subordiante to it but ultimately became independent), it lasted till the destruction of the empire. A matricula was drawn up settling the number of troops to be raised for common purposes by each state ; and this also was force while the empire existed. Having made these arrangement, Charles invested his brother Ferdinand with the sole authority in the Austrian territories, and then left Germany, to begin soon after his long struggle with Francis I. of France.
While Charles was absent carrying on his wars with Francis, great disturbances took place in Germany. One of the most remarkable of Luthers friends was Ulrich von Hutten a young noble, who, although penetrated by the enthusiasm of the Renaisance, was emphatically a man of action. His class, the nobles, had ever chafed against the supremacy of the princes ; and it occurred to him that the Reformation might be made the means of effecting a total change in the constitution of the empire. As no general reform either in church or state could be effected while the nation was cut up into a large number of principalities, his plan was to combine against the princes all who were dis-contended with the existing order, and to place the emperor at the head of a united country. Then the nobles would obtain their due, peace would be secured throughout the land, and papal authority might be easily put down. The scheme was a great one, and Hutten inspired with his enthusiasm Francis von Sickingen, an energetic and popular Rhenish baron who could at any time attract a large army to his standard. A force of 12,000 men was soon collected, and the enterprise was begun in 1522 by an attack on the elector of Treves, who, being a spiritual prince, would not, it was supposed, receive the sympathy of the reforming party. For a moment it seemed as if this dream of a new empire might be realized ; but it was too late to make so vast a change. Several princes united, and in 1523 Sickingen was defeated and slain, while Hutten, who had devoted pen and sword to his cause, died in loneliness and misery on an island in the Lake of Zürich.
This war was followed by another of a still more serious nature. The peasantry of Germany had grievances compared with which those of the nobles were imaginary, for they were treated as if they had no right to expect any ray of brightness in their dreary lot. Extravagant hopes were kindled among them by the Reformation, and in a few years, notwithstanding all Luthers efforts to dissuade them, widespread conspiracies were formed. In 1524 war broke out in the greater part of southern and central Germany, and the peasant, aided by a few valiant knights like Götz von Berlichingen, were at first triumphant. But they soon became so violent that Luther himself urged they should be sternly punished; and in 1525, after a vast amount of confusion and bloodshed, the rising was completely suppressed. By these two wars the authority of the princes was made greater than ever ; the peasantry if possible more severe oppression, and many even of the immediate nobles were compelled to submit to a yoke which they detested.
Notwithstanding the injurious impression caused by the struggles of the peasantry and the barons, the Reformation made rapid progress, and those who remained loyal to the church became so alarmed that at the diet of Spires in 1526 they clamoured for repressive measures. The administrative council at the head of Germany in Charless absence was, however, not unfriendly to the Reformers, and the diet ended by decreasing that, until the questions in dispute should be authoritatively settled, each state should have religious freedom. This proved to be a most important edict. As yet no religious body had been organized to compete with the Catholic Church ; now the leading states in which the ideas of the Reformation prevailed began, under the guidance of Luther and Melanchton, to carry out measures which they had in vain hoped the church itself, by means of a general council, would undertake. The Catholics say clearly the significance of what was done ; and at another died held in Spires in 1529 they obtained, in opposition to the previous edict, a new decree, forbidding further changes in religion. The supporters of Luther formally protested ; but the Catholic maintained their ground. In the following year the emperor, who was no longer an united youth, but a sovereign famous for skill in council and success in war, came to Germany for the express purpose of making an end of heresy. At the diet he held in Augsburg the Lutherans submitted a summary of their doctrines in the Augsburg Confession, which had been drawn up, with the sanction of Luther, by Melanchthon, and which was afterwards regarded as their chief standard of faith. Charles made no real effort to comprehend the controversy; he was resolved, whether the heretics had right on their side or not, that they should submit, and he had at first no doubt that he would awe them into submission by an unwonted display of power and splendour. To his surprise the Lutheran princes, while perfectly respectful, continued firm, and not only declined to attend mass, but held Lutheran services in their own quarters. Paying no attention to the edict of Spires of 1526, he renewed that which he had issued at Worms in 1521 ; and it seemed more than probable that if it were not obeyed he would soon have recourse to arms.
But fresh difficulties with France, and a threatened invasion of the Turks, who had besieged Vienna in 1529, forced him to mask his designs. In 1532 he granted the religious peace of Nuremberg, which conceded temporary toleration to the adherents of the Augsburg Confession, and this peace was repeatedly confirmed in the following years. Meanwhile, the Lutherans, both princes and cities, had increased their power by forming the League of Smalkald, and this confederation ultimately took in, besides many cities to South Germany, most of the North-German cities and principalities. The Reformation in Germany was above all things a popular movement. It sprang directly from the heart of the nation, and, the conditions favourable to it being widely spread, it passed with extraordinary speed from one part of the country to another. Thus many princes, who would not of their own accord have deserted the church, were compelled to do so from political motives. They had been strong enough to undermine imperial authority ; they were not strong enough to resist the pressure of the majority of their subjects.
His hands being full elsewhere, Charles was obliged to temporize during his second absence from Germany, and to send counsels of moderation to his brother Ferdinand, who had been elected king of the Romans. He never, however, gave up his original purpose. His plan was, when he should have leisure to devote himself to the task, to secure the meeting of a general council which should make all necessary reforms, and to insists, at whatever cost, on the Lutherans abiding by its decisions. The peace of Crespy, signed in 1544, gave him free scope ; and he began by inducing Pope Paul III. to summon the council which ultimately met at Trent. At the same time he made vigorous preparations for war. He affected that he had no intention of fighting for religious objects, but merely wished to bring to subjection certain states which had set him at defiance. By these means he was able to detach from the League of Smalkald the reforming states which were without real enthusiasm, or which were too timid to enter upon a great struggle. Those which took up arms were so disunited that the troops sent to Charles from Italy and the Low Countries had no difficulty in joining him ; and in 1546 he not only made himself master of the South-German Lutheran cities, but in the battle of Mühlberg completely routed the Saxons and took their elector, John Frederick, prisoner. Shortly afterwards the landgrave Philip of Hesse, who with the Saxon elector had been the main political support of Lutheranism, fell into his hands and both were treated with great harshness Charles took advantages of his triumph to issue what was called the "Interim," a confession which was to be obligatory on the Lutheran states until the council then sitting should conclude its labours. It was everywhere resisted, but most of the states had at least outwardly to submit. All Germany thus seemed to be at the emperors feet. The Reformation had enabled him to deal both with the princes and the imperial cities as no sovereign had dealt with them for five centuries.
But his triumph was too great to be enduring. The Catholic princes themselves were alarmed at his predominance ; King Ferdinand was alienated by his attempts to secure the crown for his son Philip ; and the Lutheran princes chafed angrily his severe rule. The general discontent found a representative in Maurice, a subtle and ambitious Saxon prince, who, caring little about doctrinal disputes but a great deal about the increase of his own importance, had sided with Charles against the Lutherans, and had been rewarded by being made John Fredericks successor. He now turned, under the influence of what motives it is hard to determined, and plotted against the emperor, forming an alliance with the chief Lutheran princes and with Henry II. of France, who eagerly caught the opportunity to profit by the dissensions in the empire Charles heard vague rumours of what was going on ;but he had been thrown off his guard by the ease with which he had hitherto attained his will, and carelessly trusted to chance. Suddenly, in 1552, Henry II. invaded Germany as protector of her liberties, and Charles learned that Maurice was marching rapidly to Innsbruck with the intention of making him prisoner. He fled, and all the advantages he had gained by the battle of Mühlberg were at once lost. Within six months he had to sign the treaty of Passan, agreeing that a diet should be summoned for the purpose of arriving at a new settlement, and that in the meantime Lutherans and Catholics should have like privileges. In 1555 the religious peace of Augsburg was concluded by the diet thus promised.
Henry II. had seized the bishoprics of Metz, Verdun, and Toul ; and Charles endeavoured at the earliest possible opportunity to win them back. But his efforts failed ; and thus in his last years the power he fancied he had thoroughly humbled began a series of depredations which were thenceforth to be continued at frequent intervals. Disgusted with his ill fortune, he handed over the government of Germany to his brother Ferdinand in 1555, having in the previous year entrusted Spain, the Two Sicilies, and the Low Countries to his son Philip.
The peace of Augsburg, instead of bringing tranquillity, was the cause of fresh discord. The toleration it conceded did not included the Calvinist or Reformed faith ; only the Lutherans received liberty of worship. And even a Lutheran was not tolerated unless his prince chose to let him alone ; for each secular had the right to eject from its territory all who did not accept the doctrine it established. Thus Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist were exposed to irritating despotism ; and each came to regard the other with hearty detestation. Another source of trouble was a clause in the treaty called the ecclesiastical reservation. It required that if a spiritual prince accepted the Augsburg Confession he should-forth with resign his lands. The Lutherans denied the validity of this clause ; and notwithstanding the protests of the Catholic several prelates became Lutherans and kept their territories as secular possessions.
Ferdinand I. (1556-64), who, like all German sovereigns after him, was recognized as emperor without being crowned by the pope, had at one time been distinguished for his zeal for the church. But the experience of his brother had taught him the necessity of prudence ; and he was also kept quiet by troubles in Bohemia and Hungary, both of which countries he had acquired by marriage, and to both of which the house of Hapsburg soon began to lay hereditary claim. He tried to moderate the excesses of each party, and was anxious that the council of Trent should follow a conciliatory policy. Maximilian II. (1564-76), one of the most enlightened princes of his time, adopted the same line. He would have had the state withdraw altogether from religious disputes, and so sincerely did he carry out his principles that, although he was himself a Catholic, Protestant doctrines spread during his reign throughout the Austrian hereditary lands, from which they had hitherto been excluded. Rudolf II. (1576-1612) reversed the policy of his immediate predecessors. The Jesuits, who had been hard at work, although without much success, during his fathers reign, gained complete ascendency over him; and acting on their advice he continually warred against the Protestants. But he was too weak to do much good to his friends or injury to his enemies. Trained in the gloomy court of Spain, he had come to be of a moody, variable temperarment; and he was given to outbursts of violent passion, followed by abject submission to his advisers. So much confusion sprang from his incompetence that the archdukes of Austria, with the sanction of the Spanish branch of the house of Hapsburg, met in 1606, and placed the government of the hereditary lands in the hands of his brother Matthias. He took refuge among his Bohemian subjects, who, in 1609, wrung from his a royal charter, granting religious freedom to the nobles, knights, and cities, with the right to build churches on their own and the royal lands. Matthias, who succeeded him as emperor (1612-19), was almost as unfit for the duties he assumed. He put forth his whole energy against Protestantism ; but he could not in the least discourage it, and in his time it prevailed over by far the larger part of the Austrian territory.
By this time, however, there were signs of a great Catholic reaction which was to work fearful havoc in Germany. It was due mainly to the persistent zeal of the Jesuits. For a long time the Protestant absorbed the intellectual strength of the country ; but many able scholars and divines among the Jesuits could hold their own with their antagonists, who afforded them excellent vantage ground by foolish and bitter controversies. These devoted missionaries of the church gave their attention mainly to fortunate enough to make a profound impression upon two princes, each of whom was destined to play a great part in the events of the time. These princes were Maxilian duke of Bavaria, and Ferdinand, duke of Styria. The former early showed the fruit of his training by executing, in 1606, an unjust imperial mandate against the Protestant city of Donauwörth, and afterwards treating it as his own. The Protestant princes, rendered suspicious by this arbitrary act, formed in 1608 a confederation called the Union, which was to last for ten years ; and in response the Catholics under the guidance of Maximilian, to whom they gave the command, united in a similar confederation called the League. As the Union was headed by the elector palatine who was a Calvinist, many Lutherans, among them the Saxon elector, regarded it coldly. It acquired, however, immense importance by an alliance with Henry IV. of France, who, like Henry II., wished to profit by German quarrels. War was on the point of breaking out between the two confederations in regard to the Juliers-Cleves territory ; but the Union did not venture to fight after the sudden death of the French king.
Ferdinand was even more vigorous than his friend in the defence of his religion. His faith was that of a genuine fanatic, narrow, intense, austere ; and with the feelings of a monk rather than of a secular ruler, he began at once, on assuming the government of Styria, to extirpate Protestantism. Individuals and families were driven without mercy from their homes until at last a country which had been mainly Protestant became in appearance altogether Catholic. He was the heir of Matthias ; and on coming to Vienna after the death of that sovereign, he found himself in the midst of what seemed hopeless confusion. The Bohemians, embittered by the violation of the royal charter granted by Rudolf refused to acknowledge him as king, and elected Frederick V. of the palatine, son-in-law of James I. of England ; and the people of Hungary and of the Austrian lands, terrified by the prospect of a stern rule in opposition to their religious beliefs, were almost in open revolt. He succeeded in obtaining the imperial crown ; and from that time Ferdinand II. (1619-37) was dominated by a fixed resolve to secure the triumph of his church throughout the empire,a resolve which cost Germany the Thirty Years War.
He began with Bohemia. Although supported by Spain, he could not obtain from her sufficient troops for his purpose; and as he was for some time nearly powerless in Vienna he was obliged to come to terms with Duke Maximllian, who, after securing his own interest, put the army of the League commanded by Tilly at his disposal. The Union helped Frederick V. ; but being a man of feeble character he waste precious months, needlessly irritated his subjects, and vaguely hoped that his wifes father would see him out of his embarrassments. In 1620 his army was utterly routed at the battle of Weissenburg ; and he and his family had just time escape from the kingdom he had rashly undertaken to govern. Ferdinard drove to the uttermost the advantages of his victory. The Union was broken up ; and Bohemia was placed under such a system of government that in becoming Catholic it lost more than two-thirds of its population, sank from high prosperity to a state of indigence, and ceased to be a seat of art and learning. The Spanish troops and the army of the League next invaded the palatinate, which after severe struggle, was finally subdued; and there also the process of conversion was carried on with a thoroughness which ended in the death or exile of multitudes of the inhabitants. Frederick was banished from his inheritance ; and the electorate he was declared to have forfeited was conferred on Duke Maximilian.
Thus ended the first stage of the Thirty Yearss War. The second began (1625) by the formation, after much fruitless negotiation, of the Protestant League, which comprised England, Holland, and Denmark. The burden of the struggle fell on the last-named power, whose king, Christian IV. was aslo duke of Holstein, and therefore a prince of the empire It was in the war with him that Europe first became familiar with the great name of Wallenstein, a Bohemian noble who, by marriage and by loyal service to the emperor, had risen to immerse wealth and power. Ferdinand became restive at his depedence on the League, and gladly accepted Wallensteins offer to raise an army over which it should have no control. This scheming, mysterious general, cooperating will Tilly and soon casting him into the shade, chased Christian, after the battle of Lutter, into Denmark, and overran Mecklenburg, of which he was created duke. He apparently intended to make himself master of the Hanse towns with the view of securing predominance at sea as well as on land ; but this purpose was thwarted by the bravery of the city of Stralsund, which he in vain tried to conquer. Denmark, however, was compelled to conclude peace in 1629.
Intoxicated by success, Ferdinand now issued the edict of restitution, deman ding the restoration of all ecclesiastical lands of which the Protestants had become possessed since the treaty of Passau. As two archbishoprics and twelve bishoprics had become Protestant, this was to strike a tremendous blow at his enemies ; and it stirred among them intense and universal opposition. At the same time, yielding of Duke Maximilian and other members of the League, he recalled Wallenstein, whose movements had given rise to suspicion. A more inauspicious moment could not have been chosen for these two important steps, for in 1630 Gustavus Adolphus left Sweden at the head of a well-disciplined army for the purpose of raising up the Protestant cause which had fallen so low. At first this great king was received coldly, even by his co-religionists. They were ignorant of his designs, and did not want a stranger to profit by the internal disputes of their country. A mistakes at the outset would probably have proved fatal to him; but he say the dangers of his position, and moved so warily that in less than a year he had obtained, partly by intimidation, partly by argument, the alliance of the duke of Pomerania and the elector of Saxony. Tilly, at the head of nearly the whole force force of the League, met him at Breitenfeld, and was completely defeated. This victory put Germany at his feet ; and had he realized how utterly he had broken the imperial strength, he might have advanced on Vienna itself. He preferred, however, to make the country around and behind him absolutely secure ; and everywhere; and everywhere the cities opened their gates to him as the delivers of the Protestant. After again defeating Tilly, who was wounded and died, he took possession of the palace at Munich, while Duke Maximilian field. Whatever may have the motives of Gustavus in undertaking this memorable expedition,and they were probably not altogether unselfish,he had the power of kindling confidence and enthusiasm among those who depended upon him ; and the result of his presence in South Germany was that the faith of the Protestants in their cause and in themselves revived, and that they no longer doubted of ultimate victory. The emperor felt how great had been his mistake in dismissing Wallenstein, and after many fruitless entreaties, at last persuaded him to come forth from his retirement and form a second army. He did so on condition that he should have absolute command ; and so urgent was the need of his services that Ferdinand allowed him to make himself in this way a great and dangerous power within the state. In 1632 he was defeated at the battle of Lützen ; but the defeat was better than an ordinary victory, for the Swedish hero was among the slain. Wallenstein now aimed at becoming a great sovereign ; perhaps he even aspired to the imperial crown itself. In any case his dilatory movements, his endless intrigues, and his haughty tone caused such profound uneasiness at Vienna that in 1634 he was got rid of by murder.
For fourteen years longer, although the original objects of the war were almost forgotten, the tempest continued tosweep over Germany. It received a fresh impetus from the intervention of Cardinal Richelieu, who, although the enemy of Protestants in France, though fit to weaken Austria by aiding them in Germany. While Gustavus Adolphus lived, Richelieu was kept comparatively in the background ; after the kings death he was one of the mainsprings of the war.
At last, in 1648, after five years of negotiation at Osnabrück and Münster, the peace of Westphalia was concluded.
The Thirty Years War settled once for all the principle that men should not be persecuted for their religious faith. It is true that the peace of Westphalia formally recognized only the three creeds, Catholicism, Lutherranism, and Calvinism, but so much suffering had been caused by the interference of the state with individual conviction, that toleration in the largest sense, so far as law was concerned, was virtually conceded. This was the sole advantage gained from the war by the Protestants. The Catholics insisted at first on keeping all the ecclesiastical lands which had been taken them before the edict of restitution in 1630. The Protestants responded by demanding that they should lose nothing which they had held before 1618, when the war began. A compromise was at last effected by both parties agreeing to the date 1624,an arrangement which secured to the Catholics their immense gains in Bohemia and the other territories of the house of Hapsburg. The restoration of the elector palatine to part of his lands, and his reinstatement in the electoral office, were important concession; but on the other hand, the duke of Bavaria kept the Rhenish palatinate, and, as he remained an elector, the votes of the Protestants in the electoral colleges were fewer by one than they had been in 1618.
The country suffered enormous territorial losses by the war. Up to this time the possession of Metz, Toul, and Verdun by France had never been officially recognized ; now these bishoprics were formally conceded to her. She also received as much of Alsace as belonged to Austria. To the Swedes were granted Western Pomerania, with Stettin, and the bishopric of Bremen and Verden. These acquisitions, which surpassed the advantages Gustavus Adolphus had hoped to win, gave Sweden the command both of the Baltic and of the North Sea. In virtue of her German possessions Sweden became a member of the empire ; but France obtained absolute control of her new territories. There was a further diminution of Germany by the recognition of the independence of Switzerland and the United Provinces. Both had long been virtually free ; they now for the first time took the position of distinct nations.
In the political constitution of Germany the peace of Westphalia did not so much make changes as sanction those already effected. The whole tendency of the Reformation had been to relax the bonds which united the various elements of the state to each other and to their head. It divided the nation two bitterly hostile parties, and the emperor was not able to assume towards them perfectly impartial position. His imperial crown imposed upon him the necessity of associating himself with the Catholics ; so that the Protestants had a new and powerful reason for looking upon him with jealously, and trying to diminish his authority. The Catholics, while maintaining their religion, were willing enough to co-operate with them for the objects; and Germany often saw the strange spectacle of princes rallying round the emperor for the defence of the church, and at the same time striking deadly blows at his political influence. The diet was a scene of perpetual quarrelling between the two factions, and their differences made it impossible for the imperial chamber to move beyond the region of official routine. Thus before the Thirty Years War the empire had virtually ceased to exist, Germany having become a loose confederation of principalities and free cities. For a moment the emperor Ferdinand appeared to have touched the ideal of Charles V., in so far, at least, as it related to Germany, but only for a moment. The stars in their courses fought against him, and at the time of his death he saw how far beyond his power were the forces with which even Charles had been unable to contend. The state of things which actually existed the peace of Westphalia made legal. So nearly complete was the independence of the state that each received the right to form alliances with Any of the others or with foreign powers, nominally on condition that their alliances should not be injurious to the emperor or to the empire. Any authority which still lawfully belonged to the emperor was transferred to the diet. It alone had now the power of making laws, of concluding treaties in the name of Germany, and of declaring war and re-establishing peace. No one, however expected that it would be of any real service. After 1654 it become a permanent body, and was attended only by the representatives of the princes and the cities ; and from that time it occupied itself mainly with trifles, leaving the affairs of each state to be looked after by its own authorities, and those of the country generally to such fortunes as chance should determine.
It would not have been strange if so shadowy an empire had been brought altogether to an end. Some slight bond of connexion was, however, necessary for defence against common dangers ; and had existed so long, and so many great associations were connected with it, that it seemed to all parties preferable to any other form of union. Moreover, Sweden, and other states which were now members of the empire, warmly supported it ; and the house of Hapsburg, on which it reflected a certain splendour, would not willingly have let it die. An Austrian ruler, even when he spoke only in the name of Austria, derived authority from the fact that as emperor he represented many of the greatest memories of European history.
The effect of the Thirty Yearss War on national life was disastrous. It had not been carried on by disciplined armies, but by hordes of adventurers whose sole object was plunder. The cruelties they inflicted on their victims are almost beyond conception. Before the war the population was about twenty millions ; after it the number was probably five or seven millions, and cannot have been more than ten. Whole towns and villages were laid in ashes and vast districts turned into deserts. Churches and schools were closed by hundreds, and to such straits were the people often reduced that cannibalism is said to have been not uncommon. Industry and trade were so completely paralysed that in 1635 the Hanseatic League was virtually broken up, because the members, once so wealthy, could not meet the expenditure it involved. The population was not only impoverished and reduced in numbers but broken in spirit. It lost confidence in itself, and for a time effected in politics, literature, art, and science little that is worthy of serious study.
The princes knew well how to profit by the national prostration. The local diets, which, as we have seen, formed a real check on petty tyranny, and kept up intimate relation between the princes and their subjects, were nearly all destroyed. Those which remained were injurious rather than beneficial, since they often gave an appearance of lawfulness to the caprices of arbitrary sovereigns. After the Thirty Years War it became fashionable for the heirs of principalities to travel, and especially to spend some time at the court of France. Here they readily imbibed the ideas of Louis XIV., and in a short time every petty court in Germany was a feeble imitation of Versailles. Before the Reformation, and even for some time after it, the princes were thorough Germans in sympathies and habits ; they now began to be separated by a wide gulf from their people. Instead of studying the general welfare, they cruelly wrung from exhausted states the largest possible revenue to support a lavish and ridiculous expenditure. The pettiest princeling had his army, his palaces, his multitudes of household officers ; and most of them pampered every vulgar appetite without respect either to morality or decency. Many nobles, whose lands had been wasted during the war, flocked to the little capitals to make their way by contemptible court services. Beneath an outward gloss of refinement these nobles were, as a class, coarse and selfish, and they made it their chief object to promote their own interests by fostering absolutist tendencies. Among the people there was no public opinion to discourage despotism ; the majority accepted their lot as inevitable, and tried rather to reproduce than to restrain the vices of their rulers. Even the churches offered little opposition to the excesses of persons in authority, and in many instances the clergy, both Protestant and Catholic, acquired an unenviable notoriety for their readiness to overcome or condone actions which outraged the higher sentiments of humanity. In the free imperial cities was more manliness of tone than elsewhere, but there was little of the generous rivalry among the different classes which had once raised them to a high level of prosperity. Most of them resigned their liberties into the hands of oligarchies, and others allowed themselves to be annexed by ambitious princes.
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