It is a commonplace to contrast the political condition of Germany on the eve of the Reformation with that of the great national States of Western Europe. In Germany the dangerous confusion of the national monarchy with the tradition of the Roman Empire had continued fatal to the German Kingdom, even after the imperial idea had ceased to exert any commanding influence over men's minds. The royal power in consequence became the merest shadow of its former self. Central organisation ceased to exist. Private war and general anarchy were chronic. The national life waxed cold, when uncherished by a strong national monarchy; and in the end salvation was to come from the development of the rude feudal nobility of the Middle Ages into an order of small independent rulers, so extraordinarily tenacious of their sovereign rank that more than a score of them have preserved it even amidst the changed conditions of the nineteenth century. While in France, Spain, and England national monarchies, both autocratic and popular, were establishing national unity, ordered progress, and strong administration, Germany was forced to content herself with the loosest and most impotent of federal governments.
Looking at the course of German history in the fifteenth century with knowledge of what happened later, it would be hard to deny the strength of this contrast. Yet there was no very great or essential dissimilarity between the condition of Germany under Frederick III and that of the France of the Armagnac and Burgundian feuds. The elements of political life were in each case the same. There was a monarchy whose great history was still remembered even in the days of its impotence and ruin. There was a real sense of national life, a consciousness so strong that it could bend even the selfish instincts of feudal nobles into cherishing an ambition wider and more patriotic than that of making themselves little kings over their own patrimony. The strongest of the German feudal houses was less well organised on a separatist basis than the Duchy of Britanny or the Duchy of Burgundy. And few indeed of them could base their power on any keenly felt local or national tradition, or upon anything more solid than the habit of respect for an ancient house. Moreover, the ecclesiastical States might have been, and both the small nobility and the wealthy numerous and active free towns actually were, permanent counterpoises to the absolute supremacy of the greater feudatories in a way to which French history supplies no parallel. All medieval history shows how the possibilities of despotism lurked even in the most decrepit of feudal monarchies, and how the most disorderly of feudal barons could be constrained to use their swords to further national ends.
Even in its worst decay the German kingship still counted for something. "The King of the Romans," as the German King was styled before the papal coronation gave him the right to call himself "Roman Emperor," was still the first of earthly potentates in dignity and rank. The effective intervention in European affairs of a German King so powerless as Sigismund of Luxemburg would have been impossible but for the authority still associated with the imperial name. The German Kings had indeed no longer a direct royal domain such as gave wealth and dignity to the Kings of France or England. They were equally destitute of the regular and ample revenue which ancient custom or the direct grant of the Estates allowed the Kings of France and England to levy in every part of their dominions. But the habit was now established of electing on each occasion a powerful reigning prince as Emperor, and a virtually hereditary empire was secured for the House of Luxemburg and afterwards for its heir and sometime rival, the House of Habsburg. The Emperors thus possessed in their personal territories some compensation for their lack of imperial domain proper. And feudalism was still sufficiently alive in Germany to make the traditional feudal sources of income a real if insufficient substitute for grants and taxes of the more modern type. The imperial Chancery issued no writ or charter without exacting heavy fees. No family compact between members of a reigning house, no agreement of eventual succession between neighbouring princes, was regarded as legitimate without such dearly purchased royal sanction. Even where the Emperor's direct power was slight his influence was very considerable. He no longer controlled ecclesiastical elections with a high hand; but there were few bishoprics or abbeys in which he had not as good a chance of directing the course of events as the strongest of the local lords, and his influence was spread over all Germany, while the prince was powerless outside his own neighbourhood. All over Germany numerous knights, nobles, ecclesiastics, and lawyers looked forward to the Emperor's service as a career, and hope of future imperial favour often induced them to do their best to further the imperial policy. If indirect pressure of this sort did not prevail, the Roman Court more often than not lent its powerful aid towards enforcing imperial wishes. There was no great danger that the feeble monarchs of this period would excite general opposition by flagrant attacks on the traditional authority of their vassals; and in smaller matters it was more to the interest even of the greater princes to keep on good terms with Caesar, than to provoke his hostility by wanton and arbitrary opposition to his wishes.
Another weighty advantage accrued to the German monarch from the circumstance that his chief rivals were every whit as badly off in dealing with their vassals as he was with his. The well-ordered territorial sovereignties of a later generation had not yet come into existence. The strongest of the imperial vassals were still feudal lords and not sovereign princes. The resources at their disposal were those of a great feudal proprietor rather than those of an independent ruler. Outside their own domains they had few means of exercising any real power. Their vassals were as hard to keep in hand as they were themselves impatient of control by their sovereign. When even the imperial Court was destitute of the appliances of a modern State, the smaller princes could only govern in a still ruder and more primitive fashion. Their revenue was uncertain; their means of raising money were utterly inadequate; their army consisted of rude feudal levies; and they had no police, no civil or diplomatic service. Although they could be trusted to struggle stoutly and unscrupulously for their immediate interests, they were the last body of men to frame a general policy or depart from their traditional principles in order to suit the temper of the coming age. The very numerous small princes were infinitely worse off than their greater brethren. The free towns, though much better able to protect themselves than the weaker princes, were powerless for aggression.
The Diet of the Empire (Reichstag) was the ancient and traditional council of the Emperor. It remained a purely feudal body in which none save tenants-in-chief (Reichsunmittelbare) had any right to appear. Its powers were sufficiently extensive, but its constitution was only very gradually settled, and there was no real means of carrying out its resolutions. The method of its convocation was extraordinarily cumbrous. Besides sending out regular writs, it was the custom for the Emperor to despatch various officials throughout the Empire to request the magnates1 personal appearance at the Diet. In the case of the more important princes, this process was often several times repeated. Yet it was seldom, save perhaps at the first Diet of a new King or when business of extraordinary importance was to be discussed, that many princes condescended to appear in person. In their absence they were represented by commissioners, who often delayed proceedings by referring to their principals all questions on which they had not been sufficiently instructed. This habit was so strong with the delegates of the towns that it seriously delayed their recognition as an Estate of the realm, which they had claimed as a right more than fifty years before it was formally conceded. When the preliminaries were over, there was always, in consequence of the lateness of the appearance of some of the representatives, a considerable delay before proceedings could be opened. Very often the early comers went home before the last arrivals appeared at all. Proceedings began when the Emperor or his commissioners laid the royal proposition before the Estates. For ordinary debates the Diet was divided into three curiae, colleges, or Estates. But it was not until 1489 that the Estate of the free and imperial towns definitely secured its right to appear in all Diets beside the higher Estates of Electors and princes. Procedure was extraordinarily complicated and cumbrous. It was not until the end of the fifteenth century that such elementary principles as the right of the majority to bind a minority, or the obligation of absent members to abide by the proceedings of those that were present, were definitely established. It was often after many months' discussion that the imperial recess (Abschied) was issued, which concluded the proceedings; and the great expense involved in prolonged residence at the seat of the Diet was a real burden even on the richest princes. In all the colleges voting was by individuals; but so personal was the right of representation, that the splitting up of a principality among the sons of a prince gave each ruler of a part a voice equal to that of the ruler of the whole. The smaller tenants-in-chief, the imperial knights, were not regarded as an Estate of the Empire and were excluded from all part in the Diet. Neither the custom which secured that the voting power of a much divided house should be no greater than that of a family whose power was vested in a single hand, nor that which gave only collective votes to the counts, prelates and towns, had as yet sprung into existence.
The incompetence and costliness of the Diet made it very ineffective in practice. The Emperors hesitated to convoke an assembly which, by its theoretical powers, might effectually tie their hands, while the Estates were averse to wasting time and money in fruitless and unending deliberations. Side by side with the constitutional representation of the Empire, divers local and private organisations had gradually come into being to discharge efficiently some at least of the duties that the Estates were incompetent to perform. The oldest among these was the meeting of the six Electors (Kurfurstentag). Of these high dignitaries the three Archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Trier and the Count Palatine of the Rhine commonly acted together, while the two eastern Electors, the Duke of Saxony and the Margrave of Brandenburg, had more discordant interests. The seventh Elector, the King of Bohemia, was excluded as a foreigner from all electoral functions save the actual choice of the King. The Golden Bull of 1356 had given privileges which raised the Electors above their brother princes into the first Estate of the Empire. They had such full jurisdiction over their territories that it became the ideal of all other princes to obtain the electoral privileges. Succession to their lands was to go by primogeniture, and every Easter they were to hold an electoral Diet. Regular yearly meetings of the Electors as prescribed by the Golden Bull did not become the fashion; but the habit of common deliberation became firmly established, and the carelessness of the Luxemburg Emperors, as to all matters not affecting their hereditary dominions, gave the Electoral College an opportunity of playing a foremost part in national history. The Electors claimed to be the successors of the Roman Senate, if not the representatives of the Roman people as well. The attitude of a Wenceslas, a Sigismund, or a Frederick made possible a real sharing of the functions of government between Emperor and Senate, such as is imagined to have existed in the primitive division of power between Augustus and the Senate of his day. The six Electors deposed the incompetent King Wenceslas in 1399, and formed in 1424 the Electoral Union (Kurfürstenverein) of Bingen in which they pledged themselves and their successors to speak with one voice in all imperial affairs. Fourteen years later the same Electoral Union was strong enough to adopt for imperial elections the precedent, already commonly set in ecclesiastical elections, of prescribing the direction of the policy of their nominee. The conditions imposed on Albert II before his election prepared the way for the formal Wahlkapitulation which assumes so great an importance in imperial history with the election of Charles V in 1519. In the same way it was the close understanding between the Electors that made possible the programme of imperial reformation championed by Berthold of Mainz. It was only after grave differences of policy had permanently divided the Electors that Berthold's dream of a united Germany became impossible.
Less constitutional were the extra-legal combinations of those minor Estates whose members found that without corporate union they were powerless to resist their stronger neighbours. Before the end of the fourteenth century the Imperial Knights had formed a number of clubs or unions, each with its captain, and regular assemblies, to which King Sigismund had given a formal legitimation. Of these the most important were the Knights of St George, an organisation of the chivalry of Swabia which took conspicuous part in creating the Swabian League. Even earlier were the associations of the towns. Of the unions of the thirteenth century, the Hanse League alone remained, and this was now steadily on the decline. But the southern and western cities formed local leagues with periodical deliberative assemblies. In course of time other general Diets of town representatives were established. Even after the cities had definitively won their right to a limited representation in the Diets these meetings continued, being held often, for the saving of expense and trouble, side by side with the imperial assemblies. It was well for the princes that the antagonism of knights and cities was as a rule too strong to enable them to work together. The strength of the Swabian League was in no small measure due to the fact that towns and knights had both cooperated with the princes in its formation. Neither Emperors, nor Diets, nor the voluntary associations of classes and districts sufficed to give peace and prosperity to the Empire. The unwieldy fabric had outgrown its ancient organisation and no new system had arisen capable of supplying its needs. Every aspect of fifteenth century history shows how overwhelming and immediate a need existed for thoroughgoing and organic reform. The area of imperial influence was steadily diminishing. Italy no longer saw in the Emperor any one but a foreigner, who could sometimes serve the turn of an ambitious upstart by selling him a lawful title of honour that raised him in the social scale of European rulers. Even the Hundred Years' War did not prevent the spread of French influence over the Middle Kingdom, and the Arelate was now no more an integral part of the Empire than was Italy. But parts of the old German kingdom were falling away. The outposts of Teutonic civilisation in the east were losing all connexion with the Power which had established them. Imperfect as the union established between the Scandinavian kingdoms at Calmar proved to be, it had dealt a mighty blow to the power of the Hansa, while the choice of the Danish king as Duke of Schleswig and Count of Holstein had practically extended the Scandinavian Power to the banks of the Elbe. In the north-east the Teutonic Knights had been forced by the Treaty of Thorn to surrender West Prussia to the Polish kings outright, and to hold as a fief of the Slavonic kingdom such part of Prussia as the Poles still allowed them to rule. Bohemia under George Podiebrad had become an almost purely Slavonic State, whose unfriendliness to German nationality and orthodox Catholicism might well threaten the renewal of those devastating Hussite invasions from which Germany had been saved by the Council of Basel. In Hungary German influence had disappeared with the extinction of the House of Luxemburg; the Magyar King Matthias Corvinus conquered the Duchy of Austria from the Habsburg Emperor, and died master of Vienna. The Swiss Confederacy was gradually drifting into hostility to the Empire; and the House of Burgundy was building up a great separatist State in the Low Dutch and Walloon provinces of the Netherlands. The utter defencelessness of Germany was seen by the devastations of the Armagnacs in Elsass. No prince of the Empire arrested their progress. The stubborn heroism of the Swiss League alone stayed the plague. And beyond all these dangers loomed the terrible spectre of Ottoman aggression.
Matters were equally unsatisfactory in the heart of Germany. Private war raged unchecked, and the feeble efforts made from time to time to secure the Public Peace (Landfriede) were made fruitless by the absence of any real executive authority. The robber knights waylaid traders, and great princes did not scruple to abet such lawlessness. The very preservation of the Public Peace had long ceased to be the concern of the Emperor and Empire as a whole, and local and voluntary unions (Landfriedensvereme) had sought with but scant result to uphold it within the limits of local and precarious conditions. The lack of imperial justice brought about such grave evils that the Estates sought to provide some sort of substitute for it by private agreements (Austäge) referring disputed matters to arbitration, and by that quaint etiquette which made it a breach of propriety for a prince to prefer the solemn judgment of his suzerain to such arbitration of his neighbours. The beginnings of an economic revolution threatened the ancient rude prosperity of the peasant, and embittered the relations of class and class within the towns.
The need for reform was patent. From what source however was the improvement to come? Little was to be expected from the Emperors. Yet even the careless Wenceslas of Bohemia had prepared the way for better things when he not only renewed once more the publication of a universal Landfriede, but also invested with imperial authority the local assemblies representative of the various Estates that were entrusted with its execution. Things were worse under Sigismund (1410-37), who could find no middle course between fantastic schemes for the regeneration of the universe and selfish plans for the aggrandisement of his own house. When his inheritance passed to his son-in-law Albert II of Austria (1438-9), the union of the rival houses of Habsburg and Luxemburg at least secured for the ruler a strong family position such as was the essential preliminary for the revival of the imperial power. Albert IPs device for securing the general Public Peace of Germany rested upon an extension and development of the local executive authorities, and thus contained the germ of the future system of dividing the Empire into great territorial circumscriptions known as Circles (Kreise), destined ultimately to become one of the most lasting of imperial institutions. But Albert passed away before he was so much as able to visit the Empire, and in the long reign of his kinsman and successor Frederick III (1440-93) the imperial authority sunk down to its lowest point. A cold, phlegmatic, slow and unenterprising prince, Frederick of Austria busied himself with no great plans of reform or aggression, but seemed absorbed in gardening, in alchemy, and in astrology rather than in affairs of State. Under his nerveless rule the Luxemburg claims over Bohemia and Hungary passed utterly away. A large proportion of the Habsburg hereditary lands, including Tyrol and the scattered Swabian estates, were ruled by a rival branch of the ruling house represented by the Archduke Sigismund, while Austria itself fell into the hands of Matthias Corvinus. Yet in his cautious and slow-minded fashion Frederick was by no means lacking in ability and foresight. If he were indifferent to the Empire, he looked beyond the present distress of his house to a time when politic marriages and cunningly devised treaties of eventual succession would make Austria a real ruler of the world. Even for the Empire he did a little by his proclamations of a general Landfriede, while his settlement of the ecclesiastical relations of Germany after the failure of the Conciliar movement at Basel implied, with all its renunciation of high ideals, the establishment of a workable system that kept the peace until the outbreak of the Reformation. The Vienna Concordat of 1448 put an end to that tendency towards the 'nationalisation of the German Church which had been promoted so powerfully by the attitude of the prelates of the German nation at the Council of Constance, and which had been maintained so long when, under the guidance of Emperor and Electors, the Germans had upheld their neutrality between both the disorderly fathers at Basel and the grasping papal Curia at Rome. In the long run this nationalising tendency must have extended itself from ecclesiastical to political matters. Even in the decline of the Middle Ages the union within the Church might well have prepared the way to the union of the State. In accepting a modus vivendi which gave the Pope greater opportunities than now remained to the Emperor of exercising jurisdiction and levying taxation in Germany, Frederick proved himself a better friend to immediate peace than to the development of a national German State.
Three signal successes gilded the end of Frederick's long reign. The power of the House of Burgundy threatened to withdraw the richest and most industrial parts of the Empire from the central authority. But the sluggish Emperor and the inert Empire were at last roused to alarm, when Charles the Bold made the attack on their territory that began with the siege of Neuss. It was an omen of real possibilities for the future when a great imperial army gathered together to relieve the burghers of the Rhenish town. The "New League" of the Alsatian cities which was formed to ward off Charles' southern aggressions was a step in the same direction. And even the "Old League" of the Swiss Highlanders, which finally destroyed the Burgundian power, was not as yet avowedly anti-German in its policy. But, as in Church affairs, Frederick stepped in between the nation and its goal. At the moment of the threatened ruin of his ancient enemy's plans, he cleverly negotiated the marriage of his son Maximilian with Mary, the heiress of Charles the Bold. Soon after the last Duke of Burgundy had fallen at Nancy, Maximilian obtained with the hand of his daughter the many rich provinces of the Netherlands and the Free County of Burgundy (1477). It was not however for the sake of Germany or the Empire that Frederick sought a new sphere of influence for his son. The Burgundian inheritance remained as particularistic and as anti-German under the Habsburgs as it had ever been under Valois rule. But the future fortunes of Austria were established by an acquisition which more than compensated the dynasty for the loss of Hungary and Bohemia.
The other late successes of Frederick were likewise triumphs of Austria rather than victories of the Empire. The Duke of Bavaria-Munich had profited by the internal dissensions of the House of Habsburg and won the goodwill of the aged Archduke Sigismund of Tyrol. It was arranged that, on Sigismund's death without legitimate issue, Tyrol and the Swabian and Rhenish Habsburg lands should pass to the lord of Munich. Frederick bitterly resented this treason, but alone he could hardly have prevented its accomplishment. Yet the prospect of such an extraordinary extension of the Wittelsbach power frightened every petty potentate of Bavaria and Swabia. In 1487 the princes and bishops, abbots and counts, knights and cities of Upper Germany united to form the Swabian League, to maintain the authority of the Emperor and to prevent the union of Bavaria and Tyrol. Its action was irresistible. Tyrol passed quietly under Frederick's direct rule, and an armed Power was set up in the south which enormously strengthened the effective authority of the Emperor. The subsequent expulsion of the Hungarians from Vienna after the death of Matthias (1490), followed as it was by a. renewal of the ancient contracts of eventual succession with Wladislav of Bohemia, who now succeeded Matthias in Hungary, restored the might of Habsburg in the east as effectively as the Burgundian marriage had extended it in the west. It was characteristic of the old Emperor that he grudged his son any real share in his newly won power. The third Habsburg triumph, the election of Maximilian as King of the Romans, was carried through the Diet of 1486 in despite of the opposition of the Emperor. In consequence Maximilian entered upon his public career, as the leader of the opposition, and as favouring the plans of imperial reform to which Frederick had long turned a deaf ear.
The purely dynastic ambitions of Frederick were reflected in the policy of the strongest princes of the Empire. We have seen how anti-German were the ideals of such great imperial vassals as Charles the Bold of Burgundy, and the Dukes of Bavaria. Equally anti-national was the policy of the elder or Palatine branch of the Wittelsbach House, then represented by the Elector Frederick the Victorious (1449-76). A magnificent and ambitious ruler, who gathered round his Court doctors of Roman law and early exponents of German humanism, Frederick pursued his selfish aims with something of the strength and ability as well as with something of the recklessness and unscrupulousness of the Italian despot. He made friends with the Cech Podiebrad and with the Frenchman Charles of Burgundy. He was not ashamed to lure on the Bohemian with the prospects of the Imperial Crown, and anticipated the Emperor Frederick's boldest stroke in his scheme to marry his nephew Philip to Mary of Burgundy. Not even Albert IV of Munich was more clearly the enemy of the Empire than his kinsman the "Wicked Fritz." The dominions of the Elector Palatine were indeed scattered and limited. Yet he was not only the strongest but the most successful of the imperial vassals of his time. The failure of his dearest projects showed that the day of princely autocracy had not yet come.
Two great families had won a prominent position in northern Germany in the early years of the fifteenth century, and had somewhat pushed aside more ancient houses, such as the Guelfs of Brunswick, whose habit of subdividing their territories for a long time grievously weakened their influence. The financial distress of the Emperor Sigismund had forced him to pledge his early acquisition, Brandenburg, to the wealthy and practical Frederick of Hohenzollern, who as Burgrave of Nürnberg was already lord of Kulmbach and of a considerable territory in Upper Franconia. Despairing of redeeming his debt, Sigismund was in 1417 compelled to acquiesce in the permanent establishment of that house in the electorate of Brandenburg. Albert Achilles, Frederick's younger son, had shown in his long strife against Nürnberg and the Wittels-bachs rare skill as a warrior and shrewd ability as a statesman, even when his material resources were limited to his ancestral Kulmbach possessions. Called to the electoral dignity in Brandenburg after his brother Frederick IPs death in 1471, Albert held a position among the northern princes only paralleled by that of Frederick of the Palatinate among the lords of the Rhine. As long as he lived he made his influence felt through his rare personal gifts, his courage, and his craft, and his fantastic combination of the ideals of the knight-errant with those of the statesman of the Renaissance. The welfare of Germany as a whole appealed to him almost as little as to Frederick the Victorious. All his pride was in the extension of the power of his house, and his most famous act was perhaps that Dispositio Achlllea of 1473 which secured the future indivisibility of the whole Mark of Brandenburg and its transmission to the eldest male heir by right of primogeniture. Yet Albert died half conscious that his ambition had been ill-directed. All projects and all warlike preparations, declared the dying hero, were of no effect so long as Germany as a whole had no sound peace, no good law or law-courts, and no general currency. But with Albert's death in 1486 the power of Brandenburg, based purely on his individuality, ceased to excite any alarm among the princes of the north.
The House of Wettin, which had long held the margravate of Meissen, acquired with the district of Wittenberg and some other fragments of the ancient Saxon duchy, the electorate and duchy of Saxony (1423). The dignity and territories of the House now made it prominent among the princes of Germany, but the division of its lands, finally consummated in 1485, between Ernest and Albert, the grandsons of the first Wettin Elector, Frederick the Valiant, limited its power. The singular moderation and the conservative instincts of the Saxon line saved it from aspiring to rival Albert Achilles or Frederick the Victorious. The most illustrious representative of the Ernestine House, Frederick the Wise, who became Elector in 1486, was perhaps the only prince of the first rank who, while giving general support to the Emperor, ultimately identified himself with the plans of imperial reform which were now finding spokesmen among the princes of the second class. As a rule, however, the princes of strongest resources and most individual character were precisely those who were most quickly realising the ideals of localised and dynastic sovereignty, which, in the next century, became the common ambition of German rulers of every rank.
Though the power of the strongest of the German princes was thus limited, yet it was in regions under the influence of such great feudatories that the nearest approach to order prevailed. Habsburg rule in the south-east, Burgundian rule in the north-west, were establishing settled States, though rather at the expense of Germany as a whole than by way of contributing to its general peace. In a similar fashion Bavaria and the north-eastern Marchland between Elbe and Oder attained comparative prosperity under Wittelsbachs, Wettins, and Hohenzollerns. But in the other parts of Germany affairs were far worse. Even in the ancient duchy of Saxony the dissipation of the princely power had become extreme: but the Rhineland, Franconia, and Swabia were in an even more unhappy condition. The scattered Estates of the four Rhenish Electors, and powers such as Cleves and Hesse, were in no case strong enough to preserve general order in the Rhineland. The Elector of Mainz, the bishops of Würzburg and Bamberg, and the abbot of Fulda were, save the Kulmbach Hohenzollerns, the only rulers over even relatively considerable territories in Franconia. Würtemberg and Baden alone broke the monotony of infinite subdivision in Swabia. The characteristic powers in all these regions were rather the counts and the knights, mere local lords or squires with full or partial princely authority over their petty Estates. In such regions as these economic prosperity and ordered civil existence depended almost entirely on the number and importance of the free imperial cities.
Neither from the lesser immediate nobility nor from the city communities was any real contribution to be expected towards imperial reform. The counts and knights were too poor, too numerous, and too helpless, to be able to safeguard even their own interests. Their absurd jealousies of each other, their feuds with the princes and the towns, their chronic policy of highway robbery, made them the chief difficulty in the way of that general Landfriede which had been proclaimed so often but never realised. The towns were almost equally incompetent to take up a general national policy. They were indeed wealthy, numerous, and important: but despite their unions with each other they never advanced towards a really national line of action. Their intense local patriotism narrowed their interest to the region immediately around their walls, and their parochial separatism was almost as intense as that of their natural enemies the lesser nobles. While they had thus scanty will to act, their power to do so was perhaps much less than is often imagined. MachiavehTs glowing eulogies of their liberty and capacity of resistance has misled most moderns as to the true position of the German cities. In no way is their position comparable to that of the towns of Italy. The great Italian cities largely owed their political influence to the fact that they ruled without a rival over districts as large as most German principalities. But in Germany the territory of many of the strongest among the free cities, such as Augsburg, was almost confined to the limits of their city walls. There were very few towns which dominated so wide a stretch of the countryside as Nürnberg, but how insignificant was the Nürnberg territory as compared with that of Florence! Even the population and wealth of the German towns have probably been exaggerated. Careful statistical investigation suggests that none of the cities of upper Germany had more than 20,000 inhabitants, and those which may have been of larger size, such as Cologne or Bremen or Lübeck, are of more importance in the commercial than in the political history of Germany. Though the financiers of Augsburg and Frankfort, and the merchants of Nürnberg or Basel or Cologne, were acquiring vast wealth, building palaces for their residence and through their luxurious ways raising the standard of civilisation and comfort for all ranks of Germans, they were not yet in a position so much as to aspire to political direction. Yet it was in the towns only that there could be found any non-noble class with even the faintest interest in politics. The condition of the country population was steadily declining. Feudalism still kept the peasant in its iron grip, and the rise in prices which opened the economic revolution that ushered in modern times was now beginning to destroy his material prosperity. In the upper Khineland the condition of the agricultural population seems to have been very similar to that of the French peasantry before the outbreak of the Revolution. While their Swiss neighbours were free and prosperous, the peasant of Elsass or of the Black Forest was hardly able to make a living through the over-great subdivision of the little holdings. It was in this region that the repeated troubles of the Bundschuh and the revolts of "Poor Conrad" showed that deep-seated distress had led to the propagation of socialistic and revolutionary schemes among men desperate enough and bold enough to seek by armed force a remedy for their wrongs. Outside this region there was very little active revolutionary propaganda, or actual peasant revolt. However, in 1515, formidable disturbances broke out in Styria and the neighbouring districts.
The beginnings of a more national policy at last came from some of the princes of the second rank. Counts, knights, towns, and peasants were too poor, divided, and limited in their views, to aim at common action. But among the princes of secondary importance were men too far-seeing and politic to adopt a merely isolated attitude, while their consciousness of the limitation of their resources left them without so much as the wish of aspiring to follow from afar the example of Charles the Bold or Albert IV of Munich. To the abler German lords of this type the feudal ideal of absolute domination over their own fiefs was less satisfying in itself and moreover less probable of realisation. Their territories were so small, and so scattered, their resources were so meagre and so precarious, that feudal independence meant to them but a limited, localised, and stunted career, and afforded them few guarantees of protection against the aggressions of their stronger neighbours. In such men there was no strong bias of self-interest to prevent their giving rein to the wholesome sentiment of love of fatherland which still survived in German breasts. But personal pride, traditional feuds with neighbouring houses, the habit of suspicion, and a general low level of political sagacity and individual capacity made it difficult for this class as a whole to initiate any comprehensive movement. All through the weary years of Frederick's reign projects of reform had been constantly shattered by the violence and jealousy of the greater princes and by the indifference and want of unanimity of the petty ones. A leader of ability and insight had long been wanted to dominate their sluggish natures and quicken their slow minds with worthier ideals. Such a leader was at last found in Count Berthold of Henneberg, who in 1484 became Elector of Mainz at the age of 42. He soon made himself famous for the vigour, justice, and sternness, with which he ruled his dominions, for his eloquence in council, and for the large and patriotic views which he held on all broad questions of national policy. With him the movement for effective imperial reform really begins.
Berthold of Mainz had little of the churchman about him, and his life was in nowise that of the saint; but he stands out among all the princes of his time as the one statesman who strove with great ability and consummate pertinacity to realise the ideal of a free, national and united German State. His courage, his resourcefulness, his pertinacity, and his enthusiasm carried for a time everything before them. But soon grave practical difficulties wrecked his schemes and blasted his hopes. It is even possible to imagine that his policy was vicious in principle. It was a visionary and an impossible task to make petty feudalists champions of order, law, and progress. It involved moreover an antagonism to the monarchy, which after all was the only possible centre of any effective national sentiment in that age. But whatever may be thought of Berthold's practical insight, the whole history of Frederick III and of his successors shows clearly that the German monarchy, far from being as in England or France the true mainspring of a united national life, persistently and by deliberate policy operated as the strongest particularistic influence. After all, Germany was a nation, and Berthold strove by the only way open to him to make Germany what England and France were already becoming. It was not his fault that the method forced upon him was from the beginning an almost hopeless one.
To students of English medieval history Berthold's position seems perfectly clear. His ambition was to provide Germany with an efficient central government; but also to secure that the exercise of this authority should be in the hands of a committee of magnates, and not under the control of the German monarch. This design has been described as an attempt at federalism; but the word suggests a more conscious partition of power between central and local authority, and a more organised and representative control of the supreme power than ever Berthold or his associates dreamed to be necessary. A more complete analogy with Berthold's ideals is to be found in the policy of the great prelates and earls of England against the more neglectful or self-seeking kings of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The Clares and the Montforts, the Bohuns, Bigods, and Lancasters, the Cantilupes, the Winchelseas, and the Arundels of medieval England had no trace of properly feudal ambition. They accepted the centralised institutions of the monarchy as ultimate facts, and aspired only to keep the centralised power under their own control. The heroes of the Provisions of Oxford, the Lords Ordainers, and the Lords Appellant, while upholding the representative legislative and taxative body by frequent sessions of Parliament, sought to put the executive power which properly belonged to the Crown into the hands of a commission roughly representative of the great houses. It was a nobler ambition and a finer career for a Clare or a Bohun or a Fitzalan to take his share in controlling the central power than to strive to put a ring fence round his estates and govern them as he had long administered his Welsh Marcher lordships. Even the lord of a great Palatinate might prefer to have his share in ruling England as a whole, rather than limit his ambition to playing the part of a petty king on his own estates. An Anthony Bek was a greater man as minister of Edward I than as the mere sovereign of the lands of St Cuthbert.
Berthold and his associates were in the same position as the English baronial leaders. As Archbishop of Mainz Berthold might either be a petty prince holding sway over scattered regions of the Rhineland and of Franconia, or a great political ecclesiastic like Arundel or Wykeham or George of Amboise. The wider career appealed alike to his patriotism, his interests, and his ambition. As feudal sovereigns the Rhenish Electors stood but in the second rank of German rulers. As prelates, as councillors of their peers, as directors of the Diets, and as effective and not merely nominal Chancellors of their suzerain's domains, they might well emulate the exploits of a Hanno or a Rainald of Dassel. Under the guidance of an aristocracy that was neither feudal nor particularist, and in which the ecclesiastical element was so strong that the dangers of hereditary influence were reduced to a minimum, a German State might have arisen as united and strong as the France of Louis XI or Francis I, while as free as Lancastrian England. Rude facts proved this ambition unworkable. Monarchy, and monarchy only, could be practically efficient as the formative element in national life. Since German monarchy refused to do its duty, German unity was destined not to be achieved. Nevertheless the attempt of Berthold is among the most interesting experiments in history, and the spectacle of the feudal potentates of Germany reversing the role of their French or Spanish compeers and striving to build up a united German nation, despite the separatist opposition of the German monarch, shows how strong were the forces that made for nationality during the transition from medieval to modern times. And it was no small indication of the practical wisdom of Berthold that he won over the whole Electoral College to his views. Less dignified princes were as a rule content to follow their lead. Only the Dukes of Bavaria held aloof, obstinately bent upon securing Bavarian interests alone. But perhaps the greatest triumph of the reformers was to be found in the temporary adhesion of the young King of the Romans to their plans.
Berthold of Mainz laid his first plan of reform before the Diet of Frankfort of 1485. He proposed a single national system of currency, a universal Landfrlede, and a Supreme Court of Justice specially charged with the carrying out of the Public Peace. After the election of Maximilian in 1486, the demand of a special grant to carry on war against the Turks gave a new opportunity for insisting on the policy which the cold and unsympathetic Emperor had done his best to shelve. But the princes now rejected the proposed tax, on the ground that the cooperation of the cities was necessary towards granting an aid, whereas no cities had been summoned to this Diet. The result was before long the final establishment of the right of the cities to form an integral part of every assembly of the German national council. The Diet of 1489 saw every imperial town summoned to its deliberations. Within a generation the city representatives had become the Third Estate of the Empire side by side with Electors and princes.
Frederick gave way both on the question of the rights of the cities and on the programme of reform. He procured his Turkish grant in return for the promise to establish the Landfriede and an imperial court of justice. But he did nothing to give effect to his general assurances; and the Estates, closely brought together by their common aim, continued to press for the carrying out of Frederick's concessions. Their first real victory was at the Diet of Frankfort in 1489, when Maximilian, intent on getting help to make himself master of the Netherlands, and now also involved in his fantastic quest of the hand of Anne of Britanny, promised the Diet to do his best to aid it in obtaining an effective constitution of the imperial court of justice. A further step in advance was made at the important Diet of Nürnberg of 1491, where Maximilian declared that the Landfriede, already proclaimed for ten years, should be proclaimed for ever, and that for its execution a competent tribunal should be set up at his father's Court.
Even Maximilian's adhesion failed to secure the lasting triumph of the Estates. So long as the old Emperor lived, nothing practical was done; but on Frederick's death in 1493 the open-minded heir became the actual ruler of the Empire. Maximilian was young, restless, ambitious, and able. He had already embarked in those grandiose schemes of international intervention which remained the most serious political interest of the rest of his life. To these he now added his father's care for the development and consolidation of a great Austrian State. Having however nothing of Frederick's self-restraint, he ever gave free rein to the impulse of the moment, and was willing not only to sacrifice the Empire, to whose interests he was indifferent, but even his own Austrian lands to obtain some immediate military or diplomatic advantage in the prosecution of his more visionary ideals. Since he had become King of the Romans he had won his share of successes; but his incurable habit of keeping too many irons in the fire made it impossible for him to prevail in the long run. It was something that, despite the recent ignominy of his Bruges captivity, he was steadily increasing the influence which he wielded in the Netherlands on behalf of his young son, Philip. But he was still involved in great difficulties in that quarter, and the hostility of France, which had robbed him of his Breton wife, still excited powerful Netherlandish factions against him. A new trouble arose with Charles VIII's expedition to Italy in 1494. The triumphant progress of the French King gave the last blow to the imagined interests of the Empire in the Peninsula. Maximilian who had at first hoped to fish on his own account in the troubled waters, became intensely eager to afford all the help he could to the Italian League which was soon formed against the French. In 1495 he formally adhered to the confederacy. But effective assistance to the Italians could only be given by Maximilian as the price of real concessions to the party of imperial reform. Though the promises made by him in his father's lifetime sat but lightly on the reigning monarch, impulse, ambition, and immediate policy all combined to keep him in this case true to his word.
On March 26,1495, Maximilian laid his first proposition before a Diet at Worms, to which despite the urgency of the crisis the princes came slowly and negligently. He appealed strongly to the Estates to check the progress of the French in Italy. An immediate grant for the relief of Milan, a more continued subsidy that would enable him to set up a standing army for ten or twelve years, could alone save the Empire from dishonour.
It was the opportunity of the reformers, and on April 29 Elector Berthold formulated the conditions upon which the Diet would give the King efficient financial and military support. The old ideas-Public Peace, imperial Court of Justice and the rest-were once more elaborated. But Berthold's chief anxiety was now for the appointment of a permanent imperial Council, representative directly of the Electors and the other Estates of the Empire, without whose approval no act of the King was to be regarded as valid. The only solid power Berthold wished to reserve to the King was that of supreme command in war; but no war was to be declared without the sanction of the Council. Matters of too great difficulty for the Council to determine were to be referred not to the King alone, but to the King and Electors in conjunction; and both here and on the projected Council the King counted but as a single vote. If Maximilian accepted this scheme, a Common Penny was to be levied throughout the Empire and an army established under the control of the Council.
To Maximilian Berthold's proposals must have seemed but a demand for his abdication. But he cleverly negotiated instead of openly refusing, and finally made a counter-proposal, which practically reduced the suggested Council to a mere royal Council, whose independent action was limited to the periods of the King's absence, and which otherwise sat at the King's Court and depended upon the King's pleasure. Long and wearisome negotiations followed, but a final agreement issued on August 7 showed that Berthold's plan had essentially been abandoned in favour of Maximilian's alternative propositions. The reformers preferred to give up their Executive Council altogether rather than allow it to be twisted into a shape which would have subordinated it to the royal prerogative! They went back on the old line of suggestions,—Public Peace, Common Penny, imperial Court of Justice, and the rest. Maximilian had already professed his acceptance of these schemes, so that on such lines agreement was not difficult. Even this mutilated plan of reform was sufficiently thorough and drastic. It makes the Diet of 1495 one of the turning-points in the constitutional history of the Empire.
The Landfriede was proclaimed without any limitation of time, and private war was forbidden to all Estates of the Empire under pain of the imperial ban. A special obligation to carry out this Public Peace was enjoined on those dwelling within twenty miles of the place of any breach of it. Were this not enough, the vindication of the peace rested with the Diet. Law was now to supersede violence, and an adequate Supreme Court was at last to be established. Frederick III had converted his traditional feudal Court (HofgericM) into an institution styled the Cameral Tribunal (Kammergericht), without in any very material way modifying its constitution. A very different Imperial Cameral Tribunal (Reichsltarnmergericht) was now set up. Its head, the Kammerrichter, was indeed the King's nominee, but the sixteen assessors, half doctors of law, half of knightly rank, who virtually overshadowed his authority, were to be directly nominated by the Estates. The law which the new Court was to administer was the Roman Law, whose doctrines soon began to filter downwards into the lower Courts, with the result that its principles and procedure speedily exercised a profound influence on every branch of German jurisprudence. The new Court was not to follow the King, but to sit at some fixed place (at first Frankfort), which could only be changed by vote of the Estates. Its officers were to be paid not by the Emperor but by the Empire. Thus independent of the monarch and responsible to the Estates alone, they were to exercise supreme jurisdiction over all persons and in all causes, and immediate jurisdiction over all tenants-in-chief. The Diet was henceforth to meet annually, and no weighty matters were to be decided, even by the King, without the counsel and consent of the Estates. This was practically the compensation which Maximilian offered to the reformers for rejecting their plan of a permanent executive Council. Frequent parliaments might be endured; but a cabinet council, dependent upon the Estates, was, as Max saw, fatal to the continuance of his authority. A general tax called the Common Penny (Gemelne Pfennig) was to be levied throughout the Empire. This was a roughly assessed and rudely graduated property-tax, which had also some elements of an income-tax and a poll-tax. It was now established for four years, and was to be collected by the local princely or municipal authorities, but to be handed over to officials of the Empire and ultimately entrusted to seven imperial Treasurers, appointed by King and Estates and established at Frankfort. Max was authorised to take 150,000 florins from the Common Penny to defray the expenses of his Italian expedition.
In September the Estates separated. Both King and Diet were mutually satisfied, and it seemed as if brighter days were to dawn for the Empire. But dark clouds soon began to gather on every side. Maximilian was bitterly disappointed with his unfortunate Italian campaign of 1496. The German reformers soon found that it was easier to di'aw up schemes of reform than to carry out even the slightest improvement.
It was not that the Edict of Worms was wholly inoperative. The proclamation of the Landfriede was a real boon, though of course it did not change by magic a lawless into a law-abiding society. The Kammer-gericht provided justice in many cases where justice would have been impossible before. But the collection of the Common Penny proved the real difficulty. Even princes who were well disposed towards Berthold's policy showed no eagerness to levy a tax which other men were to spend. In many districts nothing whatever was done to collect the money. The knights as a body refused all taxation, inasmuch as their service was military and not fiscal. The abbots declined to recognise the jurisdiction of a court so exclusively secular as the Kammergericht. The princes not represented at Worms repudiated altogether laws passed by an assembly in which they had taken no part.
The weak point of the new constitution was its lack of any administrative authority. Maximilian was in Italy, and his representatives ostentatiously stood aloof from any effort to enforce the new laws. Events soon showed that Berthold was right in demanding the establishment of an executive Council. The yearly Diets were too cumbrous, expensive, and disorganised, to be of any value in discharging administrative functions. The first Diet under the new system, which was to meet in February, 1496, and complete the new constitution, never came into being, neither Max nor the princes thinking it worth their while to attend. Before long want of money and want of coercive power vitiated the whole scheme of reform. The imperial Chamber ceased to be efficient when its decisions could not be enforced, and when its members, seeing no prospect of their promised salaries from an empty treasury, compensated themselves by taking bribes from suitors or transferred themselves to more profitable employments.
The next few years were marked by a series of strenuous efforts on the part of Berthold to carry through in practice what had already been accepted in name. Max's need for money soon gave him his chance. The Diet was summoned to meet the Emperor at Chiavenna; and, when the princes refused to cross the Alps, its meeting-place was fixed for Lindau on the Lake of Constance. The remote and inconvenient little island city was, to the great disgust of the Estates, selected because of its nearness to Italy. The princes were ordered to bring with them their share of the Common Penny and their quota of troops to support the Emperor in Italy. But the Diet, which was opened in September, 1496, was very scantily attended. The princes who appeared came to Lindau without either^ money or men. In Maximilian's absence Berthold of Mainz stood forth more conspicuously than ever as the leader of the Estates. He passionately exhorted the Germans to follow the example of the Swiss, who through union and trust in one another had made themselves respected and feared by all the world. His special object was to insist upon the execution of the Edict of Worms in the Austrian hereditary dominions, where but slight regard had hitherto been paid to it. He also secured the passing of a resolution that the Common Penny should be paid to the imperial Treasurers by March, 1497, and that its disposition should be determined by a new Diet to be summoned for the spring. By promptly providing for the salaries of its members, Berthold also prevented the dissolution of the Kammergericht, which the Diet now transferred to Worms, because that city was regarded as a more accessible place than Frankfort for the doctors of the Rhenish Universities.
The Diet reassembled in the spring of 1497 at Worms; but again the Emperor did not appear. Despite the Landfriede the Elector of Trier waged a fierce war against Boppard, and with the help of his neighbours reduced the town to his obedience. The Swiss refused to recognise a decision of the Kammergericht. The Common Penny came in but slowly. But external political complications once more helped forward the schemes of the German reformers. Louis XII succeeded Charles VIII as King of France. Before long he had occupied the Milanese and forced Maximilian's own son Philip, as ruler of the Netherlands, to make a separate peace with him by which the young Archduke formally left Burgundy in French hands for Louis's life. Reduced to desperation by these troubles, Max was again forced to have recourse to the Estates. The Diet, which had been dragging on its lengthy and unimportant sittings at Worms, was transferred at the Emperor's request to his own city of Freiburg in the Breisgau. Max complained bitterly that the Estates were indifferent to his foreign policy and careless of the glories of the Empire. "I have been betrayed by the Lombards," he declared, "I have been abandoned by the Germans. But I will not again suffer myself to be bound hand and foot as at Worms. I will carry on the war myself, and you can say to me what you will. I would sooner dispense myself from my oath at Frankfort; for I am bound to the House of Austria as well as to the Empire." With King and Estates thus utterly at variance, no great results were to be expected. Maximilian desired to carry out his spirited foreign policy: the Estates wished to secure the peace and prosperity of Germany. It was to little purpose that Berthold and many of the cities brought in their contributions towards the Common Penny. Max betook himself to the Netherlands to wage war against Charles, Count of Egmont, the self-styled Duke of Gelderland, who upheld the French cause on the Lower Rhine. With war everywhere it was useless to go on with the farce of assembling the Estates. In 1499 an attempt to hold a Diet at Worms broke down, and, though Max went back from Gelderland to Cologne to meet the Estates, the rump of a Diet assembled at Worms refused to transfer its sittings to Cologne. Berthold lay dangerously sick. The helplessness and disorder of the Empire were as great as ever.
A trouble that had long been imminent now came to a head. The Swiss Confederacy, though still nominally a part of the Empire, had long been drifting into independence. It now refused to be bound by the new policy of strengthening the links that connected the various parts of the Empire with each other. The Swiss who had recently given great offence by declining to join the Swabian League, now forbade the collection of the Common Penny and rejected the jurisdiction of the Kammergericht. They renewed their connexion with France at the very moment when France went to war with the Empire, and threatened to absorb the confederated towns of Elsass, as in 1481 they had absorbed Freiburg and Solothurn. The eagerness of Max's Tyrolese government now forced him into open war with the Swiss. But the princely champions of reform would not lift a hand against the daring mountaineers who defied the authority of the Empire. Only the Swabian League gave Max any real help. Before long his armies were beaten and there was no money to raise fresh ones. In despair Max concluded the Peace of Basel (1499) in which he gave the Swiss their own terms. They were declared freed from the Common Penny and from the imperial Chamber and all other specific imperial jurisdiction. A vague and undefined relationship between the Swiss and the Empire was still allowed to remain until the Peace of 1648. And in the following years matters were made worse by the constant tendency of the south German States to fall away from the Empire and attach themselves to the Confederacy, of which in 1501 Basel and Schaffhausen, and Appenzell in 1513, were formally admitted as full members. It was the mere accident of some unsettled local disputes as to criminal jurisdiction over the Thurgau that prevented Constance from following in their steps. Such of the Estates of Upper Swabia as had hitherto preserved their freedom now hastened to become "confederate" or "protected" or "allied" to the strenuous Confederacy, which now dominated the whole region between the Upper Rhine and the Alps, and had also established friendly relations with the Rhaetian Leagues that were now taking shape.
It cost Maximilian little to renounce the rights of the Empire over the Swiss. He looked upon the Confederates as most useful to him in helping his designs on Italy, and now trusted with their assistance to restore his father-in-law to Milan. But in 1500 came the second conquest of Milan by the French, and Ludovico's lifelong captivity in a French dungeon. In the same year the agreement between Louis and Ferdinand of Spain for the partition of Naples still further isolated Maximilian. He was as unsuccessful in his schemes of foreign conquest as was Berthold in his plans of internal reformation. Within a few years he had fought against Florentines and French, against Gelderlaiid and Switzerland, and on each occasion/ had lost the day. And each failure of Maximilian threw him more and more completely on the mercy of the German reformers.
In April, 1500, the Diet assembled at Augsburg. Maximilian himself now offered important concessions. Everybody hated the Common Penny, and neither the princes nor the cities were so rich or public-spirited as to submit permanently to the waste of money and time, and to the withdrawal from their own proper local work, involved in the assembling of annual Diets. As an alternative to the first of these hitherto necessary evils the King revived a proposal made at Frankfort in 1486, by which the Estates were to set on foot a permanent army of 34,000 men, and to provide means for its maintenance. In place of the annual Diets a permanent committee might be established. On this basis the Estates began to negotiate with the King, and by July 2 an agreement was arrived at. In this, instead of the standing army suggested by Maximilian, &n elaborate scheme was devised for setting on foot an army for six years. Every four hundred property-holders or householders were to
combine to equip and pay a foot-soldier to fight the King's battles. For the assessment of this burden the parochial organisation was to be employed, and the sums levied were to be roughly proportionate to the means of the contributor. The clergy, the religious Orders, and the citizens of imperial towns were to pay one florin for every 40 florins of income. The Jews were taxed at a florin a head. Counts and barons of the Empire were to equip a horseman for each 4000 florins of income, while knights were to do what they could. The princes of the Empire were to provide at least 500 cavalry from their private resources. It was hoped that these arrangements would give the King an army of 30,000 men; and the leaders of the Diet probably thought it a clever stroke of policy that, while they were themselves let off very lightly, the greater part of the burden fell upon the smaller property-owners.
The obligation to summon a yearly Diet was not formally repealed, but, while legislation and supreme control of finance still remained the special functions of the assembled Estates, the executive business with which they were so incompetent to deal devolved upon a Council of Regency (Reichsregiment). This was to consist of twenty-one members. At its head was the King or a deputy appointed by the King. The further representation of the King's interests was provided through an Austrian and a Netherlandish member of the Council. But the other eighteen Councillors were entirely outside the King's control. Each of the six Electors had an individual voice in the Council. One of them was always to be present in person, being replaced by a colleague after three months. Each of the five absent Electors personally nominated a member of the Regency. The representation of the other Estates was divided into two categories. Certain eminent imperial vassals were singled out and granted a personal right of occasional appearance. Thus twelve princes, six spiritual and six lay, were specified as having the privilege of sitting in the Council, by two at a time. Similarly there were one representative of the prelates (abbots and other lesser dignitaries), one of the Counts and two of the Free and Imperial Towns, arranged in groups for the purpose. Besides the six Councillors chosen from this fh'st category, there were six others representing the Estates of six great circumscriptions or Circles into which Germany, excluding the electoral lands, was now for this purpose divided. No names were given to these districts, but roughly they corresponded to the later Circles of Franconia, Bavaria, Swabia, the Upper Rhine, Lower Saxony and Westphalia. The whole constitution was so arranged that the preponderance of power was altogether with the princes, and especially with the Electors. The inferior Estates were as scantily represented as was the King himself.
The establishment of the Council of Regency marks the highest moment of Berthold's triumph. Germany had obtained her centralised institutions, her Kammergericht, her annual Diets, her national army, and her imperial taxation. She now also had an executive government as directly dependent upon the Estates as a modern English Cabinet or as the royal Councils, nominated in the English Parliament, in the days before the Wars of the Roses had destroyed Lancastrian constitutionalism. The events of the last five years had demonstrated that, without such executive authority, the reforms were unworkable. But did the circumstances and temper of the times allow such a system as this any reasonable prospects of success? Lancastrian constitutionalism had failed miserably and had but paved the way to Tudor monarchy. What chance was there of Berthold's system prevailing under far worse conditions in Germany?
Maximilian was not likely to acquiesce in being deprived of all that made monarchy a reality. The knights with their passion for lawless freedom, the cities with their narrow outlook and strong local prejudices, might be likewise expected to have no good will towards a system in which the former had no part and the latter but a very small one. But a still greater difficulty lay in the princes, whose sectional ambitions and want of settled national policy wholly unfitted them for carrying out so delicate and difficult a task. Could a group of turbulent nobles, trained in long traditions of private warfare and personal self-seeking, provide Germany with that sound government which lands with better political prospects could only obtain from the strong hand of an individual monarch? The answer to these questions was not long in coming. In a few years the Council of Regency broke down utterly, bearing with it in its fall the strongest pillars of the new German constitution.
A final struggle between Maximilian and the Estates arose as to the meeting-place of the Council of Regency. But Max had gone too far on the way of concession to be able to succeed in enforcing his wish that the Council should follow the Court. The Estates resolved that it should meet in the first instance at Nürnberg. Full of anger and scorn the King left Augsburg, seeking the consolations of the chase in Tyrol. Berthold betook himself to Nürnberg, in order to take his turn as resident Elector on the Council of Regency. The choice of Frederick, Elector of Saxony, as the imperial deputy, made Berthold's task as easy as was possible. But Frederick was very commonly absent from the Council. He was too great a prince to be able to devote his whole time to the reform of the Empire. Upon Berthold alone fell the burden of the new system. Yet he was broken in health and spirits, and even at best only one prince among many. It was due to him that the Council had so much as a start. No political genius could have given it a long life.
Difficulties arose almost from the beginning. Maximilian grew indignant when he discovered that there was no probability of an army being levied to fight the French, and still more wrathful when the Council entered into negotiations on its own account with Louis XII, with whom it concluded a truce without any reference whatever to Italy. This seemed, and perhaps was, treason. But Maximilian was at the same time treating with Louis, and, though for a long time he refused to ratify the compact between the French King and the Estates, he made a truce on his own behalf and finally accepted also that arranged by the Council. But a new difference of opinion at once arose as to the proclamation of the papal Jubilee of 1500 in Germany. King and Council opened separate negotiations with Cardinal Perraudi the papal Legate, and Max much resented the agreement made between Legate and Council, that the profits derived from the Jubilee in Germany should be devoted exclusively to the Turkish War. He avenged himself by allowing the Pope to proclaim the Jubilee without reservation and by quarrelling with the Legate. Meanwhile the Council was failing in the impossible task of governing Germany. The crisis came to a head in 1501 at the Diet of Nürnberg, from which Maximilian was absent. The King now broke openly with the Council, and did his best to make its position impossible. Not only did he refuse to attend its sittings, but he neglected to appoint a deputy to preside in his absence. He would not even nominate the Austrian representative. He denounced Berthold as a traitor and schemer, and strove to raise an army, after the ancient fashion, by calling upon the individual princes to supply their contingents.
In the struggle that ensued both King and reformers gave up any attempt to observe the new system. Berthold fell back upon the venerable expedient of a Union of Electors (Kurfurstenverein). He has been reproached with lack of policy in thus abandoning the infant constitution, but his action was probably the result of inevitable necessity. As he had to fight the King, he naturally chose the most practical weapon that lay to hand.
After the fashion of the Luxemburg period, an Electoral Diet was now held at Frankfort. The Elector Palatine Philip (1476-1508), nephew and successor of Frederick the Victorious, who had hitherto been at feud with the Elector of Mainz, now made terms with him and attended the meeting. Alarmed at the unity of the Electors, Maximilian ordered them to adjourn to Speyer, where he would meet them in person. But the Electors quitted Frankfort before the King's messenger could arrive. Before separating, however, they renewed the ancient Union of the Electors, and pledged each other to act as one man in upholding the reforms of 1495 and 1500. It was afterwards believed that the Electors talked of deposing Maximilian, or at least of obtaining still more drastic reforms. This however does not seem to have been the case. It was futile to seek further changes, when the innovations already approved of could not be carried out in practice.
The Electors resolved that, if the King did not summon a Diet, they would themselves meet in November at Gelnhausen, and invite the other Estates to join them. Before this parliamentary convention of the German Estates, they resolved to lay a programme of policy that far surpassed in comprehensiveness any previous plan of reformation. This scheme provided not merely for the maintenance of the Landfriede, the restoration of the Kammergericht, and the strengthening of the Reichs-regiment. It distinguished itself from its predecessors by going beyond the interests of the princes and taking some thought of the welfare of the ordinary poor man, whom it sought to protect from the personal services, taxes, ecclesiastical Courts and other grievances weighing heavily upon him. But a body which could not carry through a simple political programme showed temerity in dealing with schemes of social reformation. Meanwhile the relations between King and princes became more and more embittered. "The King," said a Venetian ambassador, "speaks ill of the princes, and the princes speak ill of the King."
Maximilian had grown wiser with experience. He at last saw that to maintain a stiff attitude of resistance and to dwell upon his prerogative only served to unite his vassals against him. About this time he gradually drifted into a more temporising, but also a more dangerous, attitude. He was now content to bide his time and wait on events. In the long run the single will of the King was more likely to prevail than the divided wills of a host of magnates. Maximilian now endeavoured to break up the Electoral Union, and to make a party for himself among the younger princes. He employed all his rare personal talents, all the charm and fascination which belonged to him, in order to attract to himself on personal grounds the devotion of the rising generation. He cleverly sowed dissension between the mass of the immediate nobility and the little knot of reformers, who practically controlled the whole of the opposition. Why should a small ring of elderly princes of the second rank deprive the younger generation of all power at home or prospect of distinction abroad? He appealed to the particularistic interests, which were endangered, like his own, by the unionist policy of the Electors. He invoked the chivalrous and adventurous spirit which might well find a more glorious career in fighting Turks and French under the brilliant ruler than in wrangling about constitutional reform at home. He exerted all his interest at episcopal and abbatial elections, and not seldom succeeded in carrying his candidate. He sought to win over Alexander VI to his side, and with that object did not hesitate to negotiate directly with the papal Curia over the head of the Legate. A few years of hard work in these directions wrought a surprising difference in Maximilian's position. With increasing prosperity he grew more cheerful and good-tempered. Only against Berthold of Mainz did he show any great bitterness, and he now sought to obtain the Archbishop's resignation on the ground of ill-health in favour of one of his young followers, the Margrave Casimir of Brandenburg-Kulmbach. The very Electors began to despair of their policy of opposition. They resolved that it was but a waste of time and money to hold Diets in the absence of the King. Two years before it had been the highest goal of their ambition to summon the Estates without waiting for the formality of the royal writ.
Concurrently with these new developments, Maximilian forged other weapons against the reforming oligarchy. So long as he possessed but a purely personal authority, he was powerless against the new system. He therefore resolved to start counter-organisations, emanating from the royal prerogative, which might be taken into account against those established by the Estates at the expense of his supreme authority. Besides this general motive, he found a particular object for such action in the condition of his Austrian territories, which were as disunited and disorderly as feudal States were ever wont to be. He had already begun to combine the ordered administration of his hereditary lands with a rival imperial system that sprang from the royal initiative. The first great step was Maximilian's Hofrathsordnung of 1497. Since the ancient Hofrath of the Middle Ages had been merged in the Hammergericht of Frederick III, which had in its turn been superseded by the Reichskammergericht of the reformers, there was no royal Court adequate to support and represent the Crown either in the Empire or the hereditary lands of the House of Austria. Maximilian now set up a permanent Aulic Council (Hofrath), competent to deal with "all and every business that can flow in from the Empire, Christendom at large, or the King's hereditary principalities." This body was to follow the royal Court, was to be appointed by the King, and was to decide on all matters by a majority. It was not only a High Court of Justice, exercising concurrent jurisdiction with the Reichskammergerwht. It was also a supreme administrative body. It was to stand to the Empire and the Estates as the Concilium Ordinarium of the late medieval English Kings stood to England and the English Parliament. Next year, Maximilian further improved his executive government. The Hofkammerordnung of 1498 set up a separate financial administration, dependent on the Emperor, and subordinated also to the Aulic Council, which heard appeals from its decisions. This body, which was to sit at Innsbruck, was to centralise the financial machinery of Empire and hereditary dominions alike under four Treasurers, one for the Empire, one for Burgundy, and two for Austria. About the same date the Hofkanzkiordnung completed these monarchical reforms by setting up a Chancery or Office of State on modern lines and with powers such as could never be given to hereditary Chancellors like the Rhenish Archbishops. In these measures the King offered to his subjects rival guarantees for order, peace, and prosperity to those procured for them by the Diet. After the Gelnhausen meeting he proceeded still further on the same course. He set up a new Kammergerickt, consisting of judges appointed by himself, and this body actually had a short and troubled life at Ratisbon. He also talked of a new Reichsregiment, which was to be a Privy Council dependent on King alone; but this scheme never came into being.
Had Max been a great statesman, aiming at one thing at a time, this system might have been the beginning of a centralised bureaucracy that would have soon pervaded the whole Empire with monarchical ideas of administration. But he was neither persevering, nor wholehearted, nor far-seeing enough to pursue deliberately the policy of making himself a despot; and his reforms soon showed themselves to be but the temporary expedients of an ingenious but superficial and temporising waiter on events. In a few years fresh royal ordinances upset the system as easily as it had been called into being; and in practice Maximilian's reforms were not much better carried out than those of the Diet. The Aulic Council ceased to exist, and its revival was only forced upon Maximilian by the Estates of his own dominions, which saw in a standing council of this sort a means of checking arbitrary prerogative. Max died before the renewed Aulic Council came into working order. Later, its permanent establishment was secured, and as time went on it proved a rather formidable rival to the imperial Chamber. In after ages it was found more advantageous to take suits before the Emperor's Court than before the Court of the Empire, because justice was cheaper, quicker, and more certain in the Aulic Council than in the imperial Chamber.
Maximilian soon ceased to take much interest in reforming the Empire by royal prerogative. But he continued to busy himself with schemes for strengthening and unifying the administration of his hereditary dominions. He had long ago chased away the Hungarian conquerors of Vienna, and put an end to the division of the Austrian lands between two rival branches of the Habsburg House. The Aulic Council and the Innsbruck Chamber had a less direct bearing on the Empire than on the hereditary dominions, for the whole of which the Chamber might well have been the source of a single financial system. But Maximilian soon set up, in place of the single Hofkammer, two Chambers sitting at Vienna for Lower Austria (i.e. Austria, Carinthia, Carniola, Styria and Istria), and at Innsbruck for Upper Austria (Tyrol, Vorarlberg and East Swabia), with perhaps a third organisation for the scattered Vorlande in the Black Forest and Elsass. In 1501 followed an elaborate plan of administrative reform for Lower Austria, which established six executive, judicial, and financial bodies at Linz, Vienna, and Wiener Neustadt. These are the first signs of a reaction from Maximilian's centralising policy which became stronger towards the end of his reign. It is hard to determine how far this proceeded from his instability, and how far from the pressure of the local Estates of the Austrian dominions to which his financial embarrassments ever made him peculiarly liable. In the end, however, it was the Estates that took the lead, in Austria as in the Empire. The meeting at Innsbruck in 1518, famous in Austrian history, of deputations from the various Landtage of the hereditary lands, is justly regarded as the first establishment of any organic unity within the Austrian dominions. Maximilian shared with the Estates the merit of convoking the meeting; and it was this body that sanctioned the scheme for the erection of a Reichshofrath, to which reference has already been made. Of the eighteen members of this Aulic Council of the Empire, five were to be presented by the Empire, nine by the various Austrian lands, and the remainder were to consist of great officials. Side by side with it a Chancery for the Empire and hereditary lands was erected, whose Chancellor was to act with the help of three secretaries, one for the Empire, one for Lower, and one for Upper Austria. Finance was once more to be reorganised, and the Innsbruck Chamber restored to something of its old position. Tribunals were instituted to hear complaints against officials; the prince's domain was not to be alienated, and three local administrations were set up, at Bruck on the Mur for Lower Austria, at Innsbruck for Upper Austria, and at Ensisheim for the Vorlande. Maximilian's death within a few months prevented these schemes from being carried out, and the history of the Emperor's Austrian, as of his German policy, ends with the characteristic note of failure. Nevertheless he had truly won for himself the position of founder of the unity of the Austrian dominions. If he accomplished little for Germany, he had done much for Austria.
The soundness of the newer imperial policy of Maximilian was soon to be tested. On the death of George the Rich, Duke of Bavaria-Landshut (1504), a contest arose as to the succession. By family settlements and by the law of the Empire, the next heirs to the deceased Duke were his kinsmen, Albert and Wolfgang, Dukes of Bavaria-Munich. But differences had arisen between the Munich and Landshut branches of the ducal House of Wittelsbach, and George, in the declining years of his life, had formed a scheme for the succession of his nephew and son-in-law, the Count Palatine Rupert, second son of the Elector Palatine Philip, by his wife, George's sister, and the husband of Elizabeth, the Duke of Landshut's only child. On his death he left his wealth and dominions to Rupert and Elizabeth, who at once entered into possession of their inheritance.
The Dukes of Munich immediately appealed to Max, and the newly-constituted royal Kammergeridit speedily issued a decision in their favour. All the dominions of Duke George were to go to the Dukes of Munich, except those in which the King had an interest. Maximilian at once put Rupert and his wife under the ban of the Empire, and prepared to vindicate by arms the decision of his lawyers. For the first time since his accession the young princes of Germany flocked to his standard. It was in vain that the Elector Palatine appealed to his French and Swiss allies to help his son. A few French nobles fought on his side; but Louis XII preferred to profit by Maximilian's need to obtain recognition as Duke of Milan. The struggle was too one-sided to be of long duration, and the death of Rupert and his wife made its termination the more easy. The mass of the Landshut dominions was now secured to the Dukes of Munich, henceforth the sole lords of the Bavarian duchy. But Maximilian himself appropriated considerable districts for himself, while he compensated the Elector Palatine by the region of Sulzbach and Neuburg-the so-called Junge Pfalz. With Maximilian's triumph in the Landshut Succession War died the last hopes of the constitutional reformers of the Empire. Their best chance had ever been the necessities of their King's enterprising foreign policy; but these years also saw the realisation of the brightest dreams of the House of Austria. The Archduke Philip was wedded to Joanna, the heiress of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. On Isabella's death in 1504 Philip became King of Castile. To this great dignity was added the prospect of the inheritance of the aged Ferdinand in Aragon and in Naples. With such an extension of his European influence it seemed unlikely that Maximilian would again come before his Estates the helpless suitor that he had been of old.
The history of the Diet of Cologne of 1505 brings out clearly the different position now attained by King and Estates respectively. To this Diet Maximilian came triumphant from his hard-earned victory in Gelderland, attended by a great crowd of enthusiastic nobles and soldiers. He had no longer to face his ancient enemies. Berthold of Mainz had died in the midst of the Landshut troubles, worn out with disease and anxiety, and already conscious of the complete failure of his plans. His former ally, John of Baden, Elector of Trier, had died before him in 1503. Their successors, Jacob of Liebenstein at Mainz and Jacob of Baden, at Trier, were mere creatures of the King, and the latter Maximilian's near kinsman. Hermann of Hesse, the Elector of Cologne, had never been of much personal importance, and was now quite content to float in the royalist tide. The Count Palatine Philip, the chief of the secular opposition since his reconciliation with Berthold, had suffered so severely during the Landshut Succession War that he dared no longer raise his voice against the King. The young Elector Joachim of Brandenburg, who had succeeded to his dignity in 1499, was eager to put his sword at the service of Maximilian. Of the old heroes of the constitutional struggle only Frederick the Wise of Saxony remained, and without Berthold's stimulus Frederick was too passive, too discreet, and too wanting in strenuousness to take the lead. Yet his pleading for the disgraced Elector Palatine, unsuccessful as it was, was the only sign of opposition raised from among the Electors in this Diet. Even more devoted to the Crown were the princes who had won their spurs in the Bavarian War, and the prelates who owed their election to Court influence. Well might the Venetian ambassador report to his Republic, that his imperial Majesty had become a true Emperor over his Empire.
Encouraged by the prospect of the unwonted support of his Estates, Maximilian took a real initiative in the question of imperial reform. In a speech in which he could not conceal his bitter hatred of the dead Elector of Mainz, he urged the establishment of a new Council of Regency, dependent upon the Crown, resident at the imperial Court, and limited to giving the King advice and acting under his direction. But the Diet had had enough of new-fangled reforms. "Let his Majesty," said the Estates, "rule in the future as he has ruled in the past." They also rejected the scheme when Maximilian put it before them in a modified form, which allowed the Electors and princes a large voice in the appointment of the Council. Equally averse was the Diet to the novel method of taxation. Maximilian soon withdrew a proposal for a new Common Penny, and cheerfully contented himself with the proffer of an army of 4000 men, which he proposed to employ to protect his ally Ladislas of Hungary from the revolted Hungarian nobles under John Zapolya. For the expenses of this and for other supplies, money was to be raised by the matricula, that is by calling upon the various Estates of the Empire to pay lump sums according to their ability. The matricula ignored the union of the Empire and the obligation of the individual subject, which had been emphasised by the Common Penny. But King and subjects had alike ceased to look upon the Empire as anything but a congeries of separate States.
Save in the matters of the Council of Regency and the Common Penny, the Augsburg reforms were once more confirmed by King and Estates. The Landfriede of 1495 was solemnly renewed, and orders were given to revive the Kammergericht, which had ceased to meet during the recent troubles. For two years, however, the restoration remained on paper, until at last the Diet of Constance of 1507, which in more than one way completed the work of the Diet of Cologne, approved of an elaborate scheme for its reconstitution. By this ordinance the imperial Chamber took its permanent shape. At its head was still to be a Kammerrichter chosen by the King, and sixteen assessors representative of the Estates. But while at Worms in 1495 the assessors had been appointed by the King with the counsel and consent of the Estates, the method by which their election was now arrived at was particularist rather than national. The assessors were henceforth to be nominated by the chief territorial powers. Two were named by Maximilian as Duke of Austria and Lord of the Netherlands. The six Electors similarly had each a nomination to a seat, and the remaining eight assessors were to be appointed by the rest of the Estates, grouped for the purpose into six large Circles. The place for the session of the Court was still to be fixed by the Estates. After a year at Regensburg it was to be established at Worms. To please Maximilian, who preferred an ecclesiastic, the Bishop of Passau was the first Kammerrichter. His successor, however, was to be a count or a secular prince. The judge was to be paid by the King, and the assessors by the authorities that presented them to their offices. Thus the Kammergericht became a permanent institution, which, after various wanderings and a long stay at Speyer, finally settled down at Wetzlar, where it remained until the final dissolution of the Empire. But no care was taken to secure that the Court should administer a reasonable law or adopt a rapid or an economical procedure. The delays of the Kammergericht soon became a bye-word, and the ineffectiveness of its methods very materially attenuated the permanent gain accruing from the establishment of an imperial High Court. Nor were any efficient means taken at Cologne or Constance to secure the execution of the sentences of the imperial Chamber. Max himself was not chiefly to blame for this. He renewed at Constance a wise proposal that had fallen flat at Cologne. This was a plan for the nomination by the King of four marshals to carry out the law in the four districts of the Upper Rhine, Lower Rhine, Elbe and Danube respectively. Each marshal was to be assisted by twenty-five knightly subordinates and two councillors. An under-marshal, directly dependent on the Chamber, was to execute criminal sentences. But the princes feared lest this strong executive should intrench upon their territorial rights. Now that the Emperor and not the Estates controlled the Empire, a prince had every inducement to give full scope to his particularistic sympathies. Very weak, however, was the system of execution that found favour at Constance. It was thought enough that the Kammerrichter should be authorised to pronounce the ban of the Empire against all who withstood his authority. If the culprit did not yield within six months, the Church was to put him under excommunication. If this did not suffice, then Diet or TSmperor was to act. In other words, there was no practical way of carrying out the sentence of the Chamber against over-powerful offenders.
The Diet of Constance placed on a permanent basis the closely allied questions of imperial taxation and imperial levies of troops. Brilliant though the prospects of the House of Austria now seemed, Maximilian's personal necessities only increased with the widening of his hopes. It cost him much trouble to maintain Wladislav of Hungary on his throne, though in the end he succeeded; and the betrothal of Anne, Wladislav's daughter and heiress, to one of Maximilian's grandsons, an infant like herself, further guaranteed the eventual succession of the Habsburgs in Hungary and Bohemia (March, 1506). The death in the same year (September) of his son Philip of Castile, had involved him in fresh responsibilities. Philip's successor, the future Charles V, was only six years old,and it taxed all Maximilian's skill to guard the interests of his grandson. He now felt it urgently necessary that he should cross the Alps to Italy, and should receive the imperial Crown from the Pope. With this object he besought the Estates at Constance for liberal help. He gave his word that, if an army of thirty thousand men were voted to him, all conquests he might make in Italy should remain for ever with the Empire; that they should not be granted out as fiefs without the permission of the Electors; and that an imperial Chamber should be established in Italy to secure the payment by the Italians of their due share in the burdens of the Empire. But these glowing promises only induced the Diet to make a grudging grant of twelve thousand men with provision for their equipment. The matricular system, already adopted at Cologne, was again employed to raise the men and the money. Henceforward, so long as imperial grants continued, this method alone was employed. But grave difficulties arose as to the quotas to be contributed by the various States. One of the chief among these related to princes, who were tenants-in-chief for some part of their territories, while they held the rest mediately of some other vassal of the Empire. None of these problems was settled during Maximilian's life.
The chief interest of German history shifts for the next few years more and more to questions of foreign policy. Maximilian's War with Venice, his share in the League of Cambray and the renewal of hostilities with France, which followed the dissolution of that combination and the establishment of the Holy League, absorbed his energies and exhausted his resources. Very little success attended his restless and shifting policy. He did not even obtain the imperial Crown for which he sought. Unable to wait patiently until the road to Rome was open to him, Max took on February 4, 1508, a step of some constitutional importance. He issued a proclamation from Trent, where he then was, declaring that henceforward he would use the title of Roman Emperor Elect, until such time as he received the Crown in Rome. Julius II, anxious to win his support, formally authorised the adoption of this designation. For the next few years the Venetian War blocked his access to Rome, and later he made no effort to go there. He was now universally addressed as Emperor; and the time had passed when the form of papal coronation could be expected to work miracles. Maximilian's assumption of the imperial title without coronation served as a precedent to all his successors. Henceforward the Elect of the seven Electors was at once styled Roman Emperor in common phrase, Roman Emperor Elect in formal documents. During the three centuries through which the Empire was still to endure, Maximilian's grandson and successor was the only Emperor who took the trouble to receive his Crown from the Pope. As time went on, the very meaning of the phrase "Emperor Elect" became obscure, and was occasionally thought to point to the elective nature of the dignity rather than to the incomplete status of its uncrowned holder.
During these years of trouble in Italy, Maximilian was constantly demanding men and money from the German Estates and was involved in perpetual bickering with the numerous Diets which received his propositions coldly. The royal influence, which had become so great after 1504, broke down as hopelessly as had the authority of the Estates. The conditions of the earlier part of the reign were renewed when the Emperor's financial necessities once more led him to make serious proposals of constitutional reform. The most important of them was the scheme which in March, 1510, Maximilian laid before a well-attended Diet at Augsburg. As usual the Emperor wished for a permanent imperial army, and long experience had convinced him that this could only be obtained by great concessions on his part. He now suggested that a force of 40,000 foot and 10,000 horse should be raised by the Estates of the Empire, including in them the Austrian hereditary dominions. In return for this he promised once more to establish an efficient imperial executive. The Empire was to be divided into four Quarters, over each of which a Captain (Hauptmanri) was to be appointed as responsible chief of the administration. From these Quarters eight princes, four spiritual and four temporal, were to be chosen, who, under the presidency of an imperial Lieutenant, were to act as a central authority. This body was to sit during the Emperor's absence in the same place as the imperial Chamber. While the Emperor was in the Empire, he had the right to summon it to take up its residence at his Court.
This proposal, although it has been described as the most enlightened plan of fundamental imperial reform that the age produced, nevertheless found little favour with the Diet of Augsburg, which shelved it after the traditional fashion by referring its further consideration to another Diet. Fears for their territorial sovereignty may have partly induced the princes to bring about this result. But it seems probable that distrust of Maximilian was the real motive which led to the rejection of the scheme. Bitter experience had taught the Estates that the Emperor could be tied down to no promises, and could be entrusted with the execution of no settled policy. The best proof of this is that, as soon as Maximilian died, the Diet went back to the ideas of Berthold of Mainz and restored the Reichsregiment.
The obligations involved by Maximilian's participation in the Holy League speedily forced upon him once more the necessity of consulting his Estates. In April, 1512, the Emperor travelled to Trier to meet the Diet. Much time was now wasted and finally Max, in despair as to any transaction of business, went to the Netherlands, taking with him many of the assembled princes. A remnant of the Diet lingered on at Trier until Maximilian, returning from the Netherlands, prorogued it to Cologne. Here the Emperor once more brought forward the plan of 1510. As it met with little approval, he proposed as an alternative that a Common Penny should once more be levied after the fashion adopted at Augsburg in 1500, and that, by way of improvement on the Augsburg precedent, a levy of one man in a hundred should provide him with an adequate army. It was ridiculous to expect that the Estates would grant an army four times as large as the levy of 1500, when no great concession like that of the Reichsregiment was offered in return. The Emperor gradually reduced his terms, but after much haggling obtained no permanent assistance and only inadequate temporary help.
One result of future importance came from the Diet of Cologne. This was a scheme for the extension of the system of Circles into which portions of the Empire had been divided since 1500. Maximilian now proposed to add to the existing six further new Circles, formed from the electoral and Habsburg territories which had been excluded from the earlier arrangement. A seventh Circle, that of the Lower Rhine, was to comprise the dominions of the fonr Rhenish Electors. An eighth Circle of Upper Saxony took in the lands of the Electors of Saxony and Brandenburg, together with those of the Dukes of Pomerania and some other minor Powers transferred from the original Saxon Circle. Archbishop Berthold's greatest wish was realised in the proposal to include Max's hereditary dominions in the ninth and tenth Circles of Austria and Burgundy. Thus every large tract of imperial territory became part of a Circle, save only the foreign kingdom of the Cechs. Definite names were given to the older Circles, and in each Circle a Captain appointed by it was empowered to carry out with the help of a force of cavalry the decisions of the imperial Chamber. The Estates however took alarm at the proposal to put the Captains of the Circles at the head of an armed force; and the result was that the division of the Empire into ten Circles never came into working order until after Maximilian's death, and even then certain small districts were left outside the system.
The Diet of 1512 was practically the last of the reforming Diets. The chief interest in the immediately succeeding period centred round the renewal of the Swabian League. This confederacy had for a generation powerfully contributed towards the peace and welfare of South Germany. It had extended its limits, until it included not only the Estates of Swabia, but Rhenish and Franconian magnates such as the Elector Palatine, the Elector of Mainz, and the Bishop of Würzburg. But it comprehended within it very diversified elements, and the lesser Estates looked with jealousy upon the increasing influence of the greater princes upon its policy. Conspicuous among these magnates was Ulrich, the turbulent and unruly young Duke of Wurtemberg. The split declared itself when the princes refused to take a share even in paying the cost of the destruction of the robber-nest of Hohenkrahen in the Hegau, which the League, inspired by the Emperor, now captured after a short siege. Accordingly when the League was renewed for ten years in October, 1512, the Duke of Wurtemberg with his allies, the Elector Palatine, the Bishop of Wurzburg, and the Margrave of Baden, were excluded from it. The excluded princes promptly set up a counter-league, which in 1515 received the adhesion of Frederick the Wise of Saxony. Thus the element of disunion, which had prevented any organised combination of the Empire as a whole, now also threatened to destroy the most successful of the local unions of parts of the Empire. In the midst of this confusion, the last Diets of Maximilian's reign were even more incompetent than their predecessors. The characteristic features of these years were the war of Franz von Sickingen against Worms and the feud between Ulrich of Wurtemberg and the Swabian League. The Emperor was now conscious of his impending end. In the hope of furthering his grandson's election as his successor, he relieved Sickingen from the ban which had been pronounced against him. The aggrieved Estates refused in their turn their help against the disobedient Ulrich. New troubles now arose to complicate the situation. The early triumphs of Francis I deprived Maximilian of his last hopes of acquiring influence or territory in Italy. After Marignano his military impotence was clearly demonstrated to all the world, while his shifty and tortuous diplomacy became a bye-word for incompetence. Since 1517 ecclesiastical troubles had assumed an acute shape by the crusade of Martin Luther against papal Indulgences. But the old Emperor still calmly pursued his way, finding amusement with his literary and artistic schemes, and occupying himself more solidly in preparing the way for the world-Empire of his grandson Charles, and in setting the administration of the Austrian hereditary lands on a more satisfactory basis. He was still as full of dreams as ever and talked so late as 1518 of leading a crusade against the Infidel. But the contrast between his projects and achievements was never more strikingly brought out than in the last months of his life. The great schemes of the Diet of Innsbruck were in no wise carried out. The imperial coffers were so empty that Maximilian could not pay the tavern bills of his courtiers. Bitterly vexed at the indignities to which his poverty exposed him, he left Tyrol and travelled down the Inn and Danube to Wels. There, prostrated by a long-threatened illness, he breathed his last on Jaliuary 19, 1519.
A review of the political history of Germany brings out Maximilian's character almost at its weakest. Yet the impression derived from his calamitous European wars, his ineffective negotiations, and his pitiable shifts for raising money is even more unfavourable. Nevertheless the unsuccessful ruler was a man of rare gifts and many accomplishments. "He was," says a Venetian, "not very fair of face, but well proportioned, exceedingly robust, of sanguine and choleric complexion, and very healthy for his age." His clear-cut features, his penetrating glance, his dignified yet affable manner, marked him as a man of no ordinary stamp. He lived simply and elegantly, loving good cheer and delicate meats, but always showing the utmost moderation, and being entirely free from the hard drinking habits of most of the German rulers of his time. He was the bravest and most adventurous of men, risking his life as freely in the rough chase of the chamois among the mountains of Tyrol as in the tiltyard or on the field of battle. He was an admirable huntsman, and a consummate master of all knightly exercises. Good-humoured, easy-going, and tolerant, he possessed in full measure the hereditary gift of his house for combining kingly dignity with a genial kindliness that took all hearts by storm. He was equally at home with prince, citizen, and peasant. He had so little gall in his composition that, save Berthold of Mainz, he had hardly ever made a personal enemy. Frederick of Saxony eulogised him as the politest of men, and the Countess Palatine found him the most charming of guests. The personal devotion of the younger generation of princes to the Emperor did more than anything else to break up the party of constitutional reform. The rough Landsknechte called him their father; the artists and scholars looked to him for liberal support and discriminating sympathy; the Tyrolese peasantry adored him, and he was ever the favourite of women, whether of high-born princesses, or of the patrician ladies of Augsburg or Nurnberg. He relieved the tedium of his attendance at long Diets by sharing fully in the life of the citizens of the town at which the assembly was held. He attended their dances, their mummings, their archery-meetings, himself often winning the prize through his skill with the cross-bow and arquebus. Yet he was as readily interested in serious subjects as in his pleasures. His quickness was extraordinary, and the range of his interests extremely wide. He could discuss theology with Geiler and Trithemius, art with Dürer or Burgkmaier, letters with Celtes or Peutinger. On all matters of horsemanship, hunting, falconry, fortification, and artillery, he was himself an authority. Yet all these gifts were rendered ineffective by his want of tenacity and perseverance, by his superficiality, and by his strange inability to act with and through other men.
Maximilian was ever restless, a hard and quick, though by no means a thorough, worker, with real insight into many knotty problems and no small power of judging and knowing men. Keenly conscious of his own ability, and morbidly jealous of his own authority, he strove to keep the threads of affairs in his own hands, and seldom or never gave implicit confidence even to his most trusted ministers. He was a good-humoured and indulgent master, blind to the vices of his servants so long" as they pleased him or were found useful to him. But the same habit of mind that impelled him to act on his own initiative led him to prefer ministers of lowly origin who owed everything to his favour. These he treated indulgently and well, but regarded as mere secretaries, or agents for carrying out the policy which his master mind had conceived. Few princes of the Empire enjoyed his confidence, and among these none of the first rank. Yet among his better known servants were two Counts of the Empire, Henry of Fürstenberg, and Eitelfritz of Hohenzollern, Swabians both, as were so many of Maximilian's favourites. As diplomatists he preferred Burgundians to Germans. The smaller posts he commonly filled up with his favourite Tyrolese. But the most famous of his ministers was Matthaeus Lang, an Augsburg burgher's son, by profession a churchman and a lawyer, who early became his secretary, and served him with great fidelity for the rest of his life. Maximilian rewarded him nobly, forced the well-born Canons of Augsburg to accept their social inferior as Provost, and soon procured for him the bishopric of Gurk, the archbishopric of Salzburg, and a Cardinal's hat. Leo X compared Lang to Wolsey, and wrongly supposed that both ruled their masters. Like Wolsey, Lang was accused of arrogance and venality, and became exceedingly unpopular. A like fate befel Maximilian's minor ministers, the Tyrolese Serntein and Lichtenstein, and the Augsburger Gossembrot, head of the Tyrolese financial administration. Public opinion regarded them as corrupt and greedy and as ill-advisers of the popular Emperor. "His counsellors were rich," said a contemporary, "and he was poor. He who desired anything of the Emperor took a present to his Council and got what he wanted. And when the other party came, the Council still took his money and gave him letters contrary to those issued previously. All these things the Emperor allowed." The removal of Maximilian's counsellors was one of the conditions imposed on Charles V before his election. Nor was their lot an easy one during the life of their lord. They often had a very hard task in finding out what the wishes of their fickle and inconstant master really were, and they were sometimes quite at a loss as to the direction of the policy which they were expected to carry out. Yet the Emperor was ever ready to trim the sails of his statecraft to suit any passing wind of casual counsel. As Machiavelli said of him, he took advice of nobody and yet believed everybody, and was in consequence badly served. His mind was always running over with fresh ideas and impulses, which, when half carried out, were displaced by other whims of the moment. What he said at night he repudiated in the morning. No promises could bind him; not even self-interest could keep him straight in a single course for any length of time. True child of the Renaissance as he was, his emotional, sensitive, superficial, susceptible, and capricious nature stood in the strongest contrast to the pursuit of statecraft for its own sake by the politic and self-seeking princes of Italy, who used the giddy and volatile Caesar as an easy tool of their purposes. Yet few of the most ruthless of Italians had occasion to stoop to greater meanness, more wanton lying, and more barefaced deceit, than this model of honour and chivalry. And Maximilian's wiles were easily seen through and seldom effected their object. Too open-minded to hold strongly to his opinions, too versatile and universal in his tastes to deal with any subject thoroughly, he remained to the end of his life a gifted amateur in politics. He was at his best when strong personal interest gave free scope to his individuality.
As a general Maximilian was scarcely more successful than he was as a statesman. But as a military organiser he did much to further the revolution in the art of war that attended the growth of the modern system of States. He improved the weapons and equipment of his cavalry, though the lightly armoured horsemen of the Empire never seem in his days to have been able to hold their own against the heavier cavalry of France and Italy. More famous by far was the rehabilitation of German infantry, which owed so much to his personal impulse. In his early Burgundian Wars, he began the reorganisation of the German foot-soldier, which soon made the German Landsknecht a terror to all Europe. Turbulent, undisciplined, and greedy, Maximilian's infantry proved admirable fighting material, brave in battle, patient of hardship, and passionately devoted to the King, whom they regarded as their father. For their equipment he discarded the useless and cumbersome shield, and gave them as their chief weapon an ashen lance, some eighteen feet long, though a certain proportion were armed with halberds, and others with firearms that were portable and efficient, at least as compared with earlier weapons of the same sort. The rejection of the heavy armour that still survived from former days made Maximilian's infantry much more mobile than most of the cumbrous armies of the time, while, when they stood in close array, their forest of long spears easily resisted the attacks of cavalry. However disorderly after victory, the Landsknecht preserved admirable discipline in the field. Maximilian's inventive genius was at its best in improving the artillery of his time. However poor he was, he always found the means for casting cannon of every calibre. He invented ingenious ways of making cannon portable, and it was largely through his talents as a practical artillerist that light field-pieces were made as serviceable in pitched battles in the open as heavy pieces of ordnance had long been in the siege of fortified places.
Maximilian played no small part in the intellectual and artistic life of his time. The religious movement which burst out at Wittenberg and Zurich in the last years of his life lay outside his sphere. Though he was wont to discuss theological problems with interest and freedom, he was in his personal life, as in his ecclesiastical policy, orthodox and conservative. Yet this orthodox Emperor discussed the temporal dominion of the Popes as an open question, and argued that the Lenten fast should be divided or mitigated, since the rude German climate made the rigid observance of the laws of the Church dangerous to health. He urged on the Papacy the reformation of the Calendar very much on the lines afterwards adopted by Gregory XIII. He was pious and devout after his fashion, and was specially devoted to the Saints whom he claimed as members of the House of Habsburg. He had also inherited some of his father's love for astrology. More important, however, than these things is the large share taken by him in the spread of the New Learning of the humanists in Germany. He reorganised the University of Vienna, and established there chairs of Roman law, mathematics, poetry, and rhetoric. He fostered the younger Habsburg university at Freiburg in the Breisgau. Under the direction of Conrad Celtes, he set up a college of poets and mathematicians as a centre for liberal studies in Vienna. He called Italian humanists over the Alps to his service. He was the friend of Pirkheimer, Peutinger and Trithemius. He was devoted to music, and his Court-chapel was famous for its singing. In art he was a most magnificent patron of the wood engraver. He had friendly relations with Durer, while Burgkmaier did some of his best work for him. He loved history, and was a great reader of romances. He regretted that the Germans were not in the habit of writing chronicles, and interested himself in the printing and composition of works illustrating the history of Germany and especially that of his own House. His vanity, perhaps the most constant feature in his character, led him to project a long series of literary and artistic undertakings; but, as was usual with him, his designs were far too comprehensive to be ever carried out. One only of his literary enterprises saw the light during his lifetime. This was The Dangers and Adventures of the famous Hero and Knight, Sir Teuerdank, which Melchior Pfintzing published in 1517 at Nürnberg, and which sets forth in dull and halting German verse, illustrated by Schaufelein's spirited woodcuts, an allegorical account of Maximilian's own exploits during the wooing of Mary of Burgundy. What part of the composition belongs to Maximilian himself and what the final redaction owed to the earlier designs of his secretary, Max Treitzsaurwein, and of his faithful counsellor Sigismund von Dietrichstein, is not clear, but at least the general scheme and many of the incidents are due to the Emperor. At his death, he left behind him masses of manuscripts, fragments of proofs, and great collections of drawings and wood-blocks to represent the other compositions which he had contemplated. In comparatively recent times the piety of his descendants has given these works to the world in sumptuous form. WeissTcunig, drawn up by Treitzsaurwein and illustrated by Burgkmaier, describes in German prose the education and the chief exploits of Maximilian. In the Triumph of Maximilian the vast resources of Albert Dürer's art nobly commemorate the Emperor in one of the most grandiose compositions that the wood-engraver has ever produced. In Freydal Maximilian's joustings and mummeries are depicted with the help of Burgkmaier's pencil. Other literary projects, such as the lives of the so-called "Saints of the House of Habsburg," were only very partially carried out. In the last years of his life Maximilian planned the erection of a splendid tomb for himself at Wiener Neustadt, and called upon the best craftsmen of Tyrol to adorn it with a series of bronze statues. The Austrian lands were not able to supply his wants, and before long he was ransacking Germany for artists capable of carrying out his ideas. To this extension of his plan we owe the magnificent statues of Theodoric and Arthur, which Peter Vischer of Nürnberg cast by his orders. But this scheme too remained incomplete at his death. His last wishes were carried out as imperfectly as he had himself carried out his designs during his life. His request to be buried at Wiener Neustadt, the town of his birth, was forgotten. But, among the ornaments of the sumptuous tomb erected over his remains by his grandsons in the palace chapel at Innsbruck, room was found for the works of art which he himself had collected to adorn his last resting-place. In the heart of his favourite Tyrol, under the shadow of the mountains that he loved, the most glorious monument of the German Renaissance worthily enshrines the prince, who, with all his faults and failures, had no small share in bringing his country into the full blaze of modern light.
Was any real progress achieved by Germany during the reign of Maximilian? The failure both of the Emperor and of the Estates is painfully obvious; yet so much strenuous activity, so much preaching of new political doctrine could not pass away without leaving its mark in history. Very few actual results were at the moment obtained; but the ideal was at least set up, which later generations were able in some slight measure to realise. The policy of imperial reform seemed to have hopelessly broken down; but it was something gained that the Landfriede had been proclaimed, the constitution and powers of the Diet settled, and the Kammergericht established. The next generation took up and made permanent some of the measures which during Maximilian's lifetime had been utterly abandoned. The division of the Empire into ten Circles was actually carried out. The Aulic Council became the rival of the imperial Chamber. Even the Council of Regency was for a short time revived. In the worst days of disunion these institutions remained, the decrepit survivals of the age of abortive reformation, which with all their feebleness at least faintly embodied the great idea of national union that had originally inspired them. And if all these institutions-such as they were-made for order and progress, the peace and well-being of Germany were much more powerfully secured by the strengthening of the territorial sovereignties which accompanied the reaction from the reformers'" policy. The example set by Maximilian in unifying and ordering the government of the Austrian dominions was faithfully followed by his vassals, both great and small. The stronger princes become civilised rulers of modern States. The lesser princes at least abandon their ancient policy of warfare and robbery. The improved condition of Germany displays itself most clearly in the extraordinary development of the towns, which Maximilian had himself helped to foster. Thus the population of Nürnberg seems to have doubled during the sixteenth century; while the growth of material comfort, and of a high standard of living, were as marked as was the undoubted advance in spiritual and intellectual interests, in art and in letters. But most important of all was the great fact that the national idea had survived all the many failures of the attempts made to realise it. Nowhere was its force felt more strongly than in Elsass and along the Rhine, where a genuine though mainly literary enthusiasm responded to Maximilian's efforts at keeping a watch over the national borderlands. And if the age of the collapse of the German State was simultaneously the period of the revival of national scholarship, historical learning, literature, art, and language, it was the national idea that gave unity of direction and aim to the German Renaissance, and inspired all that was best in German Protestantism. To this national idea the Reformation, while completing the political break-up of the German national State, gave new life, endowing Germany with a common language and inspiring her with fresh motives for independence. It was in no small measure due to these influences-the influences of Maximilian's time and in a measure of Maximilian himself-that in the long and dreary centuries when there was no German State there remained a German nation, able to hand on the great traditions of the past to a happier age which could realise, though in a fresh shape, the ancient ideal of Berthold of Mainz, that side by side with the German nation there should also be a German National State.