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From Rudolf o Habsburg to the death of Charles IV





Rudolf of Habsburg

The political condition of Germany towards the end of the Interregnum was indeed deplorable. Its kings, for more than three centuries, had ruled as Emperors over Central Europe in concert with or in opposition to the Popes. This opposition had ended about the middle of the thirteenth century to the disadvantage of the Empire in the victory of the Popes over the proud race of the Hohenstaufen. The German Kings who succeeded, albeit only nominally, had not been able to maintain their supremacy over the vassal princes, and had left the Empire in hopeless confusion. This lasted until 1273; it was in fact a period of Interregnum.

After the death of the nominal king, Richard of Cornwall (2 April 1272), there was a general desire to place at the head of the State a real king and a truly German one. The new Pope, Gregory X, elected a few days before, animated by a fervent longing to wrest the Holy Land from the Muslims, shared this desire. The question was, however, whom the German Electors were to choose as their king. They did not want a powerful German prince, neither the Wittelsbach Count Palatine Lewis nor his brother Henry Duke of Lower Bavaria, less still the brilliant Slav King Ottokar II, grandson on his mother’s side of the Hohenstaufen Philip of Swabia, who ruled from Bohemia as far as the north of Italy. On the proposal of the Bavarian Duke and strongly influenced by the Count Palatine himself, they at last (1 October 1273) chose at Frankfort the Swabian Count Rudolf of Habsburg, who readily accepted the terms imposed. Rudolf, now fifty-five years of age, whose rich possessions were spread over Upper Alsace, Swabia, and the north-west of modern Switzerland—the ancestral home of the Habsburgs stands in Aargau on the Aar—entered Frankfort the next day and on 24 October was crowned with Charlemagne’s crown in the ancient royal city of Aix-la-Chapelle. He was highly respected in Swabia as the descendant of an old Alsatian family from the neighbourhood of Mühlhausen, and greatly loved for his knightly talents, his solid character, and his sympathetic personality. As a partisan and connexion of the Hohenstaufen he humbly asked for the Pope’s support and help, also for his “approbation” of the election and his promise to crown him Emperor in Rome. Gregory, who was at Lyons for the General Council, gave his promise in general terms (6 June 1274), although King Ottokar of Bohemia, not having been allowed to vote and being disappointed at the choice of the Electors, refused to acknow­ledge him as King of the Romans and protested to the Papal See against the violation of his own rights and those of Alfonso X of Castile, from whom he himself had nothing to fear and who during the Interregnum had been one of the nominal Kings of Germany. For that reason Gregory X did not as yet openly recognise the new King of the Romans. However, he addressed Rudolf by that title on 26 September 1274, promised him the imperial crown later on, and, ever in mind of the Holy Land, wishing to maintain peace in Europe, did his very best to effect a reconciliation between Rudolf and Ottokar as well as King Philip of France and also the king’s deadly enemy, Count Amadeus V of Savoy; while Alfonso was warned to resign himself to the Electors’ choice. By order of the Pope, Alfonso accordingly withdrew his claims. Rudolf’s meeting with the Pope at Lausanne (October 1275), where he appeared with a splendid suite of German knights, consolidated the momentary cordiality between pontiff and king. The latter was not slow in promising to undertake the crusade so ardently desired by the Pope.

The king’s conflict with Ottokar, however, was not long delayed. In the autumn of 1276 Rudolf with an imposing army laid siege to Vienna, in order to bring the disobedient prince of the Empire into subjection. The proud Ottokar, excommunicated and outlawed, and forsaken by a number of vassals and subjects, was obliged to submit (25 November) and to relinquish all his states in the Empire except Bohemia and Moravia, for which he had immediately to do liege homage to the King of the Romans. The latter took temporary possession of the confiscated imperial fiefs, Austria and Styria, confirmed the Duke of Carinthia and Carniola in his fiefs, and took up his residence in Vienna, which remained the seat of his race for six and a half centuries. Thus King Rudolf became the founder of the greatness of the House of Habsburg. The proud and brave Ottokar, however, was far from feeling beaten. Taking advantage of Rudolf’s quarrels with the successors of Pope Gregory, who had died in 1276, over the imperial claims to the Romagna, he allied himself with the neighbouring Polish and Silesian princes who shared with him the old hatred of the Slav tribes against everything German. In June 1278 he led his army against the King of the Romans, who on his side marched northwards with his trained Austrian and Swabian knights and supported by a large army of Hungarian horsemen under the young King of Hungary, Ladislas IV, his natural ally against the Slavs, the permanent enemies of the Hungarians. The armies met on the Marchfeld near Stillfried on the Danube in Austria (26 August 1278), and Rudolf fought with valour and success against the ineffective Slav hordes. Their brave leader was captured and forthwith murdered by a revengeful Austrian knight. On account of his excommunication this dreaded ruler of the Czechs, the most famous of their kings, was even refused burial with the rites of the Church. His body lay in state in Vienna, was temporarily buried, and afterwards interred at Znojmo in Moravia. His young son Wenceslas II was made to marry one of Rudolf’s daughters; and in payment of the expenses of the war Moravia was pledged to Rudolf for five years. Thus the mighty Slav realm fell; Bohemia alone remained in the possession of Ottokar’s son, who was placed under the guardianship of the Margrave Otto of Brandenburg.

This brilliant victory tended to enhance the reputation of the King of the Romans in Germany and also to secure the cooperation of Pope Nicholas III in procuring for him the imperial crown. In order to induce the Pope to give his consent, Rudolf allowed himself (14 February 1279) to be persuaded to approve far-reaching declarations signed by the princes of the Empire concerning the subordination of the royal to the papal power. In a solemn document they likened the royal power to a smaller planet owing its light to the sun of the papal power, and recognised that the material sword was wielded at the will (ad nutum) of the Pope. Rudolf definitively renounced all claims to imperial sovereignty over the whole Papal State including Romagna and over Southern Italy, i.e. Naples and Sicily, Emperor Frederick IPs territory, where now ruled Charles of Anjou supported by the Pope. Charles’ grandson was to become King of the feudal State of the Arelate (or Burgundy) and to marry one of Rudolf’s daughters.

This self-humiliation, however, did not bring him nearer to his goal. Pope Nicholas’ early death in August 1280 annulled the agreements, which appeared to have had in view the division of the German Empire into four kingdoms, and were in any case prejudicial to the interests and rights of the Empire; all this for the sake of the coveted imperial crown. Rudolf never realised his desire, although he could reckon on the co­operation of his new ally at Naples, who was now so closely connected with his house, and on that of the latter’s nephew, the powerful King Philip III of France.

While the King of the Romans tried to strengthen the power of his race in the East and strove after the imperial crown with undeniable ingenuity, he allowed the numerous German princes to strengthen their power in their domains, which had greatly increased since Frederick II’s time, and to settle their own feuds. The free and imperial cities were permitted to form confederations for the sake of their commercial interests. Rudolf only exercised his sovereignty by granting important favours and privileges for money, and by forming on his journeys through the Empire, whenever possible, unions for promoting peace, as had been done by Frederick II in 1235. The Hanseatic League, formed some years before between the commercial cities on the North Sea and the Baltic, was more firmly organised under Rudolf. Although the fervently desired imperial crown was not yet his, he managed at the brilliant diet held at Augsburg (27 December 1282) to obtain the consent of the leading princes of the Empire to the investment of his two remaining sons Albert and Rudolf with the duchies of Austria and Styria as well as Carniola and the Wendish March as far as the Alps—formerly among the fiefs King Ottokar held of the Empire. The elder of those two sons, Albert, was to be the ruler, the younger was to be indemnified either by other territory in Swabia or in Burgundy or by a sum of money, retaining, however, his hereditary claim on the Austrian possessions. Carinthia, the duke of which had recently died, had primarily also been allotted to him but in the end (1286) was assigned to Count Meinhard of Tyrol as prince of the Empire, who also received in temporary fief Carniola and the Wendish March as a reward for his services against King Ottokar. Moreover the prospect was opened of yet more extensive territory in this “East March” of the German Empire. For his younger son Rudolf he expected soon to acquire an equally compact territory either in Swabia, by restoring the ancient duchy, or in Burgundy. Then the house of Habsburg would indisputably become the mightiest in the Empire and its way be clear to the greatest eminence in Western Christendom; it would indeed enter upon the inheritance of the Carolingian, Saxon, Salian, and Hohenstaufen imperial families.

Opposition, however, to his ambition, now becoming so apparent, was already rising in the Empire. The second marriage of the king in his sixty-seventh year with the fourteen-year-old Isabella, daughter of the late Duke of French Burgundy, in February 1284 opened to him and his family new chances of extending his possessions on the borders of the Empire, his new wife being a member of the mighty Capetian family. The institution of royal governorships in order to protect the newly established Landfrieden in Swabia, Bavaria, and Franconia, the annoyance of the imperial cities at the favours he bestowed on the princes of the Empire and at the monetary demands he brought forward, his manifest ambition to make his royal power superior to that of those mighty princes—all this excited anger and animosity everywhere. This animosity shewed itself especially when in 1284 a pseudo-Frederick II appeared.

For years the romantic history of the famous Emperor, whose name, together with that of his great predecessor and grandfather Barbarossa, was still held in honour among the German people, had given rise to the legend that he, like Barbarossa, was not really dead but had only been hidden by his archenemies, the clergy. When not actually the Emperor Frederick himself it was his grandson Conrad, who had perished in the vain attempt to regain his Italian inheritance. About 1280 several pseudo­Fredericks and Conrads appeared. One of them, Dietrich Holzschuh, had a large following along the Lower Rhine and presently took up his residence at Neuss, welcomed with reverence and affection by the superstitious people from far and near, as far even as Italy and the Eastern March. In north-western Germany all those who feared and hated Rudolf gathered round him, until the king seized this dangerous impostor at Wetzlar and had him burned at the stake (7 July 1285)

This new triumph brought increased fame to the King of the Romans. His power rose even higher when his devoted friend Bishop Henry of Basle was appointed Archbishop of Mayence (Mainz) and primate of Germany. Already he was preparing for his journey to Rome for the imperial crown; already, encouraged by the presence of the papal legate at the German council at Wurzburg, he was calling upon the German ecclesiastics for money and support; already he had announced a general German truce for three years in order to secure peace in the Empire during his stay in Italy; already he had regulated the imperial tolls, which since the confusion in the Empire had everywhere been misused or fallen into disuse; already the day for the coronation was fixed and, if that day should pass, a definite date was to be determined upon, when in April 1287 Pope Honorius IV died.

Almost a year passed before a new Pope was chosen. Moreover, since 1285 there ruled in France the powerful and ambitious Philip IV, surnamed the Fair, one of the most illustrious of French kings, whose great aim was to wrest the Arelate, the ancient kingdom of Burgundy, from the Empire, and thus to recover for France the boundaries of ancient Gaul at least along the Alpine range. King Rudolf succeeded, although with difficulty, in keeping under his control the princes of the Empire in Swabia and farther north along the Rhine. With an imposing army such as had not been seen for years, he succeeded at Besançon (July 1289) in maintaining the imperial rights over the “free county” of Burgundy (Franche Comté) against the rebel Count Palatine Otto IV and against the French intrigues.

In the spring of 1289 Rudolf made fresh arrangements for his coronation at Rome with the new Pope Nicholas IV. First, however, as he had done in the south, he had to consolidate his royal authority in northern and north-western Germany, where the ambitious Archbishop Siegfried of Cologne had repeatedly defied it. In the north-west the recognition of Rudolf’s authority was still far from general. There the young and energetic Count Florence V of Holland had in a few campaigns subdued the West Frisians who had killed his father the King of the Romans William II; he had also renewed his predecessors’ ancient claims on the Frisians of Westergoo. Count Florence had further invaded the bishopric of Utrecht and actually seized the western part (Nedersticht) of this important ecclesiastical domain without taking much notice of the expostulations of the Pope and the Archbishop of Cologne. Brabant and Guelders had entered upon a violent struggle over the succession to the duchy of Limburg which had become vacant, culminating in the fierce battle of Woeringen (7 July 1288), in which the two parties of north­western Germany opposed one another, and the Archbishop of Cologne with his allies of Guelders, Nassau, and numerous other counts, lords, and knights were taken prisoners by the Brabantines.

The King of the Romans, certain of the friendship of the victor at Woeringen, Duke John I of Brabant, did not interfere. John kept his personal enemy, Archbishop Siegfried, prisoner for a year, and only set him free on payment of a large ransom. Nor was Count Florence seriously thwarted by the King of the Romans, who saw in him a strong supporter against Philip IV of France, because he was the ally of Duke John, later on a supporter of King Edward I of England, and the hereditary enemy of Count Guv of Flanders, who sided with France. At first Rudolf saw no reason to be dissatisfied with the course of events in those parts; his authority was at least nominally recognised by the victors, although the peace of the Empire was meanwhile sadly disturbed and could only in seeming be consolidated by their victory.

In the north-east—in Saxony, Thuringia, and Brandenburg—he also met the wishes of the great princes of the Empire. Here too he consolidated the Landfrieden sometimes formed without his knowledge. At last, about Christmas 1289, he appeared in triumph at Erfurt; at the head of his band of knights he put down the marauders from the Thuringian woods and robbers’ castles. He held another brilliant court at which he was able to point with pride to the many princes of the Empire who had come from almost every part of Germany to do him liege homage. His young son-in-law Wenceslas II of Bohemia had also appeared. For close upon a century no German King or Emperor had occupied a similar position, and he won all hearts by his innate savoir-vivre and by the bonhomie that seems hereditary in his race.

He remained at Erfurt till Easter 1290. One of the reasons for his coming, the recognition of his son as his future successor, was nearing realisation; many princes promised to recognise his second son, the young Rudolf, as King of the Romans as soon as he himself should have been crowned Emperor. To this end he granted the electoral vote to Bohemia. Before May was out, however, and shortly before the birth of his son John, who afterwards became notorious as the murderer of his uncle Albert, young Rudolf died at Prague at the early age of twenty.

The stricken king now set to work to gain the votes of the Electors and the good will of the nobles for his eldest son Albert of Austria, ever striving after increased power for his race which was to acquire the right of succession to the Hohenstaufen. However, as Albert, with the child John, was also heir to the Swabian family possessions, he was too powerful in the eyes of the princes, especially when in 1289 his father invested him with the Hungarian kingdom vacant through the early death of King Ladislas IV. Rudolf based his claim on a promise of King Bela IV of Hungary to become a vassal of the Empire, if in return the Empire would help him against the Mongols; and this help had not been given. Albert’s investiture bore no fruit, nor was the papal candidate, Charles Martel of Naples, any more successful; for the Hungarians themselves elected a member of their ancient royal house, Andrew III. On the other hand, Rudolf invested his son-in-law Wenceslas II of Bohemia with the vacant imperial duchies of Breslau and Silesia, and once more, this time publicly, recognised Bohemia’s right to the fifth electoral vote in the Empire.

The king remained in Thuringia until November 1290. Thence he went to Swabia. The old ruler, now seventy-two years of age, felt his end drawing near and was unable to undertake the tiring and perilous journey to Rome. He seriously contemplated abdication, but in that case Albert’s succession must first be made secure. At the end of May 1291 he therefore again convoked a diet at Frankfort-on-the-Main. He was, however, already seriously ill and at that diet, well-attended as it was, he was unable to fulfil his plans. Unflinchingly and resignedly he rode, though sick to death, from the imperial city of Frankfort to the ancient city of Spires, where so many of his royal predecessors lay buried in the cathedral. There, he said, he wished to die, and there he breathed his last on 15 July 1291.

He left an honoured name in the Empire. His subjects reverenced his memory for having restored the blessings of peace in many parts of the Empire either by force of arms or by skilful intervention and policy; they revered him as a popular king, an exemplary knight, a capable and intelligent ruler, under whom the Empire had enjoyed a period of peace such as had not been known for years, freed from the rival kings who for more than a century had fought for the mastery, of marauding knights and ruffians who for years had infested town and country. His long struggle for the supremacy of his house was moreover of far-reaching future importance. The memory of his life, his rule, and his aims lived on in the hearts of the German people, in his own and in later generations.

Adolf of Nassau

Who was to succeed him as King of the Romans? Duke Albert, recommended by his father but, from the very outset, considered un­desirable by the Electors, especially by the three archbishops, on account of his rough, tyrannical nature and his already considerable power, firmly counted on being chosen; he felt certain of the support of his Bohemian brother-in-law Wenceslas, of that of the Count Palatine Lewis, and also of Bavaria. Towards the beginning of May, when he knew the Electors were to assemble at Frankfort, he came to the outskirts of that city with a large following, nearly an army. Archbishop Gerhard of Mainz, however, who did not favour Albert, had associated himself with the brave and very able, though not powerful, Count Adolf of Nassau, vassal of the Archbishop of Cologne and the Palatinate, who as head of the Walram branch of his house resided in Southern Nassau and there enjoyed a great reputation. The forty-year-old count, without wide lands, without the outstanding qualities of Rudolf of Habsburg, although a good soldier as a German king had need to be, seemed a serviceable tool in the eyes of the ecclesiastical Electors, who aspired to more power. They succeeded in obtaining the consent of the four temporal Electors, even that of King Wenceslas, Rudolf’s weak and very pious son-in-law, whose still disputed electoral vote they now fully recognised. All of them exacted from Adolf exorbitant concessions in money as well as in lands, the demands of Archbishop Siegfried of Cologne being especially heavy, even shamelessly so. The ambitious count accepted his liabilities without troubling about the possibility of fulfilling his promises, surrendering to the Electors and their friends many imperial towns and rights without much resistance. As was customary, the nomination was left to the primate Archbishop Gerhard of Mainz; Archbishop Sieg­fried also played an important part, and Wenceslas, who had not appeared, put his vote in the hands of Gerhard. Thus the new “Pfaffenkönig” (priests’ king), even less to be feared than King William II of Holland, was elected at Frankfort on 10 May and crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle on 24 June 1292.

The disappointed and embittered Duke Albert had retired to Alsace, where the hostile attitude of the neighbouring Swiss against his house caused him some anxiety. Afterwards he went to his family possessions in Austria to prepare for the struggle with his victorious rival, who had begun going round the Empire, restoring peace here and there with troops brought together with the help of the Rhenish Electors, and everywhere gaining friends and adherents by lavish granting of favours. Adolf succeeded in countering the Habsburg power in Alsace, and in the much-divided Thuringia his royal supremacy was recognised by dint of merciless pillage and robbery. His lack of regard for the immunities of churches and other ecclesiastical possessions roused the antagonism of the clergy. He, too, always kept in mind the imperial crown, which he meant to obtain as soon as circumstances in Rome and in the Empire should permit and a Pope of some personal weight should once more occupy the Holy See.

The war between England and France, which had broken out in the spring of 1294, prevented him from carrying out his plan for the present. Applied to by King Edward I of England, Adolf showed himself quite ready to frustrate with the help of the English the designs of the French on German territory. King Edward had acquired powerful allies in north-western Germany by subsidies and clever manoeuvring. Flanders, Brabant, Holland, and Guelders had taken up his cause on receipt of considerable sums of money. On 24 August 1294 he made a close alliance with Adolf at Nuremberg, under which Adolf in his turn demanded no less than 100,000 marks for his help against Philip IV of France. Ten days later Adolf, as the King of the Romans and therefore protector of the Empire, declared war against Philip on the plea that the French king had for years violated the imperial rights on the south-western borders. The actual declaration of war, however, which bore the character of a knight’s challenge, was not dispatched until the beginning of 1295. Preparations for a great campaign against France were immediately set on foot. Adolf could expect the French king to play off the opponents to his election against him. And indeed Philip immediately made sure of the support not only of Duke Albert of Austria, but also of Count Henry IV of Luxemburg, Duke Frederick of Lorraine, the Dauphin Humbert I of Dauphiné, which at that time was still a fief of the Empire, and of Otto IV, Count Palatine of Burgundy, who was likewise a vassal of Adolf.

It was of great significance that the new Pope, Boniface VIII, one of the greatest pontiffs of the later Middle Ages, strongly disapproved of King Adolf’s declaration of war on France. In his capacity of peace­maker in Christendom Boniface, in 1295, sent his legates from Rome to the combatants; as a Christian and Head of the Church he forbade the King of the Romans (whom he acknowledged as such) to engage in the war and told the Rhenish Electors, Adolf’s powerful patrons, not to support him in a campaign against France. At first the papal interven­tion had its effect and the actual war was not entered upon by the Germans, although King Adolf declared the forfeiture of all the fiefs belonging to the Burgundian Count Palatine without, however, going so far as actually to attack him. He himself seized the lands of the disobedient Margrave of Meissen in Thuringia, and the margrave was forced to leave his country. Again his army committed ruthless pillage, especially where churches and monasteries were concerned, which vividly reminded the clergy of the Emperor Frederick II; they consequently turned against King Adolf. Meanwhile Duke Albert had again managed to draw back to his side Wenceslas of Bohemia and other princes, while Adolf saw his own patrons and adherents leave his cause one after another, deeming him not as submissive as they had expected and embittered against him because he had unwisely broken his promises. Even the Archbishop of Mainz, who had been temporarily deprived of his office by Pope Boniface, turned against him. Nothing came of the war with France; King Edward I of England was induced to open lengthy negotiations and presently saw the alliance he had bought on the Lower Rhine dissolved through the withdrawal of the “peasants’ friend”, Florence V of Holland. The latter’s murder (June 1296) by his opponents among the nobles temporarily restored English influence in that county; King Edward, having kept as hostage the murdered count’s only son John, his own son-in-law, now sent John back to Holland in order to gain that territory for England.

In 1297 Duke Albert at last considered the time ripe for attacking his opponent. An extensive plot, hatched by the clergy against the King of the Romans, was gaining more and more ground. In February 1298 a diet at Vienna was turned into a military review of the plotters, who then and there decided to depose Adolf and put Albert in his place. Archbishop Gerhard, who had hesitated a long time, was persuaded to join Albert for good and all, now that the “Pfaffenkönig” turned out to be an unwilling tool in the hands of those who had invested him with his high dignity; he had not fulfilled many of his promises, partly through inability, partly because he had no wish to keep them.

As early as February 1298 Albert left Vienna at the head of an army composed of Austrians, Bohemians, and Hungarians, and marched through Bavaria to Swabia, where many knights joined him. His semi-barbarian troops of savage Slavs and Hungarians, armed according to eastern custom with bows and battle-axes and followed by a large horde of women, were kept under control with great difficulty, and made a deep impression on the simple German townsfolk and peasants who saw them pass. Towards the middle of May, the Archbishop of Mainz summoned the King of the Romans to Frankfort, ostensibly to confer with the princes of the Empire about the means to guard the imperial interests in the midst of the increasing confusion in the Empire, but really to call him to account. Adolf did not obey the summons; he hastily collected an army, with which to keep in check his adversary who had already reached Strasbourg. At Frankfort the princes of the Empire, as of old from far and near assembled in the open, proceeded to take action. The Duke of Saxony, long ago won over by Albert, solemnly accused the King of the Romans of the spoliation of churches and the ill-treatment of priests during his devastating marches through Thuringia, of arbitrary violation of peace and law, of shameful perjury against towns and princes of the Empire, of a persecution of Church and religion in general which dangerously resembled heresy. On these grounds the princes of the Empire, finding him guilty of all these crimes, deposed King Adolf, and the Electors present immediately set about choosing a new king, who was, of course, Duke Albert. The duke, who had almost reached the royal city, received their homage in his camp.

Yet all was not lost for Adolf. Accompanied by his numerous Nassau relatives, supported by other Rhenish knights and the Bavarian dukes, he decided to take his chance against the usurper and marched north-westwards from Spires. Near Gollheim, not far from Worms, the decisive battle was fought on 2 July 1298. The valiant Nassau prince fought bravely. Fallen from his horse, he mounted another and bare-headed tried to find the hated Austrian in the throng of battle so as to settle the matter in personal combat. Albert scornfully dealt him a blow on the open face with his sword and then turned away leaving him to his friends. A moment later Adolf fell in the confused and desperate melée. This was the end of his dreams of royalty. His body was not buried in the venerable cathedral of Spires but in a neighbouring monastery.

Albert of Habsburg

King Albert lacked his father’s sympathetic character and appearance. A hard and rough warrior, ambitious and intriguing, often rude and coarse, suspicious and miserly, severe and merciless in his dealings, at the same time a talented statesman, he inspired fear rather than affection in those who came into contact with him. King Philip IV congratulated him on his accession, and his coronation took place at Aix-la-Chapelle, where also the French king’s partisans from the western part of the Empire paid homage to him.

One of his first acts was to take vigorous measures to suppress the scandalous persecutions of the Jews, which during the last years had again been prevalent especially in the Rhenish towns, where the ancient ridiculous accusations of ritual murders of Christians and the like were once more repeated against them. Prompted by the thought that he might reap advantage rather than by feelings of right and justice, he brought back to the Rhenish towns the Jews who had survived the massacres. This earned him the scornful nickname of “Judenkönig” in some of the monastic chronicles. He celebrated his victory over Adolf at a brilliant diet at Nuremberg and also had his consort crowned there with much pomp. There too he secured the Austrian hereditary domains for his sons, emphatically repeated King Rudolf’s ordinances of peace, and confirmed the princes of the Empire in the rights they had acquired against the increasing independence of the towns; these, in their turn, had the satisfaction of seeing the imperial tolls and taxes, which had greatly increased, especially on the Rhine, since Frederick II’s time, re­duced to their old standards. On a long tour throughout the Empire his authority was recognised everywhere.

His relations with King Philip remained friendly: he caused the disputes in the west to be settled by arbitration, and contrived a marriage between his eldest son and successor Rudolf and Philip’s sister, while a marriage between one of his daughters and one of Philip’s sons was to strengthen the alliance with the French royal family still further. A solemn treaty concluded at Strasbourg (5 September 1299) was sealed in December of the same year at a meeting of the two kings at Toul. The princely splendour displayed by Albert on that occasion could not be equalled even by King Philip, although this excessive German magnificence seemed in the eyes of the French knights nothing but a coarse imitation of their own knightly customs, which had been generally adopted by the whole chivalry of Western Europe.

Very soon, however, Pope Boniface’s hostile attitude caused him anxiety. The Pope was always on bad terms with Philip the Fair; he had not yet recognised Albert as king and even blamed him severely for the violent death of King Adolf. The Electors also, fearing the rapid development of the Habsburg influence, were not long in shewing the new King of the Romans the limitations of his power.

That he himself had not much faith in this power, at least in the north-west, was clear when in August 1300 he withdrew from Nimwegen before the army with which Count John of Hainault tried to force from him recognition. John of Hainault had usurped the fiefs of Holland and Zeeland, become vacant through the death of his cousin Count John I, and had been summoned to Nimwegen to justify his acts. Menaced from the other side by the equivocal attitude of the Rhenish Electors—there was even a rumour of a plot against his life—Albert swiftly retreated, while Pope Boniface VIII reminded the Electors in a solemn bull of the supremacy of the Holy See, which might in the end recognise Albert, if he on his side fully submitted to the papal claims, especially to the demand that he should renounce the imperial rights in Tuscany and the whole of Middle Italy. Thus began the revolt of the Rhenish spiritual princes joined by the Wittelsbach Count Palatine Rudolf the Stammerer and all the branches of the offended house of Nassau, and led by Archbishop Diether of Treves, brother of King Adolf. At the instigation and with the co-operation of the Pope, these princes formed at Heimbach on the Rhine an alliance against Albert, “who now calls himself King of the Romans” (14 October 1300). Albert, on his side, declared that he, as lawfully elected king, would withstand these disturbers of peace and order, and on 7 May 1301 he called upon the German people, in particular on the powerful Rhenish towns from Cologne to Constance, to assist him in this, promising to protect every one of them against the unlawful exactions of tolls by princes and overlords, who for more than a century had attempted to enrich themselves at the expense of the commerce on the Rhine and its tributaries down to its mouth.

The Pope’s increasing enmity was a serious drawback to the king in this affair. By a bull of 13 April 1301 Boniface VIII at last openly refused to recognise him, and summoned him to defend himself within six weeks against the accusation of the murder of his predecessor King Adolf, on pain of excommunication and the annulment of the oaths taken by the princes of the Empire at the coronation at Aix-la-Chapelle. This marked the open breach between the King of the Romans and the papal authority. The whole of the Rhenish territory from Bavaria and Swabia to the Lower Rhine became involved. With skilful strategy the king, certain of the support of many lords and towns, led his troops along the Rhine for more than a year and successively conquered the Palatinate, Mainz, Cologne, and Treves. One after another their spiritual and temporal princes were forced to submit. A subsequent campaign planned against Count John II of Holland-Hainault had, however, to be abandoned, because the great quarrel between Philip IV and Boniface had then reached a crisis.

Much more important issues than the subjection of a few recalcitrant princes of the Empire were at stake: the question whether papal authority would at last succeed in putting into practice the theory of papal sovereignty over Christendom, the great question of the later Middle Ages. This time the head of the anti-papal party was the King of France, perhaps the greatest of the French Capetians, and not, as before, the ruler of the Empire, who now only played a subsidiary part in this world-drama as an ally of France, albeit not wholly a reliable one. With talent and success Philip engaged in the struggle, which in its consequences was to bring the Papacy under French influence for almost a century and temporarily to raise France to the first place in the Christian world, while Germany’s significance correspondingly dwindled. The alliance with France soon shewed to the King of the Romans its dangerous side. If he continued to follow this policy he would inevitably become involved in a violent struggle with Rome, and that might have the direst con­sequences for him in the Empire itself, as the fate of the Salian and Hohenstaufen Emperors had abundantly shown in the past. The reconciliation with France had evidently only been a means to secure temporary quiet on the western frontiers of the Empire, as well as to shew the Pope that the friendship of the King of the Romans was of importance to him. Albert’s policy was directed towards making both parties feel the importance of that friendship. The Jubilee of 1300 had revealed Boniface VIII in the brilliant glamour of power. His famous Bull Unam Sanctam (18 November 1302) once more expressed Gregory VII’s great ideal, that Holy Church was one and indivisible, ruled by one worldly power, that of Christ’s representative at Rome; the spiritual sword demanded the support of the temporal in upholding the supremacy of Rome in the world.

After his victories on the Rhine Albert seemed to be secure in his Empire in spite of his treaty with France. For the sake of the imperial crown he appeared willing to comply with the Pope’s demands, but only conditionally. In March 1302 he sent a deputation to Rome for the purpose of justifying his conduct towards King Adolf, as the Pope had demanded, and at the same time defending his rights against the Electors who had denounced him; he also declared himself ready to recognise, or even to defend, the papal claims in general. And the Pope, needing his help against France, actually recognised him as King of the Romans on 30 April 1303. Assuming the attitude of the “Good Samaritan”, he promised to crown Albert at Rome with the imperial crown, urging all his subjects to recognise Albert’s sovereignty in the Empire, and released him from all the alliances and treaties, however solemn, that were inconsistent with the papal claims, consequently also from the alliance with Philip IV, against whom he hoped to use him. Albert, reminded by the fate of Adolf and the opposition of the spiritual Electors how important it was to him too to be on good terms with the mighty pontiff at Rome, sent a very humble answer to this message, promising not to appoint an imperial governor in Lombardy and Tuscany for five years, to fight the Pope’s enemies, and to deal justly with the lately subdued spiritual Electors on the Rhine. At the same time he skilfully avoided too definite an expression of obedience to the heavy demands of papal supremacy; prudence as well as his own strongly developed ambition forbade him to go any further.

Thus his alliance with France threatened to be severed at one blow. The King of the Romans, whose political discernment was perhaps not inferior to that of King Philip, saw its dangers for himself and for the Empire. The papal anathema on Philip was impending and war would no doubt have broken out at once, when the French king, with the help of the Colonna, surprised the Pope in his own territory at Anagni. There followed the sudden death of the Pope at Rome on 11 October 1303 in the midst of great confusion. The victory of France was imminent.

New dangers threatened in the Empire. King Wenceslas II of Bohemia, elected in 1300 King of Poland also, saw, at the death of the last prince of the ancient native house of Arpad, the crown of Hungary within his reach or at least within that of his young son Wenceslas, who did in fact acquire it. King Albert fully realised the great danger in the rise of a new mighty Bohemian Empire such as Ottokar’s had been in his father’s time. In the autumn of 1304 he marched into Bohemia but met with violent opposition, until Wenceslas II’s death from consumption (June 1305) delivered him from this adversary. The young Wenceslas III, however, was murdered soon after, and then Albert, after a second campaign, succeeded in getting his own son Rudolf elected King of Bohemia. Rudolf’s reign did not last long, for he died in July 1307, and his younger brother could no more than hold his own in Moravia against the newly-chosen King of Bohemia, Duke Henry of Carinthia, Wenceslas II’s son-in-law. The time for the Habsburgs had evidently not yet come in Bohemia. Elsewhere as well, in Thuringia, on the Rhine, in Swabia, in the Swiss cantons, there were disturbances. In Switzerland especially began the conflict which legend and poetry have embodied in and round the person of William Tell, the champion of freedom, and his followers. The King of the Romans saw his power menaced on all sides. He courageously set to work to compel recognition of his authority throughout the Empire. Busy with preparations for this difficult task, he was staying at Baden in Aargau (1 May 1308), when a small band of conspirators made a scheme to kill him. Among them was his eighteen-year-old nephew Duke John of Swabia, son and heir of Albert’s younger brother Rudolf and the proud Bohemian princess Agnes, daughter of Ottokar, who in her inmost heart hated the Habsburgs, in particular King Albert, the merciless enemy of her race. This hate had passed down to her son, who was discontented at what his uncle had portioned out to him, the grandson of a King of the Romans: he had merely the governorship and not the possession of the Swabian domains belonging to his house and once his father’s heritage. His fellow-plotters were three Swabian-Swiss nobles, Rudolf von Wart, young Walter von Eschenbach, and Rudolf von Balm, who had sworn to help him in upholding his rights and claims. Counting on help from the new Archbishop of Mainz and Count Eberhard of Wurtemberg, they once more tried to get satisfaction for Duke John from the king; both the princes interceded for him. The king, fearing their opposition and the wrath of his young nephew, consented and promised to look after the latter’s interests at the end of the intended campaign. Duke John, disappointed and discouraged at this new delay and at Albert’s unreliable promises, lent an ear to the proposals of his three friends. After the evening meal, when the king was on his way across the Reuss to the neighbouring little town of Brugg to meet his consort, they contrived to be alone with him on the little ferry-boat and to ride with him to Brugg. On the path leading to it, not far from the ancestral castle of Habsburg, they fell upon the unarmed king, wounded him mortally, and then escaped leaving him lying helpless. The king’s attendants found him still alive, but he died after a few minutes. The regicides, afterwards outlawed by Albert’s successor, fled into hiding. Only one of them, Rudolf von Wart, was captured soon afterwards and delivered up to Albert’s sons; he ended his life on the spot where the crime had been committed, by having his body broken upon the wheel. Duke John (Johannes Parricida) lived for some years unrecognised in a monastery at Pisa, where he still was when the new King of the Romans, Henry VII, came there in 1312; he disclosed his identity, and was thrown into prison as a regicide and died there soon after. Eschenbach hid in Wurtemberg and died many years later, only disclosing his real name on his death-bed. Balm died miserably and at a great age in his hiding place, a monastery at Basle. On the spot where the murder took place Albert’s widow erected the convent of Königsfeld, appointing her daughter Agnes its first abbess. After the ancient German custom, she and her sons and daughters mercilessly took a bloody revenge on all who could possibly be thought connected with the crime. The victim of this murder left to posterity the memory of a strong though hard and proud personality; he was a past-master in political cunning, always striving after the strengthening of the royal power, in which he considered lay the best guarantee for his own authority and for the future of his house. His sudden death intervened to prevent the fulfilment of his endeavour.

Henry VII, of Luxemburg

Philip IV immediately seized the opportunity to attempt to raise his brother Charles of Valois to the German throne, hoping thus to secure French predominance in Europe. To that end he began by bribing the Electors and other princes of the Empire and nobles with money and fair promises, and also exercised pressure on his willing tool, Pope Clement V, formerly Archbishop of Bordeaux, who owed him his high dignity, and who had taken up his residence at Avignon instead of at Rome. Though the French Pope did not venture to oppose his “patron” openly, he nevertheless feared—and with reason—too large an increase in Philip’s power in the Christian world. He therefore confined himself to framing a lukewarm recommendation, in order not to prejudice the king against himself and yet to have a chance of directing the choice of a German King into another quarter.

In the Empire itself Frederick the Fair, eldest surviving son of the murdered king, naturally came forward as candidate for the throne. He immediately gave up his plans with regard to Bohemia, at least for the time being, so as not to scare the Electors by revealing too much power in the hands of the house of Habsburg. He did not, however, succeed in allaying their fears. Other princes, too, entertained expectations, such as the Electors of the Palatinate, Brandenburg, and Saxony, while the Archbishop of Cologne felt inclined towards the French proposals. Several other princes were mentioned as claimants. In the midst of all these dissensions the recently nominated young Archbishop of Treves, Count Baldwin of Luxemburg, succeeded in drawing the attention of Archbishop Peter of Mainz, who had the first voice in the election of a king, to his distinguished elder brother Count Henry IV of Luxemburg. The latter was immediately prepared to grant to this prelate as well as to the Archbishop of Cologne, according to custom, extensive rights and advantages, should the choice fall on him.

Towards the end of October the Archbishop of Mainz called the Electors to a preliminary conference at Rense near Coblenz on the Rhine, where, after all sorts of intrigues and confused discussions, Count Henry, though not exactly elected, was designated as the most likely candidate. With the aid of yet more concessions the Archbishop of Cologne was won over for good and all; the temporal Electors were brought over in the same way, and thus the Luxemburg Count was at last (27 November 1308) unanimously elected King of the Romans by the six Electors present. The coronation took place at Aix-la-Chapelle on 6 January 1309. The new king, lord of a semi-Walloon and sparsely peopled domain, mainly situated in the ancient wild Silva Carbonaria (the Ardenne), had had a French education. He was wont to speak Walloon, the official language of Luxemburg, which, as a border-­country, used both languages and was closely allied to France. He was fair and slim, had an intelligent face and pleasant manners; he was religious, kind-hearted, sensible, and temperate in all his ways; he was not yet forty years old, and therefore in the prime of life. His wife was Margaret of Brabant, the pious and amiable daughter of the chivalrous Duke John I.

Immediately after the election, Henry sent an embassy to the Pope with a letter in which he expressed his sacramentum fidelitatis, but in terms which were not detrimental to his royal dignity. Clement V, approving his election, answered with a somewhat equivocal friendliness, yet promised to crown him as Emperor; the date of the ceremony (2 February 1312) was mentioned in connexion with a general council to be held before that date. King Philip was far from pleased at the accommodating tone of the Curia, and accordingly gave unmistakable signs of his displeasure at Avignon. In Germany itself no demur was at first heard against the unanimous choice, although many were dis­appointed. Already a fine chance was opening for the new king of acquiring the Bohemian crown. Wenceslas Ill’s enterprising younger sister Elizabeth offered herself in marriage to Henry’s son; she considered herself heiress to Ottokar’s family domains in opposition to the claims of her elder sister. In case the husband of this sister, Henry of Carinthia, the then King of Bohemia, could not hold his own against the Habsburgs—and that seemed probable—such a marriage would be very important.

His relations with the Habsburgs at first claimed the king’s chief attention. To his great joy Duke Frederick of Austria appeared at his first court at Spires. Frederick wished King Albert’s body to be interred with due ceremony in the ancient imperial cathedral, and this seemed to lead to a reconciliation between the two rivals, since Henry also demanded the interment there of King Adolf, which likewise took place. At the negotiations about their respective interests Frederick renounced the possession of Moravia, which he had held in fief, whereas he was confirmed in the investment of the imperial fiefs in Austria and Swabia, which his family had had in their possession, also in those of the absent John Parricida who had been outlawed by King Henry together with the three other murderers. Frederick promised to help the king against the ever-rebellious Landgrave of Thuringia, and also to assist him in his journey to Italy for the coronation, the ideal of King Henry’s life and not in his opinion unattainable; for the much-oppressed Ghibelline party had already approached him more than once. Neither was the Pope at Avignon disinclined to fulfil his promise concerning the king’s coronation at Rome, provided Henry was prepared to support the Pope against his too powerful patrons at Naples and in France. Agreements were already drawn up regarding the duties which Henry, as Emperor, was to perform for the Church and the solemn promises he was to give con­cerning them. A papal legate was to be sent to conduct further negotiations.

On 10 August 1310 Henry took the oath to observe his promises regarding his future relations with the Pope, declaring that he would defend the rights and interests of the Church against the Saracens as well as against all “heretics and schismatics”; the latter was a threat against the French and Italian lawyers and schoolmen of anti-papal leanings under the protection of Philip IV. He further promised to uphold the privileges actually granted or said to have been granted to the Papal See by his predecessors, the Emperors and kings from Constantine and Charlemagne down to Frederick II and Rudolf. The Pope’s domains, which would include the Romagna and perhaps Tuscany, were carefully detailed. This declaration was, of course, prefaced by the usual references to the “two swords,” which the king also subscribed, though it was not in the uncompromising terms in which Pope Boniface VIII had formulated his demands against Albert.

Before the journey to Rome could be commenced, it was necessary to settle affairs in Bohemia so as to consolidate and, if possible, strengthen the power of the still weak Luxemburg family and its position in the Empire. The energetic princess Elizabeth of Bohemia had contrived to organise in her country a strong party among the nobles against her brother-in-law the king, and this party had actually seized Prague. A Czech deputation impeached King Henry of Bohemia before the King of the Romans at Frankfort, and demanded sentence against him as a vassal of the Empire. Without a proper hearing, the King of the Romans straightway declared that Henry had forfeited his kingship, and consented to the marriage of his own thirteen-year-old son John of Luxemburg with the seventeen-year-old princess, who presently came to Spires with an imposing retinue. On 30 August she married the king’s son, whom his father invested with the royal crown of Bohemia without further investigation whether Bohemia was indeed an imperial fief. The wedding festivities at Spires lasted a week and included magnificent tournaments. Afterwards the young couple set out for Bohemia with a considerable German and Bohemian army. At first the enterprise was not successful, but in the end (19 December 1310) Prague, where Henry of Carinthia had again entrenched himself, was captured and Henry was forced to flee to his own country of Tyrol. The young Bohemian king was crowned at Prague; he was the first of the Luxemburg line, which was destined to remain settled there for more than a century and to wear the German royal and imperial crowns as well. He persuaded Duke Frederick of Austria, who did not much appreciate the mere mortgage of semi-barbaric Moravia, to hand this territory also over to him.

At last Henry was free to go to Italy. The wellnigh unwarrantable way in which he had distributed the imperial rights among princes and landowners did not add lustre to his name in the history of the Empire. It was the imperial crown, the ideal which had also lured his predecessors and which now seemed within his reach, that brought him to purchase order and quiet in the Empire by giving in to the demands from lords and towns. The situation in North and Central Italy, the only regions where the Empire still had some power, was one of great confusion and divergent local interests. After the fall of the Hohenstaufen, imperial authority at Naples, in Sicily, and in the Papal States had disappeared altogether, at Naples to the advantage of Charles of Anjou, in Sicily to that of King Frederick of Aragon. King Rudolf had had to relinquish the Romagna, while his suzerainty over Tuscany had been seriously contested by the Pope. In the north, in Lombardy, he and his successors had kept a semblance of power, and had now and again tried to assert themselves from a distance, albeit only by feeble protests, by useless threats, or by appointments of deputies who were not obeyed. Venice had been able to keep her republican independence, which had lasted for five centuries, and was in that way more fortunate than Genoa and Pisa, who longed for the German King to restore order and imperial authority.

But no one in Italy had, after all, heeded the commands and counsels of the later kings; almost everywhere disorder and hopeless dissension reigned. Here and there a powerful noble family had succeeded in gaining the upper hand in the violent quarrels between Guelfs and Ghibellines. These names in themselves were void of significance; they had simply become party-watchwords without fundamental principles attached to them. The Guelfs no longer, as of yore, represented the papal party, nor the Ghibellines the imperial. In the ancient republics the burning question was only who should possess supreme local power and authority over the surrounding districts. Wherever the “popolo” in those numerous towns, now in fact republics, had wielded that power for a time, there prominent nobles had finally acquired an almost dictatorial control and the harassed populace in its longing for order and quiet had acquiesced. At Milan the supremacy was contested by the Visconti and the Della Torre families. The Della Scala ruled Verona; the D’Este held Ferrara and Modena. Pisa had lost her authority over Corsica and Sardinia to Genoa, and had seen her old prosperity vanishing through violent internecine quarrels. Genoa herself suffered through the eternal war with Venice and the quarrels between the Grimaldi and Fieschi, the Doria and Spinola. Florence, the magnificent and opulent Guelf city on the Arno, was likewise divided within herself. Everywhere the temporarily victorious party had killed or banished the conquered and confiscated its possessions. Every Italian city was full of ruined exiles from elsewhere. In the Papal States, where the Popes no longer resided, the same happened; the Colonna and Orsini fought for the supremacy in and about Rome. Nowhere, except in Naples under the capable King Robert of Anjou, and in Sicily under the crafty King Frederick of Aragon, was there even a semblance of well-established order. North and Central Italy seemed about to dissolve into a number of city-republics without coherence and without fixed government, where peace and order were replaced by a succession of violent revolutions.

It was a marvel that learning in cultured Padua and art in lovely Florence could develop like a flower in the midst of a desert. At Pisa and Siena the deserted buildings, monuments of still recent prosperity, already seemed only memories of a long-departed glory. In this hopeless chaos many looked towards the Emperor, who by his influence and skill might be able to restore the disturbed social order. Among them sounded the mighty voice of Dante, who, himself exiled from his native Florence, in a famous and eloquent letter called upon the “Longobardi”, rulers and ruled alike, to welcome with enthusiasm the approaching Emperor, the restorer of peace and quiet. He urged them to acknowledge his authority unhesitatingly and to join the Pope, who, he reminded them, in a bull of 1 September 1310 had judged the German King worthy of the imperial crown, in promoting the welfare of the Christian world, the honour and interests of Italy, still the seat of the ideal power of the Holy Roman Empire, whose fate might be called the fate of the world. Many Ghibellines and Guelfs went with Dante to meet the Luxemburg “Arrigo,” inspired with sympathy, reverence, and ardent hope.

The new German King himself, infatuated with the old ideals, yearned to fill the part allotted to him; he felt ordained by God to fill it; for was not the Pope God’s representative upon earth? Educated as a knight, he had a great reverence for the ancient culture of Italy, which, in spite of everything, still exercised its fascination, a culture so immeasurably excelling that of Germany, and even of France. A king so alive to spiritual development and intellectual refinement could not be unaware that the German people had in those respects much to learn from Italy. Had not the “Minnesang”, originally Provençal, been almost lost at the courts of the German princes during the confusion of the last fifty years? Did not German learning bear a narrow monastic stamp compared with that of Padua and Bologna? Was not German art paltry in comparison with what Florence and Pisa, Venice and Bologna could shew, those cities which had drunk of the eternal classical wells? Was not Italy still the country where a repeated recrudescence of classical culture occurred? Were not the German towns feeble imitations of those mighty city­republics which had defied Barbarossa and Frederick II? What was German commerce, even that of the rising “Hanse”, of Hamburg, Bremen, Lubeck, Augsburg, Ulm, Nuremberg, the Rhenish towns, compared with that of Venice, Genoa, Milan, and Florence? Was not Italy, were not Tuscany and Lombardy, the centres of banking and finance, which dominated commerce more and more? Italy was still the Promised Land in the eyes of the German, who, however, was there looked upon as a semi-barbarian. In his heart he himself, the German from a Walloon country, felt barbaric.

With these expectations and in this frame of mind Henry left Alsace at the beginning of October 1310 on his long journey southward to Rome. He reached Lausanne via Berne; from there through Geneva and Savoy he crossed the Alps, climbing the Mont Cenis, which was already thickly covered with snow. This route through the domain of Count Amadeus of Savoy, his brother-in-law, was the proper one to take, since the easier Brenner Pass was closed to him on account of its being within reach of his bitter enemy Duke Henry of Carinthia, whom he had driven out of Bohemia. When he reached Susa only a small escort of 3000 men, mainly consisting of Walloon knights and their followers, accompanied him, a heavily armed band renowned for their savage prowess. During the summer he had sent envoys to all the towns in Lombardy and also to Venice to herald the peace he came to bring. On his arrival in Italy he repeated that message in a solemn manifesto. As the king of peace he was welcomed by everyone. From all sides armed partisans flocked towards him, Guelfs as well as Ghibellines, for the new ruler—he had loudly proclaimed it—did not wish to be a party-leader, nor an upholder of “imperial” principles against the “papal”, which in fact seemed by now to have fallen into oblivion in Italy. Delegations from the principal Lombard and Tuscan towns came to greet him respectfully and blessed him as the long-expected rescuer of country and people from dire distress, who was to make his powerful manifesto of peace heard by all without consideration of parties or persons. A papal legate also came to welcome him and Henry begged that the coronation at Rome by Clement V, who was expected from Avignon for the purpose, should take place at Whitsuntide.

With an ever-increasing army he reached Milan in December via Turin, Asti, and Novara. On his way he restored order everywhere, reconciled combating factions, appointed governors over States and towns. At Milan even the mighty and proud Guido della Torre, who had at first been unwilling and uncertain, actually greeted him with at least simulated humility. There too the archbishop crowned him King of Lombardy with the Lombard crown (6 January 1311), although this time it was not the iron crown of his predecessors, which had temporarily disappeared and only turned up again long after. Here too, however, he experienced his first—and decisive—disappointment. Matteo Visconti cunningly induced the Della Torre to join in a revolt, and then deserted them. The Della Torre, considered untrustworthy from the very beginning as ancient enemies of imperial power, were attacked without warning by the king’s followers, and the latter, supported by the Visconti, burnt down Guido’s palace, plundered, robbed, and killed his adherents in large numbers, and drove the remainder out of the city. Guido saved himself by flight. Contrary as this was to Henry’s peaceable plans, so loudly proclaimed beforehand, he deplored the course of events, which had cost many lives and had reduced a considerable portion of Milan to ashes. In future, however, he was forced to stand by the Visconti, who had remained faithful, and to keep aloof from the not altogether trusted Della Torre, in other words to support the ancient Ghibellines against the ancient Guelfs.

Milan’s fate roused everywhere in Italy the bitterest animosity at the conduct of the royal troops, against the German barbarians who, according to the general complaint, had been let loose on Italy—those Germans, despised and hated from time immemorial, beside whom the Italians still felt themselves the proud heirs of classical civilisation. In Lombardy too these feelings spread, and one town after another, indignant at what they called the king’s treachery, drove out the royal governors. Cremona received Guido della Torre, and from all sides the Guelfs enthusiastically rallied under him. King Henry, embittered at the course of affairs and now firmly resolved to reach his goal by force, immediately placed rebellious Cremona under the ban of the Empire; his clergy also excommunicated her. Passionately angry at the disappointment, he marched his army up to the city, refused her humble submission, and mercilessly punished her by putting to death the principal instigators of the revolt, banishing hundreds of others, destroying her walls and gates, and pulling down the houses of the culprits. Brescia, however, whose turn came next, had to be regularly besieged. She bravely held out from May till the end of September 1311. Now adversity commenced in earnest. A violent plague swept away thousands in the royal army, among them Guy, the chivalrous son of the Count of Flanders, and many other famous generals. Only when famine and pestilence had broken the courage of the inhabitants did the town surrender, and, like Cremona, it was severely punished for its mutiny. One of the king’s most distinguished followers, the famous Count Werner of Homburg, greatly feared for his ruthlessness, was appointed royal captain-general of Lombardy.

All this delayed Henry a long time in North Italy. Besides, the Guelf cities, Florence and Bologna, now prevented him from taking the land­route to Rome, so that he would be obliged to travel by sea via the seaports Genoa and Pisa, which were on his side. Genoa, hoping for future advantages in the Levant over her rival Venice, was perfectly willing to oblige him, nay put herself unconditionally at his service, even acknowledging him as sovereign lord of the republic and accepting his governor. During his stay at Genoa he sustained a great loss through the death of his noble consort, the universally beloved Queen Margaret, who had up to then shared all his anxieties. These anxieties increased more and more. Philip IV of France desired, in return for his acquiescence in the Italian situation, that his son and namesake should become Count of the imperial fief of Burgundy. King Robert of Naples stated his claims and meanwhile seized Rome, or rather the Leonine city on the opposite bank of the Tiber with the strong castle of Sant’Angelo. The Pope was in no hurry over the preparations for the promised coronation. At length, in the spring of 1312, Henry decided to leave Genoa to go by sea to faithful Pisa. There he made a triumphal entry on 6 March, welcomed on all sides by the Ghibellines, while the other Tuscan cities adhered to the Guelfs and accordingly were put under the ban of the Empire.

At last the king marched to Rome straight through Tuscany with a retinue of 2000 heavily armed knights. On 7 May he entered the Eternal City near the Porta del Popolo and took up his abode in the Lateran, appointing Louis of Savoy commander-in-chief of the half-conquered city, whilst John of Gravina was still holding Trastevere with the Vatican and St Peter’s, the Capitol, the Campo dei Fiori, and the Piazza Navona for his brother King Robert of Naples. Henry VII failed in his attempts to persuade the Neapolitans to surrender by agreement, or at least to give up St Peter’s, where the imperial coronation always took place; the rebellious Roman nobles and the cardinals were only compelled by force or strategy to side with Henry. Thereupon the struggle began; barricades in the streets, fortified palaces, and strongholds of hostile nobles had to be attacked and captured before the Germans could venture an advance in the direction of St Peter’s (26 May). This attack, however, failed and the fighting in the city continued for weeks without advantage to either party. A large portion of the Eternal City was destroyed by burning and plundering, and the inhabitants were massacred.

The Pope having refused to leave Avignon, Henry had for a long time been urging the cardinals to crown him in the Lateran, the papal residence next in importance to the Vatican. At first they refused, because the Pope had explicitly designated St Peter’s for the ceremony; at Henry’s insistence, supported by the threatening attitude of the Roman populace, they at last consented. The coronation took place on 29 June 1312 at St John Lateran and was performed with the usual ceremonies by Cardinal Nicholas of Ostia assisted by two other papal legates. Henry proudly accepted the golden crown, imperial globe, sword, and sceptre. The sublime goal of his arduous journey was reached, and the acclamations of the Ghibellines, in which the Guelfs only sporadically and reluctantly joined, resounded throughout the whole of Italy.

The new Emperor was, however, far from able to enjoy his triumphs in peace, for Rome itself was for the most part still in the hands of the Neapolitans, and his greatly diminished German troops wanted to go home. And this they did in spite of his protests; only 900 German and Walloon knights remained with him. With this handful of followers he did not venture farther than Tivoli, to seek respite from the hot summer for himself and his men; and even there he was scarcely safe from his enemies in the neighbourhood.

The Pope, highly incensed at the fighting in Rome between Henry and the Neapolitans and incited by Philip IV, now joined Henry’s Guelf adversaries. He demanded, on pain of excommunication, an armistice until the quarrel should be settled by his arbitration, the Emperor’s promise not to return to the papal capital without papal permission, the release of all prisoners, and the return to the nobles of all the city strongholds. King Henry protested against the hostile attitude of the Pope and maintained that he and no one else was the head of the Empire, just as the Pope was of the Church; he protested at being virtually placed on a level with King Robert, his vassal and the Pope’s, with regard to papal commands. As Emperor, he claimed the right to enter Rome without the Pope’s permission; on the other hand, he consented to the release of the prisoners and the restitution of the Roman towers and castles. Eventually he did leave Rome on 20 August in order to bring the Tuscan Guelfs to reason, and he promised to withdraw the small garrison he had left in the Eternal City. As Emperor, however, he called King Robert to account before the imperial tribunal.

After having subdued Perugia and other Tuscan towns he besieged Florence, but did not succeed in taking this powerful city. Moreover, he had to contend with lack of provisions and severe outbreaks of fever, from which he himself did not escape. He then convened a diet at Pisa, where he again took up residence in March 1313. King Robert, who had not obeyed the imperial summons, was declared an enemy of the Empire and the Emperor decided to attack him in his own kingdom. While at Pisa he tried to reinforce his army, which had suffered greatly through illness, casualties in fighting, the return home of many lords and knights, and the defection of the Guelfs, by calling up new troops from Germany and Italy in preparation for a campaign against Naples. The sentence pronounced on King Robert at Pisa (26 April 1313) declared him a rebel, deserving of death and the ban of the Empire with con­fiscation of all his fiefs and rights. Robert called on the assistance of Philip IV, violently protested against the Emperor’s attitude, and found a ready supporter in the Pope, who, in a solemn bull, with dire threats forbade the war against Naples in the interest of Christianity. The Emperor replied with counter-demands, including the immediate depo­sition of Robert. A considerable period was spent in these reciprocal complaints, demands, and reproaches; meanwhile John of Bohemia prepared to come to his imperial father’s help with a large army of Germans and Czechs. Henry had long ago allied himself with Frederick of Sicily (Trinacria), and in September Naples was to be attacked from the land as well as from the sea, while King John’s army was to subdue Lombardy and Tuscany, where the Guelfs had risen once more. Indeed the whole of Italy dreaded the Emperor’s revenge, remembering the fate which had already befallen many of his adversaries. An unexpected event caused the failure of all the Emperor’s plans. Henry, who had left Pisa on 8 August with a considerable army of knights in order to recommence the siege of Rome, had for a long time been suffering from malaria. His doctors had advised him to put off his departure until he had quite recovered, but he refused to wait and hurriedly marched up to Siena, which, however, he failed to take. He then hastened southwards. At Buonconvento on the Ombrone he collapsed and died suddenly of an attack of fever (24 August 1313). In popular belief his death was of course ascribed to the effect of poison, said to have been administered to him by a Dominican priest in the Sacrament. His body was taken to Pisa and interred with great pomp in the cathedral. The news of his death was received with joy by the Guelfs, with consternation by the Ghibellines, who had fixed all their hopes on him. His faithful followers returned to their country; his son had only reached Swabia and now disbanded his army.

In Germany his death was no less deeply lamented than in Italy; fervent partisans deplored the loss of a second Charlemagne. Dante bemoaned his death and wrote beautiful lines in his honour in the Divina Commedia. Villani described in admiring terms what the insignificant German King had wrought and had wanted to achieve. Henry VII was the last of the really medieval Emperors; he passed away at the very moment when he was triumphantly grasping the supremacy in Italy and when he was on the point of renewing the old struggle against papal authority. In Germany he was universally acknowledged to have been the restorer of imperial sovereignty, which since Barbarossa’s death had been impotent against the rising power of the German princes. Dante’s De Monarchia, written after Henry’s death, evinces not only deep gratitude for all he had accomplished but also great disappointment at the sudden frustration of so many hopeful expectations.






The death of the Emperor Henry VII took Germany by surprise. There would inevitably have been some delay in choosing a new king, and the interregnum was prolonged by the desire of Archbishop Peter of Mayence (Mainz), the convener of the Electors, to secure the crown for John of Bohemia, who at his father’s death was a minor and so ineligible, but would be eighteen in the following year and therefore of age in the opinion of most German princes. The interval was marked by the customary intrigues between the Electors and aspirants to the crown and also, as it happened, by events which altered the whole outlook of German politics.

Despite the favour shewn towards John of Bohemia by the influential Archbishop Peter, it at first seemed likely that the choice of the majority of the Electors would fall on Frederick the Handsome, Duke of Austria, head of the house of Habsburg. He was young, brave, and honourable; and his family was no longer hated and feared as it had been in the days of King Albert. Frederick, however, was of an unstable temperament, readily discouraged by difficulties, and his self-confidence and ambition had continually to be stimulated by his younger brother Leopold, a man equally famous for knightly accomplishments and superior in energy and resolution. Unfortunately for the Habsburgs, the internal troubles of Lower Bavaria had just involved them in war with the Wittelsbachs. An invasion of the Wittelsbach lands by Frederick and Leopold was foiled by Lewis, Duke of Upper Bavaria, who in November 1313 gained a brilliant victory at Gammelsdorf, in which he performed feats of arms which made him the talk of Germany.

Lewis of Wittelsbach, thus thrust into prominence, attracted the interest of the Electors. Preliminary conferences between them had given little hope of agreement. Peter of Mainz and Baldwin of Treves, the supporters of John of Bohemia, began to doubt the possibility of his election. At the same time Peter was implacably opposed to the choice of a Habsburg. He and Baldwin therefore transferred their support to Lewis of Bavaria, who had not even put himself forward as a candidate. John of Bohemia, Baldwin’s nephew, would vote as his uncle bade him. The Brandenburg vote and the good will of one of the claimants to the Saxon vote were also secured. Lewis was admired but not feared, and the Wittelsbachs, never having possessed the crown, seemed less dangerous than either the Habsburgs or the Luxemburgs.

Frederick the Handsome, however, retained the support of the Arch­bishop of Cologne and had purchased that of Rudolf of the Palatinate, elder brother of Lewis, with whom he was almost always on bad terms. He could also count on Duke Rudolf of Saxe-Wittenberg, who had the better claim to the Saxon vote, and on Duke Henry of Carinthia, who still asserted his right to Bohemia.

In October 1314, towards the day appointed for the election, the rivals, attended by the Electors favourable to them, led armed forces to Frankfort and camped on opposite sides of the Main, the city, in fear of violence, having closed its gates to both. On 19 October Frederick was hastily elected by his supporters, next day Lewis more ceremoniously by his. Five votes, three of undisputed validity, were cast for Lewis; four, two of which were unchallenged, for Frederick.

There followed attempts by the would-be kings to secure formal in­vestiture and perform the traditional ceremonies. Lewis was admitted to Frankfort after his election, and was solemnly placed on the altar of St Bartholomew’s church according to ancient custom. On 25 November, moreover, he was crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle. Frederick, on the other hand, though his coronation, which took place on the same day, was performed at Bonn, could boast that he had been crowned, if not at the proper place, at least by the proper person—the Archbishop of Cologne; and it was to his advantage that he had possession of the imperial insignia. In popular estimation there was little to choose between the claims of the rivals to recognition. It is unlikely that foreign influences had much to do with the policy of the Electors on this occasion. Clement V had exhorted them to choose no one likely to persecute the Church, but he died during the interregnum, and the Holy See was vacant when the election took place. Philip the Fair is known to have been keenly interested and to have entered into negotiations with some of the Electors, but it cannot be shown that his wishes carried much weight.

The disputed election of 1314 was followed by an eight years’ war. Neither protagonist was unworthy of devotion. Lewis was about thirty and, like Frederick, was a fine-looking man, tall and muscular, with a good-natured countenance and lively brown eyes. He was temperate and clean-living, liked good company, and had a passion for hunting. He was pious in a conventional way, and had had the usual education of a man of his rank, which had apparently not given birth to any intellectual interests except a fondness for German poetry. His military skill was highly estimated, his courage unquestioned. But—and here too he resembled his rival—he was of a wayward disposition, easily excited and easily cast down, with an ever-growing tendency to hypochondria. Nevertheless he greatly exceeded Frederick in ambition and determination; and, when all is taken into account, there were few abler men among the German princes.

Despite the personal attractiveness of both Lewis and Frederick, the struggle between them was singularly uninspiring. A great part of Germany, including nearly the whole of the north, took no part in the fighting. Even in the west and the south, where the lands of the rivals lay, little enthusiasm was shewn; and such support as either received had usually to be paid for at a high price. Though he was inferior in territorial resources, Lewis’ adherents in Germany at large outnumbered those of Frederick. Actuated by enmity to Frederick’s chief supporter, the Archbishop of Cologne, a number of important princes of the Lower Rhineland espoused the Bavarian cause; while most of the imperial cities of the west and south were on the same side, won over or confirmed in their loyalty by the privileges and concessions which Lewis lavished on them. The Electors generally shewed little disposition to risk anything in promoting the success of their respective nominees, though Lewis received valuable military assistance from John of Bohemia.

As in most of the German wars of the later Middle Ages, there was not much bloodshed. Numerous castles and a few towns were besieged, as a rule in vain. The open country traversed by an army was mercilessly ravaged. But a knight or man-at-arms of the fourteenth century was too costly to be lightly hazarded by a German prince; and though every now and then one side would invite the other to a pitched battle, the challenger was generally found to have previously occupied so advantageous a position that it would have been folly for his enemies to fight. In 1315 it seemed likely that a decisive battle would be waged near Spires, but Lewis, disappointed of expected reinforcements, evaded an engagement. Next year, it is true, an attempt by Lewis to relieve Esslingen, besieged by Frederick, led, against the will of both commanders, to a confused and bloody fight, but this had no decisive consequences. For some time, however, the cause of Lewis was in the ascendant. The power of the Habsburgs was gravely impaired by the defeat inflicted on Leopold at Morgarten by the infant Swiss Confederation; in 1317 Lewis forced his brother Rudolf to sign a treaty favourable to himself; and in the next year the Archbishop of Cologne virtually withdrew from the conflict.

Suddenly, however, the tide turned. Troubles with his Bohemian subjects prevented King John from continuing his military aid to Lewis. The Habsburgs rallied their forces, ravaged the Wittelsbach territories, and easily defeated an attempted counter-invasion. In 1320 Lewis lost a valuable friend by the death of Archbishop Peter of Mainz, a very sagacious politician, to whom Henry VII and John of Bohemia, besides Lewis himself, owed their crowns. Lewis fell into despair and talked of abandoning the struggle. The Habsburgs, however, neglected to press home their advantage till the autumn of 1322. Then Leopold invaded Bavaria from the west while Frederick came up the Danube with a large and motley force, which included pagan Hungarians who ate cats and dogs. Lewis, who again enjoyed the assistance of John of Bohemia, shewed unexpected enterprise, and got into touch with Frederick at Mühldorf on the Inn before Leopold could join him. John kept Lewis’ sagging resolution to the sticking-point, and a challenge to battle was accepted by Frederick, who in reply to the remonstrances of his captains declared that he had made too many widows and orphans and wanted the issue settled. In the battle Frederick fought brilliantly, while Lewis kept aloof amid a body­guard of knights dressed exactly like himself. The Habsburg horse, at first irresistible, were checked by the Bavarian footmen, and the knights and men-at-arms of the Wittelsbach army, having rallied after their discomfiture, dismounted and reinforced the infantry. The issue was determined, however, by a timely charge of fresh cavalry under Frederick of Hohenzollern, Burgrave of Nuremberg, before which the Habsburg troops broke and fled. The battle was one of the greatest in Germany during the later Middle Ages. The victors took 1400 prisoners, among them being Frederick and his brother Henry. At a stroke all the advantages previously gained by the Habsburgs were nullified. Most of Frederick’s supporters speedily abandoned his cause, the collapse of which was accele­rated by the wise clemency of Lewis towards the vanquished.

Lewis was now secure. He did not long leave in doubt the policy he meant to pursue. He was to use the German crown as a means of promoting the interests of his family, regardless of the effect of his plans on royal authority and German unity, regardless too of the claims of others on his gratitude. In his eyes, what the Wittelsbachs needed most was more territory, and, as his family increased, the desire to add to its landed possessions outweighed all other considerations. It cannot be denied that in the pursuit of his end Lewis displayed remarkable pertinacity, ingenuity, and acumen.

The victory of Lewis over the Habsburgs had been due in great measure to the steadfast loyalty of John of Bohemia. John was one of the most interesting men of the time. Since he was King of Bohemia and Count of Luxemburg, his possessions lay at the opposite ends of the Empire, but to one of his temperament that mattered little. He lived in a hurry. The speed of his movements was the wonder of his contemporaries; he was known to travel from Prague to Frankfort-on-Main in four days. He would rush light-heartedly from Poland to France, from the Netherlands to Italy, in furtherance of some plan of the moment. His ubiquity corresponded to the range of his interests. There was no political quarrel or intrigue in Western or Central Europe but he had a finger in it. His fertility and resource were inexhaustible. The moment one scheme failed—often indeed before that happened—he was eagerly prosecuting another. While his knightly prowess was admired by all, there were some who thought him a little mad; but there was generally more than a grain of sense in his projects, and that his career, despite many reverses, was on the whole successful was due as much to his energy and ability as to the luck for which he was famous.

John, like his father, was at heart a Frenchman. Bohemia he hated, and the Bohemians reciprocated the dislike. They regarded him as an intruder, dreaded his visits with their invariable accompaniment of oppressive exactions, and were shocked by his disreputable tastes and habits. In 1318 a rising of the nobles nearly dethroned him, and it was only at the cost of great concessions that an agreement was reached. Then the long-growing estrangement of John and his queen widened into an irreparable breach. He left Bohemia and for some years had hardly anything to do with it.

Gratitude and policy alike counselled Lewis to maintain his friendship with John. By lending his countenance to some of John’s designs outside Germany, he might have secured his continued loyalty to the German Crown. Instead, caring only for the aggrandisement of the Wittelsbachs, he pressed forward a scheme which conflicted with John’s ambitions at more than one point. After the battle of Mühldorf had decided the civil war, the burning question in German politics was the future of the Mark of Brandenburg. The Brandenburg line of the house of Ascania had of late dwindled rapidly away, and with the death of Margrave Henry II in 1320 became extinct. Henry’s predecessor Waldemar had shed a gleam of splendour over the last days of the family; but while holding all the territories of the elder branch of the Ascanians, he had squandered his resources on fantastic schemes and ostentatious display. Feared even more than he was admired by his neighbours, he was in 1316 defeated by a combination of princes headed by the King of Denmark and had to acquiesce in the loss of territory. Three years afterwards, before he could recover from the disaster, he died. When his cousin and heir followed him a few months later, Lewis of Wittelsbach claimed that the Mark was at his disposal as an escheated imperial fief. This, however, was disputed by the Archbishop of Magdeburg, and while his claims to the overlordship of Brandenburg had but flimsy foundations, there was real doubt as to the feudal status of some of the other Ascanian lands. John of Bohemia claimed Lusatia, and Lewis bestowed on him the district of Bautzen and other estates in this region. For some years, however, he made no announcement about Brandenburg itself, though it was widely believed that he had given John to understand that it would be granted to him.

Later in his reign Lewis was repeatedly charged with raising hopes which he did not mean to fulfil. Whatever may have happened in this case, Lewis no sooner felt secure on the German throne than he bestowed the Mark, with several adjacent fiefs, on his son Lewis, a boy of eight, John’s services at Mühldorf being rewarded by a few gifts and concessions of no great consequence in the estimation of the recipient. About the same time, Lewis, anxious that the new margrave should have at least one friendly neighbour, induced Frederick the Quarrelsome, Margrave of Meissen and Landgrave of Thuringia, to break off a match which had been arranged between his heir and one of John’s daughters and to substitute for the latter a daughter of his own. Fortunately for Lewis, John’s hands were very full at the moment, and before he could attempt reprisals, in fact before the grant of Brandenburg to young Lewis had been formally proclaimed, the attention of Germany was diverted to a very different problem, and Lewis found himself compelled to play his part as a German king.

John XXII; the Appeal of Sachsenhausen

Since 1316 the Holy See had been occupied by John XXII. His favour had been sought by both Lewis and Frederick, especially the latter, on whose behalf his father-in-law, James of Aragon, had vigorously exerted himself. But the Pope had remained inflexibly neutral, usually addressing each claimant as “king-elect of the Romans.” The reason for John’s attitude is to be found in his resolve to reassert papal authority in Italy. As long as Lewis and Frederick were fighting, neither was likely to interfere seriously with his projects. Moreover, to justify some of his doings beyond the Alps, John appealed to the doctrine, lately upheld by Clement V, that when the Empire was vacant its authority in Italy devolved on the Papacy. He therefore wished to avoid recognising anyone as King of the Romans, and perhaps, under Neapolitan influence, had thoughts of ending the Empire altogether.

The nature and consequences of John’s policy in Italy are treated at length in another chapter. Both Lewis and Frederick appointed vicars-general for Italy, but for some years these had scarcely any influence. The participation of the Habsburgs in the crusade against the Visconti in 1322 caused bad blood between them and the overbearing Pope, who had treated them as servants rather than allies; but John nevertheless remained true to his neutrality as between them and Lewis. Even the news of Mühldorf did not alter his attitude. But the victor was now able to listen to appeals for help from the Ghibellines of North Italy. An imperial vicar, Berthold of Neiffen, appeared in Lombardy, and in defiance of the protests and threats of the papal legate, saved Can Grande of Verona from over­throw and relieved Milan when it was about to surrender to the besieging Guelfs.

The Pope was alarmed and furious. He was old and irascible, and his Italian plans lay very near his heart. But even the doings of Berthold seem hardly sufficient to account for the ferocity of the onslaught which he suddenly launched against Lewis, who, apart from his intervention in Italy, had done nothing to kindle the Pope’s anger. On 8 October 1323 John XXII promulgated a bull in which he asserted that, while it belonged to the Holy See to judge of the validity of imperial elections, Lewis, without receiving papal recognition of his disputed title, had presumed to exercise the powers appertaining to both regnum and imperium, though the latter in time of vacancy ought lawfully to be administered by the Church, and that he had furthermore lent aid to condemned heretics in the persons of Galeazzo Visconti and his associates. Lewis was therefore summoned, on pain of excommunication, to lay down his authority within three months and to annul all acts performed by him as king. His subjects were to withdraw their obedience from him within the same term, or suffer both excommunication and forfeiture of their ecclesiastical and imperial fiefs. Lewis, who was completely taken aback by this assault, asked for a prolongation of the three months in order that he might have time to prepare his defence. John granted an extension of two months, a concession of small value, seeing that when it was made the original three had almost elapsed. Lewis therefore resolved to await events. He had already, on 5 January 1324, at Frankfort, published an elaborate vindication of his rights and conduct, which, though no further use seems to have been made of it, shews that he was already disposed to offer uncompromising resistance.

On 23 March 1324 the Pope excommunicated Lewis, and again called upon him to comply with the demands made in the previous October. Failure to do so within three months would involve him in the loss of any rights which he might conceivably have derived from his election. He was, further, to appear at Avignon, in person or by deputy, to receive final sentence. All clergy who should still recognise him were to be suspended, and if obstinate, to be excommunicated and deprived. Princes and cities who had disregarded the Pope’s orders were graciously reprieved for the present, but if they persisted in their contumacy, they were to undergo the punishments named in the previous bull and their lands were to be placed under interdict.

The bull, though arrogant in tone, betrays certain weaknesses in the Pope’s position. He had made the tactical mistake of using too many weapons in his first attack and now he had few terrors in reserve. Perhaps somewhat perplexed by the refusal of Lewis to show his hand, he went so far as to hint that formal surrender might be rewarded by confirmation of his election as king. And John was plainly disconcerted at the general indifference of the Germans to his threats against those who obeyed Lewis. On 26 May, indeed, he wrote to the Electors disclaiming any intention of infringing on their rights. The same hesitation to exacerbate the German princes appears in another bull which the Pope issued in July. It declared that Lewis had now been deprived by God of any right to the German crown which he might previously have possessed; failing his submission by 1 October he was to suffer further penalties, including the loss of Bavaria and all his imperial fiefs. His subjects were again for­bidden to obey him, but only the clergy and the cities were to incur immediate punishment for recalcitrance.

The reserve at first shown by Lewis was perhaps due in part to his relations with the Habsburgs. Leopold, the younger brother of Frederick the Handsome, had refused to accept the verdict of Mühldorf. Lack of support in Germany had frustrated his military plans, and he had reluctantly entered into negotiations with Lewis. These, however, had been fruitless, owing, if Leopold is to be believed, to Lewis’ double-dealing. When John XXII issued his first bull against Lewis, Leopold naturally regarded him as a welcome ally; but the Pope, though friendly, was determined to uphold his contention that the German throne had been vacant since 1313, and still refused to recognise Frederick. Leopold, more eager for revenge on Lewis than for the victory or release of his brother, then entered upon an intrigue with Charles IV of France. It is an obscure episode; but it seems certain that in July 1324 Charles and Leopold, then at Bar-sur-Aube, signed a treaty in which the latter recognised that the German throne was vacant and undertook to work for the election of the French King, while Charles promised to finance the Habsburgs in their war against Lewis. The treaty led to nothing, for Leopold’s younger brothers did not approve of his sacrifice of Frederick’s rights.

Lewis must have had some notion of what was happening, and for some time he probably thought that Leopold’s dealings with France had been instigated by John XXII. Late in the spring, indeed, he had become convinced that the Pope was bent on his ruin, and that nothing was to be gained by submission or quiescence. On 22 May, therefore, he accepted the Pope’s challenge by publishing the celebrated Appeal of Sachsenhausen. This manifesto is a long, verbose, and ill-compacted document. John XXII is denounced as a man of blood, a friend of injustice, and an enemy of the Holy Roman Empire, to which the Church owes her temporal power and possessions. He is striving to ruin the Electors and princes—nay, he has openly sworn to trample down the Empire. His claim to confirm imperial elections is hardly worthy of notice. Lewis’ election and coronation were regular, and thus in themselves entitled him to exercise authority as King of the Romans. If there is a disputed election, ancient usage refers the issue to the arbitrament of war; and in the present instance God has given the victory to Lewis. When the Empire is vacant, the Count Palatine is lawful regent. Lewis holds the Catholic faith, but will not suffer his loyal subjects to be falsely styled heretics. Nay, John is a heretic himself, as is shown by his denial of the absolute poverty of Christ (a subject which is treated at length). Finally, Lewis appeals to a General Council, at which he is willing to confront the Pope and make good his accusations. In the theological part of the Appeal, the influence of the Spiritual party of the Franciscans is evident. Much of it indeed is drawn from a writing of Petrus Johannis Olivi. It was probably through Emicho, Bishop of Spires, who became one of his most faithful adherents, that Lewis was brought into touch with the party, with whom he had no natural affinity.

It has been argued that the imperialists were unwise to confuse the issue between Lewis and John XXII by dragging theological questions into the dispute. The object was doubtless to give churchmen, many of whom, especially in Germany, were sympathetic with Lewis, a pretext for openly espousing his cause. This policy certainly gained him the support of a powerful party in the Church, and it cannot be shown that it did his cause any practical harm. The truth is that the denunciations and arguments flung backwards and forwards did not mean much to either Lewis or John. The conflict was essentially political. The Pope wanted a free hand in Italy. He might have secured himself from interference on the part of Lewis by offering recognition of his royal title; but believing that he could hector Lewis into unconditional surrender, he gave the impression that he was bent on depriving him of his hard-earned crown, on the retention of which depended all his hopes of increasing the territories of the Wittelsbach family. Lewis had no wish to be a Barbarossa, and as soon as he realised that the Pope could not do him serious injury in Germany, he betrayed his eagerness to have done with the controversy, even at high cost to the Empire. By that time, however, Avignon realised that, if the Pope could not do much harm to Lewis, neither could Lewis do much harm to the Pope; so the papal terms of peace were kept high, and the barren dispute dragged on to its uninspiring end.

For a few years indeed the conflict appeared to be of vital significance to European religion and thought, for it looked as if John XXII was to be ignominiously worsted. It was at this time that Lewis appeared at his best. He recognised that he must give his full attention to the struggle with the Papacy. The key to the Pope’s position, as Lewis saw, was Italy. There he could strike blows which the Pope would really feel; there, too, he could add to his prestige by securing the imperial crown. So for the two years following the publication of the Sachsenhausen Appeal his aim was to dispose German affairs in such a way that it would be safe for him to leave the country. In pursuit of this object he showed a most acute judgment of the persons and conditions that had to be taken into account.

Recognising that Leopold of Habsburg was implacable, Lewis resolved to attempt a reconciliation with his prisoner Frederick, who, a victim of nervous depression, cared no more for the crown but only desired freedom. He was soon induced to sign a treaty, dated 13 March 1325, whereby, in return for his release and perhaps a promise of lands and dignities, he renounced all claim to the throne. He persuaded all his kinsmen save Leopold to recognise Lewis, but failing to secure the accomplishment of some of his undertakings, he returned to captivity. Lewis rewarded such conduct as it deserved; the two former rivals became fast friends; and in September Lewis, apparently carrying out a proposal already discussed in the negotiations of the previous spring, made Frederick joint-king. He and Lewis were to rule as though they were one person, the regulations for the exercise of their authority being drawn up in great detail. If either went abroad, he was to act with full power there, the other at home.

Lewis evidently felt sure of his personal ascendancy over Frederick. Leopold, however, did not approve of the arrangement, nor did the Electors, whose consent was necessary for its execution. Lewis resolved to go farther, and his next move was as daring as it was clever. At the beginning of 1326 he announced that he would be willing to abdicate provided that Frederick were recognised as king by the Pope before 25 July. In return, Frederick promised that, if the condition were ful­filled, he would confirm Lewis’ son in the possession of Brandenburg and would give Lewis his general support. This agreement actually placated Leopold, though his death immediately afterwards robbed this result of its significance. The rest of the Habsburgs were for the time fully reconciled to Lewis, while the Pope was forced to reveal clearly to the German people his determination to accept no one as their king. For, as Lewis had doubtless foreseen, the agreement proved abortive; John XXII, when the Habsburgs applied for his recognition of Frederick, first put them off politely, and soon afterwards, under pressure from France, broke off negotiations altogether.

With the Habsburgs friendly to him and estranged from the Pope, Lewis was in a strong position. So far, indeed, the Pope had small ground for satisfaction at the effect which his denunciations and threats had produced on Germany. The interdict was seldom enforced in the Wittelsbach territories, and elsewhere only when the ordinary of the place was an exceptionally fiery partisan of the Papacy. It is true, however, that many old supporters of Frederick the Handsome welcomed a pretext for withholding obedience from Lewis. In the south, under the influence of the Archbishop of Salzburg, John’s “processes” were published in most dioceses. The ecclesiastical Electors wavered for some time, but all in the end complied outwardly with the Pope’s commands, though Baldwin of Treves long afterwards remained on friendly terms with Lewis. Of the other prelates few shewed much zeal for the Pope. In many cathedral churches the dispute between king and Pope simply added fresh bitterness to an existing feud between the chapter and a papal provisor. Some bishops indeed, such as those of Spires, Freising, and Augsburg, were openly on the side of the king. Among the regulars, the Cistercian monks and the Dominican friars were mostly hostile to Lewis. The Spiritual Franciscans and for some time many of the main body of the Order were opposed to the Pope rather than friendly to the king, but their influence worked in Lewis’ favour; while the Carmelite and Austin friars, and the Premonstratensian Canons, were for the most part on his side. Of the Military Orders, the Hospitallers, while providing Lewis with many trusted supporters, were divided in sympathy; but the Teutonic Knights were whole-heartedly for him, and from their ranks came some of his most valued counsellors. As for the parish clergy, their attitude depended on that of the authority, ecclesiastical or secular, which could most readily be brought to bear upon them.

To judge by the writings of the chroniclers, the dispute was regarded very coolly by the majority of Germans. It occasioned little bloodshed or violence. Few laymen paid any heed to John’s fulminations. The cities were for the most part devoted to Lewis, though Mainz and Cologne, strange to say, were more papalist than their archbishops. In the Lower Rhineland one or two princes, such as the Counts of Jülich and Cleves, professed zeal for the Pope; but the only part of Germany which gave Lewis ground for serious concern was the north-east. Brandenburg, it is true, was generally loyal to him, and the people of Berlin killed an envoy sent by Rudolf, Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg, to seduce them from their allegiance. The Archbishop of Magdeburg, too, a very bitter foe of the Wittelsbachs, was opportunely murdered by the municipal authorities of his own cathedral city, with whom he had long been at strife. But the Pope succeeded in stirring up the King of Poland and the nobles of Silesia, Pomerania, and Mecklenburg, to invade the Mark; and in 1326 an army of Poles and Lithuanians, many of whom were heathen, ravaged a great part of the land and massacred many of the inhabitants.

Nevertheless, towards the end of the same year, Lewis felt able to press forward preparations for an expedition to Italy. In January 1327 he went to Trent to confer with some of the Ghibelline leaders. He intended to return to Bavaria after a few days, but they urged so strongly the advisability of immediate action that he summoned troops from beyond the Alps, and in March moved southwards. He had with him, besides a number of Franciscan scholars, Marsilio of Padua and John of Jandun, who had fled from Paris to his court in the previous spring. Marsilio, there is no doubt, had much influence on Lewis’ conduct during his sojourn in Italy, and was often employed to vindicate in public the policy of his royal patron.

The events of Lewis’ Italian expedition are narrated elsewhere, and we are here concerned with it merely as an episode in his conflict with the Papacy. In April, while Lewis was advancing towards Milan, John XXII issued bulls depriving him of his imperial fiefs, declaring him a public maintainer of heretics, ordering him to leave Italy within two months and appear at Avignon on 1 October to receive sentence, summoning his son to surrender Brandenburg, and excommunicating a number of his companions, including Marsilio and John of Jandun. Much of this was vain repetition, and no effect seems to have been pro­duced. Lewis received the iron crown at Milan in May. There now reached him an invitation to Rome, purporting to come from the Roman people, and he solemnly called upon the Pope to return to his see.

In the autumn, John, who was demanding from the German clergy funds for organising resistance to Lewis, formally condemned him as a heretic and declared him deprived of all his goods and dignities. Nevertheless, it was amid popular rejoicing that, on 7 January 1328, this spiritual outcast entered the Pope’s own city. His army consisted mainly of Italians. Very few German magnates were with him, the most notable being his nephew Rudolf of Bavaria, Elector Palatine, and Frederick, Burgrave of Nuremberg. Not a single German bishop was present. If there was little enthusiasm for the Pope’s cause in Germany, there was not much more for the king’s.

While it is true that Lewis did his utmost to conciliate the people of Rome, treating them as rulers of the city, and that at his coronation as Emperor the crown was placed on his head by the four Syndics of the People, from whom he also received the rest of the imperial insignia, he was careful to avoid any express recognition of Marsilio’s theory that his imperial authority was derived from his choice by the Romans. It was essential to him to stand by the view that his rights were grounded on the vote of the German Electors, and that while coronation at Rome gave him the right to style himself Emperor, it added nothing to his legal powers. It must be admitted, however, that Lewis never contra­dicted Marsilio’s theory in public during his stay in Rome, and probably tried to give the people the impression that he accepted it. There is no need to emphasise the fact that, on whatever theory they were based, the proceedings at Lewis’ coronation involved a denial of the Pope’s right to any share in the appointment or investiture of an Emperor.

A few days after the coronation, and before he could have heard of it, John XXII played his last card by proclaiming a crusade against Lewis. The Emperor replied by declaring that the Pope, as a heretic and traitor, had been deposed by Christ. In support of the charge of heresy were adduced John’s inciting of infidels to attack Brandenburg, his arrogation to himself of the authority of the divinely-instituted Empire, and his encroachment on the rights of cathedral chapters, as well as his opinions on the poverty of Christ. He was sentenced to the total loss of his clerical orders and subjected to the secular power for punishment. The formal proceedings which led up to this pronouncement took place before great assemblies of the people in front of St Peter’s. The populace, how­ever, were mere spectators; it was solely in his capacity of Emperor that Lewis condemned the Pope.

It is true that Peter of Corvara, the Pope chosen in place of John by a committee of Roman clergy and laity, was accepted by another popular assembly. It does not appear, however, that the people’s acclamations were regarded by either Lewis or Peter as adding to his authority. At all events, it was the Emperor who invested him with the ring and fisher­man’s cloak and subsequently placed the papal crown on his head. The Florentine Villani asserts that after his own coronation the new Pope, Nicholas V, crowned Lewis. It is hard to believe this, even if the statement be interpreted as referring to a piece of pure ceremony, devoid of legal significance. For anything that suggested the dependence of the Emperor’s authority on papal consent or countenance cut away the ground from Lewis’ feet and made ridiculous everything he had done since his arrival in Rome. A possible explanation is that Lewis hoped to recover some of his popularity with the Romans, who were growing tired of him, by submitting to a sham coronation at the hands of a Pope whom they regarded as having been chosen by themselves. But either Villani’s report is wholly false, or Lewis, whatever his motives, was guilty of gross folly.

It is evident, at any rate, that Lewis’ situation at Rome grew rapidly worse. On 4 August 1328 he and his Pope left the city. No success attended his efforts to retain some of the advantages which he had gained in northern Italy. The death of John of Jandun, it is true, was counter­balanced by the arrival at his court, while he was staying at Pisa, of Michael of Cesena and William of Ockham, an event which raised hopes of the adhesion of the whole Franciscan Order to the imperial cause, and encouraged Lewis to lay new charges of heresy at the door of Pope John and to revive his proposal of a General Council. But Italian politics took an unfavourable turn, and at the beginning of 1330 Lewis returned to Bavaria. Nicholas V, left without support, soon submitted to John XXII. The Emperor’s great stroke had failed.

In Germany, however, Lewis was still powerful. While in Italy, he had composed a family quarrel by making the Rhenish Palatinate independent of Bavaria, and surrendering to its rulers a piece of Bavarian territory henceforth known as the Upper Palatinate. John XXII’s intrigues among the Electors during his absence had borne no fruit. On the other hand, Baldwin, Archbishop of Treves, was incensed with the Pope for refusing to confirm his election to the see of Mainz when it fell vacant in 1328, and was now waging war against the Pope’s nominee. The younger Habsburgs, indeed, were disposed to use any opportunity of revenge on Lewis, but the death of Frederick the Handsome just before his return deprived them of their most dangerous weapon. Among the people at large Lewis’ prestige seems to have been somewhat increased by his expedition; but how little his controversy with the Pope meant to most Germans is shown by the fact that, while he was commonly regarded as lawful Emperor, John was commonly regarded as lawful Pope.

The conflict, in fact, was now one between the elephant and the whale. The Pope might renew his excommunications and interdicts: they had no more effect than before. Lewis had struck at his enemy’s one vulnerable point, but had done him no serious hurt; and while he talked of returning to Italy, he can hardly have expected a second expedition to yield more decisive results than the first. At all events he henceforth gave the greater part of his mind to his schemes of family aggrandisement. At the same time, recognising that papal hostility was a nuisance, if not quite a danger, he shewed himself anxious to end the quarrel and willing to make notable concessions and even to undergo personal humiliation in pursuit of his object. Nevertheless, while admitting that he had sometimes encroached on ground that was lawfully the Pope’s, he always resisted ecclesiastical interference in matters which he regarded as secular.

Lewis' family ambitions

The seven years after Lewis’ return from Italy are among the most dreary in German history. Those who still cherish the old delusion that diplomacy was invented by the Italians of the fifteenth century could not do better than study the relations of the German princes during the latter years of Lewis the Bavarian. Entente, alliance, betrothal, and betrayal, with a score of States—independent for all practical purposes—taking a hand in the game, follow in bewildering succession. Of good faith and self-respect there is small trace. There is some skill and no lack of subtlety, but, except with Lewis, little fixity of purpose. In the back­ground there is the dispute between Empire and Papacy, several princes making vain attempts to mediate, followed by equally vain negotiations between the principals.

The hinge on which German politics turned for several years after 1330 was the question of the Carinthian succession. Duke Henry, ruler of Carinthia and Tyrol, was an elderly man with two young daughters, one of whom was betrothed to John Henry, son of John of Bohemia. Lewis had promised the old duke that, if he left no male issue, a daughter or a son-in-law should succeed to his lands. In September 1330 John Henry was married to the second daughter, Margaret, commonly nicknamed Maultasch; and King John, confident that his son’s succession to Carinthia and Tyrol would be accepted by the Emperor, set off light-heartedly on an expedition to Italy. Although, as we have seen, Lewis treated him shabbily after the battle of Mühldorf, John at first lacked time to undertake serious reprisals and of late had needed the Emperor’s friendship for the accomplishment of his Carinthian ambitions. Lewis, on his part, had planned a joint expedition to Italy with John, whom he had led to believe that he had no objection to John Henry’s succession to Carinthia and Tyrol. Nevertheless, as soon as it was known that John was about to go to Italy, Lewis made an agreement with the Habsburgs whereby on Duke Henry’s death he would enfeoff them with Carinthia, while they would help him to secure Tyrol for the Wittelsbach. Even if Lewis had not expressly committed himself to the support of John of Bohemia’s plans, his dealings with the Habsburgs were in violation of his promises to Duke Henry.

Lewis was in a strong position. Both the Habsburgs and King John coveted Carinthia and could not hope to secure it without his consent. Neither party wished to see the Emperor under the influence of the other; thus, a few months earlier, John, fearful lest Lewis might be defeated, had intervened to avert the outbreak of war between him and the Habsburgs. The Emperor was thus well placed to play off the two rivals against each other, and he made the most of his opportunity. For the next few years, however, he was generally inclined to favour the Habsburgs, for John’s initial success in Italy had seemed to presage a dangerous increase of his power. Still, he avoided an open breach with John, who seems not to have known the terms of his agreement with the Habsburgs, and after prolonged negotiations at Ratisbon in 1331 the Bohemian King went away with the belief that his son would be allowed to succeed to both Carinthia and Tyrol if he would undertake to exchange them for Brandenburg, a condition to which he was apparently willing to agree.

Nevertheless John gradually came to the conclusion that Lewis was against him, and sought to obtain by pressure what he could not get by friendship. Attempts were being made to effect a reconciliation between Lewis and the Pope. In 1330 John of Bohemia himself, his uncle the Archbishop of Treves, and Duke Otto of Habsburg had suggested at Avignon, apparently with Lewis’ approval, that if he would withdraw his appeal to a General Council, abandon his anti-Pope, revoke everything he had done against John XXII’s lawful authority, acknowledge the validity of his excommunication, and seek the Pope’s pardon, he might be permitted to retain the royal and imperial titles and be restored to the Church. The acceptance of these terms would have been an admission of defeat on the part of the Papacy, and John XXII decisively rejected them. Direct negotiations between Lewis and the Pope in 1331 were also abortive. John XXII seemed slightly less implacable in 1332, when the Count of Holland joined Baldwin and the Habsburgs in an effort to make peace; but nothing came of their mediation, perhaps because John of Bohemia was now looking to the Papacy for aid against Lewis.

In 1333 and 1334 there occurred obscure negotiations with the object of securing the succession to the German throne for Duke Henry of Lower Bavaria, Lewis’ cousin. The motive of the Emperor in countenancing the plan was probably a desire to conciliate the King of Bohemia, who was Henry’s father-in-law. While Lewis seems merely to have agreed to the election of Henry as prospective king, John and Henry himself had hopes that Lewis would abdicate in his cousin’s favour. The Pope was naturally favourable to this scheme, and John and Henry gained the acquiescence of the King of France by lavish promises, which included the transference to Philip of imperial rights over the kingdom of Burgundy and the bishopric of Cambrai in guarantee of the payment of a large sum of money. But the project collapsed when, in the summer of 1334, the Emperor emphatically announced that he had no thought of abdicating.

About this time events took a turn in favour of Lewis. First, the Italian party among the cardinals, using as a pretext the suspicion of heresy under which John XXII had fallen for his views on the Beatific Vision, intrigued with the Emperor against him; it was largely due to their encouragement that Lewis threw over the scheme for the election of Duke Henry. Then, in December, came John’s unexpected death. His successor, Benedict XII, appeared to be inclined towards a settlement with the Emperor.

From the point of view of Lewis, the death of Duke Henry of Carinthia, which occurred on 2 April 1335, could not have come at a better moment. A month later he bestowed on the Habsburgs Carinthia and the southern part of Tyrol, the northern part being granted to his own sons. Luck was still with him, for John of Bohemia was lying sick at Paris, having been grievously wounded in a tournament. The triumph of the Emperor’s policy was indeed somewhat spoiled by the Tyrolese, who obstinately upheld the rights of Margaret Maultasch. Faced with the certainty of war as soon as King John should recover, Lewis now made a desperate attempt to reconcile himself with the Papacy. The Emperor soon found, however, that the new Pope, for all his pacific professions, was in reality no more conciliatory than John XXII. Lewis went to great lengths in his desire to placate him. He was willing to admit that he had sinned against Pope John, to abandon the title of Emperor, to revoke all imperial acts of himself and Henry VII, to promise never to visit Rome save with the Pope’s permission and in order to receive the imperial crown, and then to enter and leave the city within one day. He offered to go on crusade overseas, to found churches and monasteries, and to perform pilgrimages, as the Pope might order. If he had fallen into heresy, he had done so unintentionally. The responsibility for the Sachsenhausen Appeal and other obnoxious documents he shabbily tried to throw onto the Franciscans or Marsilio, whom he undertook to cast off if they would not follow him in returning to the grace of the Holy See. But on one point, and that a crucial one, he stood firm. He would admit no invalidity in his title as king, for which he sought papal approval only as his predecessors had done. It must not be forgotten that the basis of John XXII’s first attack on Lewis was the contention that without papal recognition he was no true king at all. If Lewis could make peace without accepting this doctrine, he might claim to have been victorious on the main issue.

The offers summarised above were not made by Lewis all at once. During this phase of his relations with the Pope he sent several separate embassies to Avignon. The first, dispatched in March 1335, lacked sufficient power to deal with the Pope’s demands. The second reached Avignon in September of the same year. The consequent negotiations lasted a long time; but the Kings of France and Bohemia threw their weight against peace and ruined whatever small chance of agreement there might otherwise have been. Another abortive embassy was com­missioned early in 1336. In that year things went badly for Lewis in Germany. He failed to get possession of Tyrol. The Habsburgs and the Wittelsbachs accused each other of failing to give proper support to the common cause; and when John of Bohemia opened war and ravaged Austria, the Habsburgs made peace, keeping Carinthia and consenting to leave Margaret Maultasch in possession of Tyrol. It was after this that Lewis sent Margrave William of Jülich, who was married to a sister of his wife, to negotiate a marriage alliance with Philip of Valois and to offer to Benedict XII the most humiliating of the concessions mentioned above. The negotiations occupied the early months of 1337. They were impeded by the French, but broken off finally owing to the hectoring tone of the Pope, who in Consistory likened Lewis to the dragon of the Apocalypse and asserted that the insincerity of his repentance was proved by his refusal to abandon the title of king.

Lewis’ policy since his return from Italy, despite the shrewdness and resource which he had shewn, had led to failure. Nothing had been added to the possessions of his family. He had alienated both the Luxemburgs and the Habsburgs. In his dealings with the Pope he had abased himself to no purpose. Yet in a few months he was more formidable to his enemies and more respected by his subjects than he had ever been before. He owed this sudden change of fortune, however, to a happy conjunction of circumstances rather than to any skill or insight of his own.

War between England and France was on the point of breaking out. Edward III was seeking allies, and the Pope had warned Philip that by repelling Lewis’ attempt to conciliate France and the Papacy he risked driving him into alliance with the English. Philip took no notice of the advice, but Benedict was right. Lewis knew that war with France would not be disliked by the Electors, who regarded the chief protector of the Pope as an enemy of their rights, and he thought that Philip might be constrained by fear to change his attitude towards the dispute between the Empire and the Papacy. A number of Lewis’ vassals in the Netherlands and the Rhineland were already allied to Edward, and in July 1337 the Emperor followed their example, undertaking to supply 2000 men for service against France in consideration of a large sum of money.

John of Bohemia had promised aid to France against both Edward and Lewis; Henry of Lower Bavaria took the same side; the Habsburgs, reluctant to offend the Pope, remained friendly with the French, though at first they gave no military support to either cause. But there is no doubt that most Germans, while not disposed to take any active share in the war, approved of the Emperor’s policy and liked to see him playing a part in international politics instead of intriguing with his own subjects in order to gain a few square miles of territory for his family. This feeling merged itself with a growing indignation excited by the Pope’s refusal to consider any terms offered by Lewis short of unconditional surrender. It was some of the clergy who first gave public expression of the general sentiment. The Pope’s nominee to the archbishopric of Mainz was now in undisputed possession of the see, having come to an understanding with Baldwin of Treves. He was on good terms with Lewis, and at his instance his suffragans and a number of other clergy, meeting at Spires, begged the Emperor to make peace with the Pope, and when Lewis offered to commit his cause to the German bishops concerned, they sent a mission to ask Benedict to shew him favour. About the same time, the Archbishop of Cologne dispatched envoys on a like errand; and a little later, at Lewis’ request, a number of cathedral chapters and imperial cities wrote to Benedict setting forth their view of the true relation between the Papacy and the Empire.

To the messengers from Spires the Pope returned a curt and insulting answer. He suggested, indeed, that the Electors should mediate; but it was probably at the instance of Lewis himself, acting through the Archbishop of Mainz, that they resolved to intervene. The Pope’s conduct pointed to the conclusion that it was the settled policy of the Holy See to destroy the Empire and subject the German monarchy to itself, thus abrogating the rights of the Electors. On 15 July 1338 a conference was held at Lahnstein, and was attended by the three ecclesi­astical Electors, the Emperor’s son Lewis of Brandenburg, four other Wittelsbach princes (representing the vote attached to that family), and Rudolf of Saxe-Wittenberg. The Bohemian electorate was the only one not represented. It was unanimously resolved to uphold the German kingdom and the rights of the Electors against all persons whatsoever.

The Declaration of Rense

Next day, at a meeting at Rense on the opposite bank of the Rhine, the resolution was published in expanded form. The oath taken by those who subscribed to it was declared to be binding on their successors and to pledge their own loyalty to Lewis. It was proclaimed in uncompromising terms that whoso was elected King of the Romans by the Electors or a majority of them had no need of the approbation or confirmation of the Apostolic See before entering upon the administration of the Empire or assuming the title of king, nor was he under any obligation to seek recognition by the Pope. It belonged to the Pope to crown the Emperor-elect and so give him the right to bear the imperial title. But his corona­tion as Emperor in no way increased the authority which he possessed in virtue of his election.

Early in August a Diet met at Frankfort. Its main business was to ratify the declaration made at Rense. Lewis recounted in public the efforts he had made for peace with the Pope, and recited the Lord’s Prayer, the Ave, and the Apostles’ Creed in proof of his orthodoxy. The Diet gave its approval to two imperial ordinances. One, drafted by the Franciscan canonist Bonagratia, gives a long demonstration of the illegality of the Pope’s pretensions regarding the Empire, forbids Lewis’ subjects to take any notice of excommunications or interdicts announced by the Pope in support of such pretensions, and threatens with forfeiture of their imperial fiefs all who disregard this decree. The second measure was the celebrated ordinance Licet iuris. Although it is manifest from both Civil and Canon Law that in ancient times imperial power proceeded directly from the Son of God, and the Emperor is made true Emperor by the election of those to whom the choice pertains and does not need the confirmation of anyone else, nevertheless some, blinded by avarice, ambition, and ignorance, assert that the imperial power and dignity come from the Pope and that no one is truly Emperor or king unless he has been approved and crowned by him. Wherefore, to avert the discord occasioned by such pestiferous doctrines, the Emperor, with the consent of the Electors and other princes, declares that, according to ancient right and custom, after anyone is chosen as Emperor or king by the Electors or a majority of them, he is to be deemed and styled true King and Emperor of the Romans, and ought to be obeyed by all subjects of the Empire as possessing and lawfully exercising imperial jurisdiction and the plenitude of imperial power. All those who deny anything in this ordinance shall ipso facto incur forfeiture of all their imperial fiefs and the privileges granted to them by Lewis or previous Emperors and shall be held guilty of high treason.

The ordinance claims that the choice of the Electors is sufficient authority for the assumption of the imperial title. In this it goes beyond the declaration of Rense, and it has been argued that the Diet can only have meant that after election the king was to be treated as if he were Emperor. But the wording of the ordinance is perfectly clear and leaves no room for reasonable doubt that the princes deliberately treated the royal and the imperial power, the regnum and the imperium, as one and the same thing, and denied to the Pope any share in the conferring of either. In accordance with the ordinances, Lewis now commanded all clergy to perform the regular services of the Church on pain of outlawry—a measure which was widely enforced. He also forbade the reception and execution of papal letters except with the permission of the bishop of the diocese concerned.

Hard upon the Diet at Frankfort came the famous meeting of Lewis and Edward III at Coblenz, when, with all the wealth of pomp and symbolism that marked the formal transaction of imperial business, Lewis appointed the English King imperial vicar, promulgated the laws enacted at Frankfort, and announced various measures for the promotion of the war against France. The occasion was graced by the presence of a multitude of princes and lords, who seem, at least for a time, to have felt something of the loyalty which they displayed. It was a brilliant climax to the astonishing events of the past few months.

Many German writers of modern times have regarded the declaration of Rense, the ordinances of Frankfort, and the ceremonies at Coblenz as evidence of a strong national feeling. The war with France, it is said, appealed to the animosity which most Germans felt towards that country, though some of the princes naturally fall under the suspicion of having been influenced by “English gold”. There is, however, no good reason to believe that there was any widespread hatred of France, except perhaps in the extreme west, where some of the princes were justifiably apprehensive about the designs of their restless neighbour. At all events, the proceedings at Rense and Frankfort referred exclusively to the relation of the Empire to the Papacy. As the sequel showed, if patriotic fervour influenced their course, it did not go very deep. The Electors, we may believe without injustice, were actuated mainly by concern for their threatened rights. The other princes, too, had no wish to admit the overlordship of so great a potentate as the Pope. As for the clergy who had pleaded for Lewis, they were ill a most perplexing position owing to the dispute between their spiritual and secular lords, and naturally were eager for an agreement, while recognising that Lewis had gone as far to meet the Pope as could reasonably be expected. Had Lewis been a man of imaginative ambition and forceful personality, he might indeed have turned the situation to the advantage of the German monarchy and people. But he was not equal to the opportunity. He was interested in the recent stirring events only in so far as they affected his chances of retaining Brandenburg and getting Tyrol or anything else that offered itself. Thus the rumblings of Rense and Frankfort produced nothing but smoke.

At first, it is true, there seemed a prospect of important results. Lewis withdrew or modified nearly all the concessions he had offered to the Papacy, and Benedict, while outwardly unyielding, actually sent an agent to the Emperor to discover his real intentions. In Germany, the Habsburgs allied with Edward III, and in 1339, after the death of Duke Otto, his brother Albert, sole survivor of the sons of King Albert I, joined Lewis in an attempt to coerce Henry of Lower Bavaria, who forthwith made peace. John of Bohemia, abandoned by his allies and estranged from his son Charles (who was ruling Bohemia), reconciled himself with Lewis and for the first time acknowledged him as overlord, having hitherto treated him merely as an ally. He would not abandon his alliance with France, but went so far as to promise to stand by the Empire if it were attacked by the Pope.

Lewis was thus most favourably situated for vigorous action whether against France or against the Pope. Unluckily for Germany his attention was diverted from large issues by the death of his cousin Henry of Lower Bavaria and his assumption, as next of kin, of the wardship of Henry’s infant son. In the autumn of 1339, indeed, Lewis of Brandenburg and Frederick of Meissen commanded an imperial contingent in Edward III’s futile invasion of the Cambresis; but this was the full extent of the Emperor’s participation in the war. Next year the battle of Sluys made Philip of Valois anxious for peace: he asked the Emperor to mediate; and Lewis, jumping at the opportunity, concluded a treaty with France in March 1341. Each party was confirmed in the enjoyment of his actual possessions, the French being thus left in occupation of some pieces of territory which till lately had been German. Edward was deprived of his vicariate, and Philip undertook to mediate between Lewis and the Pope.

The English King took his dismissal with nonchalance. The Pope refused to listen to Philip’s representations on the Emperor’s behalf. In Germany Lewis’ behaviour was angrily condemned, and he was widely accused of cowardice. All hope of a national stand against the Papacy disappeared. The Electors felt that the Emperor had betrayed them, and the Archbishops of Mainz and Treves hastened to conciliate Benedict. Lewis was growing old and had perhaps lost some of his mental alertness. However that may be, his abandonment of the English alliance was undoubtedly one of the gravest mistakes he ever made.

The Tyrolese marriage

It was probably the fatal Tyrolese question that determined the Emperor’s policy at this time. He wished to be free to take advantage of an opportunity to retrieve his former failure. Margaret Maultasch, a high-spirited and sensual woman, had for some time been on the worst of terms with her impotent husband, John Henry of Luxemburg, while the Tyrolese nobles resented the strong rule which had been imposed on the country by his elder brother Charles. A conspiracy was formed to drive out John Henry, call in Lewis of Brandenburg, and marry him to Margaret. The plot succeeded, and early in 1342 the Emperor and his son visited Tyrol. Marsilio of Padua contended that Lewis’ imperial authority empowered him to dissolve the marriage between Margaret and John Henry, but Lewis acted on the more moderate opinion of William of Ockham that the marriage, never having been consummated, was void. Even so, Margaret and the younger Lewis were within the prohibited degrees; but no regard was paid to the lack of a papal dispensation which would not have been granted, the marriage was celebrated, and the Emperor enfeoffed his son, not merely with Tyrol, but also with Carinthia.

These doings outraged German opinion, but reprisals on the part of the Luxemburg family were delayed by the death in April of Pope Benedict XII. The new Pope, Clement VI, was already known as an enemy of Lewis, and John of Bohemia soon gained his ear. It behoved Clement, however, to walk warily, lest he should exasperate the Electors, and when, in April 1343, he instituted new proceedings against Lewis, he carefully limited himself to misdeeds committed since the beginning of the dispute in 1323 and laid special emphasis on the marriage of Lewis of Brandenburg and Margaret Maultasch. In face of the new attack, Lewis repeated the offers which he had made in 1337, but still refused to admit that the votes of the Electors required to be supplemented by papal recognition. Clement, who seems to have set his mind on the complete overthrow of Lewis, declared the terms inadequate.

The Emperor unwisely reported the recent negotiations to the Electors. Some were probably genuinely concerned at the extent of the proffered concessions. To others, notably Baldwin of Treves, now hand-in-glove with his kinsmen, they were a useful instrument for compassing the Emperor’s downfall. A Diet declared itself ready to support the Electors in any measures which they might adopt to maintain the rights of the Empire. It was generally known that the deposition of Lewis was contemplated, for in the opinion of the more public-spirited Electors it was desirable to have a king who was under less temptation to barter away the rights of his subjects.

Lewis was still formidable; his diplomacy surrounded Bohemia with a ring of enemies, and Philip of France feared a renewal of his alliance with England. Once again, however, his incorrigible lust for territory caused him to throw away his advantages. After the death of his childless brother-in-law, William Count of Holland, which occurred in September 1345, Lewis, not content with his wife’s inheritance of Hainault, bestowed on her Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland, shewing no regard for the interests of her sisters, married respectively to Edward III and the Margrave of Jülich. His action was not illegal and does not seem to have been resented by the inhabitants of the regions concerned. But it freed Philip from the dread of a new league between the Empire and England, and it exacerbated the Luxemburg princes, who saw in it a threat to their western possessions. The Pope, himself concerned at reports of an im­pending invasion of Italy by Lewis and the King of Hungary, was easily persuaded to attempt a decisive blow. The Archbishop of Mainz, who refused to consent to the deposition of the Emperor, was himself deposed from his see, and the dean, Gerlach of Nassau, whom the Pope could trust, appointed in his stead. Immediately afterwards, in April 1346, the Pope published a tremendous bull reciting the recent misdeeds of the Emperor, repeating the sentence of forfeiture of all his goods, pronouncing his sons and grandsons ineligible for any ecclesiastical or secular office, involving him in a comprehensive curse which covered both time and eternity, and calling upon the Electors to choose a ruler for the long-vacant Empire.

Clement recognised that the Electors would not agree to the claims put forward by John XXII and still cherished by himself. He must therefore consent to the choice of a king who would give him what he wanted behind their backs. He had found his man in Charles of Bohemia, who, thanks to the assiduous intrigues of his father and himself, could count on a majority of the Electors. In April 1346 Charles went to Avignon and signed the documents purchasing Clement’s consent to his election. He conceded practically everything which Lewis had offered in his most conciliatory mood, approved of his condemnation as a heretic and schismatic, guaranteed the Papacy in its temporal possessions, and promised to submit to papal arbitration all disputes between the Empire and France. On the crucial question of the confirmation of the election by the Pope, Charles was willing to establish a precedent without admitting a principle. He promised in writing to seek papal recognition before he exercised any authority in Italy, and he agreed verbally to await it before being crowned King of the Romans or acting in that capacity.

Charles’ conduct at this juncture has had its apologists even among patriotic German historians, though they can say little in his defence except that he did not agree to everything the Pope demanded. What he had done was not known, and it mattered little what was suspected. The Archbishop of Mainz was the Pope’s creature. The other ecclesiastical Electors and Duke Rudolf of Saxe-Wittenberg had been well paid. These three received without apparent resentment the Pope’s order to obey the summons of the Archbishop of Mainz, and, together with John of Bohemia, assembled at Rense—a cynical choice of place—at the beginning of July. The two Wittelsbach Electors did not appear, and Charles was chosen unanimously.

Very soon afterwards the new king and his father hastened to France in response to a call for help from Philip VI, and a few weeks later John was slain at Crecy. Though blind for several years, he had to the end displayed his marvellous activity, both mental and physical, and if it is true that his achievements were hardly proportionate to the energy expended in accomplishing them, it is also true that at his death his house was stronger than at his accession, secure in Bohemia (thanks, it must be admitted, to his son), with its overlordship recognised almost everywhere in Silesia, and with the prospect of still greater power in future.

Charles’ situation, however, was not cheering. He swore to the promises made at Avignon, and having received Clement’s recognition as king was crowned at Bonn by the Archbishop of Cologne, both Aix-la-Chapelle and Cologne standing by Lewis. The Electors did nothing to help him. The Pope’s exhortations to the princes were ignored. He was popularly derided as a Pfaffenkönig. He crept home to Prague, which he reached in January 1347.

Lewis had viewed the plots against him with apparent indifference; but when the election of Charles had actually taken place, he suddenly displayed the energy and ability of his best days. Nearly all the imperial cities were on the side of their constant patron; so were many of the princes; and the Habsburgs promised neutrality. An attempt by Charles to conquer Tyrol was defeated, and in South Germany and the Rhineland Lewis’ party gained some notable military successes. But in October the old Emperor died suddenly while hunting.

Though Lewis cared little for the Empire or the German monarchy and missed an opportunity of adding to the power and prestige of both, he can hardly be said to have weakened either. Indeed, his quarrel with the Pope and his expedition to Italy gave the idea of the Holy Roman Empire a prominence in men’s thoughts which it had not enjoyed for a long time. The most lasting result of his rule in Germany is to be seen in the increased power and independence of the cities. In Bavaria he shewed himself a competent but hardly a distinguished administrator. There can be no doubt, however, that he would have accounted himself a successful man. During his reign Brandenburg, Tyrol, and four Netherlandish provinces had been added to the resources of the house of Wittelsbach. It was not his fault that the family proved unworthy of the great inheritance he left them.







When he heard of the death of Lewis, Charles was on the point of invading Bavaria with a large army. The loss of the Emperor was fatal to the Wittelsbach cause. Charles ravaged Bavaria, traversed Swabia, and passed down the Rhine to Mayence (Mainz), returning to Bohemia at the beginning of 1348. The Wittelsbach princes held out, and a few cities remained faithful to them. But nearly all the princes of South and Central Germany, and most of tire cities, had recognised Charles, and the north, which cared little who was king, acquiesced in his rule. His success, however, cost him heavily in gifts and concessions of all kinds.

Charles, now thirty-one years old, was not such a poor creature as the circumstances of his election might lead one to suppose. His boyhood had been mainly passed at the French court. As a youth he had for a time represented his father in Italy. Thence he had gone to Bohemia, where he became very popular and ruled with conspicuous wisdom and success. He had already, as the previous chapter shewed, taken a prominent part in the politics of Germany. He could speak and write Latin, French, German, Czech, and Italian with equal facility. He was thoroughly well versed in the arts of international diplomacy and the conditions under which it must be carried on. Few princes of that age had strong national prejudices, but Charles was conspicuously free from them.

Charles was not handsome. He had proved his courage and prowess in both real and mimic warfare, but his health was poor and he did not share his father’s love of fighting. He was simple in his tastes, and after a precocious scattering of wild oats, was austere in his private life. For a medieval king he was well educated, with a special interest in theology and jurisprudence. He wrote an autobiography of his early life, a treatise on Christian ethics, and a life of St Wenceslas, and his letters were much admired by learned contemporaries.

Charles was a careful administrator, a great advocate of order and system, and under him the chanceries of the Empire and the various parts of his territories were conducted with great efficiency, and many improvements in their organisation and routine introduced. Finance claimed much of his attention, and he gained a reputation for avarice. But if he was somewhat greedy after money, he was willing to spend it lavishly in pursuit of his political ends.

According to the standard of his age, Charles was a very religious man. He was devoted to the Church and punctilious in attendance at her services. His piety indeed merged into childish credulity and morbid superstition. He was an indefatigable and guileless collector of relics, of which he possessed an amazing variety. Future events, he believed, were frequently revealed to him in dreams.

Charles left behind him a high reputation as a diplomatist, and at various critical junctures he certainly showed much political judgment and address. Too often, however, he got out of a difficulty by buying off opposition without trying to overcome it, and in his eyes the authority and resources of the Empire were merely useful to bargain with. The tendency of modern historians has been to whitewash Charles; but when vindications of his treatment of Germany are scrutinised, they seldom amount to more than a demonstration that he might have done more harm than he did. Maximilian I described him as the most pestilent pest that ever afflicted Germany, and if this is an exaggeration, there is much truth in the famous epigram in which the same Emperor called Charles “arch-father of Bohemia, arch-stepfather of the Empire.”

Like Lewis, Charles regarded the advancement of the interests of his house as his main object, and, like Lewis, he had to begin his reign by quelling those who denied his title to the crown. He had, however, to encounter less powerful opposition than had confronted his predecessor. Still, even had the Wittelsbach princes been wholly without allies, their extensive lands would have made them formidable enemies. Lewis left six sons, three of whom were of mature age—Lewis of Brandenburg, Stephen, and a second Lewis, commonly called the Roman, apparently because he was born soon after his father’s return from Italy. Had they known their own minds, they might have given Charles much trouble. They could count on the support of the Wittelsbachs of the Palatinate, the Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg (who claimed the electoral vote of Saxony), and Henry, the deposed Archbishop of Mainz, who still held the temporalities of the see. But instead of promptly electing a German prince in opposition to Charles, they delayed till January 1348, and then offered the crown to Edward III of England. Charles, however, promised to allow his subjects to enlist in Edward’s service against France, and his envoy had little difficulty in persuading the English king to decline the invitation. Then the Wittelsbach brothers turned to their brother-in­law Frederick of Meissen, but Charles bought him off without much trouble.

Meanwhile luck had offered Charles an opportunity for embarrassing the Wittelsbachs without involving himself in costly and hazardous military undertakings. In 1348 there appeared an old man who claimed to be the Ascanian Margrave Waldemar of Brandenburg, supposed to have been in his grave for nearly thirty years. His story was that, being troubled in conscience because he and his wife were within the prohibited degrees, he had put about reports of his death, procured a corpse which was passed off as his own, and retired to the Holy Land, where he had since led an obscure existence. He was doubtless an impostor, but he had been well drilled in his part—by whom has never been discovered—and was evidently a plausible fellow. Many people sincerely believed in him; he was recognised by Waldemar’s kinsmen, the ruling family of Anhalt; and all enemies of the Margrave Lewis lent a credulous ear to his tale. On entering Brandenburg he was welcomed almost every­where. Charles, having instituted an official enquiry by Rudolf of Saxe-Wittenberg and others who had known Waldemar personally, professed himself convinced by their verdict, and bestowed the Mark on the old man, who in his gratitude agreed that Charles might take possession of Lower Lusatia, a strong indication that he was not the real Waldemar.

The Wittelsbachs, now in dire straits, still lacked a candidate for the crown, and in their desperation the Electors of the party on 30 January 1349 chose Gunther of Schwarzburg, a brave but impecunious Thuringian count, who received acknowledgment only at Frankfort and in its immediate neighbourhood. Charles went with an army to the Rhine, bought a number of princes and cities, detached the Count Palatine from his kins­men by proposing to marry his daughter, and after a little trivial fighting forced Gunther and his friends to accept the treaties of Eltville, which virtually ended the conflict for the crown. Charles treated his enemies with singular forbearance. Henry of Mainz, in defiance of the Pope, was allowed to retain his temporalities. The Wittelsbach family were confirmed in the possession of all their lands and rights, and the elder Lewis was expressly recognised as lord not only of Tyrol but also of Carinthia. Charles further promised to give no more aid to the alleged Waldemar, and to use his good offices with the Pope to obtain the removal of the excommunication under which the Wittelsbachs still lay. Gunther was consoled with cities and revenues in pledge, but died very soon afterwards. On the conclusion of the treaties, Henry of Mainz, the Count Palatine, and Lewis of Brandenburg announced that they now gave their votes to Charles, who, to render his title unassailable, had himself ceremonially placed on the altar of St Bartholomew’s at Frankfort, and was crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle by the Archbishop of Treves.

Lewis of Brandenburg, allying himself with Denmark, next began a vigorous attack on the pseudo-Waldemar. The princes who had previously recognised him now discovered timely reasons for doubt, and when he failed to answer a summons to prove his case before an assembly of princes and lords at Nuremberg, judgment was given against him. Charles renounced Lower Lusatia, and formally bestowed on the three Wittelsbach brothers Brandenburg, Lusatia, and the right to the electoral vote. It was several years before the opposition in the Mark was finally broken down, but in 1355 the Ascanian Counts of Anhalt, the most obstinate foes of the Wittelsbachs, made peace in consideration of an indemnity. They continued to hold the soi-disant Waldemar in honour, and when he died buried him among their ancestors at Dessau.

Meanwhile, from 1348 to 1351, Germany had shared with most other parts of Europe the calamities which attended the Black Death. Its approach from the east had occasioned a great persecution of the Jews, instigated in part by the Flagellants, a characteristic product of the fear which the impending catastrophe excited. The experiences of Germany under the pestilence did not differ in any notable particular from those of other countries, but it is worthy of remark that one or two regions, such as Bohemia and Eastern Franconia, enjoyed almost complete immunity.

After the peace of Eltville, Charles set his mind on going to Italy to receive the imperial crown. He soon found that there were serious obstacles in the way. Clement VI was annoyed because Charles, though always deferential to the Holy See and devoted to the Church, had shown an independent disposition in politics, having indeed encouraged the rebellious Henry of Mainz and made peace with the contumacious Wittelsbachs. Consequently, when Charles raised the question of a visit to Rome, Clement refused his consent, and it was not until he was succeeded by Innocent VI that cordial relations between Charles and the Papacy were restored. It was also necessary to compose discord in Germany before Charles could safely leave the country. Despite the treaty of Eltville, the sons of Lewis the Bavarian still nourished a grudge against him, and only the intervention of Albert of Habsburg prevented a renewal of civil war when in 1354 Charles pronounced that the electoral vote hitherto shared by Bavaria and the Rhenish Palatinate was in future to be exercised by the Palatinate only. In return, Charles tried to avert strife between Albert and the growing Swiss Confederation, and, when war nevertheless broke out, lent him military aid in his attack on Zurich. In 1353 he had begun a long progress through Germany with the object of establishing universal peace before his departure for Italy. Wherever he went he established landfrieden. He placated the Swabian cities, which eyed him with special suspicion, by giving them permission to defend themselves unitedly if their rights were attacked. He went as far as Metz, where no German king had been since the days of the Hohenstaufen, and, having handed over Luxemburg to his younger brother Wenceslas, evidently felt that Germany might be safely left. The course of his journey was marked by a trail of gifts, franchises, and royal prerogatives, which he had scattered abroad to purchase a period of quiet.

If Charles cared little for Germany, he set even less store on Italy. He had shown small interest when Rienzo went to Prague for the express purpose of persuading him to go to Rome; indeed he had imprisoned the demagogue and handed him over to the Pope. A letter from Petrarch with a similar invitation met with more politeness but no practical response. To Charles Italy was probably not worth the quarrel with the Pope that would certainly follow any attempt to assert his authority there. Still, there was some revenue to be got out of the cities of Lombardy and Tuscany, and the title of Emperor carried with it a certain prestige.

In September 1354 Charles left Nuremberg with a small escort, and, riding quickly through Salzburg to Udine, achieved his object of arriving on Italian soil unexpectedly. The details of his doings in Italy do not concern us here. He scrupulously observed the promises regarding Italy which he made at Avignon before his election as king. He was crowned Emperor at Rome by Cardinal Peter of Ostia, papal legate, on Easter Sunday 1355, entering and leaving the city that same day. Then he hurried back to Germany, towards the end of the journey riding even at night. He had raised considerable sums of money from the Italian cities, but had made himself a laughing-stock to the people. Lewis the Bavarian had stirred up indignation and hostility but never ridicule.

The Golden Bull

On his return, Charles resumed his efforts to establish peace in Germany. Neither the German kingdom nor the Holy Roman Empire possessed what can properly be termed a constitution. There were traditions, there were also imperial laws on miscellaneous subjects. These, however, were little known, for the royal and imperial records were not only imperfectly preserved but were scattered in various places, while the imperial enactments cited in the writings of jurists were so overlaid with glosses that it was hard to tell what was law and what was comment. Advocates of the Empire’s rights cited natural law, Aristotle, Scripture, the Fathers, the Civil Law, the facts of Roman History, or, like Marsilio, founded their case on some general political principle, but rarely appealed to any legislation or precedents subsequent to the time of Charles the Great. Their arguments and theories consequently were of little practical value to fourteenth-century Germany, a collection of virtually independent principalities and city-states. There was, it was true, no desire among Germans to abolish the office of king or of Emperor, for on one or other were based the powers and privileges enjoyed by the princes and the cities. But the Crown was fast becoming a legal fiction. Its authority, still theoretically great despite the lavish alienation of royal and imperial prerogatives by recent Emperors, was in practice commonly ignored. The German king was invested with supreme legislative authority over all his subjects; but the laws which he promulgated, with or without the concurrence of the Diet, were not much more than pious exhortations, for he had no means of enforcing them. The same might be said of judicial sentences of the royal court, to which appeals were still sometimes brought and disputes between princes submitted; the execution of the sentence, indeed, was generally left to the successful party. This lack of administrative power was mainly due to lack of money. The royal domains, which had belonged to the Crown whoever might wear it, had been lost during the reign of Frederick II and the Great Interregnum, and notwithstanding the efforts of later kings few had been recovered. The revenues still at the disposal of the Crown were scanty and uncertain.

The dues of the imperial cities made up a large part of the royal income, but were hard to collect without the good will of the contributors—a consideration which explains the remarkable favour displayed towards them by Lewis the Bavarian and other kings of the later Middle Ages. A certain amount was yielded by tolls, mines, the royal mint, and the Jews; but the kings can hardly be blamed for frequently succumbing to the temptation to gain some political end by the alienation or pawning of such insubstantial and unreliable resources. It is the poverty of the Crown which offers the best justification for the neglect by Lewis and Charles of their royal rights and for their absorption in the concerns of their families.

Charles IV had an orderly mind. For the Empire, as we have seen, he cared little, and indeed openly stated his opinion that it was an anachronism. The German crown, however, was an asset of some value, particularly because it carried with it the right to dispose of vacant fiefs. But facts must be recognised; it was idle to suppose that the Crown could aspire to attain in Germany the position it held in France. After all, the situation of the Luxemburg family was pleasant enough. Charles possessed in Bohemia a prosperous and compact realm of his own, and, having as yet no son, he had not the same motive as his predecessor to plot and scheme for the increase of his family’s possessions. Could not existing conditions be stabilised? Could not further disintegration be prevented, and occasions for civil strife diminished? Was it possible to find a powerful body or class of Germans who were satisfied or might easily be made satisfied with things as they were, and who would be in­terested to prevent change and disorder? Nothing could be hoped for from the Diet. Once it assembled, indeed, the king had great influence upon it, but the nobles attended reluctantly and irregularly, and at best it was a body of very divergent interests. On the other hand, the Electors had of late manifested a growing corporate spirit. They were a small manageable body and shared in common certain dominating ideas and ambitions. Everything pointed to them as the natural upholders of peace and order in Germany. Their number, functions, and duties must be defined; the powers they enjoyed in practice must be granted full recognition in law. Thus they might be ranged on the side of conservatism.

Of the existing Electors none was likely to raise factious opposition to Charles’ plans. Henry of Mainz was dead; Gerlach, now in un­challenged enjoyment of the see, was not a man of strong character. In 1354 Baldwin of Treves, who had held the archbishopric for forty-seven years, also died; his successor, Bohemund of Saarbrücken, was an elderly man of no great account and on good terms with the Emperor. William of Gennep, Archbishop of Cologne, a prelate of ability, was likewise well disposed towards Charles, and so was Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine. The chief causes of anxiety were the sons of Lewis the Bavarian and the rival claimants to the Saxon vote. It was essential to define precisely to whom the electoral vote belonged. In the days of Lewis, it had been agreed among the Wittelsbachs that their right should be exercised alternately by the Palatinate branch and the Bavarian branch. This arrangement did not commend itself to the Emperor, partly because it was generally taken for granted that the number of Electors must be strictly limited to the mystic seven, and partly because if the scheme was followed, the Bavarian Wittelsbachs, being in possession of Brandenburg, would have two votes at the next election. Charles therefore, as has been mentioned, declared that the Count Palatine had the exclusive right to the original Wittelsbach vote. Luckily, Lewis the Roman and his brother Otto, joint-rulers of Brandenburg, were at this moment friendly to the Emperor, and though other members of the family protested, they were at variance among themselves and could be safely disregarded. 

The Ascanian ducal house of Saxony had for long been split into the two hostile lines of Wittenberg and Lauenburg. The latter sprang from an elder brother, but was inferior to the former in territory, and its lands, moreover, had undergone subdivision. The Wittenberg line had consistently exercised its vote since the reign of Rudolf of Habsburg, and its head, Duke Rudolf, had voted for Charles in 1346. After weighing these considerations Charles gave his decision in favour of Saxe-Witten­berg, Duke Rudolf in return and for other compensation renouncing a troublesome claim to Brandenburg which might at any moment have caused war between him and the house of Wittelsbach.

Charles was thus fairly sure of his ground when in the winter of 1355-56 he met at Nuremberg a Diet, to which he had summoned an unusually large number of princes. His decisions on the doubtful points just mentioned were approved by the undisputed Electors. He announced his intention of creating a new and good currency, of reducing tolls and providing for the maintenance of peace on rivers and highways, and of introducing new regulations for the conduct of royal elections, with a view to reducing occasions of strife. He promulgated laws on the first two topics, but they were not of special account. The measure about elections, however, was of the highest moment. It was supplemented by several clauses published at a Diet held at Metz in December 1356, and the whole document is commonly known as the Golden Bull. This title was popularly given to it at an early date—why, is not clear, for the golden capsule impressed with the imperial seal was no peculiarity of the document but would be appended to any other emanating from the imperial chancery if the recipient was willing to pay for it.

The Golden Bull opens with a verbose and pompous preamble on the evils of discord, the purpose of the law being described as the cherishing of unity among the Electors, the securing of unanimous elections, and the avoidance of strife in general.

Much space is then devoted to the preliminaries of an election. All subjects of the Empire are to facilitate the passage of Electors to the place of meeting, and to each Elector are allotted certain princes, lords, and cities who shall be bound, if required, to furnish him with an adequate escort while he is passing through their territories. To avoid long vacancies of the throne, it is laid down that within one month after the death of an Emperor has been made known, the Archbishop of Mainz shall communicate the news to his fellow-Electors and summon them to choose a successor within three months, the election to be held at Frank­fort-on-Main. Precautions against violence at elections are prescribed. No Elector may bring with him more than 200 mounted followers, of whom only fifty are to be armed men. Those who absent themselves and omit to send proxies shall forfeit their votes for the election concerned. The citizens of Frankfort, while the election is in progress, shall admit to the city no one except Electors and their attendants.

The clauses dealing with the election itself are less elaborate. On the day after the Electors have assembled, they shall hear a mass of the Holy Ghost in St Bartholomew’s Church, and each shall then swear that he will direct his full discretion and wisdom to the choice of one suitable to be King of the Romans and future Emperor, and that he will give his vote without any payment or reward or promise of such. The Electors shall not disperse until they have chosen someone, and if they fail to do so within thirty days they shall thenceforward be fed on bread and water. A majority vote shall constitute a valid election, which shall be deemed unanimous. The king-elect shall immediately confirm all the rights and dignities of the Electors.

A number of clauses deal with questions of the precedence to be enjoyed by the Electors in relation to one another and to other princes, and to the duties which each has to perform on formal or ceremonial occasions. An important clause lays down that during an interregnum the Empire shall be administered, under certain limitations, by the Count Palatine of the Rhine, save that, where Saxon law is followed, this function shall be performed by the Duke of Saxony. In the case of lay Electors, it is declared, the right to vote shall descend according to the rales of primogeniture and shall be heritable only by and through males. The principalities to which an electoral vote is attached are declared to be indivisible, and the vote to be inseparable from them. An electoral principality falling vacant shall be disposed of by the Emperor according to established custom, saving to the people of Bohemia the right to elect their king. The Electors shall have full right to all mines of metals or salt in their lands, and to the taxes payable by Jews for protection. They may coin and circulate gold and silver money. No subject of an Elector may sue or be sued, on appeal or otherwise, in any court outside his territories. Conspiracy against the life of an Elector is proclaimed high treason, and the children and accomplices of the plotters are to be visited with total or partial disinheritance. It is asserted to be desirable that the Electors should meet together more frequently than has been customary, in order to treat of the affairs of the Empire and the world. It is therefore ordained, on their advice, that they shall assemble four weeks after every Easter in some city of the Empire; this arrangement is to last, however, only as long as both Emperor and Electors approve. It is highly characteristic of Charles that he inserted an injunction that the sons of Electors should be taught Italian and Czech.

The Bull, furthermore, forbids the formation of conspiracies or leagues between the cities or subjects of the Empire, except such as have been established for the maintenance of public peace. Cities are not to receive Pfahlbürger, and civic privileges are to be enjoyed by none but bona fide residents. On the whole the document is dignified and impressive in tone, but there is one pitiable clause which lays down that challenges to private war shall not be valid unless notice be given three days before the opening of hostilities, while all “unjust” war, rapine, and robbery are sternly prohibited.

The Golden Bull was a measure of immense importance, which in the sixteenth century became recognised as a fundamental law of the Empire. To say with Bryce that Charles “legalised anarchy and called it a constitution” is brilliant but not history. There was no more anarchy in Germany after the Golden Bull than before, and if the Golden Bull did recognise the legality of private war within certain limits, it was the limits and not the legality that would seem remarkable to contemporaries. What Charles did was to acknowledge publicly the futility of pretending to revive the Roman Empire or even to maintain a strong centralised monarchy. The Golden Bull was an essay in Realpolitik. It was based on the assumption that Germany had ceased to be a unitary State, and it sought to make of the Electors a kind of Concert of Germany, whose business and interest it would be to preserve the status quo and compose the quarrels of other princes. Of this body the Emperor was to be the president and mouthpiece; but so great was the independence ascribed to the Electors in the Golden Bull that they were now in law as in fact rather his allies than his subjects. The plan of holding annual conferences, however, at once broke down, and it soon became evident that the Electors were still as restless and rebellious as other princes. One principal merit of the Bull was that it retarded the disintegration of the German principalities, which had been proceeding at a bewildering rate. It was not merely that electoral principalities were henceforth indivisible, but other princes gradually saw that, unless the subdivision of their estates was checked, their families would soon be of no account in comparison with the Electors. The Bull has earned much praise because from beginning to end there is no mention of the Pope. But though the need of papal confirmation of an elected king is nowhere admitted, it is nowhere repudiated, and there is nothing in the document which precludes it. The claim of the Papacy to the administration of the Empire during a vacancy is indeed implicitly rejected, but on the rights of the King of the Romans the Golden Bull is far less definite than the Declaration of Rense and the ordinance Licet iuris.

The Diet of Metz, at which the Golden Bull was published in its complete form, was a brilliant assembly. John of France had lately begged Charles for help against the English, and the Emperor had demanded the restoration of Verdun, Cambrai, and Vienne, and called upon John’s eldest son, who had inherited Dauphine in 1349, to do homage for this fief of the Empire. Before the Diet took place, the battle of Poitiers had been fought; King John was a prisoner, and the dauphin came to implore aid. The Pope had sent Cardinal Talleyrand de Perigord and the Abbot of Cluny to justify his recent demand of three tenths from the German clergy—an imposition which had aroused a storm of protest. The French prince having done homage, Charles formally enfeoffed him with the Dauphinate, and appointed him imperial vicar within its bounds, receiving in return rich presents and the promise of much money. For the relief of France, however, he did nothing, merely renewing an existing treaty with that country which contained only vague promises of mutual support. As for the Pope, Charles, after consulting the German bishops, offered him a sum much smaller than the yield of the taxes he had wished to levy, and with this Innocent was fain to be content. The Diet of Metz, which was accompanied by magnificent festivities, made a great impression on contemporaries, and certainly Charles appeared to better advan­tage on this occasion than he usually did when acting in his imperial capacity.

Rudolf Duke of Austria

Charles, however, was soon enmeshed once more in the petty politics of Germany. It was in his favour that the Wittelsbach brothers were losing ground through their incompetence, while in Holland the differences between Lewis the Bavarian’s widow and her son William had expanded into a war out of which was to grow the desolating feud of the “Hoeks” and the “Kabbeljaws.” But a new danger to the Emperor appeared from among the Habsburgs. In 1358 occurred the death of Duke Albert of Austria, who, though a cripple for many years, had directed the affairs of his house with great skill, shewing a moderate and statesmanlike temper. But his son and heir, Rudolf—a handsome and conceited young man, nineteen years old, and married to one of Charles’ daughters—had ex­travagant ambitions for the aggrandisement of Austria. It galled him that the Habsburgs did not belong to the sacrosanct aristocracy created by the Golden Bull, and he resolved to assert for his family a position to which not even an Elector could lay claim. He accordingly caused to be forged five documents purporting to emanate from earlier Emperors, one being ostensibly a confirmation by Henry IV of edicts issued in favour of Austria by Julius Caesar and Nero. The object was to prove that Austria was independent of the Empire and that the Habsburg lands were indivisible. The fraud was not badly executed, but Charles’ suspicions were apparently aroused by Julius Caesar and Nero, and he referred the documents to his friend Petrarch, who decisively condemned them. Rudolf, however, was but little abashed; and though when laid before the Diet his claims were rejected out of hand, he assumed a number of high-sounding titles on the strength of them, sought allies, and repulsed Charles’ characteristic efforts to placate him. The Emperor in fact had reluctantly to make war on the Count of Wurtemberg, who took up arms for Rudolf. On the defeat of his supporter, however, Rudolf gave in and received Charles’ pardon.

Soon afterwards the political outlook of Germany underwent a sudden change. In 1361 Charles’ third wife bore him a son, the future King Wenceslas. This disappointed the hope cherished by Rudolf that on the death of his father-in-law he would succeed to the Luxemburg lands and the German crown. His hostility to the Emperor consequently revived. Charles, on his part, had now a new incentive for increasing his power, and from this time his policy in Germany was less conciliatory and con­servative than it had hitherto been.

In the same year died Lewis, the eldest of the Wittelsbach brothers, to be followed sixteen months later by his son and heir Meinhard, who had married a sister of Rudolf of Habsburg. Meinhard’s mother, Margaret Maultasch, handed over Tyrol to Rudolf, and retired to Vienna, where she died some years later. She left an unsavoury reputation for profligacy and ferocity. Both her husband and her son were believed to have been poisoned by her, but the unexpected deaths of prominent people were always ascribed to poison in the fourteenth century, and there seems to be no specific evidence of Margaret’s guilt or indeed any reason why she should have murdered either Lewis or Meinhard.

The surviving Wittelsbachs protested against Margaret’s action in sur­rendering Tyrol, but their mutual jealousies were fatal to the family fortunes. In 1363 Stephen, breaking an agreement, laid hands on Upper Bavaria, whereupon, to spite him, Lewis the Roman and Otto, the joint rulers of Brandenburg and Lusatia, announced that, should they both die without male issue, these lands were to fall to the house of Luxemburg. Both princes were young, and it seemed unlikely that the condition would be fulfilled; but Charles took their offer seriously, entered Branden­burg with an army, and by cajolery and threats induced the Estates to do him homage.

Charles might have secured Tyrol for his house as well, but Stephen of Wittelsbach was trying to win it by force, and the Emperor apparently did not think it worth fighting for. Instead, he used it to buy the friendship of Rudolf, who had lately formed a threatening alliance with Hungary and Poland. The bargain pleased Rudolf, and in February 1364 peace between the Luxemburgs, the Habsburgs, and Hungary was concluded at Brünn. The terms were of great moment for the future of Germany and indeed of Europe. It was agreed that on the failure of heirs, male and female, of Charles and his brother Wenceslas, all their lands should pass to the Habsburgs; while should descendants of Rudolf, his brothers and sister, and the royal house of Hungary be lacking, the Habsburg lands should go to the house of Luxemburg. Tyrol was formally granted to the Habsburgs, who held it, save for one brief interval, till 1918. After some years the Wittelsbachs renounced their pretensions to it for an indemnity and some territorial compensation. Rudolf did not enjoy his acquisition long, for in 1365 he died. He represents a type which appeared from time to time in the Habsburg family; but the resemblance often traced between him and the Emperor Joseph II is fanciful. He was succeeded by two brothers, both under age, and the Habsburgs were consequently dependent on Charles for the rest of his reign.

For some years after the treaty of Brünn Charles’ attention was largely given to ecclesiastical affairs. He had usually been on good terms with the German clergy, and had issued decrees safeguarding their privileges against encroachments by secular authorities. With Innocent VI, however, his relations had not always been happy. He had, as we have seen, given a passive support to the German clergy in their resistance to the Pope’s exorbitant demands for money, and he had urged on Innocent the need for reform in the German Church, hinting broadly that unless abuses were checked the secular princes would seize the Church’s temporalities. His reforming zeal, however, was not very deep, and when the Pope abandoned his opposition to the Golden Bull and shewed a conciliatory spirit on other questions at issue, Charles at once became ready to meet his wishes half way.

On Innocent’s death in 1362 he was succeeded by Urban V, who was eager to organise a crusade against the Turks, and for that reason and for fear of the Free Companies could not afford to quarrel with the Emperor. For his part, Charles was uneasy about Italy. Lewis of Hungary, whose interests clashed with his own at many points in Central Europe, was trying to make good a claim to Naples, and if he should succeed would become a very grave danger to the house of Luxemburg. Charles was therefore anxious to visit Italy and to persuade the Pope to return thither. Once the Emperor ceased to value his Italian crown, it was to his interest that the Pope should reside in Rome, removed from French domination, and in a position to frustrate the designs of princes whose establishment in Italy might result in trouble for the Emperor elsewhere. Urban himself was not ill-disposed to Charles’ suggestions; opposition to them came chiefly from the cardinals, though their affection for Avignon had been considerably cooled by the Free Companies.

In 1365 the Emperor visited Avignon, where his enthusiastic and ostentatious devotion to the Church caused some amusement. He promised to promote a crusade in which the Free Companies were to be employed and agreed to let them pass through Germany. The first consequence was that a united force of the companies broke into Alsace, murdering and ravishing up to the gates of Strasbourg. Charles, who was believed to have invited them, had to assemble a great army, which indeed forced them to withdraw, but inflicted on the Alsatians nearly as much harm as they. Fortunately for Germany, the Black Prince’s expedition to Spain tempted the mercenaries to other fields, and enabled Charles to evade his obligations to the Pope. As for the return of the Papacy to Rome, Urban shewed himself favourable to the project, and in fact proved better than his promises.

During his visit to the Pope, Charles tried to restore the almost vanished prestige of the Empire in the kingdom of Burgundy by having himself crowned at Arles. No one had received the Burgundian crown since Frederick Barbarossa; no one was to receive it after Charles. The coronation had only a ceremonial interest, though some modem German historians have written as if it indicated a real revival of imperial authority in the old Burgundian kingdom. As a matter of fact, French influence remained in the ascendant from one end of it to the other. To do him justice, Charles seems to have had no illusions about Burgundy, and after he had by diplomatic means tried to uphold a precarious influence there, he apparently lost heart, and one of his last acts was to bestow on the dauphin for life the imperial vicariate for the whole kingdom except the Savoyard lands.

Charles was now anxious to lead an expedition to Italy to prepare the way for the Pope. The princes, who had no intention of taking part in such an enterprise, were ready enough to approve; but the clergy, on whom Charles relied for money, and the cities, to whom he looked for men, responded to his demands reluctantly and sometimes flatly refused them. Times were bad in Germany, and a return of the Black Death, together with pestilence among cattle and disease among crops, made 1367 a year long remembered with horror. Thus, though Charles managed in the end to raise a sufficient force, he could not set out until Urban was already in Rome. His expedition did no good to his power or repute. His military operations against the Visconti failed; his subservience to the Pope while in Rome made him foolish in the eyes of the Romans; Urban, annoyed at not receiving more help from him, turned to his arch­enemy the King of Hungary; and though certain Italian cities paid him large sums of money in return for privileges or in hope of his speedy departure, this was but poor compensation for the general ill-success of the undertaking. Charles returned to Germany in 1369, Urban to Avignon in 1370. It was lucky for the Emperor that the Pope died immediately afterwards, for his successor Gregory XI was already a firm friend of Charles.

The acquisition of Brandenburg

Had Charles also died on his return from Italy, he would have gone down to history as one of the most unsuccessful rulers that Germany ever had. For the rest of his life, however, luck was on his side, and everything he took in hand prospered. He had three sons, Wenceslas, Sigismund, and John, and it behoved him to make provision for them, if possible without dividing his existing territories. In 1369, indeed, his prospects were gloomy. Suspicion of his designs for increasing the Luxemburg possessions had turned many princes against him. The Wittelsbachs had suddenly become formidable again, for the grandsons of Lewis the Bavarian were coming to the front. Two of them, Stephen and Frederick, sons of Duke Stephen of Upper Bavaria, had already made a reputation for bravery and resolution, while Frederick, who was a shrewd and ambitious politician, had associated himself with a powerful alliance hostile to the Emperor, to which belonged the Elector Palatine and the Archbishop of Mainz, whom Charles had offended, besides the Kings of Poland and Hungary. Further, Charles’ interests had suffered a blow in Brandenburg. After the death of Lewis the Roman in 1365, the feeble and impecunious Otto handed over to Charles the government of the Mark for six years; but during his absence in Italy the Brandenburg nobles, under the leadership of Klaus von Bismarck, had expelled the council which he had left in charge of the administration. On his return from Italy Charles demanded from Otto the renewal of the treaty of 1363, but at the instigation of his nephew Frederick he refused. The Emperor had resort to his usual diplomatic methods in order to divide the combination against him. In his difficulties he transgressed the Golden Bull by allying with certain Swabian cities; but his cause benefited more by the opportune deaths of the King of Poland and the Archbishop of Mainz than by any measures of his own. Meanwhile, Otto declared Frederick his heir, and prepared armed resistance with the aid of Hungary, whose king attacked Moravia. Charles accepted the challenge and invaded Brandenburg. But neither there nor on his eastern frontier was there fighting on a large scale. Taking advantage of a truce, Charles detached the King of Hungary from the alliance by suggesting a match between his son Sigismund and Lewis’ daughter Mary, and when the Emperor renewed the attack on the Mark, the two Wittelsbach princes had to struggle unaided not only against Charles but also against several neighbouring princes whom he had gained to his cause. They soon lost heart, and in August 1373 the treaty of Fürstenwalde gave Brandenburg to the house of Luxemburg. Charles as usual showed moderation in victory. Otto was allowed to retain for life the title and rights of an Elector, though these had been declared inseparable from possession of the Mark by the Golden Bull. Several cities and castles were handed over to him for the rest of his life, and he and his nephew received a vast sum of money, much of which was extorted from the cities of South Germany on the pretext that they had not furnished the Emperor with the aid due from them for the Brandenburg war. Otto went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and died in 1379.

Thus, of the lands which Lewis the Bavarian, at the cost of so much scheming and sacrifice, had acquired for his family, only the Netherland provinces remained in Wittelsbach hands, and these, ruled now and for long afterwards by Albert, Lewis’ fifth son, were detached from the main currents of German life and politics and added little to the influence of the Bavarian branch of the family, which now fell into the second rank of German princely houses.

Inspired by good fortune, Charles next embarked on a scheme which he might well have rejected as impossible—the election of his son Wenceslas as King of the Romans during his lifetime. The melancholy experiences of the Wittelsbachs shewed how desirable it was, in the interests of the Luxemburg family, that Wenceslas should succeed to the German throne; but it was most improbable that the Electors, whatever promises they might give while Charles was alive, would elect his son after he was dead. The Golden Bull had nothing to say about the election of a successor to a living Emperor, but the whole tenor of the document suggests that, to those who framed it, such a proceeding would have seemed highly irregular, if not positively illegal. At first sight, too, it looked as if the Electors were unpromising material for Charles’ machinations. Otto of Brandenburg, it is true, was at Charles’ mercy and the Elector of Saxony under his influence. The see of Mainz was again a prey to strife, but the archbishop recognised by the Pope and Charles belonged to the family of Wettin and was naturally disinclined to contribute to an increase of the already great power of the house of Luxemburg. The archbishopric of Trèves was ruled by Kuno von Falkenstein, an energetic and warlike prelate, who, putting the temporal interests of his see above everything else, was opposed to the exaltation of any princely family. He would doubtless determine the attitude of the Archbishop of Cologne, his nephew. As for the Elector Palatine, though he had done nothing to save his Wittelsbach kinsmen in the recent war, he had been the chief promoter of the league against the Emperor, and he and Charles had not been reconciled. Furthermore, the Pope was to be considered, and, friendly as he was to Charles, he was not likely to welcome the plan.

Nevertheless every Elector had his price, and Charles was prepared to pay it. Money changed hands, cities were pledged, imperial and royal rights were dissipated. There must have been much perjury when the Electors took the oath before the next election. Similar means were used to win over certain important princes outside the circle of Electors, whose good will it was important to gain.

Avignon, as was to be expected, proved hostile, but was outwitted by Charles. On being informed of Charles’ project, the cardinals counselled Gregory XI that he should not lose so good an opportunity of strengthening papal control over the Empire. The Pope therefore replied that everything done in the matter must be subject to papal approval, which could not be looked for unless Charles and Wenceslas repeated the promises made by the former in 1346. Charles led the Pope to believe that he would comply, but gave no formal undertaking. There the matter was left for about a year. Suddenly, in the spring of 1376, Gregory learned from the Emperor that the election of Wenceslas would take place in two months and would straightway be followed by his coronation. Charles had chosen his time well, for Italian affairs were going badly for the Papacy. The Curia could only threaten, and demand that the coronation of Wenceslas should not take place until his election had been confirmed by Gregory. Charles took care that the Pope’s messenger was present when he laid this request before the Electors, and warned him that the anger they displayed would be generally felt by the German magnates. Out of empty politeness to the Holy See, it was agreed to postpone the election for ten days, but on 10 June Wenceslas was elected at Frankfort. The Electors reported to Gregory what they had done, asked his favour for Wenceslas, and requested that he might in due course receive the imperial crown. Before an answer could come, he had been crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle.

Election of Wenceslas

In view of the circumstances which attended it, the election of Wenceslas has been often celebrated as a great victory of the Empire over the Papacy. It appears, however, that the skill and resolution which Charles had undoubtedly shown were due mainly to a fear lest concessions to the Papacy should alienate the dearly-purchased Electors. As soon as these had done their part, he threw away many of the fruits of victory, for Wenceslas agreed to confirm the oath taken by his father in 1346, and Charles consented to draw up a document, dated as written on the day of the election, in which he asked the Pope to approve of his son’s election during his own lifetime. To this Gregory returned a gracious reply, though it was his successor who pronounced the papal approbation.

Charles’ family policy had achieved an astonishing triumph, but the methods he had employed gave rise to unexpected trouble for himself and his successor. The cities of Germany had on the whole prospered since the beginning of the fourteenth century, and the Hanseatic League in the north was now a great political force and paid little regard to the Emperor. But the imperial cities of the south viewed Charles with much suspicion. He had supplanted their benefactor Lewis; he had lavished favours on princes, but to cities he had shown himself niggardly; clauses in his Golden Bull were specially directed against those leagues of cities for common defence which Lewis had actively encouraged; while Charles’ demands on the cities for men and money had been heavy, especially at the time of his second Italian expedition. In 1372 war broke out between the cities of a Swabian Landfriede, organised by the Emperor himself, and the knights of that region, who were aided by Eberhard, Count of Wurtemberg. The war went against the cities, but as Charles happened to visit the disturbed area while it was in progress, the issue was referred to his judgment. His verdict was on the whole favourable to the cities, yet he demanded from them large sums in expiation of alleged breaches of the terms of their agreement with him and for the promotion of the war in Brandenburg. Later, as was mentioned above, they were further mulcted to pay the indemnity which Charles gave to the Wittelsbachs.

The news of the Emperor’s negotiations with a view to the election of Wenceslas filled the cities with alarm. They expected, and rightly, that many of them would be given to princes as security for the payment of large sums of money—a fate which often meant the permanent loss of direct relationship with the Emperor and subjection to a lord who could make his authority effective. Soon after Wenceslas’ election, therefore, fourteen Swabian cities formed a league for mutual defence against anyone who should threaten them with fresh taxation, grant them in pledge, or otherwise derogate from their status. They demanded a guarantee of inviolability from the Emperor, but Charles, with unwonted truculence, laid them under the imperial ban, and, supported by a number of princes, attacked Ulm with a strong force. After being ignominiously repulsed, he abandoned the conduct of the war to the princes of South Germany; but these fared no better, and in 1377 Ulrich, son of the Count of Wurtemberg, was defeated by the league at the famous battle of Reutlingen. Wenceslas, appointed imperial vicegerent, then made peace at Rotenburg on behalf of his father, the cities receiving guarantees against being given in pledge, and permission, notwithstanding the Golden Bull, to unite for defence. Next year the war between the league and Wurtemberg was ended by Charles to the advantage of the cities. These successes naturally gained for the league much prestige and many new members, but its later history belongs to the reign of Wenceslas.

Charles’ lack of vigour in the war was perhaps due to the exceptionally bad health from which he was suffering. After a visit to Paris in the hope of arranging a marriage between Sigismund and the heiress to the county of Burgundy, he turned his mind to the disposal of the family possessions. For his third son John he created the duchy of Gorlitz in Lusatia and allotted to him also the Neumark, an appendage of Brandenburg. The last he bequeathed to Sigismund, regardless of a promise to the Estates of the Mark that it should be for ever united to Bohemia. The rest of the lands over which he had ruled went to Wenceslas. Charles has been blamed for making this division, but it is to be remembered that, except for the small duchy of Gorlitz, the lands given to his younger sons had been acquired by himself, and that his efforts to secure them had probably been dictated by a desire to provide for his children without destroying the territorial importance of his house.

Charles died at Prague on 29 November 1378. His character and policy have been the theme of controversy from his own time to now, and may best be considered in connexion with a survey of his rule in Bohemia. That he did grave harm to the Empire and the German Crown can hardly be disputed, and if the Golden Bull in the long run proved beneficial to Germany, the credit which Charles deserves as its author is gravely impaired by the offences against its provisions which he himself committed.