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I.                THE AGE OF THE SCHISM


Wenceslas had already had experience as king and imperial vicegerent when Charles IV died on 29 November 1378. For the first time for nearly two hundred years son succeeded to father as head of the Empire without dispute. This in itself seemed an earnest of better times for Germany. And the new king, though only seventeen years of age, had enjoyed a liberal education and the companionship of his father. Wenceslas is described as learned, witty, friendly in manner, swift and shrewd in business. He continued Charles’ building schemes and patronage of literature. As King of Bohemia he was for his first dozen years respected and successful. But the difficulties which surrounded a monarch in Germany were too much for his powers. As he grew older he appears to have devoted himself excessively to the chase and he then began to drink so heavily as to become unbalanced and violent, till he ceased to attempt the wearisome effort to rule in Germany, while he was unable to cope with the factions of his own Bohemia, and his reign ended in manifold humiliations.

In Germany the main problems which awaited solution may be summarised as the Schism and the anarchy due to the alliances, armaments, and secret diplomacy of the leading Estates. In the ecclesiastical question Wenceslas did not attempt the role of impartial arbitrator, but continued his fathers policy of wholehearted support of Urban VI against the French Papacy at Avignon. At the Reichstag at Frankfort in February 1379, the king and the Rhenish Electors called upon all members of the Empire to give their adhesion to Urban. To Cardinal Pileus of Ravenna, who came to Prague with Urban’s offer of the imperial coronation at Rome, Wenceslas gave assurances that he proposed to make the Italian expedition as soon as possible. The project, however, remained unfulfilled; for later in the same year the Schism entered Germany and served to increase the existing anarchy. Adolf of Nassau, the de facto but as yet unlegalised occupant of the see of Mayence, declared openly for Pope Clement, from whom he received the pallium. His action should have received attention at the Reichstag at Frankfort in September; but in the absence of Wenceslas nothing was done. The Electors of Cologne, Treves, and the Palatinate, therefore, met at Ober-Wesel in January 1380, issued a manifesto against all opponents of Urban, and wrote to Wenceslas demanding that he should either govern the Empire or leave it to the Electors. Thus early in his reign did the king encounter the threat, often repeated later, that he might be deposed. In March he came to the Rhineland, but refused to attack Adolf. On the contrary he accepted him as archbishop, and thus peacefully induced him to abandon Avignon and return to the Roman fold.

But Adolf’s example of ecclesiastical desertion had been followed by Leopold of Habsburg, with whom it was Wenceslas’ policy to maintain a close alliance, and by a number of Estates on the left bank of the Rhine, where French influence was strong. Mercifully for Germany Wenceslas refused to start a war of religion, though the Schism placed endless difficulties in the way of royal government. He seems to have seriously intended to proceed to the imperial coronation, and, in reply to Urban’s pressing invitations, announced his departure for Rome for the spring of 1380. But, in addition to the troubles of Germany, preoccupation with eastern questions caused him again to postpone the expedition, which ultimately never took place.

When Lewis the Great of Hungary and Poland died on 11 September 1382, leaving two daughters but no son, he also left a succession dispute of the utmost importance, for which Charles IV and other princes had been waiting and preparing. Mary, the elder daughter, was affianced to Wenceslas’ brother Sigismund; Hedwig (Jadviga), the younger, to Duke William of Habsburg. But neither couple was as yet married. It had been the dead king’s intention that Sigismund should succeed him in both kingdoms, thus exalting the house of Luxemburg to domination over all central Europe and securing Germany’s eastern frontiers. But there were those in Hungary who supported the claims of Charles of Durazzo, King of Naples, of the younger line of Anjou. The Queen mother Elizabeth was a Slav and detested a German succession. The French royal family came forward, with the support of Avignon, claiming to succeed the Angevin kings of Hungary by providing a husband for Mary. Lastly, the Polish Estates had no intention of being governed from Hungary by a foreigner. Thus great political, racial, and ecclesiastical issues were involved in the struggles which followed Lewis’ death.

The Polish question was settled first, for the Poles accepted Hedwig as their queen, and then forced her in 1386 to marry Jagiello, the heathen Grand Prince of Lithuania, who thereupon received baptism and the Christian name of Vladyslav. Sigismund succeeded in marrying Mary in 1385; but not till 1387 was he able, with Wenceslas’ help, to obtain coronation as King of Hungary and the liberation of his wife, who had meanwhile been carried off by her mother. Thus Hungary was won for the house of Luxemburg, even if a powerful Slavonic Poland arose to threaten northern Germany. But Wenceslas had succeeded in winning the Danube plain for his brother only by renouncing his own imperial coronation and by giving inadequate attention to Germany, to the exasperation of the Electors.

Despite the efforts of Charles IV in the Golden Bull to stabilise the public law of the Empire, various Estates attempted to secure for themselves the independence granted to the Electors. The towns and the lesser rural nobility maintained a constant mutual hatred; and many princes supported the lesser nobles in order to induce the wealthy towns to submit to princely government and taxation. To protect themselves the leading towns of Swabia and the Rhineland made leagues, which temporarily united and attempted to connect their unions with the powerful northern Hansa and the Swiss communities. In opposition arose leagues of knights and lesser princes. At successive Reichstags it was proposed to promulgate a general Public Peace, which should render the town-leagues unnecessary. But the towns refused to put their trust in decrees. A modus vivendi was effected by Wenceslas at an assembly at Heidelberg in July 1384, when a truce was arranged between the town-leagues and the princely alliance formed at Nuremberg in the previous year. Wenceslas did not, as king, recognise the town-leagues, but unofficially he entered into friendly negotiations with the towns. With them he adopted an agreement on currency questions and for the plundering of the Jews, from whom he and they extorted large sums in 1385.

The peace was broken in the far south. To secure themselves against Leopold of Habsburg, four of the Swiss communities entered into an alliance with the Swabian town-league in February 1385. They were further encouraged by the estrangement between the houses of Luxemburg and Habsburg. For Wenceslas had been provoked by the Habsburg opposition to his brother in Hungary and by Leopold’s continued adhesion to Avignon; and in August 1385 he relieved Leopold of his imperial office as Landvogt in Upper and Lower Swabia. The encroachments of the Swiss on Habsburg territory eventually caused Leopold to attempt, with an army of Swabian nobles, the recovery of his town of Sempach, where he was defeated and killed in 1386. The war, however, was localised; and in the next year Wenceslas’ deputies were able to extend the settlement of Heidelberg for three more years. This truce was but the prelude to a general conflagration in 1388-89. The occasion was furnished by the Wittelsbachs. The Bavarian Dukes, Stephen and Frederick, and Rupert the younger of the Palatinate, treacherously captured and imprisoned Pilgrim, Archbishop of Salzburg, an ally of the Swabian towns and confidential agent of Wenceslas. Although the king supported the towns and tried to keep the peace, war broke out and spread rapidly through Swabia and Franconia. Pitched battles were few and went against the towns. Eberhard of Wurtemberg scattered the army of the Swabian league at Doffingen; and Rupert, the Elector Palatine, defeated the Rhenish league near Worms. But the war dragged on, the princes being unable to reduce any of the towns, while the latter were impoverished by the interruption of their trade and the devastation of their rural districts. In the spring of 1389 peace was made between the Habsburgs and the Swiss, to the advantage of the latter; and Wenceslas was able to gather the representatives of the princes and towns to a Reichstag at Eger. Here on 5 May a Public Peace for all southern Germany was accepted and promulgated. The existing law was declared in force. General leagues of towns were prohibited, as well as the reception of pfahlburger; but the towns received a concession in the establishment of regional courts of arbitration, each consisting of two princely and two citizen judges with a president appointed by the king.

Thus the southern towns failed in their most serious effort to assert their ambitions against the conservative and feudal character of German public law. Their geographical separation from each other and their parochial outlook had rendered them no match for the arms and legal arguments of their knightly opponents. Further, many of them were distracted by internal strife. Unlike the powerful towns of the North, they were not dependent for their prosperity on the skill and experience in overseas trade of big capitalists. Consequently they were the scene of many struggles by the craftsmen to wrest a share in town government from the patrician families. In the fifteenth century most of the southern towns experienced a democratic evolution, which diminished their external power and political enterprise.

Germany’s hope of law and order depended on the strength of the monarch; and that in turn depended on the monarch’s command of the resources of his hereditary lands. It was, therefore, a disaster that in the last decade of the century Wenceslas was engaged in long and unsuccessful struggles with the Bohemian clergy and nobles. Soon the house of Luxemburg was divided, the malcontents being supported by Sigismund and by Wenceslas’ cousin Jost, Margrave of Moravia and Brandenburg. In 1394 Wenceslas was even captured and for a time imprisoned. Thus the royal power fell into abeyance in Germany, except in so far as the Rhenish Electors took it upon themselves to act as a government for the West. Wenceslas made occasional gestures of authority. To Gian Galeazzo Visconti, de facto ruler of Milan, he sold investiture as Duke in 1395, to the wrath of the Electors. In 1398 he held a Reichstag at Frankfort and there promulgated for the whole of Germany a Public Peace, which was without effect. From Frankfort he went to meet Charles VI of France at Rheims with a view to common action to end the Schism. The mad King of France and the drunken King of the Romans agreed to press both Popes to resign, but their joint efforts failed of any effect for the healing of the nations. Various plans for the deposition of Wenceslas at last resulted in the agreement of the Rhenish Electors and numerous princes to renounce their allegiance and to set up another king. For this purpose they summoned a meeting of Estates at Ober-Lahnstein for 11 August 1400. Neither Wenceslas nor the Electors of Brandenburg and Saxony were present; and the towns carefully abstained from taking part in the revolutionary proceedings. On 20 August the Rhenish Electors Habsburgs and the Swiss, to the advantage of the latter; and Wenceslas was able to gather the representatives of the princes and towns to a Reichstag at Eger. Here on 5 May a Public Peace for all southern Germany was accepted and promulgated. The existing law was declared in force. General leagues of towns were prohibited, as well as the reception of pfahlburger; but the towns received a concession in the establishment of regional courts of arbitration, each consisting of two princely and two citizen judges with a president appointed by the king.

Thus the southern towns failed in their most serious effort to assert their ambitions against the conservative and feudal character of German public law. Their geographical separation from each other and their parochial outlook had rendered them no match for the arms and legal arguments of their knightly opponents. Further, many of them were distracted by internal strife. Unlike the powerful towns of the North, they were not dependent for their prosperity on the skill and experience in overseas trade of big capitalists. Consequently they were the scene of many struggles by the craftsmen to wrest a share in town government from the patrician families. In the fifteenth century most of the southern towns experienced a democratic evolution, which diminished their external power and political enterprise.

Germany’s hope of law and order depended on the strength of the monarch; and that in turn depended on the monarch’s command of the resources of his hereditary lands. It was, therefore, a disaster that in the last decade of the century Wenceslas was engaged in long and unsuccessful struggles with the Bohemian clergy and nobles. Soon the house of Luxemburg was divided, the malcontents being supported by Sigismund and by Wenceslas’ cousin Jost, Margrave of Moravia and Brandenburg. In 1394 Wenceslas was even captured and for a time imprisoned. Thus the royal power fell into abeyance in Germany, except in so far as the Rhenish Electors took it upon themselves to act as a government for the West. Wenceslas made occasional gestures of authority. To Gian Galeazzo Visconti, de facto ruler of Milan, he sold investiture as Duke in 1395, to the wrath of the Electors. In 1398 he held a Reichstag at Frankfort and there promulgated for the whole of Germany a Public Peace, which was without effect. From Frankfort he went to meet Charles VI of France at Rheims with a view to common action to end the Schism. The mad King of France and the drunken King of the Romans agreed to press both Popes to resign, but their joint efforts failed of any effect for the healing of the nations. Various plans for the deposition of Wenceslas at last resulted in the agreement of the Rhenish Electors and numerous princes to renounce their allegiance and to set up another king. For this purpose they summoned a meeting of Estates at Ober-Lahnstein for 11 August 1400. Neither Wenceslas nor the Electors of Brandenburg and Saxony were present; and the towns carefully abstained from taking part in the revolutionary proceedings. On 20 August the Rhenish Electors declared Wenceslas deposed, and on the next day at Rense they elected the only layman amongst them, Rupert III of the Palatinate.

Thus Germany entered on a schism in the monarchy as well as in the Church. The Electors’ declaration that Wenceslas had done nothing to forward ecclesiastical unity or to restore order in Germany was justified by the events of the previous ten years. It remained to be seen if his opponent could do any better.

His contemporaries are united in praising Rupert’s piety, his honourable dealing and respect for law; but his career gives no evidence of the insight, skill, and force required by the German monarch of his day. The record of his reign is one of the best intentions, but of complete failure. Unable to gain admittance to Aix-la-Chapelle, he received his crown at Cologne at Epiphany 1401, amid a small gathering of supporters. As soon as possible he set out for Italy. Wenceslas had been denounced for abandoning the Roman Pope and for resigning the imperial control of Lombardy. Rupert intended to support Boniface IX, to obtain the imperial crown, and, if possible, to chastise the upstart Visconti. On 15 September he left Augsburg to cross the Brenner with a small force collected chiefly by his relatives. But Verona and Brescia barred the approaches to the plain, and he wasted a month in a laborious detour through the Pustertal before he was able to reach Padua. Here his inadequate resources of men and money forced him to halt while he bargained with the Florentines for the financial help which they had promised, and tried to raise troops. By April he had to admit the humiliating fact of his failure, and on 2 May he was back in Munich. Nevertheless, he continued to negotiate with Boniface for recognition of his kingship. The Pope was in need of any support which he could find, and finally on 1 October 1403 he accorded Rupert the barren honour of papal recognition, though he did not fail to insist that the Electors had no right to depose the King of the Romans without papal permission.

The futility of Rupert’s Italian expedition diminished his slender chances of successful rule in Germany. He summoned assemblies in 1403 and 1404 to establish a Public Peace, but his constant demands for money and his inability to gain widespread recognition in the Empire caused the southern towns once more to form a general league. On the other hand his not wholly unsuccessful efforts to assert the royal power over his neighbours embroiled him with various princes of the Rhineland. In September 1405, Strasbourg and seventeen Swabian towns united with Bernhard of Baden, Eberhard of Wurtemberg, and even John, Elector of Mayence, who had been the chief promoter of Rupert’s election, to form the league of Marbach for five years. The nominal purpose of the league was the maintenance of peace and order; but the members undertook to defend each other’s rights even against the king, of whose actions they thus took it upon themselves to judge. How inadequate they found Rupert’s protection of the law is clearly expressed in a letter from Basle to Strasbourg:

“if princes and towns may not form leagues without the royal permission, no one will be able to enjoy the freedom which ancient custom guarantees to him”. In 1407 Rupert managed to make peace with John of Mayence and Bernhard of Baden and to secure their promise that the league should not be continued beyond its original term. Even so the league outlived him, though it ceased to offer any active opposition to royal policy.

Rupert gained a few adherents. Among them was Reinald of Guelders, whose support enabled him to enjoy the ceremony of a second coronation at Aix-la-Chapelle. But his effective power hardly extended beyond the neighbourhood of the Palatinate. When the Duchess Joan of Brabant died on 1 December 1406, the Estates of the duchy fulfilled her wishes and accepted Antony of Burgundy as her heir. To Rupert’s protests at this violation of imperial rights over a lapsed fief they gave no answer; while from Bohemia Wenceslas hastily recognised the young duke and gave him the hand of Elizabeth of Gorlitz together with the succession to the duchy of Luxemburg on the death of its holder, his cousin Jost of Moravia and Brandenburg.

Most of Germany was ceasing, however, to be interested in the claims of either Wenceslas or Rupert. In treaties it was being provided that the parties might recognise the king whom they preferred. Finally, the conciliar movement made Rupert’s kingship more than ever an irrelevance. When the cardinals of both obediences met, in June 1408, to provide for a General Council of Christendom to heal the Schism, they were overwhelmingly supported by the public opinion of Germany. At an assembly of princes in Frankfort in January 1409, the majority declared in favour of the cardinals’ project, despite Rupert’s determined loyalty to the Roman Pope, Gregory XII. The cardinals then approached Wenceslas, from whom they received assurances of wholehearted support. In vain Rupert from Heidelberg commanded the Estates of the Empire to support the true Pope and ignore the schismatic Council of Pisa. The Council enjoyed the approval of Christendom and the recognition of the great majority of German princes. Rupert was one of the negligible number of rulers whose envoys attended Gregory XIFs farcical little council at Cividale.

Despite his inability to control Germany, Rupert was still the most powerful prince of the Rhineland, and he was engaged in successful war against the turbulent John of Mayence, when he died at his castle near Oppenheim on 18 May 1410. He left the memory of a noble character, but also of complete failure to restore peace and order to Germany.




The experiment of a king from western Germany was not repeated, and the Electors decided to revert to the house of Luxemburg with its wide possessions in the east. But who of that house was to be elected? King Wenceslas, who had the Bohemian vote, was supported by his cousin Jost of Moravia and Brandenburg, and by the Saxon Elector. But these three votes could not restore Wenceslas to undisputed kingship against the opposition of the Rhenish Electors. Further, the Rhenish Electors were divided on the ecclesiastical issue. The Archbishops of Mayence and Cologne stood for the conciliar Pope; while Lewis III of the Palatinate inherited Rupert’s devotion to Gregory XII and was supported by the Archbishop of Treves. The choice of the conciliar party fell upon Jost, while their opponents turned to Wenceslas’ brother Sigismund, King of Hungary, who had hitherto kept aloof from the papal question. Sigismund claimed the vote of Brandenburg himself, despite his alienation of the Mark to Jost, and sent Frederick of Hohenzollern, Burgrave of Nuremberg, to exercise the electoral function. Thus reinforced, Sigismund’s supporters acted first. The choir of Frankfort cathedral being locked by order of the Archbishop of Mayence, they met behind the high altar and elected Sigismund king on 20 September 1410. But Wenceslas had meanwhile agreed to support the candidature of Jost, who was accordingly elected on 1 October by the votes of Bohemia, Cologne, Mayence, Saxony, and Brandenburg, as represented by Jost himself.

Thus during the autumn there were three German kings. But Jost died in January 1411, leaving Sigismund with no serious competitor. The condition of Italian politics ensured him the support of Pope John XXIII, who was suffering the attacks of Sigismund’s enemy, Ladislas of Naples. Sigismund now came forward as a supporter of the conciliar Pope. He also made terms with Wenceslas, to whom he guaranteed the Bohemian kingdom and the status of German king with half of the royal revenues, an inexpensive generosity. The Mark of Brandenburg had returned to him on Jost’s death. It was with little difficulty that Sigismund was unanimously elected on 21 July 1411.

The election was somewhat of a leap in the dark. Sigismund’s spiritual home was Hungary, at whose court he had been educated. Germany knew little of her new king except that he had proved himself a vigorous fighter in many a Balkan and Bohemian campaign and that, unlike his brother, he was likely to make himself felt in imperial affairs. Sigismund was indeed a vivid character. He had laid low many opponents in the tournament. He spoke several languages and, unlike most German princes, was a Latinist and a patron of learning. Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini calls him “liberal and munificent above all previous princes.” He was certainly a man of ideas and of action, the most radical would-be reformer amongst Emperors before Maximilian I. He was also a dignified figure, with a fine sense of the dramatic. But his weaknesses were many. His devotion to the ladies exceeded the generous allowance conceded to monarchs. He could be savagely cruel. Windecke recounts that Sigismund had 171 Bosnian notables decapitated at Doboj, and that he made a captured Venetian commander cut off the right hands of 180 of his fellow-prisoners and take back the hands to the doge’s government. His dignity was apt to degenerate into vanity, his official policy to be subordinated to personal prejudice or the whims of the moment. Above all he was hampered by constant poverty, which rendered futile his grandiose projects and made him the accomplice of anyone with money to spare.

The task that confronted a German king in the fifteenth century was formidable. On all sides arose complaints that the laws were not observed, that might was right, that no supreme power ensured peace or upheld justice. The towns and the nobility were divided by a deep gulf of suspicion and dislike. All the Estates cherished the right of waging private war and often practised it for frivolous reasons. Indeed they stood to each other in much the same relation as did the European States of the nineteenth century. They could at any moment legally break off relations with each other and have recourse to self-help, unless a special Public Peace (Landfriede) which was the fifteenth-century equivalent of the eleventh-century Truce of God, had been accepted by the Reichstag, or the Estates of a particular region, and was in operation. The Golden Bull had removed the territories of the Electors from the royal jurisdiction and made them virtually independent. The royal surrender of the right of evoking suits from the Electors’ courts had been in practice extended in favour of many princes, lords, towns, and churches. Perhaps the best illustration of Germany’s lack of governance is found in the institution of the Veme. The courts of the Veme, whose special sphere was Westphalia, were survivals from old folkmoots, long since restricted in composition to a local “free count” and his assessors. These courts, which operated where ordinary justice failed, tried cases of perjury and violence, even extending their competence to heresy. The proceedings of the courts, though conducted in the open air, were secret, and death was meted out to the assessor who blabbed. But any freeman could become an assessor of the Verne, which thus had something in common with modern American secret societies with their unofficial jurisdiction. Of these courts there were some four hundred in Westphalia, and the system had spread into other districts. A man accused before the Veme was required to clear himself with the support of twenty oath-helpers, all of whom must be assessors. Consequently every community in Germany desired to number some assessors amongst its members. Augsburg at one time possessed thirty-six assessors of the Veme. The greatest princes, as Sigismund himself and Frederick of Hohenzollern, were assessors. But the predominant element was drawn from the class of free knights claiming to hold direct of the Empire. The verdicts of the Veme were pronounced in the name of the king, and the system was accepted by the kings of the house of Luxemburg as a check on the power of the greater princes. With its immense growth in the fifteenth century the Verne deteriorated. Its courts gave conflicting decisions, and there was no provision for appeal. The worst abuse of the Veme became its venality. Assessorship and the tenure of a court were sold, and the Verne enabled the poorer nobility to earn a dishonest livelihood or to prosecute private feuds. The thing became a public nuisance. A Vemic court laid its ban for nine years on all the citizens of Groningen. Frederick III himself and his chancellor found themselves cited. The Verne had outlived its usefulness. In 1468 Augsburg condemned to death burgesses who cited others before a Vemic court. With the consolidation of orderly government in the greater principalities the Verne was stamped out.

For the task of creating order out of the German chaos the kingship suffered from many disadvantages. Its elective nature permitted the Electors to impose conditions upon their nominee and made easy the way to deposition. Successive kings had bartered away royal rights and revenues in their efforts to secure the crown to their families. Shortly after his election Sigismund estimated the royal revenue at only 13,000 florins. The connexion of the kingship with the Empire had both distributed the attention of the German monarch over an impossibly wide area and introduced to a peculiar degree the disturbing element of papal authority. There was no traditional centre of royal government. Prague, the residence of the Luxemburg kings, was far removed from the Swabian and Rhenish towns which were the nerves of the Empire; and Prague was becoming increasingly Slavonic and separatist in the heat of ecclesiastical controversy. Germany had never undergone conquest by an alien race, and consequently there was no ruling caste, attached to the monarchy and foreign to the subject population, to serve as the devoted agents of royalty. Local governors, supported by the particularist traditions of the ancient German tribes, developed easily into independent rulers. The nobility, the knights, and the towns were accustomed to forming leagues for mutual protection and self-government; and this expedient, rendered necessary by the weakness of the monarchy, tended to make the monarchy’s activity superfluous, somewhat as the alliances of modem States have disguised the need for an international authority. Unlike the French or Spaniards, the Germans had not been obliged to fight for their national existence. Even the Hussite wars only afflicted the Eastern marches and that for a short time, while the Magyars and Yugoslavs took the shock of the Turkish onslaught. The fifteenth century did indeed see the German frontiers pass under quasi-foreign rule. Schleswig-Holstein became permanently attached to the Danish Crown; and in the West the Burgundian power gathered many imperial fiefs under a more than half French dynasty. In the north-east the Teutonic Order slowly sank into helplessness and ultimately held the remnant of its territory from the Polish king. But all these losses were far removed from the centres of German public opinion. Germany did not experience the unifying force of foreign invasion till the French monarchy began to look on the Rhine as its natural boundary.

Against these disadvantages the kingship could count some elements of strength. The imperial dignity was an asset in the matrimonial market, a lesson which the Luxemburg and Habsburg houses took to heart. The control of lapsed fiefs offered opportunities for buying the adherence of powerful princes. Some sort of contact could be maintained with the provinces by the attraction which the imperial chancery and diplomatic service had for the nobility. The prevailing anarchy made the less fortunate classes of society look anxiously for the self-assertion of the monarchy; while the confusion caused by the Schism cried aloud for action by the secular lord of the world.

The institution through which the king might be expected to bid for the support of the nation was the Reichstag. But the Reichstag, which was still in the process of formation, resembled neither an English Parliament nor the Estates of other monarchies. It was dominated by the Electors, who formed a virtual oligarchy with divergent interests. Theoretically all tenants-in-chief of the Empire also had the right to attend; but in practice attendance was usually confined to princes and nobles of central and southern Germany. These did not form a separate college and were too numerous and divided to develop a corporate consciousness. The large class of smaller nobles and knights was habitually unrepresented, though their leagues were sometimes specially invited to send delegates. By the opening of the fifteenth century a number of towns had acquired a prescriptive claim to representation, and during a period of crisis, such as the Hussite wars, their wealth increased their importance in the body politic. But usually their comparative insignificance in the Reichstag was such that their adhesion to its proclamations was expressed in preambles, even when their agents had shown opposition. The towns indeed looked on their representation only as a means of opposing undesirable measures, an aim which was more effectively achieved by ignoring the Reichstag’s decisions when promulgated. The towns had too nearly attained the mentality of city-states to be easily included in a national organisation.

As German king Sigismund could either attempt immediately to exalt the authority of the monarchy, or devote himself to the strengthening of his recently recovered hereditary possession, the Mark of Brandenburg. For three years he did neither. He was deeply engaged in eastern affairs, and neither appeared in Germany nor appointed a vicegerent; while in the summer of 1411 he alienated the Mark to Frederick of Hohenzollern. Frederick had abandoned the unprofitable service of King Rupert to make his fortune in that of Sigismund in Hungary. There he had prospered; and now he was placed in charge of Brandenburg, which the king was only to resume on payment of 100,000 Hungarian gulden. So successfully did Frederick cope with the unruly baronage of the Mark that three years later he was able to leave his wife in charge, while he attended the Council at Constance. In April 1415, Sigismund conferred on him and his heirs the Electorate of Brandenburg, redeemable only with 400,000 gulden; and two years later, at another Reichstag in Constance, Frederick was solemnly invested with his high dignity. It is to be noted, as an omen of much later events, that the Hohenzollern obtained Brandenburg at the expense of the Habsburgs. Charles IV’s cross-remainder agreement of 1364 had provided for the union of the territories of the houses of Luxemburg and Habsburg, should either dynasty be extinguished. In pursuance of that agreement Sigismund had secured the acknowledgment of Albert IV of Austria as his heir in Hungary, and in October 1411 he betrothed his two-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, to the youthful Albert V. Since Wenceslas was unlikely to have an heir, Albert V was the prospective inheritor of the Luxemburg dominions. But the accident of Albert’s youth and Sigismund’s temporary attachment to Frederick robbed the Habsburgs of Brandenburg and raised up a new dynasty of the first rank.

During the year before his definitive election Sigismund had been attempting to mitigate the fate of the Teutonic Order, after its crushing defeat by the Poles at Tannenberg in July 1410. The days of the Order seemed to be numbered. But the heroic defence of Marienburg gave time for Sigismund, to whom the Order had made a handsome pecuniary gift, to attack the Poles and induce King Vladyslav to grant the unexpectedly lenient terms of the Peace of Thorn (February 1411), whereby the Order only surrendered Samogitia. Yet the Knights could not recover their strength. Weakened by internal dissension, they were hated by the gentry and towns of their own territory, from which they would admit no member to their ranks. Their recent (1402) acquisition of the Neumark was sure to bring them into conflict with active rulers of Brandenburg. Impoverished and unable to offer Sigismund more money, they yet refused to hold Prussia or Pomerellen of him. Claiming complete freedom from royal control, they could not expect royal support. The conversion of the Lithuanians to Christianity had robbed the Order of its raison d'être as a crusading force. Slowly it sank before the aggression of the Poles and the revolts of its own subjects; and the standard of Germanism in the north-east passed from its nerveless fingers into the grasp of the Hohenzollern.

Sigismund then turned to the South, announcing the need for recovering the lost imperial lands in Italy. With the Venetian Republic he had many scores to settle. She had acquired the Dalmatian ports and so excluded his Hungaro-Croatian kingdom from the sea; she had extended her territory westward to the Mincio and so controlled the southern exit of the Brenner; she was attempting to absorb the Patriarchate of Aquileia with its high-roads from Vienna and Hungary; she had urged the Poles to hostility against Sigismund. The Venetian war occupied his attention till the five years’ armistice of April 1413 freed him to devote himself to a task congenial to his soaring imagination. As King of the Romans he would assemble a Council of Christendom and heal the schism. The Council should also settle the ecclesiastical disputes in Sigismund’s prospective kingdom of Bohemia, and provide for the general reform of the Church. To appear at the Council as the first of secular monarchs, he at last tore himself away from Italian politics, traversed Germany, and was crowned king at Aix-la-Chapelle on 8 November 1414.

Council of Constance belongs rather to ecclesiastical than to national history. But events of importance peculiar to Germany occurred during the Council’s session. When it was known that Frederick of Habsburg, Count of Tyrol, had defied the king and organised Pope John XXIII’s flight from Constance, he was put to the ban of the Empire on 30 March 1415. The unfortunate prince’s collapse was rapid. Some four hundred challenges poured in upon him. Frederick of Hohenzollern led an imperial force to the capture of some of the Habsburg towns in Swabia and along the upper Rhine; another force broke into Tyrol; Lewis of the Palatinate invaded Alsace. Sigismund persuaded the Swiss confederates to disregard their fifty years’ peace, concluded with Frederick of Habsburg three years before, on the ground of the latter’s excommunication. The Berners, Lucerners, and Zurichers each seized what they coveted of adjacent Habsburg territory and united to attack the Habsburg stronghold of Baden in Aargau. Overwhelmed by these disasters, Frederick surrendered himself to the royal mercy. Sigismund thereupon forbade further proceedings against his vassal. But his envoys could not restrain the Swiss, and the fortress of Baden went up in flames. When on 5 May Frederick was solemnly led before Sigismund to make his submission, the German magnates saw such an assertion of royal authority as had been unknown since the days of the Hohenstaufen. Frederick’s life was spared, but his possessions were declared forfeit to the Empire. Sigismund’s treatment of this windfall illustrates his imperialist, non-dynastic aims. He was obliged to recognise the Swiss as imperial administrators in their acquisitions, but he conferred the freedom of the Empire on the captured Rhenish and Swabian towns and declared the rest of Frederick’s inheritance imperial property. Little came of all this plan. During Sigismund’s absence from the Council, Frederick escaped and re-established himself in Tyrol, where he had many friends. In May 1418, with the help of the new Pope, he made his peace with Sigismund. The Swiss kept most of their winnings and Schaffhausen remained a free town; but Frederick recovered his other possessions. It was evident that the German king could not in normal times and by his own power reduce a rebellious vassal. The chief outcome of the incident was the increased independence of the Swiss. They had been accustomed to play off the Empire against their Habsburg neighbour. They had now refused to surrender their booty to the Empire. When the Empire later passed to the Habsburg house itself, any chance of asserting imperial authority over them disappeared.

Sigismund held two Reichstags at Constance, in 1415 and 1417, at which he developed his ideas of imperial reform. He aimed at the establishment of public security, the suppression of illegal tolls, and the reform of the currency. These were objects agreeable to the townsmen, to whom he looked for support of the Empire against the disintegrating influence of the princes. As practical measures he proposed that the towns should accept imperial agents to preside over their leagues, and that southern and central Germany should be organised into four districts, each under an imperial Hauptmann and each bound to assist the others in maintaining the public peace. These suggestions were admirable; but Sigismund, despite his popularity, was distrusted. When he asked the towns to present their petitions, they found him unwilling to attend to a mass of petty details. His mind was revolving distant matters, the Turkish menace, his promise to help Henry V of England against the French, his grievances against the Venetians whom at one time he hoped to ruin by diverting Germany’s southern trade to Genoa. It was felt that Sigismund wished to plan reforms, but to leave others to pay for and execute them. The towns hesitated to commit themselves. Amongst the princes Sigismund’s plans found little favour. The opposition was led by John of Nassau, Archbishop of Mayence, and Lewis of the Palatinate, who made up their old differences in view of the common danger to their particularist interests. They joined with the other two Rhenish Electors to return a united answer to Sigismund’s proposals in 1417. As the Council drew to a close, the four Electors entered into a defensive alliance against the “bourgeois” king. Thereupon the towns drew back in alarm, and Sigismund’s plans collapsed.

The Council’s treatment of the Bohemian reformers had disastrous effects upon Sigismund’s prospective kingdom. The Hussite question dominated Central European affairs for the next twenty years. Already, during the Council’s sessions, disquieting news of the progress of heresy had arrived from Bohemia. Sigismund’s influence had prevented the assembled fathers from anathematising Wenceslas, and moved the latter to attempt measures of repression in the summer of 1419. These provoked Hussite disturbances, which caused the unfortunate king to have an apoplectic fit and die. With the resumption of the Venetian war in 1418 Sigismund had appointed Frederick of Brandenburg to be his vicegerent in Germany, and had betaken himself to Hungary. As Wenceslas’ heir he now appointed regents in Bohemia. But the autumn saw that country given over to civil war. During a temporary lull Sigismund received the homage of the Bohemian Estates at Brno (Brunn) in December, and passed on to meet a Reichstag at Breslau in March 1420.

This assembly was summoned to consider the two questions of arbitration between the Polish king and the Teutonic Order and of the measures to be taken against heresy. Sigismund was anxious to uphold the Order out of consideration for the Germanism of the Electors, and he had begun to be haunted by the fear of a Polish-Czech Pan-Slav alliance. His verdict on the first question, therefore, was favourable to the Order, and Vladyslav was bidden to restore Pomerellen and Kulmerland to the knights. The papal legate then preached a crusade against the Hussites and produced a bull condemning their heresy. It is difficult to blame Sigismund for supporting the papal decision and launching the Empire upon the long tragedy of the Hussite wars. For the reform of the Empire the support of the Church was essential; if he wished to show himself worthy of the imperial crown he must clear himself of that unfounded suspicion of lukewarm orthodoxy which he had incurred at Constance; Prague and the moderate elements among the Czechs might go over to the Hussites, if he showed weakness; the cause of German civilisation, which seemed an essential element in Bohemian life, was at stake.

In the invasion of Bohemia, Sigismund was joined by the German princes of the eastern marches, the Dukes of Bavaria, the Margrave of Meissen, and young Albert of Austria. Thus supported, Sigismund occupied part of Prague at the end of June. On 28 July he was crowned in St Vitus’ Cathedral with the assent of the loyalist Czechs, who, however, made it a condition that the imperial army should leave the country. The Germans thereupon dispersed, spreading the rumour broadcast that a victory over the Hussites had only been prevented by Sigismund’s unwillingness to push matters to extremes against his own subjects. Once more Sigismund incurred German distrust. Nor did his moderation avail him with the Bohemian rebels. Without his German troops he could make no headway, and in March 1421 he retired to Hungary, where the Venetians, the Turks, and internal disputes demanded his presence.

Sigismund’s chief interest was to prevent an hostile encirclement of Hungary, which would occur if Poland made an alliance with the successful rebels in Bohemia. It was therefore a severe blow to him when his former supporter, Frederick of Brandenburg, affianced his second son, Frederick, to Hedwig, heiress of the aged Vladyslav of Poland, on 8 April 1421. Frederick’s argument, that by this arrangement a German would soon be ruling in Poland and able to prevent any threat to Germanism or orthodoxy from that quarter, does not seem to have carried any weight with Sigismund, who suspected the Elector of merely desiring to strengthen his own position against the Teutonic Order and Duke Eric of Pomerania, and considered him a traitor to himself and the Empire. Thus between the two ablest German rulers there grew up a mutual relation of suspicion and antipathy which could not fail to affect adversely the unity of imperial action.

In Sigismund’s absence the Rhenish Electors took the lead at a Reichstag at Wesel in May 1421, and summoned the armed forces of Germany to join them at Eger for a Bohemian campaign in August. The response was considerable and over 100,000 men, it is said, assembled for the crusade. But divided counsels and the dilatory methods of Sigismund, as well as the military efficiency of the Hussites, caused the expedition to end in a fiasco. The German host fled homewards in disorder, and the Hussites welcomed the Polish prince Zygmunt Korybut as their regent. Precisely that Czecho-Polish entente, which Sigismund had feared, had occurred.

Feeling in Germany was now rising against the absentee king. Frederick of Brandenburg, who had taken no part in the Reichstags and crusades of 1420 and 1421, joined the Rhenish Electors in January 1422, and a joint message was sent to Sigismund, telling him in effect to come to Germany or be deposed. Sigismund thereupon summoned a Reichstag to Ratisbon for July. But the Electors, not expecting him to arrive, counter-ordered it to Nuremberg, whither Sigismund was forced to betake himself. At Nuremberg two questions had to be considered: the Bohemian war and the news of a Polish attack on the Teutonic Order. On the latter point Sigismund was able to appeal to the patriotism of the Rhenish Electors against Frederick, who alone showed sympathy for Poland. It was decided to make an offer of arbitration; but the Order made peace precipitately, restoring to Vladyslav what he had lost by Sigismund’s arbitration at Breslau in 1420. As to Bohemia a twofold decision was made. A (very defective) list of the princes and towns of the Empire was drawn up, and each was assessed for contribution to a mercenary force, to be embodied for one year. Secondly, a force of nearly 50,000 men was to be raised for a short autumn campaign. The command of both forces was given by Sigismund to Frederick, an appointment no doubt intended to embroil the Elector with his Polish friends. Before returning eastwards Sigismund appointed an imperial vicar for Germany. His choice fell on Archbishop Conrad of Mayence, to the disgust of Lewis, the Elector Palatine, who considered himself entitled to the position in virtue of clause 5 of the Golden Bull.

All these decisions came to nothing. The towns which, as centres of wealth, were most heavily assessed for the mercenary force, objected to publishing their resources and short-sightedly refused to undertake obligations which might have greatly increased their constitutional importance. The expeditionary force, which started in October, was not more than a fifth of the proposed size and the Elector Frederick soon gave up the attempt to attack Bohemia. The jealousy of the other Rhenish Electors caused Conrad of Mayence to resign his post, to the greater confusion of German affairs and the satisfaction of Sigismund, who did not wish to see a too powerful lieutenant ruling in Germany.

The tension between Sigismund and Frederick was now increased by the death of the Elector Albert III, the last Ascanian Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg. Frederick, whose eldest son, John, was married to Albert’s only child, hoped to secure the Saxon electorate for his family. But Sigismund, determined to prevent any further aggrandisement of the Hohenzollern, hastily made over the electorate in January 1423 to Frederick the Quarrelsome, Margrave of Meissen, from whom he had received, and hoped to receive, much assistance. Frederick of Brandenburg sustained a further blow in 1425, when King Vladyslav, at the age of seventy-six, became the father of a son and thus defeated the sure hope of a Hohenzollern succession in Poland.

Meanwhile Sigismund seemed to have abandoned Germany, with its endless discussions and quarrels, in favour of his hereditary lands. The Electors, who had made the regent’s task impossible, now proposed to assert themselves as a committee of regency. Meeting at Bingen on 17 January 1424, they formed a union for mutual defence and for united action against heresy and any reduction of imperial territory. Although Sigismund, unlike Wenceslas in 1399, was not openly defied, the Electors clearly proposed to act in his place. But the electoral unity was shortlived. The archbishops had little feeling against Sigismund, and Frederick of Saxony probably only joined the union to obtain his colleagues’ recognition of his electorate. As a neighbour of Bohemia, he was naturally led to support Sigismund in the Hussite war. In July 1425, he went to Hungary and concluded an alliance with the king at Vácz, promising to support ‘the succession of Albert of Austria (now married to Sigismund’s daughter Elizabeth and enfeoffed with Moravia) not only in Bohemia, but also as King of the Romans. Frederick thereupon received the formal investiture of his Saxon electorate in Buda on 1 August. The union of Electors received a further and decisive blow in March 1426, when Frederick of Brandenburg made his peace with Sigismund at Vienna, abandoning the Polish policy which had so much disquieted the king. Sigismund gratified the Electors by transferring the Reichstag from Vienna to Nuremberg, and the danger of an anti-royalist government in Germany was exorcised.

During 1426-27 Sigismund was fully occupied in repelling the Turks. Albert of Austria and Frederick of Saxony carried on the struggle with the Hussites from opposite sides of Bohemia without success. Frederick of Brandenburg was active in attempts to consolidate the forces of Germany. A considerable army, raised by the Electors, advanced into Bohemia, but retired from the siege of Mies (Stribro) on the appearance of the Taborite host. The Cardinal Henry of Winchester, who had taken part in this campaign as papal legate, also attempted to pull Germany together. At a Reichstag in Frankfort (November 1427) he pressed for a general tax to meet the expenses of a permanent force and an efficient organisation of government for war purposes. Despite the opposition of the towns, some agreement was reached. The clergy were to pay 5 per cent, on their property, a heavy burden on an estate already taxed in other ways; a count 25 gulden, a knight 5 gulden, an edelknecht 3; in the towns every Jew should pay a gulden and every Christian a poll-tax of at least one Bohemian groschen (the common penny) rising in the  proportion of 1/5 per cent, of capital to a maximum of one gulden. For purposes of collection Germany was divided into five districts with a central exchequer at Nuremberg. And a war cabinet of six representatives of the Electors and three of the towns was to meet at stated intervals under the presidency of the cardinal. But the particularism of the towns and the passive resistance of the knights, who had not been consulted, as well as of many princes, caused this effort to fail like its predecessors. By 1429 the subject had been dropped.

Sigismund was still occupied with eastern politics, not unsuccessfully. His great object was to prevent the creation of a Pan-Slav power, by setting Polish Catholicism in opposition to Bohemian Hussitism and by the erection of an independent Lithuanian kingdom. In January 1429 he secured Vladyslav’s assent to the grant of a royal crown to Vitold, Grand Prince of Lithuania, a diplomatic coup not wholly defeated by Vitold’s death in 1430 and the succession of Vladyslav’s brother, Swidrygiello, to the grand-principality. In December 1429 he met the Archbishop of Mayence, Frederick of Brandenburg, and other princes at Bratislava (Pressburg), and poured out to them his zeal for the Hussite war, his complaints of the wretched support accorded him from Germany, and his threats to resign the German crown. The two Electors insisted on a Reichstag in Germany, but promised Sigismund their support.

In February 1430 Frederick of Brandenburg arranged a truce with the Hussites, who were ravaging Franconia and threatening Nuremberg, with a view to a discussion of their demands, This necessitated reference to the General Council which would be due in 1431, a development that accorded well with Sigismund’s partiality for gathering Christendom into conference under his auspices. In August 1430 he was again in Germany, after eight years of absence, preparing the ground for the Council. But the German Estates insisted on war, to be waged by the usual medieval army summoned for a short campaign, instead of by a permanent force. Despite the usual niggardliness of the towns, a majestic host under Frederick of Brandenburg’s command moved into Bohemia, only to be repulsed in disorder at Taus (Domazlice) on 14 August 1431. This defeat marked the end of the efforts of the Empire in arms. The military prestige of the princes was gone; the towns refused to part with any more money; feeling against the Church was rising; and fears were entertained lest the Hussite heresy should spread into Germany. A spirit of moderation, therefore, marked German opinion at the Council of Basle. Similar moderation by the aristocratic party in Bohemia, the death of Vladyslav of Poland in 1434, above all the victory of the Czech moderates over the Taborites at Liban (Lipany) in the same year made possible the compromise which ended the long wars. Sigismund was able to enter Prague on 23 August 1436, but only as national king of the Czechs. German influence in Bohemia was broken.

After his imperial coronation in 1433 Sigismund returned to the a programme of sixteen articles, in which he revised his project of organising four circles to enforce the public peace and urged the necessity of reforming the relations of the secular and ecclesiastical powers. His proposals were discussed at Frankfort in December but evoked no serious support. His attention was distracted by his recovery of Bohemia and by the widening rift between the Papacy and the Council of Basle. One last Reichstag he called to Eger in Bohemia, and there was much talk of the reform of justice, of the currency, of the public peace, as well as of the ecclesiastical question and of Burgundian aggression in Luxemburg; but any decision was postponed and the Reichstag was dissolved (September 1437). Messengers from the Electors urging Sigismund to impose terms on both the Council and the Papacy, under threat of severing relations with the recalcitrant party, found the Emperor dead. Sigismund had passed away at Znojmo (Znaim) on 9 December 1437, after commending his faithful son-in-law, Albert of Habsburg, to the loyalty of the Bohemian and Hungarian nobles. His body was borne eastwards and buried in Magyar soil at Nagy Varad (now Oradea Mare).

As German king, Sigismund had been faced with a thankless task. His only territorial resources in the Empire had been Bohemia and Brandenburg. The former had been lost to him by Hussitism; the latter he had conferred on the Hohenzollern, since it was too distant for a King of Hungary and an anti-Turk champion to control. Of the twenty years that followed the Council of Constance he only spent two and a half in Germany. If he constantly complained of the lack of German support, the princes as constantly complained of his impracticability and absence. His reign was indeed a rehearsal of subsequent Habsburg imperial policy. Yet his rule had not been without merit. The anarchy of Germany, if it had not diminished, had not increased. He had revived the prestige of the Empire at Constance and Basle. He had saved Bohemia for the Empire and averted Slav dangers. He had tried to induce the towns to take their share in national affairs and made it certain that they would later find a place in the Reichstag. If the numerous efforts to reform the machinery of government were chiefly due to the pressure of the Hussite war, it was also true that he had raised the question before the war began. It was with sufficient justice that the author of the Reformation Kaiser Sigmunds, published soon after Sigismund’s death, attributed his programme to the Emperor. The manifesto illustrates the growing demand for social as well as political reform, owing to the growth of German capitalism and the anomalies of ecclesiastical power. The writer demanded the secularisation of ecclesiastical principalities and property, and the payment of salaries to the clergy; stricter discipline of religious houses; equality of income for men pursuing the same calling; that no man should follow more than one vocation; the abolition of serfdom, freedom of movement, and facilities for acquiring burgher rights; the establishment of maximum prices for necessities of life and the prohibition of capitalist associations; that tolls should only be levied to cover the cost of maintaining bridges and roads; and that four imperial vicars should ensure the operation of the law in the four quarters of the Empire.




Sigismund’s successor was in many ways well qualified to fill the role of saviour of Germany. Albert of Austria had the reputation of a man of vigour who had reduced his territorial nobles to order and forced his towns to pay their taxes. He was in the prime of life, he was a thorough German, and he united in himself the claims and possessions of the houses of Luxemburg and Habsburg. After Sigismund’s wayward brilliance Albert’s straightforward honesty, blameless private life, indifference to popularity, perhaps even his innocence of foreign tongues, were a relief. Even a Czech chronicler says that “though a German, he was good, brave, and gentle.” The circumstances of his election strengthened Albert’s position. Frederick of Hohenzollern was the most considerable figure in German affairs and, though sixty-six years of age, seems to have been considered the favourite for the crown. But the Saxon and ecclesiastical votes went to the man who was marked out as the defender of the Empire’s eastern frontiers, and the crown passed to the house of Habsburg, not to leave it for 300 years. On 18 March 1438, Albert II was unanimously elected. Nevertheless the Electors tried to impose conditions on the man of their choice. Albert was to reduce the power and independence of the towns, to consult the Electors in the government of the country, to reform the Verne, to select a true German as his chancellor (a reference to the Bohemian chancellor, Kaspar Schlick). They further declared their neutrality between Pope and Council for six months. But Albert was not anxious for the royal dignity and had promised his Magyars not to accept the German crown without their consent. He was able therefore to reject the Electors’ conditions and then to accept the crown with his hands free.

Albert was now a threefold king; but each crown brought with it heavy obligations. He had been crowned King of Hungary at Szekesféhérvár (StuhlWeissenburg) on 1 January 1438; but the Turk was soon to cross the Danube and to tax the whole resources of the Magyar realm. The Bohemian Diet had elected him their king, and on St Peter’s day he was crowned in Prague. But the nationalist minority rejected him and invited Casimir, brother of Vladyslav of Poland, to dispute the succession. During August and September a Polish army was in Bohemia and its withdrawal was followed by an invasion of Silesia. In the autumn Albert advanced northwards, with support from Saxony, Bavaria, and Albert Achilles of Hohenzollern, and drove back the Poles. An armistice in January 1439 enabled him to turn to the problem of defence against the Turks.

Meanwhile, after vainly trying to induce the towns of Swabia and Franconia to state an agreed plan of reform, Albert summoned a Reichstag to Nuremberg for 13 July 1438. Schlick and the other royal agents arrived punctually to hear the proposal of the Electors, which took the familiar form of the division of Germany into four circles with a nominated prince at the head of each, and a number of provisions against disorder. The royal proposal suggested six circles, each with a governor elected by the local estates and subordinated to a royal court of appeal. In both proposals Albert’s own lands were excluded from the circles. Germany was to stand in loose relation to a half-foreign king, a foretaste of the character of Habsburg rule. But Albert’s scheme was disliked by the princes and did not induce the towns to abandon their attitude of sullen suspicion either in July or in October, when Schlick also asked for military assistance in Silesia. Constitutional reform was once more postponed. But ecclesiastical reform was brought up at a third Reichstag, at Mayence, in March 1439. The Electors had prolonged their ecclesiastical neutrality, with the support of Albert and a number of princes. They now proceeded to action, which took the form of the Acceptatio of Mayence, i.e. a promulgation of such portions of the Council of Basle’s anti-papal legislation as suited the princely point of view, with additions and modifications. But the “acceptation” was little more than a manifesto of policy. It was never confirmed by Albert nor put into general operation. Nor was obedience formally withdrawn from either Pope or Council, when those two authorities fell apart in open schism in June 1439. In the absence of governance, German princes and even the Conciliar Fathers themselves observed or disregarded the liberties announced at Basle and Mayence as it suited them. German unity was to receive no impetus from a German national Church.

Albert summoned another Reichstag for 1 November, but before it could meet he was dead. He had spent the summer in vain endeavours to induce the Magyar nobles to co-operate against the Turks or to accept the help of a German host. The fortress of Semendria and the greater part of Serbia fell to the Muslims, and the little Hungarian army was wasted by disease in the summer heat of the marshy plains of Bácska. Albert himself was struck down by dysentery and tried to recover his health by a hasty return to his beloved Vienna. But he died on the journey on 27 October, at the early age of forty-two. In the general confusion of Central Europe he had seemed the one hope of order, defence, and reform, and “by high and low, by rich and poor, he was more lamented than any prince since Christ’s birth.”




The long reign of Albert’s successor was a period of great importance in the development of Germany. Throughout it the public opinion of princes, churchmen, and townsfolk was alive to the deplorable lack of governance in the Empire. But circumstances rendered any remedy well-nigh impossible. The one expression of German national life, the Reichstag, was frequently summoned to the various cities of Franconia and the Rhineland; but it was seldom attended, and never dominated, by the sovereign, while it was paralysed by the divergent interests of the leading princes. Meanwhile the distant north, from the lower Rhine to the Polish frontier, pursued its destiny without attention to any national assembly. The break-up of Albert’s threefold power—Austria, Bohemia, Hungary—opened the way for the re-creation of strong non-German kingdoms in Bohemia and Hungary, whose rulers intervened powerfully in German affairs. Germany itself was a mass of warring authorities, controlled not by a system of public law but by private agreements, interpreted not by public officials but by arbitrators chosen by the parties concerned. The Church, divided by the aftermath of the Conciliar movement or surrendered by papal bargainers to the control of the greater princes, was incapable of providing a framework for national unity. The towns, by their timidity and mutual distrust, never assumed the power to which their wealth and culture might have entitled them. Meanwhile the sovereign was far removed from the national centre of gravity, never relinquishing a claim or a right, but seldom taking any action or emerging from his retreat at Graz or Wiener Neustadt. By his tenacity, by his diplomatic skill, by the mere length of his life, Frederick III did much to ensure the permanence of the Empire in the house of Habsburg. But during his reign Germany was in conflagration. The confused scrap-heap of the Middle Ages was largely consumed in the heat of conflict, and Germany emerged divided between a number of independent territorial princes, soon to be made despots by the reception of the Roman Law and the complete subjection of their territorial clergy in the age of the Reformation; though many towns continued to enjoy their independence, protected by their walls, absorbed in parochial interests, and permanently estranged from the military caste which had won political power.

Albert II had no son. His widow was with child; but, even if it turned out to be a boy, the Electors would not burden the Empire with an infant sovereign and a regency. On 2 February 1440, they elected the eldest Habsburg prince, Frederick of Styria. The towns rejoiced at the elevation of another Habsburg. But it was to the particularist princes that the election was most welcome. Frederick was but twenty-four; his only inheritance the poor and mountainous duchies of Styria, Carniola, and Carinthia, which he shared with his troublesome brother Albert VI. He was also guardian of the young Sigismund, heir of Tyrol. He would be forced to assume the role of defender of Germany’s eastern marches against Slavs, Magyars, and Turks, and his claims to the regency of Albert's kingdoms would divert his attention from the interior of the Empire. Further, Frederick, though cultured, moral, abstemious, and intelligent, soon showed that he was no man of action.

His first attention was given to the Luxemburg-Habsburg inheritance. Albert’s will provided for a council of regency, consisting of his widow Elizabeth, the eldest Habsburg prince, three Magyar, four Czech, and two Austrian councillors, with Bratislava as a convenient seat of government. The will was not executed. On 22 February Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Ladislas Posthumus, whom she placed under Frederick’s guardianship and who was duly crowned King of Hungary at Szdkesféhérvár on 15 May. But the majority of the Magyar magnates felt the need of vigorous leadership against the Turks and offered the crown to Vladyslav II of Poland. Civil war followed, till a truce was arranged through the mediation of Cardinal Cesarini in 1443. On Vladyslav’s death at Varna in 1444, the Magyar Diet acknowledged the boy Ladislas as king. The acknowledgment remained formal, however, for Frederick refused to surrender the care of one who was also heir of Bohemia and Austria. The Magyars, therefore, accepted the regency of their national hero, John Hunyadi; Frederick was excluded from Hungarian affairs; and there matters rested for the time being.

Nor was Frederick more successful in Bohemia. The Czech Diet, after conditional and fruitless offers of the crown to Albert of Bavaria and to Frederick himself, acknowledged young Ladislas in 1443. But, as Frederick refused to part with his ward, the Bohemian kingdom remained without a head and disturbed by civil strife, till in 1452 the Diet recognised the moderate Hussite leader, George of Podébrady, as regent.

In the hereditary lands of the Habsburgs it was only with difficulty that Frederick asserted his rule. The Habsburg inheritance had suffered division. Since 1379 Austria had been the share of the Albertine or elder line, the rest falling to the Leopoldine line; and the latter portion had been subdivided in 1411 between the Styrian and the Tyrolese branches. When Frederick of Tyrol died on 24 June 1439, leaving an heir, Sigismund, only eleven years old, Frederick saw his opportunity of restoring unity of government to the Leopoldine lands. He hastened to make terms with the Diet of Tyrol, which acknowledged him as regent for four years, on condition that he co-operated with a council of Tyrolese and did not remove Sigismund from the county. The news of King Albert’s death, opening out far larger visions of power, caused Frederick to hurry off, taking Sigismund with him, contrary to his obligations, to meet the Austrian Estates of Perchtoldsdorf. From them in November he obtained recognition as regent till Albert’s son (if the child should be a son) should reach the age of sixteen. In thus obtaining the regencies of Tyrol and Austria, Frederick had defeated the ambitions of his brother Albert VI, to whom he was forced to allot considerable estates and pensions. Dissatisfied with his share, Albert VI continued to be a thorn in Frederick’s side for more than twenty years, till his death in 1463.

Preoccupied with disputes with his various Diets, with the insubordinate Austrian nobility, with the unsuccessful attempts of Queen Elizabeth to recover her son Ladislas, with the Counts of Cilli, whom Sigismund had raised to the rank of Princes of the Empire, Frederick did not attend to the affairs of Germany till 1442. In accepting the crown he had given no undertaking to join the Electors in their ecclesiastical neutrality, which appeared to many of the lesser estates, the inferior clergy, the universities, and the towns, as no more than an expedient for extending the power of the greater princes. In 1441 Frederick neither appeared at the Reichstag nor announced any definite policy. In 1442 he made a progress to Aix-la-Chapelle to be crowned on 17 June, and returned to the Reichstag at Frankfort, at which much discussion of the ecclesiastical and secular anarchy of Germany resulted only in an ineffective edict against lawlessness. By December he was back in Tyrol.

Frederick was feeling his way carefully. Most of the Electors were moving towards an open declaration in favour of Basle and its Pope. But Frederick, advised by his Chancellor, Schlick, and his secretary, Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, was inclined to see both his own advantage and the best hopes of peace and order in Germany’s recognition of Eugenius IV, who commanded the adhesion of the Western kingdoms. To prevent the Electors from openly supporting Basle, Frederick appeared at the Reichstag of Nuremberg in August 1444, and succeeded in postponing any decision until he should have appealed to both Eugenius and Basle to support the convocation of an impartial general council to end the schism. Both parties rejected the suggestion; but Frederick had gained time, and in December he opened negotiations with Eugenius, who was prepared to grant him extensive rights of ecclesiastical appointment and visitation in the Habsburg lands in return for his declaration of obedience to Rome. By cautious procrastination and by convincing a number of princes of the advantages to be gained from Rome, Frederick succeeded at last in October 1446 in persuading the Electors to join him in negotiations with Eugenius. The general disgust at the protracted schism and the ecclesiastical confusion was discrediting all policies of defiance of Rome. At Eugenius’ death-bed in February 1447, the main lines of the Papal-German peace were laid down. The Pope recognised elections made during the German neutrality and withdrew the penalties pronounced on neutrals and supporters of Basle. It remained to make the definitive peace with the new Pope, Nicholas V. Frederick’s supporters, the Party of Obedience, led by the Elector of Mayence and the Princes of Hohenzollern, met the royal agents at Aschaffenburg in July 1447, agreed to recognise Nicholas, and left to Frederick the settlement of the liberties of the German Church and of the papal revenue from Germany. Meanwhile the other Electors, perhaps to save their faces, perhaps to obtain French help for their various ambitions, made their peace with Rome through the mediation of King Charles VII. The final concordat, however, was effected by Frederick in February 1448, at Vienna, in the name of the Electors and Princes, and marked the complete triumph of the Papacy over the conciliar movement. All the Estates of the Empire in time acceded to it, beginning with the Archbishop of Salzburg in April 1448, and ending with Strasbourg in 1476. But not all the victory went to the Pope. The greater princes sold their adhesion at a high price: the exclusion from their territories of external episcopal jurisdiction, rights of presentation to benefices, a share in ecclesiastical taxation. In this rush to join in the profits of the old system the public good of the Church and the Empire was ignored. The reform of papal taxation and of abuses, all the hopes centred in the Council of Basle, demanded an idealism of which the German princes were incapable. Yet in the universities and towns lingered a devotion to the idea of ecclesiastical reform. As Aeneas Sylvius wrote, “We have a truce, but no peace”. The Papacy had temporarily broken the movement for reform by taking the princes into partnership. By doing so it increased the princely authority over the German Church, an authority which, two generations later, was to turn against Rome and, by canalising the streams of a more vigorous reforming movement, to establish itself in independence of both Church and Empire.

The schism was not the only topic for discussion at the Reichstag of Nuremberg in August 1444. Besides the Turkish danger and the need of a Public Peace in Germany, Frederick raised the urgent question of the Swiss. The death of the last Count of Toggenburg (1436) had embroiled Zurich and Schwyz in a desperate struggle for the Toggenburg lands. Zurich, worsted and empty-handed, remembered her German allegiance and concluded an alliance with the Habsburg king on 14 June 1443.

Frederick hoped to recover the Habsburg lands seized by the confederates in 1415, while the Zurichers saw a chance of placing their city at the head of a new league of the Upper Rhine. In September Frederick came south of the Rhine, was enthusiastically welcomed at Zurich, and received the town’s homage. He refused the requests of the Confederation for confirmation of its liberties, unless it were willing to return to the status quo of the “fifty years’ peace” of 1412. The result was a confederate attack upon Zurich in 1443. For an imperial war against the confederates Frederick could count on the enthusiastic support of the impecunious nobles of Swabia. But he needed more adequate force. Unable to secure the help of the Swabian towns, which had little sympathy for an attack on bourgeois liberties, or that of the Duke of Burgundy, to whom he had refused Luxemburg, Frederick adopted the unfortunate expedient of demanding the loan of some 6000 troops from the King of France. Charles VII was glad of an excuse to rid France of the unruly soldiery who had fought his battles against the English. In the summer of 1444 the Dauphin Louis with a horde of 40,000 Armagnacs advanced through the Sundgau towards Basle. Diverted by the desperate resistance of 1500 Swiss who attempted to bar their way at St Jakob on the Birs on 26 August, the Armagnacs poured into Alsace. It was evident that Frederick’s allies, far from co-operating in war against the Confederation, intended to spoil the defenceless Rhine valley. The dauphin made peace with the Swiss in October, and seemed to treat Alsace as conquered French territory. Frederick appeared in the ignominious character of a king who had deliberately exposed his people to foreign invasion, while he himself remained preoccupied with the Swiss war. The defence of German soil was undertaken by others. The Elector Palatine, Lewis IV, co-operated with the citizens of Strasbourg in harassing the French. The news of a Burgundian agreement with the Elector Palatine and the fear of seeing his retreat cut off caused Louis to abandon his Armagnacs and retire to France in December. He had succeeded in exporting thousands of dangerous ruffians from France and depositing them in Germany. In February 1445 a treaty concluded at Treves provided for the evacuation of Alsace; but the infuriated inhabitants cut off and massacred considerable numbers of the French troops as they retired through the Vosges.

Meanwhile, in October 1444, Frederick had retired to Austria. His experience of electoral opposition at the Reichstag and the distressing consequences of his French alliance gave him a distaste for personal appearance at the national assembly. For the next twenty-seven years he did not visit Germany west of his hereditary lands. His attempt to reassert the control of the Empire and of the Habsburgs over the Swiss came to nothing; but the dispute was continued until Sigismund of Tyrol, when allied with the confederates against Burgundy in 1474, abandoned the Habsburg claims.

As the effort for conciliar reform degenerated into ecclesiastical confusion, the internal feuds, from which Germany had enjoyed comparative peace, blazed out on all sides. The princes looked with resentment at the growing wealth and power of the towns and were seldom at a loss for causes of dispute with each other. Peculiarly German were the struggles of princely houses for the acquisition of bishoprics. The fortunes of the house of Mors afford a striking example. The earlier half of the fifteenth century witnessed a great extension of the family’s power. From 1414 till 1463 Dietrich von Mors was Archbishop of Cologne, and therefore Duke of Westphalia and Count of Arnsberg. His elder brother Frederick was Count of Mors, and his youngest brother John married the heiress of Mahlberg-Lahr. But it was the Church which provided most richly for the family. Dietrich secured the bishopric of Paderborn for himself in 1415; and for his brother Henry the bishopric of Munster in 1424, and in 1442, after severe fighting, also the administration of that of Osnabruck; while his remaining brother, Walram, in 1433 possessed himself of part of the disputed see of Utrecht. As Dietrich was on good terms with Duke Gerhard of Juliers-Berg-Ravensberg, the house of Mors seemed to dominate all north-western Germany and to threaten the existence of the only other Westphalian principality of any importance, the Duchy of Cleve, whose Duke, Adolf II, was obliged in 1430 to surrender Mark to his brother Gerhard, a protege of Dietrich. Nevertheless, Adolf of Cleve maintained a vigorous opposition to his powerful neighbour. He forbade his clergy to pay a tenth collected by Dietrich in 1433, and tried to secure ecclesiastical independence for his duchy. Such was the position on the lower Rhine when Dietrich entered on a struggle with the Hansa town of Soest.

Soest was a territorial town with no claim to independence of the archbishop. Dietrich was not an unsympathetic overlord, and had intervened in 1432 to secure to the community a share in municipal government, hitherto monopolised by the patrician families. But the town continually encroached upon the rights of the see, until Dietrich took his case before the royal court at Graz in 1443. Soest, as an ancient Saxon town, refused to plead except on Saxon (North German) soil. Frederick III appointed a Saxon arbitrator, who gave his award in favour of Dietrich. Thereupon Soest opened negotiations with Adolf of Cleve, and together they declared war on the archbishop in June 1444, Soest transferring its allegiance to Adolf’s son John. The five years of war which followed illustrate well the difficulty of securing any decision amid the fluctuating combinations of force in Germany and the practical limitations on all forms of political authority. Frederick III put Soest to the ban of the Empire and Dietrich placed it under an interdict. But Dietrich’s loyalty to ecclesiastical neutrality estranged him from Frederick, as the latter drew nearer to Eugenius IV. In January 1445, the Pope, strong in Burgundian support, transferred the territories of Cleve, including Soest, to the ecclesiastical control of Rudolf, Bishop of Utrecht, who raised the interdict; while in July Eugenius quashed all sentences laid upon the territories of Cleve. The Bishop of Munster and Gerhard of Mark supported Dietrich, but the knights and towns of their territories stood for Cleve and Soest. Finally, in January 1446, Dietrich, together with his colleague of Treves, was deposed, as a heretic and schismatic, and the two electorates were transferred respectively to Adolf of Cleve’s second son, Adolf, and to Philip of Burgundy’s bastard brother, John, Bishop of Cambrai. Not until he had opened negotiations with Nicholas V and was sure of formal restoration to his see, could Dietrich hope to deal with the rebellion of Soest. He then had the help of Duke William III, the Saxon Elector’s brother, who had married Anne, daughter of King Albert II, and on her account laid claim to Luxemburg against Philip of Burgundy. Dietrich promised to support the claim, and William brought a fierce horde of 16,000 Czech and Saxon mercenaries across the Weser. Together they besieged Soest in July 1447. But hunger and racial animosities, as well as the resistance of the townsmen, took the spirit out of the attack. The siege was abandoned and the mercenaries marched off eastwards. After Burgundian, royal, and papal efforts at mediation had failed, the war was resumed in 1448. Young John of Cleve, anxious to end the devastation, challenged the Elector to a decisive battle. Dietrich refused; but, as a true shepherd of his flock, offered single combat. John accepted. But Germany was denied the piquant spectacle of the elderly archbishop engaged in a duel; for Dietrich withdrew, pleading his priestly character. All parties were now financially exhausted, and war died down. The final peace was made in April 1449, at a conference at Maestricht, when Cardinal Carvajal presided and pronounced an arbitral award. The territorial settlement followed the war map; and Soest thus passed to Cleve. The ecclesiastical authority of Cologne over Cleve was restored, though Dietrich’s subsequent efforts to tax the clergy of Cleve were so firmly resisted by Duke John as to give rise to the saying that the Duke of Cleve was Pope in his own lands. All claims to reparation and other outstanding questions were referred to the Pope, and so in time found decent burial.

In the next year Dietrich of Cologne entered upon another wearisome struggle. His brother Henry died in June 1450, and Dietrich induced the chapter of Munster to elect his younger brother Walram on 15 July. But the house of Mors was now opposed by that of Hoya. Albert of Hoya was Bishop of Minden; his cousin Gerhard was Archbishop of Bremen. Albert’s brother John converted the chapter of Munster to the support of another brother, Eric, and persuaded the city to nominate himself as administrator of the territory on Eric’s behalf. Meanwhile the chapter of Osnabruck elected Albert of Hoya, who however received no countenance from Rome. Dietrich was strong in the papal confirmation of Walram’s election, and in September had gained a great accession of strength by the purchase of the succession to Juliers and Berg from Duke Gerhard. This decided John of Cleve to support the Hoya cause and to resume his struggle with Cologne. Nicholas of Cusa vainly endeavoured to mediate between the conflicting parties, and the war dragged on until the knights and burgesses of the territory of Munster, feeling that their interests were ignored by both sides, agreed in October 1452 to the compromise of Coesfeld by which both claimants to the bishopric were to be set aside. John of Hoya temporarily yielded to public opinion and withdrew from Munster. But in February 1453 he was back in the city, relying on the support of the poorer classes and carrying out a red terror at the expense of the patrician families and the more substantial craftgilds. The aristocratic government of the city was abrogated in favour of extremely democratic institutions, which hardly veiled John’s incipient despotism. Emigrant citizens laid their complaints before the Hanseatic League at Lubeck, and in October 1454 Munster was expelled from the League. Various princes joined in the struggle with little effect. In 1455 Conrad of Diepholz, to whom Walram made over his claims before his own death in October 1456, was elected Bishop of Osnabruck and received confirmation from Calixtus III. On 22 November 1456, the chapter of Munster proceeded to anothei' election. Two canons braved the papal disfavour and voted for Eric of Hoya; the majority elected Conrad of Diepholz. Both parties appealed to Rome. Calixtus rejected both candidates and nominated John of Wittelsbach, Count of Simmem-Zweibrucken. The new bishop was not only able and conciliatory, but was also acceptable to the Duke of Cleve. Both the disappointed candidates saw their supporters losing interest in their claims, and on 23 October 1467 the feud was ended by the treaty of Kranenburg. Munster accepted the papal nominee; John and Eric of Hoya were relieved of all ecclesiastical censures and received compensation, as did John of Cleve. Under Bishop John’s rule Munster once more knew peace and order, the city coming under a mixed constitution which gave half the council to the patrician families and half to the other citizens. The long struggle had weakened both Dietrich (who also lost Juliers and Berg through the unexpected paternity of Duke Gerhard) and the Counts of Hoya; the only gainers being the Papacy and the Duke of Cleve, who in 1466 further succeeded in securing the bishopric of Munster for his nephew Henry of Schwarzburg.

Meanwhile in southern Germany there were numerous cross-currents of strife. Many princes joined in the family feud of the Dukes of Bavaria-Ingolstadt and the disputes which followed the extinction of that line in 1447, when the whole inheritance passed to Henry of Bavaria-Landshut. But the chief characteristic of the south German feuds was the opposition of the princes and the towns. In the absence of any effective royal authority the many causes of dispute—rights of jurisdiction, tolls, mints, the debts and highway robbery of the princes, the towns’ acceptance of pfahlburger, etc.—could find no issue but in war. The princes maintained that their legal rights were constantly being infringed by the townsmen; while the latter replied with bitterness that the feudal countryside was the scene of robbery and violence and that the towns alone provided security and comfort to the non-noble. In 1441 a number of Swabian towns formed a league for mutual defence against the dangers of the trade-routes, and this was developed in 1446 into a working confederation of thirty-one towns under the leadership of Nuremberg, Augsburg, Ulm, and Esslingen. In opposition to this movement was formed a league of princes, inspired and guided chiefly by the Margrave Albert Achilles of Hohenzollern, brother of Frederick II, Elector of Brandenburg. Albert Achilles was the perfect type of conservative and feudal prince, ambitious of re-creating for himself the duchy of Franconia, an upholder of royal authority which alone could legalise such a re-creation, contemptuous of the burgher class, cunning in diplomacy, delighting in war, which he declared to be adorned by arson as is Vespers by the Magnificat. His inextensive territories of Ansbach and part of Baireuth were surrounded by the lands of numerous petty princes and towns and were divided from each other by the town of Nuremberg, which had extended its jurisdiction and protection far over the countryside. Nuremberg was the chief centre of commercial distribution in southern Germany; its urban aristocracy the wealthiest and most powerful. Aeneas Sylvius expressed the opinion that “the Kings of Scotland would gladly be housed as luxuriously as the ordinary citizens of Nuremberg”. The mutual hostility of the margrave and the town led to open war in June 1449, over the behaviour of the Lord of Heideck, who had left the service of Albert Achilles for that of Nuremberg and had then added the offence of sinking a mine in co-operation with some townsmen and asserting his right freely to do so as a vassal of the Empire. Towns, princes, and knights on all sides took part in the great “town-war” that followed. Peasants took refuge behind the walls and artillery of the towns, while their villages were destroyed. The Nurembergers succeeded in inflicting a severe defeat on the margrave at the fish-ponds of Pillenreut in March 1450; but the citizen army was incapable of forcing a decision, while the princely forces could not carry the defences of the town. As the enthusiasm for war subsided, arbitrators put an end to various subsidiary feuds, usually to the disadvantage of the towns; but the main feud continued, for Albert Achilles would not surrender his conquests without compensation, and that Nuremberg refused to pay.

The appeals made by both sides to Frederick III in 1452 were useless, for Frederick was then facing insurrection in his own Habsburg lands and unwilling to give a decision which might lose him possible supporters. Albert Achilles himself went to Wiener Neustadt, refused to submit to the jurisdiction of imperial officials, and forced the helpless Emperor to promise the formation of a princely court to decide the dispute. On getting rid of his unwelcome visitor, Frederick did not fulfil this undertaking, but commissioned Duke Lewis of Bavaria-Landshut to effect a settlement. In April 1453, the treaty of Lauf, by which Albert Achilles surrendered his conquests in return for a heavy payment of money, put an end to the war. Nuremberg remained as strong and independent as ever. But in one respect the “town-war11 is a landmark in German history. It had shewn the impossibility of maintaining a defensive league of towns in view of the narrowly selfish policy of the members, many of whom had enough to do controlling the revolutionary aspirations of their artisans. Henceforward the towns stood on the defensive and refused to risk the dangers of war on behalf of each other. When Donauworth was seized by Lewis of Bavaria-Landshut in 1458 and Mayence by its Elector in 1462, no town moved to the assistance of the burgher cause. In the combinations, plans, and discussions for the reform of the Empire the voice of the towns was hardly heard. The issue might sometimes appear to be between imperial or princely control of the central government; but, with the Empire in the hands of the preoccupied and harassed Frederick, it resolved itself rather into a confused struggle between princes, such as the Hohenzollern, who nominally stood for the imperial idea, and others, such as the Wittelsbachs, who opposed them. Both types followed their own interests wherever they perceived them. The future lay with the feudal prince, armed, wary, and blessed with a progeny not so numerous as to cause excessive division of his inheritance.

Meanwhile Frederick III had no peace in the Habsburg lands. The cost of his early struggles had caused him to pledge his meagre revenues for many years ahead and left him without the means to enforce his will. He provided for an extension of his guardianship over young Sigismund of Tyrol for six years from 1443; but the Tyrolese broke into revolt, and Frederick was forced in 1446 to agree to an arrangement by which Sigismund received the administration of Tyrol and the Archduke Albert VI that of the Habsburg territories on the Rhine. Far from uniting his family’s inheritance, as a first step towards a strong German monarchy, Frederick had embittered his brother and his nephew without rendering them powerless. In November Austria endured an invasion by Hunyadi and the Magyars, who demanded the person of their king, Ladislas. Although Frederick received no support from Austria or from Germany, he obstinately clung to his guardianship, and peace was made in 1447 by the universal arbitrator. Cardinal Carvajal, who diverted Hunyadi to the Turkish crusade. Soon Austria turned against Frederick. The Austrian Estates laid the blame for the prevalent lack of law and order upon Frederick, whom they denounced as a Styrian who would not live in Vienna. They demanded the rule of young Ladislas and an Austrian council. Their leader was Ulrich von Eizing, who proposed to be in Austria what Hunyadi was in Hungary and Podebrady in Bohemia. On 12 December 1451, the Austrian Diet met. Eizing harangued the populace and presented to the Estates Ladislas’ sister Elizabeth, dressed in rags and begging their help. An Austrian council of regency, with Eizing at its head, was proclaimed and an ultimatum was addressed to Frederick, then about to start for Italy to marry Eleanora of Portugal and to receive the imperial crown from Nicholas V. Frederick made haste to escape from such worries, taking Ladislas with him. He enjoyed six months’ peace in Italy, whence he returned, a husband and an Emperor, to Wiener Neustadt in June 1452, to find that his enemies had made good use of the interval. The Austrian insurgents were now supported by Ulrich of Cilli, Ladislas’ cousin and alternative guardian, by many Magyars, and by the Catholic Bohemians, who hoped to use Ladislas for the undoing of Podébrady and his Hussite friends. In August a force of 16,000 men attacked Wiener Neustadt. Frederick’s position was not desperate, for neither Podébrady nor Hunyadi wished to see their regencies disturbed by the liberation of Ladislas; and Podébrady, as well as a Styrian force, was preparing to advance to the Emperor’s relief. But Frederick never met force with force. He preferred negotiation, and at last brought himself to surrender Ladislas. The twelve-year-old boy was entrusted to Ulrich of Cilli, who took him to Vienna. Peace was made in March 1453, Frederick receiving compensation and comforting himself meanwhile by the promulgation of Rudolf IV’s Habsburg Privilege, which attributed to the members of that house the title of Archduke of Austria and virtually relieved their territories of all obligations towards the Empire—a provision which did little harm to German unity, since the kingship remained henceforth for centuries in the Habsburg house.

But Ulrich of Cilli found that his efforts to rule Austria autocratically were opposed by Eizing, the clergy, the lesser nobles, and the towns. In September he was ejected from Vienna, and a council of twelve, representing the four Estates, took over the regency. Ladislas, however, had barely reached the age of fifteen when he asserted himself, recalled Ulrich, and began to undermine the position of the regents in his two kingdoms. These designs were checked by the urgent need of opposing the great Turkish invasions which followed the fall of Constantinople. That event spread alarm throughout central Europe. St Giovanni Capistrano and other preachers raised much enthusiasm and large sums of money for the crusade. But the German princes would not move. Three Reichstags in 1454 and 1455 produced no plan of co-operation. The championship of Christendom fell upon Hungary, and was effected by Hunyadi’s heroic defence of Belgrade in July 1456. After Hunyad’s death and the retreat of the Turks, Ladislas came south to Belgrade with a small force of Austrian and Magyar crusaders. Here Ulrich of Cilli was killed by Hunyadi’s son Ladislas, who represented his victim as the aggressor and obtained a sworn promise from King Ladislas that he should not be held guilty of murder. In March 1457, the king nevertheless seized and executed Ladislas Hunyadi, and carried off Hunyadi’s younger son, Matthias Corvinus.

Having thus alienated the Magyars, who loved the house of Hunyadi, Ladislas turned to Bohemia. He had not time to fall out with Podébrady, for on 23 November he died suddenly at Prague. His death snapped the slender bonds which united the Habsburg threefold monarchy. In Bohemia the Habsburg claims were set aside, and the Diet elected Podébrady king. Frederick III, whose thoughts turned rather to the Hungarian succession, abandoned Bohemia to the king of its choice, and in 1459 invested him with the electoral dignity. Strong in the submission of Moravia and Silesia and in his alliances with the Wettin and Hohenzollern princes, Podébrady began to play an increasingly important part in the affairs of Germany and to entertain hopes of becoming King of the Romans, the Emperor’s coadjutor and prospective successor. In Hungary there was civil war again. A Magyar Diet elected Matthias Corvinus, liberated by Podébrady on Ladislas’ death, as king; while an anti-Hunyadi group of magnates, in February 1459, elected-Frederick III. The efforts of the inevitable Cardinal Carvajal eventually resulted in 1463 in a settlement, by which Frederick surrendered the sacred crown of St Stephen in consideration of 80,000 ducats and the retention of several fortresses, though he characteristically stipulated that he should also retain the title of King of Hungary and that, if Matthias should die sonless, the kingdom should pass to Frederick or one of his heirs male. Frederick’s foresight and his confidence in the destiny of his house, illustrated by his monogram A.E.I.O.U. (Austria est imperare orbi universo), were to be justified in the future. For a time the great Habsburg inheritance was broken up. Bohemia and Hungary went their several ways. But two generations later both the kingdoms were to return to the Habsburg line, when a Habsburg Emperor ruled most of Christendom and the new world across the Atlantic.

In Austria also, the death of Ladislas was followed by succession disputes. Sigismund of Tyrol, however, surrendered his claims to Albert VI in exchange for the latter’s Rhenish lands; and a Czech invasion in 1458 caused Frederick and Albert to come to terms, Frederick retaining Lower and Albert Upper Austria. Under this divided rule the unfortunate country suffered more than ever from disturbance, which the Habsburg princes had not the resources to control. Unable to pay his troops Frederick allowed their commanders to coin money, and Austria was afflicted with debased currency. This inflation, accompanied by bad harvests, brought on acute misery and even starvation. Taking advantage of the Emperor’s unpopularity, Albert declared war on him in June 1461. In November of the next year Frederick was being besieged in the castle of Vienna by Albert and the citizens, when his councillors sent a desperate appeal to Podébrady. Anxious to secure the Emperor’s good offices with Pius II over the ecclesiastical difficulties in Bohemia and yet not to offend Albert whose support he needed in Germany, Podébrady responded to the call, and in December brought about a peace by which Frederick surrendered the whole of Austria to his brother for eight years at an annual rent.

Frederick owed his safety to the powerful Bohemian, to whom he committed the guardianship of his son Maximilian in the event of his own death. He rode out of Vienna amid the derision of the populace. But in December 1463 Albert died suddenly. As Sigismund of Tyrol was then deeply engaged in a struggle with the Papacy and the Swiss, to whom he lost the last Habsburg possessions south of the Lake of Constance, Frederick became undisputed lord of reunited Austria. The Habsburg fortunes now began to revive. Frederick was at peace with Hungary; while Podébrady was occupied with the papal offensive against Hussitism, which led to his excommunication in 1466, the rebellion of Moravia and Silesia, and the Hungarian invasion of his territories in the name of the Church. Frederick’s hands were at last moderately free, and he was able to give some attention to the affairs of Germany.

As the Hussite wars of the twenties had raised the question of the constitutional reform of the Empire, so in the fifties the Turkish triumphs were accompanied by a revival of that controversy. The decade 1454-64 was filled with schemes, plots, and shifting alliances between the leading princes, ending in four years of war throughout southern Germany. Owing to the absence of the Emperor the main question was whether or not the Electors could co-operate in some scheme of national government. The issues were confused by many considerations. The most ardent reformers were anxious also to resume the struggle for ecclesiastical reform against a Papacy which seemed determined to make good its financial losses in other countries at the expense of Germany. This threw the Pope on to the side of the Emperor in opposition to all reform. Again, the leading lay Elector and the head of the Wittelsbach connexion, Frederick I of the Palatinate, had his private reasons for opposition to the Emperor, whose deposition he strongly advocated. His brother, the Elector Lewis IV, had died in 1449, leaving a baby son, Philip. To avoid the weakness of a regency and with the consent of the child’s mother and of the magnates (there was no assembly of Estates in the Palatinate) Frederick arrogated to himself the Electorate, undertaking that the child should succeed him and that he himself would never marry. For the Palatinate the arrangement was excellent; but the Emperor, who never surrendered any legal advantage against a possible opponent, obstinately refused to recognise the arrogation. This question divided the Electors, since it was impossible for the Emperor and the Elector Palatine to work in harmony, while two Electors, Brandenburg and Saxony, would not countenance the election of another king in defiance of Frederick III. Further, the efforts of the Electors encountered the opposition of the other Estates, to whom they affected to dictate. The towns were unlikely to show enthusiasm for constitutional reform when their deputies were informed by Albert Achilles at the Reichstag of Frankfort in September 1454 that they were not there to discuss but to obey, and to see that their principals provided the quota of troops required of them. Reichstag followed Reichstag; much was said, and very little done. The chief event of the assembly at Ratisbon in 1454 was the proposal to elect another king, the most likely candidate at first being Philip of Burgundy. The Rhenish Electors then united in favour of the Archduke Albert, but shewed how slight was their interest in the reform of the central government by bargaining with their candidate for an increase of their own princely powers. e Albert’s candidature did not survive the Emperor’s emphatic refusal to countenance it. Unable to induce the Emperor to come to central Germany, the Electors, represented by Jakob of Treves, laid before him at Wiener Neustadt in February 1455 a constitutional scheme providing for a Reichsregiment, or supreme council, of the Emperor and his natural councillors, the Electors; an imperial court of justice with salaried judges; and a general imperial tax, only to be levied after the scheme had begun to operate. But Frederick refused to share supreme authority, and bought out Jakob with financial advantages and the expectation of the bishopric of Metz. In September 1456, the Rhenish Electors summoned Frederick III to attend an assembly at Nuremberg on St Andrew’s Day, failing which they would take council with another. Frederick, sure of the support of Albert Achilles and of his own brother-in-law, the Saxon Elector, refused to budge. At Nuremberg the Electors declared that they would elect a king who should live within thirty miles of Frankfort—obviously the Elector Palatine. This candidature also came to nothing, in face of the opposition of the imperialist party.

The antipathy between the Wittelsbach and the Hohenzollern-Wettin connexions was becoming acute, and flared up over the sudden seizure of Donauworth by Lewis of Bavaria-Landshut in October 1458. War did not, however, follow at once, owing to attempts at mediation during 1459 by Pius II, who was making his great effort at Mantua to organise a general European crusade, and by Podébrady, now undisputed King of Bohemia, in favour with the Pope, and prepared to play the part of honest broker in German disputes. Nothing shews the non-national outlook of the German princes more clearly than the widespread agreement amongst them from 1459 to 1461 to support this Czech, who spoke German but indifferently, as a candidate for the royal crown. So confident was Podébrady that he tried to extract money from Francesco Sforza, the usurping Duke of Milan, in return for a promise of that legal investiture which Frederick III had steadily refused. In 1460 war broke out in Franconia and on the Rhine, and went all in favour of the Wittelsbachs. In February 1461, Podébrady gathered both sides to an assembly at Eger, and the majority agreed that he should be king. But he found the Electors1 demands for ecclesiastical reform incompatible with papal support, while the Hohenzollern princes were at one with general German feeling in refusing to accept a Czech and a doubtful Catholic as their ruler. Podébrady’s candidature fell through, and in the summer war broke out again. So far as the confusion can be given shape, the war may be said to have taken two forms—first, the support given by Lewis of Bavaria-Landshut to Albert of Austria’s attack on Frederick III, and Frederick’s retaliation by nominating Albert Achilles and others as commanders of the imperial host against the Wittelsbachs; secondly, the sudden deposition by Pius II of Diether, Elector of Mayence, the ally of the Elector Palatine and the chief advocate of ecclesiastical reform, and the Elector Palatine’s conflict with the papal nominee, Adolf of Nassau, a struggle rendered memorable by Diether’s use of the printing-press when issuing an appeal to the German nation. In both theatres of war the Wittelsbachs were successful, and were able to retain their conquests in Bavaria and the Rhineland and to exorcise the phantom of Albert Achilles’ projected duchy of Franconia. The treaties which restored peace in Bavaria were effected under the auspices of Podebrady at Prague in August 1463. The war in the Rhineland, which ended in November, was marked by Archbishop Adolf’s sudden seizure of Mayence on 28 October 1462, when he expelled some 800 citizens, abolished the city’s liberties, and reduced it to its legal condition of obedience to his see. An accidental result of this severity was that the exiled citizens spread abroad in Germany their city's mystery of printing. A more immediately obvious outcome was the triumph of the Pope in imposing his candidate on Mayence and in defeating the movement for ecclesiastical reform.

In 1464 the discussions over imperial reform were resumed. Three main lines of provision for governance maybe distinguished. Podébrady’s plan included a supreme council of the Emperor himself, the Elector Palatine, Lewis of Bavaria-Landshut, and Albert Achilles; a permanent salaried supreme court; an imperial tax; and an imperial monopoly of printing. These were the usual suggestions, except that it is noticeable that five Electors, including the three ecclesiastics, did not figure in the council, whereas two non-electoral princes were included. Podébrady’s council was based on effective power rather than on traditional claims. It assumed, however, the reconciliation of as yet unreconciled forces and it came to nothing. Lewis of Bavaria-Landshut meanwhile was engaged in the creation of a Swabian league, which should ensure the co-operation of the princes, nobility, and towns in maintaining the peace in southern Germany. This Wittelsbach project was wrecked by the opposition of Albert Achilles, who secured its condemnation by the Emperor. Thirdly, Albert Achilles attempted to establish a similar, but “loyalist” league, with the Emperor at its head and excluding the Wittelsbach princes. This scheme met with no support from the Swabian towns, who distrusted the Hohenzollern’s profession of peacefulness and protested that the Wittelsbach territories commanded all their northern and eastern trade-routes.

It was clear that amongst the princes the balance of power and the mutual distrust were such that no scheme of effective imperial government could be applied to any considerable area of Germany. Frederick III accordingly fell back upon what seemed possible. He reasserted his authority in the Empire by a series of judicial pronouncements and summoned Reichstags to Nuremberg in November 1466 and July 1467, to provide military help against the Turks and the excommunicated Podébrady, and to discuss provisions for a general peace. The only outcome of the discussions was that in August 1467 Frederick promulgated a decree of imperial peace which forbade recourse to arms for five years. The next few years were indeed peaceful for most of Germany, thanks to the general exhaustion and to the papal resumption of the anti-Hussite crusades. But Frederick III was once more surrounded by difficulties. He alternately opposed and supported Podébrady and, after the latter’s death in 1471, hovered between the rival candidates for Bohemia, Matthias Corvinus and Vladislav of Poland; while Austria was in a constant state of insurrection, even faithful Styria broke into revolt in 1469, and the Turks appeared in Carniola. Twice he fled from this sea of troubles, in December 1468 on pilgrimage to Rome in fulfilment of a vow taken in the unhappy days of November 1462, and in June 1471 to attend an unusually full Reichstag at Ratisbon. It was his first appearance west of Austria since 1444. For four weeks the Reichstag discussed his demand for immediate help against the Turks, and eventually only agreed to a general tenth for the provision of 60,000 men in the next year. In return Frederick put forward a scheme of imperial peace for four years. In opposition to the princely proposal for princely courts enforcing the peace over large areas, he provided that a continued policy of violence should be met by the armed resistance of all Estates within thirty miles of the offence, and that the royal court should be open to all complaints of violence. Further, all claims supported by violence should ipso facto fall to the ground. This amounted to a serious effort to outlaw war by flexible regional arrangements and the provision of a central court. Unfortunately the old problem remained. A central court unsupported by adequate force, while it might prevent violence amongst the lesser estates, could not control the great princes. Indeed a number of princes were exempted from the court’s jurisdiction, which ensured the towns’ passive resistance to the whole scheme. Frederick, however, proclaimed the peace and provided the royal court with a president and six assessors, who should receive salaries derived from the fees of litigants. Under the energetic presidency of the Imperial Chancellor, Adolf of Mayence, the court operated with considerable effect; but after his death in 1475 less recourse was had to it, the assessors’ zeal was somewhat damped by the uncertainty of their incomes, and by 1480 the court had ceased to function.

By that time Frederick had turned from efforts to reorganise the Empire to the true method of ensuring royal authority, the extension of the Habsburg hereditary domains. In the East the Turks were ever present, and Frederick only secured a temporary relief from Matthias Corvinus by recognising him as King of Bohemia. In central Germany Frederick was defied by the Elector Palatine and his brother Rupert, Elector of Cologne. But in the west a new situation had developed. Already in 1472 the rumour ran through Germany that Charles the Bold of Burgundy, having made his peace with France, was preparing to take a leading part in the affairs of the Empire. Charles had only one daughter, and Frederick set himself by his favourite method of dynastic arrangement to convert the great western duchy ad maiorem Habsburgi glorium. His diplomatic contest with Charles was intricate in the extreme. Charles’ object was the kingship of the Romans, or the creation in his favour of a Burgundian kingdom stretching from the North Sea to the Jura. Frederick’s aim was the marriage of the heiress, Mary, with his own son Maximilian, if it could be secured without any surrender of imperial authority in the West. In September 1473, Frederick met Charles at Treves, but no agreement was reached, and Charles proceeded to consolidate his position in the Rhineland, supported Archbishop Rupert against the estates of Cologne, refused imperial arbitration, and laid siege to Neuss (1474). The issues were now complicated by the general German resentment at Charles1 growing power, which aroused the armed opposition of Sigismund of Tyrol (who in 1469 had pledged the Rhenish Habsburg territories to him and now wanted to recover them), of the Swiss, of René of Lorraine, and of the bishops and towns of the upper Rhine; a combination supported by French money and encouragement. Frederick was moved by the Electors of Mayence and Saxony and by Albert Achilles, now Elector of Brandenburg, to summon an imperial army to the relief of Neuss. The Estates responded with unusual liberality, and the German host forced Charles to abandon the siege and to make peace with the Emperor. Charles’ subsequent attacks on the Swiss brought about what Frederick’s diplomacy had failed to achieve; for with Charles1 death the possibility of a Burgundian kingdom disappeared, while the marriage of Maximilian and Mary was celebrated on 19 August 1477.

The Burgundian marriage had far-reaching consequences in the history of Germany and of the world. By it and by his subsequent military prowess Maximilian brought to the house of Habsburg the free county of Burgundy (Franche Comté) and the vast wealth of the Low Countries. The most powerful of the princely houses of Germany was thus raised far above its competitors. In future the Electors could hardly refuse it the royal crown without plunging Germany into civil war. For the crown was henceforth necessary to the Habsburgs to bind together their widely-scattered possessions from the North Sea to the middle Danube. Further, the Habsburgs became the defenders of Germany on the west as well as on the east. Across the dead body of Charles the Bold broke out the age-long struggle over the frontier between France and Germany. For centuries the illustris domics Austria was to be the champion of Germany on both her fronts, till in the age of nationalism its position was undermined by another princely house, less cumbered with non-German possessions and interests.

Frederick’s last years saw both his deepest humiliation and his final triumph. Matthias Corvinus, now lord of Moravia, Silesia, and Lausitz (Lusatia) as a result of his anti-Hussite crusades, attacked Austria, whose disturbed condition invited his intervention. In 1485 he established his residence at Vienna and seemed almost to have recreated the threefold monarchy of King Albert II. Frederick, ejected from his hereditary lands, wandered poverty-stricken through Germany. In his extremity he abandoned his opposition to the creation of a King of the Romans and agreed to the election of his son Maximilian on 16 February 1486. The new king’s first act was the proclamation of a ten years1 public peace, and in the next year steps were taken to ensure support for the royal government. The two powers of southern Germany most hostile to control by the Empire were the Swiss and the Dukes of Bavaria. Albert of Bavaria-Munich defied the peace and seized the free city of Ratisbon in the summer of 1486. His cousin George of Bavaria-Landshut was a constant source of alarm to the lesser estates of Swabia. Albert crowned his offences by his seizure of, and marriage with, Cunigunda, the Emperor’s daughter, in January 1487. Frederick and Maximilian in July invited the nobles, knights, prelates, and towns of Swabia to an assembly at Esslingen, whose outcome was the Swabian League, with its council, court of justice, and machinery for raising an armed force of 13,000 men. The League was for many years a leading factor in German affairs. It checked the drift of towns from the imperial to the Swiss system and gave the Habsburgs a weapon of defence against the ambitions of the Wittelsbach dukes.

During 1488 Maximilian’s Burgundian lands, far from proving a source of strength, necessitated the march of the Swabian League’s army to Flanders, to rescue him from the burghers of Bruges and to insist on Flemish recognition of Maximilian as regent for his son Philip. In December Maximilian returned to Germany and set about the restoration of Habsburg power. The dynasty seemed about to lose its only remaining considerable territory, Tyrol. Sigismund’s mismanagement, extravagance, and many illegitimate children had provoked his subjects beyond bearing and reduced him to hopeless debt. Detesting his cousin, the Emperor, Sigismund had sought help from the Bavarian dukes, to whom he had pledged the silver mines of Schwaz and other resources and finally the succession to Tyrol as well as to his Rhenish and Swabian lands. By skilful negotiation and strong in the support of the Tyrolese estates, Maximilian induced Sigismund, on 16 March 1490, to surrender Tyrol to himself in return for a fixed income. Further success soon followed. On 6 April Matthias Corvinus died; and his dominions were afflicted with the succession dispute of the Jagiello brothers, Vladislav of Bohemia and Albert of Poland. The Austrians were delighted to be rid of the Magyar domination, and Maximilian’s reconquest of his native land was but a triumphal progress. The citizens of Vienna, who had unhappy memories of his father, now gave their oath of allegiance only to Maximilian. He then crossed the Raab and for a year disputed the Hungarian crown with Vladislav; but his lack of money and his controversy with Charles VIII of France over Brittany induced him to abandon the hopeless quest. By a treaty at Bratislava on 7 November 1491, Vladislav was recognised as King of Hungary, though, failing male heirs, the crown was to pass to Maximilian.

The old Emperor had thus lived to see the restoration and union of the Habsburg lands. But his enjoyment of this sudden recovery was clouded by his own effacement behind his too successful son and by his desire for revenge on the Bavarian dukes. In 1492 the discontented nobles of Bavaria-Munich united with the Swabian League in opposition to their Duke, Albert. Frederick put Albert to the ban of the Empire and would have plunged southern Germany once more into war, had not Maximilian pacified his father by transferring to him the allegiance of the Austrian dominions and by inducing the Bavarian dukes to restore Ratisbon to the Empire and to cancel their claims on Tyrol.

Frederick’s continued life seemed to be only a handicap to his son. But it at least enabled Maximilian to gain the support of the reformers by promises of constitutional amendment, the fulfilment of which would be prevented by the old Emperor’s opposition. When Frederick at last died, at Linz on 19 August 1493, Maximilian was left undisputed lord of all the Habsburg lands, but faced with the intricate problems of imperial reform as well as those of his Burgundian inheritance, of the Turkish danger, and of his grandiose plans for the restoration of imperial power in Italy.

Maximilian’s accession to sole kingship opens a new chapter in German history. At this point, therefore, we may pause to consider one characteristic of Germany in the fifteenth century, territorialism. The power of the German princes originated both in their official character as local officers of the Empire and in various rights of jurisdiction and military command, which they purchased or received from the churches, nobles, or towns in their sphere of influence. Territorialism was the process of consolidation of these various rights into a single, uniform, and exclusive authority over a defined territory. The process was greatly assisted by the ecclesiastical anarchy of the age of the Councils and by the decline of the feudal military system and the substitution of mercenary forces, the taxation for which was granted by assemblies of Estates, prepared to entrust the preservation of local peace to the prince. It was completed by the reception of the Roman Law and the exclusion of papal authority in the age of the Reformation. The strength of the prince lay in the mutual hostility of the Estates. The nobles detested the townsmen and held to the prince from fear of peasant insurrections and in the hope of ecclesiastical benefices for their families. The clergy looked to the prince for protection from the exactions of Rome and from the growing popular anti-clericalism. The towns were often recalcitrant, especially where they formed part of an external league, but a prince of vigour and shrewdness could often find in civic disputes an opportunity to impose his authority. The principality became the object of loyalty, and in the interests of unity Estates often insisted on the rule of primogeniture and the indivisibility of the territory.

We may take as a type of territorial consolidation that principality which was destined ultimately to become the unifier of Germany, the Mark of Brandenburg. Frederick I, the first Elector of the Hohenzollern line, was not only Margrave of Brandenburg, but also lord of Ansbach and Baireuth in Franconia. Imperial affairs and the leadership of antiHussite crusades held more attraction for him than the prosaic task of creating the machinery of government in the more primitive north, especially when his estrangement from Sigismund wrecked his hope of acquiring further north-eastern fiefs. In January 1426, he made over the government of Brandenburg to his eldest son, John. Under John, whose retiring nature and sedentary preoccupations are suggested by his nickname of “the Alchemist,” the Mark relapsed into disorder. Baronial brigandage recommenced and the towns, unprotected against Hussite invasions, formed leagues which defied the princely authority. The aged Elector therefore decided to redistribute his territories. By an act of 1437 he assigned the Mark to his second son, Frederick, who thus became in 1440 the Elector Frederick II. To John was given only a half of Baireuth, while the third son, Albert Achilles, received Ansbach and the other half of Baireuth. Thus the Franconian and imperialist interests of the family were entrusted to the vigorous Albert Achilles, and Frederick II was able to concentrate on his electorate.

Frederick II was the real founder of Hohenzollern power in the north. So successful was his policy from the first that his peaceful succession to his father in 1440 passed almost unnoticed. By skill and patience he wore down the insubordinate nobility, attracting them to his service and using them for the reduction of the more powerful towns. In the chief town, Berlin-Koln, he was able to intervene as arbitrator in a dispute between the craftsmen and the patrician council in 1442. He used his opportunity to nominate a new and more popular council, tore the seals from the town’s charters, and began the erection of a castle in Koln. This suppression of civic independence made a profound impression, increased by the final destruction of the patriciate in the town-war of 1449-50. In dealing with the clergy Frederick shewed both piety and firmness. He did much to remove clerical ignorance and indiscipline. And he used his adhesion to Nicholas V to obtain two bulls in 1447, ordering the Courts Christian of the Mark not to interfere with the electoral jurisdiction, guaranteeing the electorate against the interference of any external bishop, and conferring upon the Elector the nominations to the three territorial bishoprics of Havelberg, Brandenburg, and Lebus. Further, he set up at Tangermünde a supreme court for the Mark and laid the bases of an efficient administrative and fiscal system. With his reign the medieval confusion of authorities began to disappear from Brandenburg.

But in external relations Frederick was not so successful. For some twenty years the preoccupation of his eastern neighbours left him in peace, and he was able to obtain a footing in Lausitz in 1445 by the purchase of Kottbus, Peitz, and Teupitz, and to repurchase the Neumark in 1455 from the impoverished Teutonic Order. But with George Podébrady’s consolidation of Bohemian power and Poland’s final triumph in the north and her annexation of Pomerellen in 1466, Frederick found himself the lonely champion of Germanism in the north-east against the powerful Slavs whom it was his policy to keep apart. In 1464 the ducal line of Pomerania-Stettin died out. Frederick claimed that the dukedom ought by old agreement to lapse to Brandenburg. But the elder line of Pomerania-Wolgast, strong in their alliance with Casimir IV of Poland, seized the inheritance, though they agreed to recognise Frederick’s suzerainty. Frederick appealed in vain to the Emperor, who resented his unwillingness to oppose Podébrady and now recognised the Pomeranian dukes as immediate princes of the Empire. This affront was too much for Frederick, who attempted unsuccessfully to assert his claims over Pomerania by force. Discouraged by lack of military success and by ill-health, Frederick resigned Brandenburg to his brother Albert Achilles, and retired to spend the last year of his life in the more congenial surroundings of Franconia.

In Albert Achilles (1470-86) the Mark again received a ruler whose chief attention was directed elsewhere. The new margrave only spent three of the sixteen years of his rule in Brandenburg, and after 1476 confided its internal government to his son John. Nevertheless, his reign was marked by external expansion and internal consolidation. Supported by the Emperor’s goodwill, he was able to impose the treaty of Prenzlau (1472) on the Pomeranian Duke Eric, who admitted the suzerainty of Brandenburg and surrendered the banks of the Oder as far north as Gartz. He also attempted to extend his dominions up the Oder by marrying his daughter Barbara to Henry XI of Glogau-Krossen, with reversion to Brandenburg in case of failure of issue. On the death of Henry in 1476, however, John of Sagan claimed the inheritance, and it cost Albert six years of wasteful war before he secured Krossen and its dependent territories. This dynastic dispute was complicated by larger issues. It was the period of the struggle between Matthias Corvinus and Vladislav of Poland for the succession to Podébrady in Bohemia. Albert Achilles supported the Poles, as the weaker side, and played off the Slavs against the Magyars in the interests of Germanism. The crisis came in and after 1478, when the Pomeranians, the Teutonic Order, the Silesian dukes, and the Hansa towns all joined in attacking Brandenburg in alliance with the conquering Magyar king. In 1478 Albert Achilles came north, raised a force of nearly 20,000 men, and defeated each of his enemies in turn. The Mark was not only saved, but slightly extended at the expense of Pomerania; and Matthias Corvinus was checked at the summit of his power, failing to conquer Bohemia, though he retained Silesia, Moravia, and Lausitz during his lifetime.

Amid these distractions Albert Achilles had little time for questions of the domestic government of the Mark. Nevertheless, his letters to his son, in which he advised the latter laboriously to seek power in Brandenburg rather than the more congenial life of Franconia, shew the greatest interest and pride in his northern electorate. His military necessities and the heavy debts of his predecessor caused him to make large demands for taxation. The towns resisted, complaining that he only visited the Mark to extract money. Albert insisted that the Mark must be financially self-supporting and discontinued the contributions of the Franconian lands; but by careful economy he brought order into the electoral budget.

After a long struggle he gained the support of the assembly of Estates for a tonnage on herrings, tar, and beer; and his son on the whole successfully forced the towns to submit to the decision of the community. The Elector and his son could at least point out that they were encouraging commerce by their vigorous suppression of brigandage and their control of the unruly, imperfectly assimilated, nobles of the Neumark. But perhaps Albert’s chief contribution to the greatness of his dynasty was his famous Dispositio Achillea (1473), which served as a fundamental law of succession for the house of Hohenzollern. He provided that his eldest son should receive the electoral title and the Mark with its dependencies as an indivisible unit, to be subsequently inherited by primogeniture. The Franconian territories were allotted, also as indivisible units, to two other sons. For the future all younger sons might receive only pecuniary or ecclesiastical provision. The unity guaranteed to Brandenburg made possible the vigorous growth of a State which has been primarily the creation of its dynasty.