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In the autumn of 1251 Conrad IV crossed the Alps to take up his father’s place in Italy, leaving his interests in Germany under the care of his father-in-law, Duke Otto of Bavaria. The Pope, after a cordial interview with his protégé, William of Holland, departed from Lyons to take up his residence at Perugia. The struggle between the Pope and the Hohenstaufen was again transferred to Italian soil, and William of Holland was left alone in Germany to make what he could out of its chaotic condition. Indeed, with the removal of so many obstacles from his path he might now reasonably hope to extend his authority beyond the limits of the Low Countries. With this object in view he approached the princes of the north-east of Germany, who had taken little part in the turmoil of the last few years. The way was prepared by the king’s marriage with Elizabeth, the daughter the Duke of Brunswick, on 25 January 1252. Both princes and towns of Germany received letters from the Pope bidding them recognise his king; this they were not unwilling to do, but they were dissatisfied with the form of the election of 1247; it was undoubtedly not in accordance with German constitutional practice. William’s position was similar to that of Otto IV after the murder of Philip of Swabia: both had been properly crowned by the Archbishop of Cologne at Aix-la-Chapelle; both had been accepted by the Pope; but neither had been elected by a representative body of the princes of Germany. As Otto had been obliged to submit in 1208 to a fresh election, so William consented to a like procedure at Brunswick on 25 March 1252. It was ‘‘certain towns and cities”, and notably Lubeck, that excused themselves from recognising William as king on the ground that “the noble princes, the Duke of Saxony and the Margrave of Brandenburg, who have a voice in the election, had not consented to the election”. These towns were insisting on the doctrine of the Sachsenspiegel written some years earlier, according to which the electoral right belonged to the three Rhenish archbishops and the three great titular officials of the imperial household, the steward, the marshal, and the chamberlain, whose offices were attached respectively to the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony, and the Margrave of Brandenburg. The archbishops had been responsible for the election of William of Holland, but the lay electors had taken no part in it. The ceremony at Brunswick was intended to rectify this defect. The Electors of Saxony and Brandenburg were richly rewarded for their acceptance of William, the one by the grant of the light of investiture of the bishoprics of Lubeck, Ratzeburg, and Scliwerin the other by the city of Lubeck itself.

The effect of this second election at Brunswick on the position of King William was instantaneous: he was received with royal honours in the Saxon towns he visited in April, in Goslar, Halle, and Merseburg; the Archbishop of Magdeburg and the Margrave of Meissen acknowledged him and received their fiefs from his hands; the King of Bohemia sent ambassadors conveying his consent to the election. Nevertheless in the south and centre of Germany there were still many who clung to the Hohenstaufen. William in July summoned a diet to Frankfort which was to give public recognition to his position as King of the Romans, but the burghers closed the gates of their city against him and this important meeting had to be held in the fields outside the walls. Among those there assembled were the Archbishops of Mayence and Cologne and several other bishops; of the lay princes, Albert, the new Duke of Brunswick —his father, Duke Otto, had died as he was about to start for the diet— alone is mentioned by name; there were also a number of abbots, counts, and nobles. But in spite of the somewhat meagre attendance of the lay nobility, the diet transacted important business: Conrad IV was again formally deprived of his dukedom of Swabia and of his family estates; a phase of the long feud in which William from the beginning of his reign had been involved with the Countess Margaret of Flanders was concluded by the confiscation of her imperial fiefs, which were handed over to her bastard son, the king’s brother-in-law, John of Avesnes. The validity of William’s election was solemnly declared, and all the imperial cities, castles, and property were accordingly assigned to him; within a year and a day all princes, nobles, and ministeriales were required to take up their principalities and fiefs from him under pain of forfeiture. The measures taken at the diet of Frankfort gave the impression that William was now firmly established as King in Germany. But this was far from being the case. No sooner had he improved his position in the north-east than he began to lose ground in the Rhine country; in the autumn of the same year he irretrievably quarrelled with the Archbishop of Treves, whom he rightly or wrongly accused of instigating an attack upon him at Coblenz, and by 1254 he was at enmity with all three Rhenish archbishops, the very men who had taken the leading part in setting him up as king. Indeed, Conrad of Hochstaden, Archbishop of Cologne, became the most active of all his opponents; he allied himself with the king’s lifelong antagonist, Margaret of Flanders, and her supporter, Charles of Anjou; he set fire to the house in which the king and the legate, Peter Capocci, were lodged at Neuss, hoping to burn them to death. There were other significant indications of the king’s unpopularity: a large stone was hurled at his head at Utrecht; his queen was robbed and taken prisoner in the neighbour­hood of Worms. Although after the death of Conrad IV in May 1254 a number of the towns, such as Worms and Spire, which, so long as there had been a Hohenstaufen king, had firmly refused to recognise any other, now acknowledged him, William failed altogether to make his authority felt as a reality in Germany. It was becoming more and more evident that the territorial lords did not want a strong king and a strong central government. A puppet ruler suited their ends better; they were wholly occupied in making themselves supreme within their own lands, in reaping the advantages they had won in the great privilegia of 1220 and 1231; absorbed in their particularist interests, they ceased to care about or concern themselves with the affairs of the Empire.

In these circumstances it is not surprising that for a time the administration of the kingdom was dominated not by a king, by a bishop, or by a great lay prince, but by a group of towns. Nothing is more remarkable than the rapid constitutional and economic development of the towns of Germany during the first half of the thirteenth century; they advanced steadily in the midst of the political confusion, often in the face of opposition from the central government, nearly always in spite of fierce resistance from the territorial lords. Gradually they succeeded in freeing themselves from seignorial domination, acquired the control of their own affairs, and developed their trade and commerce. Peace, security of the highways, and the suppression of tolls arbitrarily raised by the local lords were of primary importance to these flourishing communities of traders. The towns therefore banded together to perform the duties in which the weak and ineffective government signally failed—the maintenance of the landfrieden. For some years past towns had grouped themselves to promote their political or economic aims by common action. In 1226, in the lawless period which followed the death of Engelbert of Cologne, a number of Rhine towns had formed a league, but this and similar attempts were quickly crushed by Frederick, who had learnt in Lombardy the power such combinations might exert. During the last years of his reign, however, when the towns became the most solid support on which the Hohenstaufen could rely, the formation of leagues was not obstructed. So in 1241 Lubeck and Hamburg joined together to suppress robbery and other crimes perpetrated on the stretch of coast between the mouth of the Trave and the city of Hamburg and along the river Elbe; from this small beginning perhaps may be dated the most famous of all leagues—that of the Hanse towns. In 1246 Munster and Osnabruck bound themselves to protect all markets held within the two dioceses. Others had a more political interest: Metz and Toul, and a more important group of some twelve towns in Swabia and Alsace, allied themselves in support of the Hohenstaufen against the anti-king.

The idea of a league embracing a large number of towns with the avowed object of maintaining order was first conceived by a burgher of Mayence, a certain Walpode, in 1254. His efforts resulted first in local agreements between a few towns in the immediate neighbourhood; Mayence, Worms, and Oppenheim; Mayence and Bingen. Then on 13 July of that year the great confederation of the Rhine towns came into being. Among the original members were Mayence, Cologne, Worms, Spires, Strasbourg, and Basle; aid their object, as set forth in the covenant of foundation, was the restoration of order, to prevent “the dangers which for a long time had pervaded the land aid the risks encountered, on the highways”. It differed from the earlier leagues in that it included the bishops and the local nobility; the members bound themselves to protect all classes, minores cum maioribus, the clergy, the peasantry, and even the Jews, and to proceed with their joint forces against disturbers of the peace; the lords agreed to remove all unauthorised tolls both by land and by water. Provision was made for the settlement of disputes which might arise among the members of the league. It soon came to embrace all the towns of the Upper and Middle Rhine. At the meeting of the members of the league held at Worms on 6 October an edict was issued which contained elaborate regulations for the preservation of order and for dealing with violators of the peace; all those sworn of the peace were required to keep arms in readiness to take measures against wrong-doers; the Rhine towns were to provide armed vessels: those above the junction of the Moselle as far as Basle were to furnish a hundred, those below fifty.

William of Holland had encouraged the commercial aspirations of the towns both before his election in his own county and after, in those parts that had acknowledged his rule. Very soon after its foundation he began to identify himself with the policy of the Rhine League: at the meeting in October 1254 he was solemnly recognised as king by the confederate towns; he was present at Worms in February 1255 where the members of the league met to swear the peace; and a month later at Hagenau he not only confirmed this peace in his own name but actually became the head of the league and used it as the machinery for the maintenance of the peace; he nominated a chief Justiciar whose duty it was to deal with complaints of breach of the peace; all such complaints must first be brought before the king or his Justiciar, and only with their counsel and consent might the league take action against the violators1. An important result of the association of the king with the league was that the members of the latter came to take part in the business of the State. At the diet of Worms in February 1255 delegates of the towns took their place beside the bishops, princes, counts, nobles, and ministeriales in the passing of royal ordinances; it is the first hint of representation of German towns in a legislative assembly. In the course of the year the league widely extended its influence: it spread into the Lower Rhine; in May the towns of Westphalia came in; from a letter addressed to the king in July it appears that more than seventy towns of South Germany took part in the assembly held under the presidency of the Justiciar, Count Adolf of Waldeck, at Mayence. With its increase in size and influence the need arose for a more settled system of conducting its affairs. At first, meetings of the league were summoned as occasion demanded, usually at Mayence or Worms, the two towns who had taken the initiative in its formation; in October it was decided to hold stated meetings at definite places and intervals: at Cologne at Epiphany, at Mayence in the octave of Easter, at Worms on the feast of St Peter and St Paul, at Strasbourg on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.

Nevertheless the inclusion of territorial lords in what was essentially a league of towns led very soon to difficulties; the old antagonism between the two elements sprang up again; the lords would often hamper the work of the league; the Count of Leiningen on one occasion seized the deputies of Mayence and Worms on their way to a league meeting at Strasbourg, and thrust them into prison. Some of the grievances of the lords were, allayed by the conciliatory policy of the towns, who for instance renounced the hated pfahlburger but the friction continued. The difficulty of maintaining peace was further aggravated by the serious feud between the king himself and the Archbishop of Cologne. The latter in the summer of 1255 was trying to bring about the deposition of William and the election of Ottokar of Bohemia in his place. But the warnings of the new Pope, Alexander IV, effectively put an end to the conspiracy. However, William’s position was so much strengthened by the league that he began to make preparations for a journey to Italy for his imperial coronation in the near future. But he had first to deal with an insurrection in West Frisia. Riding over the ice-covered marshes in midwinter, his horse slipped; he was thrown to the ground and killed by some Frisians near Medemblik (28 January 1256).

The premature death of William of Holland was a misfortune for Germany. He was making headway, and might, had he lived, eventually have succeeded in restoring some sort of order in the country. His death threw everything again into confusion; there was no prince of outstanding position and merit upon whom the electors were likely to agree; and unanimity of certain princes was now the rule of electoral procedure. This was definitely established by the Brunswick decree of 1252, and it was emphasised by the towns, which had come during the last few years to exercise a predominant influence in German politics, when they informed the princes ad quos spectat regis electio that they would only recognise a unanimously elected king. The method of choosing a king had completely changed in the course of the first half of the thirteenth century. At the double election of 1198 all the princes were deemed to be qualified to take part; at the double election of 1257 the right was confined to a group of seven princes. The elections of 1257 mark a definite stage in the development of the College of Electors. How that group came to be constituted is a matter of the acutest controversy. Long before the thirteenth century the Rhenish archbishops had taken a prominent part in the election of the German king: one summoned the meeting, another crowned the elect, and the third, the Archbishop of Treves, without having any definite role assigned to him, had usually exercised considerable influence, and in the election of Conrad III in 1138, when the see of Mayence was vacant, his influence was decisive. The title of the ecclesiastical electors was quite independent of the offices they held, the archchancellorships of Germany, Italy, and Burgundy; for until well on in the thirteenth century the archchancellorship of Burgundy was in the hands not of the Archbishop of Treves but of the Archbishop of Vienne. Eike of Repgau, however, who in the Sachsenspiegel first mentions the seven electors, clearly associates the right of the lay electors to vote first with the ministerial offices they occupied, and he excludes the King of Bohemia, the cupbearer, on the ground that he was not a German. But there were certainly other reasons for singling out these four. The Count Palatine represented the extinct duchy of Franconia in which the election ought always to take place, and from the latter part of the twelfth century his influence at elections is recognised. For the rest, since the splitting up of the old tribal duchies it was long a matter of uncertainty who among the new body of princes were the most eminent. Sometimes one, sometimes another came to the front, and it was only gradually in the course of the thirteenth century that the Duke of Saxony, the Margrave of Brandenburg, and the King of Bohemia came to be singled out as the leading princes of Germany, and the great offices of the Crown came naturally to be attached to them.

In the election of Conrad IV in 1237 we find two of the archbishops, those of Mayence and Treves, participating, and with them the Count Palatine and the King of Bohemia; in that of William of Holland only the three Rhenish archbishops took part. But for this very reason the election was regarded as incomplete and the supplementary election at Brunswick was considered necessary before William could gain any general recognition. Then on 13 January, 1257, in letters addressed by two of the electors themselves, the Archbishop of Cologne and the Count Palatine, to Richard of Cornwall, we have the first documentary evidence of the college of seven.

Notwithstanding the insistence on the principle of unanimity, it was almost certain that in the existing state of German politics no agreement was possible; for Germany itself was little by little losing its national unity and was breaking up into a number of more or less independent principalities. The good of the country as a whole was being sacrificed to the selfish aims of the princes; it was fairly evident that to the majority of these a weak rather than a strong, an absent rather than a resident king would be preferable, for such a man would interfere the less with their particularist ambitions. It is these facts that account for the international character of the events of 1256-7.

The powers of western Europe soon became active in the matter. As early as March, before there had been any meeting of the electors, Henry III wrote to William Bonquer, his agent at Rome, expressing his desire that a man should be chosen who was pleasing to him and that the Pope should send a legate to Germany to further his wishes. Henry’s interest in the business was largely dictated by his Sicilian policy, for the success of his son Edmund might stand or fall by the result of the imperial election. But it was just the election of Edmund as King of Sicily that determined Alexander IV to oppose the election of Richard of Cornwall as King of the Romans, for this would mean the union of Sicily and the Empire, not indeed in the hands of one man but in the hands of one family. The Pope therefore and the King of France, who was actuated chiefly by his antagonism to England, threw their weight in support of another foreign candidate, Alfonso X of Castile, who through his mother Beatrix was the grandson of Philip of Swabia and who had on that account already put forward a claim to the family estates of the Hohenstaufen. Pope Alexander in 1255 had on his behalf appealed to the Swabian nobles to support his pretensions to the dukedom of Swabia; but in fact it was Italy and not Germany that Alfonso cared about, and it was by envoys from the always strongly Hohenstaufen city of Pisa that he was chosen King of the Romans in March 1256 at Soria in Castile. Needless to say, Pisa had no sort of right to take upon itself the duty of filling the vacant throne, and, except in Marseilles which was allied with Pisa, the election was disregarded. In Rome the candidature of Alfonso was taken up in July; in Germany it was not seriously considered until much later.

The electors themselves were extraordinarily dilatory in the matter. This was no doubt partly due to the fact that Gerhard, Archbishop of Mayence, whose duty it was to summon the electors, was a prisoner in the hands of the Duke of Brunswick. It fell, therefore, to the Archbishop of Cologne to take the initiative, and he, it seems, was not prepared to hurry; an electoral meeting appears to have been summoned to Frankfort on 23 June, but we do not know whether it took place, and certainly nothing came of it. The group of princes in the north-east of Germany, and particularly Duke Albert of Saxony and the Margraves John and Otto of Brandenburg, were more active; they disliked the interference of foreign powers and were anxious to put forward a German candidate; their views were shared by the towns of the Rhenish League, with whom they were in close communication. But the difficulty was to find a suitable man. The Hohenstaufen, Conradin, was too young; so too was the late king’s son Florence; Ottokar of Bohemia, in some respects an obvious person, was too powerful and too unpopular; Louis, the Count Palatine and Duke of Bavaria, was in disfavour, having this year (January 1256) murdered his wife on an ill-founded suspicion of infidelity. Finally, at Wolmirstadt on 5 August they agreed upon one of themselves, the Margrave Otto of Brandenburg. But they failed to carry his election at the formal meeting summoned to Frankfort on 8 September. The intrigues of their opponents frustrated it.

It was in the spring of 1256 that Henry III began to entertain the idea of securing the throne for his brother Richard of Cornwall. He was in his forty-seventh year, one of the wealthiest men of his time, and well known on the continent. His sister Isabella’s marriage with Frederick II had brought him into close touch with the Hohenstaufen; on his return from the Crusade in 1241 he had spent some time with his brother-in-law in Sicily, and had even visited Rome on his behalf in the vain hope of effecting a reconciliation with Gregory IX. On the death of Henry Raspe, Richard was among those, if we may believe Matthew Paris, to whom the German crown was offered by the papal legate; but in deference to his friendship for Frederick he had declined it. Again it was loyalty to the Hohenstaufen, perhaps, that induced him to refuse the Pope’s offer of the Sicilian crown which was subsequently accepted by Henry III for his second son Edmund. But there was now no Hohenstaufen in the way to cause him serious scruples. In June an embassy composed of Richard Clare, Earl of Gloucester, Robert Walerand, and John Mansel was dispatched from England to negotiate with the German princes. Much money was spent and the votes of three of the seven electors were won. From motives somewhat similar to those which had actuated Adolf of Altena  in promoting the candidature of Otto IV, Conrad of Hochstaden, Archbishop of Cologne, placed himself at the head of the party which favoured Richard of Cornwall. Otto IV was half English by birth and wholly English in upbringing; in both cases the economic relations which bound the Lower Rhine country, and especially the city of Cologne itself, to England played no small part. The Archbishop secured the vote of his imprisoned colleague, the Archbishop of Mayence. Each received 8000 marks, and the third ecclesiastical elector, Arnold of Treves, might have had almost twice that sum had he been willing to vote against his conscience. Of the lay electors, it was clearly useless to attempt to win over those of Saxony and Brandenburg; they had from the first adopted a different course; but Louis, the Count Palatine and Duke of Bavaria, brother-in-law of the last Hohenstaufen king, Conrad IV, and first in precedence of the lay electors, was open to a bargain. The compact was made at Bacharach in November: in return for his support Richard agreed among other things to pay him 12,000 marks and, after his election, to make over to Louis’ nephew Conradin the duchy of Swabia and the allodial possessions of the Hohenstaufen. The seventh elector, Ottokar King of Bohemia, hesitated long; the Archbishop of Cologne paid him a visit at Prague in the summer, but he still hung back, and it was only after the election of Richard that he sent his envoys to signify his consent (22 January). The formal election took place outside the gates of Frankfort—for the electors were refused entrance into the city itself— on 18 January 1257.

The candidature of Alfonso of Castile had been warmly taken up in France and also at the Curia; in Germany he found a champion in Arnold, Archbishop of Treves, who duly elected him at Frankfort on 1 April, the Electors of Saxony and Brandenburg, though not present, being consenting parties. Ottokar, who by Eike in the Sachsenspiegel had been denied the electoral right on the ground that he was not a German, in fact voted twice. He had gone back on his decision of 22 January and had temporarily thrown his weight on the side of Alfonso.

The official intimation of Richard’s election was brought to England by a deputation consisting of the Archbishop of Cologne, the Bishops of Utrecht and Liège, Florence Count of Holland, Otto Count of Guelders, and others. They arrived shortly after the Great Council held at London on 18 March, at which Richard had made arrangements for the admini­stration of his English affairs during his absence in Germany. They rendered their homage and were rewarded with rich presents; the Archbishop of Cologne, upon whom was bestowed a handsome mitre wrought with gold and precious stones, received his gift with the gracious reply: “mitravit me et ego eum coronabo”. Richard, accompanied by his wife and two sons, by the German envoys, and by forty-seven English nobles, set out from London on 10 April. He took with him also great sums of money, raised partly from his estates, partly by cutting and selling the timber in his forests and by borrowing from the Jews. Money indeed was his chief asset, and he used it unsparingly; the Hamburg chronicler relates how “he scattered it like water at the feet of the princes”, and Matthew Paris records the saying of a contemporary satirist: “it is for my sake, cries Money, that Cornwall is wedded to Rome.”

The party was delayed some time at Yarmouth by a contrary wind; but by the end of the month of April they were able to cross to Dordrecht, and proceeded thence through Holland and Guelders to Aix-la-Chapelle. The way had been well prepared by the Earl of Gloucester and John Mansel, who visited Germany a second time in the winter of 1256-7. No attempt was made by the rival party, which was represented in the Low Countries by so powerful a prince as the Duke of Brabant, to check Richard’s advance. Notwithstanding the declaration made by the towns of the Rhine League at Mayence in March and at Wurzburg in August 1256, that they would only recognise a unanimously elected king, a declaration to which Aix-la-Chapelle was itself a party, that city not only opened its gates to Richard but gave him a magnificent welcome; and there he was crowned with his wife Sancia by Archbishop Conrad of Cologne on 17 May 1257.

Richard now had two great advantages over his rival: he was in Germany and had been crowned at Aix. Alfonso so far from being crowned had not set foot in Germany, nor did he appear to have any intention of so doing. This considerably cooled the ardour of his adherents. The princes of the north-east, Saxony, Brandenburg, and Brunswick, did not lift a finger on his behalf; they ceased to concern themselves in the matter. On the Rhine some influential persons and a few towns had declared for Alfonso, notably the Archbishop of Treves, the Bishops of Worms and Spires, the Duke of Brabant, and the towns of Worms, Spires, and Oppenheim; but the success which attended Richard’s progress through the Rhineland after his coronation is sufficient evidence to prove that the partisans of the Spanish king were not prepared to exert themselves greatly unless he took the trouble to visit the country. In fact, the success of Richard during the first months of his reign was certainly remarkable. The novel circumstance of a foreign prince, a stranger to the country with only a full purse to recommend him, marching peaceably up the Rhine and receiving the submission and homage of the towns and lords almost without striking a blow, was indeed astonishing. The fact that this happened shows that the political power and organisation of the Rhenish League was at an end; it had been unable to abide by its resolution only to recognise a king that had gained the votes of all the electors; each town followed its own independent course and made its individual bargain with Richard. Cologne, Bonn, Andernach, Oberwesel, and Bingen opened their gates without hesitation; only Boppard put up some resistance and withstood a siege of about seven weeks before it was captured. At the end of August Richard reached Mayence, where he held on 8 September his first diet. Through the energy of Archbishop Gerhard of Mayence and Bishop Henry of Strasbourg many more towns accepted him: Frankfort, Gelnhausen, Wetzlar, Friedberg, and finally, after some negotiating, Oppenheim; and even more distant towns, Hagenau, the favourite residence of the Hohenstaufen in Alsace, the strong castle of Trifels where the imperial insignia were guarded, and the distant Swabian town of Nuremberg. From Mayence he pushed on to Oppenheim and thence to Weissenburg. Here his progress was interrupted; he had to abandon his plan of a farther advance southwarth owing apparently to the danger that his communications with the Netherlands and with England might be cut off by his opponent Arnold of Treves, and he withdrew to the friendly regions of the Lower Rhine. Writing to Henry of Lexinton, Bishop of Lincoln, from Neuss in October on the results of his first expedition, he claims that the nobles and great men of Alsace, Swabia, Franconia, Saxony, and Upper Burgundy had done him homage, excepting only the towns of Worms and Spires; this was certainly rather more than the truth. Nevertheless his success was undoubted; even if he had gained little authority over his new subjects, he had at least been recog­nised by many of them as their king. When he returned to Mayence and its neighbourhood in the following summer, the two cities, Worms and Spires, which had refused to accept him on his previous visit, made their submission. Bishop John of Lubeck could without exaggeration write in June or July 1258 to the burghers of his city that Richard’s power extended “from Berne to the sea.”

But the towns of the centre and south of Germany had only been won after patient and often prolonged negotiation; they had not, like the cities of the Lower Rhine, been content with a mere confirmation of existing privileges; they generally expected and gained additional concessions, and made their submission conditional upon the Pope’s confirmation of Richard’s election. If the Pope approved the election of another king, their oath of allegiance to Richard became void. For this if for no other reason the attitude adopted by Pope Alexander was of the first importance to Richard; actually, however, Richard made it clear from the outset that he did not mean to be content with the mere title of King of the Romans; he intended to go to Italy and to wear the imperial crown.

Alexander IV was not, like Innocent IV, a fighting Pope, wholly absorbed in a bitter unchristian hatred for the House of Hohenstaufen; he was on the contrary of a spiritual turn of mind, and disliked politics; he regarded with aversion the unscrupulous and degrading methods employed by his predecessor to advance the papal policy, and indeed perhaps the most noteworthy acts of his pontificate from the point of view of Germany were those which nullified the most outrageous measures of Innocent IV. These were contained in three bulls issued on 5 April 1255. By the first of these, appointments to canonries by papal provision in excess of four in number were cancelled; by the second, those appointments which Innocent had made to bishoprics, abbacies, and priorates before the vacancies had actually occurred were made void; by the third, it was made incumbent on a bishop-elect to undergo consecration within six months of his election. This last injunction was badly needed, for many of the bishops appointed in Innocent’s time had forgone the obligation and held their offices without performing the duties attached to them; Henry of Leiringen had occupied the see of Spires for more than ten years without being consecrated, and Henry of Guelders, who had been appointed Bishop of Liege in 1247, was still a layman. Many ecclesiastics had enjoyed under Innocent’s dispensation comfortable security from interdict, excommunication, and suspension; these immunities were now withdrawn. Undoubtedly some confusion must necessarily have resulted from this sudden reversal of policy; but in consequence of it the German Church recovered some of its old freedom, its prestige, and gradually came once more to some sort of order. Bishops were normally elected by the chapters, and regard was paid to their spiritual fitness not only to their political opinions.

But although Alexander IV did much towards the revival of religious life and discipline in the German Church, his lack of political insight made him unfitted to deal successfully with the problem of the German kingship. In the months preceding the elections of the rival kings the Pope, partly because of his friendship for France, partly because of the complication of the Sicilian question, had tended to favour the Spanish rather than the English candidate. But since then a turn of events had inclined him to alter his position. Alfonso had allied himself with Ezzelin da Romano and the Ghibelline interest, and even proposed to make an armed expedition to Italy had he not been prevented by the threatened attack of the Moors on Cordova. The towns of the Guelf faction naturally therefore took the side of his opponent; for the same reason the Pope dropped his neutrality and began openly to favour the cause of Richard. Before the end of the year 1257 the latter had through the Patriarch of Aquileia made overtures to Alexander on the subject of the imperial coronation, and early in 1258 he was informed, probably by Master Arlotus, the envoy sent from Rome to the English court on the business of Sicily, that the Pope was well disposed towards him and was prepared to grant him the imperial crown. But Alexander still shrank from taking the decisive step; the official summons to Rome which Richard was eagerly awaiting did not come, for Alexander was unwilling to break off his friendly relations with Louis IX, the ally of Alfonso. It was under these circumstances that Richard in the summer of 1258 threw himself with energy into the movement for the establishment of peace between England and France, the negotiations for which had already been in progress for some time, but had up till now met with no result. The terms of the treaty, ratified in Paris in December, were arranged in February 1259, and their effect on the Pope’s attitude was decisive. In April Alexander openly declared, for Richard and empowered his envoy Walter of Rogate to invite him to come to Italy for his imperial coronation.

But by this time Richard had returned to England, partly in order to hasten on the peace negotiations, partly on account of the baronial crisis and the unsettled state of things resulting from the king’s misgovernment and the Provisions of Oxford, partly too to replenish his purse, the real source of such power as he had managed to acquire. Though he visited Germany on three subsequent occasions, in 1260, 1262, and 1268, he never recovered the influence that he had won at the time of his departure in January 1259. This was never great: outside the Rhineland he was ignored; the German chroniclers are not interested in writing of his movements; his authority was never felt. None the less, for a foreigner with no ties and no property in Germany he had done well to have gained even mere recognition on the whole length of the Rhine. Had he succeeded in wringing from the Pope a more definite confirmation of his title and had he divorced himself entirely from English politics to devote himself to the affairs of his kingdom, he might perhaps have become a real ruler instead of a mere titular King of the Romans. As it was, he became deeply involved in the political disturbances of the latter part of the reign of Henry III, and was captured at the battle of Lewes and imprisoned for a year in Kenilworth Castle, while his position in Germany was ignored and forgotten.

When he landed at Dover on 27 January 1259, he certainly intended to return at the earliest opportunity and to make the expedition to Rome for the imperial crown. Innocent III had claimed for the Holy See the right of deciding in a disputed election to the German throne; it was incumbent therefore on Alexander to make a decision. Nevertheless the position was an embarrassing one, for although neither Richard nor Alfonso was obnoxious to the Curia, neither was entirely satisfactory. So he delayed until in May 1261 death relieved him of the necessity of making up his mind. His successor Urban IV was a man of a different stamp. James of Troyes owed his advancement in the Church to Innocent IV who had employed him frequently in papal business, and like his patron he was a politician. Though by birth a Frenchman, he had spent the greater part of his active life in Germany, especially in the east, in the newly colonised areas of Pomerania and Prussia; he had been archdeacon of Liège and subsequently in 1253 Bishop of Verdun; two years later Alexander IV had appointed him Patriarch of Jerusalem. He was therefore a man of wide experience and one who was familiar with Germany and her problems. Yet in spite of his many qualifications, his handling of the question of the disputed election was quite ineffectual. By bestowing the crown of Sicily upon his countryman, Charles of Anjou, he removed one objection that might be raised against Richard’s candidature; for as long as the offer of the Sicilian crown remained open to Edmund there was the danger that Germany and the kingdom might be in the hands of one family. But for the rest he made little headway; he refused the request of Alfonso for imperial coronation on the ground that both he and Richard had declined to submit their claims to papal arbitration. When in response to this letter the two kings conceded the right of the Pope to decide between them, Urban gave the title of King-elect of the Romans to both, explaining in a letter written to Richard a few days later that he did not attach any importance to the title until he had issued his verdict; and he fixed 2 May 1264 for hearing the case. But for one reason or another the hearing was postponed and postponed. Urban died in October 1264 and was succeeded by another French Pope, Clement IV, a lawyer, but one who regarded himself as above the law. Indeed, though in general he followed the policy of his predecessor, he set his pretensions higher: he not only claimed the right to decide a contested election but also the control of affairs of the Empire in the time pending the decision. However, he had neither the strength nor the energy to put these claims into practice; he only fixed dates for hearing the case, which through the failure of one party or the other to send representatives was never heard. He tried to get the rival kings to abdicate voluntarily, but neither would give way; and when he died in 1268 the German problem was no nearer a solution. After this it could not be settled from Rome, for there was no Pope to settle it: an interregnum of nearly three years followed the death of Clement IV.

In the meanwhile the Germans were tiring of their virtually kingless condition. There was a not insignificant party that wished to see the traditional strong monarchy of the Hohenstaufen revived in the person of the boy Conradin, who was being brought up at the court of his uncle, the Duke of Bavaria. His election as king was often threatened, and once at least, in April 1262, an electoral meeting was actually summoned by Werner, Archbishop of Mayence, for the purpose of carrying it through. But these attempts were always frustrated by King Ottokar of Bohemia, who had taken advantage of the anarchical state of the country to make himself the most powerful prince in the Empire; he had added to his Bohemian kingdom Austria and Styria, and in August 1262 gained King Richard’s confirmation of these acquisitions. The present condition of things in Germany was admirably suited to the development of his power, and, when there was danger of a resuscitation of the Hohenstaufen monarchy, he sent urgent messages to the two people whose interests, besides his own, were most nearly affected—the Pope and Richard of Cornwall; and both were roused to action. The Pope wrote letters threatening with excommunication anyone who ventured to take part in the election of Conradin, and Richard came hurrying back to Germany, hoping by his presence to put an end to the idea of promoting Conradin to the German crown (1262); but the danger was revived more than once, and was not even entirely dispelled by the execution of Conradin after the battle of Tagliacozzo in October 1268. For a pretender, a son of a blacksmith at Ochsenfurt, a university student, came forward at Pavia asserting that he was Conradin, and found many people to believe in him until his case was investigated by Bishop Everard of Constance and the Abbot of St Gall, and the fraud was exposed.

The German escort which accompanied Richard to England in January 1259 were surprised to find how little he was esteemed among his own people. “How can we treat with honour”, they said, “a man whom even his fellow-countrymen do not respect”; and they went on to say that, if they could get from him what money he had left, they would gladly dispense with his personal presence; they thereupon returned to Germany in disgust. Matthew Paris’ story probably represents fairly accurately the opinion in Germany with regard to Richard. When his stock of money was exhausted they had no further use for him. On his subsequent visits he made little impression on his subjects and exercised scarcely any influence. His stay from June till October 1260 was quite uneventful: we find him at Cambrai, at Worms where he spent most of the summer, at Mayence, and at Boppard; he granted a few charters, he settled a dispute which for three years past had disturbed the peace of the city of Worms. His next journey was both longer and more important; it lasted from July 1262 until February 1263, and he traversed the whole length of the Rhine as far as Basle. It was on this occasion that he confirmed King Ottokar, as already mentioned, in his recent acquisitions of Austria and Styria; he was also with some difficulty reconciled with Ottokar’s opponent, Archbishop Werner of Mayence, the promoter of Conradin. He was less successful in his attempt to restore order. A fierce feud had raged for some time between the Bishop and the townsmen of Strasbourg, a war called after Bishop Walter of Geroldseck the “Bellum Waltherianum”, in which not only Alsace but a large part of Swabia was involved. It came ultimately to a pitched battle at Hausbergen in March 1262; but notwithstanding the defeat of the bishop’s party and the attempted mediation of King Richard, the quarrel continued till after Bishop Walter’s death in February 1263. Nor was this by any means an isolated instance. The inevitable result of the almost total absence of a central government was that feuds broke out and were waged unchecked all over the country; there were struggles like that at Strasbourg between bishops and towns; private wars between neighbouring princes; disputes over succession like that which prevailed incessantly in Thuringia over the inheritance of the last of the line of landgraves.

Richard sometimes made arrangements for carrying on the govern­ment during his absence! When he returned to England after his brief visit in 1260 he appointed Philip of Falkenstein, his chamberlain, as his representative in the Wetterau; Bishop Werner of Strasbourg in Alsace; Philip of Hohenfels in Boppard and Oberwesel. But “they worked everything to their own advantage, and nowhere was peace to be found”. Some years later, when the danger from the Hohenstaufen party was acute, the imperial lands on the right bank of the Rhine were entrusted to the care of Ottokar of Bohemia, those on the left bank to the Archbishop of Mayence (1266). But no one man was ever made responsible for the administration; no prince was entrusted with a position such as Engelbert of Cologne or Louis of Bavaria had occupied in the long absences of Frederick II from his kingdom. The result was that certain of the stronger princes took upon themselves the duty of restoring some sort of order by means of local landfrieden sworn usually for a period of years. Archbishop Conrad of Cologne, acting perhaps as the representative of King Richard, issued such a one for the district of the Lower Rhine (November 1259); another issued in 1265 covered the diocese of Paderborn and the landgraviate of Hesse. Archbishop Werner of Mayence was particularly active in trying to improve the wretched state of the country by this method: in 1264 he united with the Count Palatine of the Rhine in a landfrieden embracing their own territories; the next year he arranged a peace which was sworn by a number of counts and nobles of the neighbourhood of Mayence and by the towns of the Wetterau; and it was largely his influence that induced King Richard during his visit to Germany in 1269 to publish a general land-peace to be enforced throughout the whole Rhineland.

This last visit of Richard, made in August 1268, was more eventful than either of the two which had preceded it. He spent the summer at Cambrai and Aix-la-Chapelle; in December he was at Cologne; in the spring at Worms, here about the middle of April he held a diet at which the Archbishops of Mayence and Treves, three other bishops, the Count Palatine, and a number of counts and lesser nobles presented themselves. They belonged, it is true, exclusively to the Rhine district, for beyond it his influence was entirely negligible; none the less it is significant, for never since the first year of his reign had he been attended by so many German princes. The diet also transacted important, business: “here,” wrote Thomas Wykes, “he began to consider how more beneficially and effectually he might deal with the evils that oppressed the unhappy country, that the stubborn violence of the footpads being overcame, the longed-for peace might return to the Rhine and the requisite of life might reach the inhabitants unimpeded”. This passage concisely sums up the work of the diet of Worms. Here the Rhenish land-peace was sworn; here unlawful tolls, except the ancient imperial tolls levied at Boppard and Kaiserswerth, were removed; here the ungelt, a kind of excise on wine and food-stuffs, was abolished. The same writer records the universal rejoicing with which these measures were received, and the revival of trade and the cheapening of prices which resulted from it.

It was on the occasion of this visit that, with the object of ingratiating himself with his subjects, he married on 15 June as his third wife the daughter of a prominent German noble, Beatrix of Falkenstein, a woman reported to be remarkable for her beauty. However, the marriage had no effect upon his position in Germany, for, some six weeks afterwards, he crossed with her to England, where he spent the remainder of his life. He died of paralysis on 2 April 1272, and was buried by the side of his second wife Sancia in the great Cistercian abbey which he had founded at Hailes.

France, with the encouragement of the Popes, took every advantage of the political confusion which prevailed in the Empire during the last years of the Hohenstaufen and during the interregnum to encroach upon the imperial frontiers both in the north and in the south, in the valley of the Rhone and in the Low Countries. In the kingdom of Arles there were, as in Germany, the same feuds between towns and their feudal superiors, and to this was added a further cause of disturbance, religious dissension. It was the heresy prevalent in Provence which afforded to the Pope and to France the opportunity to strike a blow at the authority, slight as it was, held by the Emperor over that district. At the Lateran Council in 1215 the imperial fiefs, which included Vivarais, of Count Raymond VI of Toulouse, the favourer of the Albigenses, were assigned without consulting the lawful suzerain, the Emperor, to the leader of the crusade, Simon de Montfort; and by a clause in the treaty concluded at Paris in 1229 Raymond was required to cede to the Church for ever the land which he held of the Empire beyond the Rhone. In 1226 Louis VIII mustered an army at Lyons in imperial territory and marched against the imperial town of Avignon, which capitulated after a three months’ siege. The feud between Raymond VII of Toulouse and Raymond Berengar IV of Provence, who was supported by his son-in-law Louis IX, led in 1239 to a further weakening of the imperial and a corresponding strengthening of the French influence. Then in 1246 the decisive blow fell. Raymond Berengar died in 1245 leaving no sons, but four daughters. The three elder were already well provided for; they had married respectively the King of France, the King of England, and Richard of Cornwall who was soon to become King of the Romans. He therefore bequeathed his lands to the youngest and still unmarried daughter, Beatrix. The hand of this valuable heiress was eagerly sought after by the neighbouring princes, by the Count of Toulouse and by the King of Aragon; but the prize was won by Charles of Anjou, the brother of Louis IX. He entered Provence with a French army, liberated Beatrix who was being besieged by King James of Aragon, and married her in January 1246. The anarchy which reigned in Germany and the struggle between the Pope and Emperor in Italy prevented any imperial interference, and the French occupation of Provence was allowed to take firm root. The barrier which severed France from Italy was broken down, and the penetration of French influence in Italian politics was made easy. It opened the way for Charles of Anjou’s expedition and for his acquisition of the Sicilian crown.

A somewhat similar encroachment was also being made by France on her north-east frontier. Freed since the battle of Bouvines from interference both from the Empire and from England, she began to intervene more and more in the affairs of her neighbours, to influence the politics of the Low Countries, and to extend her power there at the expense of the Empire. In this development the feud between the house of Avesnes and that of Dampierre played a very important part. Margaret, the heiress of Flanders and Hainault, married in 1212 Burchard of Avesnes, who had entered the Church, and on this ground the marriage was declared void. Margaret however continued for ten years to live with him and bore him two sons. She then regretted her past conduct, left him, married William of Dampierre, and developed a violent hatred for the sons by her first marriage. When in 1244 she entered upon her inheritance, the question of succession became acute. Gregory IX had declared her sons by her first husband bastards; Frederick II had declared them legitimate. The question was referred to the arbitration of the Pope and Louis IX, who in 1246 granted Hainault to John of Avesnes, Flanders to William of Dampierre. The award seemed just; Louis, however, though acting in the matter with scrupulous equity, had in fact greatly promoted the interests of France, for William of Dampierre was a French vassal, a noble of Champagne, and upon him Louis had bestowed not only French, but imperial Flanders. But French diplomacy had done more than this; it had made the Count of Flanders entirely dependent on French assistance to defeat the claims of his rival John of Avesnes, who took his stand as the champion of imperialist interests. The position of the latter was greatly strengthened when William of Holland was elected King of the Romans in 1247, for the Counts of Holland were also threatened by the power of Flanders, which exercised suzerainty over the southern part of Zeeland, over the mouth of the Scheldt, and even claimed rights over the mouth of the Meuse and the Rhine. The reign of William of Holland was almost wholly absorbed with the great feud with Flanders. The treaty in 1256 which ended the war was altogether in the French interest: John certainly retained Hainault, yet he was compelled not only to renounce Namur which had been granted him by William of Holland, but also to acknowledge the Flemish overlordship of Zeeland. By a vigorous support of the candidature of Richard of Cornwall, John tried to arrange a formidable alliance between Germany and England directed against France; but all to no purpose. France steadily extended her influence. Guy, the son of William of Dampierre, purchased from Baldwin, the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, the county of Namur (1263), and, after the death of his mother Margaret in 1280, succeeded peacefully to the Flemish inheritance. As a result of the long feud France had supplanted the Empire in imperial Flanders (east of the Scheldt) and in Namur, and was in a fair way to gain a decisive influence in the extensive dominions attached to the see of Liège, which stretched to the south and to the north-east of the county of Namur. The Low Countries at the end of the thirteenth century appeared to be no more than an appendage of the Capetian monarchy.

But if the boundaries and the sphere of influence of Germany had seriously receded in the west, the loss was more than compensated by its rapid expansion in the east. The thirteenth century is the most flourishing and vigorous period of German colonisation in the Slavonic lands. The movement had always gone forward independently of the Emperors, and was therefore little or not at all affected by the weakness or lack of central government. It had been promoted by the border princes, by Henry the Lion, Albert the Bear, and the Babenberg dukes of Austria; by active missionary bishops and by monastic orders, especially by the Cistercians and the Premonstratensians. The nobles and missionaries of the Church in the east of Germany continued their work, ignoring or oblivious of the political confusion which prevailed in the west. The brothers John and Otto of Brandenburg pushed forward their frontier to the Oder and beyond it, and founded Frankfort on the Oder (1250). Silesia was peaceably occupied and settled by German colonists, and no less than fifteen hundred villages are reckoned to have been planted there during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; Germans were settling and opening up the great tracts of virgin forest in Bohemia and farther to the south-east in Moravia, and even as far as Transylvania German colonies were to be found. More important still was the slow but steady advance of the Teutonic Knights in Prussia and Livonia. The attempt to introduce Christianity among the heathen Prussians had been begun early in the century by a Cistercian monk, Christian, from the monastery of Oliva near Danzig. He appears to have been granted by Innocent III about 1215 the rank of bishop, and with the help of the Polish duke, Conrad of Masovia, he made some progress in Kulmerland and Prussia; but his work was almost undone by a heathen reaction in 1223. The Duke of Masovia turned for help to Herman of Salza, who sent the Teutonic Order to recover the lost ground; Kulmerland was granted to the Order and the arrangement was sanctioned by the Emperor Frederick at Rimini in March 1226. In 1230 the Knights began the conquest, and in spite of frequent checks advanced steadily. Their progress is marked by the erection of fortresses which developed into towns: Thorn in 1231, Kuhn in 1232, Marienwerder in 1233, Elbing in 1237. In that year the Order incorporated the Order of the Knights of the Sword, which had for some years past been actively working for the conquest and conversion of Livonia and Esthonia. An advance in 1251 led to the founding of Memel on the coast at the extreme north of East Prussia, and after a campaign in 1254 Konigsberg was founded and named after King Ottokar of Bohemia who had taken part in the campaign.

The German people made excellent colonists in the Middle Ages, enterprising, industrious, and not easily discouraged by the difficulties which they encountered. Nobles and peasants migrated from the more thickly populated areas of the old country to settle in the newly-won lands. They opened up the country, made clearings in the dense forests which covered the plain of central Europe, and started a thriving agriculture. And side by side with this great territorial expansion, trade and commerce developed. This was due to the energetic policy pursued by the towns. After the break-up of the great Rhenish League in 1257 small groups of towns, like those which had preceded the greater league, again formed themselves for the mutual protection of their commercial interests and for their defence. The three towns of Mayence, Worms, and Oppenheim, the original members of the League of the Rhine, formed one; the Westphalian towns another; Lubeck, Rostock, and Wismar a third (September 1259). This last in the light of later developments is the most interesting of the three, for it was the nucleus of the “Wendish group” in the Hanseatic League.

Through the activity and vigour of the towns and the enterprise of the merchant, Germany was rapidly gaining the predominant influence in the trade of the North Sea and of the Baltic. From early in the century the German merchants had acquired equal rights and privileges with the Swedish inhabitants at Wisby on the island of Gothland, which had for a long while been the centre of the Baltic trade; they established a trading association at Novgorod and by degrees ousted the Scandinavian merchants who had before almost monopolised the trade with Russia. Soon Lubeck supplanted Wisby as the directing influence in the Baltic. The legate Albert, Archbishop of Livonia, Esthonia, and Prussia, in acknowledgement of the great services they had rendered to the missionary work among the Slavs, granted the merchants of Lubeck freedom from all imposts and tolls in his extensive province (1256); the city received trading privileges in all the Scandinavian countries, from Hakon of Norway (1247), from Eric King of Denmark (1259), and from Earl Berger, uncle and regent of King Waldemar of Sweden (1261). On the other side of the Danish peninsula, in close alliance with Hamburg, Lubeck was making similar developments as the rival to Cologne in the trade of the North Sea. In recognition of her support of the candidature of Richard of Cornwall, she had received trading privileges in England in 1257. Ten years later, in 1266 and 1267, Hamburg and Lubeck received the right to have their own hanse in England and became serious rivals to the merchants of the Cologne “Steelyard”. They had acquired also from Margaret of Flanders trading rights in the Flemish towns. To the energy and enterprise of these two cities is due mainly the rise of the Hanseatic League.

The Great Interregnum had afforded the princes of Germany the opportunity to consolidate their position as practically independent territorial lords; it had struck a deadly blow at central government in Germany. Nevertheless it had left enduring marks on the course of German history in the definite establishment of the College of Electors, in the constitutional and commercial development of the towns, and above all in the great wave of expansion Eastward where was firmly planted the seed of Germany's future power.