If the cities had gained the day they might still have aimed at balancing the power of the princes, but owing partly to their imperfect union, partly to the necessity of fighting with hired troops, they did not gain any serious advantage. On the whole, indeed, in spite of temporary successes, they decidedly lost ground, and on the conclusion of peace there was no doubt that the balance of power in the state inclined to the princes.
Frederick meanwhile was involved in wars with the Swiss, with his brother Albert and his Austrian subjects, and later with the Hungarians. He had no influence in Italy; in Burgundy he could neither stop Duke Philip the Good from adding Luxemburg to his possessions, nor check the towering ambition of Charles the Bold; while after the death of Charles in he was equally unable to prevent the king of France from seizing a large part of his lands. Torn by dissensions the Teutonic Order was unsuccessful in checking the encroachments of the Poles, and in the land which it had won in the north-east of Germany passed under the suzerainty of Poland, care being taken to root out all traces of German influence therein.
Another loss took place in , when Schleswig and Holstein were united with Denmark. In Germany itself the king made scarcely any pretence of exercising the supreme authority; for nearly thirty years he never attended the imperial diet, and the suggestions which were made for his deposition failed only because the electors could not agree upon a successor.
In his later years he became more of a recluse than ever, and even before February , when his son Maximilian was chosen German king, he had practically ceased to take any part in the business of the Empire, although he survived until August During the reign of Frederick the electors and the greater princes continued the process of consolidating and increasing their power.
Lands under their rule, which were technically imperial fiefs, were divided and devised The power of the princes. They did not, however, have everything their own way. During this century their power was limited by the formation of diets in many of the principalities. These bodies were composed of the mediate prelates, the mediate nobles and representatives of the mediate cities.
They were not summoned because the princes desired their aid, but because arms could only be obtained from the nobles and money from the cities, at least on an adequate scale. Once having been formed these local diets soon extended their functions.
They claimed the right of sanctioning taxation; they made their voice heard about the expenditure of public money; they insisted, although perhaps not very effectually, on justice being administered. Such institutions as these were clearly of the highest importance, and for two centuries they did something to atone for the lack of a genuine monarchy. During this reign the conditions of warfare began to change. The discovery of gunpowder made small bodies of men, adequately armed, more than a match for great forces equipped in medieval fashion.
Hence the custom of Methods of warfare.
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This fact, added to the influence of the local diets, made even the princes weary of war, and a universal and continuous demand arose for some reform of the machinery of government. Partly at the instance of the emperor a great Swabian confederation was formed in This consisted of both princes and cities and was intended to enforce the public peace in the south-western parts of Germany.
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Its effects were excellent; but obviously no partial remedy was sufficient. It was essential that there should be some great reform which would affect every part of the kingdom, and for the present this was not to be secured. Maximilian came to the throne in with exceptional advantages. Although Maximilian I. The reason for this was not that the Empire was stronger, but that its crown was worn by a succession of princes who were great sovereigns in their own right.
Having in driven the Hungarians from Vienna and recovered his hereditary lands, and having ordered the affairs of the Netherlands, Maximilian turned his attention to Italy, whither he was drawn owing to the invasion of that country by Reforms in Germany. Charles VIII.
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But before he could take any steps to check the progress of Charles pecuniary necessities compelled him to meet the diet. At this time the German, or imperial, diet consisted of three colleges, one of the electors, another of the princes, both spiritual and secular, and a third of representatives of the free cities, who had, however, only just gained the right to sit beside the other two estates. The diet was an extremely clumsy instrument of government, and it was perhaps never more discredited or more impotent than when it met Maximilian at Worms in March But in spite of repeated rebuffs the party of reform was valorous and undaunted; its members knew that their case was overwhelmingly strong.
Although disappointed in the hope which they had nourished until about that Maximilian himself would lead them, they had found a capable head in Bertold, elector of Mainz. The king lost no time in acquainting the diet with his demands. He wished for men and money to encounter the French in Italy and to resist the Turks. Bertold retorted that redress of grievances must precede supply, and Maximilian and the princes were soon discussing the proposals put forward by the sagacious elector. His first suggestion that a council nominated by the estates should be set up with the power of vetoing the acts of the king was abandoned because of the strenuous opposition of Maximilian; but Bertold was successful in getting the diet to proclaim an eternal Landfriede , that is, to forbid private war without any limitation of time, and it was agreed that the diet should meet annually to advise the king on matters of moment.
The idea of a council, however, was not given up although it took a different form. An imperial court of justice, the Reichskammergericht , was established; this consisted of sixteen members nominated by the estates and a president appointed by the king. Its duties were to judge between princes of the Empire and to act as the supreme court of appeal in cases where humbler persons were concerned.
Partly to provide for the expenses of this court, partly to furnish Maximilian with the promised monetary aid, a tax called the common penny was instituted, this impost taking the form both of a property tax and of a poll tax. Such in outline were the reforms effected by the important diet of Worms.
Dr. Elena (Ellie) Woodacre
The practical difficulties of the reformers, however, were only just beginning. Although Maximilian took some interest in the collection of the common penny it was difficult, and from some classes impossible, to obtain payment Difficulties and further reforms. In he set up a new Aulic council or Hofrat , the members of which were chosen by himself, and to this body he gave authority to deal with all the business of the Empire.
Thus he undermined the foundations of the Reichskammergericht and stole a march upon Bertold and his friends. A series of diets between and produced only mutual recriminations, and then Maximilian met with a serious rebuff. The Swiss refused to pay the common penny and to submit to the jurisdiction of the imperial court of justice. Consequently, in , Maximilian sent such troops as he could collect against them, but his forces were beaten, and by the peace of Basel he was forced to concede all the demands made by the Swiss, who became virtually independent of the Empire.
Heartened by this circumstance Bertold and his followers returned to the attack when the diet met at Augsburg in The common penny as a means of taxation fell into the background, and in its place a scheme was accepted which it was thought would provide the king with an army of about 30, men. But more important perhaps was the administrative council, or Reichsregiment , which was established by the diet at this time. A revival of the idea put forward by the elector of Mainz at Worms in , this council was to consist of twenty members appointed by the electors and other princes and by representatives of the cities, with a president named by the king.
Its work was practically that of governing Germany, and it was the most considerable encroachment which had yet been made on the power of the king. It is not surprising therefore that Maximilian hated the new body, to the establishment of which he had only consented under great pressure.
In the Reichsregiment met at Nuremberg and began at once to treat for peace with France. Maximilian was not slow to resent this interference; he refused to appoint a president, and soon succeeded in making the meetings Maximilian hampers the reformers. The relations between the king and the princes were now very strained. Bertold called the electors together to decide upon a plan of campaign; Maximilian on his part tried to destroy the electoral union by winning over individual members.
The Reichskammergericht and the Reichsregiment were for all practical purposes destroyed, and greater authority had been given to the Hofrat. Henceforward it was the king who put forward schemes of reform and the diet which modified or rejected them. When the diet met at Cologne in Maximilian asked for an army and the request was granted, the necessary funds being raised by the old plan of a levy on the estates. At Constance, two years later, the diet raised men and money in a similar fashion, and on this occasion the imperial court of justice was restored, with some slight alteration in the method of appointing its members.
After Maximilian had taken the novel step of assuming the title of Roman emperor at Trent in the last of the reforming diets met at Cologne in In Germany had been divided into six circles Kreise or districts, for the purpose of sending representatives to the Reichsregiment.
These circles were now increased in number to ten and an official Hauptmann was placed over each, his duties being to enforce the decisions of the Reichskammergericht. The period marked by the attempted reform of Bertold of Mainz was that of the last struggle between the supporters of a united Germany and those who preferred a loose confederation of states. Victory remained with the latter party. Maximilian himself had done a great deal to promote the unity of his Austrian lands and, incidentally, to cut them off from the remainder of the German kingdom, and other princes were following his example.
This movement spelled danger to the small principalities and to the free cities, but it gave a powerful impetus to the growth of Brandenburg, of Saxony, of Bavaria and of the Palatinate, and the future of the country seemed likely to remain with the particularist and not with the national idea. In he helped to promote the league of Cambrai, formed to despoil Venice, but he soon returned to his former policy of waging war against France, and he continued to do this until peace was made in Maximilian gained his most conspicuous success in his own kingdom in , when he interfered in a struggle over the succession to the duchy of Bavaria-Landshut.
He gained some additions of territory, but his victory was more important because it gave him the prestige which enabled him to break down the opposition of the princes and to get his own way with regard to his domestic policy. In many respects the reign of Maximilian must be regarded as the end of the middle ages. The feudal relation between the king and the princes and between the princes and their vassals had become purely nominal.
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