James Bryce Bryce.

The book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) online

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that is, a government by states. Not
until the conquest of Sluys in 1485 did
Bruges and Ghent acknowledge the guar-
dianship of Maximilian.


But in Februrary, 1488, Maximilian
himself was taken prisoner at Bruges,
and kept prisoner nearly four months.
Since public opinion in the other pro-
vinces sided with Maximilian, and the
emperor also was approaching with an
imperial army from Cologne to the relief
of his son, he was at last liberated,
when he had promised the appointment
of the required council of regency and the
withdrawal of the foreign soldiers. These
promises were, however, disregarded after
his liberation, and the imperial army, now
under the leadership of Duke Albert of
Saxony, a^ance^Htpvbesiege Ghent, which
it took in the autumn of 1489. From this
time Maximilian was really master in the
lands he had inherited. He had won for
his house by the acquisition of Burgundy
the territory which ensured the Hapsburg
ascendancy in the sixteenth century.

The inactivity of Frederic, which had
been deeply felt by the princes, and had
since 1462 suggested the thought of his
deposition, led men once more to entertain
such ideas, as Maximilian by his acquisi-
tion of Burgundy attracted the attention
of all. Against the will of his
Maxim: nan fathefj c hi e fly at the instigation

of Bishop Berthold of Mainz,
the Romans , r , i

he was chosen king of the

Romans in February, 1486, and crowned
at Aix-la-Chapelle in May. Since 1489,
when the possession of Burgundy was
assured, Maximilian had become the pillar
of the house of Hapsburg. Sigismund of
Tyrol renounced his lordship in his favour
in 1490 ; and after the death of Matthias,
king of Hungary, Maximilian reconquered
Austria and enforced the old claims of the
Hapsburgs to the crown of Hungary. He
acknowledged in 1491 Ladislaus, who was
disputing the crown with his brother John
Albert, as king of Bohemia, but obtained
on his side recognition of his own claims
to succeed to Bohemia and Hungary in
the event of the new king dying childless.
The Emperor Frederic had also promoted
a new alliance in the summer of 1486, with
the object of securing the Hapsburg power
against the Wittelsbachs in South Ger-
many. In February, 1488, the so-called
" Swabian League " was founded at Ess-
lingen, which united princes, towns, and
nobles, and was able' to place a strong
armed force in the field. Since the chief
aim of the league was to conquer the too
powerful Wittelsbachs, it amounted to a
very decided protection of the Hapsburg


interests, which it actually afforded in the
sixteenth centmx

When the Emperor Frederic died, on
August iqth, 1493, his house held a position
totally different from that occupied at
the outset of his reign. This was in no
way due to his action. Maximilian, on
the contrary, had helped to realise this
object in latter years, especially since he
proved himself a general. Owing to his
family possessions, it was possible for him,
although chosen in order to support the
empire, to influence the destinies of the
nation more decisively than any king for
many years.

The political events of Germany in the
fifteenth century were not only determined
by the ordinary forces which had worked
together for centuries, but an external
power gained decisive influence over the
destiny of the European West, which it
filled with a nameless dread. This was
the Turkish Empire, which arose on
the Lower Danube in the place of the
self-contented Byzantium, and thence
penetrated into the sphere of German
interests. The circumstance that here a
non-Christian foe was in the
Success e ^ turned this rivalry into a
of Turkish , T~U -U i

religious question. Ihe whole

Invasions * * s* > ..i r

idea of Crusades, therefore, re-
vived, although the measures taken in
carrying out the idea were far from corre-
sponding to those of the twelfth century.

As far back as 1396, Western Europe
had advanced in arms to check the
torrent of the Turkish invasion. On this
occasion, the Turk was completely vic-
torious. But the devastating onslaught
of Tamerlane and his Mongols from
the East was more effective in staying
for the time the progress of the Ottomans
in the West.

But in the time of Sultan Murad II.
(1421-1451), on the breaking up of the
Byzantine empire into separate states, the
ultimate victory of the Turkish power must
have seemed certain to the intelligent ob-
server. Only the West could bring help in
this case. Albert II. made the attempt in
1439, but lost his life in the campaign.
So long, indeed, as the schism in the
Church lasted, there could be no idea of
a serious warlike expedition of Roman
Catholic Christianity against the un-
believers in support of Greek Byzantium.
At this juncture, therefore, in 1439., the
union of the two Churches at Ferrara was
announced, but only on paper, for the

The Sultan's

gulf between the two confessions could
not be bridged over. Pope Eugene IV.
now took up the matter, and ordered a
Crusade to be preached in the West. The
Prince of Transylvania, John Hunyadi,
had conquered Turkish armies superior in
numbers at Belgrade in 1441 and in 1442 at
Maros-Szent-Imre and at the Iron Gates ;
the Turk was not, therefore,
invincible. The next year the
** n ,_, same prince led a large army,
e in which all the nations on the
Danube immediately concerned were re-
presented, as far as the Balkans. In
every part of the West, men were professing
their readiness to share in the coming
campaign, when in the summer of 1444
the Sultan Murad concluded a truce for
ten years with King Ladislaus of Poland
and Hungary, in which the advantage
distinctly was on the side of Hungary.

War was hopeless without the participa-
tion of Hungary. Nevertheless, at the
instigation of Cardinal Julian, hostilities
were again begun ; even Ladislaus was
persuaded to take part in them. This
time a fleet was to co-operate with the
land army. However, the Hungarian
army alone met Murad Genoese ships
had been bribed to transport the enemy
across the Bosphorus and a battle was
fought at Warna on November loth,
1444. Ladislaus was slain, and the whole
Hungarian army turned to flight. Hun-
yadi was also defeated by Murad in a
bloody battle on the Amselfeld, near
Cossowa in Servia on October 17-19^,

When Murad died, in 1451, his son
Mohammed II. Bujuk (1451-1481) suc-
ceeded. He was firmly resolved to sweep
away entirely the decayed Byzantine
Empire and to make Constantinople his
capital. The Emperor Constantine would
not consent to surrender, and so the siege
of his capital was begun in autumn, 1452.
There was no prospect of help from the
West, although the emperor
formed an alliance with Pope
Nicholas V. ; for among the
Greeks particularly the people
were most bitterly opposed to a union with
the Roman Church. The sultan, with an
enormous host, invested the city, which
could muster only an insufficient garrison.
No substantial help was sent to the em-
peror, except by the republic of Genoa,
whose ships were really far superior to
the Turkish fleet. Constantinople finally


Siege and
Fall of


From the original drawing by G. Grobet

fell before the assault of the Turks on
May 2gth, 1453. The Emperor Con-
stantine was slain in battle, and the
Christians were mostly massacred ; the
survivors were sold into slavery, and the
town was pillaged. Mohammed did hot
permit the buildings to be injured, for he
wished to reside in the city at once. He
provided a population for it by forced
immigration from Asia Minor, and the
transformation of " St. Sofia " into a
mosque announced to the world that Islam
had made its entry into the city on the

The terrible news of the fall of Constan-
tinople spread with rapidity through
Europe. In vain the Popes Nicholas,
Calixtus, and Pius II. tried by assiduous
preaching of war to stir up Christen-
dom to a Crusade against the dread foes
of Christianity. Although no secular ruler
except Hunyadi prepared himself for
resistance, an enthusiastic crowd, com-
posed of every section of the population,
streamed to the standard of the Cross,
and, led by John Capistrano, a zealous
preacher of war, defended Belgrade, to
the siege of which Mohammed had
advanced in 1456. They actually sue-


ceeded in driving back the sultan's arm}'
and in winning rich booty, especially th,e
siege artillery. Unfortunately, John Hun-
yadi, the only man hitherto who had
offered serious resistance to the enemy,
died a few days later on August nth,
1456 of the plague. But Mohammed's
lust for conquest was temporarily diverted
by various insurrections of conquered
tribes. With Venice alone, on. account of
the possessions of the Republic in Greece,
he waged war for more than fifteen years,
only to appear soon after the peace of 1479
in Italy, where he occupied Otranto. On
his death, in May, 1481, the Ottomans
were obliged to abandon this base of

Smaller inroads into the Austrian
domains and Hungary had also been
made at this time, but the empire had
taken no steps against them. In fact the
princes saw in the incursions of the Turks
only a danger for the hereditary lands of
the Emperor Frederic. He himself un-
derstood only too clearly that this was
imminent. He had summoned an imperial
diet to Regensburg on the news of the fall
of Constantinople in order to organise a
crusade against the Turks. The decree


was there deferred to a later date. The
princes at Frankfort did, indeed, promise
to send 10,000 cavalry and 30,000 in-
fantry, but nothing was done. Pius II.
took all imaginable trouble, and sum-
moned a meeting of the princes to Mantua
in 1459 in order to discuss the question of
a Crusade. The princes did not appear
in person, but only their representatives.
He then sent Cardinal Bessarion to
Germany in order to work upon the princes,
but fruitlessly.

In the diets of 1466 and 1467 there was
again much talk about a war with the
Turks, but no results followed. No pro-
gress was made until the diet of Regens-
burg, in 1471, which was attended by the
emperor himself, and was otherwise well
represented. The emperor asked for 10,000
men at once to guard the frontiers of
his hereditary lands, and the princes were
willing to grant them ; only the towns op-
posed it. After a discussion on the
method of starting a great expedition in
the next year the matter was allowed to
drop. In spite of all speeches and resolu-
tions, no sort of action was taken against

the enemy of Christendom. The result
was similar in 1474, when the diet of Augs-
burg was expressly summoned for this
purpose. Bajazet II., son of Mohammed
II., who died in 1481, was, as it happened,
less warlike than his father, and allowed
the much-exhausted border-lands some
respite. His successor, Selim (1512-1520),
had also more to do in the east, and
could think less about inroads into
Germany. The danger nevertheless ex-
isted for the German empire, and became
greater than ever under Suleiman, who
appeared before Vienna in 1529.

In the sixteenth century a war might
really have been better undertaken, since
a " Turk tax " was available, which, al-
though it was not paid with punctuality or-
completeness, still placed certain means
at the disposal of the empire. In any
case, the concession of that property tax of
ten per cent, was a fundamental acknow-
ledgment on the part of the states that the
war against the infidels was the duty of
the German Empire and people, and not
merely the concern of the neighbouring
princes and their territories.


prom the original drawing by W. E. Wigfi(ll











""THE imperial power in the early Middle
* Ages, although amply provided with
economic means and represented by great
personalities, had very few duties to
perform in comparison with the tasks of
the modern state. The administration of
justice and the maintenance of peace at
home, the full exercise of ecclesiastical
jurisdiction and the protection of the
borders of the empire from external foes,
comprised almost all its official duties.

In principle, even in the fourteenth
century, these were still the spheres where
the royal power was felt, but in every
respect the prerogatives as well as the
powers of the empire had diminished. At
the period when natural products were the
medium of exchange, the German king of
the time was the greatest landowner, the
richest man in the empire. Even if the
imperial estates and the profitable rights
, had not diminished, the empire,
Germany s af ter the j ntro( l u ction of coined
irs 01 \ mone y as the medium of ex-
change in the twelfth century
a system from which any advantages
gained by the royal power must have
been due chiefly to privileges of coinage
and taxation would not have been able
to maintain its more prominent position
as regards the other powers.

But now during the interregnum the
property and privileges of the empire had
been lost to the crown through reckless
gifts and wholesale pawning, so that the
imperial power possessed only slender
means. It could not be supposed that
the new economic development would be
sensibly influenced by the empire. All
that actually was done in that respect was
the work of the two younger constitu-
tional organisations, the territories and
the towns. Both of these represented the
standard economic units of the four-
teenth to the sixteenth centuries, and
on their side followed out that which in


modern times is called an economic policy.
An hereditary monarchy existed in France
and England. There were a family suc-
cession and well-defined crown lands, of
which the extent, in France particularly,
was steadily increasing. The number of in-
dependent princes and counts
How German i * AI_

. as vassals of the crown ap-

Pnnces were -11 j- i i * fi_

_, ... preciably diminished in both

countries. If a fief after its con-
version to the crown was granted afresh,
it was usually conferred on a member of the
royal house, and so strengthened still more
the royal influence. The conditions were
quite different in Germany, the electoral
empire. The princely electors were
anxious to hinder the formation of a firm
imperial constitution which would bar
the expansion of their own territorial
power. It could be only to the advantage
of the electors if they chose an unenergetic
emperor, and as a reward for their vote
repaid themselves out of the imperial
possessions. The emperor on his part
endeavoured to build up the territorial
power of his own house. The imperial
crown was a great factor in this terri-
torial aggrandisement. The Luxemburgs
as well as the Hapsburgs realised this,
and both strove earnestly for imperial
sway. In this struggle the Hapsburgs
succeeded by right of survivorship.

The Roman imperial crown had lost its
splendour after the interregnum. All
German kings had, it is true, thought it an
honour to cross the Alps and have them-
Th Em selves crowned in Rome. But

e mp y ^g j^ expeditions to Rome
Glory of the ,.,,, t

- were little calculated to pro-
Koman thrown , n *

duce nattering impressions,

even if they did not all turn out so lament-
ably as that of Rupert, in 1401-1402. The
empty glory of the imperial crown had
gradually died away. Charles V. was the
last German king who wished to be
crowned Roman Emperor. The kings after



him assumed the imperial title imme-
diately on their election, and concealed by
the brilliancy of the name the paltry
value of German majesty.

As on the one side the royal preroga-
tives, coinage, customs, safe-conducts, pro-
tection of Jews, mining and salt mono-
polies, courts, etc., were transferred to the

territorial princes, so extern-
Wide Stretch aU algo the empire lost in

of Germany s extent Everywhere large
strips were detached on the
frontiers and became independent, or
actually fell to the neighbouring states.

The imperial dominions stretched nomin-
ally westward as far as Flanders and Bur-
gundy and the Rhone land, southward to
Upper Italy, and eastward as far as the
borders of Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland.
The eastern countries themselves contin-
ually formed closer relations with the em-
pire. They were indeed governed partly,
in theory at least, by the German ruler, but
they did not become real members of the
empire. In the west the imperial do-
minions were actually diminished. Charles
IV. had, in 1365, received the crown of
Burgundy at Aries ; but as compensation
to the French dauphin, for having re-
nounced his claim on Mary, heiress to the
throne of Hungary, and to avoid the
double papal election, he conferred on
that prince the vicariate of the empire in

The reversion of Burgundy to France
was thus settled. The course of affairs
in the north-west was similar. When,
after the founding of the new Burgundian
power in 1363, Flanders was allied to
Burgundy by the marriage of the heir with
the heiress, Margaret, in 1384, it withdrew
quietly from its dependence on the empire,
and the Flemish towns ceased to be
members of the Hanseatic League.

Switzerland also became independent,
for the Hapsburgs, who struggled to build
up their sovereignty there, were compelled
c ., , to yield to the confederation
Switzerland f { burghers and free
Asserts its

Independence peasants. An imperial army
made an ineffectual appearance
before Zurich in 1354. The peace of the
next year clearly implied the expulsion of
the Hapsburgs from their old possessions.
When, then, the towns of Swabia, in 1358,
formed an alliance with Berne, Zurich,
Zug, Solothurn, Miilhausen, and even with
the Hapsburg town of Sempach, the
struggle of the Hapsburgs to protect their


last rights was inevitable. Leopold of
Austria advanced with an army of knights,
but was completely defeated in 1386 at
Sempach by the " peasants." The per-
manence and the strength of the confedera-
tion were thus secured. The battle of
Naefels, in 1388, had equally unfavourable
results for Leopold's sons.

In the peace of 1389 the house of Haps-
burg had to renounce its rights of territorial
sovereignty, especially its jurisdiction over
Lucerne, Zug, and Glarus. The con-
federates, however, renewed their league ;
Solothurn joined it, and the " Sempach
Letter, " in 1393, became the starting-
point for the later development of Switzer-
land. The threatening territorial sove-
reignty was shaken off, but the empire
lacked the power to enforce its rights.

The free united Swiss communities from
the end of the fourteenth century were
quite independent. They did not share
politically any more in the common
destinies of Germany, but in the sphere of
intellectual life the connection became
more marked. Basle especially became a
seminary of German humanism and a
centre of the artistically complete German
w printing trade. The renewed

attempts of the Emperor Maxi-
Maximihan ... , - f,

p -i d milian to maintain the alliance

of the mountain country with the
empire miscarried. After an unsuccessful
struggle he was compelled to consent,
in 1499, to the liberation of Switzerland
from imperial taxation and jurisdiction.
Thus the nominal connection with the
empire was dissolved. For the future the
confederates were designated with the
distinguishing name " Kinsmen of the
Empire," until the Peace of Westphalia,
in 1648, fully recognised the confederation
as an independent constitutional organi-
sation outside the empire.

Within Germany itself the imperial
power had a very varied influence. In
the South German districts, where large
imperial towns lay close together, where
there was a large number of knights of the
empire, its importance was distinctly more
felt than in the plain of North Germany.
The imperial power had never found
there, even in previous centuries, support
so firm as in the south. With the
increasing importance of the trade on the
German coast, a separate confederation
of the towns, the Hanseatic League,
governed the political life. This started
with an association of German merchants


for the protection of their common
interests in foreign countries ; but after
the beginning of the fourteenth century
this association acquired even at home the
admitted headship in politics.

A similar position to that of the Han-
seatic League in the north was held by
the Teutonic Order in the north-east. It
had inserted itself between the Poles,
Lithuanians, and Russians, and had cut
them off from communication with the sea.
The land of the order on the Baltic became
an important outpost of Germany. Up
to the battle of Tannenberg, in 1410, so
momentous for the constitution of the
order, ninety-three German towns and
1,400 villages were founded there. Dantzig,
the most important place in the country,
belonged to the Hanseatic League, and
was a rival of Liibeck. But the constitu-
tion of the order existed only for Germany,
not for the German Empire ; it formed
a separate body, and in the end helped to
support the power of the Brandenburg

In the heart of the empire the districts

which as yet saw no sovereign over them

were anything but supports of the imperial

_ power. The imperial towns

ccaymg -^ ^heir taxes, and in other

Revenues of r in

.. r . respects occasionally entered.
thj Empire . , ,. J

into nearer relations with the

emperor, as when a diet was held within
their walls. Some, however, were freed
from the regular yearly taxation, and were
therefore styled " free " towns. And
where tracts of land, now fairly numerous,
remained without a lord, this signified
absolute independence. It was far less
possible in their case to bring them under
the imperial taxation than in the case of
the princes, who on their side, sometimes at
least, had a keen interest in the aggrandise-
ment of the empire. The strength of the
imperial power thus varied much in different
parts of the empire, and found a correspond-
ing expression in the services rendered to
the empire by the separate districts.

Rudolph I. and Albert I. devoted
much pains towards putting the decaying
revenues of the empire once more on
a better basis, but they were not far-
sighted enough to make the commercial
aspirations, which were the foundation of
the new economic conditions, profitable to
the imperial coffers. They contented
themselves with a reorganisation of the
governorships in the imperial provinces
and of the imperial exchequer, which,

. .


together with the fixed taxes imposed on
the imperial towns according to the
agreement, represented the actual revenues
of the empire in the thirteenth and four-
teenth centuries.

The work done by the imperial power in
its own peculiar sphere, the maintenance
of peace in the country, corresponded in
fact to its resources. Quite
apart from the fact that no im-
perial executive existed capable
of punishing offenders against
the order for general peace, there are no
more instances of an " Imperial Peace," that
is, a penal enactment, published for only a
definite period against disturbers of public
order, and enforceable throughout the
whole empire. The imperial peace edicts
from the time of Rudolph to Henry VII.
were practically renewals of the " Public
Peace " of Mainz in 1235.

After Lewis of Bavaria, even these re-
newals fell into disuse, and only on the
imp6rtant law of Albert II., in 1438, revived
the old thought of peace for the whole empire.
Ordinarily provincial peace edicts were
issued, and show to what extent on the most
essential point the conception of empire
had given way to that of territory. King
Wenceslaus, or Wenzel, in 1383 once more
attempted an " Imperial Peace," but could
not carry it out, for he failed to break up the
existing confederations of the towns.

Now, when the empire could not enforce
its power, another path was taken in order
to secure the necessary peace, especially
in the interests of the towns. The towns
concluded " unions " that is, leagues, for
a definite period and pledged themselves
to make common cause against anyone
who should disturb the peace of one of the

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceThe book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) → online text (page 22 of 55)