James Bryce Bryce.

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members. Princes were occasionally
parties to such leagues, among which that
concluded between the Rhenish and Swa-
bian towns in 1381 stands foremost. As
early as 1331 the Public Peace of Ulm
included, in addition to twenty-two im-
perial towns in Swabia, the

lords of Upper Bavaria and
of the Town Brandenburg) as wdl as the

Bishop of Augsburg. The
Golden Bull had expressly permitted the
unions for the maintenance of the public
peace, while it forbade all coalitions for
other purposes, and had thus proclaimed
that the empire for its part was no
longer able to secure the tranquillity of
the land. A number of peace edicts
were issued in the fourteenth and fifteenth



centuries, and a series of unions formed
for the preservation of peace until the
" Perpetual Public Peace " of the imperial
diet at Worms in 1495 forbade as a
fundamental principle every feud and all
recourse to self-defence. This was, of
course, possible only at a time when the
territorial lords had mostly acquired
w sufficient strength to punish

rebellious nobles unaided, and
mpcror was an ener g et j c interference of the

duoreme . . , ,

imperial power was no longer

necessary. The emperor was supreme
judge. The counts and all other authorities
judged only in his name, and in every
place where the king appeared the court
was open to him. This, in principle, was the
case even in the later Middle Ages; but the
"counties" had long become hereditary,
and their holders had acquired various
other powers, so that they were mostly pre-
sent as territorial lords. Aulic privileges
had long since infringed the old constitu-
tion of the tribunals, and the king ' had
only little left of his sovereign jurisdiction.

Although he had from the first the
right of " evocation." in virtue of which
he could at pleasure give judgment in
any matter not yet legally decided, yet
he was obliged comparatively soon to
renounce this claim as regards individual
princes. The Golden Bull of 1356 made
the privilege " de non evocando " the
legal right of all electors ; and in 1487
the royal prerogative of " evocation " was
universally abolished.

The old constitution of the courts had
presupposed a free people ; but freemen in
large numbers were found only in West-
phalia, and there the royal courts, called
" Vehmgerichte " (" Vetimic tribunals "),
for the trial of crimes existed practically
unchanged. They were courts of freemen
to try freemen under the presidency of the
count. But since in the greatest part of
the empire nothing was known of freemen
and the count's court, the condition of
The Wise tnm S s m Westphalia seemed to
contemporaries a remarkable

Action of / ,-*, , TT , . .

Charles IV anomal y- Charles IV. wisely,
' in the public interests, made
full use of this remnant of Germanic
jurisprudence in the Public Peace for
Westphalia of 1371, since he entrusted his
administration to these Vehmic tribunals,
and by so doing contributed greatly to the
respect, or rather superstitious fear, with
which they were everywhere regarded.
Their constitution was such that in the


circuit a judge nominated by the king with
seven free jurors from the "free seat" held
a court always in the open air and by broad
daylight. According as others than the
jurors might or might not be present, the
matter was called "public " or " secret."
The extreme penalty was death by hanging,
carried out immediately if the accused
was present; or, if he did not appear,
wherever he was met by three free jurors.

The result of this jurisdiction was
in the fourteenth century thoroughly
beneficial, since grave defects in the
criminal law were thus remedied. In the
next century the Vehmic tribunals certainly
degenerated ; the diet at Nuremberg in
1431, and the reforms of Frederic III. in
1442, were forced to take measures against
the encroachments of the " secret tri-
bunals." Gradually, therefore, they for-
feited their importance.

The need of a complete body of law for
the empire as a whole was then keenly felt.
The imperial towns and the country dis-
tricts still belonging to the empire seemed
to be almost independent constitutional
bodies. The person of the emperor was
usually unknown to the people, and no
G , proper representation of the

"D^r n w* " i m P ei "i a l rights existed. There

ifV *' was > in fact, in the imperial
in Bohemia , , V ,

chancery no register of the

constituent members of the empire. Not
a single list of the towns and princes was
forthcoming, when in 1422 preparations
had to be made in hot haste by the empire
for the " daily war " in Bohemia. The
town of Diiren, which from 1242 had been
pledged to the count and subsequent
duke of Juliers, and had long regarded
itself, in fact, as a provincial town, was
after 1578 repeatedly summoned to the
imperial diets, and called upon to pay the
Turks' tax. The chancery was actually
unprovided with any proofs by which it
might reconcile asserted privileges and
actual facts.

The want of an imperial executive ma-
chinery was not less bitterly felt. Anyone
who obtained a legal title by the imperial
law had usually to fight for it first. Even
if the ban of the empire had been pub-
lished, there were no means of executing it.
When, for example, Charles IV. pledged
the imperial town of Weil to Count Eber-
hardof Wiirttemberg, it joined the Swabian
League, existing since 1376, and the
emperor suspended the ban over the four-
teen towns. Eberhard wished to fight for


his claim to the town of Weil ; but his son
was completely defeated by the towns at
Reutlingen in 1377, and the emperor found
himself compelled to retract the ban and
to cancel the pledge. The towns had in
this case conquered the imperial authority
and the princely sovereignty.

Where the empire wished to exact penal-
ties it was dependent on the goodwill and
the contingent means of the states of the
empire charged with the executive. In the
sixteenth century, when the division into
circles already existed and considerably
facilitated matters, an imperial executive
system was arranged in 1555 ; but it came
too late, for all political power had already
passed into the hands of the princes.

The German empire, at any rate after
the Golden Bull, formed a federal union.
Hitherto, it is true, the imperial vassals
had advised their sovereign in weighty
matters, but the decision lay with him.
Now in all decisive questions the assent
of the electors was a necessary condition,

Willenbriefe, or "Letters of Consent,"
usually with some personal aim, and in
fact they often claimed the right to depose
the king, which was actually exercised in
the case of Wenzel in 1400. The Electoral
College soon grew to be representative
of the empire, and those " Letters of
Consent " took the place of the assent
_ of the imperial assembly. The


' . number of princes of the

Power of the . , f , , ,

Princes empire, who in 1350 included
in their ranks more than
seventy spiritual and forty temporal
lords, steadily grew ; for, on the elevation
of an imperial fief to a military fief,
the position of a prince of the empire was
easily acquired. In the fourteenth century,
among others, Pomerania, Juliers, Guelders,
Luxemburg, and Berg, and in the fifteenth
century, Cleves, Holstein and Wiirtem-
berg had become military fiefs.

The division of inheritances, customary
since the thirteenth century in the princely
houses, by which the owner of any

At one time there were no fewer than six hundred different mints in the German Empire, and the exchange of money
was, in consequence, very difficult. By the middle of the fourteenth century the German golden florin had acquired
great importance for wholesale trading. The first two coins in the above illustration are gold florins of the period
of Lewis IV., from 1313 till 1347 ; the gold florin of John I. of Bohemia, from 1309 till 1346, occupies the centre ;
while the two remaining coins are gold florins of Frederic III., Archbishop of Cologne, from 1370 till 1414.

and the imperial assembly was raised to
a judicial institution, although the in-
tended annual assemblies of the electors
were not carried out. The princes became
" estates of the empire," just as under
them " estates of the country " were
developed. These took a share in the
imperial government, and came more and
more prominently forward. The position
of the emperor had now been entirely
changed. The formalities of his election
were carefully settled ; and the selection
of seven princes of the empire, in whose
. hands the election now lay,

The Changed , ,-, ,

p . . * was an additional cause of

weakness to the monarchy,
the Emperor . , ,

since each elector strove to
obtain a compensation for his vote in the
shape of imperial lands and privileges.
If the electors could choose an emperor,
it was a natural consequence that they
reserved to themselves a right to interfere
during his reign, and sometimes gave
expression to their approval in so-called

portion might retain the position of
prince of the empire, increased the
number of lay princes and shifted
the balance of power in the empire in
their favour. The authority of the indi-
vidual prince within his own district
varied according to its origin. Since the
emperor gradually abandoned in favour of
the princes all supreme rights still remain-
ing to him the Golden Bull conferred
on the electors the right of coining gold,
the emperor renounced his right of
" evocation " and the exercise in the ban
fell into disuse the power of the local
prince became a complete sovereignty.
In the fourteenth century, above this
ordinary sovereignty came the still higher
territorial dominion of the electors.

The modern independent states of Ger-
many grew up out of the territories of the
Middle Ages, and in the end Austria and
Prussia had to fight for the supremacy.
The sovereignty, the distinctive mark
of which was the superior jurisdiction,




was acquired by counts and lords, as
well as by the princes. All these territories,
at first only private possessions conferring
civil rights, had, in contrast to the empire,
the advantage that the distinctly smaller
extent and essential similarity of condi-
tions within the district allowed the lord
to exercise a uniformity of administration
which had always been wanting
in the empire. The territorial
C * V ^ omces > which at first were
granted to the officials con-
cerned with the seignorial rights of the
princes, became the foundation-stone of
the system of sovereignty which, notwith-
standing the very various personalities
of the rulers, has, in consequence of an
administrative tradition, continuously de-
veloped in the direction it once for all
took at this time.

The titles, on the basis of which a prince
ruled over the separate parts and parcels
of his territory, were extraordinarily
diverse. By the side of an old allodial
holding might be found an imperial fief,
in virtue of which the rights of a duke, a
margrave, or a count had been conferred
on the owner, or a district in which the
prince as warden of a small church
possessed penal jurisdiction. In another
place he was only lord of the manor, in
yet a third again he was only trustee of
the revenues of the law court. The age,
still little adapted to abstract thought,
could not always dissociate these different
offices, which only by chance were united
in a powerful personage, from the idea of
that personage. It did not appear sur-
prising if the princes allowed their hetero-
geneous rights to sink into the background,
but in return put their territorial power
in the foreground throughout the whole
sphere of their authority, and on that
basis exercised a new kind of sovereignty
previously unknown in Germany.

From the way in which territorial .power
originated it naturally follows that con-
Refractory aderable tracts of land were
Power of y exce Ptionally held by one

the Knights ^ or ^' an( * tnat ordinarily the
" territorium " was made up
of very various ownerships. This arrange-
ment was very cumbersome both for
the administration and for the execu-
tion of any measures, as well as for cases
when the refractory power of the knights
had to be quelled. The case could easily
arise where the territorial lord, through
the hostility of his neighbour, might be

hindered by force from entering great
portions of his domains. The more promi-
nent princes had early tried to remedy
this evil by obtaining a territorial sym-
metry. The prince looked for a favourable
opportunity to acquire as a gift from the
emperor any crown lands lying in the
vicinity, or to take them over from an
impecunious monarch in return for a large
sum as a mortgage security, which neither
party ever intended should be redeemed.
An enclosed strip was obtained in exchange
for the surrender of a remote estate, or an
entire district united to existing posses-
sions through a diplomatic marriage.

Sometimes the land of small independent
lords was annexed to the territory, and
these latter saw themselves reduced to
the status of provincial knights. Where
large imperial towns lay within a territory,
their acquisition was not less desirable
from the point of view of territorial
compactness than it was from regard to
their taxable value. This is the meaning
of the attack of the Archbishop of Cologne
upon Dortmund in 1368 and Soest in 1447,
and of the Margrave Albert Achilles of
_ Brandenburg upon Nurem-

berg in 1440. In the fifteenth
of Archbishop . , ...

, , . century the imperial cities

Baldwin r T\ J.L j mr

of Donauworth and Mainz
actually became tributary to Duke Lewis of
Bavaria-Landshut (1458) and Archbishop
Adolphus (1462) respectively. Archbishop
Baldwin of Treves was the most successful
of the princes of the fourteenth century
in carrying out this territorial policy in
the west.

In the east Charles IV. had at-
tained wide and compact dominions,
especially as opposed to the Wettiners,
partly by unexceptionable feudal methods,
partly by cunning and force. His marked
business capacities and the comparatively
large pecuniary means which stood at his
disposal greatly aided him in obtaining
these results. In addition to this need
of compactness the want was universally
felt of a uniform administration, which
might be supreme above all existing
seigneurial and similar institutions.

The want of a fixed system had made
itself appreciably felt in the empire after
the break up of the old counties, and
was an important factor in the decay of the
imperial authority. In the much smaller
territories, whose rights were partly
resting on civii law, the question of or-
ganisation was solved in the following way.


The division into circles of jurisdiction was
retained, but, for practical convenience,
excessively large circles were subdivided
and unnecessarily small ones were amal-
gamated. In the fourteenth century
such an arrangement of offices prevailed
everywhere. At the head of the circle
designated as " Amt," " Vogtei," or
" Pflege," stood the " Amtmann,"" Vogt,"
" Pfleger," " Landrichter," " Gograf,"
or " Schultheiss" according to his title,
which varied in different localities who
was usually a member of the lower nobility
and represented as an official all the
sovereign rights of the territorial lord.

often nothing else than a formerly inde-
pendent lordship. There was no idea of
separating administrative and magisterial
functions. The amtmann was therefore in
his own person a judicial, administrative,
magisterial, fiscal, and military official ;
in fact, he was often president of a
seigneurial district belonging to the terri-
torial lord, and had a staff of inferior
officials under him. It is easy to see the
important bearing of such an organisation,
with its capabilities of special develop-
ment, on the growth of a territorial state,
if we consider that every individual
residentiary official was familiar with the


This representative of the territorial lord
was a removable official with extensive
legal authority and fixed pay, even if the
outward form of enfeoffment of office was
no longer observed. Since the machinery
of the supreme authority, which was
identical with that of the princely court, of
which the seat was not fixed, often worked
irregularly, the amtmann had to act on
his own responsibility in his lord's interests.
He was thus closely identified with his
circle, in the middle of which he usually
lived in a castle, and seemed almost an
independent lord, just as his district was

person of the amtmann, who was daily
before his eyes as the vicegerent of the
territorial lord.

The essential character of the " terri-
tory " was emphatically rural. As a rule
the primitive economical condition of ex-
change in kind still prevailed, and the town
institution of exchange in money seemed
strange. The peasant insurrections,
which showed themselves long before the
fourteenth century, especially in the
south-west, were directed chiefly against
the exorbitant interest required by town
capitalists, and, above all, against the



Jews. The territories prima facie com-
prised rural districts, the taxable value
of which the territorial lords continu-
ally tried to raise in correspondence to
the larger requirements necessitated by
increased cost of living and war expenses.
The territorial towns, more or less impor-
tant from trade and industrial enterprise,
and often mere agricultural
. towns, were still independent
dc "formations, with their own
a constitutions and government.
They were not completely part and parcel
of the territory. Their relations to it were
often limited to the financial support of
the territorial lord by taxes. But the
town as a whole paid the sum demanded
from it, and the princely administration
was not concerned with the manner in
which this taxation was met.

The towns often acquired different profit-
able privileges from their territorial lords
just as the princes formerly from the empire
either by lease or as a pledge. The
most profitable source of revenue, the
excise, usually lay in their hands. The
financial support lent by the towns was of
infinite importance to the princes, and
they therefore assented, voluntarily or by
force of circumstances, when the towns
on their side desired information as to
the application of the money and other
administrative concerns, and made the exe-
cution of every sort of measure dependent
on their consent.

The declaration of the country towns
that they were willing to guarantee the debt
of their lords became after the fourteenth
century a regular event, and finally led to
their forming one of the states of the
country, that is, they were regularly repre-
sented at the diet. Thus the interests
of the towns came into contact with those
of the country nobility.

The partition of the princely houses,

by which the princely title and court

establishment were retained by each of the

sons, was a great drain on the

Partition ,

. p . . princely treasuries, and necessi-

House" y tate d larger demands from the
country. The right of the
prince to levy taxes was absolutely
unrecognised. A one-sided tax exacted
by him was called exactio violenta, or
tyrannical impost ; and the old term
" Beede " was retained for the taxes ob-
tained by an arrangement with the persons
liable. By feudal law the knights were tax-
free ; they were bound only to render three

kinds of services, namely, to ransom their
lord from captivity, to dower his daughter,
and to make his son a knight. Since the
knightly vassals of the territorial lords
in other cases also aided their lord with
money, they formed the germs of " Consti-
tutional States," since the religious bodies
already existing in the country, though
by nature tax-free, furnished the prince on
special occasions with money, and at
the same time pressed their advice on
him, just as much as the towns and the

There were many opportunities for
extraordinary pecuniary aids. The new
system of warfare, which had been
regarded as necessary since the Hussite
disturbances, demanded a supply of wag-
gons and artillery, and large sums for the
payment of the foot soldiers. It was then
that the working of silver mines gave
some princes, particularly those of Saxony
and Tyrol, an advantage over their
neighbours. In general, however, the
increased demands were met by indirect
taxes, and thus opportunity was given to
the " states " that is, to the knights,
religious bodies and towns
to exercise influence on the
government of the land by
their assent. A confederation
of states was formed in order to counter-
balance the power of the princes.

This new constitutional body, with the
three divisions of states, finally completed
the conception of the territory. The diets
now lost their character of a convention
based on civil law ; they appeared as a
constitutional organisation. The states
became the representatives of the land,
and, as in Cleves and in the county of
Mark, took an energetic part in the
administration of the country and achieved
many financially good results.

The development of the states was an
advantage to the territorial lords, in so
far as a systematised financial adminis-
tration was established under the control of
the states, and the lord's right of taxation
could no longer be denied as a principle.
But, besides this, a multitude of semi-con-
stitutional powers, which in the fourteenth
century had become dangerous rivals of
their later territorial lords, but at the end
were reduced to membership of the states,
disappeared for the future as indepen-
dent bodies in the empire, and were able
to contribute to the financial strengthen-
ing of the territories.

A New
of States


The constitutional nature of the terri-
tories was strengthened from another
side. The partition of inheritances, which
created petty dominions, was not favour-
able to the formation of important terri-
tories. Even if the parts, after one or two
generations, had been reunited in one
hand, there was always the fear that in
the long run large territories, uniformly
organised, might again break up.

To avoid this danger, the family law
of Pavia in 1329 declared for the first time
that no system of alienation should exist
for the lands of the house of Wittelsbach
Upper and Lower Bavaria with the Rhenish
Palatinate. In cases where partition was
made, special stipulations were introduced
to avoid, if possible, the disintegrating
effects. Frederic II., margrave of Meissen
and landgrave of Thiiringen, partitioned,
it is true, his lands on his death, in 1349,
among his four sons, but at the same time
ordered a joint government under the
guardianship of the eldest brother, and so
combined the constitutional advantage of
political unity with the concession of equal
private rights to each son. The Golden Bull
T n of 1356 absolutely forbade the

of the * P artition of the electoral terri-

n , , tories, if not of all the domains
Golden Bull , , ' , ,

ruled by an elector, and the

Hapsburgs, in 1364, decreed the indivisi-
bility of Austria, including the privy purse.

A corresponding regulation for the house
of Brandenburg followed in the " Dis-
positio Achillea " of 1473, which estab-
lished the Prankish system of the rights
of the younger son, and prohibited the
partition of the mark. Even where no
law forbade partition, efforts were made
to avoid it, and at the same time to effect
the concentration of larger domains in one
hand by the so-called treaties of reciprocal
succession ; that is, compacts between
two ruling families by which on the ex-
tinction of one branch the other should
succeed to the inheritance. Hapsburg
Austria alone of the great territories
attained this end. All the former pos-
sessions of Luxemburg, owing to the treaty
of reciprocal succession in 1364, finally fell
to the lords of Austria.

The increasing use of money as the
medium of exchange, a custom which,
originating in the towns, prompted the
princes, on the other hand, if they wished
to have any political position at all, to
increase and assure their revenues. Only
thus was it possible finally to outstrip 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 23 of 55)