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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towns, whose power in the fourteenth
century seemed actually greater than that
of the princes. Nearly everywhere there
was a marked increase in the income from
imperial prerogatives which had been
transferred to some prince. The custom-
houses, particularly on the Rhine, became
considerably more numerous. Archbishop

-, Siegfried of Cologne, who died in

Germany s , , ,

1297, had already erected a new

Increasing ,. J , ,, r

Traff customs fortress at Wornngen,

and others soon followed. But
the increasing traffic made the receipts
from customs grow rapidly. In 1377,
Ehrenfels returned from its customs 20,000
golden florins, that is to say, $50,000 worth
of gold. In Coblenz the takings increased
from 30,000 pounds of silver in 1267 to
100,000 pounds in 1368.

Although Albert I. in 1301 abolished all
new Rhine tolls, this was only a temporary
measure. The princes drew their best
revenues from the increasing traffic ;
indeed, from ignorance of economics, they
often overburdened it with imposts. The
administration machinery, besides, was so
clumsy and costly that comparatively little
flowed into the central treasury. But
by means of reorganising the administra-
tion, large revenues could easily be ob-
tained, as is seen from the financial reforms
of Hans von Mergenthal in electoral
Saxony after the middle of the fifteenth
century. The coffers of the princes had
been, indeed, mostly drained. The sums
for which privileges were pawned seem to
us often ridiculously small, and the rate
of interest at which the towns lent money
was very high. The towns, although
almost alone affected by the taxes on
traffic, had still the most favourable
financial system. What money they, as
states, granted to the princes was usually
found by them without difficulty.

The case was different with the nobility
and the spiritual estates, who, as seigneurs,
received an income paid chiefly in kind,
_j and could only within narrow

* . limits bring themselves to sell

Condition of ., . ,, ^,

. it in the town markets. They

the Peasants , , , , , J

personally regarded themselves

still as tax-free, and the taxes which they
were bound to pay to their territorial lord
were shifted on to the dependent folk, the
peasants. The position of the peasants
had been very favourable even in the
thirteenth century. The rents payable to
the lord were fixed, and with increasing
profit from the ground this implied a



considerable addition to the produce of
labour. The overflow of the population
was taken away by the colonisation of
the east and by the towns, and the^village
" march " still amply provided everyone
dwelling near with wood for building
or burning and pasture for the cattle.
But when there was no longer any place
... where the superfluous popula-

. .. tion might find a livelihood, a
Lords might continual part ition of the hides
Have Done , , ,

of land began, and poor people

settled in huts, with, at most, a diminutive
piece of ground, and, as a rule, merely
trusting to the inexhaustible wealth of the
common march.

Pasture had to give way to agriculture ;
there was no other way for averting the
threatening distress. But for this not merely
the capital, but, more than all, a compre-
hension of the demands of the age, was
wanting, especially among the lords of the
manor, who might have done a national
service by an opportune improvement of
agricultural methods. But nothing of all
this was done. The position of the peasants
became more and more deplorable, for the
lord now claimed a superior ov/nership in
the common march itself, and regulated its
use at his own discretion.

The old class of manorial lords greatly
diminished, and the petty lords were
eager to exercise sovereign rights in
imitation of the great lords. This, owing
to the pettiness of their condition, led to
a systematic and irritating oppression of
the peasants. We see this in an increase
of forced tasks, in the discontinuance of
the measures which had been taken to
change burdensome rents in kind to money
payments, and, above all, in the collection
of the poll-tax, which threatened to reduce
the peasant population to serfdom. This
is particularly true of South-west Germany,
but not less of Flanders, where as early as
1324 a sanguinary peasant insurrection
broke out, and in 1404 the sovereign of
the country himself opposed the

Insurrection , f ,, rr . , ,

- h tyranny of the manorial lords.

Peasants ^ e P easan t no longer took
part in the greater intellectual
questions of the age, in the administration
of justice, and in political life. He
remained stationary and stunted, while
the citizen population of the towns made
great progress, and with increased earnings
usually found leisure for higher intellectual
training. The thriving burghers came
into quite intimate relations with the

peasants, for the latter, being com-
pletely fleeced by their lord, had only too
often to fall back on town loans, and
50 per cent, interest was not infrequent.

Whole districts were impoverished, and
peasant risings followed. These risings
were the precursors of the great movement
which broke out in the sixteenth century
in connection with the new teaching of the
gospel. Although the men of the time had
not generally a very profound compre-
hension of social conditions, still, it had
become clear to the public mind what the
hopeless condition of the peasant popula-
tion really implied for the nation at large.
The imperial legislature indeed took up
this question at the diet of Augsburg in
1500, but nothing was done to grapple
with the evil.

We have already become acquainted
with the towns in their relations to the
empire, the territories, and to each other ;
but our attention must now be given to
their internal economy, political, finan-
cial, and administrative.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries,
when the use of money as a medium
of exchange was spreading, and affected the
H th towns exclusively, the muni-

cipal council, a corporation
Masses were ; , , ,-\

~ of rich merchants, greatly ex-

Oppressed , , ., b ,,

tended its power to the preju-
dice of the town rights of the bishops and
princes. In most of the towns of South and
West Germany this council had acquired,
either by peaceful purchase or by stub-
born struggles with the actual lord, as
in Cologne and Strasburg especially, the
rights of the town lord ; that is, supreme
jurisdiction, right of coinage, and the right
of indirect taxation. Under such condi-
tions the council became omnipotent. It
had under its control the amount of taxa-
tion payable by the burghers, as well as
their liability to military service, and was
considered both at home and abroad
the fully authorised representative of the
town. This corporation was at first
filled up by selection from the wealthy
families, but it gradually became exclusive,
and only the members of some few patri-
cian families were able to reach the council.

The town population was thus split into
two classes the ruling patricians and the
unprivileged community. The condition
of thing ^ produced by the wanton op-
pression of the masses was bound to lead
to revolt. In the existing industrial
organisation of the guilds, in which the




rnr ^rr



population united their efforts for econo-
mic reform, a power was discovered which
the council did not venture to resist, at
least in the south and west, the old German
soil. In the north and east, the colonisa-
tion districts, where the principal towns
all belonged to the Hanseatic League, the
corresponding movement began consider-
ably later. The guilds, showing
a vigorous and progressive

. economic development, invested
Crushed , ,, .* -,,

by the council with a com-
mercial jurisdiction, and tL'rs raised to a
public institution, now included the mass of
taxpaying citizens, who, at the same time,
in time of war were answerable for the town
with their lives. Were those who made the
greatest sacrifice for the town to be per-
manently unrepresented in the govern-
ment ? As early as the thirteenth century
the artisans in the most progressive towns,
Cologne and Ulm, tried by a rising to
force the council to acknowledge their
importance. They wished to exercise a
control over the financial system of the
great houses. But the attempts were
attended with little success, for the rebels
were suppressed by force, partly with the
help of the town lords, and their guild
organisation was dissolved.

The artisans in Ulm were the first to
reach their goal, in 1292. Speier, Mainz,
Regensburg, and Zurich, followed between
1330 and 1336. Soon Berne and Rothen-
burg were the only important towns in the
south where the patricians could still
assert their power. Nuremberg by 1348
had yielded to the guild movement. In
most places the struggle raged more or
less openly for a century, but only in
Flanders did it lead to terrible scenes of
violence. Terms were finally agreed upon
in Cologne in 1396 and in Strassburg in
1419, and thus a new permanent municipal
government was established.

The solution of the disputed questions
was excessively complicated, and the in-
fluence of the guilds in the pre-
When the -,-

Guilds were vailm g town government very

in Power f ., lti man y P laC6 f ***
old families were completely

ousted. The guilds had conquered, and
now governed in appearance exactly as
the council. In other localities the council
remained, but its character was altered
by the admission of councillors repre-
senting the guilds. Again, in other towns
the family organisation as well as the guild
disappeared as a political body, and the


council was for the future elected out of
the general community of burghers. The
artisans in the fifteenth century had
everywhere acquired some share in the
town government. Their industrial or-
ganisations, which repeatedly seemed too
dangerous, and had accordingly been
dissolved, but always re-established, saw
themselves now confronted by political
duties, and their industrial character grew
fainter and fainter. The members of the
guild now took part in public life, in the
government and administration. It was
the council which provided the machinery
for both, as it selected certain of its
members for the discharge of definite

The North German towns, which all
belonged to the Hanseatic League, were,
according to the whole tenor of their past
history, occupied mainly with commerce.
Industries were of less importance. We
do not therefore hear of such violent
guild disturbances there as in the south and
the west ; in any case, they occurred
much later. In Liibeck indeed the guilds
gained a preliminary success in 1408,
p and about the same time in Wis-

* ' l mar, Rostock and Stralsund.

But in 1416, Liibeck, the
Kestored IT j j

leading town, succeeded in

restoring the old council, and, by threats
of " Verhansung," that is, exclusion from
the Hanseatic Union, in maintaining the
patrician rule in most towns. At any rate,
the disputes between families, guilds,
and the community continued there. But
in many towns they were non-existent
or arose only later in the sixteenth century.

The desired object was the same in
the north as in the south, namely, an altera-
tion of the constitution in favour of the
poorer classes. Facilities for the acquisi-
tion of the franchise, and a democratic
municipal government, by the side of which
the council should continue to exist as an
executive body, were especially demanded.
This object was fully realised in Ger-
many only by Strassburg, where the whole
population actually adopted a monetary
system of exchange, and a constitution in
the modern sense had grown up on this

The municipal community, like other
corporations in the German constitutional
system, rested on the " personal principle,"
that is, under certain antecedent conditions
members widely separated in locality
might belong to the same association.


The idea of acquiring a territory of
great extent locally, belonging politically
to the town, within which the municipal
council naturally only in imperial towns
exercised the rights of the sovereign,
was still far from being realised in the
middle of the fourteenth century.

Attempts, however, had long been made
to attach individuals from the surrounding
districts to the town under the name of
" Ausbiirger," or outburghers and " Pfahl-
biirger," or burghers of the pale. The
wealthy citizens, although enjoying full
rights in the town, began to invest their
surplus money in landed property. They
acquired manorial rights in the vicinity of
the town, had tenants in copyhold, and
lived mostly outside the town walls. In
this way, naturally, the interests of the
country were interwoven with those of
the town.

When disputes arose with a neigh-
bouring lord or knight, the town sup-
ported its citizen and his dependants ;
and imperceptibly the town extended its
sphere of interest to the entire possessions
of these " outburghers." On the other

,. . . hand, the country lords, princes,
The RISC of ,. - J , i j

..... and religious houses had
Municipal .,,

-, , property in the towns, either

Government r s ft- u

as dwelling-houses or as ware-
houses for their surplus crops which were to
be put on the market. They saw themselves
compelled in the interests of their posses-
sions and their own security to profess
friendliness to a powerful council, and to
promise their armed assistance as noble
burghers in event of a war. Besides this,
many wealthy countrymen, indeed whole
villages in the neighbourhood of large
towns, put themselves under their pro-
tection ; they became " burghers of the
pale," and thus voluntarily submitted to
the municipal government, naturally to
the prejudice of any imperial governor or
of a neighbouring territorial lord.

The Golden Bull of 1356 in its sixteenth
chapter had prohibited in the interests of
the princes the reception of " burghers of
the pale," but in vain. From the close
community of country and town interests
arose the town territories, since places
which possessed in the town " Burgrecht,"
namely, a claim to shelter behind the walls
in times of need, formed to some degree
closer relations with the town itself,
especially when the council held also the
supreme penal power. Eighty-two locali-
ties had the " Burgrecht " in Frankfort,

while in Mainz even earlier some forty
villages for fifteen miles round enjoyed
this privilege. The district of the imperial
town of Aix-la-Chapelle was smaller, while in
Cologne the power of the council extended
only as far as the town walls.

The foundation for the power of the
towns was their peculiar position as com-
c .. mercial centres for the country


Industries of f 1 JJ *f ^hen the state was
the Artisans ba ?y fitte( J b y organisation or
policy to foster trade or to
secure the profitable pursuit of business.
The source of wealth in the towns was at
first the itinerant traffic, prosecuted mostly
by firms, which gradually became a fixed
trade. The small town of Ravensburg
was the home after 1450 of the most
important trading company of the time,
that of Hundbiss, Muntprat, and Motteli,
a precursor of the Fugger business. To
this was soon joined the money-lending and
exchange business. But the industries of
the artisans, now organised in guilds, soon
gained in importance, and some members
of the foremost guilds could compete with
the commercial lords.

Together with the accumulation of the
great fortunes which now quickly multi-
plied, a town proletariat was formed a
crowd of indigent people, whose ranks
were filled with journeymen with no
prospects of ever becoming masters,
musicians, porters, and a vast number of
mere beggars. These were the people who on
many occasions, especially in the fifteenth
century, interfered decisively in political
disturbances, and sometimes, in common
with the country preletariat, fought the
common oppressor. The misery of these
lower classes \vao all the greater, since the
remedies sought and applied were quite
unfit, and in many instances full of
mischief. Many of the charitable institu-
tions of an ecclesiastical character, which
were intended to mitigate poverty, were,
on the contrary, calculated to bring up
the proletariat to pauperism.

The social distress had certainly
of the Lower ,, . , , ,

_,, often occupied the serious atten-

Classes ,. ...

tion of the town councillors ;

but their treatment of the malady was
as great a failure as were later on the plans
for human improvement in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries. The policy of
the towns rather favoured the growth of
capital and strengthened its omnipotence.
Corn speculations and the formation of
commercial rings were no longer rarities in

3 6 73


the fifteenth century. The so-called
Reformation of the Emperor Sigismund
spoke of them in moving language.

Whatever the towns chose to do for the
maintenance of the country's peace, they
acted always in a narrow spirit of self-
interest, often unconsciously fighting
against themselves in the rival town. The
external security of intercourse
Hundred wag es p ec j a jiy preserved by

"unions" of the towns. But
the foremost of all the duties
which the towns undertook was the regula-
tion and simplification of economic inter-
course, the new foundation on which the
existence of the town rested. One impor-
tant task was to resist the debasement of
the coinage practised by the princes in
their own interests, and to introduce a
currency circulating in larger districts.

Owing to the 600 different mints in the
empire, the unavoidable exchange of
money which the towns mostly transacted
in their own banks in Ulm as early as
1300, and in Frankfort after 1402 implied
an almost incredible obstacle to intercourse.
In place of the prevailing light silver coin-
age, which had been sufficient in an uncom-
mercial age, larger coins were urgently
required for trade purposes, and this want
was met by the Bohemian florins, which
King John caused to be struck in 1325,
after the Florentine pattern. These
acquired an international importance.

Except the emperor, Bohemia alone had
from the first the right to coin gold.
This, however, had been conceded to all
the electors by the Golden Bull. Even
before that, four towns, Liibeck, Frankfort,
Treves, and Cologne, had acquired the
same privilege. The German golden florin
after the Florentine pattern had, by the
middle of the fourteenth century, acquired
M an importance for wholesale

* T J trading, and after the mone-
Convcntion , ,

of 1402 v convention of the four

Rhenish electors in 1386, be-
came the universally recognised coin which,
in the district of the Rhenish trade and
beyond, kept a fixed ratio of value to silver.
If the princes were the first to coin gold
chiefly, the trading towns remained the
first to use the gold pieces. In the monetary
convention of 1402, even imperial towns
were included, and soon the coinage of the

towns of Frankfort, Nuremberg, and
Ueberlingen was esteemed of equal value
with the golden florin of the four electors.
The Rhenish florin, however, was the
first coin struck in Germany which passed
throughout the whole empire and beyond,
It is true that finally, owing to the " Im-
perial Mint Regulations " of Essling in
1524, issued at a time when the increasing
silver-mining industry, especially in
Saxony and Tyrol, permitted the coinage
of heavy silver pieces, the silver coinage
alone had currency. But the florin was
employed for a long time as the coin of
commerce, although the prosperity of the
towns, the foundation of political power,
decayed with extraordinary rapidity when
once the political victory of the princes
was finally assured, 'and the German
towns lost their importance for inter-
national trade.

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries,
and also the first half of the sixteenth,
are in Germany taken up by the towns.
With comparatively small populations
-.. in 1449 Nuremberg had a

'' little over 20,000 inhabitants,
Frankfort-on-Main between the
years 1350 and 1500 never
more than 10,000, and even Cologne itself
in 1575 had only some 37,000 the towns
as the commercial centres led the nation
both in progress and in politics. The
imperial policy was always forced to take
into consideration the money of the small
city republics. Wenzel had already once
in 1389 contemplated the formal
admission of the towns to the imperial
states. And after Nicholas of Cues in
his programme of political reform had
expressly demanded this position for the
towns exactly one hundred years later,
the admission of the imperial towns to
the diet by chosen deputies was finally

The imperial assembly then was com-
posed of three colleges : the first consisted
of the electors, the second, of the
remaining princes, counts, and lords, and
the third, of the towns. The towns first
appeared as a united body in the diet of
Frankfort in 1489. After that they are
divided into a Rhenish bench with fourteen
members, and a Swabian bench with
thirty-seven members.

Towns Led

the Nation










""THE decay of the German monarchy
* had gradually destroyed the old tra-
ditional constitution of the empire, which
was based on the forms of feudalism.
The " Golden Bull " had attempted to
establish the conditions existing at the
middle of the fourteenth century, and had,
in principle at any rate, done good service
by the codification of the laws of the
empire. But the constitutional conditions
developed themselves independently of
the wishes of the legislation, which itself
only too soon became antiquated.

In the struggle between princes and

towns, which was still undecided at the end

of the fourteenth century, victory rested

with the former in the fifteenth century,

and they were for the first time really lords

as regards the monarchy. The goal, so far

as the imperial constitution was concerned,

was the formation of a federal union,

within which the king should retain little

, beyond the title and honor-

ermany s presidency. But the

Weak Military J i ,->

weaker the monarchy be-

Systcm , i i -j.

came, the more jealously it

watched over its few remaining privileges,
and it was in no way disposed to concede
the proposals of the princes. Yet a reform
was admittedly essential with regard to
the completely helpless military system
of the empire.

These problems had been repeatedly
discussed in the imperial diets ; but
king, princes and towns were indis-
posed to sacrifice even the most modest
part of their rights in favour of the
community. Nicholas of Cues met the
statesmen with the practical system of
an imperial constitution, for which he
tried to interest the king at the council of
Basle ; but all in vain.

Even the anonymous " Reformation of
Emperor Sigismund," with its proposals
of reform, which disclose a subtle com-
prehension of the phenomena of the age,
passed away without a trace. The diet
of Frankfort, in 1334, at least faced

the serious problem. They were agreed
to sixteen chief points, which were to
lead to the improvement of the imperial
constitution ; but the execution of them
was indefinitely postponed. The efforts of
Albert II. have already been mentioned.
His proposals for the restoration of the
... , Public Peace, which were

opes put by his chancellor Caspar
Buried , ,. J , , , r . ,

t AH. Schlick before two imperial

with Albert XT ,

diets at Nuremberg in 1438,

did not meet the approval of the princes,
who thought that they were prejudiced as
compared with the towns.

If Albert's life had been prolonged he
would certainly have succeeded in carrying
out some reforms, for he possessed the
peculiar abilities for doing so. With him,
therefore, . the hopes of the nation sank
into the grave.

Under Frederic III., as under Lewis
the Bavarian, the princes occupied them-
selves with the reforms of the empire, and
naturally in their own interests. They
brought the direct charge against "the
emperor that he would do nothing for

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 24 of 55)