1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Swabian League
SWABIAN LEAGUE, an association of German cities, principally in the territory which had formed the old duchy of Swabia. The name, though usually given to the great federation of 1488, is applicable also to several earlier leagues (e.g. those of 1331, 1376). The Swabian cities had attained great prosperity under the protection of the Hohenstaufen emperors, but the extinction of that house in 1268 was followed by disintegration. Cities and nobles alike, now owing allegiance to none but the emperor, who was seldom able to defend them, were exposed to the aggression of ambitious princes.
In 1331, twenty-two Swabian cities, including Ulm, Augsburg, Reutlingen and Heilbronn, formed a league at the instance of the emperor Louis the Bavarian, who in return for their support promised not to mortgage any of them to a vassal. The count of Württemberg was induced to join in 1340. Under Charles IV. the lesser Swabian nobles began to combine against the cities, and formed the Schlegelerbund (from Schlegel, a maul). Civil war ensuing in 1367, the emperor, jealous of the growing power of the cities, endeavoured to set up a league under his own control, for the maintenance of public peace (Landfriedensbund, 1370). The defeat of the city league by Eberhard II. of Württemberg in 1372, the murder of the captain of the league, and the breach of his obligations by Charles IV., led to the formation of a new league of fourteen Swabian cities led by Ulm in 1376. This league triumphed over the count of Württemberg at Reutlingen in 1377, and the emperor having removed his ban, it assumed a permanent character, set up an arbitration court, and was rapidly extended over the Rhineland, Bavaria and Franconia. In 1382 an alliance was made at Ehingen with the archduke of Austria, and through his mediation with the three chief knightly associations of Swabia. The new king, Wenceslaus, hoped at first, like his father Charles, to check the federal movement by associating all estates of the realm under his own lead in Landfriedenseinigungen, but such a compact made at Heidelberg in 1384, although renewed at Mergentheim three years later, was a mere makeshift. The struggle between burghers and nobles was precipitated by the inclusion of the urban members of the Swiss confederation in the league in 1385 and the overthrow of Archduke Leopold of Austria by the latter at Sempach in the following year. A quarrel between the duke of Bavaria and the archbishop of Salzburg gave the signal for a general war in Swabia, in which the cities, weakened by their isolation, mutual jealousies and internal conflicts, were defeated by Count Eberhard II. at Döffingen (Aug. 24, 1388), and were severally taken and devastated. Most of them quietly acquiesced when Wenceslaus proclaimed a Landfriede at Eger in 1389 and prohibited all leagues between cities. The professed aims of the cities which had formed this league of 1376 were the maintenance of their imperial status (Reichsunmittelbarkeit) , security against sale or mortgage and against excessive taxation, the protection of property, trade and traffic, and the power to suppress disturbances of the peace. There is no trace of co-operation with the Hanseatic towns. The league necessarily opposed the pretensions of the emperors and the electoral princes, especially as set forth in the Golden Bull, and in accordance with the growing spirit of civil freedom demanded a share in the government, but that there was any widespread conscious desire for a fundamental change in the constitution, for the abolition of aristocratic privilege or for a republic, as certain historians maintain, is improbable (K. Klüpfel, Der schwabische Bund).
For nearly a century there was no great effort at federation among the Swabian cities, attention being diverted to the ecclesiastical controversies of the time, but there were partial and short-lived associations, e.g. the league of twelve Swabian cities in defence of their liberties in 1392, the Marbach league in 1405 against the German king, Rupert, and in 1441 the union of twenty-two cities (in 1446 thirty-one) headed by Ulm and Nuremberg, for the suppression of highway robbery. This latter union in 1449 formed a standing army and waged war on a confederation of princes led by Albert Achilles, afterwards elector of Brandenburg (q.v.).
The growing anarchy in Swabia, where the cities were violently agitated by the constant infringement of their liberties (e.g. the annexation of Regensburg by Bavaria in 1486), induced Frederick III., who required men and money for the Hungarian War, to conciliate the cities by propounding a scheme of pacification and reform. His commissioner, Count Hugo of Werdenberg, met the Swabian estates at Esslingen and laid before them a plan probably drawn up by Bertold, elector of Mainz, and on the 14th of February 1488 the Great Swabian League was constituted. There were four constituent parties, the archduke Sigismund of Austria, Count Eberhard V. (afterwards duke) of Württemberg, who became the first captain of the league, the knightly league of St George, and lastly twenty-two Swabian imperial cities. The league received a formal constitution with a federal council consisting of three colleges of nine councillors each, a captain and a federal court with judicial and executive powers. The armed force which was to police Swabia consisted of 12,000 foot and 1200 horse, each party contributing one-fourth. The league gained strength by the speedy accession of Augsburg and other Swabian cities, the margraves of Brandenburg-Ansbach, Baireuth and Baden, the four Rhenish electors, &c., and in 1490 of Maximilian, king of the Romans, whom the league had helped to rescue from the hands of the Netherlanders in 1488. It did not render him the support he expected in his foreign policy, but it performed its primary work of restoring and maintaining order with energy and efficiency. In 1492 it compelled Duke Albert of Bavaria to renounce Regensburg; in 1519 it expelled the turbulent duke, Ulrich of Württemberg, who had seized Reutlingen, and it sold his duchy to Charles V.; and in 1523 it defeated the Franconian knights who had taken up arms with Franz von Sickingen. In 1525, Truchsess, the league captain, aided by the forces of Trier and the palatinate, overthrew the rebel peasants of Königshofen on the Tauber and at Ingolstadt.
The league, which had been several times renewed, expired on the 2nd of February 1534, its dissolution being due to internal dissensions regarding the reformation. Futile attempts were made to renew it, in 1535 by the Bavarian chancellor, Eck, and in 1547 by Charles V.