Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/326

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opposition by flagrant attacks on the traditional authority of their vassals; and in smaller matters it was more to the interest even of the greater princes to keep on good terms with Caesar, than to provoke his hostility by wanton and arbitrary opposition to his wishes.

Another weighty advantage accrued to the German monarch from the circumstance that his chief rivals were every whit as badly off in dealing with their vassals as he was with his. The well-ordered territorial sovereignties of a later generation had not yet come into existence. The strongest of the imperial vassals were still feudal lords and not sovereign princes. The resources at their disposal were those of a great feudal proprietor rather than those of an independent ruler. Outside their own domains they had few means of exercising any real power. Their vassals were as hard to keep in hand as they were themselves impatient of control by their sovereign. When even the imperial Court was destitute of the appliances of a modern State, the smaller princes could only govern in a still ruder and more primitive fashion. Their revenue was uncertain; their means of raising money were utterly inadequate; their army consisted of rude feudal levies; and they had no police, no civil or diplomatic service. Although they could be trusted to struggle stoutly and unscrupulously for their immediate interests, they were the last body of men to frame a general policy or depart from their traditional principles in order to suit the temper of the coming age. The very numerous small princes were infinitely worse off than their greater brethren. The free towns, though much better able to protect themselves than the weaker princes, were powerless for aggression.

The Diet of the Empire (Reichstag) was the ancient and traditional council of the Emperor. It remained a purely feudal body in which none save tenants-in-chief (Reichsunmittelbare) had any right to appear. Its powers were sufficiently extensive, but its constitution was only very gradually settled, and there was no real means of carrying out its resolutions. The method of its convocation was extraordinarily cumbrous. Besides sending out regular writs, it was the custom for the Emperor to despatch various officials throughout the Empire to request the magnates1 personal appearance at the Diet. In the case of the more important princes, this process was often several times repeated. Yet it was seldom, save perhaps at the first Diet of a new King or when business of extraordinary importance was to be discussed, that many princes condescended to appear in person. In their absence they were represented by commissioners, who often delayed proceedings by referring to their principals all questions on which they had not been sufficiently instructed. This habit was so strong with the delegates of the towns that it seriously delayed their recognition as an Estate of the realm, which they had claimed as a right more than fifty years before it was formally conceded. When the preliminaries were over, there was always, in consequence of the lateness of the appearance of some of