Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/327

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the representatives, a considerable delay before proceedings could be opened. Very often the early comers went home before the last arrivals appeared at all. Proceedings began when the Emperor or his commissioners laid the royal proposition before the Estates. For ordinary debates the Diet was divided into three curiae, colleges, or Estates. But it was not until 1489 that the Estate of the free and imperial towns definitely secured its right to appear in all Diets beside the higher Estates of Electors and princes. Procedure was extraordinarily complicated and cumbrous. It was not until the end of the fifteenth century that such elementary principles as the right of the majority to bind a minority, or the obligation of absent members to abide by the proceedings of those that were present, were definitely established. It was often after many months' discussion that the imperial recess (Abschied) was issued, which concluded the proceedings; and the great expense involved in prolonged residence at the seat of the Diet was a real burden even on the richest princes. In all the colleges voting was by individuals; but so personal was the right of representation, that the splitting up of a principality among the sons of a prince gave each ruler of a part a voice equal to that of the ruler of the whole. The smaller tenants-in-chief, the imperial knights, were not regarded as an Estate of the Empire and were excluded from all part in the Diet. Neither the custom which secured that the voting power of a much divided house should be no greater than that of a family whose power was vested in a single hand, nor that which gave only collective votes to the counts, prelates and towns, had as yet sprung into existence.

The incompetence and costliness of the Diet made it very ineffective in practice. The Emperors hesitated to convoke an assembly which, by its theoretical powers, might effectually tie their hands, while the Estates were averse to wasting time and money in fruitless and unending deliberations. Side by side with the constitutional representation of the Empire, divers local and private organisations had gradually come into being to discharge efficiently some at least of the duties that the Estates were incompetent to perform. The oldest among these was the meeting of the six Electors (Kurfurstentag). Of these high dignitaries the three Archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Trier and the Count Palatine of the Rhine commonly acted together, while the two eastern Electors, the Duke of Saxony and the Margrave of Brandenburg, had more discordant interests. The seventh Elector, the King of Bohemia, was excluded as a foreigner from all electoral functions save the actual choice of the King. The Golden Bull of 1356 had given privileges which raised the Electors above their brother princes into the first Estate of the Empire. They had such full jurisdiction over their territories that it became the ideal of all other princes to obtain the electoral privileges. Succession to their lands was to go by primogeniture, and every Easter they were to hold an electoral Diet. Regular yearly meetings of the