Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/329

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Neither Emperors, nor Diets, nor the voluntary associations of classes and districts sufficed to give peace and prosperity to the Empire. The unwieldy fabric had outgrown its ancient organisation and no new system had arisen capable of supplying its needs. Every aspect of fifteenth century history shows how overwhelming and immediate a need existed for thoroughgoing and organic reform. The area of imperial influence was steadily diminishing. Italy no longer saw in the Emperor any one but a foreigner, who could sometimes serve the turn of an ambitious upstart by selling him a lawful title of honour that raised him in the social scale of European rulers. Even the Hundred Years' War did not prevent the spread of French influence over the Middle Kingdom, and the Arelate was now no more an integral part of the Empire than was Italy. But parts of the old German kingdom were falling away. The outposts of Teutonic civilisation in the east were losing all connexion with the Power which had established them. Imperfect as the union established between the Scandinavian kingdoms at Calmar proved to be, it had dealt a mighty blow to the power of the Hansa, while the choice of the Danish king as Duke of Schleswig and Count of Holstein had practically extended the Scandinavian Power to the banks of the Elbe. In the north-east the Teutonic Knights had been forced by the Treaty of Thorn to surrender West Prussia to the Polish kings outright, and to hold as a fief of the Slavonic kingdom such part of Prussia as the Poles still allowed them to rule. Bohemia under George Podiebrad had become an almost purely Slavonic State, whose unfriendliness to German nationality and orthodox Catholicism might well threaten the renewal of those devastating Hussite invasions from which Germany had been saved by the Council of Basel. In Hungary German influence had disappeared with the extinction of the House of Luxemburg; the Magyar King Matthias Corvinus conquered the Duchy of Austria from the Habsburg Emperor, and died master of Vienna. The Swiss Confederacy was gradually drifting into hostility to the Empire; and the House of Burgundy was building up a great separatist State in the Low Dutch and Walloon provinces of the Netherlands. The utter defencelessness of Germany was seen by the devastations of the Armagnacs in Elsass. No prince of the Empire arrested their progress. The stubborn heroism of the Swiss League alone stayed the plague. And beyond all these dangers loomed the terrible spectre of Ottoman aggression.

Matters were equally unsatisfactory in the heart of Germany. Private war raged unchecked, and the feeble efforts made from time to time to secure the Public Peace (Landfriede) were made fruitless by the absence of any real executive authority. The robber knights waylaid traders, and great princes did not scruple to abet such lawlessness. The very preservation of the Public Peace had long ceased to be the concern of the Emperor and Empire as a whole, and local and voluntary unions (Landfriedensvereme) had sought with but scant result to uphold