Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/333

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Germany in the early years of the fifteenth century, and had somewhat pushed aside more ancient houses, such as the Guelfs of Brunswick, whose habit of subdividing their territories for a long time grievously weakened their influence. The financial distress of the Emperor Sigismund had forced him to pledge his early acquisition, Brandenburg, to the wealthy and practical Frederick of Hohenzollern, who as Burgrave of Nürnberg was already lord of Kulmbach and of a considerable territory in Upper Franconia. Despairing of redeeming his debt, Sigismund was in 1417 compelled to acquiesce in the permanent establishment of that house in the electorate of Brandenburg. Albert Achilles, Frederick's younger son, had shown in his long strife against Nürnberg and the Wittels-bachs rare skill as a warrior and shrewd ability as a statesman, even when his material resources were limited to his ancestral Kulmbach possessions. Called to the electoral dignity in Brandenburg after his brother Frederick IPs death in 1471, Albert held a position among the northern princes only paralleled by that of Frederick of the Palatinate among the lords of the Rhine. As long as he lived he made his influence felt through his rare personal gifts, his courage, and his craft, and his fantastic combination of the ideals of the knight-errant with those of the statesman of the Renaissance. The welfare of Germany as a whole appealed to him almost as little as to Frederick the Victorious. All his pride was in the extension of the power of his house, and his most famous act was perhaps that Dispositio Achlllea of 1473 which secured the future indivisibility of the whole Mark of Brandenburg and its transmission to the eldest male heir by right of primogeniture. Yet Albert died half conscious that his ambition had been ill-directed. All projects and all warlike preparations, declared the dying hero, were of no effect so long as Germany as a whole had no sound peace, no good law or law-courts, and no general currency. But with Albert's death in 1486 the power of Brandenburg, based purely on his individuality, ceased to excite any alarm among the princes of the north.

The House of Wettin, which had long held the margravate of Meissen, acquired with the district of Wittenberg and some other fragments of the ancient Saxon duchy, the electorate and duchy of Saxony (1423). The dignity and territories of the House now made it prominent among the princes of Germany, but the division of its lands, finally consummated in 1485, between Ernest and Albert, the grandsons of the first Wettin Elector, Frederick the Valiant, limited its power. The singular moderation and the conservative instincts of the Saxon line saved it from aspiring to rival Albert Achilles or Frederick the Victorious. The most illustrious representative of the Ernestine House, Frederick the Wise, who became Elector in 1486, was perhaps the only prince of the first rank who, while giving general support to the Emperor, ultimately identified himself with the plans of imperial reform which were now finding spokesmen among the princes of the second