Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/334

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class. As a rule, however, the princes of strongest resources and most individual character were precisely those who were most quickly realising the ideals of localised and dynastic sovereignty, which, in the next century, became the common ambition of German rulers of every rank.

Though the power of the strongest of the German princes was thus limited, yet it was in regions under the influence of such great feudatories that the nearest approach to order prevailed. Habsburg rule in the south-east, Burgundian rule in the north-west, were establishing settled States, though rather at the expense of Germany as a whole than by way of contributing to its general peace. In a similar fashion Bavaria and the north-eastern Marchland between Elbe and Oder attained comparative prosperity under Wittelsbachs, Wettins, and Hohenzollerns. But in the other parts of Germany affairs were far worse. Even in the ancient duchy of Saxony the dissipation of the princely power had become extreme: but the Rhineland, Franconia, and Swabia were in an even more unhappy condition. The scattered Estates of the four Rhenish Electors, and powers such as Cleves and Hesse, were in no case strong enough to preserve general order in the Rhineland. The Elector of Mainz, the bishops of Würzburg and Bamberg, and the abbot of Fulda were, save the Kulmbach Hohenzollerns, the only rulers over even relatively considerable territories in Franconia. Würtemberg and Baden alone broke the monotony of infinite subdivision in Swabia. The characteristic powers in all these regions were rather the counts and the knights, mere local lords or squires with full or partial princely authority over their petty Estates. In such regions as these economic prosperity and ordered civil existence depended almost entirely on the number and importance of the free imperial cities.

Neither from the lesser immediate nobility nor from the city communities was any real contribution to be expected towards imperial reform. The counts and knights were too poor, too numerous, and too helpless, to be able to safeguard even their own interests. Their absurd jealousies of each other, their feuds with the princes and the towns, their chronic policy of highway robbery, made them the chief difficulty in the way of that general Landfriede which had been proclaimed so often but never realised. The towns were almost equally incompetent to take up a general national policy. They were indeed wealthy, numerous, and important: but despite their unions with each other they never advanced towards a really national line of action. Their intense local patriotism narrowed their interest to the region immediately around their walls, and their parochial separatism was almost as intense as that of their natural enemies the lesser nobles. While they had thus scanty will to act, their power to do so was perhaps much less than is often imagined. MachiavehTs glowing eulogies of their liberty and capacity of resistance has misled most moderns as to the true position of the German cities. In no way is their position comparable to that of the towns of Italy.