Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/335

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The great Italian cities largely owed their political influence to the fact that they ruled without a rival over districts as large as most German principalities. But in Germany the territory of many of the strongest among the free cities, such as Augsburg, was almost confined to the limits of their city walls. There were very few towns which dominated so wide a stretch of the countryside as Nürnberg, but how insignificant was the Nürnberg territory as compared with that of Florence! Even the population and wealth of the German towns have probably been exaggerated. Careful statistical investigation suggests that none of the cities of upper Germany had more than 20,000 inhabitants, and those which may have been of larger size, such as Cologne or Bremen or Lübeck, are of more importance in the commercial than in the political history of Germany. Though the financiers of Augsburg and Frankfort, and the merchants of Nürnberg or Basel or Cologne, were acquiring vast wealth, building palaces for their residence and through their luxurious ways raising the standard of civilisation and comfort for all ranks of Germans, they were not yet in a position so much as to aspire to political direction. Yet it was in the towns only that there could be found any non-noble class with even the faintest interest in politics. The condition of the country population was steadily declining. Feudalism still kept the peasant in its iron grip, and the rise in prices which opened the economic revolution that ushered in modern times was now beginning to destroy his material prosperity. In the upper Khineland the condition of the agricultural population seems to have been very similar to that of the French peasantry before the outbreak of the Revolution. While their Swiss neighbours were free and prosperous, the peasant of Elsass or of the Black Forest was hardly able to make a living through the over-great subdivision of the little holdings. It was in this region that the repeated troubles of the Bundschuh and the revolts of "Poor Conrad" showed that deep-seated distress had led to the propagation of socialistic and revolutionary schemes among men desperate enough and bold enough to seek by armed force a remedy for their wrongs. Outside this region there was very little active revolutionary propaganda, or actual peasant revolt. However, in 1515, formidable disturbances broke out in Styria and the neighbouring districts.

The beginnings of a more national policy at last came from some of the princes of the second rank. Counts, knights, towns, and peasants were too poor, divided, and limited in their views, to aim at common action. But among the princes of secondary importance were men too far-seeing and politic to adopt a merely isolated attitude, while their consciousness of the limitation of their resources left them without so much as the wish of aspiring to follow from afar the example of Charles the Bold or Albert IV of Munich. To the abler German lords of this type the feudal ideal of absolute domination over their own fiefs was less satisfying in itself and moreover less probable of realisation. Their