Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/336

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territories were so small, and so scattered, their resources were so meagre and so precarious, that feudal independence meant to them but a limited, localised, and stunted career, and afforded them few guarantees of protection against the aggressions of their stronger neighbours. In such men there was no strong bias of self-interest to prevent their giving rein to the wholesome sentiment of love of fatherland which still survived in German breasts. But personal pride, traditional feuds with neighbouring houses, the habit of suspicion, and a general low level of political sagacity and individual capacity made it difficult for this class as a whole to initiate any comprehensive movement. All through the weary years of Frederick's reign projects of reform had been constantly shattered by the violence and jealousy of the greater princes and by the indifference and want of unanimity of the petty ones. A leader of ability and insight had long been wanted to dominate their sluggish natures and quicken their slow minds with worthier ideals. Such a leader was at last found in Count Berthold of Henneberg, who in 1484 became Elector of Mainz at the age of 42. He soon made himself famous for the vigour, justice, and sternness, with which he ruled his dominions, for his eloquence in council, and for the large and patriotic views which he held on all broad questions of national policy. With him the movement for effective imperial reform really begins.

Berthold of Mainz had little of the churchman about him, and his life was in nowise that of the saint; but he stands out among all the princes of his time as the one statesman who strove with great ability and consummate pertinacity to realise the ideal of a free, national and united German State. His courage, his resourcefulness, his pertinacity, and his enthusiasm carried for a time everything before them. But soon grave practical difficulties wrecked his schemes and blasted his hopes. It is even possible to imagine that his policy was vicious in principle. It was a visionary and an impossible task to make petty feudalists champions of order, law, and progress. It involved moreover an antagonism to the monarchy, which after all was the only possible centre of any effective national sentiment in that age. But whatever may be thought of Berthold's practical insight, the whole history of Frederick III and of his successors shows clearly that the German monarchy, far from being as in England or France the true mainspring of a united national life, persistently and by deliberate policy operated as the strongest particularistic influence. After all, Germany was a nation, and Berthold strove by the only way open to him to make Germany what England and France were already becoming. It was not his fault that the method forced upon him was from the beginning an almost hopeless one.

To students of English medieval history Berthold's position seems perfectly clear. His ambition was to provide Germany with an efficient central government; but also to secure that the exercise of this authority