Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/341

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


of the monarch and responsible to the Estates alone, they were to exercise supreme jurisdiction over all persons and in all causes, and immediate jurisdiction over all tenants-in-chief. The Diet was henceforth to meet annually, and no weighty matters were to be decided, even by the King, without the counsel and consent of the Estates. This was practically the compensation which Maximilian offered to the reformers for rejecting their plan of a permanent executive Council. Frequent parliaments might be endured; but a cabinet council, dependent upon the Estates, was, as Max saw, fatal to the continuance of his authority. A general tax called the Common Penny (Gemelne Pfennig) was to be levied throughout the Empire. This was a roughly assessed and rudely graduated property-tax, which had also some elements of an income-tax and a poll-tax. It was now established for four years, and was to be collected by the local princely or municipal authorities, but to be handed over to officials of the Empire and ultimately entrusted to seven imperial Treasurers, appointed by King and Estates and established at Frankfort. Max was authorised to take 150,000 florins from the Common Penny to defray the expenses of his Italian expedition.

In September the Estates separated. Both King and Diet were mutually satisfied, and it seemed as if brighter days were to dawn for the Empire. But dark clouds soon began to gather on every side. Maximilian was bitterly disappointed with his unfortunate Italian campaign of 1496. The German reformers soon found that it was easier to di'aw up schemes of reform than to carry out even the slightest improvement.

It was not that the Edict of Worms was wholly inoperative. The proclamation of the Landfriede was a real boon, though of course it did not change by magic a lawless into a law-abiding society. The Kammer-gericht provided justice in many cases where justice would have been impossible before. But the collection of the Common Penny proved the real difficulty. Even princes who were well disposed towards Berthold's policy showed no eagerness to levy a tax which other men were to spend. In many districts nothing whatever was done to collect the money. The knights as a body refused all taxation, inasmuch as their service was military and not fiscal. The abbots declined to recognise the jurisdiction of a court so exclusively secular as the Kammergericht. The princes not represented at Worms repudiated altogether laws passed by an assembly in which they had taken no part.

The weak point of the new constitution was its lack of any administrative authority. Maximilian was in Italy, and his representatives ostentatiously stood aloof from any effort to enforce the new laws. Events soon showed that Berthold was right in demanding the establishment of an executive Council. The yearly Diets were too cumbrous, expensive, and disorganised, to be of any value in discharging administrative functions. The first Diet under the new system, which was to