Europe, no less than four serious aspirants for a comprehensive monarchy, which should comprise all the fertile countries of the middle Danube, the upper Elbe, and the upper Oder. The Dukes of Bavaria, the Archdukes of Austria, the Kings of Bohemia, and the Kings of Hungary, had long been bidding, intriguing, and warring for the great prize. The spoils went to the House of Habsburg. The burden of the narrative to be attempted in this chapter is implied in this one historic result; and only by a comprehension of its gradual accomplishment can the more or less incoherent events which passed over the scene of south-eastern Europe before the advent of Luther, Charles V, and the great Popes of the Counter-Reformation, be made really intelligible.
Thus a clear solution, one might almost say a technical answer, may be found for the problem, why Austria, and not Bavaria, Bohemia, or Hungary, was to become, in 1526, the political centre of gravity of a part of Europe, where for geographical and historical reasons small independent States could not well hope for enduring existence, and out of which Poland was to retreat behind the Oder, leaving central Europe unaffected by her influence. All personal or accidental events and causes were overruled by one potent general cause, working on behalf of the Habsburgs. However bad the tactics of the Austrian rulers, however insufficient or dishonourable their means, they surpassed their rivals in respect of political strategy, more particularly in the strategy of foreign or international policy, and thus carried the day in a period when, all over Europe, international forces had a decided ascendancy over local or national influences. To this remarkable result the shortcomings of their rivals contributed perhaps more than their own superiority in political insight. The glaring and fatal mismanagement, or rather neglect, of foreign policy by Austria's three rivals rendered fruitless all their efforts for the consolidation of their States.
In approaching the melancholy history of Hungary and Bohemia from 1490 to 1526, one cannot but be struck with the analogies, amounting to complete resemblance, both in the circumstances and in the institutions of the Cech and Magyar kingdoms in the fifteenth century. In natural conditions, in number and quality of population, and in the conjuncture of circumstances historical and historico-geo-graphical, there is indeed a great difference between the two countries. The Magyars are a Turanian, the Cechs an Aryan people. In their languages, their customs, their music, they have little in common. The Cechs have always been, and were especially in the earlier half of the fifteenth century, profoundly troubled by religious movements of their own; while we can detect no parallel in Hungary to the rise and progress of the Bohemian Hussites. The international position of Bohemia was centred in a close, if latently hostile relation to the Holy Roman Empire, the King of Bohemia being one of the seven Electors. The claims to overlordship over Hungary put forward by earlier Emperors