Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/377

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

foreign policy. In Europe at any rate, and most certainly since the downfall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the action and reaction of its several countries on one another have been so powerful, that Giuseppe Ferrari's suggestion of writing history in a binary form ought to have been carried out long since for every one of them, as fortunately it actually has been for some.

In the latter half of the fifteenth century the whole tenor and nature of state-craft and policy changed from what it had been in the preceding centuries. The Middle Ages knew only of two "universals" in politics, the Empire proper, that is, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Catholic Church; the Byzantine Empire having little if anything to say in questions of Western policy since the days of Charlemagne. Of those two empires that of the Church alone possessed adequate organisation and means for the purpose of efficient government. The Holy Roman Empire was a fiction, or at best an ideal, lacking all the realities of power. In the face of that vague "Empire," the less ambitious but more practical smaller sovereigns and lords in Germany, France, Spain, and Italy, and likewise those of Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland, endeavoured during the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, to build up well-knit and well-organised smaller realms. In this some of them succeeded but too well; and by about 1475 Europe was again divided into two groups,—but groups of a character totally different from the medieval classification.

Instead of a loose fiction, such as the Holy Roman Empire, and the Church, Europe then displayed a series of relatively large and fairly centralised monarchies, such as England, France, Aragon, Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary on the one hand; and small semi-monarchies or still smaller but highly organised city-States, such as the duchy of Bavaria, the electorate of Saxony, the free imperial towns and the Italian city-States on the other. The old political "universals" however, the Empire and the Church, were not yet extinct. The Church, although undermined by deleterious influences, internal as well as external, could still draw on vast resources of policy, treasure, and men; the Empire, although antiquated as an institution, still possessed stores of vitality as a diplomatic contrivance and a political allurement. Owing to the "universal" character of both Emperor and Pope, nothing but an international policy could be expected from either; but all the minor sovereigns who were constantly striving to enlarge their domain were likewise inevitably driven into the maze of this species of policy. However, there was a great difference (though hitherto this has remained almost unnoticed) between the realms east and west of the Oder and the March. All the States west of these rivers, especially Austria, Saxony, Bavaria, Burgundy and France-to mention only the most important ones-consisted not of continuous territory, but of larger or smaller enclaves, broken territory straggling irregularly over