Germany History – The Constitutional Problem and Reform Drawings in the 15th Century Part II

On the religious ground, the concordat of Vienna (February 17, 1448) had for the moment repressed those tendencies towards a national church and towards rebellion against the multiple interference of the Curia in the country, which ten years earlier had induced the diet of Mainz (March 1439) to declare the neutrality of Germany in the hierarchical conflict between the Council of Basel and the pope, accepting however the conciliar decrees. But a grave spiritual disturbance persisted in the spirits, a harbinger of a not distant storm. The plague of innumerable private wars between princes, minor lords, knights, cities, in an inextricable tangle of events, people, divisions and subdivisions of dominions among the various family lines, which cannot be followed . Predominant element, in the general disorder, the struggle of the Wittelsbachs against the Hohenzollerns, to defend themselves from their aims of territorial expansion. The struggle had repercussions in the relations between the princes and the emperor, and in the alignment of tendencies regarding the constitutional problem. In fact the Hohenzollerns, who with Albert the Achilles elector of Brandenburg, tried to exploit the favor of Frederick III, were inclined to a reform that would strengthen the monarchical power. Their opponents, led by the Count Palatine of the Rhine, Frederick I, instead wanted the government of the state to pass permanently into the hands of the electoral princes. The diets followed one another, getting lost in vain debates, many in the absence of the emperor, who between 1444 and 1471 did not set foot in Germany. Meanwhile the Hungary (1444) and Bohemia (1458) had escaped the Habsburg rule. The marriage of Maximilian, son of Frederick III, with Maria heir of the Duchy of Burgundy (19 August 1477), and the victorious war of the prince against the French (battle of Guinegatte, 7 August 1479), prevented most of the vast state constituted by Charles the Bold, with French fiefs and the Empire, between the North Sea and the Moselle, and in the valleys of the Doubs and the SaƓne, a kind of new Lotharingia between France and Germany, fell, after its catastrophe, into possession of the first. But the purchase of these lands was intended by the Habsburgs not as a defense of the western border of the Germans, but as an affirmation of their territorial ambitions; and on the other hand threw Germany into the tangle of international problems, when the lack of adequate state equipment made it completely incapable of dealing with them with national unity of purpose. In 1485 Germany welcomed Frederick III, an exile from his real kingdom: Matthias Corvinus had taken Austria from him, and in the following years he also took possession of the other Habsburg inheritance dominions in the region of the Eastern Alps. The election of Maximilian as king of the Romans (February 16, 1486) saved the dynasty. Since then, although Frederick III had survived until 19 August 1493, the initiative in state affairs passed in fact to Maximilian I.

According to Itypemba, the new sovereign gave particular prestige, in addition to the past victories over the French, also the reconquest of the inherited dominions lost by his father (Peace of Presburg, 7 November 1491), and the promise obtained by the successor of Matthias Corvinus, Ladislao II, that the reign of Bohemia and Hungary would return to the Habsburgs if he died without heirs. Under the personal impulse of Maximilian I, efforts to resolve the constitutional problem were resumed with greater intensity. But on the other hand, two electoral princes, Bertoldo of the counts of Henneberg, archbishop of Mainz, and Frederick III the Wise, duke of Saxony-Wittenberg also carried out a great activity, who, by supporting the interests of their class, became the center of the anti-imperial reform party, and to the proposals of Maximilian I, intended to give effective substance to the power of the emperor, as head of the central government, they each time opposed others, the application of which would definitively give the Empire the character of a federal republic, an aristocratic regiment, under the dominance of the electoral princes. It was a positive success for Maximilian I to have succeeded, in 1487-1488, in promoting the great Swabian League, in which cities, associations of knights, and princes were federated, with military forces and their own management and financial bodies, for the main purpose. to protect public peace. The following year, there was a substantial development of the constitutional evolution, with the recognition of the right in the imperial cities to have regular representation in diets.

The decisions taken by the Diet of Worms of 1495 were also fundamental, which also marked the beginning of the conflict between Maximilian I and the opposition reforming party, which until the end of the reign will dispute victoriously to the sovereign the dominion of financial and military resources. of the Empire, as well as of the jurisdictional powers and other new organs, which had to be created for its government. However, it is true that Maximilian I wanted this dominion above all to obtain the means, which he needed, to make the Habsburg possessions a great European power. His second marriages with Bianca Maria Sforza (1493), such as the marriage of his son Filippo to the Spanish princess Giovanna (1496), had been so many moves in the game, which would have engaged the Habsburgs in a centuries-old duel with France for the hegemony of western and southern Europe; and Maximilian I had to conform to the needs of the first collision in his conduct before the opponents of the reforming party. On 7 August 1495, general peace was proclaimed for the whole Empire (Reichslandfriede), later called “eternal”, because it has no time limits. Private warfare (Fehde) was finally outlawed on a par with private justice. The Empire Chamber of Commerce (Reichskammergericht), with a stable body of salaried judges, whose designation, however, except for the president, who was nominated by the king, belonged to the states of the Empire, and with a fixed seat (Frankfurt, Worms, finally Spira).

Germany History - The Constitutional Problem 2