Germany History – The Affirmation of the Predominance of the Electorate Part III

According to Cancermatters, the selfishness of sovereign and princes had prevented the solemn proclamation of the independence of the Empire from the Papacy and from France, made in Rense, eight years before the election of Charles IV took place in that same place under conditions such, as to mean the oblivion of that principle. However, the idea wasn’t quite dead; and entered among the factors that determined another essential phase in the constitutional evolution of Germany with the famous Golden Bull(1356; v.). We find it in fact in the reaffirmation of the norm, that the mere fact of majority election generates in itself the right of the elected person to exercise imperial power and to bear the title of king; the Apostolic See was left with only the ceremony of imperial coronation. But above all the Bolla d’oro was the great victory of the electoral princes as well as over the other princes as well as over the sovereign. From this moment they formed a separate caste, to which eminent powers were attributed and effective sovereignty over their respective dominions was reconfirmed. The sovereign accepted to recognize himself primus inter pares, so that the Golden Bull a treaty between the princes and Charles IV was rightly defined, not an independent act of the imperial will with respect to subjects. Thus the constitutional evolution, of which we saw the seeds with Frederick I and the first development with Frederick II, matured to the exclusive advantage of the electoral princes. All the other political forces, which fermented in Germany, remained unsatisfied. Illustrious princely families, such as the Wittelsbachs of the ducal line of Bavaria in comparison with those of the Palatinate of the Rhine; the Ascanî dukes of Saxony-Lauenburg, in comparison with those of Saxony-Wittenberg; the Habsburg dukes of Austria saw themselves excluded from the electoral privilege and from the benefits that ensued. To them, as to the princes, the voters had shown the way forward. It was therefore the beginning of a further development, which would have led to an even greater dispersion of sovereignty. The danger was aggravated that Germany would break up into so many independent states and small states, if the centrifugal tendencies were not balanced in the forms of a confederation presided over by one of the princes, which only in the imperial dignity would have founded its nominal pre-eminence over the confederate members., remaining for the rest above all the sovereign of his own state. It was the end of the concept of the emperor as intended dominus mundi, so dear to the political doctrines of the Middle Ages. On the other hand, since the Golden Bull did not care at all either to determine the relations between the princes and the government of the Empire, or to create the administrative, judicial, military and political bodies of the government itself, the constitutional problem it remained unsolved precisely in the essential elements. The attempts made on various occasions to get out of this very strange situation will give its character to the whole subsequent period of German history. On the other hand the cities, damaged by the re-enactment in the Golden Bull of some of the restrictive measures of the time of Frederick II, and threatened by the principles intended to make absolute and to extend their dominion, will gather in leagues to provide for their defense. And since princes, minor nobles and knights will resort to the same means, and a central guardian body of public order is missing, leagues and wars between leagues will constitute another of the typical elements of German history. All this, and the sovereign sanction given to the electoral principle for the succession to the throne, just while in the great states of Western Europe, and especially in neighboring France, the opposite principles triumphed in the constitutional evolution, will be the main cause of the incurable weakness., which will paralyze Germany in the face of the great problems of international politics.

Meanwhile, one of the princely families, which had played a conspicuous part in German history in the first half of the century, was falling. The Wittelsbachs in fact lost the Tyrol, occupied by Rudolf IV of Habsburg Duke of Austria, with the extinction of the line of Ludovico IV (1363); the Upper Palatinate of Bavaria, Sulzbach and the brand of Brandenburg, passed to Charles IV of Luxembourg (1373). The Luxembourg dominions thus reached the maximum extent, and Charles IV opened to his family other prospects of new growth, for the marriage of the second son Sigismund with the heir of the kingdoms of Poland and Hungary (1374) and of his brother Wenceslaus with the heir to the Duke of Brabant and Limburg. For the Habsburgs, the succession agreement with the Luxembourgs was of decisive importance.

Germany History - The Affirmation of the Predominance of the Electorate 3