Germany History – The Emergence of the Habsburgs
This chaotic period for imperial power can actually be started from 1246, when, after Frederick was deposed by Pope Innocent IV in Lyon, the crown was given by the princes – managed by the archbishop of Cologne – first to the landgrave of Thuringia, Enrico Raspe, then to Count William of Holland. Subsequently, other candidates even more unrelated to Germany obtained the title of king of the Romans, that is, king of Germany and designated emperor: Alfonso of Castile and Count Richard of Cornwall, elected at the same time.
In fact, the royal power remained vacant until the electors in 1273 gave the crown to Rudolf of Habsburg. The Germany, lacking a unitary legislation, finances and a bureaucratic structure common to the whole Kingdom, was a jumble of territorial states, secular or ecclesiastical, in which the princes exercised all the attributes of sovereignty. To these principalities were added the free or imperial cities, that is, directly subjected to the authority of the sovereign. Crushed by its imperial ambitions, the German monarchy, after the negative end of the investiture struggle, no longer had the strength to start building a unitary state in German lands. The figure of the king and the diet (the assembly of princes, nobles and cities) were the only unitary elements.
But, beneath the political chaos, the economic dynamism of the cities of the North and South-West, along the waterways of the Baltic and the Rhine, was remarkable, as was the growing strength of the new monastic-crusader state. to the NE, Prussia, and, to the South, territorial states ruled by solid dynasties, such as Bavaria under the Wittelsbachs and Austria under the Habsburgs. Further to the West, in the advanced Rhenish region, the House of Luxembourg came into the political limelight. These will be the main families that will compete for the throne in the late Middle Ages.
Rudolph of Habsburg (1273-91) devoted himself above all to strengthening his family, fighting Ottokar king of Bohemia and obtaining Austria and Styria, in addition to the Tyrol and the Swiss possessions he already controlled. Neither Rodolfo, nor his successors Adolfo di Nassau (1291-98) and Albert of Habsburg (1298-1308), ever thought of encircling the imperial crown: the German king was by now a simple house leader who carried out his own dynastic policy.
With the appearance on the throne in 1308 of Henry of Luxembourg, directing politics took on a broader scope. His descent to Italy, where he was crowned emperor in 1312, was not followed, however, also because his death took him in 1313. The only result he achieved concerned the dynastic plan: Bohemia, through marriage, went to his son Giovanni. However, the way was reopened for imperial adventures on Italian soil. Ludovico il Bavaro (1314-47) was crowned by the Roman people against the will of Pope John XXII and the electors in fact abandoned him, electing Charles IV of Bohemia in his place.(1346-78), grandson of Henry VII. Charles – who, in agreement with the pope, took the imperial crown – continued in dynastic politics by taking possession of Silesia, Moravia and Brandenburg. Thus an important territorial nucleus was created, the center of which, however, was not Germany, but Bohemia.
In 1356, the Golden Bull of Charles IV confirmed the number and powers of the electoral college, made up of 3 ecclesiastics (the archbishops of Cologne, Trier and Mainz) and 4 laymen (the king of Bohemia, the count of the Palatinate, the of Saxony and the Marquis of Brandenburg). Charles’s son, Wenceslaus, was appointed king of the Romans while his father was still alive (1376): for the first time after Frederick II a son succeeded his father on the German throne. In 1400 the 4 Rhine electors deposed Wenceslaus and gave the crown to Robert of Wittelsbach. At his death (1410), the electors turned to the powerful house of Luxembourg, electing the two brothers of Wenceslas, who was still alive: there were therefore three kings of the same family together, until the disappearance of the brothers left Sigismund alone on the throne. Alongside those of Germany and Bohemia, he had the crown of Hungary by inheritance: his problems were therefore in the East, where the Turks were increasingly threatening. Also for this reason he strove to heal the schism in the Church and suffocate the Hussite heresy (Council of Constance, 1414-18).
Upon Sigismund’s death (1437), the Kingdoms of Bohemia and Hungary passed to his son-in-law, Albert of Austria (1437-39), and then to Frederick III (1440-93). Strengthened by their possessions in Austria, Tyrol and Styria, the Habsburgs had laid the foundations for a new hegemonic territorial bloc in the German area. The supranational dimension of the Habsburg rule came into full light when, through marriage, with Maximilian I (1493-1519) came into possession of the inheritance of the Dukes of Burgundy. The territorial bloc of the Habsburgs, who from this moment on will monopolize the crown despite the permanence of the elective system, was therefore only partially German. The imperial power for the Habsburgs was a familiar, dynastic, non-national German fact: the Germanic Empire and the Germanic Kingdom began to take on two distinct physiognomies. At the beginning of the modern age, Germany was by now a simple agglomeration of small territorial states and cities.