The Holy Roman Empire, 1493-1519

Emperor Frederick III. died in 1493. His son Maximilian had been elected King in 1486; in 1508 he broke with tradition and assumed the title of Holy Roman Emperor without coronation. Maximilian attempted a major reform of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1495 he proclaimed the Ewiger Reichslandfrieden (perpetual Imperial peace), which banned feuds, and created the Reichskammergericht (Imperial High Court) in Wetzlar as the highest instance to solve internal disputes. By so doing, the king gave up on the royal claim to personally decide such matters. The authority of the Reichstag (Imperial diet) was strengthened; the project of establishing an Imperial government failed; the Reichstag, assembling annually (at various locations) became the highest-ranking institution of the Empire. The diet granted an Imperial tax, the common penny, to be collected every four years. In 1500/1512 the Imperial circles were introduced, in an attempt to reorganize the Empire.
Maximilian's reform program marks a critical turning point in the history of the Holy Roman Empire, the transition from the middle ages to modern history. While the reforms created institutions which lasted until the dissolution of the Empire in 1803/1806, the reform was incomplete. Both an Imperial militia, granted by the diet of Augsburg in 1500, and an Imperial council with seat in Nürnberg, independent of the Emperor and elected by the Imperial estates & Circles, granted by the latter, lasted only for two years.
Maximilian's reform program remained incomplete, because the German princes and territorial lords were concerned, too great a concentration of power in the hands of the Emperor. The Emperor's, and Empire's greatest weakness lay in his poor revenue base. Since the Interregnum (1254-1273) the power base of an Emperor lay in the territories he ruled as a territorial lord; in case of Maximilian, these were the Austrian lands. Yet, Maximilian had to restore Habsburg control over Vienna and Lower Austria in a military campaign during the last years of his father's reign. He modernized the administration of the Austrian lands, but the revenue they provided to him was insufficient to support an Imperial policy. Maximilian, like Frederick III. before him, depended on the Augsburg banking house of Fugger.

Four regions had slipped out of control of the Empire - the Bohemian lands, Switzerland, northern Italy and North Sea coastal regions. The Burgundian and the Austrian lands were political entities of their own; in all practicality, the Empire was reduced to 8 Imperial Circles - the Bavarian, Swabian, Franconian, Upper Rhenian, Lower Rgenian-Westphalian, Upper Saxon, Lower Saxon Circle and the Electoral Rhenian Circle, federative organizations which were to uphold peace in their respective region.

The War of Burgundian Succession (1477-1493); Maximilian had married the Burgundian heir, Mary of Burgundy), was settled in the Treaty of Senlis 1493. When France invaded Italy in 1494, the Emperor joined the League of Venice; France withdrew. In 1499-1500 the Swabian Circle, in the Swabian War, failed to enforce her will on the Swiss Federation; this war marks the factual independence of Switzerland. Angered about Venice's refusal to grant him passage to Rome, Emperor Maximilian in 1508 joined France and the Pope in the League of Cambrai, which dissolved soon after the Venetian defeat at Agnadello. Then the Emperor joined the anti-French Holy League. In 1516, Maximilian ceded Milan to France, Verona to Venice. The Diet of Augsburg 1518 discussed Imperial aid against the Turks.

Biography of Maximilian I., from Columbia Encyclopedia, from aeiou, from Wikipedia, from EB 1911, from BBKL, in German
Article Imperial Reform, from Wikipedia
The Imperial Circles, from Chivalric Orders
Article Imperial Circle Estates, from Wikipedia
DOCUMENTS A Royal Coronation: Maximilian I at Frankfurt (April 1486); The Perpetual Public Peace, 1495, posted by UOregon

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on October 8th 2003, last revised on November 12th 2004

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