Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

recognition of his title by the republic of Albert, the duchy was vested in an heiress, Poland. In the year 1320 the line of the who being married to the elector John margraves of Brandenburgh-a territory Sigismund, conveyed the duchy of Prussia which had been constituted one of the seven to the eldest branch of the House of Brandelectorates, became extinct, and the pa-enburgh in 1618. tronage of the whole place and dignity lapsed, in due course, to the reigning emperor. Louis of Bavaria, then on the imperial throne, conferred it on his eldest son, from whom it passed subsequently to the two younger in succe sion. The Luxemburgh emperors, loath to lose so valuable an appointment, contrived to recover it about fifty years later; but, after retaining it for a short time in their own family, at length formally disposed of it, at a fair valuation, for 400,000 crowns. The successful bidder for this enviable dignity was Frederick, burgrave of Nuremburg, of the noble House of Zollern, already considerable in the states of the empire, and which carried to its new inheritance the two small principalities of Bayreuth and Anspach, afterwards usually allotted as provisions for the younger branches of the family. On the 18th of April, 1417, Frederick, elector of Brandenburgh, entered upon his new career; and in his posterity has the inheritance ever since continued.

The name of Prussia was originally borne by a desolate district in the north-eastern angle of the present kingdom, a remote and uncivilized spot in which the Teutonic Knights had fixed themselves on their expulsion. from the Holy Land, as offering good work to their swords, and good remuneration to their valor. After reclaiming the territory from the pagan tribes which had overrun it, they held it, constituted into a kind of state, as a fief of the kingdom of Poland, and for more than two centuries entered with material influence into the political relations of this part of Europe. At length, after revolutions and reverses, which we need not stop to relate, this military brotherhood renounced the Romish faith, and embraced the doctrines of Luther, and by a treaty between the fraternity and their feudal superior, the king of Poland, these particular possessions of the Order were consolidated into an hereditary "duchy of Prussia," and settled on the Grand Master then ruling. This fortunate chief was Albert of Brandenburgh, a member of a junior branch of that family, and cousin of the then reigning elector, Joachim I., and who had been chosen by the knights, in their difficulties, as a serviceable and promising protector. In the second generation from

The electors of Brandenburgh immediately merged their old denomination in that derived from their recently acquired dukedom; and thus, from an obscure and insignificant corner of one of the rudest districts of Europe, was the title of one of its greatest powers circuitously derived. Compared with the hereditary territories of the electorate, the dimensions of the duchy were, indeed, considerable enough to suggest either an alteration or an addition in the titles of the reigning House, though they are now lost in that expanse of territorial agglomerations to which they still give their name. But there were more impressive arguments in favor of the scheme for thus sinking the electorate in the duchy. The former was but a constituent portion of the empire, whereas the domains of the latter were beyond the imperial boundaries, and though feudally subject at the moment to another power, could easily be enfranchised into a positive independence, such as was not to be expected in the case of an electorate. Nor was the great consummation long delayed. The extraordinary revolutions, of which we shall presently speak, produced in the empire by the Thirty Years' War, enabled Frederick William the Great, who most opportunely succeeded to the ducal crown in 1640, to emancipate his duchy from the pretensions of Poland, and to obtain its recognition, in 1657, as a sovereign and independent state. We will not stop to enumerate at this point the important acquisitions which the Treaty of Westphalia had secured to this new northern power, as it will be necessary to record, in greater detail, the operations and influences of this most famous peace upon the territorial constitution of the empire. But, with dominions thus aggrandized, and with the examples of Saxony and Orange before their eyes, it was not probable that the descendants of Frederick William would rest contented with their ducal rank. On the 18th of January, 1701, Frederick I. placed a royal crown on his own head, at Konigsberg, and a king of Prussia made his first appearance upon the field of Europe. The sanction of the emperor to the assumption was secured by the stipulations of a solemn treaty; and the most earnest protestations were employed to deprecate the opposition

of the empire itself. In consenting to the titular promotion of Prussia, Austria was raising up a rival to herself in the very heart of the empire, and one which, as the lapse of a very few years proved, was strong enough to make head against all the imperial and patrimonial resources of the more ancient House, and to revive the murderous conflicts of more barbarous times.

of Poland to this sudden elevation of one | about the case, that the aggrandizement of of its fiefs. Yet they were not completely the House thus encouraged remained evieffectual; and though the dissatisfaction of dently to be sought within the dominions his former lords was not suffered by Frederick to cause serious impediment to his schemes, it was not until the year 1763 that a recognition of the kingdom of Prussia could be extorted from the haughty diet of the republic of Poland. At this point of our territorial history we must stop. The utmost expansiveness of an essay would be insufficient to admit even a bare enumeration of the seignories, counties, duchies. principalities, bishoprics, and provinces, by the accretion of which the present power of Prussia has been gradually formed. Sweden, Austria, Poland, Saxony, and half the other states of Germany, have all joined in the reluctant contributions by which the representative of a petty dukedom, through the valor of its people and the conduct of its kings, has been raised, in a century and a half, to the foremost rank among theses, indeed, the empire of these times may powers of the world.

We have dwelt at some length upon the rise of these two great kingdoms, not only as good specimens from au interesting department of history-the formation and consolidation of states-hut because, by the position of one of them, and, finally, by the ivalry of the two, not only were the external relations of the Germanic Empire completely changed, but the whole system of Europe was intimately affected. In particular, the comparatively recent formation of such a power as Prussia entailed the most momentous results. It is true that the royal title, as we shall presently see, was not peculiar to Prussia among the states of the empire: but there was this singularity

* Eight distinct deposits may be elassified and subdivided. There was first the old Brandenburgh electorate on which settled the duchy of Prussia. Then there came the Saxon provinces acquired partly in the seventeenth century and partly at the conclusion of the late wars. The Westphalian provinces fell in about the same period. The Pome ranian were picked up piecemeal and at intervals, Swedish Pomerania not coming in till the present century. The duchy of Cleves, which was acquired in 1666, was the nucleus of the Rhenish provinces, which have been so handsomely augmented within the present generation. As to Silesia and Posen, we need not say anything about such very famous transactions. It is very important, however, at a period like this, to bear in mind the circumstances attending the territorial formation of a state, especially such as this, since, according to these descents, the popular feeling in the provinces varies.

There is all the difference in the world between the
temper and disposition prevailing in East and West
Prussia and Brandenburgh, and that exhibited in the
Rhenish provinces or Posen.

It was not, however, till after the Peace of Westphalia, that the antagonism of Prussia, strengthened by the absorption of secularized principalities, and sustained by the religious divisions of the empire, assumed the influence to which we have referred. In the days of Charles V., there was no state within the Germanic body capable of disputing the supremaey of the Austrian House. For all practical purpo

be considered as represented by Austria alone Not that its resources or its contingents were any more at the command of this House, now aggrandized by its immense patrimonial possessions, and apparently confirmed in a monopoly of the imperial throne, than they had been at the command of the most impoverished Frederick or Charles. On the contrary, the independence of the states was even more indisputably ascertained than before; and the impracticability of developing and combining the full forces of the empire against any common enemy, or for any common object, was never more clearly shown than in the protracted wars of the sixteenth century. Neither the impassioned urgency of Maximilian in depicting the dangers of the empire, nor the actual presence of the French in the imperial territories, nor the sight of the revolutions going on around them, could rouse the Germanic body to any worthy display of the national strength. Except for the preservation of internal peace, a purpose which was now most zealously promoted, the federal power of the empire was


mere shadow. The constituent states were advancing, it is true, and some at the expense of others, in political growth; but the imperial body derived no proportionate accession of strength or influence from the prosperity of its departments. By this time the historical destinies of Germany were pretty clearly delineated. vinces were to form mighty powers, and to contribute, singly and independently, some

Her pro

of the most important members to the new [ers of Europe into reciprocal connexions system of Europe. But her unity and her hitherto unknown. The invasion of Italy nationality were virtually gone. It was not by the French disclosed the facility with the empire, but the House of Hapsburg which the designs of any ambitious state which entered as a powerful state into the might be baffled by a league of other states combinations of European politics. It was individually inferior; and although the Austria, not Germany, which lent her treachery and bad faith which characterized weight to the adjustment of political equili- this opening of international intercourse brium, and trimmed the balance between was signal enough to discredit the practice, rival royalties. Hitherto the relations be- yet the advantages derivable from a common tween the empire and the western powers understanding were so obvious, that herehad been few and unimportant. Italy and after the powers of Europe formed, as it the papal pretensions, Hungary and the were, a single family, regulated by a sysTurks, together with the incessant squab- tem of political adjustment which was upbles of the states themselves, had furnished held by common consent for the common the empire with its opportunities for federal good. Under such conditions as these a action; but the Burgundian alliance, and powerful nation, united either in an effecthe consequent possession of the Nether-tive confederacy or by a vigorous chief, lands, brought it immediately into contact with France and England, at the same time that the Spanish inheritance closely connected it with the affairs of that peninsula. Yet, in all the political leagues and oppositions which resulted from these circumstances, it was Austria, and not Germany, which was really acting. It is true, that the patrimonial grandeur of the House which now monopolized the imperial succession reflected no inconsiderable lustre upon the empire itself, and lent to the title of "Emperor" a dignity which of late years it had sadly wanted. But it was Austria, with her hereditary possessions, and with pretensions not often identified, nor always combined, with those of the empire, which appears upon the field of politics. It was the Austrian House in its German and Spanish branches which provoked the antagonism of France; and it was the rivalry of these families, dating from these times, and developed by nearly three centuries of war, which formed the base of the system regulating the political equilibrium of Europe, until the sudden apparition of Prussia in the full panoply of power diverted the apprehensions, and changed the combinations of states.

might reasonably expect an influential voice in the counsels of the commonwealth. But such a voice Germany never possessed, partly from that deficiency of her constitution to which we have alluded, partly because her component provinces were bent upon partitioning among themselves, individually, that influence which might have been irresistibly exerted in behalf of the whole, and partly because at this period a new element of division was introduced into the transactions of the Germanic body which completed the work already commenced, and finally left the constitution of the empire with scarcely a trace of unity discoverable.

The source of this discord was in the preaching of Luther. It would of course be superfluous for us to detail the progress of the reformed doctrines, or to enumerate the states which successively acceded to the Protestant party, but the effect of these religious differences was in the highest degree important. Hitherto, whatever had been the animosity by which the internal dissensions of the empire had been characterized, they had at least been settled by the states themselves without any appeal to foreign interference. But so deadly were the feuds We have now brought our considerations which now arose, that the weaker party, respecting the external action of the Ger- after combining in some of those leagues manic nation, to a period of European his- which were already familiar expedients, tory when such considerations acquire a was compelled to look beyond the imperial vast increase of importance. Towards the frontiers for aid against the perils which close of the fifteenth, and the commencement threatened them at home. of the sixteenth centuries, a singular coin- are acquainted with the general course of cidence of sagacious and designing mon- those events which proceeded, through exarchs on the thrones of Aragon, France, perimental struggles and inconclusive treaEngland, Spain, and Germany, had con- ties, to a most murderous war of thirty spired with the discoveries of science and years' duration, and finally issued in the the march of events to bring the pow-great Peace of Westphalia. But the influ

Most persons

ence of these disputes upon the territorial the Reformation operated with instantaneand political constitution of the empire, ous effect. As conversions to the new docthough matter of less common information, trines were not confined to the secular was so extensive and extraordinary that even a sketch of its operations would demand wider limits than we can assign to the whole subject in hand. We must, therefore, content ourselves with directing attention to one or two particular points, and recording the general effects which were thus produced upon the character of the empire in those its peculiar relations which we are attempting to examine.

princes, it became a question of singular importance to ascertain what should be done with these elective principalities when they had embraced the Protestant faith. In some cases it was endeavored to transform them into hereditary states, as had been accomplished in the instance of the territory belonging to the Teutonic Order. In others they were seized and absorbed by the most powerful neighbor, or reserved as indemnities against claims which could not

ally changed, while its territorial aspect was altogether metamorphosed by the aggrandizement of certain families from these tempting spoils. It was, indeed, a complete revolution. States which had anciently been on the same footing of security as other members of the body, were suddenly condemned to a precarious existence or summary dissolution; and, in the meantime the "secularization" of these principalities (a term which was devised for the first time on this occasion) supplied materials for so large an augmentation of certain hereditary dominions, as totally to alter the relative position of states among each other.

Before the Reformation the ecclesiastical states of the empire presented a singular be resisted. We cannot lead our readers feature in the constitution of the Germanic through the interminable conflicts which body. Like the secular states, they were these rivalries occasioned, but will merely administered by a machinery constructed remark that by the extinction of many of upon the model of the empire itself, the these elective principalities, the constituchapters serving as the provincial assembly tional character of the empire was materiby the suffrages of which the spiritual prince was elected. They differed in no essential point from the other states of the empire, and, being headed by the three electorates of Mentz, Treves, and Cologne. and comprising no insignificant divisions of territory and population, they contributed an element equally influential and extraordinary to the imperial constitution. They were, in fact, nothing less than so many powerful principalities descending by election and not by inheritance; and since, in ordinary cases, a prelate was already advanced in years at his accession to the throne, the succession in these states was unusually rapid. It is true, indeed, that some of these principalities were occasion- Nor was this the only modification of the ally monopolized as appanages by great imperial constitution. Germany was now houses of the empire, as in the case of the divided into two parties, Roman Catholic Archbishopric of Cologne, which was pre- and Protestant, as completely as Charleserved in the family of Bavaria from the magne's empire had been divided into three close of the sixteenth to the middle of kingdoms: and the apparent settlement of the eighteenth century; but, generally the imperial crown upon the Roman Caspeaking, it might be said that a very con-tholic House of Austria identified the emsiderable part of the constituent sovereign-peror-now by his patrimonial possessions ties of the empire were thus periodically a powerful personage with that party offered to the competition of all candidates which was considered the most aggressive within a certain pale, an incident which and formidable of the two. In this source could hardly fail of being highly agreeable originated a marked and most curious disto the parties concerned. Indeed, the tinction between the "Emperor" and the episcopal functions of such offices were Empire ;" and no difficulty was found usually merged altogether in the duties and in representing as perpetually at variance privileges of a secular prince, and suffrag- the interests of the latter, or, in other ans were left in superintendence of the words, those of the Protestant states, and spiritual business of the see, while the newly the interests of the former, that is, of a elected sovereign occupied himself with the powerful Roman Catholic sovereign. In government of his proper dominions or the this way the empire came to enter into the business which fell to his share in the Diet. system of Europe as a kind of Sonderbund or separate league, distinct from the forces

Now upon these curious arrangements

of the emperor, and directly available for any alliance that might be framed against him. France and Spain were hardly more jealous of each other than were these two kindred powers; nor was any combination of European politics more conspicuous in those times than that by which France in particular enlisted against her Austrian rival these very states which were the nominal subjects and supporters of the crown they thus opposed.

So serious were the consequences of all these transactions, that the constitution of the Germanic Empire, as it existed at its dissolution, may be conceived, in some sort, to date from the great treaty which terminated these religious wars. l'aking a retrospective view, we may almost say that Germany was originally a single kingdom, under a powerful sovereign, with a traditional title; that it very early fell asunder, and, as it were, crystallized into states which were virtually in lependent; that these states still preserved a semblance of unity under a supreme head, but were not really capable of combination as one national body; and that, at length, when serious causes of dissension had arisen, they established their internal relations by a treaty which was virtually a pact regulating the conditions of a loose and partial confederation. Throughout this Treaty of Westphalia it is evident that the predominant object is simply to settle the terms on which the contracting parties were thenceforth to live together. To consider the states of the Germanic Empire, after the occurrences of the Thirty Years' War, as even nominally provinces of one undivided kingdom, under one active sovereign, was altogether out of the question. They were treated of course as states who not only might be, but had been, enemies, and the aim of the new convention was to obviate such differences for the future. As regards the external relations of the body so constituted, it is almost impossible to recognize even the loosest form of a confederacy in the aggregate of states. Indeed, the provisions of the treaty went directly to demolish such of these conditions of effective union as mig t have been previously presumed. While the attributes of the central power, as personified by the Emperor, were explicitly condemned, the states were expressly confirmed in the right of contracting foreign alliances, of making peace or war, of deputing ambassadors to foreign powers, or to each other, and of performing

all the functions of independent sovereignties. The superiority rested with the Protestant party at the time of the Congress, and the desires of this party were twofold. The foreign powers which had taken pa t in the war wished to preserve the antagonism which had been established between the minor states of the empire and its chief, and to secure so valuable a machinery for curbing and humiliating the court of Vienna. The protected and now rescued states, were equally anxious to confirm themselves in such a precious right of appeal, and thus the spirit of a treaty which was to regulate the action of a confederacy, breathed nothing but mistrust and suspicion, and was virtually confined to provisions for protecting one member of the union against another, instead of stipulating their common duties for the benefit or advancement of the whole.

Up to the last hour of its existence, the Germanic Empire never lost the character which was thus imparted to it by what may be described as the first definite exposition of its constitution. Before the Peace of Westphalia there had been little beyond tradition or custom to regulate the intercourse or the duties of the constituent states. There was now a written code of ordinances to which appeal might be made; but the contingencies contemplated by this code were practically confined, as we have said, to disputes arising within the empire itself. All its forces were to be self-consumed. The pact was rather for the prevention of mutual molestation, than the combination, for external action, of the national strength. By this time, in fact, Germany had become a miniature represen tation of the European continent, nor can a better idea be conveyed of its constitution than by describing the empire as a little Christendom in itself. It was only a single empire, as Europe might be called a single commonwealth. The ties or traditions which connected its component states were little more definite or binding than that tacit compact which secures general tranquillity. Public peace is the object of the European system, and it was the object of the Germanic union. The code which was devised for the regulation of the smaller body was transferred for similar purposes, and under similar conditions, to the larger, and the public law of the empire became the foundation of the public law of Europe, because it had been devised for necessities precisely analogous to those for which it

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »