Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

of the law became the vassals of a private chief; and the standard which he received from his sovereign, was often raised against him in the field. The temporal power of the clergy was cherished and exalted by the superstition or pol.\y -of the Carlovingian and Saxon dynasties, who blindly depended »n their moderation and fidelity; and the bishoprics of Germany were made equal in extent and privilege, superior in wealth and population, to the most ample states of the military >rder. As long as the emperors retained the prerogative of bestowing on every vacancy these ecclesiastic and secular benefices, their cause was maintained by the gratitude or ambition of their friends and favorites. But in the quarrel of the in vestitures, they were deprived of their influence over the epis copal chapters; the freedom of election was restored, and the sovereign was reduced, by a solemn mockery, to his first prayers, the recommendation, once in his reign, to a single prebend in each church. The secular governors, instead of being recalled at the will of a'superior, could be degraded only by the sentence of their peers. In the first age of the monarchy, the appointment of the son to the duchy or county of his father, was solicited as a favor; it was gradually obtained as a custom, and extorted as a right: the lineal succession was often extended to the collateral or female branches; the states of the empire (their popular, and at length their legal, appellation) were divided and alienated by testament and sale; and all idea of a public trust was lost in that of a private and perpetual inheritance. The emperor could not even be enriched by the casualties of forfeiture and extinction: within the term of a year, he was obliged to dispose of the vacant fief; and, in the choice of the candidate, it was his duty to consult either the general 01 the provincial diet.

After the death of Frederic the Second, Germany was left a monster with a hundred heads. A crowd of princes and prelates disputed the ruins of the empire: the lords of innumerable castles were less prone to obey, than to imitate, their superiors; and, according to the measure of their strength, their incessant hostilities received the names of conquest or robbery. Such anarchy was the inevitable consequence of the laws and manners of Europe; and the kingdoms of France ftnd Italy were shivered into fragments by the violence of the wme tempest. But the Italian cities and the French vassals were divided and destroyed, while the union of the Germans has produced, -inder the name of an empire, a great system

of a federative republic. In the frequent and at last, the perpetual institution of diets, a national spirit was kept alive, mo. the powers of a common legislature are still exercised by the three branches or colleges of the electors, the princes, and the free and Imperial cities of Germany. I. Seven of the most powerful feudataries were permitted to assume, with n distinguished name and rank, the exclusive privilege of choosing the Roman emperor; and these electors were ticking of Bohemia, the duke of Saxony, the margrave of Bran danburgh, the count palatine of the Rhine, and the three archbishops of Mentz, of Treves, and of Cologne. II. The college of princes and prelates purged themselves of a promiscuous multitude: they reduced to four representative vote? the long series of independent counts, and excluded the noblesor equestrian order, sixty thousand of whom, as in the Polish diets, had appeared on horseback in the field of election. III. The pride of birth and dominion, of the sword and the mitre, wisely adopted the commons as the third branch of the legis lature, and, in the progress of society, they were introduced about the same sera into the national assemblies of France England, and Germany. The Hanseatic League commanded the trade and navigation of the north: the confederates of the Rhine secured the peace and intercourse of the inland country; the influence of the cities has been adequate to their wealth and policy, and their negative still invalidates the acts of the two superior colleges of electors and princes.149

149 In the immense labyrinth of the jus publicum of Germany, 1 must either quote one writer or a thousand; and I had rather trust to one faithful guide, than transcribe, on credit, a multitude of names and passages. That guide is M. Pfeffel, the author of the best, legal and constitutional history that I know of any country, (Nouvel Abrege Chronologique de l'Histoire et du Droit public Allemagne; Paris, 1776, 2 vols, in 4to.) His learning and judgment have discerned the most interesting facts; his simple brevity comprises them in a narrow space. His chronological order distributes them under the proper dates; and an elaborate index collects them under their respective heads. To this work, in a less perfect state, Dr. Robertson was gratefully indebted for that masterly sketch which traces even the modern changes of the Germanic body. The Corpus Historic Germanicas of Struvius has been likewise consulted, the more usefully, as tha* huge compilation is fortified in every page with the original texts*

"Fw the rise and progress of the Hanseatic League, consult the author kUttiY* history by Sartorius j Geschichte des Hansoatischen Buude*

It is in the fourteenth century that we may view in th« strongest light the state and contrast of the Roman empire of Germany, which no longer held, except on the borders of the Rhine and Danube, a single province of Trajan or Constantine. Their unworthy successors were the counts of Hapsburgh, of Nassau, of Luxemburgh, and Schwartzenburgh: th* smperor Henry the Seventh procured for his son the crowu of Bohemia, and his grandson Charles the Fourth was boru among a people strange and barbarous in the estimation of the Germans themselves.160 After the excommunication of Lewis of Bavaria, he received the gift or promise of the va cant empire from the Roman pontiffs, who, in the exile and captivity of Avignon, affected the dominion of the earth. The death of his competitors united the electoral college, and Charles was unanimously saluted king of the Romans, and future emperor; a title which, in the same age, was prosti tuted to the Caesars of Germany and Greece. The German emperor was no more than the elective and impotent magistrate of an aristocracy of princes, who had not left him a village that he might call his own. His best prerogative was the right of presiding and proposing in the national senate, which was convened at his summons; and his native kingdom of Bohemia, less opulent than the adjacent city of Nuremberg, was the firmest seat of his power and the richest source of his revenue. The army with which he passed the Alps consisted of three hundred horse. In the cathedral of St. Ambrose, Charles was crowned with the iron crown, which tradition ascribed to the Lombard monarchy ; but he .vae admitted only with a peaceful train; the gates of the citj were shut upon him; and the king of Italy was held a captive by the arms of the Visconti, whom he confirmed in the sovereignty of Milan. In the Vatican he was again crowned with the golden crown of the empire; but, in obedience to a

"° Yet, personally, Charles IV. must not be considered as a Barba rian. After his education at Paris, he recovered the use of the Bohemian, his native, idiom; and the emperor conversed and wrote with equal facility in French, Latin, Italian, and German, (Struvius, p. 615, 616 ) Petrarch always represents him as a polite and learned prince.

! Theile. Gottingen, 1802. New and improved edition by LappeiiSerfl lUmlm re, 1830. The original Hunseatic League comprehended Colty.v ■od many of the great cities in the Netherlands and on the Rniiyv- If.

•ecret treaty, the Roman emperor immediately withdrew, without reposing a single night within the walls of Rome, The eloquent Petrarch,161 whose fancy revived the visionary glories of the Capitol, deplores and upbraids the ignominious flight of the Bohemian; and even his contemporaries could observe, that the sole exercise of his authority was in the lucrative sale of privileges and titles. The gold of Italy lecured the election of his son; but such was the shameful poverty of the Roman emperor, that his person was arrested by a butcher in the streets of Worms, and was detained in the public inn, as a pledge or hostage for the payment of his expenses.

From this humiliating scene, let us turn to the apparent majesty of the same Charles in the diets of the empire. The golden bull, which fixes the Germanic constitution, is promulgated in the style of a sovereign and legislator. A hundred princes bowed before his throne, and exalted their own dignity by the voluntary honors which they yielded to their chief or minister. At the royal banquet, the hereditary great offi cers, the seven electors, who in rank and title were equal to kings, performed their solemn and domestic service of the palace. The seals of the triple kingdom were borne in state by the archbishops of Mentz, Cologne, and Treves, the perpetual arch-chancellors of Germany, Italy, and Aries. The great marshal, on horseback, exercised his function with a silver measure of oats, which he emptied on the ground, and immediately dismounted to regulate the order of the guests The great steward, the count palatine of the Rhine, place the dishes on the table. The great chamberlain, the mar grave of Brandenburgh, presented, after the repast, the goldei ewer and basin, to wash. The king of Bohemia, as grea cup-bearer, was represented by the emperor's brother, the duke of Luxemburgh and Brabant; and the procession was closed by the great huntsmen, who introduced a boar and a stag, with a loud chorus of horns and hounds.15* Nor was the supremacy of the emperor confined to Germany alone: the hereditary monarchs of Europe confessed the preeminence

161 Besides the German and Italian historians, the expedition of Charles IV. is painted in lively and original colors in the curious Mcmoires sur la Vie de Petrarque, torn. iii. p. 376—430, by the Abb*" de Sade, whose prolixity has never been blamed by any reader of toftta and curiosity.

15" See the whole ceremony in Struvius. p. 629

of his rank and dignity: he was the first of the Christian princes, the temporal head of the great republic of the West:IM to his person the title of majesty was long appropriated; and he disputed with the pope the sublime prerogative of creating kings and assembling councils. Th*» oracle of the civil law, the learned Bartolus, was a pensioner of Charles the Fourth; and his school resounded. with the doctrine, that the Roman emperor was the rightful sovereign of the earch, from the rising to the setting sun. The contrary opinion was condemned, not as an error, but as a heresy, since even the gospel had pronounced, "And there went forth a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed." IM

If we annihilate the interval of time and space between Augustus and Charles, strong and striking will be the contrast between the two Caesars; the Bohemian who concealed his weakness under the mask of ostentation, and the Roman, whc disguised his strength under the semblance of modesty. At the head of his victorious legions, in his reign over the sea and land, from the Nile and Euphrates to the Atlantic Ocean, Augustus professed himself the servant of the state and the equal of his fellow-citizens. The conqueror of Rome and her provinces assumed a popular and legal form of a censor, a consul, and a tribune. His will was the law of mankind, but in the declaration of his laws he borrowed the voice of the senate and people; and from their decrees their master accepted and renewed his temporary commission to administer the republic. In his dress, his domestics,166 his titles, in all the offices of social life, Augustus maintained the character of a private Roman; and his most artful flatterers respected the secret of his absolute and perpetual monarchy.

'" The republic of Europe, with the pope and emperor at its head, was never represented with more dignity than in the council of Can*tance. See Lenfant's History of that assembly.

164 Gravina, Origines Juris Civilis. p. 108.

186 Six thousand urns have been discovered of the slaves and fried men of Augustus and Livia. So minute was the division of office, that one slave was appointed to weigh the wool which was spun by the empress's maids, another for the care of her lap-dog, <fcc, (Camera Sepolchi ale, by Bianchini. Extract of his work in the Bibliotheque ltalique, torn. iv. p. 175. His Eloge, by Fontenelle, torn. vi. p. 356.) But these servants were of the same rank, and possibly not more numerous than those of Pollio or Lentulus. They only prove the ceueral riches of the city.

« ForrigeFortsett »