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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Under the influence of AEneas Sylvius


Electors again met, and in February, 1440, unanimously chose Albert's cousin, Frederick of Styria and Carinthia, who, after waiting three months before he could make up his mind, finally accepted, and was crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle as Frederick III. His indolence, eccentricity and pedantic stiffness seemed to promise just such a wooden figure-head as the princes required: it is difficult to imagine any other reason for the selection. He was more than a servant, he was almost an abject slave of the Papal power, and his secretary, AEneas Sylvius (who afterwards became Pope as Pius II.), ruled him wholly in the interest of the Church of Rome, at a time when a majority of the German princes, and even many of the Bishops, were endeavoring to effect a reformation.

The Council at Basel had not adjourned after concluding the Compact of Prague with the Hussites. The desire for a correction of the abuses which had so weakened the spiritual authority of the Church was strong enough to compel the members to discuss plans of reform. Their course was so distasteful to the Pope, Eugene IV., that he threatened to excommunicate the Council, which, in return, deposed him and elected Amadeus, Duke of Savoy, who took the name of Pope Felix V. The prospect of a new schism disturbed the Christian world; many of the reigning princes refused to support Eugene unless he would grant entire freedom to the Church in Germany, and he would have probably been obliged to yield,

but for the help extended to him by Frederick III., under the influence of AEneas Sylvius. The latter, who was no less unscrupulous than cunning, succeeded in destroying the work of reform in its very beginning. By the Concordat of Vienna, in 1448, Frederick neutralized the action of the Council and restored the Papal authority in its most despotic form. Felix V. was forced to abdicate, and the Council of Basel--which had meanwhile adjourned to Lausanne--was finally dissolved, after a session of seventeen years.


In his political course, during this time, Frederick III. was equally infamous, but less successful. After making a temporary arrangement with Hungary and Bohemia, he determined to reconquer the former Hapsburg possessions from the Swiss. A quarrel between Zurich and the other Cantons seemed to favor his plan; but, not being able to obtain any troops in Germany, he applied to Charles VII. of France for 5,000 of the latter's mercenaries. As Charles, with the help of Joan D'Arc, the Maid of Orleans, had just victoriously concluded his war with England, he had plenty of men to spare; so, instead of 5,000, he sent 30,000, under the command of the Dauphin. This force marched into Switzerland, and was met, on the 26th of August, 1444, at St. Jacob, near Basel, by an army of 1600 devoted Swiss, every man of whom fell, after a battle which lasted ten hours. The French were so crippled and discouraged that they turned back and for months afterwards laid waste Baden and Alsatia; so that only German territory suffered by this transaction.

The Suabian cities, inspired by the heroic attitude of the Swiss, now made another attempt to protect themselves against the encroachment of the reigning princes upon their ancient rights. For two years a fierce war was waged between them and the latter, who were headed by the Hohenzollern Count, Albert Achilles of Brandenburg. The struggle came to an end in 1450, and so greatly to the disadvantage of the cities that the people of Schaffhausen annexed themselves and their territory to Switzerland. The following year, as there was a temporary peace, Frederick III. undertook a journey to Italy, with an escort of 3,000 men. His object was to be crowned Emperor at Rome, and the Pope could not refuse the request of such an obedient servant, especially after the latter had kissed his foot and appeared publicly as his groom. He was the last German Emperor who amused the Roman people by playing such a part. During the year he spent in Italy he avoided Milan, and made no attempt to claim, or even to sell, any of the former Imperial rights.

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