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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Maximilian had just married Blanca Maria Sforza


had all the qualities of a great ruler, except prudence and foresight. He was tall, finely-formed, with remarkably handsome features, clear blue eyes, and blonde hair falling in ringlets upon his shoulders; he possessed great muscular strength, his body was developed by constant exercise, and he was one of the boldest, bravest and most skilful knights of his day. While his bearing was stately and dignified, his habits were simple: he often marched on foot, carrying his lance, at the head of his troops, and was able to forge his armor and temper his sword, as well as wear them. Yet he was also well-educated, possessed a taste for literature and the arts, and became something of a poet in his later years. Unlike his avaricious predecessors, he was generous even to prodigality; but, inheriting his father's eccentricity of character, he was whimsical, liable to act from impulse instead of reflection, headstrong and impatient. If he had been as wise as he was honest and well-meaning, he might have regenerated Germany.


The commencement of his reign was signalized by two threatening events. The Turks were renewing their invasions, and boldly advancing into Carinthia, between Vienna and the Adriatic; Charles VIII. of France had made himself master of Naples, and was apparently bent on conquering and annexing all of Italy. Maximilian had just married Blanca Maria Sforza,

niece of the reigning Duke of Milan, which city, with others in Lombardy, and even the Pope--forgetting their old enmity to the German Empire--demanded his assistance. He called a Diet, which met at Worms in 1495; but many of the princes, both spiritual and temporal, had learned a little wisdom, and they were unwilling to interfere in matters outside of the Empire until something had been done to remedy its internal condition. Berthold, Archbishop of Mayence, Frederick the Wise of Saxony, John Cicero of Brandenburg, and Eberhard of the Beard, first Duke of Wuertemberg, with many of the free cities, insisted so strongly on the restoration of order, security, and the establishment of laws which should guarantee peace, that the Emperor was forced to comply. For fourteen weeks the question was discussed with the greatest earnestness: the opposition of many princes and nearly the whole class of nobles was overcome, and a Perpetual National Peace was proclaimed. By this measure, the right to use force was prohibited to all; the feuds which had desolated the land for a thousand years were ordered to be suppressed; and all disputes were referred to an Imperial Court, permanently established at Frankfort, and composed of sixteen Councillors. It was also agreed that the Diet should meet annually, and remain in session for one month, in order to insure the uninterrupted enforcement of its decrees. A proposition to appoint an Imperial Council of State (equivalent to a modern "Ministry"), of twenty members, which should have power, in certain cases, to act in the Emperor's name, was rejected by Maximilian, as an assault upon his personal rights.

[Sidenote: 1496.]

Although the decree of Perpetual Peace could not be carried into effect immediately, it was not a dead letter, as all former decrees of the kind had been. Maximilian bound himself, in the most solemn manner, to respect the new arrangements, and there were now several honest and intelligent princes to assist him. One difficulty was the collection of a government tax, called "the common penny," to support the expenses of the Imperial Court. Such a tax had been for the first time imposed during the war with the Hussites, but very little of it was then paid. Even now, when the object of it was of such importance to the whole people, several years elapsed before the Court could be permanently established. The annual sessions of the Diet, also, were much less effective than had been anticipated: princes, priests and cities were so accustomed to a selfish independence, that they could not yet work together for the general good.

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