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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

When he was secretary to Frederick III


But, although the feudal system was still in force, the obligation to render military service, formerly belonging to it, was nearly at an end. The use of cannon, and of a rude kind of musket, had become general in war: heavy armor for man and horse was becoming not only useless, but dangerous; and the courage of the soldier, not his bodily strength or his knightly accomplishments, constituted his value in the field. The Swiss had set the example of furnishing good troops to whoever would pay for them, and a similar class, calling themselves _Landsknechte_ (Servants of the Country), arose in Germany. The robber-knights, by this time, were nearly extinct: when Frederick of Hohenzollern began to use artillery against their castles, it was evident that their days of plunder were over. The reign of Maximilian, therefore, marks an important turning-point in German history. It is, at the same time, the end of the stormy and struggling life of the Middle Ages, and the beginning of a new and fiercer struggle between men and their oppressors. Maximilian, in fact, is called in Germany "the Last of the Knights."

[Sidenote: 1512.]

The strength of Germany lay chiefly in the cities, which, in spite of their narrow policy towards the country, and their jealousy of each other, had at least kept alive and encouraged all forms of art and industry, and created a class of learned men outside of the Church. While the knighthood of the Hohenstaufen period had sunk into corruption and semi-barbarism, and the people had grown more dangerous through their ignorance and subjection, the cities had gradually become centres of wealth and intelligence. They were adorned with splendid works of architecture; they supported the early poets, painters and sculptors; and, when compelled to act in concert against the usurpations of the Emperor or the inferior rulers, whatever privileges they maintained or received were in favor of the middle-class, and therefore an indirect gain to the whole people.

The cities, moreover, exercised an influence over the country population by their markets, fairs, and festivals. The most of them were as largely and as handsomely built as at present, but in times of peace the life within their walls was much gayer and more brilliant. Pope Pius II., when he was secretary to Frederick III. as AEneas Sylvius, wrote of them as follows: "One may veritably say that no people in Europe live in cleaner or more cheerful cities than the Germans; their appearance is as new as if they had only been built yesterday. By their commerce they amass great wealth: there is no banquet at which they do not drink from silver cups, no dame who does not wear golden ornaments. Moreover, the citizens are also soldiers, and each one has a sort of arsenal in his own house. The boys in this country can ride before they can talk, and sit firmly in the saddle when the horses are at full speed: the men move in their armor without feeling its weight. Verily, you Germans might be masters of the world, as formerly, but for your multitude of rulers, which every wise man has always considered an evil!"


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