A Short History of the Germans
Author Edgar Stern-Rubarth, Ph.D.
There are many English books on German history. Some of them enjoy an international reputation and could scarcely be surpassed as fair-minded and acute expositions of a most complicated subject – the development of the greatest central European power over two thousand years. Most of them, with good reason, build up their story round the rise, the heyday and the disappearance of rulers and dynasties, recording the decisive battles they fought, the alliances, matrimonial and other, they concluded, the lands they won or lost and the treaties they signed. As far as the author of this little book has been able to discover, all of them aim at giving either a complete history of Germany or an exhaustive account of some particular period of it; in either case the result is a bulky work, often running to several volumes.
This brief outline of German development has quite a different purpose. It is a history of the Germans, not of Germany, and it lays no claim to being an exhaustive account. It does not concern itself with the dates of birth, accession to the throne, and death of individual German rulers, or with all the battles and campaigns fought by their mercenaries. Rather it attempts to show the state of civilisation, the ways of living, thinking and acting of the German people at every important epoch in their development and records the facts, personalities and other matters which take pride of place in most histories, only in so far as they are necessary for the understanding of the development.
It was a colourful, dramatic, often tragic history that ultimately led to Hitlerism and to a deliberate attack upon the whole of western Christian civilisation. An author born and bred in Germany is perhaps better qualified than any foreigner, however objective his outlook, to discern the essential traits of the German character and follow them up through the centuries.
The new Nazi gospel of Race as the source of all development, national and general, prompts one to consider the German people from the side of their inherited, indelible characteristics. This little book has been written during the Second Great War, under difficult conditions in which the author had all leisure to meditate upon the curious fate of a Liberal, a democrat and a European born by chance within the boundaries of Germany, but no reference books and no access to libraries. It must be left to the reader’s judgement whether his attempt at a strictly objective and truthful delineation of the German character through the centuries has been successful. If it is so in any degree, it should help all those in whom the fateful events of these days have produced a desire for a complete, even if necessarily sketchy, picture of that singular, perhaps ultimately incomprehensible people that has again and again made itself responsible for worldwide disaster.
Edgar stern-Rubarth, Ph.D.
Foreword to Second Edition
Among the many and, on the whole, most favourable reviews this book has found, some have described it as being perhaps a little one-sided, as giving indeed nothing but the truth but perhaps not the whole truth. The author, without venturing to point out the many places in which he has emphasized the German contribution to human progress in science, art or technique, would only like to raise this question: What is it that makes a record of barbarism and ruthlessness, treachery and superstition important in the history of a people? Many nations, Latin and Teuton alike, French and British as well as German, have to confess to some sanguinary and unsavoury pages in their history; but such passages can be treated as records of bygone days, as memories of an age whose darkness has been dispelled by the light of faith, knowledge and humanity, wherever these prevail. They become relevant to the task of the honest historian only when the same traits of antique barbarism prevailed to this day and were hailed as national virtues.
To 357 A.D.
Savages Versus Civilisation
Alike all great peoples the Germans are very proud of their national tradition. that tradition, sometimes neglected, sometimes emphasised, sometimes entirely forgotten, was raised to the status of a religion when National Socialism took command. Yet, during the whole period in which the nations of antiquity, Babylon and Assyria, Greece, Egypt and Rome, flourished, nothing like a German nation existed. Until the time of Christ and for some while after, Central Europe was inhabited by savage tribes best comparable with the negro tribes of our day. Their language were of small range; they did possess writing (although modern Germans claim the runic characters, obviously a simpler variant of the Greek alphabet, as an invention of their forefathers); their conduct was cruel and primitive, and their customs and ways of living, until they came into contact with Mediterranean civilisation, scarcely above those of the aborigines of the Dark Continent.
Nothing is known of their history until the year 115 B.C., when the Cimbri and Teutones, coming from Jutland and the area north-east of the river Elbe, began to push southwards and to invade the country subsequently known as Bohemia, and then Carinthia, Styria and other outposts of the Roman Empire north of the Alps. Together with other Teutonic and Celtic tribes previously conquered, they defeated a Roman army at Noreia in 133 B.C. and again in 109 and 105 – the first Teutonic invasion of Italy, to be followed by many more in the course of two thousand years. Roman authors describe how these wild tribes formed rectangular barricades of their waggons and how their women and children continued the fight when their menfolk had been slain, until they too were destroyed or, in order to avoid captivity, threw themselves upon the spears and swords of the enemy. At first the appearance of these wild and ruthless invaders from mysterious northern countries was a great shock to the proud Roman masters of the Mediterranean world. The physical strength, the endurance, the warlike character of these savages clad in skins and wearing the heads of bears, buffaloes and other wild animals as headgear, and athletic accomplishments like those of their leader, Teutoboch, a giant who was said to be able to jump over four or six horse, deeply impressed a nation already softened by civilisation.
The Romans managed, however, to prevail over the greater numbers and the unyielding bravery of the Germans by using their superior intelligence. Attacking early in the morning, so that the Cimbri were half blinded by the sun and the dust of a burning hot summer day, the Roman general Marius destroyed or captured the whole people of the Cimbri in 101 B.C., after having defeated the Teutones a year before at Aix in Province. The northern danger was averted for about forty years, until the Suabian king Ariovistus penetrated into what is today the heart of France. He preceded Hitler by, roughly, two thousand years; but the tribe he subjected, especially the Sequani, of whom the river Seine reminds us, were not yet latinised, and can be considered as precursors of the French only in a very vague sense. Even so the Romans, who had a highly developed political sense, could not tolerate the occupation of one of their most important outposts of empire by foreign savages, and as soon as Julius Caesar was appointed to the command of Gaul (i.e., Northern Italy and Provence) he set himself the task of driving back the Teutonic tribes, the Suevi, Helvetii and others, who had begun to settle on Gallic soil.
He has put on record his conference with Ariovistus – a rare instance in ancient warfare – in order to prove the faithlessness of his German adversary. After both commanders had agreed upon meeting on a hill between their entrenched camps, unarmed and with but a few retainers, Ariovistus made an unsuccessful attempt to capture or kill Caesar. The consequence was a terrific battle during which the Suevi – or Suabians – and their allies were completely routed and destroyed. That battle near the river Thurn, not far from the modern Besancon, took place on 10th September, 58 B.C.; it has some claim to rank as a turning-point of history. For it eliminated the German tribes from Gallic soil for no less than five and a half centuries, until Chlodovech (Clovis), king of the Franks, conquered what was later to be France; and permitted the evolution of a Celto-Latin culture that, as French civilisation was to illuminate the world for more than a thousand years. It is more than doubtful whether anything like that culture could have arisen under German domination; for at that time, at least, the Germans were rough barbarians who tortured their prisoners and even hostages in the most horrible fashion.
Their standard at that time may be compared with that of the pre-Homeric Greeks about a thousand years earlier, or of the Roman before the foundation of their city. They practiced human sacrifice, and (despite German claims about their high mortality) polygamy was general, at least among noble or wealthier members of the community. They were dirty, drunkards, gamblers, unscrupulously putting to the hazard of the dice their primitive houses, their slaves, their wives and children, their horses, and even their own freedom. They were cruel and quarrelsome. Incest, bigamy and other sexual perversities were not considered to be crimes; murder could be bought off by paying Wergeld to the tribal ruler or the community. They punished their slaves in the most brutal way, whipping or emasculating them, and their intertribal quarrels were so interminable that ‘querelles Allemades’ became a current French phrase for senseless rows. They united only in a temporary and superficial fashion with the object of waging war abroad and of electing a king or ‘duke’ (leader) for that purpose. Caesar reports that ‘the greatest distinction a tribe can have is to be surrounded by as wide a belt as possible of waste and desert land. they regard it as a tribute to their valour that neighbouring peoples should be dispossessed and should retreat before them, and that no one should venture to settle in their vicinity. . . .’
For their physical aspect we have mainly to rely on Roman and Greek writers such as Tacitus, Strabo, Sextus Empiricus and others. Tacitus, who set out to contrast what he considered the depravity of his countrymen with the primitive but healthy and morally sounder ways of living of the northern savages – the Gog and Magog peoples of the Bible – describes the Germans as follows: ‘They have defiant blue eyes, reddish hair, frames bulky and possessing strength only for spasmodic effort, with no corresponding power of standing up to toil and hardy work. They have never accustomed themselves to bear thirst or heat even in the smallest degree. . . . They go naked or lightly clad with a short cloak. . . . To drink all through the day and far into the night is a disgrace to no one; their quarrels, as might be expectd among drunken men, are frequent and are frequent and are seldom fought out with mere wrangling, but more often with bloodshed and wounds.’ In describing their passion for games of hazard the Roman historian call it ‘stubbornness in a perverse practice; they themselves call it honour.’ Of their lust for plunder and fighting he says that ‘it seems to them dull and insipid to acquire by the sweat of their brow what can be won by bloodshed’; and of the famous Teutonic loyalty he says: ‘Their leaders fight for victory, the followers fight for their leader. . . .’
While, in the past two thousand years, the primitive ways of the Germans have given place to an extremely up-to-date technical civilisation, it seems that certain fundamental traits of the national character have prevailed over all supervening influences such as Christianity, knightly or humanistic education, acquisition of wealth and intercourse with other peoples. Certain customs, for instance, like the enforced duelling of students, remind one strangely of the habits of their savage ancestors. The Chatti, an important tribe, like the Red Indians of yore used to take a vow by which they let their hair and beard grow and wore iron rings until such time as they found an opportunity to redeem their pledge by slaying an enemy. A perversion which, rightly or wrongly, has been attributed to many modern rulers of Germany and their courts must have been fairly common among the simple savages of Caesar’s day: Sextus Empiricus reports that pederasty was very popular and was not considered as shameful, while Tacitus on the other hand tells us that those guilty of it were condemned to be buried alive in swamps. Superstition too – as is quite natural among primitive peoples – was rife. Priestesses used to predict the favourable time for a battle from the intestines of prisoners sacrificed for that purpose. All in all, the ancient Germans appear to have been a rather unpleasant lot; and their history, as far as foreign authors, oral tradition, bardic songs and other sources have preserved it, is full of unsavoury, cruel, brutal and perfidious deeds.
Yet they too have their heroes, the most outstanding of whom is Arminius, or Hermann, the Cheruscan, whose life-story deserves a page to itself. Caesar had twice crossed the river Rhine, Germany’s natural frontier, in 55 and 53 B.C.; Tiberius had crossed the Alps and reached the Danube, and about the time when in far-away Palestine Jesus Christ was born, two Roman provinces were established on German soil, later called the Agri Decumati and fortified by a system of castles and a long wall the remains of which to this day yield interesting finds. As the German tribes had no towns or even villages of importance, it was then that the foundations of many famous German cities were laid: Treves, Cologne, Mayence, Augsburg, Regensburg and Vienna, among others, owe their origin to the fortified military settlements established by Roman generals guarding the outposts of their Empire. A certain degree of neighbourly relations was reached between Latin and German inhabitants of occupied and bordering territories when the youthful leader of the Cherusci, a tribe living approximately within the area later called Westphalia, took service with the Roman army. Like Maroboduus, king of the Marcomanni, between the rivers Elbe and Vistula, he had distinguished himself and been made a Roman knight and citizen. He had learned the secrets of political craft and, although but twenty-six years of age when he succeeded his father as ruler of his tribe, he knew how to practice deceit and diplomacy. Quintilius Varus, appointed governor of the German provinces by the Emperor Augustus, trusted him and frequently took part in drinking bouts such as the Germans liked.
His own people, however, were less confiding in Arminius, and Segestes, his father-in-law, whom he had deeply offended by eloping with Thusnelda, his daughter, who had promised to another ruler, was his sworn enemy. He tried to warn Varus against Arminius and a cunning plot of his, but was no more successful in doing so than Flavus, Arminius’s own brother, who held the rank of a captain in the legions of Varus. By denouncing a revolt in a northern part of the country Arminius enticed Vars with his three legions into the Teutoburg mountains, a wild, swampy and densely wooded area along the river Weser. There, suddenly deserting his Roman ‘friend,’ Arminius led the tribes allied with his own to a sudden attack one rainy day in the autumn of 9 A.D., and completely destroyed the Roman army. Varus committed suicide on the battlefield; surviving soldiers were made slaves and officers were sacrificed to the sinister Teutonic gods in their sacred groves. Subsequently the farthest Roman outposts, the fortress Aliso, was stormed. Augustus, when he learned of the defeat of his strongest colonial army, fell in despair, exclaiming, ‘Varus, Varus, give me back my legions,’ and indeed it looked for a moment as if the mighty Roman Empire were really menaced with invasion and perhaps destruction by the barbarian hordes from the north.
But they waited for seven years before doing anything to exploit their crushing victory, and meanwhile the power of Rome recovered from the shock. Quarrelling as usual among themselves, the German leaders were unable to build up a nation, or even an alliance, of permanent quality. Maroboduus, the mighty king who by now ruled over an area stretching from the lower Elbe deep into the Styrian Alps, was jealous of his younger rival’s fame and refused to join forces with him when, as a token of his good faith, Arminius sent him the head of Varus. Thus, when Germanicus, late in 14 A.D., advanced into the country of the Chatti, southern neighbours of the Cheruscans, Arminius found himself hard pressed and unable even to protect his wife, whom Segestes handed over to the enemy shortly before she gave birth to Arminius’s only son. She was taken to Rome and forced to march in Germanicus’s triumphal procession, and was afterwards held in Ravenna where king Maroboduus, too, after being defeated by Ariminius in a murderous fratricidal war, ended his days in exile. Thumelicus, son of Arminius born in captivity, met his death as a gladiator. Ariminius himself, extolled to this day by the Germans as a national hero and the first unifier of his people, came to no better end. For a long time jealous chieftains tried to make away with him by treachery and murder; one of them even made an offer to the Romans Senate to poison him if he were provided with the necessary drugs – an offer that Tiberius haughtily refused. Finally, in 20 A.D., he was assassinated by a group of his own closest followers. The people revenged his death by a civil war in which the whole Cheruscan nobility was exterminated’ Italicus, son of Arminius’s latinised brother Flavus, was made the hero’s successor, but soon disappears, together with his tribe, from the pages of history.
For the next three and half centuries such account of Germany as history gives is one long story of bloodshed, internecine feuds, tribal unrest and migrations – a dark age full of ignorance, poverty and superstition, with but few outstanding names and deeds. The Christian faith, which began to make headway everywhere else, was unknown to these still half-savage tribes. Their heathen gods demanded human sacrifice and indulged sacrifice and indulged in incestuous love-affairs; they were pictured as fighting among themselves, betraying and assassinating each other or struggling with giants. They were supposed to be overshadowed by the menace of a terrible twilight when even they would have to die and the world would end in flames. Woton or Odin, supreme amongst them, is a splenetic, one-eyed old man; Baldur, the fair-haired god of light, falls to the poisonous arrow of mistletoe shot by the Master of the nether world. In short, the Teutonic Valhalla, the Germans’ Olympus, presents a more or less correct picture of the earthly life of its believers and is hardly inspiring, except to bravery in battle which is rewarded by a prompt transfer of the dead hero to Valhalla by the Valkyries, Woton’s handmaidens, who, lingering above the battlefield, direct the spear-throws and carry the victims away on their divine horses. Valhalla itself was conceived by Nordic believers as a large banqueting-hall where meth, an alcoholic brew made of fermented millet and honey, could be had for the asking, where songs and stories were heard, and where everyone boasted of his earthly prowess.
The esteem in which the Romans held their savage northern neighbours was based exclusively upon their military qualities. They fought them for centuries with some setbacks at first; but, between 50 and 100 A.D., Roman legions advanced into the territories of the Frisians and Batavians, the tribes of the northern coast. Having established their mastery, they employed these Teutonic fighters in their widespread colonial wars, thus laying the foundations of a mercenary system characteristic of Germany all through the Middle Ages. The great mistake of the Roman conquerors was to entrust more and more of the task of keeping guard along the German border itself, and the control of the ‘tithe-land- – the Agri Decumati – to such German auxiliaries. The marvellous double wall which finally stretched from the Firth of Forth in far-away Britain along the right bank of the Rhine, and from there along the Danube perhaps as far as Rumania, became useless as soon as those against whom it was erected were made masters of its strongholds. As soon as there was a sufficient cause to set these half-tamed populations in motion, they were bound to turn to the south and west, from which a warmer sun, more fertile soils and rich booty beckoned to them.
That cause presented itself in a southward thrust by the strong Nordic tribes of the Goths. It is unknown whether famine or epidemics urged them to leave their territories around the mouth of the Vistula and push in the direction of the Black Sea, but it was their migration that set all the eastern tribes in motion, and forced others to pour like locusts into the Danubian and Alpine countries and, in the middle of the second century, to cross the Alps and attack Aquileia – near the later Venice – the main trading post of the Romans with the Eastern world. Repulsed with great effort and sacrifice, German tribes (such as the Marcomanni and Suevi) appeared again a century later, attacked Ravenna and menaced even Rome around 265 A.D., simultaneously with a general crossing of the Rhine by the Teutonic hordes of the Alemanni, Burgundians and Franks. The power of resistance of the Roman Empire was declining. On many occasions it was obliged to compromise with the barbarians, to grant them colonial land on what had been Gallic soil, because dynastic conflicts at home or political and personal feuds made Rome’s leaders forget the larger interests of the Empire. Usurpers or would-be usurpers of the imperial diadem of Augustus did not even shrink from calling on German tribal leaders for help: for instance, when Marcus Constantius asked for the backing of the Alemanni, who at once overflowed the fertile land of Gaul.
Constantius’s successor, Julian, tried to stem the tide. Near the modern Strassburg, in 337 A.D.. he attacked 35,000 German tribesmen with 55,000 well-trained and equipped Roman soldiers and, after a terrific battle in which German auxiliaries in the Roman legions decided the issue, completely routed and routed and destroyed the Alemanni, thousands of whom were drowned when trying to retreat across the Rhine. That was the last successful effort to preserve the Roman Empire, to avert its fate and prevent the Germans from gaining the dominant position in European history.
357 – 814 A.D.
THE BIRTH OF A GERMAN PEOPLE
The close and permanent contact, in war and peace between German tribes and Roman ‘colonists’ make it extremely hard to distinguish between cause and effect. According to the personal point of view of the individual historian, the decline of Rome is attributed either to the impact of barbarians equipped with the means of warfare and trained in strategy and politics by the Romans themselves, or to internal unrest and demoralisation which invited the barbarians and paved the way to the gates of the City which had ruled the world. In any case it is certain that the later Roman Emperors relied more and more upon German generals and German praetorians and thus furnished them opportunities of grasping power for themselves. About 400 A.D. it was Stilicho, a Vandal, who defended the rule of Honorius against other German attackers; in 476 Odovacar (Odoacer), ruler of the Rugian tribe, was made King of Italy under the titular suzerainty of the Roman Emperor whose seat of government was then in Constantinople.
Odovacar was deposed and was succeeded, and subsequently murdered, by Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths. Verona and Ravenna, where that ruler – glorified later on by German myths though hardly less of an assassin, profligate and drunkard than his contemporaries – set up his court, overshadowing ancient Rome. Theorodic created an administration in which Gothic and Roman executive and legislature worked side by side, stablilised the decaying financial system of his kingdom and established a certain degree of religious toleration which embraced the Jews. He extended his power over other Teutonic realms in Gaul and Germany where parricidal and fratricidal feuds, incest, polygamy and other vices created permanent enmity between the ruling families. Yet, after his death in 526, his own family did not escape that fate: his grandson and successor was dethroned as a drunkard, his daughter was murdered by his nephew and joint ruler with her, and the Gothic kingdom went down under the hammer strokes of Byzantine generals such as Belisarius and Narses.
In German legend Theodoric’s personality merges with that of other heroes and kings. The most famous of the sagas, the Songs of the Nibelungs, mentions him as a friend and guest of Attila, King of the Huns, and as a witness of the last tragic episode when Krimhild, widow of Siegfried and wife of Attila, slays her own brother Gunther together with all the Burgundian princes and knights in the rulers’ burning banquet-hall. Yet it was before the birth of Theodoric that Gunther or Gunthahari ruled at Worms, on the upper Rhine, about 410, and that Attila died in 452 or 453. Much of the gruesome story – preserved by bardic songs and not written down in its present form till the fourteenth century – is probably derived from Merovingian history which starts with the sixth century. It is hardly worth while to record the names of these Frankish rulers: one of them, Chlotar, had all his relatives murdered; another, Fredegundis, induced her lover to assassinate his wife and his brother. A third queen, Brunhild, was torn to pieces by four horses after having killed ten other rulers. Dagger and poison wrought havoc among the ruling families while, astonishingly enough, the primitive and treacherous people of the Franks prospered and overwhelmed the two Gothic patrimonies – that of the Visigoths in Spain and southern France, like that of the Vandals in northern Africa, having rapidly decayed under the influence of tribal, dynastic and religious feuds; both their ruling houses had adopted Arian Christianity and oppressed Catholics, or, alternatively, had gone over to Catholicism and been attacked by Arians and advancing Mahometans alike.
The first Frankish rulers were heathens like their wild tribes. Clovis, chieftain of the Salian Franks, after uniting all the other Frankish tribes between 485 and 491, attacked the Alemanni and in a moment of grave danger during the battle of Tolbiac, near Strassburg, called on Christ to succour him. After his victory he accepted the faith of Rome for himself and his people and subsequently conquered a large part of war later became France and western Germany. His successors continued to extend their inheritance, conquering Bavaria, invading Italy and plundering Rome (?), splitting up their realm and reuniting it, fighting their own ambitious vassals and nobles, and committing the numerous murders of close relatives which were evidently obligatory in that dynasty. More and more the Major-domo of the king, a sort of Lord Chamberlain, Attorney-General and Field-Marshal combined, gained the real power while the ruling king or queen was engaged in the usual sanguinary pastime. In 638 the real power passed to Pepin the Old, Mayor of Austrasia, the eastern, German part of the Frankish Empire, and his son, Grimoald, created for his nominal king and his successors the ironic title of roi faine’ant – the king with nothing to do. . . .
Charles Martel, the Hammer, illegitimate son of another Pepin, was to become the greatest of the Mayors of the Palace. He reunited the Merovingian realm, fought the Saxons and Frisians in the north of Germany, the Bavarians in the south, and finally vanquished the Arabs who, after conquering Spain, had advanced as far as Poiters in the heart of France. his power became such that he did not bother to have another of the faine’ant kings elected during the last four years of his rule; to all intents and purposes he was already Emperor of a great new realm covering the now most important parts of what had once been the Roman Empire.
He favoured missionary work among the heathen Germans, yet strictly controlled the activities of the Church. Boniface, the apostle to the Germans, an Irish monk, was made Bishop of Germany beyond the Rhine under Charles, and with the cutting down of Woton’s holy oak near Fritzlar, in Hesse, brought to a sudden end that period of German history which modern political propaganda was trying hard to glorify as the source of all specifically Teutonic virtues and traditions, but which was in fact a Dark Age unsurpassed in cruelty, superstition, immortality and nearly every variety of vice, by that of any other people. If the German savages of pre-Christian days had any inborn virtues – and that of loyalty above all is claimed for them – such proofs of it as have been preserved by word of mouth only (there are no written documents dating back to pre-Christian times) are astonishingly negative. Most of their heroes die by treachery, assassination, or poison; their womenfolk are betrayed, trapped into marriage – as Brunhild, the Valkyrie, is by Gunther aided by Siegfried under his cap of invisibility, in the Nibelung saga – or given up to bigamous or licentious intrigues. their gods are represented as open to bribes, as quarrelling and fighting among themselves and as mortal in the widest sense of that word. The undoubted bravery of the Teutonic tribesmen appears to be due to ignorance and superstition, enhanced by much the same method that later on Mahomet employed to make his followers invincible: namely, the promise of a paradise attainable only by death on the battlefield, a paradise embodying somewhat grossly the dreams of a glutton, a drunkard and a libertine.
Even though a few names, such as Arminius, Theodoric, Gaiseric the Vandal or Alaric the Visigoth who in his turn sacked Rome (!), have been preserved, there was no organised German national development before Christianity and the teaching of the monks began to overcome gross darkness, intellectual, moral and material. Schools such as were opened all over the country by the fighting Irish monks from the time when St. Columba and St. Gallus started their missionary work about the year 600, were for a long time the only beacons in a Dark Age, during which the high Mediterranean civilisation which had previously spread with the marching legions of Rome had given way to savagery and ignorance. A certain level of amenity, even in far-away Germany, had again been replaced by mud and wattle; excellent roads had fallen into disuse; and the dung-heap inside the peasant hut, which the German barbarians had used as a sleeping-place and a cache for their food because of its warmth, had reappeared. It needed Anglo-Saxon scholars like Alcuin and his Irish contemporary Boniface to bring forth such capacities as were latent in the vast plains between Rhine and Elbe, between the North Sea and the Alps.
Charles Martel had paved the way. His son Carolus Magnus – Charlemagne – whom Germans and French alike claim as their greatest ruler, probably did not think of himself as the successor either of Arminius or of Vercingetorix, as either a Teutonic or a Gaulish ruler. Both Gaul and the German provinces were to him parts of the Roman Empire, the ‘Imperium Mundi,’ which, by virtue of the Frankish inheritance, he held as it were in trust. True, he disposed in a somewhat liberal way of the territories of that Empire, granting to the Pope the ‘Patrimonium Petri’ as an Ecclesiastical State, confiscating – after a war with Desiderius, King of the Langobards and his own father-in-law through one of his frequent marriages – the latter’s wealthy domains in northern Italy and crowning himself with the iron crown of the Langobards. On the other hand he fortified and pacified the realm and set up an organisation exploiting as perfectly as possible the political experience of his Roman predecessors. His most powerful adversaries were the Saxon tribes, loosely united under their chief Widukind (Witikind). After three sanguinary expeditions, between 772 and 780, Charles secured the Saxons’ submission: Widukind was baptised at Attigny in Champagne, and his pugnacious people were forcibly converted to the Christian creed and partly transplanted into Frankish territories, where to this day a number of towns and villages bear names reminding us of the Saxon settlers. The Saxon migration to Britain obviously gained a strong impulse from this subjection of a proud race, thousands of whom had been beheaded by Charles at Verden after a revolt in 782. Twelve centuries later National Socialism represented these Pagan rebels against Charle’s organised state as the sanctified martyrs of Germandom slain by Judaism in the disguise of the Christian Church. . . .
Charles fought other frontier tribes as well: he subjected the Bavarians, the Avars in what later was Hungary, the Norsemen who raided his coasts, and the personal enemies of the Pope, Leo III, who, in view of his many obligations to the Frankish ruler, crowned him Emperor during mass at St. Peter’s on Christmas Day 800 A.D. This act marks the foundation of the ‘Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation,’ although the name itself was not established until, one and a half centuries later, Otto the Great was crowned in Rome. Although Charle’s effort to establish a perfect centralised organisation and to spread learning and religion was not entirely successful, and though many of his local counts failed to give satisfaction, and his travelling courts to dispense equal justice, he raised the level of civilisation and ended the Dark Age that had prevailed for more than three hundred years all over central and western Europe. At the same time, with his many expeditions into Italy he initiated a period of strife that was to overshadow the whole of medieval history and to give German political life a twist that prevented internal consolidation. The Drang nach Suden, if not yet its counterpart, the Drang nach Osten, established itself under Charlemagne’s influence. The countries of a sunnier climate and a more fertile soil became the permanent objects of German yearning, and his example served sanguinary wars. German romanticism fed on his deeds, his exchange of embassies with distant potentates such as Haroun-al-Rashid, Caliph of Baghdad, his fight against the Spanish Saracens, during which Roland, Count of the Breton March, fell and became a German as well as a French mythical hero, statues of whom adorn to this day numerous German town-halls and law-courts.
To what low level the arts had by then sunk in the northern countries, in spite of the beautiful Greek and Roman models ready to hand, appears most clearly perhaps from the fact that there is not a single portrait or statue preserving for us the features of Charlemagne or his paladins such as Roland, or of Alcuin, his ‘Minister of Education,’ or of Einhard, his advisor and biographer – later sculptures and paintings show the great Emperor either with or without a beard, with a face suggestive of Latin rather than Teutonic ancestry – and not much more is left of the cathedrals and palaces he built in his main seat, Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), and elsewhere. Yet he was, as far as means of communication permitted, in close relation with foreign countries of advanced civilisation: not only with the foremost Arabian ruler, but also with his own counterpart in the East, the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople, to whom he made a gift of the wealthy province of Dalmatia. As go-betweens and ambassadors he usually employed Jews who, long before and during the time, were held in high esteem as learned people skilled in languages and possessing international connexions, while others of their religion had played an important part by introducing the culture of the vine and numerous crafts previously unknown into the German parts of the old Empire. Charlemagne was obviously free from the manifold prejudices that were to hamper many of his successors: he had four wives in succession and concurrently, five concubines, by whom he had scores of children, mostly daughters. When he died, in 814, his son Ludwig, or Louis, named ‘the Pious,’ succeeded to the throne of the whole Empire, the premature death of his two elder brothers preventing the usual partition.
814 – 1077 A.D.:
THE FRANCO-GERMAN SPLIT AND THE ‘DRANG NACH OSTEN’
Louis The Pious, a friend of women, priests and Jews, during a not undisputed reign of twenty-five years, did two things worth mentioning: unlike his father he did not have the Pope bestow the Imperial crown upon him but crowned himself at Aix – an act imitated by Stephen, the next Pope, who took the tiara without Imperial sanction – and he partitioned his empire between his three sons: Charles the Bald, subsequently ruler of France; Lothair, for whom a new realm was created consisting of a narrow strip of land from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, the future Lotharingia or Lorraine; and Louis the German, who got a German kingdom. A weak ruler, Louis the Pious set forces in motion that were to shape the whole future course of European history: the Franco-German conflict on the one hand and on the other the rivalry between the Papacy and the Imperial power which dominated medieval history. Not yet was there a conscious national feeling in either part of the Carolingian Empire Austrasia, the eastern, or Neustria, the western half of the Frankish realm; but between the brothers over their inheritance, and after having defeated Lothair, the French and the German kings met at Strassburg in 842, swearing an oath of friendship in two languages, so as to be understood by both their armies. That oath in ‘romano’ (old French) and ‘teudisca’ (the old German language) is the oldest existing document establishing the two different nationalities within the formerly united Empire.
A split in the ruling forces, between the spiritual and the temporal, was nothing new in history. It existed among the Arabs and the Chinese of the period; but in the Christian world the Bishop of Rome, originally only the first among the many Christian bishops, (The Bishop of Rome is first amongst equal Patriarchs, Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople and Alexandria. He was Western Rite Orthodoxy which the bishop broke from in 1054 and created the Roman Catholic Church and went to war against other churches who were different in Liturgy, example the Western Rite Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox churches, hence the Crusade/Conquest of England in 1066 and the Crusade/Conquest of Constantinople in 1204), on the strength of his pretension to the succession of St. Peter, laid claim as Pontifex Maximus to supremcy over the temporal ruler. For in ancient Rome the Caesar-Imperator had held that supreme spiritual office too, and the question whether the Emperor was to appoint the Pope, the Pontifex, or whether the Ponitfex, crowning and anointing the Emperor, was to be considered as his superior, could never be settled. Whichever of the two was the more powerful decided for the time being the interpretation of their relationship. The Empire itself, considered as universal in an age which knew the existence of only three continents and very little about two of them and their civilisation, was in any case the common sphere of action of both these powers, and oceans of blood were shed and valuable potential forces of civilisation wasted during the next five hundred years in repeated expeditions across the Alps undertaken with the object of establishing or securing German imperial supremacy in Italy as against the Pope.
After the Strassburg Oath the Franco-German understanding was confirmed first by a treaty concluded at Verdun in August 843 and later by the treaty of Meerson – near Maastricht – dated 8th August, 870, after the death of Lothair. This second treaty split the Carolingian Empire into two halves, approximately in accordance with the linguistic character of its inhabitants, and it created strong German realm that was to prevail for sometime over the weaker and less prosperous French kingdom. Lotharingia, divided between the two was to be resurrected later on as the Duchy of Burgundy which so long hampered the unification and centralisation of France.
The German successors of Louis the Pious, his active and strong-willed son Louis the German, his grandson Charles the Fat who was deposed by Arnulph of Carinthia and – after the death of Louis the Child, the last Carolingian – Conrad the Franconia held France in check and strengthened the Imperial power. They began the conquest of the eastern marches, fighting Slavonic and Hungarian tribes and expanding the frontiers of the Empire usually under the pretext of a religious and cultural mission, which they had to fulfil as the secular arm of the Christian Church.
In 884 the Magyars, who had migrated into the Danubian plains formerly inhabited by the warlike Huns, appeared on the eastern frontier of the Empire; subsequently they attacked Italy, which had previously been ravaged by the Saracens, now pushed back to Sicily. At the same time the Norsemen harried the coasts of Germany, France and England. It was a period of continuous fighting that forced the noblemen, especially those living near the borders, to strengthen their castles and always keep a number of men in training and under arms.
In this wat the knights and barons gained power over the smaller landowners and the peasantry who did homage to them; the monasteries were likewise strengthened, fortified and used as strongholds and treasure-houses, thereby acquiring wealth and influence and giving the Church a more warlike character. both these new powers within the Empire were later on to contribute largely to its disintegration.
It was some time, however, before the rivalry between the feudal lords and the higher clergy on the one hand and the central power on the other became visible. For the Carolingian dynasty was succeeded by a number of strong and gifted rulers of the Salian family, Saxon princes who held the sceptre for more than two hundred years, from 918 to 1125. The first of them, Henry the Fowler, was said to have been informed of his election as Emperor while he was bird-catching: he had to catch some more dangerous and elusive game before he could hand over to his successor a country once more strong and united as it had been under Charlemagne. For the dukes of Suabia, Bavaria, Franconia and Saxony fought him for their independence; and on his frontiers he had to subdue Wends – his Slavonic neighbours across the river Elbe – Lotheringians, Bohemians, Danes and Magyars. his son Otto the Great, who crowned himself at Aix, subdued the tribal Dukes and appointed Counts Palatine for each duchy, Counts of the Marches for every border-area, and, as the first of a long list of German emperors, marched into Italy, there to be acknowledged as overlord and to receive homage from the Pope who, on 2nd February, 962, bestowed Charlemagne’s crown upon him in ex-change for a confirmation of the grant of the Papal territories. The Emperor’s son Otto II, by marrying the Byzantine Emperor’s daughter Theophano, created a link between the Eastern and Western Empires of the time and strengthened the claim first established by his father to the rightful succession to the Roman Empire – henceforth the official name of the German realm.
Henry III and Otto III emphasised the close contact that had been established between Rome and Germany by investing their rule with a mystical character, claiming to be God’s chosen instruments to establish His rule on earth. A strong influence that spread from the many Benedictine monasteries established after the example of Cluny, the chief monastery of the West, founded in 911, contributed to that development, which was to reach its height when a reformist Pope, Hildebrand, under the name of Gregory VII, openly fought the Imperial claim to dispense ecclesiastical offices and appointments. When the Emperor Henry IV took up the glove and tried to depose him, he excommunicated the German ruler; and so strong by then was the moral influence of the Church that Henry submitted to the indignity of crossing the Alps and waiting, in the courtyard of the castle at Canossa, where the Pope was staying, for three days in snow and ice, suing for absolution. the consequences were disastrous for the Emperor. German dukes and noblemen who had disapproved of his attitude before his excommunication and after, now openly rebelled and set up anti-kings whom Henry only defeated after a long struggle and by enlisting the help of the peasants and townfolk against his nobles. The year 1077 was a fateful year indeed. For at Canossa the Church won its first striking triumph in a fight that was to dominate the whole of medieval history. Without it, the Reformation and the religious wars that were to destroy the political power, the wealth and the civilisation of Germany might never have been.
Not that civilisation had progressed very far at the time of the Salic rulers. Their law-book Lex Salica, still contains, characteristically, a prohibition of cannibalism for magic purposes; the life in monasteries and convents was by no means exemplary, as is shown by the report on a convent at Pernegg where a certain wealthy Count Ulric kept no less than twelve mistresses; and there was a regular tariff of rape, the price ranging from twelve solidi to forty-five or fifty shillings. Slavery existed in its worst form, the serfs being practically at the mercy of their masters and their daughters an easy prey to every ‘junker’ who could claim the jus primae noctis (rape) before granting them the right to marry. On the other hand the arts and crafts began to flourish, and many of the great German cathedrals owe their existence to the religious zeal of the Salian Emperors, during whose time the ‘Romanesque; style, similar to the French-Norman style in England, developed. But by making their own younger sons or other relatives bishops, and by treating the Church as a privileged institution of the Imperial power, they made it worldly, greedy and immoral; they furnished the Popes with the necessary grounds on which to break away from the tacit agreement entered into when Charlemagne had himself crowned by Pope Leo; and when the iron Gregory VII built up his own hierarchy enforcing celibacy upon the clergy all over the world, the Holy Roman Empire lost its strongest moral asset in the game for world domination, together with the ‘right of investiture,’ i.e., of appointing its own bishops and abbots.
POPES AND EMPERORS
The influence of Rome, of the Church, showed itself in music, painting and architecture. Yet the style called Roman, or Romanesque, all over the continent was originally oriental and came to Germany by way of Ravenna and other Italian cities where Byzantine influence had prevailed. The Imperial Palace at Gelnhausen, the cathedrals of Mayence, Speier, Worms and Bamberg are monuments of that equally non-German Gothic style exemplified in many of the most famous German churches, e.g., at Freiburg, Ulm and Cologne. There are but two types representing a typically German development: the nobleman’s castle and the peasant’s dwelling. Later on, the development of the German town, with its small, winding streets and gabled houses, added a third element of German origin to the two more striking ones.
Characteristically this development coincides with that of German poetry and literature. The minstrels, who helped to divert and amuse the princes and feudal lords by their songs, and later the master-singers of the cities, were the precursors of the author and historian destined to give the German people the consciousness of a national character. It was around 1200 A.D. that the Song of the Nibelungs, Germany’s national epic, was first put into writing. Much admired as a poem and a cardinal document of German literature, it compares none too favourably with the national epics of other peoples such as the Odyssey and Iliad of the Greeks, the Aeneid of the Romans, the Indian Mahabharata, the Spanish Poema de Cid and the French Chanson de Roland. Though not lacking in rhythmic and poetic beauty it is fundamentally an unsavoury take of murder, betrayal, cruelty, savage fighting and greed, the whole story turning around the treasure of the Nibelung dwarfs stolen by Siegfried, the German national hero, who is himself assassinated at the instigation of Brunhild, a former Valkyrie he has helped his brother-in-law, Gunther, to win by struggling with the divine maiden in Gunther’s stead, invisible in the dwarf’s cap. Later poets and historians like to see in Siegfried the typically German hero, adventurous, courageous, slightly naive; yet he too lends his hand to treacherous dealings, to trickling a royal virgin into an undesired marriage in order to win for himself a king’s sister and a high position, while his bravery rests upon his unvulnerability won by bathing in the blood of a slain dragon. For real poetry the songs of such minstrels as Walther von der Vogelweide, Wolfram von Eschenbach and others are much to be preferred.
Fighting against Arabs and Byzantines, eternally longing for southern shores with a sunnier climate and more fertile plains, deeply conscious of the spiritual if not political supremacy of Rome to which they looked as their intellectual home, the Germans of the Middle Ages were open to every suggestion that offered a chance to follow that southward urge. It is not surprising, therefore, that Peter the Hermit found a ready response when about 1100 A.D. he preached the first Crusade to free the Holy Sepulchre from the hands of the Mahometan ‘infidels.’ The Emperor Henry V himself at first did not support that movement, for like his father he was still in conflict with the Pope and in fact, in 1110, marched into Italy and finally obtained a compromise over the main issue, the investitures. Even so the princely house of Babenberg financed a Crusade in 1101, and the Imperial power supported all the later ones from 11047 onwards, including the extremely silly and tragic Children’s Crusade. The benefit Germany, like other European countries, derived from these adventurous enterprises lay in the acquisition of many valuable arts, crafts and sciences of oriental origin and in a wider knowledge of the world of their day, but the price was enormous, including not only the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the sands of the desert or through the swords of the Saracens but the importation of disastrous plagues and epidemics.
It was a craze, a mass-hypnosis such as the Germans seem to have been prone to at all times. As the Mahometan Turks set out for the Holy Cities of their religion, Mecca and Medina; as the Russians has been clamouring, ever since SS. Methodius and Cyril brought them the Greek gospel, for Constaninople; so the occidental peoples, the French and the Germans above all, felt the urge to conquer the birth-place of their religion, the Holy City of Jerusalem. For a short time at least this common aim seemed to engender a European spirit and open up a prospect of unification for the Continent. Home politics and dynastic rivalries soon destroyed that glimpse of a better future: a German battle-cry that was to be heard for centuries far from its place of origin destroyed what solidarity adventures and hardships experienced in common might have created. It was, at first, the battle-cry of two rivals for the German crown: the Bavarian Duke Henry, a member of the Welf family, and Conrad of Franconia, called after one of his villages Waiblingen. The Italian form of their names, ‘Guelf’ and ‘Ghibelline,’ became, like the English White and Red Roses and the later Whigs and Tories, the names of two political parties, whose struggles took place mainly on Italian soil but involved international forces after “Guelf” had come to denote the party of the Pope. After Conrad had prevailed over his rival. taken part in the Second Crusade and died shortly after returning from the Holy Land, the Imperial crown fell to Frederick of Suabia, of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, who was to be famous under the nickname of ‘Barbarossa.’ He tried to settle the Guelf-Ghibelline conflict by exploiting his mother’s descent from the House of Bavaria and supported the British-born Pope Adrian IV, but came into conflict with him over the question whether the Empire was held directly from God or only indirectly through the Papal authority. In a number of expeditions against his Italian adversaries and their numerous allies, Frederick in the main suffered defeat, but he made up his quarrel with several successive Popes when the Saracens retook Jerusalem and went on Crusade in 1189. He died from bathing in the cold waters of the river Calycadnus, near the old town of Tarsus. His romantic career took hold of the German imagination, and he became a legend soon after his death. He was supposed to be asleep in a cave below the Kyffhauser mountain, where his beard had grown through the table; every hundred years he was awakened by ravens which came to tell him whether the Empire was still in existence, and to call him and his sleeping knights to its defence.
The comparatively short period of the Hohenstaufen Emperors, which lasted from 1126 to 1254 and coincides with that of the Plantagenets, whose most romantic figure, Richard Coeur-de-Lion, went on crusade with Barbarossa and was held a prisoner by Frederick’s successor Henry VI, brought a second period of universal power for the Holy Roman Empire. In spite of civil wars, with an unruly enfeoffed knighthood at home and enriched and strengthened cities, especially in Lombardy, the acquisition of Italian and other southern lands of superior civilisation and greater wealth gave the Empire a backing of great importance. Germans counts and barons were appointed rulers in many formerly Latin lands and germanised their populations. Rich booty and other foreign monies such as Richard-de-Lion’s ransom helped to conquer such territories as the former Norman kingdom of Sicily and southern Italy; and when the most brilliant figure of the Middle Ages, Frederick II, the Stupor Mundi, received the crown in 1209, Germanism had already conquered large territories east, north and south of the former frontiers. Barbarossa had pushed back the Slavonic neighbours of Germany and consolidated his hold on the ‘March’ that was to play such a role in modern German history; the Teutonic Knights, an ecclesiastical brotherhood originally founded for the conquest of the Holy Land, had established themselves within the borders of the heathen Prussians; and the warlike German merchants of the Hansa, a federation of trading cities most of them situated on the coasts, had extended their influence all over the Baltic and the North Sea, from London to Riga and into Russia as far as Nishni Novgorod. All this had not been achieved without bloodshed and violence.
Needless to say that the system led to corruption and crime. Frederick’s own son-in-law and lieutenant, Ezzelino da Romano, in the course of trying to stabilise his rule, became a mass-murderer, thief and criminal of the most infamous repute, and there is no doubt that the age of the most modern, the most brilliant, the most learned of the medieval German Emperors – who had been born and brought up in Apulia in southern Italy – ranks with the most depraved periods of history anywhere. Several times excommunicated by the Pope, probably a complete agnostic himself, Frederick nevertheless, for political reasons, went on crusade twice and obtained by negotiation the cession of Jerusalem and Bethlehem from the Sultan of Egypt. For political reasons also he reversed at home the policy pursued in Sicily by granting comparatively large powers to the German dukes and ecclesiastical princes. After he had armed a strong force of Saracens in order to crush the Pope and the anti-kings set up against the Emperor under anathema, he suddenly died in 1250. His successors, Conrad IV and, after his early death the young Conradin, were unable to make headway against the numerous adversaries, at home and abroad, that raised their heads as soon as the brilliant figure of Frederick disappeared, and for nearly twenty years, from 1254 to 1273, there was the Great Interregnum, a period of lawlessness and decay during which no German Emperor was elected, while foreign princes, Richard of Cornwall and Alphonso of Castile, unsuccessfully laid claim to the crown.
It was one of those periods, frequent in German history, when the feudal magnates saw their chance of throwing off the Imperial yoke and ruling uncontrolled within their own domains. Half a dozen of these smaller dynasties, from which the Emperor would have to be chosen in the event of the extinction or deposition of a ruling house, were the leading powers, rebels against or allies of the Imperial house according to their varying dynastic or personal interests. Originally but feudal tenants of a power that belonged to the Emperor, Counts Palatine or Margraves entrusted with the administration of a province or a smaller area, all these petty rulers had managed to become hereditary owners of their lands and titles. They were to prove useful in their rivalry with each other as patrons of arts and science, as builders of larger or smaller capitals and as promoters of trade and agriculture. But their luxurious courts, their bodyguards and their frequent military enterprises were a heavy charge on the population, and prevented a greater degree of centralisation such as Britain and France were to experience to their great advantage. The character of the population, too, was to suffer from this multiplicity of loyalties demanded from it. It was impossible to develop a national feeling in an Empire where a step across the border of one of the feudal states might mean having to fight against the Emperor though he was supposed to be supreme Lord and though one’s previous overlord had been all for his anointed master. No man could be truly loyal to anybody under such conditions.
It was a natural consequence of this state of affairs that the towns developed a strength they had lacked so long as a strong central power, and regional government backed by it, had held the reins. Not that the merchants and craftsmen of medieval Germany were warlike by nature or out for conquest; but in order to protect themselves against robber knights who exacted arbitrary tolls from the merchants who passed their castles, and against feudal lords who plundered them under the guise of taxation, they had to keep mercenary troops and fortify their homes. As international trade progressed with the slow but permanent improvement of roads, ships and foreign contacts, the townsfolk gained wealth. Along the two great trade-routes of Germany – the one leading from Britain and Flanders along the river Rhine, through the towns of Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Aix, Cologne, Mayence, Frankfort, Freiburg and Basle into Italy, and the other from Scandinavia and the sea ports of Hamburg, Lubeck and Bremen via Hanover, Hildeheim, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Nuremburg, Regensburg and Vienna into the Balkans and the Near East – came and went precious goods: silks and velvets from France and Flanders, watches and goldsmiths’ work from Nuremberg, Venetian glass and lace, oriental swords and spices. Navigation improved with international trade, and the Hanseatic League, originally a sort of co-operative organisation of merchants, became a most powerful alliance of important towns and cities. The establishment of their depot in London, the ‘Stahlhof,’ dates back to the twelfth century.
As a political power the Hansa goes back to the Rhenish Federation of townships, established in 1251. With the co-operation of Lubeck in 1259, the Federation widened its scope to such an extent that soon afterwards the German trading settlements in Russia, Sweden and elsewhere had to submit to this organisation, which made the whole of northern Europe tributary to its interests. For more than a century they had to be taken into account wherever the interests of predominant great powers were involved, and the Hansa dealt with kings and emperors on a footing of equality. Although under strong German or at least Germanic influence, the Hansa was a markedly super-national, European institution. Yet its zenith coincides with the first marked triumph of German national feeling, with the ‘Konigstuhl’ at Rense, an old building on the river Rhine where, on 16th July, 1338, the seven electoral princes of Germany took an oath to have the German ruler henceforth put on the throne – as King – without interference by the Pope, leaving it to the successful candidate himself to decide whether he wished also to be anointed as Emperor in Rome or not.
The decision of the seven electors, temporal and ecclesiastical rulers of German countries, was taken after they had won a decisive influence in choosing the head of the Empire. When, after the Interregnum, Rudolph of Habsburg, a minor Suabian ruler and one not likely to disturb the almost independent position of the feudal magnates who had increased their authority during the period of lawlessness, was made Emperor, he lost their favour by showing independence and decision himself, and they refused the crown to his son Albert. He won the crown, however, from his elected adversary Adolf of Nassau, who was killed in battle, and by concentrating upon Germany and abstaining from Italian adventures, hitherto a fatal tradition of the German rulers, he strengthened the power of his house, which was afterwards to rule for five centuries. his brother and successor Frederick had to fight again for his throne, and lost it to the Bavarian Duke Lewis. This Emperor deserves mention for two reasons; he established close contact with the English kingdom and, at an Imperial diet at Coblenz on 31st August, 1338, received King Edward III, with whom he concluded an alliance against Philip VI of France and thus contributed towards the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War; and he attracted the Pope’s wrath and excommunication upon himself by sanctioning the bigamous marriage of his son with the ‘ugly duchess’ of Tyrol.
His successor, Charles IV, by promulgating a law called the Golden Bull determined the exact procedure for future Imperial elections, and tried to secure sufficient lands to make the Imperial dignity an heirloom of his dynasty, the house of Habsburg-Luxemburg. As a matter of fact he rather strengthened the centrifugal powers: soon afterwards the Empire lost the precious province of Brabant and the Swiss cantons, who founded an independent confederation of their own. Within Germany meanwhile the first ‘proletarian’ movements developed: in many towns the privileged classes, the guilds and their masters were attacked by the lower population, revolts and armed attacks upon patrician property occurred, and the frequent feuds between barons and cities became complicated by alliances of the municipal and rural nobility against the commoners.
THE MEDIEVAL SCENE
Parallel with the strengthening of the dynastic power of the German Emperors, the House of Habsburg, went a flowering of municipal civilisation, which left a deep impress on the character of German development. The German towns one after another took advantage of the recent invention of fire-arms – unknightly weapons the use of which the barons and feudal powers tried to suppress – while the towns established their own powder-mills and taught their clerks and mercenaries the use of these up-to-date means of warfare. Had the movement for a general federation of towns after the pattern of the Hansa been successful, the whole future development of Germany might have been built upon her cities, as was that of Italy and the Low Countries. Even as it was, they grew rich by their flourishing trade – all international routes of importance leading through German territory – and by their mining enterprises. Silver, salt, iron ore and other minerals were mined successfully to the profit of urban traders who soon became financiers on a large scale, competing with the most successful bankers of the age, the Lombards. About the year 1400 Cologne, Bruges and Basle had between 100,000 and 200,000 inhabitants each, and it needed the epidemics and the wars of the following centuries to reduce them to the level far below those figures at which they remained until the nineteenth century.
In the medieval towns the Jews played an important role. Although religious fanaticism such as the Crusades had let loose and the Black Death, a plague probably introduced from the East for which the Jews were wrongly held responsible, gave rise to cruel persecutions and mass-murders, nevertheless Jewish moneylenders, often acting as agents for princes of the Church and noblemen who wished to avoid the blame for taking usurious interest, Jewish physicians and Jewish men of learning continued to be in demand. Jewish refugees, who had fled from their torturers into Poland and other eastern countries where they found asylum, contributed largely to the spreading of the German language and civilisation and preserved through the coming centuries the dialect of the Older German language that had been spoken along the Rhine at the time of the minstrels. These minstrels – originally walking newspapers carrying from castle to castle the news of the land and, as welcome guests, diverting their hosts by playing the harp and singing their self-composed songs – were soon supplanted in the towns by the master-singers, organisation of craftsmen learning and teaching the art of singing and instrumental music according to their own strict rules.
Other arts and crafts followed. The towns became the patrons of architecture and painting, investing patrician wealth in impressive Gothic cathedrals and in secular buildings of great beauty and variety – town halls, guildhalls and private dwellings. Inventions such as the Nuremburg watch and the printing-press, and the universities, owe their existence to the development of the cities and towns during the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. On the other hand the particular ‘orderliness’ of the German character – in which there was always a strong element of narrow mindedness and subservience to anyone who was sufficiently boastful and arrogant – brought about an increasing suppression of any liberal movement or free spirit within the municipal guilds, and kept sincere and progressive men powerless while cliques, sets and families monopolised all power. In the sadistic cruelty of their penal system which included torture as the main form of criminal investigation, the industrious craftsmen of wealthy and powerful towns vied with the feudal lords, and their treatment of peasants and serfs became more and more unjust, more and more revolting brutal, in an age that might have been expected to witness a growth of liberalism and tolerance.
The result was the Peasants Wars which devastated half Germany for half a century, destroying human life and wealth to an extent unheard of before and not exceeded even by the attacks of the Turks who began to menace the Empire towards the end of the fourteenth century. These were to last for three hundred years and to cost the house of Habsburg the better part of their Hungarian and Balkan dominions and outposts. By 1403 the Ottoman hordes had advanced as far as the frontiers of Styria. Subsequently they devasted Hungary and, after another century of sporadic fighting, conquered it completely, together with Servia, Wallachia and Greece, after they had overthrown the Byzantine Empire and made Constantinople their capital. this conquest was to have far-reaching consequences, not only in the political field. For the Turkish occupation of the ancient trade-routes gave a strong impetus to the efforts of seafaring nations to find an outlet in new directions, which led to many discoveries. The dispersal of Byzantine scholars and libraries brought fresh knowledge of the classics, especially the Greek, to Western countries and paved the way for the Renaissance – the ‘rebirth.’ As far as Germany is concerned, it was an intellectual and artistic rebirth, not a political one; for the central power, for a time reasserted by the first Habsburg ruler, Rudolf, was again in decay and more or less confined to a sort of suzerainty, stronger or weaker according to the dynastic power of the holder at the moment. The struggle against the Turks started during the reign of Sigismund, who rules from 1410 to 1437. Besides that dangerous new enemy, he had to struggle for twenty years against the Hussites, a warlike, rebellious Bohemian sect that took its name from Wycliffe’s Czech successor, John Huss – forerunner of the Reformation burnt at the stake during the Council of Constance in 1415 – and devasted important parts of the Empire. Religious and pseudo-religious movements were particularly apt to disturb the ever-shadowy Landfriede – internal peace – of a nation composed of heterogeneous elements whose rulers strove mainly for an increase of their family possessions, either by marriage, or by vast business transactions involving the life, freedom, religion and personal rights of whole populations, or finally by wars waged on the flimsiest pretexts. Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, is responsible for the famous distich which begins Bella gerant alii, tu, felix Austria, nube and means that while others had to fight for the increase of their dominions the House of Habsburg managed to enlarge and stablilise its power by its marriages. In theory that power extended over the whole territory of the Empire, including the Low Countries, Luxemburg, Lorraine, the Franche-Comte’, Savoy, Piedmont, Provence, Northern Italy, Austria, Moravia and Silesia; the eastern Marches were Brandenburg and Pomerania, and Habsburg dukes ruled over Styria, Carinthia and Carniola within the Empire, and over Hungary and Bohemia outside it.
there were rivals, however, for that power. the Margraves of Brandenburg, of the House of Hohenzollern that had obtained Brandenburg by purchase from Sigismund, the Dukes of Saxony and the Wittelsbach dynasty in the Palatinate, and later in Bavaria, were influential as electors; several Archbishops, the Hansa cities of Bremen, Hamburg and Lubeck, even after the dissolution of the once international Hanseatic League had begun, and the Teutonic Knights on colonial soil in the East, all held sway within their own territories practically without interference by the Emperors. Every count, baron or knight, however small his domain, tried to follow their example, and after the public peace proclaimed several times, especially in 1495, the depredations of the robber-knights, freebooters of the highways, were resumed, and murder and robbery went on by day and by night everywhere.
The Teutonic Knights and their fraternity, the Knights of the Sword, had sinned particularly grossly against the Christian spirit they pretended to uphold. they had started their conquest of heathen Prussia and the Baltic provinces in 1200 and had prospered for two centuries, paving the way for and backed by the Hanseatic League and its commercial imperialism. they had fought against Lithuanians and Poles, made alliances with other ‘crusaders’ and built strong castles against the surrounding heathens, whom they had slaughtered wholesale if they could not bring them into subjection. All the time they had prospered, and the Marienburg, their mighty stronghold on the Vistula, was a centre of political influence and intrigue. But in 1440 they provoked an alliance of the awakening cities against themselves as the result of having, as an old chronicle says, ‘permitted too many inexcusable things, used false money and measure, beheaded many knights and other noblemen without judgement, having drowned them or poisoned them during banquets, having stolen the inheritances and raped the wives and daughters of many men.’ They seem, indeed, to have been anything but defenders of the Faith, and when, by the Treaty of Thorn, 1466, West Prussia and Ermeland reverted to Poland, they only managed to save their existence by accepting their remaining territories in East Prussia as a fief from Lithuanian-Polish Grand Dukes.
The age of the Knights altogether – not only the original religious orders, like the Teutonic Knights, the Knights of the Sword, of St. Mary, or even the Templars and the Knights of Malta – was fast coming to an end. The invention of gunpowder had deprived their castles and armour of nearly all their protective value. The manorial system inevitably decayed, together with feudalism. The towns had become strong, and individual capitalists like the houses of the Fuggers and Welsers in Augsburg, by strengthening the system of money economy versus the older system of barter, had hastened the downfall of the landed nobility. On the other hand, knowledge had become cheap: the printing press was to bring it within the reach of everybody and thereby to promote unrest, dissatisfaction, a consciousness of the multitudinous wrongs inflicted by the few upon the masses. It is typical of the German mentality that the great revolutions to come took the form, not of social, economic or moral demands, but of religious controversy, and started, not with revolts of suffering serfs, peasants or city rabble, ut with scholastic Biblical discussions between a number of more or less famous humanists. They were as dry as dust, and their arguments appear to us trifling and pedantic, their problems petty and futile; yet they were to blow to pieces not only what had survived of the unified German Empire but, in the end, the whole world. Satirical books such as Sebastian Brandt’s Narrenschiff or Ulric von Hutten’s Epistole obscurorum virorum exercised a profound influence; Erasmus of Rotterdam and Johann Reuchlin of Pforzheim forced their contemporaries to think and to criticise.
At the same time social unrest, such as England had seen during Wat Tyler’s rebellion and France during the Jacqquerie revolt, began to ferment among the peasant population all over Germany, where the masses were living in dire misery, oppressed and exploited by their masters. The slogans calling for complete abolition of existing rights, the murder of Emperor, Pope and clergy and the enforcing of journeyman’s work and pay upon princes and noblemen strongly resemble the Bolshevism and Anarchism of our days. Armed revolt, beginning in 1476near Wurzburg and spreading all over southern and central Germany, was crushed with much bloodshed; but the ideas spread, and the more or less unorganised slaughtering and plundering that history records as the Peasant Wars went on for half a century. Some of the demands of the peasant leaders, sometimes former priests or teachers, were only too justified, and it is characteristic that even some noble knights, like the famous Gotz von Berichingen and Florian Geyer, espoused the cause of the revolutionaries. There was in most cases a strong Christian, and sometimes a nationalist, undercurrent in these movements. Unorganised and ill-equipped, the peasants always suffered defeat in the end; they were put to death when captured or subjected to unimaginable tortures, but their catchwords have lived on to this day and shown their power once more in modern Communist and Nazi versions of the same ideas. the largest and most lasting of these movements of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries took the Bundschuh, the peasant’s sandal, as its symbol. All these revolts had very serious grievances at the bottom of them, but they rapidly degenerated into senseless destruction of artistic and other treasures; religious madness supervened in many cases, as with the Anabaptists of Munster in Westphalia who established for years the ‘Kingdom’ of a former tailor, Johann von Leiden, who ruled like a Sardanpalus to the accompaniment of polygamy, mass executions and the utmost luxury.
General conditions in Germany, round the turn of the century, had become intolerable and revolting in many respects. The persecution of witches, the sadistic development and general use of torture, the degeneration of religious institutions exemplified by such abuses as the sale of indulgencies, had paved the way for that fundamental revolution that was to be brought about by the Reformation. The Imperial power had become merely nominal while the feudal rulers, to all intents and purposes the absolute owners of thier duchies, including the inhabitants, committed every kind of misdeed with impunity. a new wave of anti-Semitism spreading from Spain, where the Inquisition had begun to rage, furnished the feudal lords and the rabble alike with pretexts to rob, plunder and murder east victims. In many respects the period around 1500 A.D. resembled that immediately following the Great War of 1914-18 and goes to prove that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ and that the peculiar characteristics of the modern Germans are not the products of a particular new creed or new leadership but are to a large extent deep-rooted in the national character.
THE REFORMATION AND THE BREAK UP OF THE EMPIRE
When a young Augustinian monk, a teacher at the new University of Wittenberg, fixed his ’95 Theses’ to the door of his church one day in October 1517, he was certainly not aware that he was overthrowing a world order based upon the claim of a universal Church and a universal empire. In sincere faith he wanted to see a number of abuses that had developed in the practice of Roman, and even more German, Catholicism abolished and the moral power represented by the Pope restored. He inveighed especially against the selling of indulgences as practiced by Archbishop Albrecht of Magdeburg, a Brandenburg prince of the Church who had paid a heavy price for his dignity and tried to get it back by retail selling of the general indulgence granted for his Mayence prebend. Hot-headed and stubborn by nature, Luther refused to give in when asked to recant by his superiors and found support in several ruling Dukes, especially Frederick, Elector of Saxony. In the course of disputing with his adversaries Luther soon began to attack the Papal authority itself and thereby, unwittingly, became the idol and the figurehead of a revolutionary movement that was to split Germany in two and to cost millions of lives all over the western world.
The Dukes, amongst whom one or the other may have been seriously interested in religious matters, on the whole considered the new faith as an excellent shield for their own dynastic interests. Under the pretext of fighting for a purified or, as the case might be, for a ‘national Chirch, they were able to reduce the constitutional power of the Emperor still further and to establish the hereditary power of their own houses; as incidental benefits they might manage to swallow the lands of some minor opponent or some partisan of the Roman-Imperial cause. The idea of making the Scripture, formerly a sacred relic preserved and explained by a specially trained and often highly intellectual clergy, available for everybody, could not fail to appeal to the public mind; but its realisation was bound to impair and crudely over-simplify what fifteen centuries of high culture, tradition and profound knowledge of human nature had transformed into the highest code of ethics the world has known. It was to replace interpretation by bigotry, and the last, most precious remnants of the old Graeco-Roman tradition by German intolerance; and; though entitled to respect on account of its naive simplicity and burning faith, it was to strip the thin veneer of civilisation from the primitive, not to say savage, German nature.
Although Luther was no humanist and, in all his brave stubbornness, astonishingly inconsistent and sensitive to the praise of his social superiors, attacks such as are launched against him to this day as a coarse destroyer fighting his Church because of his own sensuality, arrogance and superstition are hardly supported by the facts. He was merely the powerful exponent of a widespread movement that existed before he nailed his Theses to the church door of Wittenburg. The Swiss Ulrich Zwingli, more radical and a better scholar than Luther; the Frenchman Jean Calvin, later of Geneva, founder of Puritanism; Philip Melanchthon, one of Luther’s collaborators; and, above all, Erasmus of Rotterdam, the leading intellectual figure of Western Europe – all these and many others had tilled the field where Luther’s seed was to bring forth so gigantic and so tragic a harvest. Some of Luther’s actions are, to this day, quoted as typical of his German character. After having called upon the German noblemen to rid themselves of the Roman Church and establish an independent German one, to permit their priests marriage and their children the knowledge of the Bible, he was summoned before an Imperial Diet t Worms, 17th April, 1521. Asked to recant his teachings, he exclaimed: ‘Here, I stand – I can do no otherwise – God help me – Amen.’ He did not know that he challenged the greatest and most powerful ruler that the Empire ever possessed, that the twenty-one-year-old youth in purple, Charles V, the Spanish Habsburg, in a last, glorious sanguinary twilight of the Universal Monarchy was to rule over a realm ‘on which the sun never set,’ embracing Germany, Austria, the Low Countries, Spain and the rich colonies in South and Central America from which gold and silver had been plundered in shiploads.
Charles, who for more than twenty years fought Francis I of France and with similarly varying success the electoral and other ruling princes of his own Empire, the Dukes of Saxony, the Landgrave of Hesse, the Margrave of Brandenburg and others, finally united in the League of Schmalkalde against the Catholic Emperor, was the victim of the short-sighted, typically German policy of the backers of Protestantism. For while they quarrelled with each other and with their legitimate overlord, not only the French but the Turks on repeated occasions allied to them menaced the very life of Germany. The Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent invaded Hungary, conquered Budapest and murdered hundreds of thousands of Christians. Then in 1529 he attacked Vienna and, although beaten back, was left undisturbed on the frontiers of the Empire because the idea of the nation had already given way to the smaller personal and dynastic interests of the various rulers. Though Luther published the Turks, he was mainly occupied with his translation of the Bible and missed a splendid opportunity to put himself forward as a patriotic German leader.
He missed another opportunity; that of leading the proletarian masses against their oppressors and directing their resentment into channels where it might have produced progress, civilisation and a national revival. While these masses, mainly belonging to be peasantry, looked up to him as their liberator, spiritual and temporal, Luther, mindful of his debt to the princes who had given him asylum and support, condemned their uprisings with all the coarseness and fieriness of his pen, as soon as they had begun to murder, to burn and to plunder the nobility. ‘kill the lot’ was the watchword he gave to the troops sent out to subdue these hordes who were filled with a fanatical belief in a new Messianic age, a new apostolic Church, a new social justice to be brought about by bloodshed. And kill the soldiery did, as did their badly armed and unorganised adversaries. At the end of the Peasant Wars, which lasted for over half a century, more than a thousand monasteries had been destroyed, more than a hundred thousand people killed, and tens of thousands of rebels beheaded, broken on the wheel, burned or tortured to death. No episode in history so nearly resembles the initial period of Russian Bolshevism as the German Peasant Wars of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there is no parallel to Hitlerism so close as the Anabaptist ‘kingdom’ of Munster in Westphalia in 1534-35, a sort of communist or socialist state based upon religious fanaticism and the principle of the ‘Fuhrer.’
With all these troubles and excesses the period can also show impressive activity in may fields: commercial and financial enterprise such as that of the Augsburg houses of the Fuggers and the Welsers, who founded branches all over southern Europe and plantations in the West Indies and the Canaries, or the Ehingers of Ulm, who tried colonisation on a private plan in Venezuela; scientific progress arising from the many additions to the map made by the explorers and from the work of great astronomers like Copernicus and Kepler and of a medical school that developed the idea of the Italian Lanfranchi and the Greman Albertus Magnus; the growth of learning due to the spread of literature and especially the rediscovery of Plato. Though mainly of foreign origin, these intellectual movements were fostered by the great German Universities founded between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries at Heidelburg, Prague, Leipzig and elsewhere. Hand in hand with them a German art began to develop: painters like Albrecht Durer, Lucas Cranach and Hans Holbein, and great sculptors such as Peter Vischer, Veit Stoss and Tillmann Reimenschneider all belong to this age.
It is strange that while these achievements were contributing towards a higher standard of general knowledge and a more refined mode of living, cruelty, superstition and callousness towards human suffering reached a higher peak in the Germany of the Reformation period than perhaps at any time in history anywhere. The shameful chapter of the persecution of ‘witches’ and ‘sorcerers’ has already been mentioned. under the influence of a special ‘Law,’ Jacob Sprenger’s Malleus Malefica rum, published in 1489, it developed into a fine art and a public amusement that was to poison the mind of the nation for three centuries and cost the lives of tens of thousands of poor old women or students striving for deeper knowledge of the mysteries of nature. Legal torture, invented but hardly ever practiced in Italy, became the mainstay of a corrupt and stupid system of justice, and an astonishing inventiveness was shown by its officers in designing new and always more fiendish instruments. There were protests against both these cankers in the judicial system, but they went unheard and the barbarity of the tortures indiscriminately inflicted upon delinquents and innocent people under suspicion or denounced by their personal rivals or enemies undoubtedly contributed towards an ever rising tide of callous criminality. Even before the great wars that were to devastate all Germany and throw her into a state of barbarism and poverty unheard of in Christian times, mass murder and every sort of crime were rampant.
To what extent the schim, the splitting-up of the Germans in two religious camps – with numerous minor variations on the Protestant side – contributed to that moral decay, can only be guessed. After fierce fighting and numerous Diets to deal with the problem, the Augsburg Religious Peace of 1555 established territorial frontiers between the Protestant and the Catholic lands of Germany and enunciated the principle Cuius regio ejus religio, which compelled the subject to adopt the religion of his ruling prince and to change it with him, if for dynastic or other reasons he should choose to be ‘converted.’ Charles V, who had striven with varying success for internal peace and the consolidation of the old Roman Empire, retired gouty and disgusted after thirty-five years of war to his Spanish monastery of St. Juste and divided his vast empire btween his son Philip and other members of the Habsburg family. In 1556 he was succeeded by his brother Ferdinand of Austria, subsequently the Emperor Ferdinand I, who with jesuit assistance fostered the Counter-Reformation. Under his successors – Maximilian, ‘the last knight,’ a lovable patron of chivalry and the arts, and Rudolf II, a mystic who wasted his time in astrological and zoological hobbies- an increase in wealth and prosperity and a certain indifference with regard to the religious problem gave the country a chance of recovery. The Netherlands which, together with Spain, had become part of Charles V’s Spanish inheritance, put up a heroic struggle for their liberties and their faith; but they were no longer a part of the Empire and never returned to it – partly because they had developed a language and a national existence of their own by the time Luther stablized the written language of the Germans on the pattern of the Saxon Chancellery, which sounded strange to the low-German ear.
The armistice in Germany dulled her intellectual and artistic life. Dogmatism and asceticism, together with bad Latin, prevailed. It was a period of petty interests and petty conflicts. Just such a conflict – about the building of a Protestant church – was to unleash the Thirty Years’ War, perhaps the most horrible and devastating war in all history. Bohemian Protestant nobles, following an example set by their forefathers at the beginning of the Hussite revolt, threw two Imperial counsellors out of the windows of the palace at Prague – without harming them as they fell upon a dung-heap – when they got a negative reply to their petition. Several Imperial reprisals brought outside help for the Bohemians; a dissentient vote of Bohemia at the election of Ferdinand II in 1619 and the creation of a Catholic League against his opponents – that is how a small incident grew into the great conflagration. The Imperial general, Tilly, defeated his adversaries of the Protestant Union, including an anti-king, the Palatine Elector Frederick, son-in-law of James I of England, who subsequently permitted the enlistment of soldiers in that country to help his ambitious son-in-law at least to recover his own inheritance. He failed, although Denmark also allied herself with Frederick and James. Another Imperial general Count Wallenstein, together with Tilly, invaded Holstein and Denmark in 1627, and both, on the whole, held the upper hand in a realm impoverished and devastated by nearly a decade of war.
Ablunder on the part of the zealous Emperor, who restored to the Catholic Church two archbisoprics and more than a hundred bishoprics secularised since the Reformation, strengthened the Protestant side and brought Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden oito the struggle. He landed in Pomerania in July 1630 and made a treaty with the leadin French statesman, CardinalRichelieu, granting him subsidies. He won brilliant victories over the Imperial armies – though he could not prevent the capture and sack of magdeburg in 1631, in which more than 30.000 civilians perished – and might have crushed his adversaries completely, had not the Emperor, under duress, recalled Wallanstein and made him supreme commander. He had, in 1630, dismissed this gifted and ambitious general, who disapproved of the Edict of Restitution and demanded its repeal as a condition of his taking command. During the battle of Lutzen, in which the Swedes were victorious, Gustavus Adolphus was killed, and the war degenerated from a struggle which had in spite of everything a certain idealistic side into a more or less free fight in which everybody tried to snatch something for himself.
Wallenstein, who had meanwhile become extremely rich and had acquired the lands and title of a Duke of Friedland, seems to have dreamed of an empire of his own and was murdered in February 1634 by order of the frightened Emperor who afterwards had 3.000 masses said for the repose Wallenstein’s soul. The loss of the leading military figure on each side was the signal for the degeneration of the war into something that beggars description – although a famous contemporary author, Grimmelshausen, in his Simplicius Simplicissimus has attempted to describe it. The religious conflict which was at the root of the whole fractricidal war became a mere pretext. Protestant generals served in the Imperial army, the Protestant Elector of Brandenburg stood against his Swedish brother-in-law with the Catholic Emperor, while Richeliue took the Protestant Bernard of Weimar into his pay, consolidating the French position in Alsace with his help. An Imperial cavalry general, Jan de Werth, invaded France and threatened Paris – the fourth German invasion on a considerable scale, the first being that of the Franks in the fifth century, the second that of Otto II in 978, the third that of Charles V in 1544. But while the Dutch were building up their colonial empire and their international trade, while the English were beginning to found settlements in America and elsewhere, Germany lay powerless as her tribes, sects, rulers and groups tore at one another with bestial fury.
A soldiery grown brutish through years of privation, danger and licence, fighting not for any ideals or ideas but for whoever offered the best chance of loot, devoured like locusts such meagre products as industry and agriculture still yielded under war conditions. The civil population was left to starve or to die from plagues that began to ravage the country. Parents killed and ate their own children, man-hunters went in pursuit of human flesh for food. In order to extort what little gold, silver or other valuables still remained, the mercenaries on both sides – Swedish as well as Imperial- invented and applied the most terrible tortures: cutting off the soles of the feet and rubbing salt into the wounds, forcing liquid manure into people’s mouths, breaking limbs, cutting long strips of skin from men’s backs, and hacking off women’s breasts. Murder, rape, arson were everyday occurences, and what was left at the end of the great slaughter, after the 1648 Peace of Munster and Osnabruck had been brought about by sheer exhaustion, was hardly more than one-third of the population of 1618. those who survived were reduced to the standard of primitive savages in large parts of the country; flourishing cities and villages had been wiped off the map, and the works of civilisation had become unknown in wide areas. Debased by intermixture with the military rabble of all countries, having striven through long years for nothing but the preservation of their skins, townsfolk and peasants alike had become illiterate, stupid and brutal; the seats of learning and the once famous art-schools were deserted, the churches devastated and plundered, while religious intolerance and oppression were by no means diminished. Astonishingly enough however, the birth of the German theatre and the introduction of Italian opers into Germany were both due to the Thirty Years War.
Another innovation produced by what war was the standing army. The increasing unreliability of the mercenaries troops, which changed sides as soon as they got a better offer, induced Frederick William of Brandenburg, the ‘Great Elector,’ to dismiss all the forces that had been bound by oath to the Emperor and establish a small but faithful permanent army of his own. He thereby confirmed his independence and his absolute power and laid the foundation of Prussian predominance in Germany. His task was facilitated by the extreme weakness of most of his rivals, all of whom were licking the wounds that the great disaster had inflicted upon them. It was more than two hundred years before the figures of 1618 as regards the number of homesteads, heads of cattle, and yields of crops, were reached again. Only the Austrian crown-lands and the County of Hesse, where an active female ruler had managed to prevent the worst, fared somewhat better, while the Alps, especially Switzerland, had proved a comparatively safe asylum: Swiss independence as well as that of the Dutch Republic was finally acknowledged by the Peace Treaty.
That treaty marked the end of real Imperial authority and gave birth not only to the Brandenburg-Hohenzollern power but at the same time to a specifically Habsburg dominion, the future Austrian Empire, thus paving the way for a long-drawn rivalry between the two most powerful dynasties of Germany which was to end in another fractricidal war. It cost the Empire, too, a valuable piece of territory, Alsace, thereby bringing France to the shores of the Rhine; although Strassburg, the principal city of Alsace, was preserved for Germany as a Free City until, thirty-three years later, it was seized by Louis XIV in the midst of peace. The Holy Roman Empire – ‘neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire,’ as Voltaire later said of it – was on a sick-bed from which it never recovered, and a German Nation, a patriotic consciousness reaching further than the borders of the hundred-odd minor states with their parochial outlook, was not yet born.
THE RISE OF PRUSSIA
After the disaster of the Thirty Years’ War, the Germans began to expand in three directions as soon as a certain recovery had taken place. Emigration, mainly to North America, started about 1680 on a comparatively large scale: the landing of the first settlers who founded Germantown in 1685 is to this day commemorated by a ‘German Day’ kept by German communities in the U.S.A. During the same period the defeat of the Turks, who for a century and a half held sway over the former outposts of the Empire south-east of Vienna, opened new fields for German settlements in the Danubian basin. In both directions German influence, language and trade began to spread. The third, most obvious and most lasting expansion, was that engineered by the Great Elector, virtually the founder of the Prusso-German power. He rules for nearly half a century and, unlike his predecessors of the thriving house of Hohenzollern, proved himself a man with a wide range and a far-sighted policy. Like his forefathers who had held the Electorate of Brandenburg since 1415, he protested his loyalty to the Emperor and the Empire and coined such popular slogans as ‘Remember that you are German!’ – by no means a commonplace at a time when every German princeling set up as another Louis XIV and as sovereign master over the life and death of his subjects – but in fact he changed sides and alliances, broke faith and treaties, as readily as anybody else whenever it promised to further his dynastic interest.
At different times he foughtalone for the Rhenish counties of Julich and Berg, with the Swedes against the Poles, thereby obtaining control in East Prussia and Ermeland, and with Austria, Denmark, Poland and the Low Countries against the Swedes, who lost all the southern coast of the Baltic except Livonia and Estonia. All this happened between 1651 and 1661. Then, in 1672, after a period of peace which he employed to good purpose in organisation and colonisation within his own largely swampy and uncultivated lands, he joined with the Emperor in succouring the Dutch, who were attacked by Louis XIV. During the subsequent years of the warfare his military fortunes fluctuated. For a short time he freed Upper Alsace from the Swedes, now allied with France, invaded his own territories, he turned back and defeated them in the famous battle of Fehrbellin on 28th June, 1675. It was a period of dynastic wars not to be measured by modern standards; but even so, a volte-face such as Frederick William made when he handed over to France two of the most impotant Rhenish-Westphalian fortresses of the Empire and allied himself with Louis XIV against Spain, thus giving him a chance to take the old German city of Strassburg in 1681, exceeded the usual measures of dynastic egotism. however, his policy was successful in uniting his scattered territories and in winning him independence and recognition as a European power; he enriched his poor country by draining moor-land, by colonisation, by the attraction of foreign craftsmen such as the French Huguenots, and by a first tentative experiment in African colonisation, and established the military prestige of his army. Up to a point his reign was successful, although largely at the expense of the Empire: he had a good excuse, however, since the Imperial house itself confined its efforts to the consolidation of the power and wealth of the Habsburg dynasty, and other German princes were even less conscious of their national obligations; they took service wherever glory and riches were to be gained, treacherously fighting for the enemy of their country if he gave them a high command, an army, or perhaps a marshal’s baton.
This mercenary spirit in the German princes was responsible for one of the most shameful chapters of German history: their selling of their subjects to foreign rulers. Electors and Landgraves of Hesse and Saxony began this practice about 1685, and there is a case on record when one of them ‘lent’ 6000 men each to the English and to their Bavarian adversaries at the same time. Other unfortunate German peasants fought in the American wars and in Dutch colonies, thereby producing a large income for their sovereigns, who spent it on splendid palaces, rich food and drink, and rapacious mistresses. Indirectly this kind of German ‘export’ helped to finance a new development of art and literature, since all the small princes vied with each other as patrons of famous men. The idea of Germany as a nation existed only in the brains of philosophers like the great Leibniz at Hanover, or of some poets; the rulers, of whom the chief were the houses of Habsburg, Hohenzollern, Wettin (Saxony) and Wittelsbach (Bavaria and the Palatine), alternately allied themselves with foreign countries against each other. The Hanoverian heirs of the ‘Welf’ dynasty were naturally connected with England; the Saxons accepted the Catholic faith in order to gain the Polish crown, while the Hohenzollerns, especially the Great Elector, changed sides so often that it is difficult to disentangle that web; in 1688, shortly before his death, Frederick William, furious at the capture of Strassburg by his ex-ally, prepared an alliance with his relative William of Orange, then on the point of becoming King of England, against Louis XIV, but was prevented from carrying out his plans by the French invasion and complete devastation of the Palatine.
The utter decline of Imperial power and of national feeling brought about by the Thirty Years’ War, the state of misery and despair in which hungry masses of serfs were kept by tyrannical and prodigal petty rulers, cannot be demonstrated more clearly than by the numbers of German emigrants who tried to find homes in other countries. No less than 33.0000 refugees from the Palatine, whose rulers were closely related to the House of Stuart, fled from Turenne’s plundering French soldiery to England and were either settled in Ireland and the American colonies or, after many sufferings, retransported to Germany. The population of whole villages on the river Moselle settled in Transylvania, where to this day they are wrongly designated as Saxons. Wurttembergers – Suabians – repopulated the southern plains of Hungary, the Banat, retaken from the Turks; others emigrated later on to the lower course of the Volga. Materially they had little to lose, and what sentimental attachment to his country can the citizen feel whose ruler sides with the highest bidder? During the War of the Spanish Succesion, the next great affliction of a continent that was hardly yet beginning to recover from the previous catastrophe, the Electors of Bavaria and Cologne fought on the side of Louis XIV of France, while the armies of the Emperor they betrayed were successfully led by the French Prince Eugene of Savoy.
From 1697 to 1714 the question who should inherit the heirless Spanish throne was a European, a world problem for which armies marched all over the continent, hundreds of thousands shed their blood, alliances were concluded and treaties signed, broken again and rearranged, bribes given and taken and treachery committed; for the gigantic Spanish possessions oversea would destroy the Balance of Power which ever way they were put on the scales. Two partition treaties failed to settle the problem; in September 1701 a ‘Grand Alliance’ was signed between the German Emperor, England and Holland, to which Prussia and Hesse joined themselves later on, with the object of preventing for ever the union of the Spanish with the French crown and excluding France from Spain’s colonial trade. The battles of Hoechstaedt, Blenheim and Malplaquet, that made Marlborough as well as Eugene famous, were the immediate results; subsequently Britain gained Gibraltar, Newfoundland, Canadian and other territories; the Emperor the Spanish Netherlands, Naples and other parts of Italy; and Prussia, a new kingdom created by the Great Elector’s conceited and spendthrift son Frederick in 1701 by uniting Brandenburg and Pomerania with his eastern dominions, obtained recognition and some territory in Guelderland. A kingdom, even if comparatively small and poor – that meant a full vote in the concert of powers, as an equal with other kings and eveen emperors, a stepping-stone to world power. It was a long way from the bargain concluded three centuries before by a Nuremberg Burgrave with the Emperor for the fief of the March, the poor and unnruly border province of Brandenburg; and much bloodshed, treachery and political craft on the part of otherwise mediocre, often stupid, superstitious and cruel Hohenzollern rulers had already paved the way when the first genius among them, the Great Elector Frederick William, brought himself and his country into the limelight.
His son, besides Gueldland, increased his scattered territories by the inheritance of the Swiss principality of Neufchatel, but squandered millions on his vainglorious ambitions. He was succeeded by an eccentric and half crazy son, Frederick William I, the sergeant-king who ruled with a corporal’s stick and increased his standing army to the respectable figure of 83,000, all uniformed and drilled like no other soldiers in the world. Otherwise avaricious and pedantic, he spent fantasctic sums in the acquisition of giants for his guards and would not stop even at crime to secure a particularly desirable specimen, within or without his dominions. On the other hand he created the first really effective financial, economic and adminstrative system, encouraged trade and industry and, at a time when other rulers were squandering millions on the building of spendid palaces – in Vienna, Dresden, Wurzburg, Nymphenburg, Bamberg, etc. – he filled his treasury with the products of taxation enforced by an upright, strictly controlled and exemplary bureaucracy. The first important Hohenzollern rulers, who in effect reduced the position of the nobles by favouring peasants and burghers, simultaneously created a new kind of nobility, that of the high military and administrative officials; in this way, by the principle of subordination to the state, they laid the foundations of that notorious ‘Prussianism’ which was to find its extreme embodiment in the dictatorial, totalitarian state of the National Socialists.
The Great Elector had proclaimed, ‘I establish the throne like a Rocher de Bronce’; his great-grandson Frederick the Great was to call himself ‘the first servant of the State.’ The more easy-going, more individualist Germans south and west of Prussia were loath to accept such disciplinarian notions and were therefore unable to withstand the onslaught of a power whose whole existence was organised on military lines. The first attack of that sort which the upstart Prussia made was young Frederick’s breach of guarantee given by his father concerning the succession to the Habsburg throne. The Emperor Charles VI had no son; by an arrangement with most of the Electors and other ruling princes, called the Pragmatic Sanction, he had in 1732 secured the succession for his daughter Maria Theresa. Hardly had Frederick, after a youth full of bitter experience, privation and often deliberate cruelty inflicted by his father, succeeded to the Prussian throne – in 1740 – when under a shadowy claim to the Silesian duchies he invaded that Austrian territory. His army was better drilled and prepared, if not more numerous, than the Imperial troops; moreover, he laid aside all scruples about his obligations as a German prince and Elector and allied himself with France and Bavaria, whose ruler had himself been elected Emperor and held that office, as Charles VII, for three years. The ensuing war lasted until 1742 and gave Frederick Silesia, but it let loose a whole series of other wars in which Sweden fought against Russia, France and Bavaria against Maria Theresa who had herself crowned Queen of Hungary and, in 1745, her consort, Francis Stephan, German Emperor, while Britain, with an Anglo-Hanoverian-Hessian army under Lord Stair, attacked the French on German soil. The question of Austria’s Italian territories, claimed by Spain, and vast if not very reasonable plans concerning a redistribution of the whole central European map, further complicated the conflict and gave Frederick of Prussia another pretext for the invasion of Bohemia.
It is not likely that many Germans of the period knew exactly for what or for whom they were fighting. The unfortunate rabble who died or suffered on foreign battlefields certainly knew nothing about it ; for, as Macaulay put it, ‘in order that he might rob a neighbour whom he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel, and red men scalped each other by the Great Lakes of North America.’ Macaulay speaks of Frederick’s ‘selfish rapacity’ and of ‘the evils produced by his wickedness that were felt in lands where the name of Prussia was unknown.’ Other British historians such as Carlyle are less harsh in thier judgment of the – undoubtedly – greatest genius produced by the Hohenzollern house, a prince who easily outdistances all other rulers in modern German history by his gifts, his lasting influence and the gains in power and presitage which he won for his own country. Yet he sacrificed hundreds of thousands of his countrymen to his ambitions, and in the Seven Years’ War from 1756 to 1763 suffered more set-backs, including the loss of his capital Berlin on two occasions, than any other great general in history before winning a final victory. He had abandoned France and sided with Britain. The Empress had allied herself with Russia and Spain, and a number of minor power sided with one or the other of these alliances, though mostly with reserves as to whom they did or did not want to attack. It was in its way a world war, and it won for Britain Canadian and Indian possessions taken from France, and for Frederick enormous prestige of his conquest of Silesia. But 13.000 houses in Prussia alone were destroyed, Prussia’s population decreased from four and a half to four millions, public debts took the place of the former surplus accumulated but the thrifty Frederick William, and the value of Prussian, and German money in general, was reduced to a pitiable level.
The ‘enlightened despot’ – as Frederick liked to be called – made use of the twnety-three years of peace that were left to him to reorganise his state, to encourage arts and letters, with a marked preference for all things French, and to establish some sort of justice and equality within his realm. He also availed himself of the weakness of Poland to acquire, by a simple arrangement with the Russian Empress Catherine the Great in 1772 and 1775, large parts of that unfortunate buffer-state between Prussia and Russia. Austria shared in the spoils, for the wresting of which from a Slavonic people there was no better pretext than the one-time conquests of the teutonic Knights in the northern parts of the partitioned area. Frederick’s last years were darkened by an ever-increasing misanthropy, by the inadequacy of his heir, a nephew (he had no children of his own), and by the shadow of a revolution that was not to fall upon his own lands in the first place, but in its consequences to hit them all the more severely. The privileges of monarchy, aristocracy and the dynastic concept of the state were doomed long before they recieved the death-blow of the French Revolution, and a man so deeply interested in French thought and letters as Frederick could not fail to see the direction that hte teachings of Voltaire, Rousseau and others would give to world affairs. Maria Theresa’s son, Emperor in association with her from 1765, and alone after her death in 1780, had an even clearer notion of what the times needed and tried hard to introduce a more ‘democratic’ regime; unfortunately his well-meaning dilettantism and the paternalism behind his radical innovations missed the mark and instead of encountering help and encouragement he met with obstruction. Originally an admirer of Frederick, Joseph II was forced to contend with him; he tried in vain to get Catherine the Great away from the Prussian sphere of influence and let himself be inveigled instead into a Russo-Austrian war against Turkey.
The contrast between the great and cynical Frederick and the idealistic amateur Joseph clearly reflects German conditions during the second half of the eighteenth century. The enlightened despot ends, isolated and friendless, with the bitter saying, ‘A am tired of ruling over slaves,’ and the kind-hearted Emperor dies broken-hearted, when even the peasants whom he has liberated as far as he could revolt against him. They both failed to see that the age of the ‘subject’ was giving way to that of the ‘citizen’ who wanted a say in the government of his country. This was to be a very short period, as far as the Germans were concerned, inaugurated by gun-fire and bloodshed which broke rudely in upon the graceful dances of silk-clad cavaliers intent upon minuets and gavottes, and drowned the divine melodies of Mozart and Haydn. The Baroque and Rococo period had given a veneer of refined, Frenchified civilisation to a fundamentally still medieval, cruel, reactionary and barbaric Germany, a nation that still clung to the old Teutonic principle that might is right and the Devil may take the hindmost. Torture as an everyday instrument of ‘justice,’ the persecution of minorities, Jews, and religious communities still drowned or hanged in a number of German states, soldiers were pressed and made to run the gauntlet for minor misdeeds; petty tyrants extorted legal and illegal taxes from their subjects in order to squander millions on their mistresses and sumptuous banquets; the majority of the peasants still lived under a degrading system of serfdom, and what improvements were made in their lot were granted as a generous gift by their rulers and not as a human right.
Politically, Prussia had established her predominance in Germany proper before Frederick died in 186. The Empire was in decay; the once flourishing house of Habsburg, which had grown great, according to the old saying, by successful marriages, now confined its interest to its Austrian, Hungarian, Bohemia and other heterogeneous crown-lands, most of them outside the Empire. Prussia, in its main parts, had never belonged to it either, having been heathen until about 1300, under Polish suzerainty until 1660, and having remained Slavonic in all its main characteristics, if not in its language, through all the vicissitudes of its political history. The partition of Poland and the beginning of the extrusion of Turkey from the Balkans were soon to raise Eastern questions that would influence the whole trend of subsequent history.
THE DEATH OF THE EMPIRE
The American War of Independence, the revolt of the Netherlands against Austrian rule, which led in 1790 to their independence, in conjunction with the French Revolution shattered the foundation of the now ramschackle German Empire. A vigorous breeze blew, as contemporary German authors put it, ‘upon the powdered wigs, tousled them and tore at their pigtails.’ Yet there was some resistance. In 1791 Joseph’s gifted successor, the Emperor Leopold, came to the aid of Maria Antoinette and her husband, King Louis XVI of France, in alliance with Russia, Prussia, Spain and Sweden. But they tried to avoid war. After Leopold’s premature death, his successor Francis II together with Prussia fought against the French republican armies in a short but fateful campaign in 1792; on 20th September, the day of the declaration of the French Republic, the Prussians suffered defeat at Valmy, retreated from French territory and of history will be dated, and you ma left the task to Austria. Goethe, Germany’s greatest thinker and poet, witnessed the battle of Valmy, in itself unimportant, and said: ‘From today and from here a new chapter of history will be dated, and you may say that you have been present.’
The Prussian ruler, Frederick William II, a debauched and gluttonous anachronism of a king after breaking faith with Austria gladly accepted Catherine the Great’s suggestion to share with her what was left of Poland while Austria was engaged elsewhere; in 1793 he got Danzig and Thorn together with the province of Posnan, in 1795 the whole area around Warsaw including the capital, while Austria was ‘indemnified’ with Cracow with its environs. The success of the young revolutionary soldiers of France against the veterans of the Prussian activities which caused other German sovereigns – the rulers of Brunswick, Hesse and Baden – to place their troops under British command, made the Prussians unwilling to continue the struggle at the side of Austria. They had come to feel a certain element of sympathy with the ideas, if not the political trend, of the French revolution. It was a sort of romanticism that was to repeat itself with every new revolutionary movement, an expression of the deep-rooted human longing for permanent peace. The ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity seemed to promise that Utopia, and a people which had repeatedly suffered devastating wars like the Thirty Years’ and the Seven Years’ Wars may be forgiven a certain short-sighted enthusiasm such as was shown by the Berlin intellectuals around 1795 and again in 1830, 1848 and, in relation to the Bolshevik revolution, after 1018. It is the German form of Pacifism, and likely to revert to militarism as soon as the first disillusionment occurs. Immanuel Kant, Germany’s greatest philosopher and probably the most eminent figure in Prussian intellectual history, wrote his famous treatise ‘On Perpetual Peace’ at this time, and the great patriotic poet Friedrich Schiller, and after him a whole school of minor playwrights and authors, published a number of bold, dramatic plays. It was under the influence of such spiritual currents that the Prussian king Frederick William compromised with the French Republic in 1795, although the conquest of the Netherlands by young, enterprising French generals revealed an aggressive tendency in the idealist and international movement started in Paris. Austria, southern Germany and Switzerland had to bear the brunt, while Britain – where Pitt had realised the small help to be gained from emigres and other allies – opened peace negotiations, and the French Directory, which succeeded the Terror, directed its military activities to Italy.
The result was the triumph and the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. Austria was invaded by way of northern Italy; Francis II, already more of an Austrian than a German ruler, made peace at hte expense of Venice, and, in secret clauses, of Prussia. The peace lasted for not much more than a year and ended with an alliance of Austria, Russia and Britain against France. Intrigues of rival courts and leading personalities, military defeats of the leading power, Russia, on foreign battlefields, the creation of Napoleon’s ‘Continental system,’ which was meant as a blockade of Britain, weakened the cause of his adversaries and opened the way for him into the heart of a Germany split by competing dynastic interests and exhausted by vain efforts to uphold feudalism, absolutism and a narrow caste-system. A series of varying coalitions against Napoleon followed, but his brilliant victories – Marengo and Hohenlinden in 1800, Ulm and Austerlitz in 1805, Jena and Aurstaedt (over the Prussians) in 1806 – established his control of Germany. It had been prepared, in Febraury 1803, by the ‘reorganisation’ imposed upon the Empire under French influence: France took the left bank of the Rhine, including Cologne and Teves, the Free Cities were reduced from fifty-six to six, ecclesiastical states were secularised and a few larger German states such as Prussia, Bavaria, Wurttemberg and Baden benefitted by the rearrangement. Nearly half of the 300 ‘sovereign’ powers, states and princelings disappeared, and the spoils handed over to a few of the western and southern rulers laid the foundation of that Rhenish Confederation which, after Austria’s defeat at Austerlitz, gave Napoleon the better part of Germany as a Protectorate.
The Napoleon broom undoudtedly swept away a great many of the medieval cobwebs which hung over all Germany, over rulers and subjects, their minds and institutions alike. It struck at the wigs and the pigtails, relics of the Rococo period and the Frederican barrack-square. But it could not transform the fundamental German, and even less the Prussian, mind which regarded the events of the day from the point of view of dynastic, political and military power politics exclusively, and did not see them as the harbingers of a new age demanding co-operation, unification, a European outlook. Frederick William III, who had succeeded his father and was his exact opposite – pedantic, thrifty, correct in his private life, but irresolute and short-sighted – tried for a long time to avoid definite commitments with either of the two main camps set against each other, the British or the French, but only succeeded thereby in falling between two stools. After Trafalgar he accepted a sort of ‘Entente’ with Napoleon; after the foundation of the Rhenish Confederation, which completely surrounded Prussia, he sent the French Emperor an ultimatum, went to war, and was defeated. Notwithstanding belated help given given him by Tsar Alexander I, son of the assassinated, half crazy Tsar Paul, he lost half his territory, had to take refuge in East Prussia and abandon Berlin to the victor and finally, betrayed by his romantic ally, to sign the disastrous peace of Tilsit, 9th July, 1807.
The direct or indirect consequence was the creation of four new kingdoms in Germany: Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Hanover and Westphalia, the latter being given to Napoleon’s brother Jerome, a spend-thrift and voluptuary. On the other hand, reduced and impoverished Prussia found a number of gifted men to work for her restoration, such as the Baron vom Stein, creator of municipal self-government; Hardenberg, who together with Stein put an end to serfdom; Scharnhorst, who reformed the army and created a system of general conscription, at first secret. Philosphers like Fichte and Hegel, developing the Frederican notion of ‘Service to the State,’ lain the foundation of that Prussianism which was to find its apogee in the totalitatianism of the National-socialist Dictatorship a century and a quarter later. In Napoleon’s time it took the form of a violent patriotism which clamoured for liberation and led to the formation of a number of ‘free corps,’ whose attacks upon French and allied troops still further inflamed the national feelings. German romanticism throve on their brave deeds, which provided material for a whole school of poets, while German volunteers – Hanoverians under Wellington in Spain, Prussians in the Tsar’s service and so forth – continued a fight that had been deemed lost after Austerlitz, Jena and Eylau.
The old Holy Roman Empire was dead. On 6th August, 1806, Francis II had relinquished its crown and confined himself to his Austrian Empire. The Rhenish parts of Germany and her main coast, including Bremen and Hamburg, had been annexed to France; under the name of the Rhenish Confederation, the btter part of the country was a protectorate of the upstart heir of Charlemagne who had transferred his universal monarchy to its western half after a thousand years of German predominance. Prussia, whatever her shortcomings and her essentially non-German character, was the only possible nuclues for a rebirt of Germany, and despite the unwillingness of a weak and hesitating ruler she was finally forced to play that role. When Napoleon broke with Russia, who resented the creation of a Grand Duchy of Warsaw and negotiated with Britain, the foundations of a powerful coalition against the French ruler were laid. Although German, and especially Prussian, troops were forced to march with his ‘Grande Armee’ and to share the catastrophe of the retreat from Moscow and the disaster of the Beresina, and although many of the 140,000 that marched with him into the Russian winter died for a cause that was the reverse of theirs, the coalition, the fourth that was to try its hand in stemming the flood of Napoleonic imperialism, was established as soon as Napoleon embarked on his Russian venture. Frederick William had to be forced into it, which was accomplished mainly by the insubordination of General York who, on 20th December, 1812, deserted with his troops from the French army and concluded the ‘Convention of Tauroggen’ with the Russian general Diebitsch; a wave of patriotism flooded the whole country and provoked the famous later appeal of Prussia’s king to his people.
The Austrians, having been beaten decisively at Wagram in 1809, ceded Trieste and Dalmatia to form Napoleon’s Illyrian Provinces, and having seen a daughter of their Emperor, Marie Louise, become Napoleon’s Empress, were even more reluctant to attack once more the man who had on defeating them ever since he forced the passage of Lodi against heir troops in 1796. It was not until 11th August , 1813, that the Austrian Empire joined in the fight successfully begun by Prussia and conducted by her afterwards famous general Blucher, and the first battle in which the allied forces on both sides met face to face was the decisive one of Leipzig, 16-19 October. 286,000 Russians, Prussians and Austrians were matched against 135,,000 French and Rhenish Germans, but the French had the better artillery and the greater military experience. 120,000 men on both sides lost their lives or limbs in that battle, the anniversary of which was celebrated as a German national holiday for a hundred years.
It is not our task here to record individual battles or treaties. The events that followed belong to military history, and the part played by the Germans in the fight against the collapsing Corsican dictator is so interwined with that of the other nations taking part in the struggle that only a few outstanding names deserve mention: Marshal Blucher; Gneisenau, his Chief-of-Staff; Prince Schwarzenberg, the Austrian commander; Prince Metternich, Austria’s able Prime Minister. Some minor successors Napoleon obtained during his retreat on French soil made them all weary of the great war, and had not Lord Castlereagh, supported by Tsar Alexander, used all his skill and power of persuasion, the fight to a finish and Napoleon;s downfall might never have happened. It is this lack of stubborn determination, this readiness to betray a great cause or faithful allies, that runs like a leit-motif through the whole course of German history. Only a few years before, in October 1809. Francis II had abandoned his faithful Tyrolese, for months victorious in their mountains against Franco-Bavarian forces, without even having the courage to tell them what he had done, with the result that their leader, Andreas Hofer, bearer of the Emperor’s golden chain, was captured, tried as an insurgent and shot by a French firing-squad – betrayed both by his government and by one of his own followers. Baron Stein, the non-Prussian reformer of broken-down Prussia, had to go into exile, abandoned by his king to French rancour; and though he continued to work for the German cause, he died a disappointed man far from the scene of his greatest achievements.
After the downfall of the ‘tyrant’ the German people, which for once had stood up united and in a spirit of common sacrifice, experienced bitter disappointment. Instead of the personal liberty that had been the attraction of the French Revolution and had come to a considerable part of the former subjects and serfs of pretty rulers in the wake of the French armies, narrow dynastic interests triumphed at the peace conference, the famous Vienna Congress of 1814-15. Germany became a Confederacy; Prussia got the Rhineland which France had to surrender, and a large part of Saxony, and was confirmed in the possession of her spoils from the first and second partitions of Poland, while Austria kept Cracow and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw was handed over to Russia. Numerous smaller German states were abolished, their sovereigns being compensated by ‘equality of birth.’ i.e., the right to intermarry with ruling houses; thirty-eight independent states and free cities remained loosely tied together in the German Bund. The whole arrangement, a result of much fighting, intriguing, banqueting and dancing, was a blow to the principlles of nationlity and self-determination, a last desperate effort to bolster up ‘legitmacy.’ In order to safeguard it the ‘Holy Alliance’ was set up – an alliance officially directed against disturbers of the new European peace but in fact utilised for the crushing of the democratic spirit and democratic institutions wherever they showed themselves, especially in the German countries.
As far as the German citizen was concerned Leipzig and Waterloo had been fought in vain. He had no reborn nation to be proud of. Austria’s interest was more than ever absorbed by her foreign domains, to which Italian Lombardy had been added; Prussia’s rule was accepted unwillingly in all the western territories assigned to her, and her shortsighted and reactionary government at once began to spy upon ‘demagogues’ and democrats. In a moment of dire distress the King had promised to grant a liberal constitution; victorious, he tried to avoid redeeming his pledge, and the lesser German rulers who had granted such rights to their peoples in 1816 and 1818, mostly reverted to absolute government as speedily as one pretext or another permitted. On the other hand, as in Britain about the same time, the period of peace which followed the defeat of Napoleon and lasted for thirty-nine years – the longest in all German history – was one of economic progress. The Zollverein, a customs union promoted by Prussia and by and by enforced upon all other German states, helped to increase trade within and without the boundaries of the Confederation and paved the way for a new Reich under Prussian domination, Austria being excluded from this growing economic federation.