BECK index

German Empire 1400-1517

by Sanderson Beck

Germany and the Constance Council 1400-18
German Empire 1418-39
Council of Basel and Nikolaus of Cusa
German Empire 1440-53
German Empire and Hapsburgs 1453-1517
Swiss Cantons and Confederation 1400-1517
Low Countries and Burgundy 1400-53
Low Countries and Burgundy 1453-1517
Imitation of Christ

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Germany and the Constance Council 1400-18

German Empire 1250-1400

Craftsmen and merchants took over the city council of Cologne in 1400. When Wenceslaus failed to show up for the Estates meeting, the electors deposed him on August 20, 1400, and the next day they elected Ruprecht (Rupert) III of the Palatinate. He was crowned the King of the Romans at Cologne on January 6, 1401. In September at Augsburg he appointed his son Ludwig imperial vicar for Alemannia, Gaul, and Arles in addition to Bavaria and the Palatinate he already held. Ruprecht left for Italy, but in Brescia he was defeated by Milan’s forces on October 21. He went to Padua and Venice but could not gain allies. So he returned to Munich in May 1402. Eventually Pope Boniface IX recognized Ruprecht on October 1, 1403, but he also criticized the electors for deposing Wenceslaus without his permission. Ruprecht had difficulty gaining recognition and raising money in Germany. Southern towns again formed a general league. In September 1405 Strasbourg and seventeen Swabian towns supported Bernhard of Baden, Eberhard of Württemberg, and the elector Johannes of Mainz, and they formed the Marbach league for five years to maintain order. In 1407 Ruprecht made peace with them.

In June 1408 cardinals on both sides called for a General Council to resolve the schism, and in January 1409 German princes met in Frankfurt and favored the project. Ruprecht was loyal to Pope Gregory XII. Wenceslaus was still King of Bohemia and supported the cardinals, and Ruprecht’s commands for loyalty to Pope Gregory were ignored. Ruprecht went to war against Johannes of Mainz, but the King died at his castle near Oppenheim on May 18, 1410.

The electors were divided between Sigismund and Jost, and they were elected by separate groups in September. However, Jost died in January 1411, and Sigismund was unanimously elected on July 21. He guaranteed his older brother Wenceslaus the kingdom of Bohemia and even shared half of Germany’s revenues with him. Sigismund spoke several languages and was a patron of learning, but he could be cruel. According to Windecke he had 171 Bosnian aristocrats beheaded at Doboj, and he made a Venetian commander cut off the right hands of 180 fellow prisoners. As King of Hungary, Sigismund was involved in a war against Venice until a five-year armistice was declared in April 1413.

Pope John XXIII announced in December 1413 that the sixteenth general council would begin at Constance on November 1, 1414. Sigismund was the primary organizer, and he sent invitations with Pope John’s seal to the other two Popes and all the Christian princes and prelates. Pope John on his way appointed Count Friedrich of Tyrol captain-general of his papal army for a salary of 6,000 florins. Carlo Malatesta of Rimini persuaded Gregory XII to send two envoys, but Benedict XIII would only agree to meet Sigismund in the spring at Villefranche. Pope John opened the Council on November 5, 1414. Sigismund was crowned at Aachen on November 8 and did not show up until December 24. The Council would eventually be attended by three patriarchs, 29 cardinals, 33 archbishops, 150 bishops, more than a hundred abbots, some fifty provosts and deans, about three hundred other doctors, many envoys of kings and princes, dukes, counts and barons, and more than 1,500 knights. The lowest contemporary estimate of those visiting the town of 5,500 was 40,000; but it could have been more because there were 36,000 beds for strangers, and they slept two to a bed. Seven hundred women practiced prostitution in the streets and an unknown number in private. Prices on food and beds were fixed to prevent extortion. Jan Hus was given safe conduct by Sigismund, but he was put under arrest on November 28.

The Conciliar party led by Cardinals d’Ailly and Fillastre persuaded Sigismund that all three rival popes should resign, and if necessary the Council could depose John. Gregory’s representatives promised that he would resign if the other two would. The Germans and English persuaded the more numerous Italians and French that each of these groups should vote as “nations.” The German “nation” included Scandinavia, Poland, and Hungary; the English included Scotland and Ireland but was by far the smallest delegation. The right to vote in the nations was extended to both kinds of doctors and to princes. When the four nations agreed on something, it was brought before the Council to be confirmed. On March 15, 1415 Pope John XXIII agreed to abdicate; but ten days later Count Friedrich of Tyrol organized John’s escape from Constance, and he was put under the imperial ban. The Hapsburg Friedrich was attacked on all sides by Friedrich of Hohenzollern, Ludwig of the Palatinate, and Swiss confederates. He surrendered and was brought before Sigismund on May 5. The Emperor spared his life but confiscated his possessions. Friedrich escaped from Constance, set himself up in Tyrol again, and eventually made peace with Sigismund in May 1418. The Swiss managed to keep most of the land they took from him.

On April 6, 1415 the Council of Constance resolved that all Christians, even the Pope, must obey a General Council so that schism could be extinguished, and Church reforms could be made. John XXIII was summoned to return and was threatened with punishment if he did not. On May 2 John was charged with heresy, simony, misusing Church funds, and moral turpitude. A commission was appointed to collect evidence, and on May 14 the Council suspended him from office. Friedrich of Hohenzollern imprisoned John in Radolfzell. The commission charged Pope John in seventy articles that included fornication, adultery, incest, sodomy, poisoning Pope Alexander V and his physician, and denying the immortality of the soul. In its report on May 25 John was convicted on 54 of the charges. By the end of the month the Council had deposed him.

On July 4 the condottiere Carlo Malatesta announced Pope Gregory’s resignation, and two days later Hus was burned for heresy. On July 18 Sigismund with twelve delegates left Constance to go to Nice. While he was gone for eighteen months, the Council had a commission assign issues to subcommittees for investigation and discussion. The Emperor met Benedict at Narbonne and negotiated with him at Perpignan until December. He managed to persuade most of Benedict’s supporters to abandon him, including his own cardinals, and in January 1416 King Fernando of Aragon and then Castile withdrew their obedience from Benedict. The Council ratified this on February 4, but Aragon’s embassy did not reach Constance until September. On October 15 a Spanish nation made up of Aragonese and Portuguese was added to the other four. The Council also decided that the cardinals must consent to every conciliar act. The envoys of Castile arrived on March 29, 1417, and they insisted that cardinals participate in the election of the Pope. On July 26 the Council finally deposed and excommunicated Benedict as a heretic and schismatic. Swabian towns gave Friedrich of Hohenzollern 400,000 guilders to buy Brandenburg, and Sigismund made him a margrave and an elector, receiving from him 250,000 marks, which he used to pay the expenses of his visit to Benedict.

In their 39th public session on October 9, 1417 the Council decreed that the next council would be held five years after Constance, followed by a another seven years later, and then one every ten years. Every pope elected was to follow the traditions of the apostles, fathers, and general councils. To be elected a candidate must receive two-thirds of the cardinals’ votes and four of the six votes by each of the nations. The Council would assist the new pope to reform the Church on eighteen points. Cardinal Oddone Colonna was elected in November and was named Pope Martin V. The Council found it too difficult to agree on significant reforms, but on February 22, 1418 Pope Martin and the Council condemned the Hussite heresy. A deputation from the Orthodox Church arrived and made speeches for reuniting the Eastern and Western Churches.

On March 21 the Council approved seven reform decrees on abolishing exemptions from canonical obligations without the local bishop’s permission, abolishing incorporation of churches, abolishing papal revenues from vacant benefices, mandating severe punishment for simony, revoking all dispensations to those not ordained, abolishing papal tithing to princes, and reviving the dress code of the clergy. Martin set the next council at Pavia, though the French failed to ratify this. John recognized Pope Martin in 1419 and died a cardinal. Martin favored a strong papacy. The Hussite revolution in Bohemia became a war as several German armies invaded; each time the imperial crusaders were defeated and fled.

Sigismund held Reichstags at Constance in 1415 and 1417 to work on imperial reforms. He allowed the chamberlain Konrad von Weinsberg to organize the royal revenue, tried to improve public security, suppressed illegal tolls, reformed the currency, designated imperial agents to preside over town leagues, and organized southern and central Germany into four districts that were to assist each other in keeping the peace. However, he had difficulty responding to the towns’ petitions, and he was distracted by foreign relations that included the Turkish menace, alliance with England against France, and conflicts with Venice. The problems were how to pay for the reforms and who was to implement them. Mainz Archbishop Johannes of Nassau, Ludwig of the Palatinate, and two Rhenish electors joined to oppose his reforms. They formed a defensive alliance, and the towns withdrew with trepidation.

Albrecht IV (r. 1395-1404) ruled Lower Austria. Wilhelm (r. 1386-1406) ruled Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, and part of Tyrol, and he was succeeded by Leopold IV (r. 1386-1411) and Friedrich IV (r. 1402-39), who ruled Further Austria and then Tyrol from 1406. Albrecht V (r. 1404-39) became Archduke of Austria at the age seven. When Leopold IV died in 1411, Emperor Sigismund declared Albrecht V old enough to rule. He supported Sigismund’s campaigns against the Hussites and was designated his successor. In 1414 Friedrich IV supported Pope John XXIII who gave him a pension of 6,000 ducats and 500 armed men to accompany the Pope to the Council of Constance. However, Sigismund ordered Friedrich to disband his retinue and swear allegiance to the Emperor. On March 21, 1415 Friedrich gave a tournament during which the disguised Pope John escaped to one of Friedrich’s castles. The Council deposed John XXIII and excommunicated Friedrich, who surrendered his fiefs to Sigismund, who decided which ones he could keep. Friedrich’s brother Ernest the Iron ruled Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola in the east 1406-24, and he was succeeded by Albrecht VI.

The Teutonic Order recaptured the island of Gotland with 15,000 troops in 1404 and the fortress of Memel in 1406. The Hanseatic League moved into the capital at Visby. In 1407 Grand-master Ulrich von Juningen ceded it to Denmark’s Margrethe in exchange for protection of the Hansa. In 1402 all married Englishmen were required to leave Prussia, and others could only trade with burghers at the port. Two years later the import of English cloth was excluded, and the English were expelled. In 1405 the Dutch were banned from Danzig for three years. However, in 1409 Prussia and England signed a commercial treaty that permitted all English-Prussian trade.

In 1402 the Teutonic Order purchased Neumark in West Pomerania, and by occupying Samogitia they had contiguous territory from the Narva to the Oder. The Grand-master governed these domains from the castle at Marienburg. The senior commanders of the Order made nominations, and twelve electors selected the Grand-master, who served for life and was advised by a council of five officials. The Teutonic Order was religious, and Prussia had four bishops under the Archbishop of Riga. Numerous serfs in Livonia attracted nobles and traders, and all classes in Germany migrated to Prussia. While the Prussians were fighting the Lithuanians, the Livonians engaged in some thirty wars against Russians over two centuries. They used their monopoly to keep grain out of Novgorod, but in 1448 the Livonian knights made peace with the Russians.

In 1409 Lithuania’s Grand Duke Vytautas (Witold) joined with Poland in using 150,000 troops in a war against the Teutonic Order’s 80,000 men. On July 15, 1410 in the battle the Germans called Tannenberg they defeated the Order and occupied most of the country. The Order had 18,000 men killed and 14,000 captured. Commander Heinrich von Plauen of Schwertz led 3,000 men from Pomerania to Marienburg and defended it against a large army. After two months Jagiello abandoned the siege, and in the peace treaty of Thorn the next year the Order lost only Samogitia to Lithuania and Dobrzyn to Poland. In 1412 Heinrich von Plauen became Grand-master and formed a general assembly of the estates of Prussia with 20 nobles and 27 burghers; but Plauen made enemies in Danzig, where he had leading burghers beheaded for having welcomed the Poles after Tannenberg. The Prussian nobility forced peasants to prove they had their lord’s consent to move their home. A second war dragged on from 1414 to 1422, when Grand-master Paul von Rusdorf (1422-41) gave up Samogitia and the town of Nieszawa. Maximum wages were imposed in 1417 and were put in the ordinances of 1420.

Johannes von Saaz (also known as Johannes von Tepl) was a Bohemian lawyer. Some time after his wife Margaretha died on August 1, 1400, he wrote The Plowman from Bohemia, an early humanistic dialog between himself and Death. His poem was one of the first written in New High German, and it was first printed in 1460.

The Plowman begins by cursing Death for taking away his beautiful wife while she was still young. Death replies that he is confident he can defend the justice of all his deeds. The Plowman says the plow is his pen, and he is weeping and lamenting in his sorrow and despair. Death praises his wife for having a clear conscience and for being gracious, loyal, true, just, and kind. The Plowman blames Death and hopes God will take away his power. Death says that his power is like the sun that shines on the good and the wicked. Everyone, even adepts, must surrender their spirit to them. If they let people live because of gifts, all kings and popes would be in their power. The Plowman believes all of God’s kingdom stands against Death, who replies that God has allotted heaven to reward the virtuous and hell to punish the sinners. If there were no death, living things would devour each other for food as the earth became crowded. Death asks him to examine the works of Nature. All living things must die, and he will not escape either. The Plowman trusts in God to avenge him against the evil deed. Death suggests that the Plowman find another virtuous woman to marry or to teach another to be virtuous.

The Plowman continues to argue, and Death notes that foolish talk becomes a dispute, then enmity, trouble, injury, suffering, and remorse. His wife will come into eternal joy in life everlasting. The Lord Death is only God’s instrument. The Plowman asks Death to go with him before God to be judged. Death explains that what begins must end, what is sent out must come home, and what a person borrows must be returned. Either age or death will destroy all human beauty. After joy comes sadness, and after love there is sorrow. Lust seeks pleasure; greed desires possessions; and pride strives for honor. Lusting causes lechery; possessing leads to coveting and avarice; and honor brings arrogance and vanity.

The Plowman asks Death what will become of him after there is no more life, when all the good spirits are in heaven. Death says humans cannot know when or how they will die, and he advises them to shun evil, do good, and seek peace. Above all they should cherish a clear conscience, and Death goes with them before God. In the last chapter God speaks and says that Death’s power came from them. God honors the plaintiff but gives the victory to Death. Finally Johannes asks the Lord Jesus to receive the soul of his beloved wife Margaretha.

German Empire 1418-39

When the war against Venice resumed in 1418, Emperor Sigismund appointed Friedrich of Brandenburg vice-regent in Germany and went back to Hungary. When his brother Wenceslaus died of apoplexy in Prague in 1419, Sigismund also became King of Bohemia. He tried to suppress the Hussite revolution by invading Bohemia with imperial troops from Germany with support from Bavarian dukes, the Margrave of Meissen, and young Albrecht V of Austria. They occupied Prague, and Sigismund was crowned in St. Vitus’ Cathedral on July 28, 1420. However, the Czechs insisted that the Germans leave their country. Without German troops he could do little, and Sigismund left for Hungary in March 1421.

Albrecht V added taxes on Jews to finance his campaigns. He accused Jews of collaborating with Austria’s enemies, and in 1420 he ordered their community destroyed. Those who did not convert were deported. On March 12, 1421 Albrecht had the remaining 212 Jews burned at the stake. Jews were put under an “eternal ban,” and their synagogue was destroyed. In 1422 Albrecht married Sigismund’s only daughter Elisabeth of Bohemia.

The Rhenish electors dominated the Reichstag at Wesel in May 1421, and in August they raised an army of 100,000 for the second Bohemian crusade; but when Sigismund failed to invade eastern Bohemia, they retreated. Sigismund’s 23,000 troops invaded Moravia in October, but they were defeated in January 1422 and fled. That month Friedrich of Brandenburg joined with the Rhenish electors in demanding that Sigismund return to Germany or be deposed. Sigismund attended a Reichstag at Nuremberg, where a mercenary force was planned to invade Bohemia again. The Diet passed a tax in Germany of one percent on all governments and on individuals with more for Jews. Sigismund appointed Friedrich commander and made Archbishop Konrad of Mainz imperial vicar for Germany before leaving again. The campaign raised only a fifth of the 50,000 troops they planned, and Friedrich soon quit. The Palatine Ludwig and others protested the appointment of Konrad, who also resigned. Sigismund kept Friedrich of Hohenzollern from increasing his power by naming Friedrich the Quarrelsome, the Margrave of Meissen, to replace Albrecht III, the last Ascanian Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg. Cologne expelled Jews in 1424.

In March 1426 Friedrich of Brandenburg made peace with Sigismund at Vienna, and the Emperor reduced discontent by transferring the Reichstag from Vienna to Nuremberg. While Sigismund was fighting the Turks, Albrecht of Austria and Friedrich of Saxony attacked the Hussites from the opposite sides of Bohemia. Friedrich of Brandenburg and the electors raised an army in Germany but fled from Stribro when the Bohemian Taborites arrived on August 27, 1427. Cardinal Heinrich of Winchester had accompanied this expedition, and at a Reichstag in Frankfurt in November he proposed a general tax to pay for a permanent force. Five tax districts were organized, and a war cabinet of electors was set up with the Cardinal as president.

In December 1429 Sigismund met with the Archbishop of Mainz, Friedrich of Brandenburg, and other princes at Bratislava, and he urged support for the Hussite war. The Hussites were ravaging Franconia and threatened Nuremberg, and in February 1430 Friedrich of Brandenburg arranged a truce. A General Council was planned for 1431. After an eight-year absence, Sigismund returned to Germany in August 1430. Friedrich led a large army into Bohemia, but on August 14, 1431 they were defeated at Taus and fled once again. The towns refused to support the war anymore even though some feared the Hussite heresy was spreading to Germany. Zizka’s use of gunpowder and infantry and the Hussite revolution’s use of mercenaries destroyed the military domination by the knights and marked the end of chivalry. Cardinal Cesarini warned Pope Eugenius IV that the German clergy must amend their ways, or the people would massacre them. Also in 1431 peasants around Worms rose in rebellion but were put down.

Sigismund received the iron crown in Milan on November 25, 1431, and finally on May 31, 1433 Pope Eugenius IV crowned him emperor in Rome. The Germans went to the Council of Basel with moderate views, and Sigismund returned to Prague on August 23, 1436 as Bohemia’s king. Sigismund died at Znaim on December 7, 1437.

Soon after Sigismund’s death the anonymous Reformation Kaiser Sigmunds was published as an expression of his intended reforms. These included the following: secularizing ecclesiastical principalities and property, paying salaries to the clergy, increasing discipline of religious houses, equal pay for men in the same craft, limiting each person to one trade, abolishing serfdom, allowing free movement, facilitating burgher rights, setting maximum prices for the necessities of life, making speculation in food a sin, prohibiting capitalist associations, levying tolls only for maintaining bridges and roads, stamping coins to prevent lords from depreciating the currency, and appointing four imperial vicars in the four quarters of the empire. They suffered most from simony and greed, and bishops made war and caused unrest like secular lords.

Before his death on December 9, 1437 Sigismund gave his kingdoms to Albrecht V, who was crowned Albrecht II of Hungary on January 1, 1438. The electors asked him to make certain promises; but he said he could not accept the German crown without the consent of the Magyars. So the imperial Diet of Frankfurt dropped their demands and elected him on March 18, 1438. Albrecht was also elected king of Bohemia on May 6 and was crowned on June 29, though he never really governed there. Albrecht was crowned king of Germany at Aachen on May 30, and he summoned a Reichstag at Nuremberg in July that discussed reforms which excluded his own lands. The most important reform tried to end feuds by outlawing private wars and appointing an arbitration tribunal. He also divided Germany into four circles that combined Bavaria with Franconia, the Rhine with Alsace, and Westphalia with the Belgian provinces while keeping Saxony by itself.

When Poland’s army left Bohemia and invaded Silesia, Albrecht V went north. With support from Saxony, Bavaria, and Albrecht Achilles of Hohenzollern he pushed back the Polish army and gained an armistice in January 1439. This allowed him to go and attack the Turks. A Reichstag at Mainz discussed ecclesiastical reforms, and they agreed to accept the Council of Basel’s anti-papal legislation. However, Albrecht never confirmed this, and it was not implemented. While fighting the Muslims in Serbia, Albrecht fell ill with dysentery. He tried to return to Vienna but died on the way on October 27, 1439. Albrecht was a patron of the arts, and he collected humanistic manuscripts which he added to the Luxemburg collection he inherited.

Facing the Ottoman threat, in 1430 Emperor Sigismund suggested the Teutonic knights move their headquarters to Transylvania, but he killed the deal by proposing that their Prussian lands be shared by neighboring princes. A third war started in 1431 when Grand-master Paul sided with Svitrigaila in a Lithuanian succession dispute that attacked Poland; but the Order lost the war in 1435. Prussia suffered devastating crop failures 1437-39.

Council of Basel and Nikolaus of Cusa

The Council of Basel began in 1431 with a few bishops and abbots but gradually increased its attendance. Pope Martin V appointed Cardinal Cesarini to preside, but he was on a crusade against the Hussites and did not arrive until September. Sigismund was also the patron of this Council, and he assigned Duke Wilhelm of Bavaria to be its protector. After much resistance Pope Eugenius IV (1431-47) issued a bull authorizing the general council on February 14, 1433, and on May 31 he crowned Sigismund Emperor at Rome. In July he forbade the Council to go beyond suppressing heresy, restoring peace, and reforming the Church, and he annulled everything else they had done, including acts against himself. However, in December he revoked his three bulls and declared the Council of Basel legitimate. The great debate was whether the Pope or the Council had the supreme authority. Nikolaus of Cusa favored the councils and published Concordantia catholica, but he was opposed by the Dominican John of Turrecremata, who defended the Pope in his Summa de ecclesia et ejus auctorite. When the Romans revolted against Pope Eugenius in May 1434, he fled into exile at Florence until 1443. On July 5, 1436 Bohemians signed the Compact of Prague at Iglau and were reconciled with the Church.

In September 1437 Pope Eugenius threatened to move the Council to Ferrara, and the next month the Council judged him contumacious. Eugenius decreed that the Council move to Ferrara, and it opened there on January 5, 1438. A plague caused it to move again the next year to Florence. On March 26, 1439 the Reichstag at Mainz accepted the reforming decrees of Basel. When Eugenius announced that the Eastern Orthodox Church was being united with the Catholic Church in 1439, a rump council remaining at Basel deposed Eugenius on June 25. On November 5 they elected Duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy to be Pope Felix V. Friedrich III declined an offer to marry Felix’s daughter Margaret, widow of Louis of Anjou, even though a dowry of 200,000 ducats was offered.

Nikolaus of Cusa (1401-64) was born at Kues between Trier and Koblenz. He attended the same school of the Brothers of the Common Life in Deventer, Holland that Thomas a Kempis went to twenty years before him. In 1416 Nikolaus began studying philosophy at Heidelberg University. He spent six years at Padua, where he earned a doctorate in canon law. In 1425 he studied theology and taught at Cologne. The next year he gave legal advice to Cardinal Orsini, the papal legate in Germany. Nikolaus collected classical manuscripts for his library, and he discovered twelve lost comedies by Plautus. He participated in the Council of Basel and wrote On Catholic Harmony (De Concordantia Catholica) in 1433. In this book he argued that humans are created equal and that God has endowed them with freedom and reason, enabling them to choose all authority by election.

Since by nature all men are free, all government—
whether based on written law
or on law embodied in a ruler through whose government
the subjects are restrained from evil deeds
and their liberty regulated, for a good end,
by fear of punishment—
arises solely from agreement and consent of the subjects.
For if men are by nature powerful and equally free,
a valid and ordained authority of any one person,
whose power by nature is like that of the rest,
cannot be created save by election and consent of the others,
just as law is established by consent.1

Legislation is based on natural law, which is based on reason. Thus Nikolaus favored the council over the Pope to reform the Church. However, when the Council of Basel opposed the proposal by Pope Eugenius IV for an ecumenical council in Italy for reunification with the Eastern Orthodox Church, Nikolaus changed his position and carried out missions for the Pope. He became such a strong advocate for Pope Eugenius that he was called his Hercules.

Nikolaus was on the committee of three that negotiated with the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople. While he was bringing 28 archbishops of the Eastern Church to the Council in Italy, Nikolaus had a mystical experience on the ship that sparked his interest in theology, philosophy, and mathematics. By persuading the Greeks that the Holy Spirit comes from the Son as well as from the Father, they accepted the Filioque clause as legitimate. Thus he helped bring about their reunion with the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Florence in 1439, though the agreement did not hold. The next year he wrote his philosophical On Learned Ignorance (De Docta Ignorantia) in which he took the Socratic position that one must realize one’s ignorance in order to approach reality and explore the unknown. In 1448 Nikolaus was made a cardinal, and he became the Bishop of Brixen in South Tyrol in 1450. That year Pope Nicholas V sent him as legate to Germany and Bohemia to implement Church reforms, which caused such violent opposition that he was forced to flee to Rome in 1452. Nikolaus served as papal vicar when Pope Pius II was at the Congress of Mantua in 1459. In his sermons as papal legate Nikolaus criticized the superstitious veneration of relics, and he convened a synod for Church reform. He and Pius both died in 1464 while working on a failed crusade.

Nikolaus believed that wisdom is knowing one’s ignorance. Reasoning compares things and can never know the infinite truth that is God. Rational investigation can proceed step by step toward God but can never get there by itself. One can add more sides to a polygon; but to make a circle the number of sides must be infinite, and the circumference is no longer curved but is a straight line. Nikolaus preferred Neo-Platonism to Aristotle, and he recognized intuition as a higher faculty than reason. He transcended Aristotelian contradiction because he perceived a higher unity of opposites. He was especially influenced by Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Albertus Magnus, Bonaventure, Ramon Lull, and Meister Eckhart. God as the infinite cannot be compared to finite beings and reconciles all opposites in perfect unity. Nikolaus also studied science and mathematics, and he argued that finite beings are impossible without an infinite being that accounts for their beginning and end. Nikolaus was a panentheist in that he believed God is both immanent in the universe and transcendent of all creation. Individuals are “contractions” of species, and the entire universe is a contraction of God; but even the universe is finite.

Nikolaus favored the Christian religion in his On the Peace of Faith (1453), and he tried to resolve its conflicts. He doubted there is more than one wisdom because he believed that all plurality comes from the original unity. He hoped that when humans recognize the fundamental unity and harmony, there will be universal peace. He observed that few people have enough leisure time to know themselves well. They are distracted by corporeal cares and do not seek the concealed God. He believed that no one desires anything but the good that is God. He predicted that everyone will know that there is only one religion; but there is a variety of rites that no one will be able to annul. Nikolaus held that God clothed the Word with humanity in order to illumine free will so that one may walk in accordance with the inner person rather than the outer. He argued that because the truth is one, all diversity in religion should be brought into one orthodox faith. In On the Peace of Faith the Word has a dialog with a Greek, an Italian, an Arab, an Indian, a Chaldean, a Jew, a Scythian, and a Gaul. Then Peter converses with a Persian, a Syrian, a Spaniard, a German, and a Tatar. Paul joins the conversation and talks with the Tatar, an Armenian, a Bohemian, and an Englander. However, Nikolaus seems to expect all these diverse nationalities to accept Christian dogma, including the trinity.

German Empire 1440-53

The German electors chose the oldest Hapsburg prince, Albrecht’s cousin Friedrich of Styria, on February 2, 1440. Twenty days later Albrecht’s widow Elizabeth gave birth to Ladislaus, whom the Hungarians crowned Laszlo V on May 15. Elizabeth and he were given refuge by the same Friedrich, now of Inner Austria. The League of Mailberg brought together Janos Hunyadi and George (Jiri) of Podebrady with the Estates of Upper Austria, of Moravia, and of Lower Austria.

The humanist Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini had been secretary to the Council of Basel, and he came to Vienna in 1437. Friedrich IV made him his secretary in 1442. That year Friedrich supported Rudolf Stüssi of Zürich against the Old Swiss Confederacy. The League of Mailberg hired the Styrian condottiere Andreas Baumkirchner, and he attacked Friedrich’s favorite castle at Wiener Neustadt. Friedrich was crowned king of Germany at Aachen on June 17, 1442. That year he defeated the commune of Berlin, and they had to accept the elector’s confirmation of the city council. All leagues in Brandenburg with the prince’s consent were forbidden. Thus the towns in the north had to withdraw from the Hanseatic League. Friedrich was Laszlo’s guardian and refused to surrender him to the Magyar Diet in 1444. He also used the child as a hostage in his conflict over Tyrol with his brother Albrecht VI.

During the Reichstag at Nuremberg in August 1444 Germany’s King Friedrich IV tried to prevent the electors from implementing the Basel reforms with stalling tactics. In 1446 he and Chancellor Kaspar Schlick recognized the supremacy of the Pope over the Council. The humanist Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini had become secretary for Friedrich in 1442 and later secretary for Pope Eugenius, who deposed the archbishops of Trèves and Cologne for supporting the Basel Council. In October 1446 Piccolomini helped persuaded the electors that they should negotiate with Pope Eugenius IV, who issued four bulls before he died on February 23, 1447. That year Piccolomini was ordained a priest and was appointed bishop of Trieste. Friedrich’s supporters agreed to recognize Pope Nicholas V, and the Friedrich negotiated with him the final Concordat of Vienna in February 1448 in the name of the German princes and electors. All the estates of the empire would eventually accept this Concordat. The election of bishops was to be free of interference, but the Pope had to confirm them. Yet this gave the German princes more authority over the German Church. On April 7, 1449 Felix resigned to become a cardinal, marking the defeat of the conciliar movement.

After King Friedrich made an alliance with Zürich on June 14, 1443, the Swiss Confederation attacked Zürich. Friedrich could not get support from Swabian towns and borrowed 6,000 French troops from King Charles VI. In the summer of 1444 the Dauphin Louis led 40,000 Armagnacs through Sundgau toward Basel, and they plundered the Rhine valley. The King retired to Austria in October and was blamed for letting French troops occupy Alsace, which had to be defended by other Germans led by the Palatine elector Ludwig IV. A treaty signed at Trèves in February 1445 called for the French to evacuate Alsace, but many of the retreating French troops were massacred by angry Germans. Pope Eugenius IV conferred privileges on Brandenburg and Austria so that they would have the support of territorial princes. Austria dissolved its alliance with Zürich in 1450 when neutral German princes mediated a peace. In Germany in 1449 Albrecht Achilles of Hohenzollern fought against a league of cities led by Nuremberg, but he was defeated near Pillenreuth in 1450.

Friedrich went to Italy, and on March 18, 1452 in Rome he was married to Princess Eleanora of Portugal. The next day Pope Nicholas V crowned him Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich III. Upon his return he surrendered young Ladislaus to Ulrich of Celje (Cilli), who took him to Vienna. On October 28, 1453 Ladislaus was crowned king of Bohemia, and he was advised by George of Podebrady. The Hapsburg Friedrich III would rule the German empire until his death in 1493.

Swabian towns formed a league for defense in 1441, and by 1446 a confederation of 31 towns was led by Nuremberg, Augsburg, Ulm, and Esslingen. They were opposed by a league of princes led by Margrave Albrecht Achilles of Hohenzollern, and war broke out in June 1449. That summer Dieter von Erbach, the Archbishop and Elector of Maine, was supported by 86 other aristocrats who declared war on Swabia’s imperial city of Hall because they had refused to compensate him for property they took from him. Friedrich III refused to intervene because of Austrian politics, but finally in April 1453 the treaty of Lauf ended the war. Albrecht Achilles surrendered his conquests for a payment of money, and Nuremberg remained independent. The towns learned that the selfish interests of their members prevented them from challenging the princes, and they became defensive and avoided wars.

Archbishop Dietrich von Möers of Cologne and his older brother Count Friedrich of Möers came into conflict with the Saxon town of Soest and won an arbitration in 1444. Soest turned to Adolf of Cleve and went to war against the Archbishop for five years. Dietrich put them under interdict, but Pope Eugenius transferred Soest to Bishop Rudolf of Utrecht, deposing Dietrich in 1446. Dietrich gathered 16,000 Czech and Saxon mercenaries to besiege Soest in July 1447. The town resisted, and starvation led to the siege being abandoned. Finally both sides were financially exhausted, and Cardinal Carvajal arbitrated a peace agreement at Maestricht in April 1449.

The declining age of chivalry brought hard times to knights, and some turned to plundering villages, monasteries, and traveling merchants. A peasant court in Westphalia called the “Holy Veme” organized secret vigilantes to curtail crime. They held secret trials and sentenced offenders to be hanged. Those who refused to appear were declared outlaws, and every member was obligated to punish them. Westphalia had some four hundred of these courts for a while. Augsburg had 36 assessors, and they spread to other districts. In the 15th century the Veme courts became corrupted by selling assessorships, and they deteriorated. Albrecht II tried to reform the Veme. The Minnesingers of the chivalry culture were replaced by the Mastersingers of the guilds and the burgher class.

Augsburg banished Jews in 1438 and Munich did so in 1440. The Council of Basle had passed Church laws segregating Jews and Christians. Luxuries were also criticized. In 1445 the city of Regensburg enacted a law limiting a woman’s wardrobe to eighteen dresses and eighteen coats. Women often married young and had many children. Birth control was primitive if any, and the Church set severe penalties for abortion. The child mortality rate was high as conditions were often unsanitary. Public morals were looser. Brothels were legal, and prostitutes were required to wear a distinctive veil, headdress, or cloak. Aging prostitutes who repented found refuge in the homes of Saint Magdalene. The Franciscan monk, Giovanni of Capistrano, persecuted Jews widely from 1451 to 1453 with his preaching in southern Germany and Silesia.

Manuscript books spread beyond monastic libraries as the Brothers of the Common Life became professional copyists. Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type about 1439, but he did not get a press operating until the 1450s. In 1455 he printed about 180 copies of his 42-line Bible. In 1471 Konrad Schweinsheim printed the first geographical maps, and Erhard Oeglin was the first to print musical notes with movable type. The printing press greatly increased the quantity of books and moderated their cost, enabling humanists and reformers to get their messages to more people. Public and private education was developing in Germany, and universities were established at Heidelberg in 1385, Cologne in 1388, Erfurt in 1392, Würzburg in 1402, Leipzig in 1409, Rostock in 1419, and Greifswald in 1456. Graduates provided more academic education than the religious schools of the monasteries and convents.

German Empire and Hapsburgs 1453-1517

By 1450 the number of Teutonic knights had decreased by a third, and membership standards were lowered. The last war of the Teutonic knights against Poland was fought from 1453 to 1466. In 1454 Germans with 15,000 mercenaries helped the Order defeat the Poles. The elector of Brandenburg was unable to negotiate a peace with Poland, and the unpaid Bohemian mercenaries captured and sold the Grand-master and Western Prussia to King Casimir of Poland for 436,000 florins. The Germans rebelled against Polish rule, and the war dragged on until 1466 when the Grand-master ceded Eastern Prussia to the Polish crown also in the peace treaty at Thorn.

In 1458 the Archbishop of Salzburg imposed a cattle tax that provoked a peasant rebellion that spread to Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola. That year Piccolomini was elected to be Pope Pius II, and he confirmed the Hapsburgs’ right to imperial rule. When the Pope levied a tithe for a crusade against the Turks in 1459, the German princes would not allow it to be collected. In 1460 his “Execrabilis” bull denounced appealing to a general council as an “execrable abuse.” After the death of Ladislaus on November 20, 1457 Friedrich III had been granted Lower Austria, and his brother Albrecht VI inherited Upper Austria; but they fought each other for the next six years. Leading towns took an oath to the three Hapsburgs—the ambitious brothers Friedrich and Albrecht and their cousin Sigismund of Tyrol. Wittelsbachs led a conspiracy to replace Friedrich with George Podebrady of Bohemia, but they were opposed by Albrecht Achilles, the Hohenzollern Margrave of Brandenburg. Matthias Corvinus had become king of Hungary, but Friedrich still held the actual crown of St. Stephen. He gave up the crown and his claims in Hungary in exchange for Transdanubia and 80,000 gold ducats, which Matthias took from the papal crusade against the Ottoman empire.

In 1455 six German electors had proposed an imperial court of justice that would represent the three estates of electors, princes, and cities, but Friedrich rejected the plan. In 1460 the Wittelsbach princes began urging that King George Podebrady of Bohemia replace Friedrich. Bürgermeister Wolfgang von Holzer of Vienna was caught up in conflicts between Albrecht VI and Friedrich III, who accused Holzer of treason and condemned him to death. George Podebrady, Albrecht, and Austrian nobles attacked Vienna and may have been scheming to replace Friedrich; but Albrecht VI died on December 2, 1463, ending the family conflict. Andreas Baumkirchner ravaged Styria and was caught and executed, but his sons continued to plunder the country in revenge. In 1464 Friedrich allowed the court of the treasury to be independent of him with representatives from the three estates, and its jurisdiction was extended beyond finances. In 1466 Pope Paul II at the Diet of Ulm asked the princes to fight the advancing Turks, but they promised only 20,000 mercenaries.

Friedrich III had gained the bishopric at Laibach in Carniola from Pope Pius II in 1461, and in 1469 Pope Paul II granted him the episcopal sees of Wiener Neustadt and Vienna. Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy did homage to Friedrich at Treves for his Dutch territory in 1473, and that year at Trier Friedrich arranged the betrothal of his son Maximilian to Marie, daughter of Charles, and they married in Ghent on August 18, 1477. Charles had died on January 5, and Maximilian and France’s Louis XI claimed his inheritance. The Dominican Petrus Nigri published the missionary tract Star of Messiah in Latin in 1475 and in German in 1477. In 1476 Bishop Rudolf of Würzburg had arrested and burned the wandering musician Hans Boheim for having prophesied the world would be destroyed because of the pride, avarice, and lust of the priests. People made pilgrimages to his church at Niklashausen, and so Diether of Mainz put an interdict on the church.

Sigismund of the Tyrol wanted Further Austria, but he was opposed by the clergy, the knights, and the towns. Johann Beckensloer succeeded Jan Vitéz as chancellor of Hungary, but he quarreled with King Matthias and in 1479 fled to Friedrich, who appointed him bishop of Vienna and next in line to be archbishop of Salzburg. The acting archbishop Bernhard von Rohr turned to Matthias, who invaded Carinthia, Styria, and Lower Austria. Maximilian led the forces that stopped the center of the French army at Guinegates in 1481. Louis XI accepted an armistice.

After pregnant Marie fell from a horse while hunting and died in March 1482, Maximilian gave up some territory in the Treaty of Arras. Rebellious Hoecks took over Utrecht, and Maximilian attacked and defeated them in 1483. Meanwhile Matthias had gained Swiss and Italian allies, and they besieged Vienna and captured it in 1485. The next year Matthias seized Wiener Neustadt, and Friedrich fled to Linz with 800 knights. Friedrich got help from the Diet at Nuremberg in 1487. Albrecht of Saxony provided him with funds from his mines so that he was able to defeat the Hungarians at Negau.

The Archbishop of Mainz, Berthold of Henneberg, persuaded Emperor Friedrich III to yield power to his son. Maximilian was elected king of the Romans at Frankfurt am Main on February 16, 1486, and he was crowned Co-emperor at Aachen on April 9. He gathered an army of 15,000 at Cologne and fought in the Netherlands. He was captured and imprisoned by the burghers of Bruges, but after making concessions he was released on May 16, 1488. Friedrich had initiated the organization of the Swabian League on February 14, 1488 at the Reichstag of Esslingen. Regensburg defeated the Wittelsbach dukes of Bavaria in the “beer war.” Friedrich also led the siege of Ghent. Maximilian and ambassadors at Frankfurt made a treaty on July 22, 1489. He negotiated a reduced fine, and peace was proclaimed in September. Friedrich’s favorite saying was “The greatest happiness is forgetting the irrecoverable things.”

After Matthias died in 1490, Maximilian claimed his rights by the 1463 treaty and invaded Hungary; but he could not pay his mercenaries and made a treaty at Pressburg on November 7, 1491. Maximilian resided at Innsbruck in the Tyrol. He borrowed 500,000 florins from the brothers Sigismund and Heinrich Prüschenck, and in 1491 he granted the merchant bankers of the House of Ulrich Fugger and Cie of Augsburg a concession in the silver mines at Schwartz in Tyrol, saving himself from bankruptcy. Peasants attacked the monastery at Kempten in Alsace because the abbot was trying to force them into serfdom with forged documents; but Emperor Friedrich III worked out a compromise. After ruling for 41 years as Holy Roman Emperor, Friedrich died on August 19, 1493. That year Hartmann von Schedel published the Nürnberg Chronicle.

Sigismund of Tyrol abdicated, and Maximilian combined all the hereditary lands of Austria. Styria provided iron mines and artillery that he exported in Europe. In 1494 Maximilian married Bianca-Maria Sforza of Milan with her dowry of one million florins; but they did not get along, and she had no children. Maximilian had many liaisons with women who gave him a dozen or more bastards.

Emperor Maximilian (r. 1493-1519) was challenged by the leader of the princes, Archbishop Berchtold of Mainz. At the Diet of Worms in 1495 perpetual peace was proclaimed as private wars by the law of defiance were condemned. They also created a supreme imperial court that met at Worms until 1689. The Emperor appointed a supreme judge and eighteen assessors who had to be approved by the Diet. The Emperor was no longer a judge. Württemberg became a duchy.

In 1492 the Fugger brothers married into the Thurzos family of Crakow to form a cartel controlling the silver and copper mines of Hungary, and in 1498 they tried to monopolize the copper market with merchants in Augsburg. In 1494 Ulrich Fugger began managing papal finances in Germany, Scandinavia, Bohemia, and Hungary. By 1511 Jakob Fugger II headed a firm with assets of 196,791 guilders. He had 106 houses built for poor Catholics in Augsburg.

In 1496 Maximilian presided over the Diet at Worms that raised funds for a campaign to defend Italy against the French. That year his son Philip married Juana, daughter of Fernando and Isabella of Castile, and the next year his daughter Margaret married their son Juan, who died that year. Also in 1497 Conrad Celtis came to the University of Vienna where he founded the Literary Society of the Danube. Maximilian got syphilis in 1497, and his leg was permanently damaged by a fall from his horse in 1501. The Emperor led an army that was defeated by the Swiss at Dornach on July 22, 1499, and they made a peace treaty at Basel on September 22.

By 1500 the population of Cologne had diminished to about 40,000, and Augsburg was the largest city in Germany with about 50,000. By then guilds were usually represented on city councils. An imperial Diet at Nuremberg, a city of 30,000, in 1500 tried to create a federal administration planned by the elector of Mainz with twenty regents who would live in Nuremberg; but Maximilian and the princes made sure it never went into effect. That year the Diet of Worms organized the empire into the six circles of the Rhine, Franconia, Bavaria, Swabia, Westphalia, and Saxony. In 1502 a general Diet was created for the five lands of Upper Austria, Lower Austria, Styria, Carniola, and Carinthia.

That year peasants and urban artisans who had formed the Bundschuh a decade before wrote articles and protested against the bishop’s financial exactions in Speyer. Seven thousand men planned to kill all the priests and monks; but a peasant revealed the plot in a confessional, and the prelates and nobles had the chief conspirators tortured and hanged. An effort led by Joss Fritz near Freiburg in 1512 had a similar result.

In 1507 the Emperor made his thrice-widowed daughter Margaret regent of the Netherlands. In 1508 Maximilian assumed the title, Elected Roman Emperor, with the agreement of Pope Julius II, but he ended the tradition of the Holy Roman Emperor being crowned by the Pope. The Venetians refused to give him free passage and defeated him at Catora. In 1512 Maximilian added four more circles by dividing the Rhine and Saxony into Upper and Lower and by adding Burgundy and Austria. The Aulic Council was begun with eight members nominated by the Emperor to decide appeals. In 1513 Maximilian and his daughter Margaret allied with England’s Henry VIII against France.

Maximilian crushed numerous peasant rebellions. He studied administrative documents daily and tried to intervene effectively. During his last ten years Maximilian traveled almost every day to another place, staying in his castles or hunting lodges and inns rather than in large towns. He ordered the codification of customary law that was completed in 1514. In 1515 Maximilian made an agreement with the Jagiellon Vladislas II for a mutual succession. His grandson Archduke Ferdinand was to marry Vladislas’s daughter Anne, and his granddaughter Maria of Castile was engaged to Louis Jagiellon who became king of Bohemia and Hungary. Two days before the double wedding on July 22 the Emperor adopted Louis (Lajos) of Bohemia as his son. In 1516 Maximilian went to Lombardy with 20,000 men, half of them Swiss; but even more Swiss were fighting for the French, and lacking money the Germans retreated. The Emperor ceded Milan to France. Maximilian’s secretary Max Treitzsauerwein edited his autobiographical novel Theuerdank in verse about a prince who rescues Queen Ehrenreich after many challenges. The book was published in 1517 and became the first in a series of twelve on the courtly life.

Luther’s Reforms and Germany 1517-88

Swiss Cantons and Confederation 1400-1517

Swiss Cantons and Confederation 1250-1400

A trading city grew up around the declining monastery of St. Gall, and the city became allied with Appenzell against the monastery which claimed jurisdiction. The Abbot turned to Austrians in the Rheintal, and the Appenzell allied with the Schwyz. After the men of Appenzell rebelled against imperial towns in 1403 and defeated the monastic army, the Abbot gained support from Duke Friedrich IV of Austria; but the citizens of St. Gall defended themselves, and Appenzell defeated Friedrich’s troops also in June 1405. Seven Confederate states accepted Appenzell as an ally, but Bern did not.

On June 3, 1403 Bishop William V de Barogne with the peasants of Valai broke away from Savoy and formed an alliance with Uri, Unterwalden, and Lucerne that increased internal division. On June 12, 1410 Urseren was admitted into Uri. On November 13, 1411 they became combourgoisie of seven cantons, and the city of St. Gall made such a treaty for ten years on December 7, 1412. After Emperor Sigismund put an imperial ban on Duke Friedrich of Austria on March 30, 1415, the Confederates conquered some of his territory in Aargau; Sigismund let them keep most of it. Uri bought Bellinzona, but Milan recaptured it in 1422. Uri and Unterwalden asked for help, and Lucerne, Zug, and Schwyz sent forces that united at Arbedo, where they were defeated on June 30.

A Bernese force occupied Aargau, and Zofingen fell in April 1415. Men from Luzerne moved into Sursee and St. Urban, and Zürich also advanced. Emperor Sigismund pledged part of Aargau to Zürich and Bern, which took the western half of Freiamt, leaving some for Lucerne with the rest held in common by the Confederation.

Although Basel was destroyed by fire in 1405, it was fully restored in the next half century. Basel was a commercial center and hosted the ecclesiastical Concilium from 1431 to 1448. Public baths became popular among the Swiss, and in 1431 Basel required separate baths for men and women. In 1439 Zürich began requiring licenses for baths to reduce depravity and diseases.

When Count Friedrich of Toggenburg died childless in 1436, Zürich and Schwyz went to war over the division of the inheritance that lasted fourteen years. Zürich formed an alliance with King Friedrich of Germany in 1442. On May 20, 1443 Schwyz and Glarus declared war on Austria and Zürich, and the other cantons joined them. Zurich was besieged by 20,000 Confederates on June 21, 1444. Charles VII of France allied with Friedrich and sent irregular forces to Basel. Outnumbered ten to one, the Swiss fought on August 26 until only a few wounded were left. After that the French mercenaries tried to negotiate in Alsace, and on October 21 at Zofingen they made a treaty with the seven cantons, Basel, and Solothurn. In June 1446 Zürich and the Confederation concluded the Peace of Constance, and the Rhine became the border with Austria by 1460. Zurich renewed its alliance with Glarus in 1450 and was accepted back into the Confederation on almost the same conditions.

Basel had its autonomy guaranteed in the treaty signed at Breisach on May 14, 1449. Freiburg had attacked Savoy in 1447, and Bern in a treaty at Morat on July 16, 1448 made Freiburg cede to it Grasburg and pay 40,000 florins to the Duke of Savoy. The Savoyard party persuaded the assembly of burgesses on June 10, 1452 to abolish Austrian suzerainty and accept Louis of Savoy while retaining their rights. The Abbot of St. Gall gained protection from the Confederation on August 17, 1451 by making a treaty with Zürich, Lucerne, Schwyz, and Glarus, and on November 15, 1452 the seven eastern cantons granted Appenzell an alliance. Freiburg became independent of Austria and was supported by Bern. In 1454 Schaffhausen negotiated a 25-year alliance with Zürich, Bern, Lucerne, Schwyz, Zug, and Glarus. At a sports competition in Constance in 1451 visitors from Lucerne quarreled with the hosts, and an army of 4,000 Swiss came to support them but were paid off with 3,000 gulden.

In 1460 Pope Pius II threatened Duke Sigismund of Tyrol with excommunication, and at the Pope’s urging the Swiss took over Thurgau from Sigismund. The next year Austria renounced its claim to Thurgau, which was administered as a possession of the federated cantons. In 1466 the city of Mülhausen in Alsace formed a 25-year alliance with Bern and Solothurn. Austria urged Austrian nobles in the area to boycott Mülhausen and Schaffhausen, and in 1467 von Heudorf seized several burghers of Schaffhausen. Bern made peace with the bishops of Constance and Basel and then intervened. The next year troops from Mülhausen burned the noble’s manor, and the Austrian nobles in Sundgau of Alsace besieged Mülhausen. Bern came to defend Mülhausen with troops from Schaffhausen and St. Gallen. Swiss troops responded but could find no enemies and plundered the area. While Basel remained neutral, Austrian troops returned; but they agreed in a treaty to leave Mülhausen in peace and paid 10,000 gulden to the Swiss.

The University of Basel was founded in 1460, and they printed books. In June 1474 Basel and the Bishop of Strassburg made a ten-year defensive alliance with four Austrian cities on the Rhine which deposited 80,000 gulden in Basel. The Swiss agreed not to absorb any more Austrian territory, and Austrians along the Rhine agreed to protect the border. The Swiss promised to provide troops paid for by the Duke. They also agreed on free trade through their territories.

In 1463 France’s Louis XI tried to reduce competition by forbidding his subjects from going to Geneva’s fairs. Uri was insulted by Milan’s leaders and besieged Bellinzona with 10,000 men in early 1478. They were joined by Swiss led by Hans Waldmann and Adrian von Bubenberg. The Swiss began pillaging villages and towns. Milan sent 10,000 mercenaries, and they fought the Swiss on December 24 before fleeing. The French mediated a treaty in which the Swiss kept the Levinental, and Milan regained the Bleniotal and Biasca.

Peter Kistler led a movement that reduced the powers of the leading families in Bern. The Great Council passed an ordinance that regulated buckles on shoes and dresses with long trains. When ladies and gentlemen gathered in such clothes in the cathedral, they were fined. Duke Sigismund of Austria borrowed 50,000 gulden from Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy and used 10,000 to pay off his debt to the Swiss. After Kistler lost influence, Niklaus von Diesbach emerged as a leader who favored the French. Von Bubenberg was more conservative and sided politically with Burgundy.

In 1469 Duke Charles of Burgundy designated Peter von Hagenbach to govern the Austrian territory of Alsace and Breisgau for Burgundy. People objected to his strict laws, and Bern asked Burgundy to recall him. Bubenberg went to talk with his friend Charles, who put him off because he supported Hagenbach’s policies. Diesbach persuaded the Diet of Bern to make a treaty of neutrality with France on August 13, 1470 in which both agreed not to ally with Burgundy against the other. Alsatians rose against Burgundy’s Governor Hagenbach and beheaded him on May 9, 1474. Diesbach incited the Swiss toward war against Burgundy, but Bubenberg objected. Diesbach negotiated an alliance with France in October in which France promised to side with the Swiss against Burgundy in a war or pay 80,000 gold francs and annual pensions to eight cantons and Freiburg and Solothurn. Louis XI was given permission to recruit Swiss mercenaries for his campaigns.

Bern’s troops began the war by invading Erlach and Hericourt and then Vaud and Savoy. The Duchess of Savoy let Burgundy move forces from Lombardy through her territory. The Swiss army seized the entire Rhone valley and reached Lake Leman by October 1475. Sigismund of Austria had made peace with Burgundy in May, and France’s Louis XI renounced his alliance with the Swiss in September, recognizing Burgundy’s claims in the Sundgau and Upper Alsace. Duke Charles of Burgundy moved into Lorraine and expelled its duke. In January 1476 Charles seized Grandson and killed the defenders. The Swiss force of 18,000 arrived on March 2 and defeated the Burgundians who fled without their 400 guns of artillery. The death of Diesbach restored Bubenberg to favor, and he led the Bernese army to Murten (Morat). Burgundy’s army began arriving on June 9 and besieged Murten. An army of 25,000 men from all eight Swiss cantons and Alsace, Lorraine, and Thurgau gathered in Bern. They arrived at Murten on June 22, drove out the Burgundians, imprisoned the Duchess of Savoy at Tours, and pillaged the territory except Lausanne.

Louis XI mediated a peace between the Swiss and Savoy in which Bern gained territory, some of it with Freiburg. Burgundy’s army went to besiege Nancy and the Duke of Lorraine, but a Swiss force led by Hans Waldmann destroyed their army on January 5, 1477, killing Charles the Bold, who was succeeded by his wife Mary. Louis XI suggested that Maximilian purchase Burgundy for 150,000 gulden, and the French king promised to pay 6,000 Swiss soldiers to defend him in his wars. Maximilian agreed to the treaty.

In 1479 the Chancellor of Bern charged insects before the tribunal of the Bishop of Lausanne, and they were found contumacious. The pests were excommunicated and ordered to leave the diocese. When such plagues ended, some people believed the judgments of the courts had been effective.

In 1481 the cities of Freiburg and Solothurn were added to the Confederation, increasing the cities’ domination over the agricultural cantons (Lander). The cities divided the booty from war based on the number of warriors provided. Zürich, Bern, and Lucerne could provide 39,000 men; but all the Lander only raised 14,000, and they wanted half. The added two cities almost caused a civil war, but in December Brother Klaus sent a priest with a message pleading for unity and warning them not to become involved with foreign powers.Diebold Schilling of Bern completed his three-volume Chronicle of the city in 1483.

After the Burgundian war Mayor Hans Waldmann of Zürich married a rich widow and was resented for becoming an aristocrat by means of wealth. His membership application was rejected. He tried to build a city state with centralized government, and peasants could not leave agriculture to become craftsmen. He imposed clothing regulations on the aristocrats and prohibited the hiring of mercenaries in Zürich. After he ordered a commander beheaded, his enemies rose against him. Waldmann was condemned and lost his ownhead. In 1493 the Swiss resented taxes that were used to pay for campaigns against Burgundy and French Armagnacs. They refused to pay the tax and accept administrators. The Swiss signed a treaty with Charles VIII of France.

In 1495 all the Swiss cantons except Bern formed a new alliance with France, but Bern, Obwalden, and Schwyz made an economic treaty with Milan. After Louis XII became King of France, he made a new treaty with the Swiss in March 1499. When Milan came into conflict with France, the Swiss had mercenaries fighting on both sides. The Swiss Diet intervened, and the Swiss forces negotiated with each other and withdrew.

When Emperor Maximilian asked for 8,000 Swiss mercenaries, they said no. St. Gallen and Schaffhausen were put under an imperial ban. Austria gained the Swabian League as allies and invaded Münstertal. They fought in the Graudbünden and the Tyrol, and the Swiss took Klettgau and Hegau. In April 1499 Maximilian took command. On May 22 the Swiss forces attacked and defeated the Austrians, who retreated. Commander von Fürstenburg led 16,000 men across the Rhine from Sundgau and besieged Dornach in Solothurn. On July 22 the Swiss attacked and defeated the Austrians, killing von Fürstenburg. The Emperor called a truce and signed a peace treaty at Basel on September 22. The Swiss gained imperial recognition of their independence and their union with the three leagues in the Graubünden.

In 1500 the Swiss mercenaries found themselves fighting both with and against the French over Milan. Basel joined the Swiss Confederation on June 9, 1501, followed by Schaffhausen on August 10 and Appenzell in 1513. At Baden on July 20, 1503 the Swiss Diet restricted mercenaries and prohibited their foreign pensions. In the Diet at Zürich on September 30, 1507 nine cantons refused to fight for the Emperor or the King of France as they decided to be neutral.

Bishop Mattaus Schiner of Sitten managed to get the Swiss to make a five-year alliance with Pope Julius II on March 14, 1510, and the next year he persuaded Emperor Maximilian to form an alliance with the Confederation. Then the Swiss attacked the French in Lombardy and moved against Milan. In the spring of 1512 they marched to Pavia. The Diet in Zürich announced a general call to arms in April, and by the end of May an army of 18,000 had mustered at Chur and began marching toward Verona. There Cardinal Mattaus Schiner welcomed them with their Venetian allies. They captured Pavia and then Milan. The French were driven out of Lombardy, and the Swiss gained lower Ticino and some of the Eschental. The allies restored Moro’s son, Massimiliano Sforza, as Duke of Milan. Also that year Bern took over the Principality of Neuchatel from the Count of Orleans-Longueville.

In 1513 the French came back and took Milan, and the Venetians changed sides. The Swiss with 8,000 men helped defend Novara against the French siege. The Swiss defeated the French on June 6, and they left Lombardy again. The Swiss Diet raised 15,000 more men, and they invaded Burgundy. In September the French got the Swiss to withdraw by promising them 400,000 gulden, renunciation of Lombardy, and no more recruiting in Swiss territory without the Diet’s approval; but before his death Louis XII nullified the agreement. Also in 1513 the peasants revolted against Bern, Solothurn, Lucerne, and other cities. Geneva was governed by a bishop, and they burned 500 people accused of witchcraft during three months in 1515 and 1516; but most of them were persecuted as heretics.

King François put forth an army of 15,000, but he negotiated a settlement with the Swiss in September 1515, offering them one million crowns. The Swiss gave up territory south of Bellinzona, but Zürich and the Innerscheiz refused to accept the treaty. Finally at Geneva in November 1516 they agreed to a perpetual peace with France and retained Bellinzona, Lugano, Locarno, and the Valtellina. The famous humanist Erasmus claimed that most people in Basel understood Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, and in 1514 Glareanus went there to teach Latin and Greek.

Zwingli, Calvin, and the Swiss

Low Countries and Burgundy 1400-53

Low Countries and Burgundy 1250-1400

When France and England agreed on a 28-year truce in 1396, privileges of English merchants were restored. The problem of piracy prevented a treaty, and there were several English attacks on Flemish ships in 1402. About this time the barrel was invented for exporting fish, and the Dutch used it in other commerce. In April 1403 Duke Philippe the Bold of Burgundy had English merchandise at Sluis seized. The Four Members persuaded him to negotiate, and finally on January 10, 1407 they agreed on free trade in England and Flanders, excluding arms.

Duke Jean of Burgundy (r. 1404-19) was called “Fearless” because of his participation in the crusade at Nicopolis in 1396 that his father Philippe had financed. They were defeated by the Turks who captured Jean and collected an enormous ransom from his father. In 1407 Jean allowed litigants in the council to communicate in their own language. During his conflict with the house of Orleans, the Four Members were reluctant to send Flemish troops and only sent a few in 1411. During Jean’s reign Flanders was relatively autonomous. When asked in July 1414, the Flemings refused to fight outside of Flanders. When the English invaded France in 1415, the towns favored the English and gave information on French troops to Henry V’s army. Some nobles fought for the French, and Duke Antoine of Brabant and the Count of Namur were killed at Agincourt. At a peace conference on September 10, 1419 some Orleanists murdered Duke Jean in revenge for the 1407 assassination of Duke Louis of Orleans.

In response Jean’s successor, Philippe the Good (1419-67), formed an alliance with England’s Henry V in 1420. The next year Philippe bought Béthune and Namur, and he expanded the domains of Burgundy. He was more active in Flemish affairs, and some rebelled. A peasant rebellion in Cassel began in 1427 and lasted four years. In 1429 the weavers tried to take over Ypres because the textile monopoly was not being enforced. People rioted in April 1430 against the bailiff and the aldermen’s corruption. Philippe married Isabella of Portugal at Bruges in January 1430 and founded the Order of the Golden Fleece with 24 knights to preserve the ancient religion and defend the state. That year Philippe inherited Brabant and Limburg, and in 1433 he acquired Hainault, Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland. The weavers in Ghent led an uprising in 1432 that died down after the fullers’ plot was discovered in 1434. Philippe was able to issue coins that were legal currency throughout his vast dominions.

Duke Philippe made peace with France’s Charles VII at Arras on September 21, 1435, making England Flanders’ enemy again. In March 1436 Philippe made several concessions to the Flemings to get them to support France’s war against England, but this was the last time a combined Flemish militia would fight in a war. The siege of Calais began in July, but the English defeated the militias of Ghent and Bruges. The siege was lifted, and Humphrey of Gloucester arrived in August and ravaged western Flanders, proclaiming himself Count of Flanders on August 15 at Poperinge, which he destroyed. The Bruges militia refused to disband until they were paid, and they seized the city on August 26. Ghent rebelled one week later and captured Philippe, releasing him for written concessions.

In May 1437 Philippe on his way to fight Holland blockaded Bruges, was nearly killed inside its gate, and gave its commercial privileges to Sluis. Bruges was isolated and made peace in February 1438 at Arras. The city had to pay a large indemnity of £480,000, and ten men were executed. Sluis became independent of Bruges, and the Council of Flanders, instead of Bruges, began making judicial decisions between towns. On September 29, 1439 the Treaty of Calais guaranteed safe conduct for merchants and English pilgrims and free commerce except for war materials. In 1440 Flanders gave the Duke a subsidy of £280,000. During the war the Dutch came into conflict with the Hanseatic League towns, and in the spring of 1440 they captured the entire Hanse fleet. The next year they agreed on a truce for twelve years with the towns of Lübeck, Hamburg, Rostock, Stralsund, Wismar, and Lüneberg. Philippe purchased Luxemburg from Elisabeth of Bohemia in 1443, and their estates took an oath to him in 1451.

Philippe’s salt tax alienated Flemish towns, and the citizens of Ghent refused to pay. On June 4, 1451 Philippe provoked a conflict with Ghent by ordering their aldermen to dismiss his opponents from the magistracy. The three men were banished, and the following winter the commoners rebelled against the compliant aldermen. Philippe announced an embargo and ordered the rebels arrested. Like Bruges, Ghent fought alone. In the spring of 1452 Philippe invaded from Brabant and took over the northeast. Ghent appealed to King Charles VII, who forced Philippe to accept a six-week truce. However, Ghent rejected the treaty proposed by royal mediators in September. Philippe invaded Flanders with a large army and captured Gavere. Ghent met him with a force of 24,000 men including 7,000 English volunteers. On July 23, 1453 Ghent was defeated. About 20,000 Ghenters were killed, and the city was fined £840,000.

Johanna ruled Brabant 1383-1406. Then Antoine of Burgundy became the duke of Brabant, but he was killed fighting for the French at Agincourt in 1415 and was succeeded by 16-year-old Jan. Duke Jan IV van Brabant married Countess Jacoba of Hainault in 1418, but he allowed malfeasance by his favorites. His treasurer-general Willem van den Berg was murdered in 1419. Then his marshal Everhard Tserclaes became most favored, but Jacoba resented him for having transferred Holland and Zeeland to Johann of Bavaria. When Duke Jan assembled the states at Brussels in 1420, many did not appear. Those protesting the abuses met at Leuven and received aid from Jacoba. Mediation efforts failed, and Jan fled to Johann of Bavaria. Duke Philippe of Burgundy became regent and invited Jacoba back to Brussels. Duke Jan returned to his capital in January 1421 but had to make concessions. Gerard van der Zijpe led a popular movement. Jan’s brother Philippe of Saint-Pol became regent, and to please the guilds he had some nobles of Brabant beheaded on February 2, 1424. Holland's nobles were taken away as prisoners. Then Duke Jan IV was restored, but he depended on Philippe of Burgundy and Johann of Bavaria.

In December 1425 Pope Martin V approved the founding of the first university in the Netherlands at Leuven (Louvain). The rector was like a sovereign with police, a prison, and a court of law. Citizens of Brussels did not want tumultuous students. Jan died suddenly in April 1427 and was succeeded by his brother Philippe of Saint-Pol who died in August 1430. His uncle Philippe of Burgundy was given sovereignty over Brabant, Limburg, and territories across the Meuse in October. When Elizabeth of Gorlitz died in August 1451, Philippe became Duke of Luxemburg too.

Johann of Bavaria, Bishop of Liege, was driven away a second time in 1403. Finally the revolt of 1406 besieged Maastricht and replaced him with Dirk van Horne. Duke Jean of Burgundy and Willem VI of Holland and Hainault came to Johann’s aid and defeated an army of 15,000 Liegois at Othee on September 23, 1408. Johann returned and even executed deputies sent to negotiate peace. Others were drowned or beheaded. The three princes ordered all charters examined, and many representatives were removed from office. The sovereign was to appoint bailiffs, and the bishop nominated sheriffs. In 1417 Emperor Sigismund visited Brabant and restored the privileges of the cities and provinces.

When the house of Orleans entered the war against England in 1401, Guelders changed to support the French. William of Guelders and Jülich died childless and was succeeded by his brother Reinald IV (r. 1402-23). He married Marie of Harcourt, daughter of France’s Charles V, in 1405 and ceded the Lymers to Count Adolf of Cleves. In 1407 Reinald supported the Arkels against Duke Willem VI of Holland, but in 1409 Jan van Arkel was forced to give up the city of Gorkum to Reinald in exchange for large estates in the upper Betuwe. In 1412 Reinald sold Gorkum and the Arkels’ territory to Willem.

The estates of the nobles and cities took control of the succession in 1418 when Reinald was ill and childless, and in 1423 they elected Arnold of Egmont, the 13-year-old son of Johann of Egmont and Maria van Arkel. He accepted a council of sixteen nobles from the four quarters and increased the privileges of the estates in Guelders. Jülich chose Duke Adolf of Berg, who fought Arnold over Jülich and persuaded Emperor Sigismund to ban Arnold in July 1431. Their costly succession struggle lasted more than twenty years. By 1436 the cities and nobles were no longer supporting Duke Arnold, and in 1441 he acceded to their demands. Adolf had died in 1437 and was succeeded by his son Gerhard, who was invested by Albrecht II with Berg, Jülich, Guelders and Zutphen. King Friedrich did not recognize Arnold in Guelders and Zutphen either. In 1443 Arnold and Cleves attacked Jülich, but they were defeated on November 3 near Linnich. Arnold fled and gave up his claim to Jülich. In 1449 Guelders forced him to accept a council of two nobles and two councilors from each of four cities.

A treaty promised the rebelling Frisians peace on September 30, 1402. Amsterdam had received a new charter in 1400 that allowed them to elect their own council. Albrecht (r. 1388-1404) was succeeded by his oldest son Willem VI (r. 1404-17) of Holland, who favored the Hooks. Brunstyn van Herwijnen and Jan van Arkel V led the Cod opposition. Jan’s brother-in-law was Duke of Guelders and Jülich, and they took over Gorkum. Villages and crops were devastated until a truce was proclaimed in 1407 for three years. Then fighting broke out again until peace was made at Wijk near Duurstede in 1412. The Frisians took back Staveren in 1414, and three years later Emperor Sigismund granted them a charter of independence.

Willem VI’s only child Jacoba (Jacqueline) was born on August 16, 1401. She married Duke Jean of Touraine in 1415, but he died on April 4, 1417, followed by her father on May 31. The 16-year-old Countess faced a challenge by her uncle Johann III of Bavaria, Bishop of Liege; but she was supported by the Hook party and defeated him in battle. The term “three estates” was used in 1417 to refer to the nobles, the clergy, and the cities. Her uncle and guardian, Duke Jean of Burgundy, arranged a papal dispensation for Jacoba to marry her cousin, Duke Jan IV van Brabant, and she did so on March 10, 1418. Emperor Sigismund declared the counties of Holland and Zeeland in default of male heirs and gave them to Johann III of Bavaria, who was invested as Count at Dordrecht. The Hooks from Haarlem, Delft, and Leyden supported Jacoba and besieged Dordrecht. However, Johann of Bavaria with support from the Cods defeated her and was able to take Rotterdam and much of south Holland. On June 20 Johann proclaimed the right of free assemblies and mintage to the cities of Dordrecht, Haarlem, Delft, and Leyden. Philippe of Burgundy mediated an agreement on February 19, 1419 that gave Dordrecht, Rotterdam, Gorkum, Leerdam, and other territories to Johann. All prisoners were freed without ransom except old Arkel at Zevenbergen. The Cod nobles held power, and their Hook rivals fled.

In 1420 Jan IV van Brabant mortgaged Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland to Johann for twelve years. Jan, who was younger than Jacoba, had a mistress and forced Jacoba to dismiss her Holland ladies. Jacoba went to England, where Henry V allowed her £100 a month. She fell in love with Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, but they had to appeal to the alternate Pope Benedict XIII to get her a divorce that was denounced by Pope Martin V. They were married by the end of 1422. Humphrey and Jacoba went to Hainault in November 1424 with 6,000 archers. Jan van Vliet was married to Jacoba’s sister, and he slowly poisoned Johann of Bavaria, who died on January 6, 1425. Humphrey avoided a challenge to single combat by Duke Philippe of Burgundy by returning to England in April. Jacoba was left under siege at Mons and wrote a letter to her husband asking him to save her, but the letter was intercepted by Philippe. She was handed over to Burgundy’s deputies and taken to Ghent, but she escaped disguised as a man to Antwerp. Philippe went to Holland, where many towns submitted to him. Jacoba was supported by Hooks and Utrecht and led her troops, winning a battle at Alfen on October 21, 1425.

Humphrey sent five hundred troops from England, but the fleet was destroyed off Browershaven by Philippe’s forces on January 13, 1426. Zeeland nobles were killed, and Jacoba lost that county. Towns supporting her were ordered to pay fines and a hearth tax, but the English Parliament granted her 20,000 marks. On February 27 Pope Martin V declared Jan’s marriage to Jacoba legal, but Jan died on April 14, 1427. The Pope declared Jacoba’s marriage to Humphrey illegal on January 9, 1428. After Henry V’s death Humphrey had become Lord Protector of his young nephew Henry VI, and Humphrey’s brother, the Duke of Bedford, had made a treaty for him with Philippe. Humphrey had been living with Eleanor Cobham for years and now married her.

On July 3, 1428 Jacoba and the Hooks accepted a reconciliation with Duke Philippe at Delft. On December 25 she surrendered her income from the states of Holland and Zeeland in exchange for an annuity and retained the title of Countess. Holland was to be governed by nine counselors—three named by her and six by Philippe. All exiles were permitted to return. In November 1430 Philippe mortgaged the revenues of debt-ridden Holland and Zeeland for eight years to the Cod family of Borselen. Though a Cod stadholder appointed by Philippe, Frans van Borselen, supported Jacoba; they fell in love and were secretly married. When Philippe learned of this, he arrested Borselen in October. To save his life Jacoba renounced her titles to Holland, Zeeland, Friesland, and Hainault on April 12, 1433. Frans was released, and they were allowed to marry. Philippe appointed her grand forester of Holland, but she died of tuberculosis on October 8, 1436.

Captain Focco Ukena of Leer fought against the Vetkoopers and defeated Keno and Widzelt ten Broek in 1399 near Deeren, ending Holland’s hegemony across the Ems. Focco became a robber hero in Friesland and raided until he died in 1435. Coppen Jarges led the Schieringers who controlled Groningen, and he plundered the Ems region in 1413, destroying the sluices in Reiderland and causing the Ems to overflow and form the Dollart. Holland held the stronghold of Stavoren until 1414 when they lost it to the Frisians. The next year the Vetkoopers regained Groningen, and Keno could raid up to Stavoren. In 1416 fishermen began knotting larger nets for use in larger ships.

Emperor Sigismund visited Friesland and sent officials to investigate. On September 30, 1417 he proclaimed Frisian liberties while claiming sovereignty and imposing a tax on every house. Willem VI of Holland died that year, and a peace made by Nicholas Buntzlow of Breslau in 1419 broke down the next year. Focco Ukena invaded from East Friesland and plundered the Westergoo, defeating the Schieringers, taking Stavoren, and killing Coppen Jarges. Johann III of Bavaria came to the aid of the Schieringers, and he drove the intruders back to East Friesland. Keno’s son Occo ten Broek tried to govern East Friesland, but in 1426 he was defeated and imprisoned for seven years before his death. In 1427 Focco Ukena issued his Willekeuren in order to govern by ancient customs. In 1434 the Jonker Edzard of Greetsiel and his brother Ulrich led the opposition to Focco, and after his death in 1435 they governed the territory across the Ems. At first the Hamburgers helped them, but later they opposed them.

Jan van Eyck began painting in 1425 and was supported by Duke Philippe of Burgundy. He developed perspective and chiaroscuro, and his pictures expressed emotions. Roger van Weyden continued this trend while painting in Brussels from 1435 until his death in 1464. The Dutch Hieronymous Bosch portrayed the vices of this era in visionary paintings of hell.

Low Countries and Burgundy 1453-1517

In 1453 the doctor of theology Guillaume Edelin stated in a sermon that witches’ sabbath only existed in people’s imaginations. The Inquisition arrested him and apparently tortured him into confessing that witches fly on broomsticks and that he himself was a sorcerer. In exchange for his confession he was not executed, but he died in prison.

In 1454 Duke Philippe of Burgundy promised to organize a crusade, and 60,000 volunteered, but he kept postponing it because of the French threat. In 1458 Louis de Bourbon fled to Huy. In 1460 the first commercial exchange was founded in Bruges. About two million people lived in the low countries under Duke Philippe the Good of Burgundy who at the age of seventy appointed his son Charles the Bold as lieutenant-general of his states. Raes de Heers led a peasant rebellion in Liege and was supported by King Charles VII of France. People in Dinant also revolted and mocked Duke Philippe of Burgundy. Philippe was carried on a litter to Dinant, where Charles the Bold had the town bombarded with artillery. On August 27, 1466 the town surrendered, and Charles ordered 800 people drowned in the Maas. Then he had Dinant burned and razed.

Charles besieged St. Trond and slaughtered 7,000 people from Liege at Brustem. After a leader of the Green Tent Movement had announced France’s annexation of Liege, Charles marched on the city. Philippe died at Bruges on June 15, 1467, and his effigy was mocked in Liege. His son Charles became duke and inherited his 400,000 crowns of gold, 100,000 marks of silver, and pictures, jewelry, and furniture worth much more. He dismissed many functionaries so that he could make war more effectively. Charles entered Liege, rescinded all their freedoms, exacted heavy fines, and increased their taxes sixfold. Louis de Bourbon was found and imprisoned.

Charles the Bold entered Ghent on June 28, 1467 while revelers were returning from a religious festival, causing a clash in the marketplace. The rebels demanded that Ghent’s rights, which had been lost when taxes were imposed in 1453 by the treaty of Gavere, be restored in its quarter. Charles married Edward IV’s sister Margaret in 1468, and he helped the King win the War of the Roses in England. Charles came back to Ghent, and on January 8, 1469 he cancelled Ghent’s constitution of 1301 and appointed his own commissioners instead of town electors.

Duke Charles held France’s Louis XI prisoner at Péronne, but on October 14, 1468 they made a treaty. Two weeks later they cooperated in besieging and destroying rebellious Liege, making it Fort Brabant. The next year Louis XI had all the men left in the city killed, and then several thousand women were tied back to back and thrown in the Meuse River. In 1470 Charles let his friend, Bishop Louis de Bourbon, return to Liege, and in 1475 he gave him permission to rebuild the city. On August 20, 1482 the warlord Guillaume de la March of Sedan assassinated the prince-bishop. He was eventually captured and hanged on June 18, 1485, starting a vendetta in which his brother Evrard took over Liege three times and massacred his enemies.

In 1471 Louis XI accused Charles of treason and took some of his towns on the Somme. Charles reacted by invading France, seizing Nesle, and massacring its people. He also found time to attack Guelders, Lorraine, Alsace, and other places. He loved improving his military and had the best cavalry and artillery in Europe. He engaged in numerous wars and destroyed his state and his own life within ten years. Charles wanted a royal crown, but Emperor Friedrich III refused to meet with him and fled.

Duke Arnold of Guelders had been imprisoned by his wife Catherine of Cleves and his son Adolf, but in 1472 Charles freed him and proclaimed him the heir of Guelders. That year Nimwegen, Aix-la-Chapelle, and Metz were made to pay tribute, and Friedrich III’s attempt to arrange a marriage at Treves between his son Maximilian and Mary, daughter of Charles the Bold, was blocked by Charles, Louis XI, and Pope Sixtus IV. Charles gained the right to succeed Duke Arnold in Guelders and took over upon his death in 1473. Charles then attacked Cologne to protect his relative Archbishop Ruprecht against a rebellion, but he was defeated. In December 1473 Charles of Burgundy alienated Flemings by setting up the Great Council of Mechelen that enabled litigants to avoid the Council of Flanders, a practice stopped by Philippe about 1460. The Four Members gave Charles support for two years but rejected his second request in 1475.

Pierre de Hagenbach was trying to govern Alsace for Burgundy; but his tyranny was so resented that he was tried for war crimes at Breisach and was beheaded in 1474. Charles managed to get 500,000 crowns from the towns of Alsace. In July 1474 he besieged Neuss on the Rhine with 60,000 men and built a town for his army that included baths, houses, churches and decorated streets; but the imperial army forced him to end the siege in June 1475. He tried to avoid using Flemish troops, and that year some employed outside Flanders nearly mutinied.

Charles formed an alliance with Iolantha of Savoy. René II of Lothringia fled to the Swiss, but Heinrich of Württemberg was captured at Mumpelgard, which refused to surrender. The Swiss killed 2,500 Burgundians at Héricourt in 1474, garrisoned Valois in Savoy, and formed a league with the Vallisers to guard the passes into Lombardy. Two thousand Lombards and Venetians marched to the aid of Burgundy, but in 1475 the Swiss defeated them. Charles raised a larger force and invaded Switzerland in 1476; but he was defeated and lost his artillery at Grandson on March 3, and on June 22 his army was destroyed. Charles was reinforced by Savoy and Italy and besieged Murten, but 26,000 Burgundians were killed or drowned in the lake in 1476. Frustrated Charles arrested Iolantha of Savoy and her children. With 5,000 men he tried to starve the people at Nancy in November. The Swiss with Austrians defeated and killed Charles the Bold on January 5, 1477. That year Emperor Friedrich III let Sigismund of Austria take Engadin and made him Archduke.

The States-General met at Ghent on February 3, 1477. Charles the Bold was succeeded by his 19-year-old daughter Marie of Burgundy, and on February 11 in Ghent she conceded democratic rights in a great charter by agreeing not to make decisions without the approval of local authorities. The Mechelen court was replaced, and free trade was guaranteed by abolishing tolls. Four days later a rebellion began in Ghent, and a new council installed after three days began cracking down. Hugonet and Humbercourt, who had advised Charles, were condemned for conspiracy to make Marie wed the French Dauphin, and they were beheaded despite Marie’s prayers and tears. Guilds also began fighting in Bruges, which got new charters on March 30 and April 17. Bruges took over the Franc and restored its rights. Louis XI seized the duchy of Burgundy, but the Swiss would not let him occupy the county. Revolts also occurred in Brussels, Antwerp, Mons, Valenciennes, and Ypres. The States General organized an army of 100,000 and recognized Marie of Burgundy as the sovereign over Flanders, Brabant, Hainault, Namur, Holland, Zealand, Luxemburg, and the Artois.

Louis XI invaded the Artois, met resistance, and alienated people by burning towns and deporting citizens. Marie of Burgundy married Maximilian on August 18, 1477. Louis XI persuaded the Swiss to be his ally and give Burgundy back to him in 1478, but the next year Maximilian took the territory and the Netherlands. On August 7, 1479 several thousand men from Flanders and Hainault defeated Louis XI’s army at Guinegate, the last victory won by a communal militia. Guelders had become independent after Charles of Burgundy died in 1477, but in 1481 it came under Burgundy again. Charles of Guelders was held at the Burgundy court, but he finally escaped in 1505 to fight for his land.

In December 1480 Maximilian rejected Ghent’s demand that he submit his accounts to their Council before taxes were approved, and in February 1481 Ghent took control of its finances by drawing up a budget. After Marie of Burgundy died on March 27, 1482, Maximilian cooperated with the Members by firing some councilors in exchange for the aid he requested. Marie’s son Philip was only four years old, and his father Maximilian called a States General at Ghent to be recognized as Philip’s guardian. Brabant and the Flemings refused, but by April 30 only Flanders still opposed Maximilian. He seized Ghent and executed 33 insurgents, but the city revolted again and appealed to France. The French invaded, and Louis XI restored the textile monopoly of Ypres, which in the 1470s had lost ninety percent of its population. The West Quarter towns and the Members asked Maximilian to defend them from the French and made him regent. On December 23 Louis and Maximilian signed a treaty at Arras, giving Burgundy to France as the dowry of the 3-year-old Margaret of Austria who was to marry the Dauphin. On October 25, 1484 the French made a treaty with Flemish towns, and Maximilian seized the forts of Dendermonde and Oudenaarde. He besieged Ghent which had been reinforced by the French, and he attacked Flanders.

France’s Charles VIII made new treaties with the towns in February 1485. On June 28 the Four Members recognized Philip as count and Maximilian as his guardian. Maximilian announced an amnesty with a few exceptions, and on July 22 he installed a German garrison at Ghent, revoking its privileges. Ghent was peaceful until November 4, 1487 when a revolt put radicals back in power. They formed an alliance with Charles VIII on January 5, 1488 and seized Courtrai as the French invaded the Westland.

Bruges would not let Maximilian install a German garrison, and on January 31 they imprisoned him in his residence. New officials were appointed, and on February 7 they began executing Germans and their sympathizers. Bruges and Ghent asked Charles VIII for protection in March. At Ghent deputies met from Flanders, Brabant, Hainault, Zealand, Namur, Utrecht, and Lieges. Emperor Friedrich III and a German army besieged Bruges, and on May 16 a treaty restored their privileges as Maximilian was released. He renounced his regency in Flanders and allowed a council to govern in exchange for annual aid. Yet as soon as he was safely away, he renounced the agreement made under duress. On July 22, 1489 Charles VIII agreed not to support the rebels. Bruges capitulated on November 29, 1490, but Sluis and Ghent remained independent until Albrecht of Saxony negotiated the Peace of Kadzand in July 1492.

Frans van Brederode led the Hoecks who did not recognize Maximilian, and he captured Rotterdam in 1488, Brederode also conquered Woerden and Geertruidenberg in 1489. Albrecht of Saxony was stadholder of the Netherlands 1488-93 and besieged Brussels, and a pestilence killed most of its people. After Rotterdam was taken, Brederode retired to Flanders and became a pirate. He was captured and died of wounds at the age of 24 in 1490 at the Battle of Brouwershaven.

Maximilian gave up his regency in 1494 to his 16-year-old son Philip, who paid homage to Charles VIII for Flanders in 1495. On October 20, 1496 Philip married Juana of Castile and Aragon. Philip died in 1506, and Maximilian became regent again until 1515. That year Philip’s 15-year-old son Carlos (Charles) V became sovereign over the Netherlands as Duke of Brabant and Count of Flanders and Holland. The next year Carlos was recognized as prince of Castile.

Friesland wanted to remain independent of Burgundy, and it was the only part of the Netherlands that was able to do so. In 1456 Oostergoo, Westergoo, and Zevenwolden in Friesland agreed to defend each other against other sovereigns. Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy tried to make Friesland submit, and the Frisians stopped their civil strife to make common cause. They negotiated for a lower tax, and Charles was distracted by a conflict with England. In 1478 Emperor Friedrich III appointed a commission to manage Frisian affairs, and the diet in the next year resolved that Frisia should pay tribute to the Emperor. The imperial envoy Arnold van Loo went to Groningen and suggested that that city should be made podesta over western Friesland, but the Groningers rejected the plan as too expensive. Groningen was a free imperial city run by its burgher administration. From 1495 to 1525 the priest Willem Frederik was their greatest leader. In 1494 Emperor Maximilian recognized Groningen and its rights in Friesland which agreed to pay tribute. The stadholder Albrecht of Saxony tried to suppress any rebellion in Friesland, and Maximilian’s debt to Albrecht reached about 300,000 guilders. In 1498 he became the lord of Westergoo under the Empire. Albrecht came to Friesland the next year and received homage. In April 1500 a revolt broke out, and Janko Douwama wrote in Proeliarius (Strife Book) that only threats from a stranger would bring Frisians together.

After Albrecht’s death in 1500 Friesland revolted against his son Heinrich, but they were put down in 1504. Duke Heinrich appointed six regents to govern Friesland—two Germans, two Frisians, and two jurists. Count Heinrich of Stolberg became stadholder in 1506; but he died in 1509, and his replacement, Count Evertwijn of Bentheim, was more tyrannical. Count Edzard of East Friesland besieged Groningen, which submitted in May 1506. Friesland was still under Saxon control in 1512 when several people were executed for conspiracy. Duke George decided to invade Friesland, and Emperor Maximilian gave him an interdict against Edzard and Groningen. In the spring of 1514 five thousand men invaded East Friesland, and George besieged Groningen in April. On August 5 the town of Appingadam was massacred. The Groningers and Edzard appealed to Charles of Guelders who sent 4,000 men. On May 19, 1515 Duke George gave up his Friesland claim to Charles for 100,000 guilders.

Netherlands Revolt against Spain 1517-88

Imitation of Christ

The Brothers of the Common Life started the house of Florens in 1391, and in 1398 they added a house for poor clerks. They were approved by Utrecht’s bishop Frederick of Blankenheim in 1400, and two years later he approved the Modern Devotion communities. Jan Brinckerinck (1359-1419) organized houses for women, and he insisted that they work or leave the house. The sisters stayed, and in 1401 and 1406 they bought more land. The Dominican Matthew of Grabow persisted in his criticism, but in 1417 the Council of Constance reprimanded him. In 1412 Groenendael joined the Windesheim congregation of canons, and by 1420 Henry Pomerius had written a brief history of the Groenendael community. In the 1420s Thomas a Kempis worked with novices at the St. Agnietenberg house. He wrote the “Dialog for Novices” and lives of the devoted. Dirk of Herxen was rector at Zwolle 1410-57, and starting in 1431 he invited all the Dutch houses of the Brethren of the Common Life to meet once a year to discuss issues and make decisions.

The father of Salome Sticken (1359-1449) was converted by one of Groote’s sermons, and she was prioress of the Lord Florens house for 37 years and wrote “A Way of Life for Sisters” and “Edifying Points of the Older Sisters.” The Modern Devotion shared all their possessions, and they were called the “brothers and sisters of the common life.” They were not supported by the Church, but they worked for a living, often copying manuscripts and the women sewing. Those in the New Devout movement obeyed Church officials and doctrines, and they were rarely accused of heresy. They demonstrated humility and love and were encouraged to correct each other. They normally used the vernacular language in their meditations and reading of scripture. By 1460 they had 34 houses in the Netherlands. Those in the Modern Devotion emphasized living in Christ, praying, fasting, reading scripture, developing moral discipline, and practicing meditation on such themes as the passion of Jesus. Charitable love was the main goal, and they emphasized the heart more than the intellect. Purity of heart, humility, and obedience to the community’s way were important.

From the Modern Devotion movement came one of the most inspiring and popular books ever written in Europe, The Imitation of Christ. The authorship is not certain, but most scholars believe that it was probably written by Thomas a Kempis. He was born in 1379 or 1380, and in 1392 he joined his older brother Jan in the house of Deventer that Groote had founded. Thomas was guided by Florens Radewijns for seven years. After finishing school in 1399 he joined the Windesheim canons at the Agnietenberg monastery in Zwolle, where his brother Jan was prior. Thomas was ordained a priest in 1413. He was probably writing The Imitation of Christ about this time. He worked copying manuscripts, writing, and teaching novices for the next 58 years. During his life he copied the Bible four times. In 1425 he was elected sub-prior and began working as the master of novices. Thomas also wrote many other books including lives of Groote and Radewijns, Prayers and Meditations on the Life of Christ, Sermons to Novices, Spiritual Exercises, The Elevation of the Mind, The Soliloquy of the Soul, The Garden of Roses, The Compunction of the Heart, On Solitude and Silence, and On the Discipline of the Cloister. He died on July 25, 1471.

The first book of The Imitation of Christ is “Counsels on the Spiritual Life.” The spiritual teachings of Jesus and the Bible are often paraphrased or quoted, beginning with “He who follows me shall not walk in darkness.” (John 8:12) I too have selected some highlights from this book. All is vanity except loving and serving God. The author warned, “Those who follow only their natural inclinations defile their conscience and lose the grace of God.”2 The greater your knowledge the more severe will be God’s judgment on you unless your life is more holy. Happy are those who are instructed by Truth itself, not by signs and words. The person for whom all things are one and who sees everything as one can remain steadfast in heart and at peace with God.

The author asked, “What harms and hinders you more than the undisciplined passions of your own heart?”3 Our chief concern must be to conquer self and by growing stronger than the self every day to advance in holiness. If people were as diligent in uprooting vices and planting virtues as they are in debating problems, there would be fewer evils and scandals. The truly great are great in the love of God, and they are humble and regard worldly honors as nothing. Be guided by one who is better than yourself rather than follow your own opinions. The worldly person given to outward affairs does not have peace in the heart. Trust God more than yourself. Do what you can, and God will bless your good intentions.

Do not esteem yourself better than others,
lest you appear worse in the eyes of God,
who alone knows the heart of man.4

Esteeming yourself above others does you great harm. True peace is in the heart of the humble. People do what they like and like those who think as they do. “But if God is to dwell among us, we must sometimes yield our own opinion for the sake of peace.”5 How can anyone be at peace who meddles in the affairs of others? If we die completely to self, we shall be free from inner conflict, savor spiritual things, and experience heavenly contemplation. Encountering even a little trouble quickly discourages us; but if we stand firm in the struggle, we shall experience the help of God.

Old habits are hard to give up, and conquering our own will is even harder. Yet encountering troubles and adversity occasionally are good for us because they cause us to search our own heart. The person who avoids only the outward evils without uprooting them in oneself gains little.

Judge yourself, and beware of passing judgment on others.
In judging others, we expend our energy to no purpose;
we are often mistaken and easily sin.
But if we judge ourselves, our labor is always to our profit.6

Loving much and doing well is doing much, and serving the community before one’s own interests is doing well. What one cannot correct in oneself or others should be borne patiently until God ordains otherwise. When obstacles confront you, pray to God for help and for the grace to endure them with a good heart. If you cannot mold your own behavior, how can you expect others to do what you like? Times of trouble show the true worth of a person. “Man proposes, but God disposes.”7

“In the morning form your intention, and at night examine your conduct.”8 Love solitude and silence, and live an inward and spiritual life by drawing away from the crowd. Those most esteemed are often in the greatest danger because they have too much confidence in themselves. “Watch yourself at all times, and correct yourself before you correct your friends.”9 Human happiness does not consist in the abundance of worldly goods, for a modest share is sufficient. Those who are devoted to Christ pay little heed to bodily pleasures nor to prosperity, for their hopes are directed to eternal things. “You will never overcome your vices unless you discipline yourself severely.”10

Order every thought and action as if you were to die today. If you do not care for your own soul, who will care for you in the time to come? Every vice receives its proper retribution. The proud will be subjected to humiliation, and the greedy will experience misery and want. If you devote yourself to prayer, you will find great peace.

Your evenings will always be tranquil
if you have spent the day well.
Watch yourself, bestir yourself, admonish yourself;
and whatever others do, never neglect your own soul.
The stricter you are with yourself,
the greater is your spiritual progress.11

The second book of The Imitation of Christ is “Counsels on the Inner Life.” Trust God completely. All things pass, even yourself. Do not cling to them lest you become entangled and perish. The inward lover of truth is free from inordinate desires and so can rise above the self and turn freely to God and rest joyfully in God. Whoever walks by an inner light is not unduly influenced by outward things and needs no special time or place to pray. When a person humbly admits one’s faults, others are appeased and may be reconciled. Whoever is truly at peace thinks evil of no one, but the discontented and restless are tormented by numerous suspicions. Whoever knows the secret of enduring will enjoy the greatest peace. “Such a one is conqueror of self, master of the world, a friend of Christ, and an heir of Heaven.”12

If your heart be right,
then every created thing will become for you
a mirror of life and a book of holy teaching.
For there is nothing created so small and mean
that it does not reflect the goodness of God.13

We are too quick to resent and feel
what we suffer from others,
but fail to consider how much others suffer from us.
Whoever considers his own defects fully and honestly
will find no reason to judge others harshly.14

If you truly desire peace and union with God, then pay attention to yourself and set everything else aside. A quiet conscience can endure much and remain joyful in trouble, but an evil conscience is always fearful and uneasy. If you are concerned with what you are inwardly, you will not mind what people say to you; for people look at the outward appearance, but God sees into your heart. People see your actions, but God knows your motives. The more completely a person dies to oneself, the more one begins to live to God.

Book Three “On Inward Consolation” is a dialog between a disciple and Christ. The first chapter describes how Christ speaks inwardly to the soul.

Blessed are those who enter deeply into inner things
and daily prepare themselves
to receive the secrets of heaven.
Blessed are those who strive
to devote themselves wholly to God
and free themselves
from all the entanglements of the world.
Consider these things, O my soul,
and shut fast the doors against the desires of the senses,
that you may hear
what the Lord your God speaks within you.15

The disciple says that God inspires and enlightens prophets, who preach the word but cannot bestow the spirit. They instruct, and God opens the understanding. Christ has taught the prophets from the beginning of the world and continues to speak to people today. The disciple prays for grace, and Christ answers that grace comes from humility. Christ says that God is the true end, and the disciple finds joy in serving God. One must control the heart and learn patience. Bearing sorrows and enduring injuries is proof of patience.

The disciple realizes that as long as one esteems outward things rather than the infinite and eternal Good, one will remain mean and earth-bound. The wisdom of the devout is different than the knowledge of a learned scholar. Christ says, “Complete self-denial is the only road to perfect liberty.”16 Christ speaks to the disciple,

For love of God, cheerfully endure everything—
labor, sorrow, temptation, provocation, anxiety,
necessity, weakness, injury and insult, censure,
humiliation, disgrace, contradiction and contempt.17

Christ also advises,

Take great care to ensure that
in every place, action, and outward occupation
you remain inwardly free and your own master.
Control circumstances, and do not allow them to control you.
Only so can you be master and ruler of your actions,
not their servant or slave,
a free man and a true Christian, enjoying the freedom
and high destiny of the children of God.
These stand above the things of time,
and view those of eternity,
seeing in their true light both earthly and heavenly things.18

The disciple must learn for the love of the Creator, to overcome self in everything in order to know God. “So long as anything, however small, occupies too much of your love and regard, it injures the soul and holds you back from attaining the highest Good.”19 Do not believe everything you hear, but put your trust entirely in God. Burdens must be borne to win eternal life. Christ explains that nature and grace are opposed. Nature acts for its own gain and interest, hoping to gain some reward. “Grace seeks no worldly return and asks for no reward but God alone.”20

The short fourth book of The Imitation of Christ is “On the Blessed Sacrament,” and the disciple prays to God to receive the Christ.


1. De Concordantia Catholica by Nicholas of Cusa tr. F. W. Coker in The Portable Medieval Reader, p. 306-307.

2. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis tr. Leo Sherley-Price, 1:1, p. 28.
3. Ibid., 1:3, p. 31.
4. Ibid., 1:7, p. 34.
5. Ibid., 1:9, p. 36.
6. Ibid., 1:14, p. 42.
7. Ibid., 1:19, p. 48.
8. Ibid., 1:19, p. 49.
9. Ibid., 1:21, p. 53.
10. Ibid., 1:22, p. 56.
11. Ibid., 1:25, p. 66.
12. Ibid., 2:3, p. 71.
13. Ibid., 2:4, p. 72.
14. Ibid., 2:5, p. 73.
15. Ibid., 3:1, p. 91.
16. Ibid., 3:32, p. 137.
17. Ibid., 3:35, p. 141.
18. Ibid., 3:38, p. 144.
19. Ibid., 3:42: p. 149.
20. Ibid., 3:54, p. 170.

Copyright © 2009-10 by Sanderson Beck

EUROPE & Humanism 1400-1517 has been published.
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EUROPE & Reform 1517-1588

Milan and Venice 1400-1517
Florence, the Medici and Machiavelli
Rome, Popes, and Naples 1400-1517
Italy and Humanism
Eastern Europe 1400-1517
German Empire 1400-1517
Scandinavia 1400-1517
Castile, Aragon, Granada, and Portugal 1400-1517
France’s Long War 1400-1453
France in the Renaissance 1453-1517
England of Henry IV, V, and VI 1399-1461
England 1461-1517
Scotland and Ireland 1400-1517
Erasmus and Spreading Humanism
Summary and Evaluation Europe 1400-1517

Chronology of Europe 1400-1588
World Chronology

BECK index