The Luxemburg Emperors Karl Iv And Wenzel


The Imperial Crown in the Market --Guenther of Schwarzburg. --Karl IV.

Emperor. --His Character and Policy. --The University of Prague.

--Rienzi Tribune of Rome. --Karl's Course in Italy. --The "Golden

Bull." --Its Provisions and Effect. --Coronation in Rome. --The

Last Ten Years of his Reign. --His Death. --Eberhard the Greiner.

--The "Hansa" and its Victories. --Achieve
ents of the German

Order. --Wenzel becomes Emperor. --The Suabian League. --The Battle

of Sempach. --Independence of Switzerland. --Defeat of the Suabian

Cities. --Wenzel's Rule in Prague. --Conspiracy against him.

--Schism in the Roman Church. --Count Rupert Rival Emperor.

--Convention of Marbach. --Anarchy in Germany. --Death-Blow to the

German Order. --Rupert's Death.

[Sidenote: 1347.]

Although the German princes were nearly unanimous in the determination

that no member of the house of Wittelsbach (Bavaria) should again be

Emperor, they were by no means willing to accept Karl of Bohemia.[B]

Ludwig's son, Ludwig of Brandenburg, made no claim to his father's

crown, but he united with Saxony, Mayence and the Palatinate of the

Rhine, in offering it to Edward III. of England. When the latter

declined, they chose Count Ernest of Meissen, who, however, sold his

claim to Karl for 10,000 silver marks. Then they took up Guenther of

Schwarzburg, a gallant and popular prince, who seemed to have a good

prospect of success. In this emergency Karl supported the pretensions of

an adventurer, known as "the False Waldemar," to Brandenburg, against

Ludwig, and thus compelled the latter to treat with him. Soon afterwards

Guenther of Schwarzburg died, poisoned, it was generally believed, by a

physician whom Karl had bribed, and by the end of 1348 the latter was

Emperor of Germany, as Karl IV.

[B] Of the House of Luxemburg.

[Sidenote: 1348. KARL IV.]

At this time he was thirty-three years old. He had been educated in

France and Italy, and was an accomplished scholar: he both spoke and

wrote the Bohemian, German, French, Italian and Latin languages. He was

a thorough diplomatist, resembling in this respect Rudolf of Hapsburg,

from whom he differed in his love of pomp and state, and in the care he

took to keep himself always well supplied with money, which he well knew

how and when to use. He had first purchased the influence of the Pope by

promising to disregard the declarations of the Diet of 1338 at Rense,

and by relinquishing all claims to Italy. Then he won the free cities to

his side by offers of more extended privileges; and the German princes,

for form's sake, elected him a second time, thus acknowledging the Papal

authority which they had so boldly defied, ten years before.

One of Karl's first acts was to found, in Prague--the city he selected

as his capital--the first German University, which he endowed so

liberally and organized so thoroughly that in a few years it was

attended by six or seven thousand students. For several years afterwards

he occupied himself in establishing order throughout Germany, and

meanwhile negotiated with the Pope in regard to his coronation as Roman

Emperor. In spite of his complete submission to the latter, there were

many difficulties to be overcome, arising out of the influence of France

over the Papacy, which was still established at Avignon. Karl arrested

Rienzi, "the last Tribune of Rome," and kept him for a time imprisoned

in Prague; but when the latter was sent back to Rome as Senator by Pope

Innocent VI., in 1354, Karl was allowed to commence his Italian journey.

He was crowned Roman Emperor on the 5th of April, 1355, by a Cardinal

sent from Avignon for that purpose. In compliance with his promise to

Pope Innocent, he remained in Rome only a single day.

Instead of attempting to settle the disorders which convulsed Italy,

Karl turned his journey to good account by selling all the remaining

Imperial rights and privileges to the republics and petty rulers, for

hard cash. The poet Petrarch had looked forward to his coming as Dante

had to that of his grandfather, Henry VII., but satirized him bitterly

when he returned to Bohemia with his money. He left Italy ridiculed and

despised, but reached Germany with greatly increased power. His next

measure was to call a Diet, for the purpose of permanently settling the

relation of the German princes to the Empire, and the forms to be

observed in electing an Emperor. All had learned, several centuries too

late to be of much service, the necessity of some established order in

these matters, and they came to a final agreement at Metz, on Christmas

Day, 1356.

[Sidenote: 1356.]

Then was promulgated the decree known as the "Golden Bull," which

remained a law in Germany until the Empire came to an end, just 450

years afterwards. It commences with these words: "Every kingdom which is

not united within itself will go to ruin: for its princes are the

kindred of robbers, wherefore God removes the light of their minds from

their office, they become blind leaders of the blind, and their darkened

thoughts are the source of many misdeeds." The Golden Bull confirms the

former custom of having seven Chief Electors--the Archbishops of

Mayence, Treves and Cologne, the first of whom is Arch-Chancellor; the

King of Bohemia, Arch-Cupbearer; the Count Palatine of the Rhine,

Arch-Steward; the Duke of Saxony, Arch-Marshal, and the Margrave of

Brandenburg, Arch-Chamberlain. The last four princes receive full

authority over their territories, and there is no appeal, even to the

Emperor, from their decisions. Their rule is transmitted to the eldest

son; they have the right to coin money, to work mines, and to impose all

taxes which formerly belonged to the Empire.

These are its principal features. The claims of the Pope to authority

over the Emperor are not mentioned; the position of the other

independent princes is left very much as it was, and the cities are

prohibited from forming unions without the Imperial consent. The only

effect of this so-called "Constitution" was to strengthen immensely the

power of the four favored princes, and to encourage all the other rulers

to imitate them. It introduced a certain order, and therefore was better

than the previous absence of all law upon the subject; but it held the

German people in a state of practical serfdom, it perpetuated their

division and consequent weakness, and it gave the spirit of the Middle

Ages a longer life in Germany than in any other civilized country in the


The remaining events of Karl IV.'s life are of no great historical

importance. In 1363 his son, Wenzel, only two years old, was crowned at

Prague as king of Bohemia, and soon afterwards he was called upon by the

Pope, Urban V., who found that his residence in Avignon was becoming

more and more a state of captivity, to assist him in returning to Rome.

In 1365, therefore, Karl set out with a considerable force, entered

Southern France, crowned himself king of Burgundy at Arles--which was a

hollow and ridiculous farce--and in 1368 reached Rome, whither Pope

Urban had gone in advance. Here his wife was formally crowned as Roman

Empress, and he humiliated himself by walking from the Castle of St.

Angelo to St. Peter's, leading the Pope's mule by the bridle,--an act

which drew upon him the contempt of the Roman people. He had few or no

more privileges to sell, so he met every evidence of hostility with a

proclamation of amnesty, and returned to Germany with the intention of

violating his own Golden Bull, by having his son Wenzel proclaimed his

successor. His departure marks the end of German interference in Italy.


For ten years longer Karl IV. continued to strengthen his family by

marriage, by granting to the cities the right of union in return for

their support, and by purchasing the influence of such princes as were

accessible to bribes. He was so cool and calculating, and pursued his

policy with so much patience and skill, that the most of his plans

succeeded. His son Wenzel was elected his successor by a Diet held at

Frankfort in January, 1376, each of the chief Electors receiving 100,000

florins for his vote, and this choice was confirmed by the Pope. To his

second son, Sigismund, he gave Brandenburg, which he had obtained partly

by intrigue and partly by purchase, and to his third son, John, the

province of Lusatia, adjoining Silesia. His health had been gradually

failing, and in November, 1378, he died in Prague, sixty-three years

old, leaving the German Empire in a more disorderly state than he had

found it. His tastes were always Bohemian rather than German: he

preferred Prague to any other residence, and whatever good he

intentionally did was conferred on his own immediate subjects. More than

a century afterwards, the Emperor Maximilian of Hapsburg very justly

said of him: "Karl IV. was a genuine father to Bohemia, but only a

step-father to the rest of Germany."

During the latter years of his reign, two very different movements,

independent of the Imperial will, or in spite of it, had been started in

Southern and Northern Germany. In Wuertemberg the cities united, and

carried on a fierce war with Count Eberhard, surnamed the Greiner

(Whiner). The struggle lasted for more than ten years, and out of it

grew various leagues of the knights for the protection of their rights

against the more powerful princes. In the North of Germany, the

commercial cities, headed by Luebeck, Hamburg and Bremen, formed a

league, which soon became celebrated under the name of "The Hansa,"

which gradually drew the cities of the Rhine to unite with it, and,

before the end of the century, developed into a great commercial, naval

and military power.

[Sidenote: 1375.]

The Hanseatic League had its agencies in every commercial city, from

Novgorod in Russia to Lisbon; its vessels filled the Baltic and the

North Sea, and almost the entire commerce of Northern Europe was in its

hands. When, in 1361, king Waldemar III. of Denmark took possession of

the island of Gothland, which the cities had colonized, they fitted out

a great fleet, besieged Copenhagen, finally drove Waldemar from his

kingdom and forced the Danes to accept their conditions. Shortly

afterwards they defeated king Hakon of Norway: their influence over

Sweden was already secured, and thus they became an independent

political power. Karl IV. visited Luebeck a few years before his death,

in the hope of making himself head of the Hanseatic League; but the

merchants were as good diplomatists as himself, and he obtained no

recognition whatever. Had not the cities been so widely scattered along

the coast, and each more or less jealous of the others, they might have

laid the foundation of a strong North-German nation; but their bond of

union was not firm enough for that.

The German Order, by this time, also possessed an independent realm, the

capital of which was established at Marienburg, not far from Dantzic.

The distance of the territory it had conquered in Eastern Prussia from

the rest of the Empire, and the circumstance that it had also

acknowledged itself a dependency of the Papal power, enabled its Grand

Masters to say, openly: "If the Empire claims authority over us, we

belong to the Pope; if the Pope claims any such authority, we belong to

the Emperor." In fact, although the Order had now been established for a

hundred and fifty years, it had never been directly assisted by the

Imperial power; yet it had changed a great tract of wilderness,

inhabited by Slavonic barbarians, into a rich and prosperous land, with

fifty-five cities, thousands of villages, and an entire population of

more than two millions, mostly German colonists. It adopted a fixed code

of laws, maintained order and security throughout its territory,

encouraged science and letters, and made the scholar and minstrel as

welcome at its stately court in Marienburg, as they had been at that of

Frederick II. in Palermo.

[Sidenote: 1386. THE BATTLE OF SEMPACH.]

There could be no more remarkable contrast than between the weakness,

selfishness and despotic tendencies of the German Emperors and Electors

during the fourteenth century, and the strong and orderly development of

the Hanseatic League and the German Order in the North, or of the

handful of free Swiss in the South.

King Wenzel (Wenczeslas in Bohemian) was only seventeen years old when

his father died, but he had been well educated and already possessed

some experience in governing. In fact, Karl IV.'s anxiety to secure the

succession to the throne in his own family led him to force Wenzel's

mind to a premature activity, and thus ruined him for life. He had

enjoyed no real childhood and youth, and he soon became hard, cynical,

wilful, without morality and even without ambition. In the beginning of

his reign, nevertheless, he made an earnest attempt to heal the

divisions of the Roman Church, and to establish peace between Count

Eberhard the Whiner and the United Cities of Suabia.

In the latter quarrel, Leopold of Austria also took part. He had been

appointed Governor of several of the free cities by Wenzel, and he

seized the occasion to attempt to restore the authority of the Hapsburgs

over the Swiss Cantons. The latter now numbered eight, the three

original cantons having been joined by Lucerne, Zurich, Glarus, Zug and

Berne. They had been invited to make common cause with the Suabian

cities, more than fifty of which were united in the struggle to maintain

their rights; but the Swiss, although in sympathy with the cities,

declined to march beyond their own territory. Leopold decided to

subjugate each, separately. In 1386, with an army of 4,000 Austrian and

Suabian knights, he invaded the Cantons. The Swiss collected 1,300

farmers, fishers and herdsmen, armed with halberds and battle-axes, and

met Leopold at Sempach, on the 9th of July.

The 4,000 knights dismounted, and advanced in close ranks, presenting a

wall of steel, defended by rows of levelled spears, to the Swiss in

their leathern jackets. It seemed impossible to break their solid front,

or even to reach them with the Swiss weapons. Then Arnold of Winkelried

stepped forth and said to his countrymen: "Dear brothers, I will open a

road for you: take care of my wife and children!" He gathered together

as many spears as he could grasp with both arms, and threw himself

forward upon them: the Swiss sprang into the gap, and the knights began

to fall on all sides from their tremendous blows. Many were smothered in

the press, trampled under foot in their heavy armor: Duke Leopold and

nearly 700 of his followers perished, and the rest were scattered in all

directions. It was one of the most astonishing victories in history. Two

years afterwards the Swiss were again splendidly victorious at Naefels,

and from that time they were an independent nation.

[Sidenote: 1389.]

The Suabian cities were so encouraged by these defeats of the party of

the nobles, that in 1388 they united in a common war against the Duke of

Bavaria, Count Eberhard of Wuertemberg and the Count Palatine Rupert.

After a short but very fierce and wasting struggle, they were defeated

at Doeffingen and Worms, deprived of the privileges for which they had

fought, and compelled to accept a truce of six years. In 1389, a Diet

was held, which prohibited them from forming any further union, and thus

completely re-established the power of the reigning princes. Wenzel

endeavored to enforce an internal peace throughout the whole Empire, but

could not succeed: what was law for the cities was not allowed to be

equally law for the princes. It seems probable, from many features of

the struggle, that the former designed imitating the Swiss cantons, and

founding a Suabian republic, if they had been successful; but the entire

governing class of Germany, from the Emperor down to the knightly

highwayman, was against them, and they must have been crushed in any

case, sooner or later.

For eight or nine years after these events, Wenzel remained in Prague

where his reign was distinguished only by an almost insane barbarity. He

always had an executioner at his right hand, and whoever refused to

submit to his orders was instantly beheaded. He kept a pack of

bloodhounds, which were sometimes let loose even upon his own guests: on

one occasion his wife, the Empress Elizabeth, was nearly torn to pieces

by them. He ordered the confessor of the latter, a priest named John of

Nepomuck, to be thrown into the Moldau river for refusing to tell him

what the Empress had confessed. By this act he made John of Nepomuck the

patron saint of Bohemia. Some one once wrote upon the door of his palace

the words: "Venceslaus, alter Nero" (Wenzel, a second Nero); whereupon

he wrote the line below: "Si non fui adhuc, ero" (If I have not been

one hitherto, I will be now). When the city of Rothenberg refused to

advance him 4,000 florins, he sent this message to the authorities: "The

devil began to shear a hog, and spake thus, 'Great cry and little


[Sidenote: 1398. QUARREL WITH THE POPE.]

In short, Wenzel was so little of an Emperor and so much of a brutal

madman, that a conspiracy, at the head of which were his cousin Jodocus

of Moravia, and Duke Albert of Austria, was formed against him. He was

taken prisoner and conveyed to Austria, where he was held in close

confinement until his brother Sigismund, aided by a Diet of the other

German princes, procured his release. In return for this service, and

probably, also, to save himself the trouble of governing, he appointed

Sigismund Vicar of the Empire. In 1398 he called a Diet at Frankfort,

and again endeavored, but without much success, to enforce a general

peace. The schism in the Roman Church, which lasted for forty years, the

rival popes in Rome and Avignon cursing and making war upon each other,

had at this time become a scandal to Christendom, and the Papal

authority had sunk so low that the temporal rulers now ventured to

interfere. Wenzel went to Rheims, where he had an interview with Charles

VI. of France, in order to settle the quarrel. It was agreed that the

former should compel Bonifacius IX. in Rome, and the latter Benedict

XIII. in Avignon, to abdicate, so that the Church might have an

opportunity to unite on a single Pope; but neither monarch succeeded in

carrying out the plan.

On the contrary, Bonifacius IX. went secretly to work to depose Wenzel.

He gained the support of the four Electors of the Rhine, who, headed by

the Archbishop of Mayence, came together in 1400, proclaimed that Wenzel

had forfeited his Imperial dignity, and elected the Count Palatine

Rupert, a member of the house of Wittelsbach (Bavaria), in his place.

The city of Aix-la-Chapelle shut its gates upon the latter, and he was

crowned in Cologne. A majority of the smaller German princes, as well as

of the free cities, refused to acknowledge him; but, on the other hand,

none of them made any movement in Wenzel's favor, and so there were,

practically, two separate heads to the Empire.

Rupert imagined that his coronation in Rome would secure his authority

in Germany. He therefore collected an army, entered into an alliance

with the republic of Florence against Milan, and marched to Italy in

1401. Near Brescia he met the army of the Lombards, commanded by the

Milanese general, Barbiano, and was so signally defeated that he was

compelled to return to Germany. In the meantime Wenzel had come to a

temporary understanding with Jodocus of Moravia and the Hapsburg Dukes

of Austria, and his prospects improved as Rupert's diminished. It was

not long, however, before he quarrelled with his brother Sigismund, and

was imprisoned by the latter. Then ensued a state of general confusion,

the cause of which is easy to understand, but the features of which it

is not easy to make clear.

[Sidenote: 1405.]

A number of reigning princes and cities held a convention at Marbach in

1405, and formed a temporary union, the object of which was evidently to

create a third power in the Empire. Both Rupert and Wenzel at first

endeavored to break up this new league, and then, failing in the

attempt, both intrigued for its support. The Archbishop of Mayence and

the Margrave of Baden, who stood at its head, were secretly allied with

France; the smaller princes were ambitious to gain for themselves a

power equal to that of the seven Electors, and the cities hoped to

recover some of their lost rights. The League of Marbach, as it is

called in history, had as little unity or harmony as the Empire itself.

All Germany was given up to anarchy, and seemed on the point of falling

to pieces: so much had the famous Golden Bull of Karl IV. accomplished

in fifty years!

On the eastern shore of the Baltic, also, the march of German

civilization received an almost fatal check. The two strongest neighbors

of the German Order, the Poles and Lithuanians, were now united under

one crown, and they defeated the army of the Order, 60,000 strong, under

the walls of Wilna, in 1389. After an unsatisfactory peace of some

years, hostilities were again resumed, and both sides prepared for a

desperate and final struggle. Each raised an army of more than 100,000

men, among whom, on the Polish side, there were 40,000 Russians and

Tartars. The decisive battle was fought at Tannenberg, in July, 1410,

and the German Order, after losing 40,000 men, retreated from the field.

It was compelled to give up a portion of its territory to Poland, and

pay a heavy tribute: from that day its power was broken, and the

Slavonic races encroached more and more upon the Germans along the


[Sidenote: 1410. THE ANTI-EMPEROR RUPERT.]

During this same period Holland was rapidly becoming estranged from the

German Empire, and France had obtained possession of the greater part of

Flanders. Luxemburg and part of Lorraine were incorporated with

Burgundy, which was rising in power and importance, and had become

practically independent of Germany. There was now no one to guard the

ancient boundaries, and probably nothing but the war between England and

France prevented the latter kingdom from greatly increasing her

territory at the expense of the Empire.

Although Rupert of the Palatinate acquired but a limited authority in

Southern Germany, he is generally classed among the German Emperors,

perhaps because Wenzel's power, after the year 1400, was no greater than

his own. The confusion and uncertainty in regard to the Imperial dignity

lasted until 1410, when Rupert determined to make war upon the

Archbishop of Mayence--who had procured his election, and since the

League of Marbach was his chief enemy--as the first step towards

establishing his authority. In the midst of his preparations he died, on

the 18th of May, 1410.