« PreviousContinue »
the baronage fought among themselves with such ferocity that the most powerful families were exterminated, feudalism was destroyed, and the ground was prepared for the despotism of the Tudors. After that able line of rulers became extinct, and the sceptre passed to the feebler house of Stuart, political parties with a continuous life began to form in the state. Buckle, in his history of civilization in England, speaks of the conflict with Charles I. as a war of classes; and it is certain that at no period of English history did party lines coincide so nearly with social ones as during the Commonwealth. In comparing the English movement with the Fronde on the other side of the Channel, Buckle attributes the success of the former to this very fact; but it would, perhaps, be more just to ascribe 1 Stubbs (Const. Hist. of England, 3d ed. vol. iii. p. 519), says ing the king and the three estates as the factors of the national problem, it is probably true to say in general terms that, from the Conquest to the Great Charter, the crown, the clergy, and the commons were banded together against the baronage; the legal and national instincts and interests against the feudal. From the date of Magna Charta to the revolution of 1399, the barons and the commons were banded in resistance of the aggressive policy of the crown, the action of the clergy being greatly perturbed by the attraction and repulsion of the papacy. From the accession of Henry IV. to the accession of Henry VII., the baronage, the people, and the royal house were divided each within itself, and that internal division was working a sort of political suicide which the Tudor reigns arrested, and by arresting it they made possible the restoration of the national balance." In another place (Id., vol. ii. p. 195), he remarks : "We shall see in the history of the fourteenth century that local and personal interests were strong in all the three estates, and that there was far more to draw them together, or to divide them, so to speak, vertically, than to separate them according to class interests." And again (Id., vol. ii. p. 320), "The whole period witnesses no great struggle between the lords and the commons, or the result might have been different."
2 Introduction, chap. x.
ABSENCE OF CLASS STRUGGLES IN ENGLAND. 59 Cromwell's failure to establish a permanent form of government to the alienation of a whole section of the community.
With the Restoration the antagonism between the classes again subsided, and since that time the parties have been based essentially on differences of opinion, not on social distinctions. Both the Whigs and the Tories always included in their ranks large numbers of the aristocracy, who acted as leaders to the rest of the people; while every effort to extend the suffrage has found some of its strongest advocates among the Peers. This is due in part, no doubt, to the fact which the late Professor Freeman took so much pleasure in expounding, that the English nobility have never been a close caste, and hence have retained a strong sympathy with the people. But whatever the cause, the absence of class jealousy in the formation of party has been of vast importance to the nation, and explains the steady progress of political liberty. One cannot help regretting, therefore, the effort made of late years to foster enmity between the masses and the classes, an attempt which has not resulted in consolidating the former, but has tended to drive the bulk of the latter into one political camp.
quency in Germany.
The history of Germany is very different. During the period when the English kings were extending and consolidating their power, the Emperors were exhausting their strength in a fruitless struggle with the Papacy; and by the time the line of Hohenstaufen came to an end the opportunity to create a strong central power in Germany had passed
away. The forces that might have sufficed to establish the imperial authority on a firm basis in the north had been carried across the Alps, and wasted by battles on the plains of Lombardy and by Roman fever. The absence of an effective control on the part of the crown permitted each element in the Empire to develop independently, to pursue its own ends without regard to the common welfare; and the result was that at the close of the Middle Ages the Germans, far from being a homogeneous people, with a uniform law and a common national sentiment, were divided into classes sharply separated by differences of habits, of traditions, of aspirations, and even of laws.1
By the middle of the fourteenth century the antago nism between the cities, the princes, the knights, and the peasants had reached a dangerous point. The cities, in which the commercial and industrial development was exclusively centred, conducted as a rule their own government, administered their own justice, and, except for the payment of certain sums of money in lieu of taxes, were almost independent of the rest of the country. Meanwhile the princes, or great feudal vassals of the Empire, who were striving not only to bring all the social forces within their territories into subjection, but also to extend their authority in every direction, were extremely jealous of the wealth and power of the cities. The same jealousy was felt by the knights, or lesser feudal tenants of the Empire, who envied, moreover, the growing influence of the princes. Their own position had in fact become precarious, for their mili
1 Cf. Lamprecht, Deutsche Geschichte, Bd. iv. and v. hlf. i.
tary usefulness was fast disappearing, and they were often forced to eke out a livelihood by robbery and by oppressing the peasants on their lands. The condition of the peasants was, indeed, miserable. For the most part they had been reduced to serfdom, and had been deprived nearly everywhere of political rights, being even denied a share in the government of their villages. A political and social crisis was at hand. Towards the end of the fourteenth century wars between the knights and the cities broke out all over central Germany. The cities appeared at first to have the better chance of victory, but by the help of the princes they were beaten; and although they were very far from being subdued, their political power began from that time to decline. This was the first of the great social struggles, but the condition of the country rendered others inevitable. The ferment caused by the Reformation precipitated a conflict between the remaining classes a hundred and fifty years later. Revolts of the knights and of the peasants followed each other in 1522 and 1525, and both were suppressed by the princes, that of the peasants with great barbarity.
The princes were now the predominant force in the Empire, yet they were still far from being the masters of their own territories, for the disintegrating process that had destroyed the power of the Emperor had been at work in the great fiefs also. During the troublous times, the estates drew into their own hands a large
1 Riehl (Die Bürgerliche Gesellschaft, book i. part ii. ch. ii.) thinks that in the Middle Ages the Ritter played the part of mediators between the classes, and that their isolation dates from a later period.
part of the political authority of the princes, which they used to create privileges for themselves, and to grind down the lower classes in city and country.1 After the thirty years' war, however, a change took place. The nobility came out of that fearful struggle weaker than before, and in the Protestant districts of Germany lost the support they had hitherto obtained from the bishops. The princes, on the other hand, were strengthened, and began to reduce the power of the estates, and reorganize their governments on a more strictly monarchical basis.
The process was carried out most thoroughly in Brandenburg, especially after it developed into the Kingdom of Prussia. Here the crown subjected all classes to its own authority by means of a centralized bureaucracy, which was out of the reach of class influence, and was guided solely by the royal will. The princes of the House of Hohenzollern felt that their mission consisted in introducing order among the jarring elements of the state by standing above them all, maintaining an impartial attitude, and subordinating special interests to the common good. This they did so effectually that the hostile classes, sects, and races learned to look for peace and protection to the King. But although the nobles in Prussia were unable to prolong their political power by exerting a controlling influence at court, as they did in some of the other German States, they were very far from
1 Cf. Gneist, Der Rechtstaat, 2d ed. pp. 19-22.
Cf. Treitschke, Deutsche Geschichte, in 19. Jahrhundert, 3d ed. vol. i. pp. 24-86; Gneist, "Les Réformes Admr. en Prusse," op. cit.