Princes and Parliaments in Germany: From the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century

Princes and Parliaments in Germany: From the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century

Princes and Parliaments in Germany: From the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century

Princes and Parliaments in Germany: From the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century

Excerpt

Some readers will be surprised to find the term 'Parliaments' used in the title of this book, and not the term 'Estates', which seems to be the proper historical term for the representative institutions which came into being everywhere in Germany in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. I have deliberately chosen the word 'Parliaments' because the word 'Estates' is too ambiguous; I thus thought it unsuitable for the title of a book which discusses the meetings of the clergy, nobility, and towns in several German principalities, the development of their institution and, above all, the conflicts between them and their princes. In my opinion the assemblies of the Estates of many German principalities were indeed 'Parliaments' in the proper sense of the term, and their functions in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries were very similar to those of the English Parliament--not only in Württemberg, where this comparison has been made before, in the first instance by Charles James Fox. Therefore the use of the term 'Parliaments' seemed to be doubly justified, although on the Continent there is no exact parallel to the House of Commons, whose members were elected and did not sit for the towns alone. Yet the Estates of the German principalities also represented 'the country', and in the sixteenth century their powers were by no means inferior to those of the English Parliament. Why--in contrast with England--these powers did not develop further, but declined, is the subject of the following pages.

The history of the German Estates is a very much neglected subject. Not only is there no general description of their development, and no comparative study of their varying fates in the different principalities, but even within individual principalities an attempt has hardly ever been made to write the story of their rise and their decline, using to the full the vast number of documents which have survived. All that exists is monographs . . .

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