A Short History of Germany, 1815-1945

A Short History of Germany, 1815-1945

A Short History of Germany, 1815-1945

A Short History of Germany, 1815-1945

Excerpt

Until the nineteenth century the Germans made less progress towards national unity than the other peoples of Western Europe. The Reformation, which in England ultimately helped to knit the nation more closely together, tore Germany violently asunder. The Peace of Augsburg (1555), which ended the first phase of the religious wars, perpetuated the division by allowing each ruler to decide whether Catholicism or Lutheranism was to prevail in his dominions. The Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the second phase -- the Thirty Years War -- nearly a century later, furthered the process of disintegration by weakening the only surviving symbol of unity -- the Holy Roman Empire. It undermined the Imperial authority by recognizing the sovereignty of the member states, which were now permitted to conclude treaties with foreign Powers, and it accepted the territorial fragmentation of the Empire which had been going on since the Middle Ages. In the century and a half which followed the peace settlement Germany remained a mosaic of more than 1800 political entities, ranging in size and influence from the seventy-seven major secular principalities down to the fifty-one Imperial cities, forty-five Imperial villages and 1475 territories ruled by Imperial knights.

The Empire, though still the only constitutional bond between the principalities, was now to prove an obstacle to unity. Its very debility invited self-aggrandisement on the part of the princes. Yet, weak as it was, it was morally obliged to try to protect its smaller members -- i.e. the Imperial knights and cities, the last repositories of a true Reichspatriotismus -- and, in so doing, it discouraged consolidation by the strong at the expense of the weak. But neither the strong nor the weak could look to the Empire -- a 'monstrosity', as Samuel von Pufendorf, the seventeenth century jurist and historiographer, called it -- for leadership. The Hapsburgs -- who, except for three years during the reign of Maria Theresa, wore the Imperial Crown continuously . . .

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