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Title: The government of the Palatinate, 1449-1508
Author: Cohn, Henry J.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2742 5578
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1963
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Not all German historians have yet lost the tendency to view their history until the nineteenth century as a mere prologue to national unification and to regard only the Holy Roman Empire and its institutions as worthy of interest. It is therefore not surprising that to historians outside Germany the German principalities have often appeared as shadows flitting across the scene of imperial affairs. In particular, it is not sufficiently realized that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the German princes were confronting challenges similar to those met by the monarchs of western Europe, though on a smaller scale. The desire of the princes to unify their territories and to strengthen their control over them, as well as growing financial problems and an increasing burden of judicial and administrative tasks, all demanded more purposeful policies, modern methods of government, and organized institutions. These developments were remarkably similar in the major principalities, although they occurred earlier in some than in others. The Palatinate in the later fifteenth century was in many ways representative of other principalities, even though the Estates were not sufficiently developed to be an effective curb on the rulers, as they were elsewhere. The sources for the history of the Palatinate in this period have been scattered rather than lost, but there have been only a few studies of individual problems, and no survey of all aspects of its government. Although the Wittelsbachs in the Palatinate, together with the counts of Württemberg, were the first ruling house to put an end to the baneful partitions which afflicted nearly every dynasty in the Empire, the attempts of the electors palatine from the time of the Golden Bull until the sixteenth century to prevent partitions have been neglected by historians. The Golden Bull confirmed the exclusive right of the Rhenish Wittelsbachs to the electoral dignity, which was to descend by primogeniture and to be linked irrevocably with their principality, which was also to be inherited by primogeniture. These provisions were incorporated in several family treatises of the electors during the next fifty years, which also established a nucleus of inalienable lands as an irreducible core for the principality. The demands of the younger sons of King Rupert (the Elector Rupert III) and the recognised necessity of providing for them caused the principle of primogeniture to be broken at the first serious test, and a fourfold partition ensued in 1410. For the next century, however, the rulers of the electoral line sought with varying intensity of purpose - and despite the additional difficulties of minorities and regencies - to prevent further partition. This was the chief objective of the Arrogation of 1451-2, by which Frederick I (1449-76) became elector and sole ruler of the Palatinate in place of his minor nephew and ward, Philip, with specific reference to the Golden Bull and the family treatises of the fourteenth century. Similarly, Philip (1476-1508) on his succession recalled the grant of lands which Frederick had made to his own son. These two electors and their predecessors had also tried to reunite the lands partitioned in 1410; Frederick I conquered some of the territories of the counts palatine of Hosbach and Neumarkt in 1499. Younger sons of the electors were increasingly provided for during the fifteenth century by the acquisition of fat benefices and sees, instead of by grants of lands and revenues of the principality. Further family compacts of the sixteenth century averted new dangers of partition, so that a tradition of the invisibility of the Palatinate developed; as a result, even on the extinction of the main line, first one and then another cadet line succeeded to the entire inheritance in 1559 and 1685. The unity thus preserved was an indispensable basis for the territorial expansion which approximately doubled the revenues of the Palatinate between 1410 and 1500. Not only was the rule of expansion of the fourteenth century thus maintained, but many of the methods of expansion adopted in the previous century were continued and developed. The electors secured the inheritance of several leading noble families whose line came to an end, on occasion using champerty to achieve their aim, and purchased numerous lands of the higher nobility, who had fallen into debt as a result of the 'agrarian crisis'. Other territories were acquired in exchange for the electors' protection, as escheated fiefs, or by means of the administrative pressure exercised by the local officials of the Palatinate and the statements of customary rights which they obtained from the inhabitants of disputed areas. The growth of the territories was not haphazard, since the electors pursued a more determined policy of expansion in some directions than in others. They were especially anxious to remove enclaves, to control the strategic points and major highways within their lands, and to buttress their position on the frontiers with the see of Mains, in the vicinity of the imperial city of Weissenburg, and in Alsace and the Ortensu, of which they held the imperial protectorates. By intervening in the legal disputes and family affairs of the nobles in these areas, they obtained fractional shares and military advantages in many strategic castles. The expansion of the first half of the century had been mainly by means of purchase, but Frederick I made his greatest gains by conquests from the sees of Mains and Speyer, the count palatine of Zweibrücken, the margrave of Baden and other rulers. [Please consult the thesis file for the continuation of the abstract.]
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History ; Politics and government ; Germany ; Palatinate (Germany)