Essay: Feudalism in Germany

The history of the feudal state of Germany can be divided into 3 basic stages: 1. Formation of early feudal monarchy, which saved heterogeneous and natural economy and resulted in feudal atomism (Х-ХIII centuries); 2. Monarchy of representatives of nobility strengthening and forming in princedoms of Germany, establishment of prince-elector monarchies (XIV-XVI); 3.

Establishment of princely absolutism (ХVII – beginning of ХIХ).

Feudalism in Germany developed slower, than in Romanized countries. Peasants resisted the attempts of feudal lords to enslave them, exciting rebellions of 841-842, 1073-1075. However, in X-XI centuries feudalization of Germany considerably accelerated: peasant lands were parceled; lots of them lost their lands at all; church and monasterial landownership together with secular land property grew quickly. At the beginning of the X century feudal estate existed on many territories. In IX-XI more and more peasants lost their personal freedom and became feudal holders of land.

By the end of the XI century there formed basic classes of feudal society in Germany. The class of feudal lords included secular landowners and knights, and also ecclesiastical feudal lords (archbishops, bishops, abbots of monasteries). Instead of free peasants, being owners of their land, there prevailed serfs (land and personally dependent peasants) and villains, which were under complete power of feudal lord and were included into the number of his servants.

The royal power played an active role in the development of feudalism. Under the first representatives of the Saxon dynasty Henry the Fowler (919-936) and Otto I (936- 973) Germany transformed into a feudal state. Positions of ecclesiastical feudal lords especially increased under the reign of Otto I and Otto II. These kings distributed the Crown lands among monasteries and gave ecclesiastical feudal lords immunity rights. They too provide loans from Church establishments could judge dependent population; thus, they conducted criminal cases, which was earlier the prerogative of the royal power.

German feudal lords also tried to get rich lands of Italy, and king Otto conquered Lombardy; the Holy Roman Empire formed in 962.

During revolutionary communal movement of the XI-XIV century many cities got rid of the power of seigniors and obtained self-government and personal freedom of citizens. At Frederick I Barbarossa (1152-1190) the feudal atomism began, sharply increasing in the XIII century; at Frederick II (1220-1250) the imperial princes became independent sovereigns. The system of territorial principalities finally strengthened.

In XIII-XIV centuries workshop handicraft production grew in cities, and from the second half of the XV century the early forms of capitalist production appeared in some industries. At the beginning of the XVI century opposition moods covered different social layers and outpoured in the first large socio-political performances. The answer for strengthening of feudal burden was the Peasant war 1524-1525, but it suffered a defeat.

Confessional and political contradictions resulted in The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), during which enormous German territories were devastated and became depopulated. According to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, a part of Germany’s territory passed to France and Sweden. In addition, the Peace of Westphalia juridically confirmed the fragmentation of the country into 300 secular and ecclesiastical principalities (apart from imperial cities).

Unlike France and England, where centralized states appeared, Germany remained atomized during the feudal epoch. Political atomization of Germany, lasting till 1871, was the consequence of the economic, social and political development of its separate parts After the attempts of unification of Germany (Confederation of the Rhine (1806-1813) and German union (1815-1866), its reunion into the single German empire was carried out by Otto von Bismarck only in 1871 after the German-Prussian war.

By its socio-political content, the Constitution of 1871 was the expression of compromise, set during the development of the country among feudal landownership and fast-growing Prussian-German capital.

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