Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Swabian League

Augsburg (1493)
There was no Germany during the Medieval Ages, but there were German states. After the death of Charlemagne in 814, the Holy Roman Empire had politically disintegrated rapidly into several entities. Some became virtual independent duchies and city states. In order to maintain independent but with a credible defense, forming alliances was the most practical way. In the north, the Hanseatic League provided this defense alongside commercial prosperity. In the region of Swabia a same alliance was form – the Swabian League.

The Swabian League was a defense alliance between states in the Swabian region. There were three Swabian Leagues. The first was the Swabian League of 1331 which ended in 1372. The next Swabian League was in 1376 and lasted over a decade when it too disbanded. The last called the Great Swabian League was formed a century later, in 1488 but later, with religious conflicts, it disbanded as well.

The first Swabian League was formed in 1331. It was comprised of 22 German towns and free cities in the Swabian region of the Holy Roman Empire. The League was led by the cities of Augsburg and Ulm.  Initially, it was supported by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. Mainly because it was for maintenance of peace and order, which the Emperor aimed. For the cities, it meant mutual defense as well as commercial opportunity.  It formation, however, antagonized some nobles within the Holy Roman Empire. As a result, they formed an alliance known as the Schlegelerbund or the Mauling Band. In 1356, a Golden Bull was issued in the Imperial Diet that prohibited the inception of union of cities, such as the Swabian League. Nevertheless, the League continued. The tension between the Schlegelerbund and Swabian League erupted in a war in 1367. The war lasted until 1372. The League’s militia armed with spears and crossbows and used gun powder failed to stop the armies of the Count of Wurttemberg, Eberhard II. It was the end of the first Swabian League.

The second Swabian League was formed in 1376. The call for a reliable and strong defenseled to the formation of the new League. Under the leadership of the city of Ulm and Constance, along with 12 other cities formed a new Swabian League. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV opposed to the new League because of the 1356 Golden Bull. Charles IV sent his army to destroy what he assumed as threat to his power. New League showed its strength in defending themselves against the imperial army. Their success led to some cities in Franconia to join the League. In 1377, the League scored a major victory against imperial forces in the Battle of Reutlingen that forced the Emperor to acknowledge the League. In 1381, to further strengthen their position, the Swabian League and the nearby Rhenish League joined forces in 1381 in order to form the South German League. It was a powerful entity with 36 members. However, it won’t last long. Powerful nobles, like the Duke of Bavaria and the Count of Wurttemberg sought the fall of the League which hindered their interest for territories and influence. The nobles succeeded in 1388. Count of Wurttemberg, Eberhard II, defeated the Swabian League in the Battle of Doffingen. The following year, the Swabian League was disbanded.

The next Swabian League won’t appear until the following century. In 1488, the Holy Roman Empire had been so chaotic ever than before. Powerful duchies continued to aim for territorial expansion and influential expansion. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III wanted to halt the advance such duchies, more particular, the powerful Duchy of Bavaria. In order to protect small free cities in the Swabian region from the Duke, Frederick supported the formation of the third Great Swabian League. This time, the Swabian League was greater and more organized. It had 22 member cities alongside with the League of the Shield of St. George under Hugo von Werdenberg and centered in the city of Ulm. It had a constitution. It also had a Central Council with three colleges representing the Knights, the Nobles, and the Cities. It also had a tribunal that served as a judiciary. Anyone who won’t comply with its decision would face military repercussions. It military was composed of knights, light cavalry units called Rennfahne and mercenaries, in particular, Landsknechte. 

The Great Swabian League was useful for the Holy Roman Empire. In 1499, the Swiss Confederation declared its influence from the Hapsburg Empire. The Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Maximillian, declared war against the rebellious Swiss Cantons, resulting to the Swabian War. The Swabian knights and mercenaries, however, proved no match to the Swiss pikemen, one of the most feared warriors in Europe. Another instance of Swabian League support to the Emperor was shown in 1519. Duke Ulrich of Wurttemberg marched his army and aptured the imperial city of Reutlingen. The Swabian League mobilized its troops and support Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s quest to defeat the Duke. They succeeded later and expelled the Duke from his position. Another crisis loomed. Peasants became angered by the abuses of the nobility. Their anger erupted loudly in 1524 when the German Peasant War began. Angry peasants wanted to remove nobles from their positions. The Swabian League, a grouping that included aristocrats and landowners, moved against the peasants. And within a year, the war ended. While the Peasant War raged a new and more powerful crisis loomed. A few years ago, in 1517, a Christian monk named Martin Luther nailed a thesis condemning the corruption of the Catholic Church. The Protestant Reformation began. Rulers began to question the authority of the church. Some fought on the side of the Catholic Church and some sided with the Protestants. From a religious matter, it became a political matter. The Swabian League was then divided by the issue. This would eventually lead to the disbandment of the League in 1534.

The Swabian League was an example of a normal human nature: When together, we are stronger. This was the case of the Swabian League. In periods of political chaos and big political entities clash for land and influence, it was normal to form unions in order to defend their interests. But the Swabian League faced always flaws. For the Great Swabian League, if difference were not settled, unity could never prosper.

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