The natural tendencies to separation exhibited by areas with different geographical and therefore different historical conditions is shown more strikingly still within the German area by which the title of Empire was re tained because it held within it what had been the German or Frankish centre of government.
(i) On the extinction of the Carolingian line, no one power was able to succeed the Franks and dominate the rest. Eventually a compromise was arrived at : the selection of an emperor was left in the hands of Electors. The organization of Germany into a whole has been greatly retarded because the tendencies to disruption, partly geographical, partly historical, which produced the condition that led to the establishment of Electors, gained additional weight thereby ; for it was on the one hand an acknowledgment of this lack of unity, and also a guarantee that organized dis union should continue. An emperor elected by the goodwill of rulers of other states equal or superior in importance to his own, was emperor only on sufferance, and, the central power being thus weakened, the Empire could for the most part be an empire only in name. For a time one man or one family was able to dominate the rest, so as to procure election and rule strongly; but this ability to rule depended not so much on his being emperor as on his having power as an independent ruler, and his having shown it by his election. The electoral college remained through the centuries ; some of the electors ecclesiastical, representing old forces under new conditions, some secular, representing in some sort the greater natural units, dividing the actual power between them and leaving only a semblance to the nominal power.
To the Franks, then, succeeded the Saxons, to the Saxons the Hohenstaufen or Swabian House ; then, after an interval during part of which no emperor was elected at all, the Hapsburg or Austrian House became predominant in the first half of the fifteenth century, and held this predominance till a hundred years ago. Prussia finally took the lead. Each emperor ruled, as far as he did rule, from his ancestral home. We have seen that there is no natural centre in Germany com parable to London or Paris. Thus the emperors were not forced, as were the English kings, to rule from a particular centre. In Britain and in France there have
been different dynasties, but there has been no manner of doubt as to where the centre of government has been since Winchester gave place to London and Laon to Paris. James came all the way from Scotland to be king in London. London and Paris have tradition be hind them. In Germany not only is there no natural meeting-place, but the very fact that rule has taken place from different centres implies that there is no continuous tradition in any one, and yet that several have historic claims to being considered the govern mental centre of Germany.
(ii) Further, the method by which an emperor was supposed to make his rule effective, on the one hand was determined by the existence of tendencies to divi sion, and on the other emphasized these tendencies still further. There was no imperial taxation to pro vide troops, who should see that the emperor's commands were obeyed either within or without the empire. Instead, the feudal system was developed to a greater extent here than elsewhere ; this system depended for its successful working on a method of division and subdivision. Theoretically, the great landholders—the electors among them—were bound to supply troops for the service of the emperor ; practically, they learned to use their troops for their own purposes, and even on occasion against the emperor. Thus the system added no strength to the position of a weak emperor.
A nominal supporter, who supported a ruler only because he was weak, was certain to fail him at a critical time. But it was not only the emperor who suffered. The greater lords depended in turn for supply of troops on the minor lordlings who owed allegiance to them, and just as the greater lords failed in their duty to the emperor, so did the smaller landholders sometimes fail in their duty to their superiors. The extent to which the subdivision was effective depended on particular circumstances of time and place, and on the character of rulers, but the final result was that the Empire of the Middle Ages was made up of practically independent states of all sizes from that of a single town to that composed of the far-spreading territories of a really powerful lord.