Germany now presented itself in its definitive aspect as a complex of very numerous territorial states, of the most varied extension, governed by princely dynasties that were effectively independent of the imperial power.
In northern Germany the Guelphs, divided from 1267 into the branches of Brünswick and Lüneburg, had further divided their possessions into the four lines of Grubenhagen, Kalenberg, Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and Lüneburg. The Hohenzollerns had instead ensured the indivisibility of the electoral brand of Brandenburg in the eldest male line with the Constitutio Achillea issued in 1473 by Alberto l’Achille. On the Baltic coast, in Pomerania and in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the ancient avenging princely families remained, but completely Germanized; also Mecklenburg had been erected as a duchy by Charles IV. The Holstein from 1480 had united with the Danish crown in the person of a count of Oldenburg, a Christian, assumed to that throne in 1448. To the south of the dominions of the Hohenzollerns extended those of the Wettin dukes of Saxony-Wittenberg, divided into the two from 1485 branches of the Ernestini, who ruled Saxony around Wittenberg and a large part of Thuringia, with electoral dignity, and of the Albertini, who had the northern part of Thuringia and Misnia. From now on the name of Saxony remains linked to the Elban region north of the Erzgebirge. From 1263 the Hessian langraviato was formed in the western part of Thuringia, on the left of the Weser and the Werra. In southern Germany the most powerful family was still that of the Wittelsbachs, whose possessions, after the division between the line of the Count Palatine of the Rhine and that of his brother in 1255, and the subsequent division by Ludwig IV, with the pact of Pavia in 1329, were even more divided with the lines of Straubing, Ingolstadt, Landshut and Munich. But with the first three extinct respectively in 1425, 1447 and 1503, most of the dominions of the Wittelsbachs in Bavaria gathered in the Munich line, and in 1506 was declared indivisible in the eldest male line by Albert IV. The Palatinate of the Rhine always remained at the count’s line. In the territory of ancient Swabia, beyond the margraviate of Baden, which took place along the Rhine from Basel to Karlsruhe from the ancient possessions of the ancient ducal family of the Zähringen, which died out in 1218, the county of Württemberg had acquired considerable extension, which Maximilian I raised to the status of duchy in 1495, while in north-eastern corner were the dominions of the Burgraviato of Nuremberg, belonging to the Hohenzollern. The Habsburgs had their possessions in the south-eastern, southern and western regions of the Empire: duchies of Austria (which Frederick III had erected as archduchy in 1453), Styria, Carinthia, Carniola; Trieste (1382); county of Gorizia (1500), with dependencies on the Isonzo and in Val Pusteria, and of the Tyrol; Swabian and Rhenish lands, including Upper Alsace and Breisgau; the Burgundian heritage, Franche-Comté, Luxembourg, Hainault, Namur, Brabant, while further north the duchy of Gelderland and the county of Holland escaped the Habsburg claims based on that heritage. Wedged between the extreme parts of the new Habsburg dominions remained the Duchy of Lorraine, to be considered by now completely taken up in the French sphere of action. From 1431 to 1473 a branch of the Angevins of Naples had reigned there, which was succeeded by the family of the counts of Vaudémont. Numerous princely dynasties had formed in the lands between the Meuse and Lippe: dukes of Jülich, Berg, Kleve; counts of Ravensberg and Mark. Then there were the ecclesiastical principalities: besides the three Rhenish electors, the archbishops of Cologne – which also ruled the Duchy of Westphalia – of Trier and Mainz, the bishop of Münster in Westphalia had important territorial dominions; L’ archbishop of Bremen between the lower Weser and the Elbe estuary; the bishops of Würzburg and Bamberg in the middle and upper Main; the archbishop of Magdeburg between Brandenburg and Saxony; the archbishop of Salzburg in the Salzbach valley; the bishop of Trento; still others, which cannot be enumerated here.
Even in the principalities, the particularism typical of German history was manifested in the work carried out by the representatives of the territorial states (Landstände: clergy, lords and knights, cities in provincial diets (Landstage) to oppose the principles of the full dominion of the financial and judicial administration, and of the protection of public order. The reaction, towards greater jurisdictional uniformity, was possible only after it had begun, at the beginning of the century. XVI, the reception of Roman law in Germany. The particularistic forces were less intense in northern Germany, especially east of the Weser, due to the prevalence of fairly extensive secular principalities, the scarcity of imperial cities, the development of the rural economy. They were much more active in western and southwestern Germany, due to the large number of ecclesiastical principalities, imperial cities, especially in Swabia; for the presence, in Franconia and Swabia, of a large class of small nobles and knights.
German life always gave its most frequent beats in the cities, which, in addition to economic centers, were now also cultural centers of great importance. The universities that had sprung up in several of them testified to this, adding to the oldest ones, which arose on the outskirts of the Empire by the care of the Luxembourgs with Charles IV in Prague (1347) and of the Habsburgs in Vienna with Duke Rudolf IV (1365), were then added, in relation to the exodus of professors and students from the university of Paris fighting with the crown for the Western schism, those of Heidelberg (1385), Cologne (1388), Erfurt (1378-1392). In the century XV had universities Leipzig (1409), Rostock (1419), Greifswald (1456), Freiburg im Breisgau (1459), Basel (1459), Ingolstadt (1471), Trier (1473), Mainz (1476), Tubingen (1477). In the early 16th century, Wittenberg (1802) and Frankfurt on the Oder (1506). Hearths of studies which, nourished by the humanistic spirit radiating from Italy, and helping to spread it, also prepared the ground for the reforming and revolutionary currents, destined to profoundly shake Germany.
The unpunished violence of the knights aggravated the internal disorder, among which real figures of bandits stood out, while the serious conditions of the peasants originated from the involutionary process, which we mentioned when talking about the rural population at the end of the century. XIII. In fact, the favorable conditions created by migratory currents towards the periphery and inland towards the city have ceased; when the imperial power failed to fulfill its tutorary duties of the weaker classes, the lords had been able to proceed with the gradual restocking of the rural classes, not excluding that of the free tenants. The serfdom had reappeared and was spreading. In so much misery, the brutalized masses began, from the end of the century. XV, the social and religious revolts.
Thus the insurmountable detachment between the interests of the princes and the dynastic interests of the Habsburgs; the restlessness left in the minds by the failure to reform the Church; the general discontent with the taxation of the Curia; the meandering revolt among the peasants made inevitable a forthcoming rupture of the unstable equilibrium in which Germany had been ruling for centuries. As early as October 31, 1517, Martin Luther was posting his theses at the gates of the Wittenberg Castle Church. The year after the Augusta diet he heard the echo of a very widespread mood among the Germans, which united pope and emperor in the same aversion. Germany was by now on the eve of the terrible social, religious and political revolution, which would have marked the beginning of a new story for her too.