When, with the death of Frederick II (1250), Italy definitively escaped German influence and the utopian character of every imperial program became evident, it was equally evident that the Hohenstaufen had failed in the task of building a unitary national state and how the forms of political organization of German society were by now offered by those particularistic organisms that had been strengthened at the expense of central power: a multitude of territories that starting from the century XIII were drawn more and more clearly on the political map of Germany with the physiognomy of as many small states and offered, in the intertwining of their borders and in the game of enclaves, the image of a very intricate mosaic. These were the numerous cities, located mainly on the Baltic and Northern seas (Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck), along the Rhine belt (Cologne, Aachen, Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Mainz), or in the S, on the route of the Alpine passes (Augusta, Ulm, Nuremberg), some called “free cities”, ie heirs of the royal prerogatives once possessed by their bishops, other “imperial cities”, that is, directly dependent on the sovereign and practically autonomous; both participated in the Diet of the Empire. They had experienced a luxuriant development especially starting from the century. XII and, if their territorial expansion had generally been limited and had not come to understand that the surrounding territory for a short time, they had nevertheless strengthened their political influence by associating themselves in leagues and confederations, both to defend their commercial interests (such as the city Hanseatic, located on the northern seas and along the main rivers that penetrated the interior) and to protect themselves against threats of princely states that surrounded them and the emperor himself (league of the Rhenish cities, in 1254, the league of the Swabian town, 1376, against Count Eberard of Württemberg; League of South German Cities, 1381; etc.). Visit campingship for European History Late Middle Ages.
These were the very numerous ecclesiastical lordships that had obtained from Frederick II very wide privileges (Confoederatio cum principibus ecclesiasticis, 1220): from the three “electoral” archbishoprics of Cologne, Trier and Mainz, to the abbeys of Hirsau, Fulda, Corvey and St. Gallen, to the great bishopric principalities of Utrecht, Salzburg and Trento, to the very unique State of the Teutonic Knights, which developed above all during the century. XIV along the Baltic belt, from Gdansk to Reval, primary protagonist of the territorial and commercial expansion in those regions against Poles, Danes and Lithuanians. These were the lay principalities, also largely privileged by Frederick II with the Statutum in Favorm Principum, from 1231: from the infinite small and very small lordships, numerous especially in the very fragmented territories of Swabia and Franconia, to the great principalities, vast and compact especially along the eastern strip, where the ancient administrative structures inherited from the border marches had governed since time the new settlements are older, containing particularism. Electoral principalities were distinguished among them: Saxony, Brandenburg and Palatinate (in addition to the Kingdom of Bohemia), to which the Golden Bull of Nuremberg (1356) had recognized almost all of the royal rights and in particular the privileges of not evoking and de not appealing. The imperial institute, after the parenthesis of the great interregnum (1254-73), was restored and kept alive: the Golden Bull actually gave it its definitive form, establishing its prerogatives and methods of election and proclaiming its total independence from the papacy. Between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, however, the Empire survived more in the speculations of the theorists of law and politics (who kept the idea and the universalistic spirit alive) than in the strength of its political action, or in the concreteness of its institutions.
If anything, imperial authority was used to build the family fortunes of the emperors (the Luxemburgs and especially the Habsburgs): indeed, it was thanks to the immense dynastic power of the Habsburgs that the imperial title regained, at the end of the century. XV, new dignity and authority and allowed Maximilian I to design, implement, and to a large extent, a series of reforms that precede the great attempt at restoration accomplished then by Charles V. In this context of extreme political fragmentation, German society developed in the last centuries of the Middle Ages. The population had continued to increase, from the century. X until the mid-fourteenth century, perhaps reaching 12 million. The strong demographic increase supported, through the emigration of hundreds of thousands of peasants, the vast German settlement in the eastern territories. A serious joke, with its following of famines (1346-53): in the Hanseatic cities alone, for example, the population decreased by at least a quarter. The consequences were even more serious in the countryside where, after the immense effort made in previous centuries for deforestation, colonization and the cultivation of new lands, many villages had to be abandoned (Wüstungen) and the uncultivated spread again, while the authority of the large rural owners and lords over the peasants was strengthened, causing almost everywhere a return to forms of serfdom. Instead they experienced a new flowering, especially in the century. XV, the manufacturing and mercantile activities and with them the cities, which were their natural seat, so much so that new centers were added to the old urban fabric, already very substantial, such as Freiburg, Munich, Leipzig. The working of metals (supported by a mining exploitation that applied avant-garde techniques) and the production of fabrics made the prosperity of cities such as Augusta, Nuremberg, Ravensburg, which also became important banking and financial centers, while the Hansa continued, at least until the mid-fifteenth century, to monopolize trade on the Baltic and the North Sea, sometimes intervening with the authority of a hegemonic power in the political life of neighboring states, and colonies of German merchants settled throughout Europe, in Venice and in Milan as in the Slavic areas and in France. At the beginning of the sixteenth century there were a dozen universities in Germany: the oldest, the German University of Prague (1348), was followed by those of Erfurt (1378), Heidelberg (1386), Cologne (1388), up to that of Wittenberg (1502), soon destined for great fame for Luther’s teaching. Starting from 1455 the invention of printing had also spread from Mainz throughout Germany, giving rise to dozens of printing presses within a few decades.