Swabian League

gigatos | October 24, 2021


The Swabian Confederation (also known as the Confederation in the Land of Swabia) was founded on February 14, 1488, at the Imperial Diet in Esslingen on the Neckar River at the instigation of Emperor Frederick III as an association of the Swabian imperial estates.

The Swabian Confederation proved to be an essential instrument of imperial reform and the associated land peace, which gives it its significance in constitutional history. It owes its fame, which extends beyond specialist circles, to its role in the suppression of the Peasants” Revolt. For the history of the country, his conflict with Duke Ulrich of Württemberg, who later introduced the Reformation in his country, is also noteworthy.


The Swabian Confederation was a cooperatively organized unification that showed a tendency towards increasing institutionalization. In addition, however, modern elements are also to be found alongside the classical medieval ones.Thus, a clear qualification can be seen among the federal captains, which is very similar to later bureaucratic thinking, while medieval nepotism is evident among the federal councilors. However, these overarching personal networks, together with a high degree of continuity in the leadership personnel, formed important prerequisites for the good functioning of the federation.To compensate for the problems of cooperative forms of organization, the majority principle was strictly practiced, in contrast to the empire, and federal councilors were given a free mandate. Consequently, the usual demonstrations of the rank of their delegating authorities and session disputes were absent from this federation. This made it possible for the lesser powers to outvote the princes.


In addition to territorial princes such as initially the Duke of Tyrol and the Count and later Duke of Württemberg, the high nobility such as Werdenberg, Montfort, Gundelfingen, Helfenstein, Waldburg and Fürstenberg as well as knights and noblemen of the lower nobility were represented; as were prelates of the ecclesiastical territories. The 20 Swabian imperial cities could also be included. Ulm became the capital.

General meetings

Communication in the late medieval empire essentially took place at meetings and assemblies. The expansion of the Swabian League, however, prevented permanent meetings. Considerations of estates set further limits to this, since the cooperative principle presupposed an equality of rank among the members. This was, of course, contradicted by the facts of the estates, which is why general assemblies (traditionally called “admonitions”) existed only in the form of estates-separated meetings of the cities and the nobility. These plenary assemblies had three important functions: the election of captains and their councils as delegated decision-makers, the rendering of accounts, which was usually combined with the election, and joint opinions of the estates on important political issues.

The noble bank will now be discussed as an example: In the case of the Adelsbank, from 1488 onwards these reminders were limited to the respective quarters of St. George”s Shield, in which a quarter captain and the assigned councilors were elected. Whole admonitions were to be called by the captains outside the annual election day only in the case of important matters which could not be dealt with without an admonition. At the federal level, the nobles were represented exclusively by their federal captains and the councils assigned to them as delegations. After the end of the Georgenschild Society, federal captains and councils were again elected directly (instead of via the detour of the Georgenschild quarters).In summary, it can thus be said that the admonitions at the Swabian Confederation within the bank of cities as well as the bank of nobles and prelates were generally limited to the election of delegates.

The Federal Council

The two captains and the 18 councilors, elected annually in equal numbers by the nobility and the towns, were at the head of the confederation and together formed the “Bundesrat”, which did not meet permanently. Since they took an oath to help and advise both towns and nobility to the best of their ability and knowledge, often when an issue came up that affected them, their town or district, they had to leave the meeting in question after passing their vote to another councillor. If one of the councilors became incapable of holding office or died, a successor was to be appointed from the appropriate bench within a month”s time, and anyone could be elected unless he or she declined the judicial office involved from the outset. The Federal Council was to safeguard the interests of the Federation and take all necessary measures to this end. In addition to its judicial function, it was up to it to decide to what extent the claims of foreign courts and persons were lawful. Furthermore, the Bundesrat decided on the admission of new members. However, the Federal Council was not allowed to act without restriction in its management of federal affairs, but was bound by any resolutions previously passed by the assemblies of the individual estates.

With the innovation of the constitution of the Swabian League of 1500, the Federal Council changed significantly. Instead of consisting of 2 captains (from nobility and cities) with the corresponding 18 councillors, it now consisted of 3 captains with 21 councillors, who were provided in equal proportions by nobility, cities and princes. The seven princes (Austria, Mainz, the Bishop of Augsburg, Bavaria, Brandenburg-Ansbach, Württemberg and Baden) were each assigned one councilor, but they were allowed to send more, which, however, did not increase the number of their votes. In the event that another powerful prince should join the alliance, the provision was made that he would then also receive a council, but the number of councils of the cities and the nobility would be increased equally in order to preserve the equality of power of the nobility, cities and princes.

The federal governors

The federal governors were not so much political leaders as they were responsible for the functioning of the Swabian Confederation. Not only did they convene the Bundesrat, they also played a key role in it, since they were supposed to make the decision in the event of a tie. Since until 1500 there were only two federal governors, in the event of their disagreement the decision was to be made by lot, but this was never necessary and became obsolete after 1500, since after that the princes were also represented by a federal governor. As mentioned above, the federal governors ensured the functioning of the Swabian Confederation, especially between the sessions of the Council of the Confederation through a regulated management. Complaints from members of their rank were first directed to them so that they could then set in motion the Confederation”s mechanisms for settling internal disputes, a situation that did not change after 1496, when a separate federal court was introduced. Even though the federal governors acted externally as representatives of the Confederation, being the addressees of letters to the Confederation as well as the sealers of federal mandates, the regulation of internal Confederation communication was incumbent upon them, since all internal Confederation correspondence was handled by them.

The following were elected as federal governors

The Federal Court

With the amendment of the federal constitution in 1500, a federal court was also established. The one judge, who had previously been provided by the councils, was now replaced by three judges, one elected by each of the princes, the nobility and the cities. According to the principle of “actor forum rei sequitur”, the judge of one”s own rank was responsible for the defendant in each case; the other two were usually taken as assessors, to which the defendant, unlike the plaintiff, could object at the beginning of the proceedings. The judges were always men who were also versed in Roman law, with which the Federal Court fulfilled the requirement that was not fulfilled in the Imperial Chamber Court until 1521. The fact that legal scholars were highly valued in the Federal Court can be seen from the fact that 4 instead of 2 assessors had to be elected if the other two judges were not taken as assessors. Due to the fact that the three benches determined a new court location every year in turn (which, however, always remained the same except for the transfer from Tübingen to Augsburg in 1512), where the judges had a permanent obligation to be present (if a judge left, his colleagues had to be continuously informed by him of his current whereabouts), the Federal Court thus became stationary. If a judge declared himself biased or was unable to perform his duties for valid reasons, it was up to his position to appoint a deputy.

Elected as federal judges were:

The motives for founding the Swabian Confederation

At the Nuremberg Diet on June 26, 1487, Emperor Frederick III issued a mandate to the imperial estates, which had little power, to meet in Esslingen a month later for consultations on maintaining a land peace and securing their rights. There, the representatives of the nobility and the cities present agreed to enter into negotiations with the emperor”s representative, Haug von Werdenberg. On October 4, 1487, the emperor issued the actual founding mandate to the estates of Swabia, which were subject to him “on medium”, i.e. without intermediate authority. Then, in March 1488, a confederation limited to eight years was agreed upon.

In the summer of 1487, the efforts of the Bavarian Wittelsbach dynasty to acquire the Austrian foothills from Archduke Sigmund of Tyrol had reached their – for Habsburg dangerous – climax. In addition, Albrecht IV of Bavaria-Munich had annexed both the dominion of Abensberg and the imperial city of Regensburg and, with the support of Archduke Sigmund, had married Kunigunde of Austria, the daughter of Emperor Frederick III, under dubious circumstances. (With the consent of the emperor? Without the emperor”s consent? After withdrawn consent of the emperor?). All this had led both to the ostracism of the Bavarian dukes and to the ostracism and replacement of the so-called “Bad Councillors” of Duke Sigmund. The latter were for the most part noblemen from Upper Swabia and the High Rhine. (See also the article Werdenbergfehde).

The unification periods as a reflection of the different weighting of interests of the estates

In the first unification period 1488-1496, the nobles and prelates organized in the Society of St. George”s Shield with 586 members and 26 imperial cities (Ulm, Esslingen, Reutlingen, Überlingen, Lindau, Schwäbisch Hall, Nördlingen, Memmingen, Ravensburg, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Biberach an der Riß, Dinkelsbühl, Pfullendorf, Kempten, Kaufbeuren, Isny, Leutkirch, Giengen, Wangen, Aalen, cf. Carl, p. 62), soon followed by six other imperial cities (Weil der Stadt and Bopfingen in April, Augsburg, Heilbronn, Bad Wimpfen and Donauwörth in November, cf. Carl, p. 62), the actual confederation. The princes were each bound together by bilateral charters that specified obligations to help and the modalities for settling disputes. The princes were not members of the confederation at this point, but were associated with it. An important difference in terms of equality.

In addition to the founding members Sigmund of Tyrol and Eberhard the Elder of Württemberg, the Margraves Frederick and Sigmund of Brandenburg-Ansbach and Kulmbach, the Archbishop of Kurmainz Berthold of Henneberg, Bishop Frederick of Augsburg as well as Margrave Christoph of Baden and his brother, Archbishop John of Trier, joined the League until 1489. After Maximilian took over the regiment in Tyrol, he joined the Confederation in 1490 as Archduke of Tyrol. The conflict with the Bavarian dukes Albrecht and Georg was settled by royal arbitration in 1492. A military conflict with the Palatine Wittelsbachers was initially prevented by royal intervention in 1494.

The Wittelsbach conflict is not seen as a threat; in the conflict between Werdenberg and Zimmern (Werdenberg feud), clear camp formations occur; the pro-Zimmern group leaves the confederation. Eberhard II, who had taken over the government in Württemberg in 1496, was overthrown by the Württemberg respectability in 1498 with royal support and had to leave the country. He flees to the Wittelsbach Palatinate. The country is ruled by a council of states and not by a related guardian from the House of Württemberg until 1503, the early coming of age of Duke Ulrich, which was unprecedented in German constitutional history.

The negative climax of this difficult period of unification was the lost Swiss War (also known as the Swabian War) in 1499.

The 3rd unification period 1500-1512 brought significant changes in the membership and organizational structure of the Confederation. After the defeat by the Swiss, the Georgenschild had collapsed, eliminating its organizational framework within the Bund for the nobility. Both the bank of cities and the bank of princes grew beyond Swabia proper. After the agreement with Albrecht of Bavaria-Munich, against whom the League had originally been directed, a new organizational structure was necessary. Albrecht was very careful to ensure that his landed nobility did not organize themselves in the new confederation. The princes were now no longer only confederates, but were fully admitted (cf. Carl, p. 18). The bank of princes had 7 members: Maximilian, as Austrian archduke for Tyrol and the Vorlande, the Mainz elector Berthold von Henneberg, Ulrich von Württemberg, Albrecht von Bayern-München, Margrave Friedrich von Brandenburg-Ansbach, Bishop Friedrich von Augsburg and Margrave Christoph von Baden (cf. Carl, p. 64). The bank of nobles and prelates shrank to only 10 counts and lords, 60 lesser nobles and 27 representatives of the prelate class. Three more Swabian imperial cities were added to the 26: Buchhorn took the place of Lindau, Nuremberg and its Franconian satellite Windsheim. Strasbourg and the Alsatian Weissenburg were also added, but remained episodes for the remainder of the League (cf. Carl, p. 64).

In 150405, the Swabian League fought for its new member Albrecht IV of Bavaria-Munich (Duchy of Upper Bavaria) in the Landshut War of Succession against the Palatine line for Duke George”s Lower Bavarian inheritance. The young Duke Ulrich of Württemberg, who had taken over the government in Württemberg after his premature declaration of maturity the year before, also distinguished himself in this war. In this war, he regained some territories that had been lost to the Palatinate under his namesake Count Ulrich the Much-Loved.

In the 4th unification period 151213-1523, the bank of nobles and prelates reached its lowest point with only 65 members, only 6 counts and lords, 35 knights and 24 prelates remained in the confederation (cf. Carl, p. 65). The bank of princes increased slightly despite the loss of Baden and Württemberg (Württemberg and Baden left, but the bishops of Eichstätt and Bamberg and in 1519 Landgrave Philipp of Hesse joined) (cf. Carl, p. 65) and the Swabian imperial cities were the constants in the confederation. While the two Alsatian cities of Strasbourg and Weissenburg left again, the Franconian Weissenburg joined (cf. Carl, p. 65).

In 1512, alliance troops captured Hohenkrähen Castle in Hegau to take action against the lower nobility who had broken the peace. The same action against the Franconian lower nobility, especially against Götz von Berlichingen, was prevented by arbitration awards of both Emperor Maximilian and Ulrich von Württemberg.

This period was particularly marked by the conflict with Duke Ulrich of Württemberg. Certainly, his unrestrained and irascible behavior was responsible for the escalation of events; on the other hand, the competition between Habsburg and Württemberg, which had been smoldering since the 14th century, broke out openly here. The expansion interests of both houses overlapped in the Hegau: Habsburg, which was anxious to establish an east-west connection between its possessions in Upper Swabia and Alsace, while Württemberg wanted to establish a south-west connection to its possessions at the Burgundian gate (Mömpelgard) and Alsace (Horburg and Reichenweiher). So far, the League had served to control this conflict diplomatically. (Elevation of Württemberg to a duchy in 1495, great Habsburg influence on the ruling respectability after the expulsion of Eberhard II, and the Habsburg marriage policy for Württemberg, which led to Ulrich”s unhappy marriage to Emperor Maximilian”s niece Sabine of Bavaria). Now, however, Ulrich pursued an independent path. Instead of rejoining the new union in 1512, he founded the “Kontrabund” – the name alone a declaration of war – with Baden, the Palatinate, Wuerzburg and the Saxon dukes. He also tried to present himself as a more suitable partner of the lower nobility, which he succeeded in doing on a representative level, e.g. as host at his wedding, which was very lavish even by the standards of the time. But at the latest with the murder of Hans von Hutten, his brutal actions against the leaders of respectability, the Breuning brothers and the Cannstatt bailiff Vaut and the clan arrest for the family of Dieters von Speth, who had supported Sabine of Bavaria in her escape from the duchy, he gambled away this pledge. Although Ulrich was able to defend himself twice against the imperial eight by defeating the opposition in the state, when he wanted to use the time after Maximilian”s death to annex the Free Imperial City of Reutlingen by force of arms, the Confederation intervened militarily with a large force in MarchApril 1519 and drove Ulrich from Württemberg. A first attempt by Ulrich to recapture his land failed in September-October of the same year. In order to finance the costs of the war, the Confederation ceded Württemberg to Emperor Charles V, who assigned it to the Habsburg power and handed it over to his brother Archduke Ferdinand.

In the 5th unification period 1523-1534, the cities all remained loyal to the confederation, members of the nobility bank rejoined during the campaign against the Frankish knights, so that their number had increased compared to the fourth unification period and four new members joined the princes” bank: Electoral Palatinate, Palatinate-Neuburg, the Bishop of Würzburg and, at the end of 1525, the Archbishop of Salzburg (cf. Carl, p. 65).

In 1523, the so-called Frankish War was fought against the Frankish knights around Hans Thomas von Absberg. This expedition led to the destruction of several small knight”s residences in central Germany, which sympathized with the robber baron Thomas von Absberg. Kidnapped merchants from Nuremberg, who were accommodated in ever new dungeons in the castles in quick succession, managed to escape and thus Thomas” helpers were also exposed. Affected were, among others, the ancestral homes of the Lords of Sparneck, who never recovered from the destruction of their castles and the loss of their ancestral lands and were forced into the Upper Palatinate.

According to the woodcuts of the war correspondent Hans Wandereisen, 23 castles including the town of Aub were attacked and most of them were destroyed: Burg Vellberg, Burg Boxberg, Untere Burg Unterbalbach, Burg Aschhausen, Burg Wachbach, Reußenburg, Stadt Aub, Burg Waldmannshofen, Burg Gnötzheim, Burg Truppach, Burg Krögelstein, Alt- und Neu-Guttenberg, Burg Gattendorf, Burg Sparneck, the Waldsteinburg on the Großer Waldstein, the Wasserburg Weißdorf, Burg Uprode, the as yet unknown Burg Weytzendorf and the castles in Tagmersheim, Dietenhofen, Absberg and Berolzheim. The conflict was peacefully averted at Streitberg Castle near Streitberg.

In 1525, the Peasants” War was decided by troops of the Swabian League, and in 1526 the League still intervened in the Salzburg Peasants” Revolt. The military actions of the Swabian League in the Peasants” War will be discussed in more detail below.

The Swabian League in the German Peasants” War

The German Peasants” War saw a period of bloody conflict between the troops of the Swabian League and the population of the country. Contrary to the name, the uprisings were not always supported by the peasants alone; the inhabitants of free towns and individual members of the nobility often sympathized with the insurgents and supported them. However, the army of the Confederation under the Truchsess von Waldburg-Zeil showed both great loyalty to the Confederation and an often merciless approach.

After the first uprisings of peasants in 1524 in the landgraviate of Stühlingen and Waldshut, where Hans Müller von Bulgenbach was the leader, the Swabian Confederation was still reluctant to intervene, as its jurisdiction over Habsburg”s foothill protectorates in the Black Forest was questionable. After preparations for intervention got off to a slow start, the Confederation made an attempt at mediation with Waldshut in early January 1525. On March 7, representatives of the peasants in Memmingen proclaimed the formation of an overarching confederation called the Christian Union, an Upper Swabian Confederation. The Twelve Articles proclaimed below were among their central demands against the Swabian Confederation. The demands touched on the Leibherrschaft, landlordship, rights to use the forest and the Allmende, as well as ecclesiastical demands. The peasants wanted reforms on a broad front.

However, when Duke Ulrich invaded Württemberg at the end of February, the Bündische armament machinery kicked in, as this was seen as a serious war in contrast to the peasants. Although the peasant unrest and uprisings had grown considerably in the meantime, the Bündische were clearly more afraid of a doomsday scenario, which Horst Carl describes as follows:

That these fears could not be dismissed is shown by the alliance of the Hellen Haufen with Duke Ulrich in May 1525. After Georg Truchsess von Waldburg-Zeil (called “Peasant-Jörg”) had driven out Duke Ulrich with the federal army in mid-March, there was an opportunity to take action against the peasants.

From the beginning of February until the beginning of the fighting in early April, negotiations were held with the peasants, but obviously only for the purpose of gaining the necessary time for the Bund armaments. The fact that the peasants negotiated with the Bund shows that they accepted it as a court of arbitration and were prepared to act in accordance with the Bund”s settlement of conflicts. A standstill agreed upon by the Federal Assembly with the peasant representatives, which was to enable the final arbitration proposals of the Bund to be submitted to the peasants, was observed by the Federals. Even after peasants” attacks on castles and assaults by Landsknechte on March 25, the Bund army was already marching, but the cities continued their attempts at mediation. Only when the negotiations were broken off by the peasants was the way clear to declare them official enemies of the Confederation.

On April 4, the Bündische troops proceeded against the peasants in Leipheim near Ulm, and although they surrendered without a fight, hundreds or even thousands were slain as they fled. The next day, six or seven ringleaders and their leader were executed, and the towns of Günzburg and Leipheim were left to be plundered. Impressed by this, many of the peasants of the Baltringer Haufen begged for mercy and most submitted unconditionally.

After defeating his own peasants in Wurzach, Georg Truchsess von Waldburg moved to Gaisbeuren against the Seehaufen, who retreated to Weingarten and took a strategically better position there. Since they were numerically superior and had 8,000 Allgaeu and 4,000 Hegau peasants advancing in their support, negotiations with the peasants led to the Treaty of Weingarten on April 17, which was to provide a peasant-friendly arbitration court and thus put a bloodless end to the uprising there.

In early May, about 2,000 farmers gathered near Kempten to oppose the acceptance of the treaty.

On May 10, the Truchsess faced the Hellen Haufen near Herrenberg in the Stuttgart area, but did not dare to attack because of the peasants” good position. After the peasants gave up and left the city during the night, they retreated between Sindelfingen and Böblingen to a position established by means of a wagon fortress. The Truchsess was able to take the Galgenberg, which had been occupied by the peasants” vanguard, after a change of sides from Böblingen, and from there he was able to bombard the bunch with guns. Even before the Bündische foot soldiers reached the peasants, they took flight. In the 10 km long pursuit that followed, 2000 to 3000 peasants were stabbed to death. This ended the uprising in Württemberg.

On May 21, the town of Weinsberg, having been abandoned by its men, could be burned down. Women and children had been driven out of the city beforehand. Instead of moving directly to Würzburg, the Truchsess moved to the Neckar region to help the Count Palatine. On the way, many towns and villages surrendered under surrender of the leaders, hoping for a lenient punishment.

After the union with the Count Palatine on May 28 at Neckarsulm, since all the uprisings in the Neckar region had been put down, they moved to Würzburg. There, meanwhile, the Marienberg fortress was able to withstand the peasants. After three weeks of rule by the peasants over the city, they came under increasing pressure as the Swabian League approached.

On June 2, the peasants tried to prevent the Swabian League from crossing the Tauber, which resulted in a battle at Königshofen, where the peasants were crushed. There were about 7000 men casualties.

Two days later, the Würzburg reserve army”s wagon train was dispersed by cannon fire, which hardly any of the 5,000 peasants survived. In the city of Bamberg, which soon after surrendered for better or worse on the advice of Nuremberg, there were several executions by the Swabian League.

A verdict of the “Bedenkens für rö. Kai. M., to maintain better order, peace and justice in the German nation, evil practices and separation of the supply of goods, but all without any seizure, to the disadvantage of no one and to the detriment of the people” from 1537, “in sum, the Swabian Confederation has been the proper essence of the German nation, which confederation has also been strengthened by men and has in many ways protected and maintained the peace and justice of the land. shows the importance that contemporaries attached to the Swabian League. Other examples of this are the presence of an envoy of the French king at the last Bundestag in December 1533, which gave the whole thing a political significance and recognition approaching that of the Reichstag, or the meeting of the Rhenish imperial cities in Worms at the end of October 1498, which considered a similar union and also considered extending the alliance to princes, counts, lords and nobles.

In the following decades of the Reformation, the confederation broke down because of the different confessional positions of its members: the imperial cities were generally Protestant, the noble territorial rulers Catholic. Württemberg had become Protestant after Duke Ulrich”s reconquest in 1534 and joined the Schmalkaldic League instead, which Ulm, Constance, Biberach an der Riß and other cities (as founding members) had already joined in 1531.

Initially, the Swabian Imperial Circle had been in competition with the Swabian Confederation, since the memberships in both organizations partially overlapped, but from 1530 the Imperial Circle partially took over the role of the Swabian Confederation and, from 1694, was also the only Imperial Circle to maintain a standing army.



  1. Schwäbischer Bund
  2. Swabian League
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