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In 1495, an attempt was made at the Reichstag in the City of Worms to give the disintegrating Holy Roman Empire a new structure, commonly referred to as Imperial Reform. The fundamental idea of the reform was largely based on the theory of inter-political concordance between the Emperor and the Imperial States developed by Nicholas of Kues.

After the fall of the House of Hohenstaufen in the mid-13th century the Emperors had to face a continuous loss of power in favour of the estates, especially of the Prince-electors assigned by the Golden Bull of 1356. The autonomous Reichsstände nevertheless had painfully become aware of the disadvantages in the defiency of a centralised authority on the occasion of threats and armed conflicts like the Hussite Wars.

Maximilian I of Habsburg, elected King of the Romans since 1493, after 1477 had to defend his claims to the heritage of his deceased wife Mary of Burgundy against intriguing Louis XI of France, while subsequent to the 1453 Fall of Constantinople the expansion of the Ottoman Empire on the Balkans proceeded. At the 1495 diet Maximilian asked the representatives of the estates not only for contributions, but also for the implementation of an imperial tax and commitment in troops. The deputies, led by Chancellor Bertold von Henneberg-Römhild, the Archbishop of Mainz, in principle agreed on a Gemeiner Pfennig (Common Penny) tax paid directly to the Empire but in return set conditions:


1. The constitution of a Reichsregiment, an imperial government intended as a replacement of the clumsy and slow Reichstag, which had never managed to gain much influence. Consisting of 20 ecclesial and secular Princes and representatives of the Imperial Cities it was meant to control the finance and foreign policy of the Emperor. Maximilian refused to this restriction of his authority from the beginning and did not consent until the 1500 Reichstag at Augsburg after the states had conceded own Landsknecht (mercenary) troops to him, only to abolish the Regiment two years later.

2.The Perpetual Public Peace (Ewiger Landfriede) established the Reich as a single body of law and a kind of monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force that excluded feuds as means of politics between the vassals.

3. The related installation of the Reichskammergericht (Imperial Chamber Court, Imperial High Court), a supreme court for all of the Reich's territory, possibly was the reform's most far-reaching impact as it separated the jurisdiction from the person of the Emperor as the head of the imperial executive. Maximilian reacted with the establishment of the concurrent Aulic Council (Reichshofrat) in 1497. The Reichskammergericht originally had its seat at Frankfurt am Main, it moved to Speyer in 1523 and finally to Wetzlar in 1693.

4.The establishment of six (from 1512 on: ten) Reichskreise (Imperial Circle Estates) with own Circle Diets (Kreistage), carried out in 1500. The Circles, originally meant as constituencies of the Reichsregiment, enabled a more uniform administration of the Reich to better execute the Perpetual Public Peace, taxing and the formation of troops.

The Swiss Confederacy did not accept the Reichstag resolutions and explicitly refused to pay the Gemeiner Pfennig, one of the circumstances leading to the Swabian War of 1499 and the Confederacy's exempt from imperial legislation. Due to obstinant resistance of several States the collection was finally suspended in 1505.

Whether the reform can be considered successful depends on how one defines its goals; today, many scholars believe that the reform was not really aimed at producing a modern state (in which it would be considered a failure), but rather attempted to consolidate and distribute power between the Empire and the States in consensus, in which it did succeed.

The reform was more or less concluded with the 1555 Reichsexekutionsordnung (Imperial Execution Order), part of the Peace of Augsburg, which regulated more details of the tasks of the Imperial Circle Estates.

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