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The Swabian League was a mutual defence and peace keeping association of Imperial Estates - Free Imperial cities, prelates, principalities and knights - principally in the territory of the Early medieval stem duchy of Swabia, established in 1488 at the behest of Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg and supported as well by Bertold von Henneberg-Römhild, archbishop of Mainz, whose conciliar rather than monarchic view of the Reich often put him at odds with Frederick's successor Maximilian. The Swabian League cooperated towards the keeping of the imperial peace and at least in the beginning curbing the expansionist Bavarian dukes from the House of Wittelsbach and the revolutionary threat from the south in the form of the Swiss. The League held regular meetings, supported tribunals and maintained a unified force of 12,000 infantrymen and 1200 cavalry.
After the death of Eberhard of Württemberg in 1496 the League produced no single outstanding generally accepted leader, and with the peace of 1499 with the Swiss and the definitive defeat of the aggressive Wittelsbachs in 1504, the League's original purpose, maintenance of the status quo in the southwest, was accomplished. Its last major action, prompted by the occupation and annexation of the Free City of Reutlingen by duke Ulrich of Württemberg in 1519, was the concerted overthrow of the duke, whose territory the League sold to Charles V, offsetting the costs of the campaign.
Formation and defeat of predecessor leagues
The Swabian Imperial cities had attained great prosperity under the protection of the Hohenstaufen emperors (1138–1254); however the deposition of Emperor Frederick II in 1245 and the extinction of his dynasty in 1268 was followed by disintegration. Cities and nobles alike, owing allegiance to none but the German king, who was seldom able to defend them, were exposed to the aggression of ambitious princes.
On 20 November 1331, 22 Swabian cities, including Ulm, Augsburg, Reutlingen and Heilbronn, formed a league at the insistence of Emperor Louis IV of Wittelsbach, who in return for their support promised not to mortgage any of them to a vassal. The count of Württemberg was induced to join in 1340. Under the rule of Emperor Charles IV of Luxembourg (reigned 1355–1378), the lesser Swabian nobles began to combine against the cities, and formed the Schleglerbund (from Schlegel, a maul). With civil war ensuing in 1367, the Emperor, jealous of the growing power of the cities, endeavoured to set up a league under his own control for the maintenance of public peace (Landfriedensbund, 1370). The defeat of the city league by Count Eberhard II of Württemberg in 1372, the murder of the captain of the league, and the breach of his obligations by Charles IV, led to the formation of a new league of 14 Swabian cities led by Ulm on 4 July 1376.
This renewed league triumphed over Count Eberhard II at Reutlingen in 1377, and the emperor having removed his ban, it set up an arbitration court, and was rapidly extended over the Rhineland, Bavaria, and Franconia. However, Württemberg struck back and united with the forces of Elector Palatine Rupert I and the Nuremberg Burgrave Frederick V of Hohenzollern finally defeated the league in 1388 at Döffingen. The next year the city league disbanded according to the resolutions of the Reichstag at Eger.
Esslingen league and disbandment
On 14 February 1488 a new Swabian league was formed, at the Reichstag of Esslingen, not only of 22 Imperial cities but also of the Swabian knights' League of St. George's Shield, bishops, and princes (Ansbach, Baden, Bavaria, Bayreuth, Hesse, Mainz, the Electorate of the Palatinate, Trier, Tyrol, and Württemberg).
The league was governed by a federal council of three colleges of princes, cities, and knights calling upon an army of 13,000 men. It aided in the rescue of the future emperor Maximilian I, son of Emperor Frederick III, held prisoner in the Low Countries, and later was his main support in southern Germany.
It helped to suppress the Peasants' Revolt in 1524-1526.
The Reformation caused the league to be disbanded in 1534.
Schwäbischer Städtebund (1331)
More correctly translated in English as the Swabian City League, as all the founding members were Imperial Cities:
Schwäbischer Bund (1488)
In 1488, the Städtebund reunited, affiliated with larger regional powers, to form a new league including the Imperial cities of the 1331 league together with
- Sigismund of Habsburg, Count of Tyrol and Archduke of Further Austria, followed by Archduke Maximilian I of Habsburg in 1490
- Eberhard V, Count of Württemberg (raised to a duke in 1495), succeeded by Duke Eberhard II in 1496
joined by several princes of the Empire until 1489:
- Frederick II of Hohenzollern, Prince-Bishop of Augsburg
- Christopher I, Margrave of Baden
- George Frederick of Hohenzollern, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach
- Siegmund of Hohenzollern, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth
- Bertold von Henneberg-Römhild, Archbishop of Mainz and Prince-elector
- John II of Baden, Archbishop of Trier and Prince-elector
extended after 1500 by its former opponent:
- Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse in 1519
- Louis V of Wittelsbach of the Electorate of the Palatinate, Prince-elector as well as
- Otto Henry and Philip of Wittelsbach, Count Palatines of Palatinate-Neuburg and
- Conrad II von Thüngen, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg in 1523 and finally
- Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in 1525.
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- Horst Carl: Der Schwäbische Bund 1488–1534. Landfrieden und Genossenschaft im Übergang von Spätmittelalter zur Reformation. Leinfelden-Echterdingen, 2000; ISDN 3-87181-424-5. p. 453
- R.G.D. Laffan, "The Empire under Maximilian I", in The New Cambridge Modern History, vol. I 1975:198.
- Laffan 1975:198.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Alfred Bradley Gough (1911). "Swabian League". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press