King of Germany and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, b. February 15, 1361, at Nuremberg; d. at Znaim, Bohemia, December 9, 1437
Sigismund, King of Germany and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, b. February 15, 1361, at Nuremberg; d. at Znaim, Bohemia, December 9, 1437. He was the second son of the Emperor Charles IV, who betrothed him to Maria, the oldest daughter of King Louis of Hungary and Poland, and thus prepared the way for a great extension of the power of the House of Luxemburg. During the reign of his elder brother, King Wenceslaus, Sigismund was able, upon the death of the King of Hungary, to maintain his claims to Hungary though only after a hard struggle, and on March 31, 1387, he was crowned King of Hungary. In 1389 he was obliged to defend the boundaries of his new kingdom against the Turks. In this year Sultan Amurath I had overthrown the Servian kingdom in the battle on the Plain of Kossovo (Plain of the Blackbirds). Amurath’s son, Bajazet, defeated a Christian army under Sigismund at Nicopolis, and the lands along the Danube were only saved by the renewed advance of the Osmanli. In 1389 the clergy and nobility of Bohemia rebelled against the administration of the Government by the favorites of King Wenceslaus; they were supported both by Jost of Moravia and Sigismund. After this the intrigues in the royal family of Luxemburg were incessant. When, therefore, King Wenceslaus was deposed as emperor in 1400 at Oberlahnstein by the electors, and Rupert was elected emperor in his stead, Wenceslaus appointed his brother imperial vicar for Germany and governor and administrator of Bohemia. However, the accord between the brothers was not of long duration, because Wenceslaus was not willing to confer the succession in Bohemia upon Sigismund. For a time Sigismund was held prisoner by rebellious Hungarian subjects. The Emperor Rupert died on May 18, 1410, at a time of intense excitement when the ecclesiastical confusion of the Great Schism had reached its height. There was a double election of a king of the Romans. On September 20, 1410, Sigismund was chosen, and on October 1 of the same year his cousin, Jost of Bohemia, was also chosen. The empire, like the Church, had now three rulers. The death of Jost of Moravia made it easier for Sigismund to gain recognition, for the electors who had chosen Jost agreed to the election of Sigismund on July 21, 1411. The new emperor was King of Hungary and Margrave of Brandenburg, and thus had a dynastic power which might have restored real power to the German Empire. He had large ambitions, his aim was to lead a united Christendom against the power of Islam, but he lacked steadiness and perseverance. Although highly talented he was too easily carried away by Utopian schemes. He also neglected to protect the base of his power, his hereditary possessions, which were disorganized by bad administration and civil disorder. The first matter of importance during his reign was the Great Schism.
To Sigismund, undoubtedly, belongs the credit of bringing about the great reform Councils of Constance and Basle. In 1414 he went to Italy on an expedition against Venice; while there he forced Pope John XXIII, who was hard-pressed by King Ladislaus of Naples, to call a council which met at Constance on November 1, 1414. For a time Sigismund was the soul of the council, and this no doubt served once more to emphasize the importance of Germany However, the interest of the emperor in the council diminished in proportion as its proceedings failed to meet his views. The sole result of the council so far as Sigismund was concerned was that he brought upon himself the hatred of his Bohemian subjects by his sacrifice of John Hus. During the course of the council Sigismund turned his efforts at reform to internal policies, especially to the establishment of a general peace in the empire. He failed, however, in these efforts. Important consequences resulted from his granting to Frederick Hohenzollern, Burgrave of Nuremberg, the Mark of Brandenburg in fief, to which he added on April 30, 1415, the electoral dignity and the office of lord high chancellor. In this way Sigismund gained support for himself against the independent policy of the electors. On the death of Wenceslaus (August 16, 1419), Sigismund became King of Bohemia; where, directly after the close of the Council of Constance, Hussite disorders had begun. The king sought to reestablish order by severe measures, but, as this method failed, Martin V at Sigismund’s request proclaimed a crusade. Religious and national fanaticism brought a bloody victory to Ziska’s hordes on November 1, 1420, at Wyschehrad, and also on January 8, 1422, at Deutschbrod. The position of Sigismund, who was now also threatened by the Turks, was an exceedingly precarious one. The only effective aid offered him was that of Duke Albert V of Austria to whom Sigismund had married his only daughter Elizabeth and whom he had made the presumptive heir of the Hungarian and Bohemian crowns. The Hussite armies now threatened the neighboring German territories. Forthwith it became apparent how wretched was the military organization of the empire and how desperate were the divisions among the German princes. Attempts at reform began, but the emperor lacked the vigor to carry out these attempts. Sigismund’s failure to effect the needed imperial reforms was not wholly due to weakness of character; the selfish policy of the estates opposed insuperable obstacles to his good intentions. In 1424 the electors attempted to take the defense of the empire in their own hands. Though the coalition soon broke up, it had proclaimed the political program of the following decades: reform of the empire with the controlling assistance of the estates. As Sigismund was unable to enforce these reforms he could bring about the reconciliation of Bohemia by way of negotiations only; these were entrusted to the Council of Basle. Probably to emphasize before the councils his European position, Sigismund had himself crowned King of Lombardy on November 25, 1431, and German emperor at Rome, May 31, 1433. Quarrels between the moderate Calixtines and the radical Taborites helped along the negotiations. By the so-called Compact of Prague the council; brought back the Hussite movement, at least as far as essentials were; concerned, to lines compatible with the authority of the Church. The only concession was the granting of the cup to the laity. At the Diet of Iglau in 1436 after Sigismund had recognized the Compact of Prague he was acknowledged as regent of Bohemia. After this Sigismund took no further interest in large undertakings and retired to Bohemia. When, however, his reactionary measures led to a fresh outbreak, in which his wife, Barbara of Citti, joined, he retired to Znaim where he died.