Dramatic changes occurred in Germany and other European societies during the next period, which historians call the early modern era. During this time, Christianity was divided by the Reformation and the Americas were explored. Both had profound effects on politics, economies, and society. Another force for change was the new mass medium of the printing press, which carried diverse ideas, news, and entertainment to large audiences.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, territorial rulers and city councils in Germany expanded their authority, often in conjunction with religious changes stemming from the Reformation. At the same time, capitalism expanded and the population grew, resulting in widespread inflation throughout the period and a greater polarization of wealth within German society. On the other hand, many of the basic structures of medieval life—dynastic politics, predominantly agrarian economies, and low standard of living—remained largely constant throughout the period.
When Charles V succeeded his grandfather Maximilian as Holy Roman emperor in 1519, he was already hereditary lord of a vast assortment of territories. Due to a combination of politically astute dynastic marriages and fortuitous accidents, he had inherited the French Burgundian lands as well as the Netherlands (modern Holland and Belgium), the Habsburg’s Austrian and Bohemian holdings, and the kingdoms of Aragon and Castille (modern-day Spain), including all of the Spanish territories in the newly discovered Americas. Charles made a concerted effort to consolidate and institutionalize the empire. He expanded the number of imperial districts to facilitate the raising of armies and money for imperial wars against the Ottoman Empire.
His 1532 criminal code, known as the Carolina, was widely copied throughout German cities and principalities, providing some limited standardization to the widely diverse laws and customs of Germany.
On the whole, though, German princes and cities resisted what they perceived as imperial encroachments on their prerogatives. Although Charles had ruled more territory than any European leader since Charlemagne, by the time he abdicated in 1556 the Holy Roman Empire was more politically fractured than at any time since the Great Interregnum of the 13th century. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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