Germany History: Denominational Age (1517-1648) Part I

By | October 26, 2021

The most enduring result of Maximilian I’s dynastic policy was the unification of the empires of Aragon, Castile and Naples-Sicily with the Habsburg and Burgundian lands under the rule of his eldest grandson Charles in 1516. As Emperor Charles V (1519–56), Germany was just a side country to his Burgundian-Spanish empire.

In his politics the struggle for Italy against France was in the foreground; he temporarily left the empire to his brother Ferdinand, who received rule over the Austrian hereditary lands of the House of Habsburg in 1521/22. Due to inheritance contracts already concluded by MaximilianFerdinand (I) won the royal crowns of Bohemia and Hungary in 1526 (crowned in 1527) and was elected King of Rome in 1531.

Reformation and Peasants’ War

The dissolution of the medieval world order as a single Christianity, accelerated by M. Luther’s turn against the Roman church in need of reform (beginning: theses published in Wittenberg, 1517), makes the Reformation appear a world-wide epoch in German history. At that time the religious reformation of Luther briefly touched the anti-Roman-national humanism of U. von Huttens, while the literary and moralistic-mild humanism of Erasmus of Rotterdam did not accept Luther’s condemnation of human nature.

The uprising of the legally, socially and economically oppressed peasants (Bundschuh, German Peasants’ War; demands already in the “Reformatio Sigismundi”, 1439), which was rampant in 1524/25, especially in southern Germany and Thuringia, was suppressed by the principality with Luther’s later approval Reformation movement from the tendencies also aimed at political and social transformation; after the battle of Frankenhausen (May 14/15, 1525) the religious social revolutionary T. Müntzer was executed.

Despite the Reformation in the cities, mostly driven by the guilds, their social and constitutional structure remained generally unchanged, contrary to the expectations of the manual workers. There was also no real connection between the Reformation and the imperial knighthood movement under F. von Sickingen (1523).

The imperial ban, which the emperor on the Worms Reichstag of 1521 (Worms Edict, May 8th) over Luther imposed, could no longer prevent the spread of the new teaching. Since all authorities and especially the emperor as protector of the church were responsible for the right faith of the subjects, the question of conscience of the individual could not be separated from the obligation to the imperial constitution. In 1524, the Nuremberg Reichstag decided to have the question of faith settled provisionally through a (never met) national council until a general council, which was held as the highest authority for decades. The (1st) Reichstag of Speyer in 1526 left it up to a council decision to each imperial estate to behave towards its subjects as it believed it could answer to God and imperial majesty. This imperial farewell, which largely suspended the Edict of Worms,

Only after the “Peace of the Ladies” of Cambrai between Charles V and the French King Franz I (August 5, 1529) was the emperor able to counter the German religious innovations. The old-believing imperial estates decided at the (2nd) Diet of Speyer in 1529 that the Edict of Worms should be respected and implemented again. The adherents of the new doctrine protested against this with reference to their conscience; since then they have been called “Protestants”. As of 1530 the Augsburg Reichstag, on which the religious parties expressed their teachings (P. Melanchthons Confessio Augustana, the southwest German Confessio tetrapolitana, U. Zwinglis Fidei Ratio and the Catholic Confutatio) submitted, failed to reach an agreement, leading Protestant princes and cities joined together in the spring of 1531 to form the Schmalkaldic League. After a series of temporary religious peace (“Nürnberger Anstand” 1532, “Frankfurter Anstand” 1539, Reichs Farewell 1541 and 1544) as well as religious talks (Hagenau / Worms 1540, Regensburg 1541), which resulted in a far-reaching, but not final, theological rapprochement between the emerging Denominations brought (question of the understanding of the Lord’s Supper), it came to military confrontation in the Schmalkaldic War (1546/47). Charles V defeated the Schmalkaldic League with the decisive contribution of Duke Moritz ‘of Saxony (Battle of Mühlberg, April 24, 1547) and reached the height of his power in the empire in 1547/48 on the “armored” Reichstag in Augsburg. Learn more about Germany and Europe, please click

But the overwhelming power of the imperial power, the hostile actions of Charles against Protestantism, his plan to transform the estate-state-federal empire into a monarchical-centralist way, the influence of his Spanish councilors in the empire and his attempt to connect the empire with Spain by transferring the imperial crown to secure his son Philip (II.), the German princes drove to rebellion in 1552 under the leadership of Moritz of Saxony, who had risen to become elector with the “Wittenberg surrender” (May 19, 1547) and the imperial confirmation (June 4). They found the support of France and in the Treaty of Chambord (January 15, 1552) created an international non-denominational alliance against Charles VIn the Passau Treaty (August 2nd / 15th, 1552), Ferdinand I had to grant the Protestants toleration. The Augsburg Religious Peace (September 25, 1555) gave the Lutheran imperial estates equal rights under imperial law and left the sovereignty of the church to the sovereigns in their territories (later described with the formula: cuius regio, eius religio).

Embedded in extensive measures to secure the peace in the empire, it did not include the followers of Calvinism. The abdication of Charles V (1556) sealed the failure of his still medieval universalist idea of ​​the emperor. Now the House of Habsburg split into an Austrian and a Spanish line; The latter received the formerly Burgundian territories belonging to the empire (the Netherlands and Franche-Comté).

Germany History - Denominational Age 1