253 Europe IX Confessionalism Unleashed

How the rise of Calvinism, the Catholic Reformation and the peace of Augsberg combined with attitudes towards heresy to divide Europe along harsher, confessional lines.

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The Hapsburg Empire under Charles V



Lutheran Leaders of Germany 


Philip of Hesse











john FrederickJohn Frederick of Saxony










So, I promised themes, and after all the history of Europe for a hundred years, is a reasonably large topic, so we need some threads to guide us, like Theseus to the minotaur. Europe appreciated that it had a lot of history, though, and realised that it would need to help people out, particularly struggling schoolchildren answering difficult questions, or maybe UG students trying to find time to carve out a good essay between parties. So European history decided to make sure that there were themes, so that even poor, struggling podcasters diligently working away in the summer heat, could talk about 100 years of history in something less than a million words. I am going to talk about some of those themes.

One of them, the renaissance, I believe we have spoken about sufficiently, the passionate investigation and rediscovery of the values and work of the classical world. There is another theme we have also spent much time on – I give you the Reformation ladies and gents, the Reformation and the religious conflict that follows in its wake. Thirdly, the Catholic Reformation now rides into town, shining armour, white charger, credit card and all that.  Sometimes known as the Counter Reformation, a phrase likely to make Catholic historians bristle, quite understandably, at the implication that Catholicism would not have reformed without the Protestants. Both terms, Reformation and Counter Reformation express some of the realities, so henceforth maybe it should be called the Reformation Counter Reformation, or maybe the reformation reformation counter. Or counter counter reformation counter who knows. Whatever you call them, the religious strife of the 16th century is fought with an intensity which only the Cathars would have recognised. Fourth theme is about colonialism; in the 16th century the Iberian powers motored forward with the development and extension of their colonial empires, and part of the result was an influx of trade and silver, which would have an impact on theme number five – economic and social change. But let us not forget theme 6, the growth of the threat from the east, the mighty Ottoman Empire, and the existential threat it posed to Christendom. The Ottoman’s eventually found themselves facing the two halves of the old Hapsburg Empire of Charles V, in Austria and Spain, and our seventh theme is therefore the Spanish century.  The century that saw Spain become the European Superpower, champions of Catholicism – and by its close, saw it begin to implode under the pressure. Renaissance, Reformation and counter reformation, global Empires, economic change, the Ottomans and the Spanish century.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the 16th century.

Where to start then? We ended with Luther I think, so it seems sensible to start with one Jean Calvin. Calvin was French as it happens, which means I am following the fine English tradition of resolutely pronouncing his name wrongly. Calvin was born in Picardy in Northern France into a family of the middling sort, to a rather severe father; his mother died when he was a child. It seemed reasonably clear that the Calvins had a precocious lad on their hands quite early, and a lad who seemed destined for the church. However, when he sat down with his checklist of options for his son’s career, Calvin senior’s quill moved straight over the box for ‘transform the nature of Christendom’ and instead checked the box for the law, which is of course a much more traditional route for your good father, and one where he might expect his lad to make bit more cash.  Into the 1520s however, Calvin junior also acquired all the basic building blocks you needed to transform the nature of western Christendom – an introduction to humanist thought, learning Latin and Greek and all that sort of thing, and somewhere in the early 1530’s he seems to have converted, though there are hot debates about exactly when, how hot I will leave to your imaginations. But certainly in an speach in Basel in 1533 he got himself into hot water with one of his speeches there, and the H word was being bandied about, and he was forced to skip town which the smell of singeing wafting around his ankles. But what may have really lit the blue touch paper came in 1534 with the affair of the Placards.

Its 17th October 1534, and the glorious king Francis I of France sauntered out of his bedchamber, I am visualising the normal sleepy befuddlement, maybe his mistress off the time the powerful Duchess of Etampes was loudly demanding a morning cup of tea that sort of thing. As he opened his door, he happened to look at the other side of it and aaaaaggg! ‘sacre bleu Anne ma cheries, il ya une placard sur la porte, aide moi, ma cherie’. And if that’s not worth an A* from Longman Audio Visual French, ecouter et repeater, well, I don’t know what it. I am dawdling, sorry. Basically, posters had appeared all over Paris and 4 other provincial capitals, loudly complaining about the church, and specifically complaining about the Catholic view of the Eucharist, and the protesters had made so bold as to sneak into the royal palace and nail one of them to Francis’s door. Well, Paris was gripped by hysteria, searches for the culprits were carried out, the prisons filled with prisoners. Trials began and 6 were burned for heresy by the end of November. There was an official procession through Paris with Francis presiding, Francis banned printing for a while, there was a mass and the day was rounded off satisfactorily with 6 more burnings.

You would have to have been reasonably thick skinned not to pick up from this that the official policy in France was not supportive of evangelical reform, and the relevance to our story is that Calvin fled France, and to cut a long story short he did not lose his mind but in 1536 he turned up in Geneva for two years, was slung out of there and tipped up in Strasbourg, where religious reform was being successfully led by one Martin Bucer. I am not going to talk a lot about Bucer, but I might just note a couple of things. Firstly that Calvin owed a lot to Bucer in the three years he spent in Strasbourg, and indeed Bucer would be one off the founding fathers of protestantism for many in Europe; and secondly that Martin Bucer will turn up in England in 1549 and have a very significant impact. It makes the point that links between English evangelicals and continental ones were constant and strong – English Protestantism does not develop in a vacuum. Anyway, enough of that, in 1541, Calvin was back in Geneva, where he would spend the rest of his life, and from where he would inspire a new reformed church.

Cast out from your mind the idea that Geneva opened her arms and welcomed Calvin unreservedly; cast it out I say. The reformed Christianity and society he would implement there took until at least 1553 to be realised against opposition from the so-called Libertines. But in the end Calvin provided Geneva not just with a new theology, but with a constitution. In all of this there were things that sound positive to the modern ear; Calvin fulminated against violence, he stressed education and support for the poor. Marriage became a

Reciprocal and mutual obligation as far as conjugal rights are concerned

So, a woman could ask for divorce on the grounds of her husband’s adultery. On the other hand, there were thing less positive to the modern ear. Religious intervened very directly in making sure people were living the life of the Godly ministers were to go round and question families on their faith. Whatever you happened to be doing at any particular time, there was a reasonably good chance Calvin disapproved of it. That’s just a gag, sorry, I withdraw it, unreservedly. And then, in 1553, there was the celebrated case of Michel Servetus, which came in the middle of Calvin’s last power struggle with the Libertines in Geneva. The Servetus affair was a European cause celebre, and led to a famous exchange between protestant theologians, arguing over whether or not executing heretics was acceptable.  On one side of the argument was a French Protestant called Sebastian Castellio. Castellio argued fiercely and persuasively that executing heretics could not be justified, and one of his lines would echo down through history

To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man

But it was not Castellio who won the argument unfortunately; it was Calvin, and Servetus burned. The Servetus affair has been seen as the incident that lit the torch for toleration, in that it established the arguments that would eventually win the day. And maybe that’s right when it finally reached the pen of the philosopher John Locke over a 100 years later, but in the short term it had exactly the opposite effect. It confirmed for all to see that the Reformed church had joined the Lutheran and Catholic churches in approving the persecution and execution of heretics. Intolerance was now the official teaching of all the major churches.

By 1559, though, Calvin’s most important work was finished, the articles of the reformed faith as he saw it. This was the Institutes of the Christian Religion, and in it, Calvin set out his key doctrines. Are you ready? Then let me begin. These are that

  • God is infinite in power and sovereignty
  • humans are completely sinful and depraved, saved only through the atoning power of Jesus Christ
  • redemptive grace and the possibility of union with Christ are free gifts of God
  • there is no free will, for God has determined who will be saved through the redemptive power of Christ and who will not.

I am sure this is a crude over simplification so apologies to everyone, but at the heart of this is the doctrine of predestination – that God selects the saved, and nothing you do will make a blind bit of difference. The doctrine of Predestination was not new, but it is Calvin that really sets it at the heart of his church. This could be a liberating force, or a rather demotivating one I imagine, along the ‘may as well go and eat worms with HP sauce’, of course. However, in the end in practical terms, people came to feel that living a good life and carrying out good works were a sign that you had been saved by God, and so the motivation to do those things won out, rather than spend the day with your feet up drinking Gin & Tonics, eating crisps and playing world of warcraft.

In Calvinism, the religion and society, or even religion and the state were closely intertwined; In Geneva, the most powerful organization became the Consistory, a group of pastors and lay elders, or presbyters, charged with investigating and disciplining deviations from proper doctrine and conduct, and ensuring the welfare of the city. The consequences could be a little dull; most public amusements, such as theatre, dances, dice and card games, and even drinking, were prohibited or restricted, both because they could lead to more clearly immoral activity and because they were a waste of time for the elect. Iconoclasm was strong – religious images were removed from churches. Meanwhile, only 2 sacraments survived – Baptism and the Lords Supper, transubstantiation and the mass were out, the only way the Pope could be supreme was if he dressed himself in a creamy white sauce, and clerical marriage was in.

Calvin died at the age of 54 in 1564. By the time he died, Calvinism was the most dynamic and growing brand of Protestantism, spreading into Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, Scandinavia, the Low Countries and particularly France. Calvinism began to grow in France despite a fierce determination from Francis I that heresy would not succeed there; though sometimes his ferocity might well have backfired. In 1545, he ordered the destruction of over 22 Waldensian villages in France.

If the Waldensians had been a shop, they might have had ‘proudly heretic since 1187’ above their door, and over the years had suffered various bouts of persecution. It’s not known exactly how many died in this last iteration; one estimate has it at 2000 killed, and 700 hauled away to work on French Galleys. It’s a lot, anyway. While comparisons are odious as I have mentioned before, might I point out that more are killed for religion in this one incident than in all the years of Henry VIII’s reign in England. Oops there’s that name again but you know, jus’ sayin’. Anyway, Francis’s efforts were in vain, because the Waldensian’s survived, and it could have been this massacre that made them determined to join forces with Calvin’s Reformed church.

Geneva meanwhile had become a haven for protestant exiles – including the Marian exiles from England, and famously, John Knox.  In the 1560s, Knox finally returned to Scotland and there against the opposition of the crown in the form of Mary of Guise, Calvinism and the reformation came to Scotland. Knox’s legacy was not just the over throw of Catholicism, but in making sure that it would be Presbyterianism that triumphed in Scotland rather than Anglicanism. Calvin mobilised the printing industry to fight the good fight, spreading the ideas of Calvinism in opposition to the Catholic church, and pamphlets and religious works poured out from Geneva. It was Calvin that famously preached that it was a little surprising that Christ’s foreskin had disappeared for 500 years and then happened to be venerated in 3 churches at the same time. There’s little doubt that his propaganda was very effective. The same can be said, however, of the great Catholic fightback, as the traditional church finally took action, and decided to put its own house in order.

As I mentioned, the reform process of the mid 16th century tends to be called the Counter Reformation by those with a Protestant view point stressing the process as a reaction to the changes wrought by Lutheran and Calvinist churches; and the Catholic Reformation by Catholic historians, who stress the continuous process of reform and conciliarism from the 13th century. Both have a point of course, but it seems a little disingenuous to suppose that changes wrought particularly by Paul III were not conducted primarily in the context of the latest schism in the fabric of Christendom since the Latin Church had split away from the traditional church of the Roman Empire in 1046.

It had been unfortunate that the tiller of the Church was being held by hands as incompetent and venal as those of Clement VII when the challenge to the traditional church had grown. The hands that eventually replaced them, those of Paul III, were every bit as venal. Fortunately for the church they were significantly more competent. Paul III was borne Alessandro Farnese, one of the great Italian families of course, just as Clement VII had been a Medici. Paul III was a flagrant Nepotist, the brother of a papal concubine. As a young cleric, he kept a mistress had three sons and two daughters on whom he duly and unapologetically lavished various goodies such as Duke of Parma in one case and Cardinal in another. However, Paul III was decisive and competent, and was to be remarkably successful. It did take Paul sometime to take real action, though he made some initial attempts at reform in the years after his arrival in 1534. But from 1540, lasting changes began to be achieved. In this, Paul III had the Emperor Charles V at his side, pushing him hard. Its easy to underplay the importance of this; Charles V can look like a rather wavering supporter of the Catholic cause, because the reformation of course starts on his patch, and at various points he compromises with the Protestant German Princes. But Charles V was an eager exponent of Catholic orthodoxy, but was simply too distracted by too many priorities to take the action he would have liked to take – distracted by the Italian Wars and the threat from the Ottomans. But he was consistent in pushing the Pope to implement reform urgently, including reform of the papacy itself.

And so finally, in 1546, the first session of the Council of Trent began. It did not start with a bang, being very poorly attended – and indeed the French boycotted the Council until the very last moment, in 1562. There was a rather feeble pretence of including the protestant churches which went nowhere. And it must also be said that shed bound story tellers like me need to be careful of giving the wrong impression; the Catholic reformation and the Council of Trent are not one and the same. The Society of Jesus, for example, otherwise known as the Jesuits was founded in 1540, well before the start of the Council of Trent. But nonetheless, the Council was hugely influential in setting a clear definition of the core Catholic beliefs.

So a brief survey then of some main elements of the Catholic Reformation. Famously, the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, combined the fierce piety and military lifestyle of its founder, Ignatius Loyola. Its members were organised in ranks, and their aims were to convert the heathen, to reconvert the lapsed and above all these, to educate. Their missionaries appeared all over the world within a few decades, from Mexico to Japan. They were to be massively successful, dedicated, intelligent and passionate; Loyola understood and learned from the experience of Luther’s success with the Princes in Germany, and made sure Jesuits wherever possible were at the right had of national leaders, as well as carrying out their missionary work. But they would also always be an ambiguous organisation; they aroused fear and resentment among Catholics as well as Protestants; they came sometimes to be seen as the Catholics thought police, to believe that end justified the means. They would of course have an enormous impact on religious attitudes in Elizabethan England.

The Holy Office was established in 1542 as the supreme court of appeal in matters of heresy, and assumed control of the inquisition. Here of course we have an organisation that would be even more controversial than the Jesuits, and produced even more protestant negative propaganda and exaggeration, along with some excellent sketches from the likes of Mel Brooks and Monty P, so, you know, every cloud has its silvery lining. Much has been written to make sure that inquisitors worked hard to genuinely understand the reasons and manner of heresy and of course it was undeniably successful in its core territories of Italy, Spain and Portugal. Vast over estimates of 300,000 executions of the Spanish inquisition have been shown to be laughably exaggerated. Others have it as 150,000 prosecuted over three centuries by the Spanish Inquisition specifically, and between 3,000 and 5,000 executed. This is a low conviction rate. However, it is also an undeniably large number of terrified people dragged off to trial, and a very visible example to the world of the potential penalty of deviance. It is unsurprising that the propaganda was believed, when there was a helpful stream of examples from which to feed; and fear of the inquisition was ever present.

As far as the Council of Trent is concerned, there were without doubt many that went looking for conciliation and to heal the divisions in the church; our very own Reginald Pole went there convinced by the arguments of justification by faith alone, and eager to see it adopted as official doctrine; and was gutted that the council rejected the idea. Catholic leaders such as Charles of Guise and Charles V’s successor in Germany, Emperor Ferdinand I favoured allowing clerical marriage and different communion practices. But that is not what happened.

I have often thought that marketeers and politicians the world over should look at the Council of Trent and learn its lessons; the lesson that woolly compromise is difficult to sell, that a clear message, even if uncompromising, will usually win over a pleasant but complicated one. That success is often less about doing the right thing, and more about doing it right. Not that I would presume to tell anyone what good and bad religious doctrine is, lord forbid, but what I mean is that the Catholic church chose to reject any idea of compromise and chose instead to simply define its existing message more clearly, reform and improve the way it ran itself, and go on the attack. Things that had been perfectly orthodox in the 15th century were now effectively banished – ironically, conciliarism met it’s Waterloo and the supremacy of the Pope was confirmed; a school of theology called Nominalism, the reading of vernacular bibles joined it on the naughty step. Core tenets of doctrine and practice such as indulgences, veneration of saints and pilgrimage were reaffirmed. It upheld traditional views of sin, justification and merit, it rejected the various protestant alternatives to transubstantiation during the Eucharist. It produced a very clear and effective statement of what it meant to be Catholic and how to be a Catholic, with a new catechism, a revised Breviary – a set of works to help Catholics practice their religion everyday. Catholicism was more clearly defined, and the Council emphasised discipline and collective life of the faithful.

Before the end of the Council, Pope Paul IV promulgated the Index of Forbidden Texts to hamper the spread of heretical ideas and protect the faithful. Of course it’s a move that has to be seen in context; the index is hardly the only example in the medieval and early modern world of censorship. One author noted for example that a work of the philosopher John Locke was banned by Oxford university in 1701. But nonetheless, it of course became an easy target for those looking for examples of Catholic intolerance.

The Catholic Reformation therefore had a number of consequences. Without doubt it re-invigorated Catholicism and sent it out into the fight with confidence against the spread of Protestantism with a clear message. It’s been noted in multiple places that in a way Protestantism was a religion of the word, and Catholicism of the image, obviously an absurd over simplification, but it does make the point that Catholicism used image very powerfully to enrich lives, educate and spread the faith; from the early 17th century the baroque movement would begin to flourish with its extravagant art and architecture. However, the Catholic reformation did nothing to tackle the problems of the papacy, and indeed everything was now centred on the Papacy. Furthermore in Southern Europe, humanism was once more reabsorbed by the scholasticism of the middle ages. One of the approaches that had come with humanism, the idea of free speculation without preconditions gave way to a world view that relied on philosophy as a way of proving the existence of God.

The Catholic reformation also harshly re-inforced intolerance. Now, it is important to clarify this statement, by pointing out that as I alluded earlier, Catholicism was not alone in this. All of the major churches, Calvinist reformed church, Lutheran and Catholic believed in the persecution of heretics. A feature of the 16th century is the rise of confessionalism. Each of the religions worked hard now to define themselves, and to define themselves also in opposition to their opponents. Battle lines were more harshly drawn, the opportunity for compromise removed, there was no wriggle room. If you are interested, I wrote a shedcast on religious toleration and intolerance, and how religious toleration came to the west. You will find little of it in the 16th century, as we will see. The wars of religion we will talk about and religious intolerance will lead to a massive displacement of people in addition to repression and death. There will be statistics as we go on, but in this context, the few glimmers of toleration are all the more remarkable. The attempt by Elizabeth I to create as inclusive a church as possible, and to look the other way while Catholics and Puritans practiced their faith was far more exceptional than is now given credit for; just put that into the context of 150,000 Austrians forced to leave their homes and country. In Poland, there was such a wide variation of faith, that it was simply impossible to impose one state religion – and toleration was embedded in the coronation oath. It didn’t survive the 17th century, but is was a unique example in the 16th. And article 13 of the Union of Utrecht in 1579, creating the Dutch Republic provided a formula;

each person shall remain free in his religion and that no one shall be investigated or persecuted because of his religion

This was essentially the more perfect expression of what Elizabeth tried to do before the Papal excommunication and welter of Jesuits overwhelmed it; there would be a state church, the Reformed Calvinist church in the case of the Dutch Republic, but as long as others went about it quietly, all other religions could be practiced. It led to the practice of hidden churches, churches set within what looked like residential buildings.

Okally dokally, let’s get back to the more comfortable ground of military violence shall we? Although of course, religion will never go away. The Italian wars then, between Hapsburg and Valois, between Francis I of France and Emperor Charles V. Of course we have covered these to an extent in that Henry VIII has been involved in them, so no detail required I think. The Italian wars are tricky to take seriously – or at least I find it so, as a series of dynastic wars that seem spectacularly pointless. However I am quite clearly being both unfair and myopic, and I formally apologise. Afterall although from a distance it looks as though Francis I frittered away vast sums of money in pursuit of an illusory objective in Italy, he could with justice look with horror and fear at the vast Hapsburg lands of Charles V arrayed against him. There is a map on the website go and have a quick look, it is pretty terrifying – France is encircled by land from Spain, Southern Italy, Germany, the Low Countries. Maybe it’s not surprising that he sought to balance this picture of dominance by grabbing northern Italy. The wars both predated and outlived both Francis and Charles V as it happens, stretching from 1494 to 1559 in the wider sense of 16th century Valois Hapsburg struggle. They ended with the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559 signed between Philip II of Spain and Henry II of France. Both of them had better things to think about by then – which is not to say that Francis I and Charles V should not have had better things to think about. I am being unusually censorious, I shall stop. Anyway, basically the French had nothing to celebrate – they were comprehensively chucked out of northern Italy. The Hapsburgs had as much to celebrate as indicated by the fact that they retained influence in northern Italy. It’s not a lot either way is it? Actually, the most significant consequences of the wars were not those written on the peace treaty. They lay in three big things really; firstly the impact we have mentioned before of modern warfare; the vast expenditure required to raise and manage armies with artillery and firearms; the development of massive fortifications designed to resist artillery, which again cost a bomb, ha ha. The impetus this gave to the development of central governmental institutions led to greater taxation the restriction of those old medieval liberties and the arrival of standing armies, able to monopolise violence and enforce royal control. The second lay in the history of poor Italy, forced to watch for decades as foreign armies wandered across her. She no longer had an effective local champion, and Venice remained ever more outward facing and, as ever, in no position or with little interest in providing a champion for Italy – she had problems of her own, as we will hear. It was not just the wars that caused it, but the 16th century sees the eclipse of Italian leadership of Europe; maybe in fact the wars are the expression of it rather than the cause. There are many reasons; the gradual but increasing move in international trade away from the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic; the impact of the rejection of humanism through the counter reformation, the political disunity of the Italian peninsular in contrast to the increasing centralisation of Spain, France and England. All together, they meant that Italian influence and power will be ever more eclipsed.

The third big impact was that distraction – preventing Charles from doing what he really wanted to do – crush Protestantism in his lands.

Charles V, then, faced a bunch of priorities that would have broken a lesser man. Seriously, this is a man who learned to rub his tummy and pat his head at the same time. But I suppose you could boil it all down to 3 priorities – don’t allow yourself to be beaten up by the Valois, and in return, get the lost Dukedom of Burgundy back if you can; number 2, crush the protestant reformation in Germany and bring them back to the one true faith; number 3, fight the infidel challenge from the east in the form of the Ottoman Empire. We have dispatched the first with an airy wave of the contemptuous podcasters hand. As emperor of the holy Roman Empire, Charles was supposed to defend the faith as his oath demanded; and the extent of his distraction was clear for all to see; the most obvious was of course the continuing reformation in Germany, but there are others. When I did the shedcast I mentioned on religious toleration, one of the things I found out was just how successful Protestantism was in Austria. I was astounded; I had always assumed that, as the Hapsburg’s backyard and staunchly Catholic in the 17th century, that Protestantism made little headway there. How wrong I was. by 1570, 90% of the Austrian Nobility was Protestant, along with half the burgers of Vienna and other cities. It required dedicated persecution to bring matters back to the desired status quo of the Hapsburgs – which included 100,000 Austrians being forced to leave their homeland and seek a new one with a protestant ruler. Expulsions survived as late as 1731 when 20,000 protestants were forced to leave Salzburg.

Now, I am not sure where we left it, but the German Diets had at least proved a meeting point between Catholic and Protestant princes, a place where they could talk to some extent away from the confessional lines. Of course, that rarely meant peace and harmony, as the 1529 version at Speyer demonstrated. This was when the Lutheran princes protested against the anti Lutheran pronouncements of the Diet, and thus created the tag we now use with gay abandon – Protestantism. Interestingly, it was not Charles V who presided over the Diet, and if he had, it’s is quite likely the protest would not have happened – Charles V had intended a conciliatory line, to maintain unity in the face of the Ottoman threat. This is a theme actually – of Charles V compromising with the Lutheran princes to be able to harness German resources in Italy and the East. Nope, it was his brother Ferdinand who presided at Speyer, Ferdinand was a far less conciliatory figure than Charles.

Imperial antagonism taught the Lutheran princes that they must unite. In 1530, the Augsberg Confession created a statement of Lutheran Faith, produced by a man called Phillip Melancthon about whom I frequently feel guilty; he really should have played a suitably large part in my narrative, and yet he has not – he was a crucial and influential thinker in translating and communicating Luther’s teachings. I am sorry Phil.  Anyway, In 1531 the German Princes Phillip I of Hesse and John Frederick of Saxony created the start of the Schmalkaldic league, the name coming from the town at which it was first agreed. Neither Phillip nor John Frederick, in my humble opinion, were well served by their portraitists, but you might want to look at the website to see if you agree. I appreciate that I am once again being shallow and trivialising important events in world history, and I apologise. A little. I might wish that they’d also found a town with a simpler name to help out later historians. Borna looks like a nice place. Anyway, the Schmalkaldic league grew, adding states such as Brandenberg, Denmark, the Palatinate, along with a mass of smaller territories and imperial cities. It had some successes such as the restoration of Duke Ulrich to Württemberg, and throughout the 1530s and early 1540s it profited from Charles’s multiple priorities.

By the mid 1540’s, however, Charles was looking once more at his soft, woolly gloves, and realising that if he was to shift Lutheranism, these gloves would have to come off. There must instead be at least the application of a rolled up newspaper, and a mailed fist would probably be more appropriate and maybe withdrawal of use of the comfy chair on Wednesday afternoons. In short, he was going to have to be severe. In 1546, he made a Truce with the Ottomans, and agreed a peace with Francis. This was one of the intermittent breaks in the Hapsburg Valois hostilities, the one that allowed Francis to send a fleet against Henry VIII that sent our hero scuttling for cover. He carried out discussions with the Pope and by judicious dangling of the prospect of access to the comfy chair on Wednesday afternoons, there was much rejoicing and agreements to work together. Actually, the agreement was based on the more substantive agreement to help Pope Paul III’s son Pier Luigi gain the duchies of Parma and Piacenza. As it happens this is an agreement that later comes unstuck, so Paul III withdrew his support for the Emperor, you know, the bloke trying to reimpose Catholicism on behalf of the head of the catholic church otherwise known colloquially as um, the Pope. This is such a constant theme in the 16th century. Give the fundamental nature of the religious divide, I keep assuming that Catholic will align with Catholic and Protestant with Protestant. And yet material and dynastic considerations constantly get in the way off the religious struggle. I guess that’s maybe not so surprising for the dynasts – Valois and Hapsburg. But for the Pope? It is easy to forget, and important not to forget, just how far the Pope was a temporal ruler as well as a spiritual one.

Anyway, in 1546, Charles V finally got his act together, he finally had a gap in his schedule, and could roll up the newspaper and apply it to the German Lutheran bottom. He gathered an enormous army of over 50,000 men. He also gained the allegiance of a pivotal figure in what happened, Duke Maurice of Saxony. Maurice had been raised a protestant. But Maurice hated the leading Lutheran Prince John Frederick of Saxony, seriously disliked him, came out in spots in his presence, bowel loosening dislike. Am I getting the message across here? Maurice was constantly conflicted as it happens, because on the other had he had a very strong relationship with the other leading protestant prince, Philip of Hesse. Gosh, life is difficult.  Actually, Maurice demonstrates the basic problem the Schmalkaldic league had – really the only thing that united them was Lutheranism. They knew war was coming, and yet could make no decisive attempts at a pre-emptive attack or to defeat Charles’s allies in detail before he could assemble. Anyway, to cut long story just a little shorter than earlier, in 1547 the two sides faced each other at the battle of Muhlberg. Expectations were as high for the protestants, and unrealistic as for an England football team before a major international tournament, and the results were the same – hideous defeat. The army of the Schmalkaldic league was half the size of Charles’s army facing them, and they did less that half as well in the battle. The league was at an end, John Frederick captured, Maurice promoted from Duke to Elector, in the Catholic camp all were smiles and sneers. In the Protestant camp, Maurice was reviled as a Judas. John Frederick was forced to hand over most of Wittenberg in return for his life, so losing the protestants’ spiritual home.

Unfortunately, the victory did not remove the problem. That after a quarter of a century the verruca of Protestantism had dug deeply into the Imperial foot. Digging it out would be a problem. And actually having Maurice on his side didn’t really help Charles with the rooting out, because he had to keep Maurice happy, Maurice could shield Protestants to some degree.

But in the short term, Charles was triumphant, but Charles triumphant was a reasonably fair matter and he tried at least for some compromise in rubbing out Lutheranism. The Augsberg Interim were decrees that Protestant princes were required to adhere to within 18 days; interim, because the Council of Trent was supposed to then create a permanent solution to bring the two sides back together – a vain hope anyway, since as we have seen the Council of Trent wouldn’t give the rough end of a pineapple for any compromise. The Augsberg Interim restored Papal supremacy, required the restoration of the sacraments. Actually Phillip Melancthon tried hard to work with the compromise and create a text all could sign up to.

But it was not to be. The Lutherans would not wear it; hundreds of pastors left, including Martin Bucer, leaving for England, hundreds were ejected from their churches and they refused to accept the deal. By 1552, the Prots were in open revolt, and hey presto, their leader was Maurice of Saxony. If there had once been a chance to squeeze the Lutheran genie back into the Catholic bottle, it had long gone. The result was the Peace of Augsberg, confirmed at the Imperial Diet of 1555. The peace of Augsberg saw the arrival of a new principle – Cuius regio, eius religio, whatever the ruler, so the religion. Lutheranism was here to stay. However, Augsberg was not about toleration – Augbserg was about Charles V’s exhaustion, and it was about co-existence. Cuius regio, eius religio enforced uniformity – it re-affirmed that the idea of different religions living peacefully together was quite impossible, the freedom to worship according to individual conscience was quite absurd for early modern man. You were required to believe what your prince told you to believe. The peace did also allow for people who could not agree with the religion of their ruler to leave and go somewhere else – which is quite a concession actually. Only in a few imperial cities were the different religions to live together.

The peace of Augsberg always felt rather temporary, a solution that looked a lot like a truce which simply separated the combatants for a while. It is important to recognise just how embedded was the idea of heresy. It’s easy to think of it as just bigotry, but heresy was an offence against the basis of the dying medieval view of the world, we must always have the context firmly in mind. If we go all the way back to the 5th century and Augustine of Hippo, we can find the basis of the church teaching that heretics must be forced to listen. While Augustine did not advocate execution himself, he drew his text from proverbs:

Thou shall beat him with the Rod and shall deliver his soul from hell

It was not possible to just have a different opinion about religious truth – because as far as the medieval Christian was concerned there was something absolute called the truth, which had been revealed by God; and so there could be no other beliefs. There was no individual conscience such as we think of it – the medieval conscience was a slate written on by God. So that also means that heretics were being wilfully evil – theirs was not an honest mistake, or a difference of opinion. It was a wilful offence against God. And the cost of the heretic’s wilful act of rebellion was not simply that their own individual soul would be lost – their actions threatened the withdrawal of God’s favour from the whole community, and every one knew the cost of losing God’s favour – plague, fire, death. This is critical to understand the stubbornness of the principle of uniformity and of intolerance – the offence of the individual threatened the safety of the whole community. The Pope was not just being a hegemon, though that could also be true – he had a duty to protect the community. There were obvious political reasons why rulers like uniformity – the support of the church for the kingdom was an enormously powerful tool. But rulers also took seriously their duty to protect their communities from heresy, and thus the wrath of God. So, we are not to judge is my point.

So Augsberg was a not inconsiderable achievement. But not only did it feel like unfinished business; it also held a critical flaw. It made no provision for Calvinism, the Reformed Church was still outlawed. And it was Calvinism that would provide all the dynamism and growth in Protestantism over the rest of the century. It is a flaw that would result in the misery and death of millions.

Charles V was a brave, hard working, deeply religious man who never really recovered from the death of his Empress and wife in 1539 and grieved for her for the rest of his life. He was beset with the constant pain of gout, through which he relentlessly worked and travelled. By 1555 he had come to the end of his tether, and rather remarkably his took the Cincinatus or Lear approach and decided to abdicate, although unlike Cincinnatus, or indeed Elton, he had no intention whatsoever of going back to his plough. So, between 1554 and 1556, Charles gave away his lands piecemeal; he gave them away in such a fashion because, of course, he was simultaneously head of various kingdoms and states rather than the head of one combined entity. The final ceremony was in 1556 at Brussels, when the Emperor abdicated at a ceremony leaning on the shoulder of his favourite and confidente, the 24-year-old William, Count of Nassau and Orange. You’ll be hearing that young man’s name again. Charles’s lands went two ways. Sicily, Naples, the Duchy of Milan, the Netherlands, Spain and all the colonial possessions of Spain went to his son, Phillip. For the rest, his lands in the north and east, Austria, part of Hungary, parts of Germany went instead to his brother Ferdinand. It’s an interesting situation; on occasion there’s debate about why he did this, and it’s proposed that the empire was just too complicated to manage, but honestly it’s not really clear he was being that strategic; part of the decision had been made for him, since Ferdinand had been elected King of the Romans way back in 1531, and so was already standing in the ante room of the Emperor; and Ferdinand was already in possession of the Austria lands. So really, it just made sense, path of least resistance. Really the odd thing is that he gave the Netherlands to Philip – understandable I suppose, given he’s you know, his son, but it was to be a fateful decision – I’m not sure how good your geography is, but Spain and the Netherlands were hardly next door, and they were not connected by lands belonging to the king of Spain’s possessions.

And so Emperor Charles V retired. He retired to a monastery. You may at this point have an image of an old man, thankfully living the rest of his life as a simple monk, easing himself to his knees on the cold stone floor in the early hours, called by the bell, a flash of skinny, wasted white flesh as he prepared to pray. At last, the ex Emperor able to live the simple, pious life of the lay brother. If so, it’s a not entirely accurate image. He did in fact retire to an obscure monastery in Spain, but he did also take with him 50 or 60 of his nearest and closest servants, just to, you know, make sure there was someone to help him to his feet. He was also apparently surrounded by timepieces, a reminder of the lack of time he’d had as emperor. He died in 1558.

4 thoughts on “253 Europe IX Confessionalism Unleashed

  1. I personally take offence that playing World of Warcraft could possibly be sinful. After all, it was a member of my WoW guild that told me “Hey, you like Mike Duncan’s stuff right? There’s this guy who works in a shed….”

    Certainly that would get me a place among the Elect?

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