|Chapter 12: The Age of Religious Wars
The first half of the sixteenth century saw the Reformation explode throughout Europe; and mostly in Central Europe, as Lutherans, Anabaptists, Zwinglians and Calvinists broke from the Roman Catholic Church. Most of the struggles were centered in Germany and Switzerland. Henry VIII also quarreled with Rome and made himself the head of the Catholic Church in England. Note that Henry’s fight with the papacy was more of a political fight than a dogmatic one. In the second half of the sixteenth century, religious struggles will spread westward as Calvinists fight for religious recognition and win over Scotland and the Netherlands to their camp. Moreover Protestants and Catholics will fuel a struggle in England that will help to shape the Anglican Church.
The Peace of Augsburg in 1555, legalized Lutheranism in the Holy Roman Empire but not Calvinism, Anabaptism and the various modes of Antitrinitarianism. The Council of Trent which had opened in 1545 and concluded in 1563 would both establish a revitalized Roman Catholic Church which would demand absolute loyalty to a centralized “top-down” hierarchy, headed by the pope and his bishops but also a Jesuit led counter offensive to win back Protestant territory especially in Germany. It is important to understand that the Calvinists and the Catholics began the second half of the sixteenth century with two irreconcilable church systems. In many ways the Calvinists were the “new papists” and the Catholics burned with “reformational fervor.”
Nowhere was this contrast between Protestant and Catholic more obvious than in art and architecture. The Counter Reformation would find expression in the Baroque style which was grandiose, brightly colored, and filled with drama and energy. Protestant art was also called Baroque but it was much more restrained, more somber in color, almost dark and far less dramatic. In the book on pp. 390-1, it is valuable to compare the Catholic baroque church in Ottobeuren in Bavaria (in which the center of worship is the altar where the Eucharist takes place) with a woodcut of a Protestant church (which is plain with little to distract the congregation from the Word of God). We will study Baroque art in more detail in Chapter 14.
This chapter will deal with the religious wars that raged across Europe from the 1540s to 1648. It was a time of great hatred and bloodshed where rulers and religious leaders like the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, Mary I of England, Philip II of Spain, John Knox, Theodore Beza and Philippe du Mornay refused any compromise to achieve their political and religious goals. And there were those who betrayed their religious principles for purely political gain, like Cardinal Richelieu. But there were a group of rulers and leaders who worked to subordinate religious extremism and favored toleration, moderation and compromise for the good of their people and countries; these were the politiques and the most famous were William of Orange, Elizabeth I of England and Henry IV of France. The chapter will end with the Thirty Year’s War which will finally bring to an end the Wars of Religion.
Huguenots bring instability to France
France was almost entirely Catholic but there many Protestants who were inspired by the writings of John Calvin and came to be called Huguenots, a name taken from Besançon Hugues a Genevan who participated in the rebellion against the Savoy dynasty, which led to the independence of Geneva in 1526. These French Protestants were “under suspicion” in the early 1520s and were persecuted after Francis I was captured at the Battle of Pavia by the forces of Charles V as the French tried to placate Charles. In the 1530s, these Protestants set up anti-catholic posters all over Paris and mass arrests followed. These arrests drove Calvin to Geneva and in 1540 the Edict of Fontainebleau subjected French Protestants to the Inquisition. Francis I died in 1549 and under his son Henry II the Edict of Chateaubriand in 1551 took sterner measures which included loss of property and censorship.
Then in 1559, the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis brought to an end the Italian Wars often called the Habsburg–Valois Wars, a series of conflicts that had begun in 1494, and brought Europe a moment of peace – but not in France. That same year saw two trends develop: deepening internal French religious conflict and a shifting of the European Balance of Power from France to Spain. It began with an accident. At a tournament as part of the wedding festivities celebrating the marriage Henry II’s thirteen year old daughter, Elisabeth of Valois, to King Philip II of Spain, Henry II was mortally wounded in a jousting accident. He was succeeded by a sickly son (Francis II, 1544-1560) who died the next year. Three families began at once to compete for the young kings favor: the Bourbons, who were strong in the south and west; the Montmorency-Chatillons, who were strong in central France; and the Guises who were strong in eastern France.
The Guises were the most successful because Francis, the duke of Guise (1519-1563), had been a successful general for Henry II and his brothers were cardinals Moreover, Francis’ widow, Mary of Scotland (Queen of Scots) was a Guise on her mother’s side and the Guises were militant Roman Catholics. The Montmorency-Chatillion and Bourbons had Huguenot sympathies. The Bourbon, Louis of Condé and the Montmorency-Chatillion admiral Gaspart de Colingy were leaders of the French Protestant resistance. They had even collaborated in a conspiracy to kidnap Francis II in 1560. The conspiracy failed and they avoided execution; even Calvin condemned such tactics.
Calvinism appealed to different people in different social classes for different reasons. Some nobility saw Calvinism as a way to oppose the Guise-dominated monarchy. Others wanted to establish areas of territorial control – like medieval principality using Calvinism as their excuse. Calvinists in France were always small in proportion to the overall population, about 2,000 congregations. But they held important posts in the military and the government. Calvin and Beza (whom we will soon meet) tried to win over the aristocrats, the most important being Jeanne d’ Albert (a Bourbon) the mother of the future Henry IV. The bottom line was the Calvinists were not just religiously motivated but politically motivated.
The Guises and the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre
When young Francis II died in 1560, he died without heirs and so he was succeeded by his younger brother, Charles IX (1560-1574) and his mother, Catherine de Mèdici (1519-1589) became his regent. She tried without success to reconcile the Protestant and Catholic factions and so she tried to find allies with the Protestants. In 1562, after conversations with Beza and Coligny, she issued the January Edict, which granted French Protestants freedom to worship privately in urban areas and publically in the countryside. However, two months later in March, the Duke of Guise murdered many Huguenot worshippers in Vassy in Champagne. This ignited the French Wars of Religion and had Condé and his Huguenot armies come to the queen mother’s side, war might have been averted.
Catherine, the Queen Mother greatly feared the power of the Guise (even though they were Catholic) and so Condé’s hesitation to support her forced her – against her wishes – to ally with the Guise Family. Had she not, she would have been forced to capitulate (surrender) to the Protestants. During the fighting that followed in 1562 &1563, Protestants from Hesse and the Palatinate fought with the Huguenots and when the Francis (duke) of Guise was assassinated, it brought a short respite. The fighting resumed in 1568 and lasted until 1570; these years marked some of the bloodiest fighting and saw Louis of Condé killed in battle and leadership of the Huguenots passing to Admiral Coligny. This led to another respite and the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye acknowledged the power of the Huguenot nobility and gave them religious freedom within their own areas - even allowing them to fortify their towns. The queen mother was caught in the middle. On one hand she wanted France to be fully Catholic but feared the staunchly-ambitious and Catholic Guise family; on the other hand she wanted Protestant support but feared militant Calvinism.
After the Peace of Saint-Germain, the young king Charles IX showed favor to the Bourbon family and Admiral Coligny who became his most trusted advisor. Catherine secretly began to plot with the Guise family against the Huguenots because she was terrified that the Huguenots were gaining too much power and influence. Moreover to her horror, Admiral Coligny had persuaded Charles to invade the Netherlands to support Dutch Protestants in their fight for freedom against Catholic Spain - and that would mean that France would become an enemy of Spain which was now at the height of its military power.
Then on August 22, 1572, only four days after Henry of Navarre, the Huguenot king of Navarre, married Catherine’s daughter (and the king’s sister), Marguerite of Valois, Coligny was shot in the arm by a would-be-assassin, who was part of a plot hatched by the Guise and Catherine. Fearing the king’s anger at the failed assassination, Catherine convinced her son that a Huguenot coup was being planned which only swift retaliation could prevent. Thus on St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 24th, 1572, Coligny and 3,000 Huguenots were massacred in Paris. Within three days, mobs attacked and killed about 20,000 Huguenots throughout France. The Pope Gregory XIII and Philip II of Spain ordered religious celebrations but the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre lived on as a day of infamy among Protestants.
For Philip II of Spain, who was the leader of militant Catholicism, the massacre was a two edged sword (cut both ways). The French religious civil war made it certain that France would not help Philip’s rebellious Protestant/Calvinist subjects in the Netherlands but it also made the Catholic vs. Huguenot struggle in France not just a French issue but a European issue because it galvanized (strengthened) Protestants to fight for their survival against Catholic aggression. Up to this point (St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre) Protestants only grudgingly favored civil disobedience but after 1572 Protestants in general and Calvinists in particular came to favor the need for active defense of their religious rights and began to author theories to justify civil rebellion. John Knox, who had seen his efforts bring Calvinism into Scotland crushed by Mary of Guise and to bring Calvinist into England crushed by “Bloody Mary” (Queen Mary I) in England laid the first groundwork for this Calvinist resistance in his First Blast of the Trumpet against the Terrible Regiment of Women in which he openly declared that heathen (meaning non Protestant) rulers ought to be removed from their thrones.
In 1573, François Hotman wrote Franco-Gallia which made a case for a representative government and an elected monarchy. It was only found favorable by Catholics or Protestants when it could be used for that side’s own political agenda; and, more interestingly, its ideas influenced Rousseau’s treatise, The Social Contract, written in 1762. In 1574, Theodore Beza, a close disciple of Calvin, wrote On the Right of Magistrates over their Subjects in which he rejected Calvin’s views and justified the overthrow of “tyrannical rulers.” In 1579, a treatise attributed to Philippe du Mornay, A Defense of Liberty against Tyrants (Vindiciae contra Tyrannos), questioned the authority of kings, asking questions such as whether subjects are bound to obey monarchs who infringe upon the will of God.
Henry of Navarre
Charles IX was horrified at the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and blamed himself for the massacre and the bloodshed that followed. His health, always fragile, broke and he died in May, 1574 probably of tuberculosis and was succeeded by his younger brother, Henry III (1551-1589). Henry found himself caught between a radical Catholic League, led in Henry of Guise (the son of Francis, duke of Guise, assassinated in 1563) and angry Huguenots - neither of which had much loyalty to the new king. Like his mother (Catherine de Medici), Henry III sought to take a middle course and (happily for France) he soon received support from a growing body of impartial and neutral Catholics and Huguenots who were willing to compromise in religious creeds to save the nation. These were true Politiques, rulers and leaders who subordinated theology to political unity, tolerance and moderation.
The Peace of Beaulieu in May 1576 granted the Huguenots almost complete religious and civil freedom but it did not last because in October of 1577, the Catholic League forced the king to modify the peace and restrict Huguenots to limited areas of worship. This caused a renewed outbreak religious strife and the Protestants found a champion in Henry of Navarre (a legal heir to the French throne through direct male descent from Louis IX (1214-1270). This strife reached a crisis during the mid-1580s, the Catholic League with Spanish help denominated Paris. On May 12th, 1588, there was a spontaneous series of riots in Paris – called the Day of the Barricades - against the moderate and hesitant policies of the king. The Duke of Guise entered Paris and the king fled to Chartres. Then king successfully (and treacherously) ordered the assassinations of the Duke of Guise and his brother, the Cardinal of Guise.
The Duke of Guise had been very popular however, and the citizenry turned against the king because of the murders. The Parlement instituted criminal charges against the king, and so Henry III joined forces with his Protestant rival Henry of Navarre. As the two Henrys prepared to attack Paris, a young fanatical Dominican, Jacques Clément, assassinated Henry III and so Henry of Navarre succeeded the childless Henry III as King Henry IV. The pope and Philip II of Spain were horrified at the prospect of the Protestant French king – and a king who was popular with his people. Amid threats of Spanish intervention, Henry proved he was a true politique and ready to place the good of France above religious absolute religious unity. He was also weary of decades of bloodshed and believed that a tolerant form of Catholicism was the best remedy. So on July 25, 1793 he publically abandoned the Protestant religion and embraced Catholicism – He was reported to have said, “Paris is worth a Mass.”
The Huguenots were horrified; the pope was skeptical but most of the French church and people rallied in support of the king. By 1596, the Catholic League was disbanded, Spanish influence diminished and the wars of religion in France were over. On April 13, 1598, Henry issued the Edict of Nantes which gave the Huguenots qualified religious freedom. The edict treated Huguenots for the first time as more than heretics and opened a path of tolerance. The edict offered general freedom of conscience to individuals and specific concessions to the Huguenots, such as amnesty and the reinstatement of civil rights, including the right to work in any occupation and to bring grievances directly to the king. Nevertheless, in spite of its many accomplishments, the Edict of Nantes merely turned a hot war into a cold war because the edict could NOT restrain religious fanatics. Henry himself would be assassinated by a Catholic fanatic in 1610 but his accomplishments transformed of France into a modern state and his genuine concern for his people made him one of France’s most popular kings, both before and after his death.
The Habsburgs and the Age of Philip II
Juana of Castile, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella and older sister of Catherine of Aragon, had married Philip of Burgundy who died in 1506. So their son, Charles (1500-1558) inherited her Spanish possessions which included Burgundy and the growing Spanish empire in the New World and Charles became both Charles I of Spain was the Holy Roman emperor Charles V. Charles married Isabella of Portugal and their son was Philip II. After the retirement of his father in 1555 to the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Philip II was the most commanding and powerful monarch in Europe. In central Europe however, the Germans would not accept Philip and so Charles’ younger brother Ferdinand inherited the imperial title and the eastern Hapsburg lands of Austria, Bohemia and Hungary.
Spain grew dramatically in the sixteenth century. What caused this dramatic growth was the enormous wealth that poured into Spain from the New World. After the initial plundering of Inca and Aztec gold and silver, the1540s saw two great silver mines, Zacatecas in Mexico and Potosi in Peru, produce great sums of money that paid the king’s debts and hired mercenary soldiers. Spanish silver affected the entire world and the new wealth it brought created dramatic social change as Europe became richer with growing economies and populations.
Major towns not just in Spain but in France, England and the Netherlands tripled and quadrupled in size. But there was a downside because there were more people but less food and fewer jobs; so inflation soared. These factors were nowhere more true than in Spain where most of the wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few and the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” widened. Nowhere in Europe did the peasants suffer more than in Spain because the Spanish were the most heavily taxed people in Europe. So those who worked hardest to create wealth prospered the least.
Nevertheless, was a great organizer and created an efficient and loyal bureaucracy by using the lesser nobility. Philip was a private man, reclusive and religious, and so he administered his kingdom through his bureaucrats. He was a great patron of the arts and his famous monument, El Escorial, located outside Madrid was a combination palace, church, museum, library, mausoleum and monastery. Philip's reign saw a flowering of cultural which has come to be called the Golden Age, creating a lasting legacy in literature, music, and the visual arts. Even though he was called Philip the Prudent, he was fiscally irresponsible, spent money beyond the means of his nation and was responsible for four separate state bankruptcies in 1557, 1560, 1575, and 1596. And he knew personal sorrows, especially the suspicious death of his mad and treacherous son, Don Carlos.
We also need to examine Spain’s militant Catholicism. One of the primary reasons seems to lie in her history. In the early Common Era the Iberian Peninsula was a coalescence of Celtic, Roman and Visigothic cultures. In the early eighth century most of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Muslim Berbers. Beginning in the same century the various Spanish kingdoms regrouped and began to reconquer the peninsula in a seven century struggle called the Reconquista. Historians believe that this bitter and protracted struggle contributed to Spanish religious militancy and intolerance towards Islam, Protestants or people of native religions. In 1492, the last Moorish stronghold, Granada, was overcome under Ferdinand and Isabella and the peninsula was finally united.
But there was also a Muslim threat posed by the Ottoman Empire in Central Europe. In 1529, the Austrians barely saved Vienna from an Ottoman army and during the 1560s, the Ottoman Turks advanced deep into Austrian territory and their fleets dominated the Eastern Mediterranean. In 1571, however, a Holy League (crafted by Phillip II) and consisting of Spain, Venice, Genoa and the Papacy under the command of Don John of Austria (who had expelled Moors from Granada in the…) was formed to attack the Ottoman navy. On October 7th, 1571, Don John’s fleet won an astounding victory against the Ottoman navy under the command of Ali Pasha in the Battle of Lepanto (so named because it was fought off Lepanto in the Gulf of Corinth). The Turks in time recovered and remained a threat but the victory at Lepanto was a huge psychological boost for European Christians – especially Philip II.
The Revolt in the Netherlands
The Netherlands was originally called Burgundy. As we saw, Burgundy became a Spanish possession with the marriage of Juana of Castile to Philip of Burgundy. By the time of Charles V and Philip II (both of whom retained the title of Duke of Burgundy), Burgundy can be aptly called the Spanish Netherlands. The Northern Provinces (the modern Netherlands) were Dutch speaking and Protestant; the Southern Provinces (modern Belgium) was French speaking and Catholic.
Philip had won a tremendous victory at Lepanto and suppressed a revolt in Portugal when he inherited that throne in 1580. The Mediterranean for all practical purposes was a Spanish lake controlled by the Spanish navy and that same navy brought Portugal’s overseas empire in Africa, India and Brazil into the Spanish overseas empire in the Americas and the Philippines. Philip also intended to dominate England, France and the Netherlands (one of his richest possessions) but would taste frustration in France, defeat in England and a long war with the loss of the Spanish Netherlands. But Philip's despotism and his stern Counter-Reformation measures kindled a revolt, which led to the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648).
From 1555 to 1559 Philip lived in the Netherlands but then left Netherlands and appointed his half-sister, Margaret of Parma, as regent, assisted by a Council of State, headed by Antoine Perrenot (1517-1586), known after 1561 as Cardinal Granvelle who hoped to reduce growing Calvinism through church reforms and breaking down the traditional local autonomy of the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands - and replacing them with a centralized government under Spanish oversight. But the Dutch merchant towns, especially Antwerp, were fiercely independent and already strongly Calvinist.
They were independently minded, tolerant of differing religious views and led by two members of the Council of State, the Count of Egmont (1522-1586) and William of Orange (called William the Silent because of his small circle of advisors) – who resisted Granvelle’s attempt to impose Spanish autocracy (rule). Like Henry IV of France, William of Orange (1533-1584) was a true Politique and placed the good of the Netherlands above religious intolerance. He was first a Catholic, then a Lutheran and finally – after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre – a Calvinist.
The beginnings of the Dutch revolt began in 1561, when Granvelle began his ecclesiastical reforms and Spanish domination of the government. William of Orange organized the Dutch nobility and their opposition was so determine that they succeeded in driving Granvelle from office in 1564. But even with Granvelle gone, the Council was ineffective and popular unrest grew, especially among the artisans in the cities and the radical Calvinists. Then the situation deteriorated even more when Philip II tried to impose the decrees of the Council of Trent. This time, Louis of Nassau (younger brother of William) led the resistance and in 1566, issued The Compromise, an open petition to Philip II, asking him to withdraw the Inquisition in the Netherlands.
Margaret of Parma (and Philip himself) spurned (harshly rejected) The Compromise calling its authors “beggars.” The result was that Calvinists rioted, Louis of Nassau openly called upon French Huguenots and German Lutherans for help and the Netherlands was on the brink of full scale rebellion. But the rebellion was averted because the higher nobility did not support The Compromise because they feared both Calvinistic iconoclasm and anarchy as much as Granvelle’s political repression.
The next year (1567), Philip [pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory and] made the fatal decision to make an example of the Protestant rebels by sending the Duke of Alba with 10,000 soldiers to put down the revolt. Alba established a special tribunal (court), known as the Council of Troubles (but to the people of the Netherlands as the Council of Blood), to punish the ringleaders of the recent political and religious "troubles." Almost 9,000 people including the Count of Egmont were tried and executed.
Then, to make matters worse, the Spanish levied new taxes to make the Netherlands pay for its own suppression, which met with such resistance that they could not be collected. As a result of Spanish persecution, thousands fled during the six year rule of Alba and William of Orange, from in exile in Germany, emerged as the leader of the resistance movement determined to win independence. The rebellion movement was centered in the northern, Calvinist oriented provinces of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht, where William was Stadholder (or governor). So in 1568 the Eighty Year’s War began when William openly tried to drive Alba from Brussels. But Williams’s efforts failed and his army fell apart. So the war went dormant for a few years.
But the war flared up again in March of 1572, when Queen Elizabeth I of England deported the Gueux, or the Sea Beggars, - a group of anti-Spanish exiles and criminals including many Englishmen - from England in an attempt to appease Philip II. The Gueux in turn unexpectedly captured the almost undefended town of Brill in South Holland. Taking this victory as a sign to renew the struggle, William immediately enlisted their support and the Sea Beggars quickly mixed with the native population and began sparking rebellions against the Spanish in town after town spreading the fighting southward. This marks the most intense part of the conflict and Dutch fought furiously.
The town of Leiden courageously resisted a Spanish siege; and the Dutch opened their dikes flooding the land to deter the Spanish. So vigorous was the Dutch defense that the Duke of Alba was replaced by Don Luis de Requesens in late 1573. The greatest atrocity of the war came after Requesens’ death in 1576 when Spanish mercenaries sacked the city of Antwerp killing 7,000 people in what has come to be called the Spanish Fury.
But the Spanish Fury backfired on Philip II because it galvanized both the northern (more Protestant) provinces and the southern (more Catholic – roughly modern Belgium today) provinces in unified opposition to the Spanish terror and produced a union (agreement) called the Pacification of Ghent which was signed on November 8, 1576. This agreement permitted internal regional sovereignty in matters of religion and political cooperation even between those of differing religious persuasions. Four provinces held out at first but eventually joined and created an all-embracing Union of Brussels.
Then in November, 1576, Don John, the victor of Lepanto, took command of the Spanish forces in the Netherlands and tasted his first defeat. He could not overcome Dutch unified resistance and was forced to sign the humiliating Perpetual Edict in February, 1577, which called for the removal of all Spanish troops from the Netherlands within twenty days. Thus William of Orange and the Dutch triumphed and Don John died the next year of camp fever (probably typhus). But – it’s not over - before he died, Don John worked with Alexander Farnese of Parma, the son of Margaret of Parma, to revive Spanish power in the south by creating fear among the Catholics of extreme Calvinism and thereby breaking up the Union of Brussels. And it worked! In early 1579, the southern provinces formed the Union of Arras making peace with Spain. The Northern provinces responded by forming the Union of Utrecht.
Philip seized what he saw as an opportunity to break the Union of Utrecht by declaring William of Orange an outlaw - and placing a bounty on his head. But this action backfired and made William a national hero who, in a speech before the Estates General of Holland, denounced Philip II as a heathen tyrant who no longer needed to be obeyed. So on July 22, 1581, the northern provinces declared that Philip was no longer their ruler and all (except Holland and Zeeland) accepted with the southern provinces a titular ruler, the French Duke of Alençon, a younger son of Marie de’ Medici. But Alençon was incompetent and ambitious - and was soon deposed and returned to France.
The Spanish did not give up their efforts to subdue the Northern provinces. William of Orange was assassinated in 1584 and was succeeded by his son Maurice who gained the support of the English and French. Philip II still might have succeeded but he overextended himself with his meddling in French and English affairs. Trying to undermine Henry IV, he signed a secret treaty with the Guises and later sent troops into France in 1590 under Alexander Farnese. Tensions with England, which had openly sent aid to the Dutch, also increased and came to a climax with the defeat of the Armada in 1588.
The bottom line was that the Spanish were exhausted were driven out of the Netherlands by 1593. In 1596, France and England recognized Dutch independence and finally formal peace would was concluded in 1609, when the Twelve Years’ Truce gave the Northern provinces virtual independence.
England under Mary and Elizabeth Tudor
Before Edward VI died in 1553, he nominated Lady Jane Grey as his successor, thus subverting the claims of his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth. Grey was the teenage daughter of a powerful Protestant nobleman, Henry Grey, and the granddaughter of Henry VII, on her mother’s side. Her reign was short – nine days – and she was removed because of popular uprisings which led the Privy Council to proclaim Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, to be Queen on 19 July 1553. Mary (b. 1516) had grown up under difficult circumstances.
Mary loved her father but deeply resented his treatment of his mother and at times – during her brother’s reign - even feared for her safety. She grew up a devout Catholic and when she came to the throne, she was determined to take her revenge. Her first act was to return England to Roman Catholic obedience and then she takes revenge of the Protestant advisors and theologians who removed England from the Catholic Faith. Most Englishmen were neutral about returning the Church of England to Rome but Mary makes her first mistake in her revenge.
Mary hunted down the Protestant reformers and the executions that followed were so severe that much of England turned against her. The most famous was Thomas Cranmer who was burned at the stake and became a great martyr. Many other Protestant leaders fled to the continent and these “Marian Exiles” settled mostly in Germany and Switzerland. It was John Knox who described her as Bloody Mary – even though her father had killed many, many more people. Mary’s second mistake was her marriage Philip II King which made him king of England - but the English despised him and never accepted him and after her death refused to honor his claims to the throne. In 1557, Philip convinced Mary to join him in a war with France. Philip got what he wanted but England lost Calais and Mary died brokenhearted the next year having lost the love of her people. Nevertheless at her funeral service John White, Bishop of Winchester, said: "She was a king's daughter; she was a king's sister; she was a king's wife. She was a queen, and by the same title a king also."
Mary was succeeded by her half sister, Elizabeth I (b. 1533), daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth was a shrewd and capable monarch in both domestic and foreign affairs. Elizabeth with the help of her able advisor, William Cecil (1520-1598), she built a strong monarchy – amicable with Parliament – on the disastrous ruins of his sister’s reign. Between 1559 and 1603, they guided England through Parliament into a religious settlement that did not stop religious rivalries but prevented them from tearing England apart for almost a century. A Politique like Henry IV of France and William of Orange, she prevented religious extremism from damaging national unity and yet she forged an Anglican Church that incorporated much Protestant doctrine with much Catholic doctrine and ritual so that most Englishmen came to identify with this bridge-church.
In 1559, Parliament passed an Act of Supremacy which repealed all the anti-Protestant legislation of Mary I and asserted Elizabeth’s authority as “supreme governor” over both spiritual and temporal affairs. In the same year, the Act of Uniformity a mandated for every English parish a revised version of the Book of Common Prayer that removed the more Protestant elements in Edward’s 1552 Book of Common Prayer. And in 1553, the issuance of the Thirty-Nine Articles, a revision of Cranmer’s Forty-Two Articles, made this moderate Protestantism the official religion of the Church of England. Elizabeth hoped to pursue a middle way (Via Media) and her first Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker (1504-1575), represented this ideal. Parker was one of the primary architects of the Thirty-Nine Articles, a scholar, a modest and moderate man of genuine piety and irreproachable morals.
The biggest problem Elizabeth faced was the rise of Catholic and Protestant extremists. When she became queen, Catholics were in the majority and most were moderate. The Catholic extremists were led on by the Jesuits and plotted to overthrow the queen. The Spanish encouraged them because they were angry that Elizabeth had taken a conciliatory stand towards Protestants and that she had refused Philip II’s offer of marriage. Elizabeth would stay unmarried because of its diplomatic advantage. The Catholic extremists hoped to replace Elizabeth with Mary Stuart – Mary Queen of Scots - (the only surviving child of James V of Scotland who himself was the son of Margaret, the sister of Henry VIII). Elizabeth acted firmly but mercifully against those who opposed her and she executed far fewer Catholics during her forty five year reign than his sister executed Protestants in her five year reign. Her rule was mercy unless the offender threatened the unity of her rule.
Elizabeth dealt more cautiously with the Protestants most of whom were called Puritans because they believed that they were working within the Church of England to purify it from Catholic doctrine or Popery as they called it. The Puritans had two principal areas of objection to the Anglican Church. First, they criticized the use of Catholic ceremonial and use of vestments and ornaments which (to them) made the Anglican Church seem that no Reformation had ever occurred. Second, they objected to Episcopal Government or ecclesiastical (church) organization in which the Church is governed by bishops - even though the monarch was head of the Church.
What the Puritans really wanted was a more thorough Reformation along the lines of autonomous congregations, governed by presbyteries, governing bodies of elders - (hence Presbyterian) along the lines and theology of John Calvin. The more extreme Calvinists among the Puritans wanted every congregation to be autonomous, a law unto itself, with no oversight either by bishops or presbyteries. These latter came to be known as Congregationalists and Elizabeth and her third Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift (who despised Puritans) used the Conventicle Act of 1593 to force such separatists to conform to the practices of the Church of England or face death or exile.
Relations with Spain began to deteriorate in 1567 when the Duke of Alba marched into the Netherlands. To the English such action seemed a prelude to and invasion of England. Then Pope Pius V (r. 1566-1572), who favored the conquest of England, “excommunicated” Elizabeth for Heresy in 1570 which stiffened English resistance to the Pope and the Jesuits. When Don John defeated the Ottoman Turks at Lepanto, England and France signed a mutual defense pact. Then in 1572, as we have seen, the Sea Beggars captured Brill and aroused both the Dutch and the Spanish and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre made Elizabeth the only protector of Protestants in France and the Netherlands. Also in the 1570s, English privateers, notably Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins, began to seize Spanish treasure ships bringing gold and silver from the Americas. And when Drake circumnavigated the world (1577-1580), the Spanish became alarmed at rising English sea power. Finally in 1585, Elizabeth signed the Treaty of Nonsuch which sent English soldiers to the Netherlands.
But the straw the broke the camel’s back was the events surrounding Mary, Queen of Scots. We have already seen that Mary was the hope of the Catholic extremists in England as she was next in line of succession to the English throne after Elizabeth. Although her father had been king of Scotland, she was raised in France and was thoroughly French and fervently Catholic. When her French husband, the sickly King Francis II died in 1561, she returned to Scotland as its queen but found that by the Treaty of Edinburgh (recognized by Francis II before he died and Elizabeth I), Calvinism was the recognized religion of Scotland. But Mary was not intimidated and established a court filled with French culture with a gaiety and sophistication that impressed many Calvinist nobles who found their religion dreary.
Mary’s arrival back in Scotland horrified John Knox (1514-1572), a disciple of Calvin who had helped establish Calvinism in Scotland the year before Mary returned. (Note the chronology: Elizabeth became queen in 1559, a Reformation Crisis followed in Scotland Calvinism is established in 1560 and Mary returns in 1561) Knox worked tirelessly to undermine the queen and complained about her Catholic Masses and other rituals which to any other Scotsman would be a capital offense (i.e., death penalty). Knox won the support for this “watchdog role” from both Elizabeth and Cecil (even though Elizabeth despised Knox because she had never forgiven him for his publication of the First Blast of the Trumpet against the Terrible Regiment of Women) because he could keep Mary from bringing Scotland back to Catholicism. In 1568, a scandal forced Mary to abdicate in favor of her one year old son, James, and she fled to her cousin Elizabeth in England who kept her in pleasant but protective custody (i.e., house arrest) where she continued to be an international symbol of a potentially Catholic England.
In 1583, Sir Francis Walsingham (1532-1590), Elizabeth’s secretary, discovered a plot against Elizabeth involving the Spanish ambassador, Bernardino de Mendoza, who was quickly deported. The result was an increase of hatred for Spain in England. In 1856, Walsingham uncovered another plot, the Babington Plot, led by Anthony Babington, who was caught and executed for seeking Spanish support to assassinate the queen – and this time there was no doubt that Mary was involved. Elizabeth did not want to execute her cousin – and felt strongly that to execute a monarch, even a deposed one, weakened monarchs everywhere - and she wanted peaceful relations with English Catholics. Nevertheless, even though she knew that the outcries from Catholics in Europe and England would be deafening, she ordered Mary’s execution on February 18, 1587. For the papacy and Philip II, this was the last straw and Philip gathered together his great Armada (his great fleet) for an invasion of England.
But the English struck first when Sir Francis Drake bombarded the port of Cádiz and damaged both the Spanish fleet and its support facilities. Drake went on to raid the coast of Portugal. These preemptive forced Spain to postpone the English invasion until the next year. On May 30, 1588, under the command of the Duke of Medina-Sidionia, the Armada set sail for England with134 ships and 25,000 soldiers and sailors. To Europe’s amazement, the English (with help form the Dutch) prevented the invasion barges from leaving Calais and Dunkirk and, with their faster and more maneuverable ships, inflicted a minor defeat on the Spanish fleet (sinking five Spanish ships with almost no damage to themselves) in the Battle of Gravelines.
Then, instead of turning around and regrouping in France or Spain, the Armada sailed north and entered the Atlantic before sailing south between Ireland and Scotland where most of their fleet was wrecked in a terrible storm (characteristic of the Little Ice Age). Only 67 ships and 10,000 men returned home to Spain. Many were drowned or killed when they were shipwrecked on English soil – on a few who landed on Irish soil survived.
The news of the Spanish disaster gave a boost to Protestants everywhere and, although Spain won impressive victories in the 1590s, it was bankrupt and never fully recovered as Spain faced more determined French, English and Dutch armies. By the time of his death in 1598, Philip had tasted defeat on all these fronts and his son (Philip III) and successors were all inferior leaders under whom Spain’s decline hastened – especially when the New World silver production slowed. The French would soon dominate Europe; and the Dutch and English would create overseas empires of their own and new sources of wealth. Elizabeth died in 1603 and left behind a strong seafaring-nation which within 150 years would become a global empire.
The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648)
The Thirty Years’ War was the last and most destructive of the Wars of Religion – and the most destructive European conflict until the First World War of 1914-1918. But unlike World War I what made the Thirty Years’ War so destructive were the bitter entrenched religious beliefs mixed with political, self-serving dishonesty. In the year 1600, Germany and the Holy Roman Empire were almost ungovernable, consisting of about 360 autonomous or semi-autonomous political jurisdictions There were some larger states like the Hapsburgs holdings or like Brandenburg, Saxony, the Palatinate or Bavaria; many were imperial cities, many were bishoprics; many were little duchies. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 gave each of them significant sovereignty (power to rule): each levied tolls and taxes; coined its own money; and hindered trade and travel.
German princes wanted to exploit growing economic opportunities and opposed any attempt by the Hapsburgs to consolidate the Empire. The Hapsburg emperors on the other hand, were in the difficult position of being rarely able to enforce their authority by force of arms; rather, they were force to use persuasion.
In addition to political fragmentation, the Holy Roman Empire was divided by religious denominations. In1600, the population was about evenly divided between Roman Catholics and Lutherans with the Roman Catholics holding a slight edge with some Calvinist and Anabaptist minorities (47% RC; 46% Lutheran; 7% the rest). The Peace of Augsburg had intended to freeze the Catholic-Lutheran ration but some Lutherans had been able to gain political control in some Catholic dominated areas whereas the opposite scenario was less frequent.
That meant that Lutherans had been far more successful in securing rights to worship in Catholic lands than Catholics had in Protestant lands. Thus the Catholic rulers were weakened and resentful over the concessions they had to make to the Protestants. There was an also bitter religious dislike between liberal and conservative Lutherans and between Lutherans and Calvinists and the last half of the sixteenth century had seen great dissension among Protestant factions within German universities.
Calvinism in particular was aggressive and determined to assert itself. It was an unrecognized religion but it gained a strong foothold when Frederick III (r. 1559-1576) in 1559 became the Elector of the Palatinate. Raised Catholic, then Lutheran, he converted to Calvinism and made it the official religion [state religion] in the Palatinate. Under his encouragement and supervision, the Heidelberg Catechism was drawn up and he made Heidelberg a staging area for Calvinist missionary penetration into the empire. He thus made Heidelberg the German Geneva and by 1609 Palatinate Calvinists headed a Protestant Defensive Alliance that received support from England, France and the Netherlands.
The Lutherans came to fear the Calvinists almost as much as they did the Catholics. And the situation deteriorated with aggressive Calvinist missionary penetrations into the empire. In other words, the Heidelberg Calvinists were threatening the Peace of Augsburg – and thus the legal foundation of the German states. But what divided them most were the bitter Calvinist attacks against the doctrine of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist which deeply offended the more conservative Lutherans. When the Elector of the Palatinate, for example, took the communion host and publically shredded it and mocked it as “a fine (i.e., false) God,” it was an insult both for Lutheran and Roman Catholics alike.
The Catholics were also active and added to the tensions in the empire, especially the Jesuits and Catholic Bavaria which became a militant and ideological stronghold for the Counter Reformation. From Bavaria, Jesuit missionaries won back significant numbers of Lutherans including the cities of Strasbourg and Osnabrück. In 1609, Maximilian I, Duke of Bavaria, organized a Catholic League to counter the Protestant Defensive Alliance headed by the Elector Frederick IV (d. 16100 and grandson of Frederick III). When the Catholic League raised a large army under Count Johann von Tilly (1559-1632), the stage was set for the Thirty Years’ War. The war sucked in every major Western European nation and was fought in four distinct stages.
The Bohemian Period (1618-1625): The war erupted when the Hapsburg prince, Ferdinand, archduke of Styria, came to the throne of Bohemia in 1618. Ferdinand was educated by the Jesuits and as soon as he became king, he revoked the religious freedoms of Bohemian Protestants. These freedoms had been in effect since 1575 and later expanded by the emperor Rudolf II (r. 1576-1612). The Protestant nobility of Prague responded by throwing Ferdinand’s regents out of the windows of the Royal Palace which came to be known as the Defenestration of Prague (defenestration means out the window). Later Protestant pamphleteers asserted that the regents survived because they fell into a dung heap, a story unknown to contemporaries and probably coined in response to the Imperial officials attributing their survival to the intercession of the Virgin Mary. The officials were in all probability saved by their coats and uneven castle walls slowing down their fall.) The next year Ferdinand became the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II (r. 1619-1637) by unanimous vote of the seven electors – but the Bohemians refused to accept him and declared the Calvinist elector of the Palatine Frederick V (son of Frederick IV), as their king.
What began as a revolt against an unpopular emperor, escalated into an international war. Spain sent troops to Ferdinand, who was also supported by Maximilian of Bavaria and the Lutheran elector John George I of Saxony (r. 1611-1536). It is also important to remember that politics and hypocrisy also play prominent roles in the war and that everyone had an agenda. Maximilian wanted to seize the electoral title from his distant Palatine cousin; and John George sought territorial gains, also at the expense of the Palatine elector. It would not be the last time during this war that politics and greed would trump (overcome) religious conviction. In 1620, von Tilly routed Frederick V’s troops at the Battle of White Mountain and by 1622, the forces of the emperor Ferdinand II had re-conquered and imposed Catholicism on Bohemia – and conquered the Palatinate as well. Meanwhile Maximilian invaded northwest Germany trying to seize as much land as he could.
The Danish Period (1625-1629): Ferdinand was starting to re-catholicize the empire and that frightened many Protestants. The Lutheran king of Denmark, Christian IV (d. 1648), who held territory within the empire, was eager to expand his influence over the coastal towns along the North Sea. With the encouragement of the FEDs, he invades Germany but was quickly defeated by Maximilian and forced to retreat back to Denmark. Maximilian’s successes made him so powerful that it worried the emperor Frederick, who turned to Albrecht of Wallenstein (1583-1634), a Protestant mercenary. Wallenstein was a brilliant general and carried the war into Denmark and by 1628 he had become a law unto himself (out of the emperor’s control) with a 100,000 man army.
Wallenstein had so smashed Protestant resistance that Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution of 1629, which reasserted the Catholic protections of the Peace of Augsburg. It also reaffirmed the illegality of Calvinism (completely unrealistic) and ordered the Lutherans to return all Church lands acquired since 1552 (equally unrealistic – even though it had legal standing). If the Lutherans had complied, it would have meant the return of new fewer than sixteen bishoprics and twenty-eight cities and towns to Roman Catholic obedience. Thus the second phase of the war ended by creating even greater fear in the hearts of Protestants than the ending of the first stage had.
The Swedish Period (1630-1635): At this point a new Protestant champion appeared, the Lutheran and deeply pious king of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus II (r. 1611-1632) who was guided by two interested parties: the Dutch who had not forgotten the Spanish Terror and the French minister Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) who willing sacrificed Catholic loyalty to French political interests – in this case, the curbing of Hapsburg power. In an alliance with the electors of Brandenburg and Saxony, Adolphus (using brilliant tactics and lighter and more mobile artillery) won a stunning victory over Tilly at the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631. The victory was so decisive that it changed the course of the war in favor of the Protestants and meant that Germany could never be re-catholicized.
In November of 1632 at the hard fought and bloody Battle of Lützen, Adolphus’ forces won a great victory over Wallenstein but Adolphus was killed and the Protestants lost direction. The emperor Ferdinand, who had long resented Wallenstein’s independence, had his Protestant general assassinated in 1634. The war then bogged down and in 1635, the German Protestant states, led by Saxony, reached a compromise with Ferdinand in the Peace of Prague, which ended the German civil war but did not stop France and the Netherlands and Spain from continuing the conflict.
The Swedish-French Period (1635-1648) was the last but the deadliest and most destructive phase of the war. At this point Catholic France openly entered the war supporting the Protestants and for thirteen years French, Spanish and Swedish soldiers roamed Germany - looting and murdering for no good reason. By the time peace talks began in Münster and Osnabrück in Westphalia in 1644, about one third of the German population had been killed. It was the worst killing of European people since the Black Death and would not be equaled until the First World War.
The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 ended all hostilities and was the first general peace in the empire for a generation. It was written in French which had replaced Latin as the Diplomatic Language of Europe. The treaty rescinded Ferdinand II’s 1629 Edict of Restitution and reasserted the 1555 cuius regio, eius religio principle of the Treaty of Augsburg. The treaty also gave Calvinists their long sought legal status and recognized the independence of both the Swiss Confederacy and the Dutch United Provinces. Bavaria became an elector state and Brandenburg-Prussia became the most powerful north German state. France and Sweden were the guarantors of the treaty and used it as an excuse to meddle in imperial affairs for a century. Finally and most importantly, it was obvious that Protestantism could never be displaced. France and Spain remained at war until 1659, when triumphant French armies forced the humiliating Treaty of the Pyrenees on the defeated Spanish. The same year also marked the end of Spanish Habsburg European dominance and as ascent of French dominance.
The changes brought about for much of Europe by the Thirty Year’s War were profound and far reaching. Much of Germany, Bohemia, the Netherlands and parts of Northern Italy were depopulated and ravaged by foraging armies (armies raiding the countryside for food), pestilence (disease) and famine (starvation), so that it took over a century to rebuild these nations and their economies. The Treaty of Westphalia also marked the final downfall of Spanish Habsburg dominance and France now took center stage as the most powerful nation in Europe.
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