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Central and Northern Europe

Central and Northern Europe

During the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries, strong monarchs in France, England, and Spain consolidated their territories into nations. A similar situation slowly developed in the rest of Europe—about two-thirds of the continent—which was divided into hundreds of independent states. The borders of these states shifted constantly because of power struggles among emperors, kings, princes, and religious leaders. In general, this part of Europe consisted of the following main geographic regions: In central Europe were Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Northern Europe was composed of the Low Countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg) and Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway).

In the 1400s commerce and trade flourished around the coast of the Baltic Sea (called the Baltic region) and in the Rhineland region (areas along the Rhine River and the Danube River in Germany). Throughout northern, central, and eastern Europe, culture was influenced by Italian humanists, members of the intellectual and literary movement that had sparked the Renaissance in Italy (see "Humanists promote change" in Chapter 1, and "Humanism sparks Renaissance" in Chapter 8). The Italians had journeyed north to work as diplomats (official representatives of governments), secretaries, and university lecturers. Inspired by the innovations of the Italian Renaissance, thinkers and artists traveled from other parts of Europe to Italy to study with prominent figures. These travelers then returned to their northern homes and began making their own cultural contributions, which became known as the northern Renaissance. For instance, humanists in Germany and the Netherlands expanded on the work started by the poet Petrarch and his followers in Italy. The ancient art of oil painting was refined by artists in the Netherlands, who in turn influenced painters in other countries.

Despite these innovations, however, the states in northern, central, and eastern Europe were engulfed in political and social chaos that virtually halted the Renaissance by the mid-1500s. This situation was caused by the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire, which resulted in numerous independence movements, and by the rise of the Protestant Reformation, which permanently transformed Europe. These events also had an impact on France, England, and Spain, but the rest of the continent was more directly affected. The reason was that Austria and Germany, located in the center of the continent, were at the heart of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire was a vast state that extended from France in the west, to Denmark in the north, and to Poland and Hungary in the east. In northern Italy, all territories except Venice were part of the empire. Although the emperor ruled most of Europe, he was actually a mere figure-head. He had no real power in France, southern Italy, Denmark, Poland, or Hungary. He ruled in name only in England, Sweden, and Spain. His control of northern Italy and Germany was sometimes nonexistent, sometimes firm. Countries such as Hungary were headed by the emperor or an imperial prince (a nobleman who ruled in the name of the emperor), but they remained outside the empire. Others, including Flanders (territory now in parts of Belgium, France, and the Netherlands), Pomerania (now in Russia and Poland), and Schleswig and Holstein (a region in western Germany), were part of the empire but were ruled by foreign princes who were granted control of these territories by the emperor.

Problems had existed in the Holy Roman Empire since it was founded in 962 by the Saxon (Germanic) king Otto I. He wanted to unify territories that are now the nations of Germany and Italy. From the beginning, the Holy Roman Empire was closely connected to the Roman Catholic Church (see "Holy Roman Empire" and "Roman Catholic Church" in Chapter 1). The emperor was crowned by the pope, the supreme head of the church, who had the final word in the appointment of all emperors. The emperor was considered to be God's representative on Earth in state affairs, just as the pope was God's representative on Earth in spiritual matters. After Otto's death, German kings served as Holy Roman Emperors. Eventually, when a king was elected by German princes, he automatically wanted to be crowned emperor by the pope. Even though kings and Holy Roman emperors were supposed to be elected, these positions gradually became hereditary, or passed on from father to son. From time to time German princes were able to exercise their authority in deciding who would become king, but final approval always rested with the pope. After 1045 a king who was not yet crowned emperor was known as king of the Romans, a title that gave him the right to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. All such kings did not become emperors, however, because the popes often chose someone else, especially when an election was in dispute.

Feudalism in decline

The main reason the Holy Roman Empire went into decline, however, was the collapse of feudalism (see "Feudalism" in Chapter 1). Feudalism was the social and economic system that dominated Europe in the Middle Ages. Under feudalism, tracts of land called fiefs (pronounced feefs) were granted by kings to lords and church officials in exchange for loyalty. In the eleventh century, capitalism, an economic system based on business and profit, began replacing feudalism, which was based on agriculture. Nevertheless, the fiefs remained in place as the basic social and political structure, so that Europe consisted of hundreds of independent states, or fiefs, that each had its own ruler. These states also had their own customs and laws. Continuing warfare in Italy and the weakness of monarchs in other kingdoms increased the power of German princes. In 1338 the German princes proclaimed that their appointed electors (those who voted for emperor) had the right to choose the emperor without the intervention of the pope. In 1356 Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV issued an official declaration called the Golden Bull, which supported the princes' decision by recognizing electors and regulating election procedures.

Holy Roman emperors were also confronted with conflicts between noblemen and merchants. Trade and commerce were flourishing along the coasts of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, and German merchants were becoming wealthy. They were gaining more political power, which alarmed the princes. Partly as a defense against the princes, merchants in the twelfth century began forming a network of trading associations known as the Hanseatic League. They established cities, called Hansa cities, that served as trading centers. Since the Holy Roman emperors were already having problems with unruly princes, they tended to side with the merchants. In an effort to increase their power base, the emperors declared the Hansa to be free cities that came under the direct control of the emperor and were given voting rights in the diet (a meeting of church officials and representatives of states).

Another problem was that Holy Roman emperors put more effort into maintaining a dynasty (rule by members of the same family) than in governing the empire. This situation arose because the emperor's throne was usually given to the king who had the most land and wealth. Over time, as kingships became hereditary and kings accumulated vast estates, the throne was held by emperors from a few families. Most prominent were the Luxembourgs and the Habsburgs. After 1438 all Holy Roman emperors were members of the powerful Habsburg (also spelled Hapsburg) family, which was based in Austria. They were frequently accused of being more interested in expanding family territories than in unifying the empire. The problem reached a crisis during the Renaissance period, when Habsburg emperor Maximilian I ruled as the king of the German nation. The German princes became concerned when Maximilian seemed to be placing the Habsburgs' interests above the welfare of the empire. He was also involved in the Italian Wars, a conflict between Spain and France over rich and divided territories in Italy (see "Italian Wars dominate Renaissance" in Chapter 2). Victory in this war could have resulted in expansion of Habsburg territory into Burgundy, a region in present-day eastern France. In 1495 the princes established a supreme court of justice to impose Roman law throughout the empire. Five years later they forced Maximilian I to place administration of the empire in the hands of an imperial council, which would control all external and internal affairs.

These measures simply slowed the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire. Most of the states were seeking independence, a trend that was encouraged by the Reformation, a movement to reform the Catholic Church that began in Germany in the early sixteenth century. The Reformation resulted in Protestantism being established as a religion separate from Catholicism. The German princes accepted Protestantism, while the emperors remained Roman Catholic. This situation led to the Thirty Years' War (1618–48), a complex religious, political, and social conflict. In this war, which involved all of Europe, the Holy Roman emperors joined Spain against the German Protestant princes, who were allied mainly with Sweden and France (see "Thirty Years' War" in Chapter 6). The struggle ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, a treaty that recognized the sovereignty (right to self-rule) of the states in the Holy Roman Empire. The only limitation was that the princes could not form alliances against the empire or the emperor. The states still belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, but the emperors exercised their power mainly as monarchs in their home regions. From this point onward the Holy Roman Empire existed in name only. (The empire ended officially in 1806, when Francis II of Austria renounced the title of emperor.)

The Protestant Reformation

The Holy Roman Empire and its religious strongholds in Europe began to unravel after the period known as the Babylonian Captivity and the Great Schism in the Roman Catholic Church (1348–1417; see "Crisis in the papacy" in Chapter 1). During this time there were as many as three popes—one in Rome, a second in France, and a third in Pisa, Italy. By 1500 the papacy, or office of the pope, had been returned to Rome, but it had become extremely corrupt. Popes were involved in raising taxes and tithes (contributions consisting of one-tenth of church members' income) to support the standing army of the Papal States, the territories ruled by the pope. Popes were also selling church offices, or positions. Most controversial of all was the selling of papal indulgences (payments made by church members in exchange for forgiveness of sins by the pope). Simultaneously, the death toll caused by the plague (1348–1700s; see "Black Death" in Chapter 1) was destroying both the social and spiritual lives of Europe's

Early reformers

The most influential religious reformers were Meister (Johannes) Eckhart, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin. Their efforts started the movement that became known as the Protestant Reformation (the term "Protestant" came from "protest"). In addition, the invention of "moveable type" and the mass production of the Gutenberg Bible in the mid-fifteenth century spread word concerning a key aspect of Protestant beliefs: that every person could understand the Bible without the help of a priest. Wycliffe was a major figure in the early Protestant movement. He was the first person to translate the Bible from Latin into English so that lay readers—those who were not church officials—could read it. Wycliffe, whose followers were called Lollards, also denied the Catholic belief in communion, the ceremony in which bread and wine represent the body and blood of Jesus Chris, as a "miracle." Eckhart, a German Dominican mystic, argued that conversion came through a personal relationship with God. Because of the power of the Roman Catholic Church, both Wycliffe and Eckhart were quickly condemned as heretics—those who go against Church teachings—as were many of their followers.

The early protests against the Roman Catholic Church did not really attract a popular following until the lifetime of Martin Luther, a German monk who was a teacher at the University of Wittenberg. At the time, Germany was one of a few European countries with no strong central government, making it especially vulnerable to the corruptions of the church. Outrage among the citizens concerning this corruption made this region especially ripe for religious change.

peasant and working classes. To make matters even worse, two of Europe's great political and religious powers, France and England, were engaged in the bloody Hundred Years' War (1337–1453), which brought further turmoil. Indeed, it seemed to many Christians that the church had failed its promise, and that the time was ripe for a "reformation" of both the church and the Holy Roman Empire.

Luther starts Reformation

An important early figure in the movement that came to be known as the Protestant Reformation was John Wycliffe (c. 1330–1384). He was the first person to translate the Bible from Latin into English so that the general population—all those who were not church officials—could read it. Wycliffe's ideas differed from the Catholic Church in terms of the meaning of communion, the sacred ceremony in which bread and wine represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Wycliffe did not believe communion was a "miracle" as the Catholics did. Although Wycliffe played an important role reforming some of the ideas of the Catholic Church, the Reformation actually began with Martin Luther (1483–1546), a Catholic monk who was on the faculty at the University of Wittenberg in Saxony. In 1513 Luther had an intense spiritual experience that eventually led him to leave the Catholic Church. He came to realize that faith in Jesus Christ was all that was required for one to be saved. He called this "justification by faith alone." Rejecting the involvement of the church in personal spiritual matters, he introduced the concept of a "priesthood of all believers." Luther also began preaching against the Catholic Church's belief that the pope was God's sole representative on Earth. Luther argued that Christians should rely only on the Bible for spiritual guidance, and he encouraged the reduction of the seven Catholic sacraments (communion, baptism, confirmation, penance, anointing of the sick, marriage, and holy offices) to only two (baptism and communion). Luther differed with Wycliffe on the Catholic concept of transubstantiation. According to Catholic teachings, when the priest raises the bread and wine during the communion service, these elements become the flesh and blood of Christ. Wycliffe actually believed that the bread and wine are simply symbolic representations and do not literally become Christ's body and blood. Luther, on the other hand, believed that the body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine, but they are transformed only by the word of God as found in the Scripture and not by a priest. Luther called this process "consubstantiation."

The Reformation began when Luther took a stand against the sale of papal indulgences. Indulgences had long been granted to parishioners, or church members, as a form of forgiveness for confessed sins. After performing an act of faith or good works, a parishioner was given a pardon and a "free pass" out of purgatory, the Christian concept of the region between heaven and hell, after death. Since the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy, several popes had begun selling indulgences as a way to finance church projects (see "Rome and the Papal States" in Chapter 2). The practice had become widespread in Germany. In October 1517 Luther presented a document titled Ninety-five Theses at Schlosskirch Church in Wittenberg, inviting Catholic officials to discuss his beliefs about the sale of indulgences. Luther had intended to influence church reform rather than leave the church entirely. In 1521, however, he was called before the diet, a meeting of German princes and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, in Worms, Germany. Charles denounced Luther as an "outlaw," but Luther was not punished and he continued to call for reforms.

Inspires other reformers Movements against the Roman Catholic Church soon sprang up elsewhere in Europe. Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531), a Swiss priest with a passion for music and women, protested against the church's requirement that priests not get married. In direct defiance of church leaders, Zwingli was married in 1524. He also enraged church officials by challenging their rule that only they could interpret the Bible. He went further and called for separation of church and state. Zwingli was killed in 1531 by Catholics in Switzerland who feared and resented his growing support. Switzerland was the adopted home of another famous Protestant, John Calvin (1509–1564), whose radical views would also earn him a permanent place in the reform movement. Born in France as Jean Cauvin in 1509, Calvin became a renowned biblical scholar and translator. He based his faith on his own readings of the Bible in the original Greek and Hebrew languages. He was the first Protestant leader who had not been a clergyman (priest) in the Catholic Church. Calvin and his followers, called Calvinists, made Geneva, Switzerland, a stronghold of Protestant activity. Calvinism's guiding principle was "predestination," or the belief that a small minority of people were "elected" before birth to become the chosen who would enter heaven. Calvin's followers carried his teachings to eager reformers throughout Europe, especially in France, where Calvinists were called Huguenots, and England, where they inspired the Puritan movement.

Protestantism became a rallying point for peasant and noble classes alike; members of both classes wanted to escape the oppression of the church and the governments that supported it. By the end of the sixteenth century, the Scandinavian countries had become predominantly Lutheran. In 1555 Emperor Charles V held a diet—a meeting of representatives, called electors, of states in the Holy Roman Empire—at Augsburg. The diet issued a statement called the Peace of Augsburg, which stated that each of the more than three hundred German principalities would adopt the religion of its local ruler. This left more than half of Germany to the Lutherans. In France nearly a quarter of the population had converted to Calvinism as Huguenots. During the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre on August 24, 1572, in Paris, ten thousand Huguenots were massacred by Catholics. In the Edict of Nantes (1598), King Henry IV of France granted religious freedom to Calvinist sects, or small religious groups.

Soon many splinter movements began to form throughout Europe. Because the basic tenets of Protestant reform generally gave power to individual believers, lay preachers and others were suddenly "converted." By 1600 hundreds of new Protestant sects had formed and reformed, basing their new churches on their own interpretations of the Bible. Recognizing the close connection between religion, politics, and economics, lay preachers began to press for social, trade, tax, and land reforms. The Reformation thus spread to all aspects of life, and the Christian world found itself in the middle of the most profound upheaval since the Catholic Church was founded around a.d. 600.

The Habsburg Empire

The history of Europe during the Renaissance and Reformation was dominated by the Habsburg family. The Habsburgs were based in Austria, which comprised the eastern portion of central Europe, and they also held lands in Burgundy, areas along the eastern border of France. Because all Holy Roman emperors at this time were Habsburgs, the family also controlled the Holy Roman Empire in central Europe. The Habsburg dynasty (line of rulers from the same family) began in 1438 and continued until 1740. One reason the Holy Roman Empire went into decline, however, was that Habsburgs were more concerned about expanding or holding onto their territories than in ruling the empire. In the fifteenth century they extended their possessions into Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary in eastern Europe. During the reign of Charles V, the Habsburgs united Austria with Spain, the strongest monarchy in Europe at the time. Charles also took over the Netherlands in the name of Spain, and conquistadors (Spanish soldiers) expanded the Spanish empire into the Americas. Charles and the Habsburgs now controlled the largest empire in the history of the world. Nevertheless, Charles and his successors were confronted by numerous problems, including challenges to their rule from European monarchs, princes, and noblemen. They also had to contend with the continuing threat of invasion by the Ottoman Empire, a vast kingdom ruled by Muslims (followers of the Islam religion, founded by the prophet Muhammad) in Asia and North Africa (see "Hungary" section later in this chapter).

Perhaps the greatest challenge came from Protestant reformers, who were demanding radical changes in the Roman Catholic Church. The Habsburgs, who were staunch Catholics, struggled to hold onto their power by becoming leaders in the Catholic Reformation (also called the Counter Reformation), a systematic effort by the Catholic Church to combat the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant movement also triggered a complex string of events that resulted in the Thirty Years' War. The war began in Bohemia with a struggle between Catholics and Protestants over control of the Bohemian throne (see "Bohemia" section later in this chapter). It soon escalated into a conflict that involved political, social, and economic issues. Reaching into every level of society throughout Europe, the Thirty Years' War severely diminished the power of the Habsburgs.

The Habsburg dynasty

The Habsburg dynasty lasted for 219 years, from 1438 through 1657. This era was ruled by ten members of the family: Frederick III, Maximilian I, Charles V, Ferdinand I, Maximilan II, Rudolf II, Matthias, Ferdinand II, and Ferdinand III.

Albert II The first Holy Roman Emperor in the Habsburg dynasty was Albert II (1397–1439). He was crowned in 1438 after the death of his father-inlaw, Emperor Sigismund (1368–1437; ruled 1433–37). Albert was also the king of Hungary, Germany, and Bohemia (present-day Czechoslovakia). Although he served as emperor for only a year, he worked to promote stability in the empire. In 1438 he called a diet at Nuremberg, Germany, and ended the practice of kings and lords settling feuds with private wars. He also appointed arbiters (judges) to help resolve disputes. Albert died in 1439 during a campaign against the Ottoman Empire.

Habsburg emperors during the Renaissance

Below are listed the Habsburg emperors and the years they ruled, from 1438 through 1657.

Albert II1438–39
Frederick III1440–93
Maximilian I1493–1519
Charles V1519–58
Ferdinand I1558–64
Maximilian II1564–76
Rudolf II1576–1612
Ferdinand II1619–37
Ferdinand III1637–57

Frederick III Albert's successor was the German king Frederick III (1415–1493). Although Frederick had numerous problems during his reign, he made the house of Habsburg a powerful force in European politics. The son of Duke Ernest of Austria, Frederick inherited the Habsburg possessions of Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, and Gorizia) upon his father's death in 1424. Frederick was elected German king and uncrowned emperor in 1440, but he was confronted with conflicts among his relatives and challenges from rebellious nobility. These problems caused Frederick to withdraw almost completely from German affairs. He had more satisfactory relations with the church, and in 1452 he became the last emperor to be crowned in Rome by a pope.

Frederick was unable to keep the Ottomans out of eastern Europe (then the Byzantine Empire) because his empire was financially and militarily weak. The Ottomans took Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), the capital of the Byzantine Empire, in 1453, and moved into Styria and Carinthia. Beginning with Frederick's reign, the Habsburgs presented themselves as the champions of Christianity in the war against Islam. They continued to play this role for more than three centuries.

Frederick's greatest achievement came in 1477 when he arranged a marriage between Maximilian and Mary of Burgundy (1457–1482), daughter of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy. This union gave the house of Habsburg a large part of Burgundy and made the Austrians a European power. In 1486, when his son Maximilian became king of Germany, Frederick assumed a less active role in affairs of state. Like many rulers in the Renaissance period, he occupied his time with astrology (prediction of future events according to the positions of the stars), magic (conjuring of supernatural spirits), and alchemy (attempted manufacture of gold from base metals). He also collected books and precious stones and associated with prominent humanists.

Maximilian I Maximilian (1459–1519) restored the power of the Habsburgs. His intense interest in the arts and in elaborate public ceremonies earned him a place in legend as well as history. Maximilian appears to have been more of a storybook king than a hardworking ruler. He spent a great deal of time and money on books and portraits that promoted an image of himself as a heroic knight (a medieval warrior who vowed to uphold a complex code of honor and duty) He also wrote several romantic versions of his own life.

Maximilian's marriage to Mary of Burgundy plunged him into a conflict with King Louis XI of France over control of territories in Burgundy (see "France" in Chapter 3). While holding his own against Louis, Maximilian also had to put down revolts in Flanders (see "The Netherlands" section later in this chapter). His son and heir, Philip I (1478–1506), became the recognized prince of the Low Countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Flanders) upon his birth. When Mary died in 1482, Maximilian held onto his Burgundian lands. In 1490 he recaptured Austria from Hungary. Six years later he arranged for Philip to marry Joanna (1479–1555), the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. This union linked the house of Habsburg with the most powerful monarchy of Europe (see "Spain" in Chapter 3).

Maximilian was more successful in establishing a Habsburg dynasty than in asserting his power as emperor. His rule had been limited by the imperial council that was formed by the princes to control all external and internal affairs of the empire. He also suffered numerous military setbacks that further eroded his authority in Europe. During the Italian Wars, a conflict between France and Spain over control in Italy (see "Italian Wars dominate Renaissance" in Chapter 2), Maximilian led his troops against the French in three separate battles in Italy—in 1496, 1499, and 1500. Each time he was soundly defeated. Between 1500 and 1504 Maximilian was busy putting down rebellions in Germany

Habsburg Austria

Austria appeared on the map of Europe as a sovereign, or independent, state only after World War I (1914–18). At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Austria belonged to the Habsburgs, who called themselves the house of Austria. The state covered the eastern part of central Europe—the regions that are now Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola (largely part of present-day Slovenia). Austria also included the Tyrol (also Tirol) and Vorarlberg, two regions on the eastern border of Switzerland, as well as scattered Habsburg holdings in southwestern Germany.

The Habsburgs had come into possession of these lands in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Primogeniture (the giving of an entire estate to the eldest son upon the death of his father) was not in effect until the reign of Emperor Ferdinand II. Before that time the Habsburgs routinely divided their lands among all their sons. The first of the Habsburgs to come to the territory was Rudolf I (1218–1291; ruled 1273–91), a German king and Holy Roman Emperor. The next Habsburg to become Holy Roman Emperor was Albert II, who was crowned in 1438. From that time until 1740, all emperors were Habsburgs. As emperors, the Habsburgs also ruled Germany. For that reason scholars have found it difficult to fix a dividing line between Austria and Germany.

Beginning with the reign of Charles V in the sixteenth century, the Habsburgs ruled the largest empire in the history of the world. Nevertheless, they struggled to maintain their hold over Austria because German princes were constantly seeking independence. The Protestant Reformation also had a profound impact on Austria. Except for the Tyrol (a province between Austria bordering Switzerland), which remained Catholic, the entire region was divided between Catholics and Protestants. The Habsburgs had ongoing financial problems as well; they found that their expenses were much higher than their income, so they were always searching for cash and loans to run the empire. After the Thirty Years' War, which concluded with the German states being awarded sovereignty, the power of the Habsburgs was confined to Austria.

(see "Germany" section later in this chapter). Then the sudden death of his son Philip in 1506 brought problems over the rule of the Netherlands, adding to Maximilian's difficulties in Germany and Italy. In 1508 Maximilian fought the French once again in Italy, but this time he was stopped by resistance from the city-state of Venice. The emperor retaliated by entering into the League of Cambrai with France and the Papal States against Venice (see "Venice" in Chapter 2). In 1510, however, Pope Julius II decided to consolidate his own power in Italy and rejected the League of Cambrai. Maximilian continued to face the rising power of France until his death in 1519.

Charles V The next Holy Roman Emperor was Charles V (1500–1558; ruled 1519–58), grandson of Maximilian and son of Philip I, ruler of the Low Countries. Charles's mother, Joanna of Castile and Aragon, suffered from a mental illness, so after Philip died in 1506 Charles was raised in Flanders by his aunt, Margaret of Austria (1480–1530). When he turned fifteen, he became ruler of the Netherlands. Just a year later, when his grandfather Ferdinand II of Aragon died, he inherited Spain and its empire. Charles traveled to Spain in 1517 to assume the rule there, but he was still very young. He knew neither the language nor the customs of his Spanish subjects, and he surrounded himself with Flemish (the name given to people from Flanders) advisors. This action angered many people in Spain. When Maximilian died in 1519, Charles became the heir not only to Habsburg territories but also to Burgundy. At the age of nineteen he was also named the new Holy Roman Emperor (he was officially crowned in 1530). He won the position after his advisers bribed electors with 850,000 florins (the Italian unit of currency at the time).

Early in his reign as emperors Charles was confronted with the growing Protestant movement. The revolt had started in 1517, the year Charles became king of Spain, when Martin Luther presented the list of ninety-five complaints against the Roman Catholic Church at Wittenberg, Germany (see "Luther starts Reformation" section previously in this chapter). Although Charles was a devout Catholic, he paid little attention to Luther at first. Finally, in 1521, Charles and the German princes summoned Luther before the Diet at the town of Worms. Charles and the princes demanded that Luther change his views. When Luther refused, Charles and the Diet declared him an outlaw of the Church. This declaration did little to stop Luther, though, who escaped punishment and continued to call for reforms.

Charles could not keep a check on Luther because he had to focus his attention on the Italian Wars. In 1521 he invaded areas in northern Italy controlled by France, but the French king, Francis I, angrily fought back. In 1525 Charles defeated Francis at the battle of Pavia, captured him, and then held him prisoner for a year (see "France" in Chapter 3). After his release Francis again opposed Spanish control in Italy, this time joined by Henry VIII of England and Pope Clement VII. But Charles's imperial forces, gathered from his vast empire, were too strong. They brutally attacked Rome in 1527. Thus, Francis, Henry, and the pope were forced to recognize Charles's position in Italy. In 1530 Clement VII crowned Charles Holy Roman emperor at Bologna, Italy.

Faces challenges to his rule For the remainder of his reign, Charles had to fight to secure his empire. Turks from the Ottoman Empire challenged his authority in the Mediterranean and in central Europe. The Turks killed Louis II, the king of Hungary and Bohemia, at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526 (see "Hungary" section later in this chapter). As a member of the Habsburg family, Charles inherited those kingdoms, and his brother Ferdinand I was named the new king. The Turks continued to threaten Europe, however, so Charles met them in battle in 1529 and again in 1532. He captured the Turkish stronghold at Tunis (a city in present-day Tunisia in northern Africa) in 1535. The Turks did not give up though, continuing to attack the Italian coast. After suffering a defeat in 1541 at a Turkish base in Algiers in northern Africa, Charles had to sign a truce with the Ottoman Empire.

After the truce, Charles tried to restore Catholic unity to his empire. In response, German Protestant princes formed an alliance known as the Schmalkaldic League. Under the protection of the League, the Reformation spread through most of Germany. Charles's imperial army defeated the forces of the German princes at the Battle of Mühlberg in 1547. Nevertheless, the ideals of the Reformation were strong enough to carry on. As a result, Charles's empire would never be fully Catholic. Having grown tired of running his vast empire, he stepped down from the throne in 1555, but he did not formally retire as emperor until 1558. The majority of his lands went to his son Philip II (see "Spain" in Chapter 3). The lands controlled by the Habsburg family and the title of emperor went to his younger brother, Ferdinand I. Charles retired to the monastery of Yuste in western Spain where, on September 21, 1558, he died clutching a crucifix (a carved image of the crucified Christ on the cross).

Ferdinand I Ferdinand I (1503–1564; ruled 1558–64) was brought up in Spain and lived for a long time in the shadow of his brother Charles. When their grandfather, Emperor Maximilian I, died in 1519, Charles inherited a large empire, while Ferdinand received only the Habsburg possessions in Austria. Ferdinand's brother-in-law Louis II was king of Bohemia and Hungary. When Louis was killed at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, Ferdinand became king of Bohemia and Hungary. His position was complicated because he was a representative of the Holy Roman Empire while at the same time being a German prince and the independent king of Hungary.

In 1531 Charles had Ferdinand elected king of the Romans, that is, Ferdinand was designated as the next emperor. Although Ferdinand was a Catholic, he acted as a mediator between his brother and the Protestant princes. He led forces in Charles's triumph over the Schmalkaldic League at the Battle of Mühlberg in 1547. Five years later, when Charles was betrayed by a former ally, Maurice of Saxony (see "Saxony" section later in this chapter), Ferdinand arranged the Treaty of Passau (1552). This treaty was the first step toward the Treaty of Augsburg of 1555, which granted religious freedom to the Lutheran princes. Charles refused to accept the terms of the Treaty of Augsburg and soon stepped down from the throne. Ferdinand then became emperor and continued his efforts to unite Catholics and Protestants. He died in Vienna in 1564.

Maximilian II Ferdinand was followed as emperor by his son, Maximilian II (1527–1576; ruled 1564–76), who was married to Charles V's daughter Maria. Maximilian took the throne in 1564 under a cloud of controversy. Although Ferdinand had served as emperor for the past six years, the way had not been cleared for Maximilian to follow him. This situation had been created by both Charles and Maximilian himself. Charles had made arrangements to keep the line to the throne open for his own son, Philip II of Spain. Maximilian was therefore excluded from the line of succession, and a deep division was created between the two main branches of the Habsburg family. A complicating factor was that Maximilian had embraced Protestantism, and he was on good terms with the German princes who had defeated Charles in 1552.

After Ferdinand succeeded Charles in 1558, he tried to bring Maximilian back into the Catholic Church. Maximilian refused, however, and by 1560 his relations with his father were near the breaking point. Maximilian then tried to rally the Protestant princes against Ferdinand. After finding no support, he gave in and agreed to return to the church. Many people doubted his commitment to Catholicism and warned that he would favor Protestantism if he ever became emperor. Nevertheless, in 1562 Ferdinand made sure Maximilian would be named emperor by having him elected king of the Romans. Two years later Maximilian took the throne. He was now in a position to help Protestants overtake the empire, but he made no real efforts to reform the church. Maximilian's dealings with the German Protestants were made more difficult by ferocious hostilities among various Lutheran sects and between the Lutherans and Calvinists (followers of French reformer John Calvin). Maximilian wanted to maintain good relations with the Spanish branch of the Habsburg family, so he sent his oldest son, Rudolf II, to Spain for a Catholic education. In 1574 Maximilian designated Rudolf as the next emperor, thus assuring that Habsburg lands and the Holy Roman Empire would remain under Catholic control.

Rudolf II When Maximilian died in 1576, Rudolf II (1552–1612; ruled 1576–1612) became the new emperor. He was also the king of Bohemia and Hungary. Although Rudolf reigned for thirty-six years, he was a weak ruler. He suffered from bouts of severe depression, which limited his ability to tend to state affairs. Soon after becoming emperor he moved to Prague, the capital of Bohemia, where he lived in seclusion and devoted his time to the arts and sciences.

During the first twenty years of Rudolf's reign the empire was torn apart by disputes between Roman Catholics and Protestants. When the Protestant movement began in the early 1500s, the Habsburgs took the role as leaders of the Counter Reformation, or Catholic Reformation (the name given to attempts to change the Catholic Church from within). By 1600 they had to a large extent eliminated Protestantism from Austria. Bohemia was their next target, but Bohemia had become increasingly Protestant and most of the influential nobility were anti-Catholic. Reversing Maximilian II's tolerant policies, Rudolf tried to limit the political privileges of the Protestant Estates (representatives of the four social classes: nobility, clergy, middle class, peasants) that were granted in the Peace of Augsburg.

In 1607 Rudolf quarreled with his brother, Matthias, over control of Habsburg lands. The Habsburg archdukes (noblemen who ruled provinces) designated Matthias as the next emperor. The following year they made Rudolf give up Hungary, Austria, and Moravia to Matthias. Although Rudolf promised to give Matthias the crown of Bohemia, he turned to the Bohemians for support against Matthias. In order to gain their loyalty, Rudolf issued the Bohemian Estates a Letter of Majesty (emperor's official order) in 1609. Under this decree, religious freedom was granted to all Bohemians, and they had the right to construct churches and schools on Habsburg land. Nevertheless, the emperor quickly removed Protestant officials from key offices in Bohemia and replaced them with Catholics. But his transparent concessions to religious freedom did little to strengthen Rudolf's position. Finally, in 1611, imperial troops attacked Bohemia with Rudolf's support. The Bohemian Estates called for assistance from Matthias, whose army virtually held Rudolf prisoner in Prague until he yielded Bohemia to Matthias. Although Rudolf prevented Matthias from being elected king of the Romans, Matthias did became emperor after Rudolf's death in 1612.

Matthias Matthias (1557–1619) had already proven to be an incompetent ruler by the time he became emperor in 1612. In 1577 the Catholic nobles in the Spanish Netherlands invited him to serve as governor general of their province. At that time Protestant reformers there, led by William of Orange, were seeking independence from Spain (see "The Netherlands" section later in this chapter). Matthias was unable to make peace between Spain and the Protestants, so he returned to Germany in 1581. Five years later Rudolf named Matthias governor of Austria. Matthias continued Rudolf's policy of suppressing Protestantism, and he successfully put down several rebellions between 1595 and 1597. Yet he never won any substantial victories over the Protestants. In 1598 Matthias appointed Melchior Khlesl (1552–1630), a Catholic cardinal (a church official who ranks below the pope) from Austria, as his chief adviser.

After Matthias became emperor he withdrew from public life and Khlesl soon took over major policy matters. The imperial diet (representative assembly) had been paralyzed since 1608 as a result of disputes between Protestant and Catholic princes. When Matthias and Khlesl failed to resolve the conflict, Habsburg archdukes took the side of the Catholic princes in Germany. The archdukes then decided that Matthias's cousin, Archduke Ferdinand of Styria, should succeed Matthias as emperor. Matthias had no children, so there were no sons who could follow him to the throne. Ferdinand was a threat to Bohemian religious liberty, however, because he was the most ardent Catholic among the Habsburgs. Since the divided Bohemian Estates had no candidate of their own, they reluctantly agreed to accept Ferdinand, who would share the title with Matthias. Ferdinand was named king of Bohemia in 1617 and crowned king of Hungary in 1618. Matthias and Khlesl urged Ferdinand to make concessions to the Protestants, but Ferdinand refused to compromise. Matthias died the following year.

Ferdinand II Ferdinand II (1578–1637; ruled 1619–37) had been educated by the Jesuits (a Catholic religious order) at Ingolstadt in Catholic Bavaria, a region that is now part of Germany. The Jesuits were enormously influential in forming Ferdinand's conception of his duties as the Christian prince of Styria (a region in southeast Austria). When he was old enough to rule he dedicated himself to restoring the Roman Catholic faith in his lands. In 1602 he expelled Protestant teachers and preachers from Styria, closed or destroyed their churches, and gave his non-noble Protestant subjects the choice of conversion or exile. When his cousins, the emperors Rudolf II and Matthias, died childless, Ferdinand inherited the Habsburg dominions in Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary. In 1617 he was elected king of Bohemia and in 1618 became king of Hungary. His Protestant subjects, fearing an attack on their right to worship, refused to swear loyalty to him. In May 1618 the Bohemian nobility staged the revolt known as the "Defenestration of Prague" (see "Hungary" section later in this chapter). With the support of Maximilian of Bavaria and the forces of the Catholic League (an alliance of Catholic noblemen), Ferdinand suppressed the Protestant rebels in Austria and Bohemia in 1620.

Ferdinand's efforts to restore Catholicism initiated the Thirty Years' War, a European conflict in which the religious issue ultimately became submerged in a conflict for domination of the continent. In 1629 and again in 1635 Ferdinand was in a position to dictate a favorable peace in Germany. But both times he refused to make compromises with the Protestant princes and their powerful foreign protectors, France and Sweden. He died in Vienna in 1637 and was succeeded as emperor by his son, Ferdinand III.

Ferdinand III As Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand III (1608–1657; ruled 1637–57) headed the so-called peace party at the Habsburg imperial court during the Thirty Years' War. He signed the Peace of Westphalia, the treaty that ended the war in 1648.

The eldest son of Ferdinand II and Maria Anna of Bavaria, Ferdinand III was named archduke of Austria in 1621 at the age of thirteen. He was crowned king of Hungary in 1625 and became king of Bohemia in 1627. When Generalissimo Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583–1634) prevented him from taking command of Ferdinand II's armies, Ferdinand joined a conspiracy against Wallenstein. Wallenstein was dismissed from his position and killed in 1634. Ferdinand was partly responsible for the generalissimo's death. Ferdinand then took over as commander of the Habsburg armies, though the actual general was Matthias Gallas (1584–1647), a leader in the plot against Wallenstein. In 1634 imperial forces captured Regensburg, a town in southeast Germany, and defeated Swedish forces (who were supporting the Protestant effort in Germany) at the first Battle of Nördlingen in the same year. Ferdinand headed the peace party at the Austrian court, encouraging negotiations that led to the Peace of Prague in May 1635 (see "Thirty Years' War in Chapter 6). This treaty was an attempt to reunite Catholics and Protestants by addressing disputes over rights to Habsburg lands. Protestants were also given amnesty, or freedom from punishment for past offenses against the empire. Although the German princes agreed to the Peace of Prague, warfare soon broke out again. Cardinal Richelieu (Armand-Jean du Plessis), the French leader, felt that the Holy Roman Empire and the house of Habsburg were still too powerful. French and Swedish forces therefore continued the fight against the imperial armies.

Ferdinand was elected king of the Romans in 1636 and became emperor when his father died the next year. In 1648 he agreed to the Peace of Westphalia, the treaty that resulted from seven years of negotiations and ended the Thirty Years' War. Considered the first modern peace conference, the Peace of Westphalia reduced the power of the Holy Roman Empire and the house of Habsburg. The German states were granted independence and the empire continued in name only. France then emerged as the major European power. Ferdinand died in 1657 and his second son, Leopold I (1640–1705), the king of Hungary, succeeded him as emperor (ruled 1658–1705).


By the fifteenth century Germany consisted of more than three hundred separate states that were crowded into four main regions: Brandenburg in the north, along the Baltic Sea; Hesse in the west, on the southern border of the Netherlands; Saxony in the central area, between Hesse and Silesia; and Bavaria in the south between Austria and the Tyrol.


The history of modern Brandenburg began during the Renaissance when, in 1417, Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund gave the title of elector (a German prince entitled to take part in the election of the Holy Roman Emperor) to his loyal lieutenant Frederick I of Hohenzollern (1371–1440). Frederick's descendants would rule Brandenburg, and later Prussia and Germany, until 1918. Frederick I was succeeded by his eldest son, Frederick II (1413–1471; ruled 1440–70), known as "Iron Tooth" because he was a strict ruler. Beginning in 1442 Frederick II brought the cities of Berlin and Cölln under his control. He also caused all Brandenburg cities to leave the Hanseatic League, and he signed a concordat (agreement) with Pope Nicholas V (1397–1455; reigned 1447–55). The concordat gave Frederick extensive rights in the appointment of bishops in the three dioceses (church districts) of Brandenburg (Lebus, Brandenburg, and Havelberg). The next ruler was Frederick II's brother, Albert Achilles (1414–1486; ruled 1470–86), who issued the Dispositio Achillea (1473), which established primogeniture (the giving of an entire estate to the eldest son upon the death of his father). Albert Achilles was frequently absent from Brandenburg, so he entrusted the government to his eldest son, John Cicero (1455–1499; ruled 1486–99), who welcomed Italian scholars and tried to improve the education of his subjects. He had to contend with repeated attacks from his neighbors, however, and rebellious Brandenburg noblemen were constantly challenging his rule.

Reformation and Renaissance John Cicero was followed by Joachim I (1484–1535; ruled 1499–1535), who founded the University of Frankfurt on the Oder, called the Viadrina. In 1517 the first rector, or leader of the school, Konrad Koch (c. 1460–1531), brought John Tetzel (c. 1465–1519) to Viadrina. Tetzel was the Dominican priest who sold indulgences and provoked Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses, the list of charges against the Roman Catholic Church that started the Protestant Reformation. The university also attracted champions of the new Renaissance learning, among them Ulrich von Hutten (1488–1532), a poet and later supporter of the Reformation. Viadrina began to decline, however, when the faculty opposed Luther's reforms. The plague also struck Frankfurt repeatedly and students increasingly flocked to Wittenberg University, which became a center of humanist learning (see "Saxony" section later in this chapter). Joachim I's brother, Albert II (1490–11545), was a true Renaissance prince. The archbishop (head church official) of Magdeburg and Halberstadt, Albert admired the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1466–1536) and patronized the leading artists of the time, including the German painters

The Hanseatic League

The Hanseatic League was a trading network formed by German towns after 1100. A major reason for the league's development was the lack of a powerful national government that could support extensive commerce and provide safe passage for merchants when they traveled to foreign lands. As a result, companies of merchants made agreements that guaranteed mutual protection, exclusive trading rights, and trade monopolies (domination without competition) whenever possible. Implementing these agreements, the merchants began building towns that were closer together. At first the league was controlled by a dozen or so German towns (known as Hansa) in the Baltic and Rhineland regions. Originally "hansa" referred to an association of warriors, but the term soon denoted a tax imposed on foreign merchants. Gradually, the word came to mean a group of merchants in a particular city who were engaged in trade with foreign lands. Finally the German "Hansa" signified a vast community of urban merchants who did business in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. Three stages marked the expansion of the Hanseatic League: it was initiated during the period 1100 to 1200; it reached its height in the years 1200 to 1350; and its influence gradually decreased during the two centuries from 1350 to 1550. After 1550 the commercial unity of the Hansa fell apart, though certain cities such as Lübeck, Bremen, and Hamburg continued to prosper far into the modern period (centuries that followed the beginning of the Renaissance in the mid-1300s).

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) and Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528).

Joachim and Albert both blamed Luther for the outbreak of the Peasants' War (1524–26), a social and political revolt staged by the poorer classes in Germany. After it was quashed in 1526 Joachim and Albert joined the dukes of Brunswick and Saxony in the Anti-Lutheran League of Dessau. Joachim continued to oppose Protestantism for the rest of his life. Upon his death in 1535 his son, Joachim II (1505–1571; ruled 1535–71), became the ruler of Brandenburg. In 1539 Joachim II issued an order that supported Protestant beliefs. Nevertheless, he kept many of the ceremonial features of the Roman Catholic Church, such as exorcism (a ceremony in which a priest gets rid of evil spirits) and the use of chrism (consecrated oil) in baptism (a ceremony in which a person is admitted into the church). Joachim was such an effective diplomat that Brandenburg received approval from both the Protestant reformer Martin Luther and the Catholic champion Emperor Charles V.

A significant shift in Brandenburg's religious orientation began during the reign of Joachim Frederick (1546–1608; ruled 1598–1608). Joachim Frederick's advisers were Calvinists (followers of the French Protestant reformer John Calvin), and he advocated a foreign policy that opposed the Holy Roman Empire. This process was completed by his successor, John Sigismund (1572–1619; ruled 1608–19), who converted to the Reformed faith (a branch of Protestantism founded by Calvin) in 1613. In the early part of the Thirty Years' War, Brandenburg was the leading Reformed state and supported independence of Germany from the Holy Roman Empire. By embracing the Reformed church, however, John Sigismund alienated the Lutherans. The Lutherans did not accept the simpler forms of worship advocated by the Reformed movement, so Brandenburg was divided by further religious conflict. John Sigismund's son George William (1595–1640; ruled 1619–40) was unable to unify the state, and by the time of his death in 1640 he had surrendered political control to Adam zu Schwarzenberg, a Catholic who sided with the empire. Brandenburg suffered heavy losses in the Thirty Years' War, but after the war it became the leading Protestant state in Germany.


Hesse became a powerful province during the reign of Ludwig (1413–1458), a member of the house of Brabant. Ludwig unified the two core areas of Lower Hesse on the Werra River and Upper Hesse on the Lahn and laid claim to the counties of Katzenelnbogen on the Rhine River. Ludwig also renewed the important Erbverbrüderung (union of great noble houses) with the Wettin family in Saxony (see "Saxony" section later in this chapter). This union was Hesse's most important alliance during the Renaissance. Ludwig's heirs centralized the government, and by 1500 a powerful Hessian state emerged that roughly resembled the present federal state of Hesse. Connected to the world market by the Rhine and its merchants, Hesse produced wool and linen textiles for export, as well as grains, raw wool, iron, and salt.

Hesse reached its peak under Philipp the Magnanimous (1504–1567), who made it the major protector of emerging Protestant churches. Hessians were also active in opposing Charles V's attempts to strengthen Habsburg power. In 1526 Philipp sought a Protestant political alliance to defend the new Protestant churches. In 1529 he held a conference called the Colloquy of Marburg to bring religious unity between two disputing Protestant groups, Zwinglians (followers of Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli) and Lutherans (followers of German reformer Martin Luther). When Philipp's policies were finally adopted in 1531, he played the leading role in the new Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of German Protestant princes (see "Schmalkaldic League" in Chapter 5). In 1541 Philipp's influence was severely weakened, however, by his notorious bigamy (marriage to more than one wife). Along with other factors, this led to the defeat of the league and his imprisonment (1547–52).

After Philipp's death in 1567, Hesse was divided among his four legitimate sons. However, growing religious discord and competition among the brothers caused divisions between the two regions. The major figures in the conflict were Wilhelm IV, who ruled Lower Hesse until 1592, and Ludwig IV, who ruled Upper Hesse until 1604. Since none of Philipp's sons had any male heirs, in 1604 Upper Hesse and Lower Hesse were consolidated into Hessen-Kassel and Hessen-Darmstadt.


Saxony was created in 1423 when Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund granted the duchy (territory ruled by a nobleman called a duke) of Saxony-Wittenberg to Frederick of Meissen and Thuringia. Frederick was head of the Wettin family. In 1485 these territories were divided between Frederick's grandsons, Ernest and Albert, resulting in the foundation of the two main lines of the house of Saxon—Ernestine Saxony and Albertine Saxony. The two lines were never reunited. Ernest, the elder brother, was named elector and received Saxony-Wittenberg, central and southern Thuringia, the Franconian lands (Coburg), and parts of the Vogtland. Albert received Meissen and northern Thuringia. Ernestine Saxony was centered in Wittenberg and Albertine Saxony was governed from Dresden. This arrangement created complex and confusing boundaries that became the root of future conflicts.

Wittenberg is center of humanism

Under the leadership of Elector Frederick III, known as Frederick the Wise (1463–1525; ruled 1486–1525), Saxony-Wittenberg prospered and quickly became the most influential principality in the Holy Roman Empire. In 1502 Frederick founded a new university at Wittenberg for the training of civil servants (government workers) and church officials. The university offered a curriculum based on scholasticism (a scholarly method that combined Christian teachings with Greek philosophy; see "Saint Thomas Aquinas" box in Chapter 1). Renaissance scholars were also on the faculty. Among them was the humanist Nicholas Marschalk, who set up a printing shop in Wittenberg and generated enthusiasm for the Greek language and the study of classical texts. The arrival of the Augustinian monk Martin Luther gave humanistic studies an even greater boost. Luther possessed qualities of intellect and leadership that soon made him the unchallenged leader of the Wittenberg academic community. Although he was not a humanist, he used humanist methods to explain the Bible, and in the process became a relentless critic of scholasticism. In October 1517 Luther presented his famous Ninety-Five Theses, a list of charges against the Roman Catholic Church. By the following summer he was beginning to attract attention as a religious reformer.

In 1518 the appointment of Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560) to the newly created professorship in Greek lent further impetus to these changes. Melanchthon advocated replacing scholasticism with the humanist method, which relied on the individual intellect rather than the teachings of expert scholars. As Luther found himself increasingly involved in religious controversies, Melanchthon not only became his chief theological supporter but also the leader of educational reform. By 1521 these reforms changed Wittenberg from a scholastic and Roman Catholic school into a humanistic and Protestant one. It emerged as one of the most popular universities in Germany.

Frederick and his successors, John the Constant (ruled 1525–32) and John Frederick the Magnanimous (ruled 1532–54), protected Luther's movement against the church and the emperor. Ernestine Saxony thus became the center of the Reformation. By contrast, Duke George of Albertine Saxony (ruled 1500–39) remained a staunch defender of the Catholic Church. Deeply shaken by the Peasants' War, he joined with the rulers of Brunswick and Brandenburg in the Anti-Lutheran League of Dessau in 1525. Ernestine Saxony and Albertine Saxony were also separated by economic and political differences. While Ernestine Saxony was essentially agricultural, Albertine Saxony was more densely populated and profited greatly from textile production, mining, and trade. Duke Henry V (ruled 1539–41) finally introduced the Lutheran Reformation in Albertine Saxony. His son and heir, Maurice (ruled 1541–53), continued to push for church reform, but he did not join the Schmalkaldic League. Instead, he sided with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. He was rewarded by receiving the title of elector along with most of the Ernestine lands, including Wittenberg and its university.

Maurice leads princes' rebellion Maurice supported the Augsburg Interim of 1548 (an order to restore Catholicism in Protestant areas), which provoked a series of controversies. Soon Maurice became alarmed about the emperor's efforts to take over territories in Germany and restore the Catholic religion. Maurice then entered into a secret alliance with King Henry II of France, an enemy of Charles V. In 1552 Maurice's forces suddenly attacked Charles's imperial army, leading a rebellion of German princes. A defeated Charles was forced to sign the Treaty of Passau (1552), which required him to give up his plans for keeping Germany in the empire and restoring the Catholic Church. The center of power in Saxony now shifted from Wittenberg to Dresden. Benefiting from administrative reforms that brought a thriving economy, Albertine Saxony became the empire's leading Protestant state. Universities flourished in Albertine Saxony, though Wittenberg, in Ernestine Saxony, continued to be popular among supporters of the Reformation.

The next elector, August I (ruled 1553–86), was Maurice's brother and one of the best rulers Saxony ever had. The city of Leipzig especially benefited from his reign and became a center for the arts. August worked hard to achieve greater harmony within the Lutheran movement. His efforts were successful and resulted in the Formula of Concord (1577), which brought about the banishment of all suspected Calvinists from Saxony. In the Thirty Years' War, Elector John George (1585–1656; ruled 1611–56) took the side of Catholic Emperor Ferdinand II, but then he switched sides and attempted to lead a neutral party that fought with Sweden against Ferdinand's imperial forces. In 1635 John George signed a separate peace treaty with the Habsburgs, but during the last ten years of the war his lands were devastated. When the lengthy conflict ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, neighboring Brandenburg had replaced Saxony as the leading state in northern Germany.


Bavaria was created as a duchy in 1180 when Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I (ruled 1152–90) granted the territory to his ally Otto of Wittelsbach. Wittelsbach's descendants reigned in Bavaria until 1918. By the early 1400s the duchy was divided into four smaller duchies: Bavaria-Ingoistadt, Bavaria-Landshut, Bavaria-Munich, and Bavaria-Straubing. Disputes and wars among Wittelsbach brothers and cousins plagued Bavaria during the fifteenth century. In 1445 the duchy of Bavaria-Ingoistadt was taken over by Duke Heinrich of Bavaria-Landshut. When Heinrich's grandson, George the Rich, died without male heirs in 1503, Heinrich sought to leave his duchy to his sonin-law, Rupert of the Palatinate (a region on the Rhine River). This plan was opposed by Albrecht IV of Bavaria-Munich (1447–1508; ruled 1467–1508), who claimed the duchy for himself, saying he was the next direct male heir to Wittelsbach. Following Albrecht's victory in the Landshut succession war (a conflict in 1504 to determine who would rule Bavaria), the Upper Palatinate was given to Rupert, but the rest of Bavaria came under the control of Albrecht. Bavaria was once more a united duchy. In order to prevent future divisions of the territory, Albrecht established primogeniture.

Throughout this period Bavaria's economy remained firmly rooted in agriculture, with more than 80 percent of its population composed of peasants who lived in small villages and worked on farms. Land ownership was divided among the Wittelsbach dukes, the Roman Catholic Church, and numerous Bavarian noblemen. The two largest cities were Munich and Straubing. Munich had a population of approximately twelve thousand, and the population of Straubing was around four thousand. Munich supported a modest textile industry and was a minor trade center linking Italy and the Tyrol to southeastern Germany, Austria, and parts of Switzerland. In the second half of the sixteenth century, high taxation and the expulsion of Protestant artisans and merchants from many towns hampered economic growth.

Catholicism re-established The power of Bavarian dukes increased during the sixteenth century, which in turn led to a decline in the Bavarian Estates (composed of high churchmen, nobles, and burghers, or middle-class citizens), whose role in government had expanded in the 1400s. The dukes assumed greater judicial powers, extended their authority over the church, and established a centralized administration made up of a privy council, council of war, spiritual council (to oversee the church), and Hofkammer (treasury department). Protestantism was slow to gain support in Bavaria, but in the 1550s pro-Lutheran nobles and burghers in the estates petitioned Albrecht V for reforms in the church. Among the reforms was the right of church members to take communion (the worship ceremony in which bread and wine represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity). At that time in the Catholic Church, the wine was being drunk only by the priest. They also asked that priests have the right to marry.

Although staunchly Catholic himself, Albrecht at first agreed to such demands in return for the estates' financial support. But by the 1560s, after he discovered (but never proved) a pro-Lutheran conspiracy among the nobility, Albrecht hardened his attitude toward Protestantism. He encouraged the activities of the Capuchins and Jesuits (Catholic religious orders that were seeking to convert Protestants), established strict censorship, and promoted the decrees of the Council of Trent (a conference called by the Catholic Church to respond to the threat of the Protestant Reformation). He also established a spiritual council, made up of laypeople (as opposed to priests and other church leaders), to oversee church affairs. By the 1580s, Lutheranism had virtually disappeared in Bavaria, which became a center of Catholicism in Germany.

During the late sixteenth century Wittelsbachs were named bishops (heads of church districts) in Freising, Regensburg, Passau, and Eichstadt. In 1583 the Wittelsbach family was given the archbishopric (office that supervises bishops) of Cologne. In 1609 Duke Maximilian I (1573–1651; ruled 1597–1651) was instrumental in the formation of the alliance of Catholic princes known as the Catholic League, becoming its first political and military director. When the Thirty Years' War began in 1618, Maximilian allied himself with his cousin, Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II. Maximilian's army of thirty thousand men played an important role in many victories achieved by the empire in the early stage of the war. In 1623 Maximilian was elevated to the status of imperial elector and received the Upper Palatinate. From 1632 until the close of the war in 1648, Bavaria suffered invasion and devastation by Swedish and French armies. At the Treaty of Westphalia (the conference that ended the war), however, Bavarian Wittelsbachs retained the Upper Palatinate and the position as elector.


Bohemia had been part of the Holy Roman Empire since the tenth century, when it was placed under the control of Germany. The country was ruled by kings of the house of Luxembourg from 1310 until 1437. In the early 1400s, Bohemia was the scene of religious revolts that are considered the first stage of the Protestant Reformation. The revolts were led by Hussites, followers of religious reformer Jan Hus (c. 1372–1415). Hus was a Czechoslovakian priest who had attended the Council of Constance, a conference held in 1414 to solve problems in the Roman Catholic Church.

The meeting was called by Sigismund of Luxembourg, who wanted to end the Great Schism (see "Great Schism" in Chapter 1). Sigismund was the king of Hungary (ruled 1387–1437), the king of the Romans (1410–37), and later the Holy Roman emperor (1433–37). The Great Schism was a period of deep divisions within the church, when there were as many as three popes at the same time—one in Rome; one in Avignon, France; and one in Pisa, Italy. Sigismund wanted the papacy to be controlled by a council, not by a pope who made his own decisions. This idea had been suggested years earlier, but it had not been accepted by church officials. Sigismund hoped to get enough backing to accomplish his goals. In 1414 he assembled several important churchmen at the town of Constance in Switzerland. The council met until 1417, when it was decided that all of the existing popes should be removed and a new one elected. Pope Martin V (1368–1431; reigned 1417–31) was then named the only rightful leader of the Roman Catholic faith. The other popes did not want to step down, but none of them had enough support to stay in power. The Great Schism came to an end with the Council of Constance.

Hus becomes Czech hero Although the Council of Constance had ended the Great Schism, it resulted in another serious challenge to the church, which was initiated by Hus. In 1410 Hus had been excommunicated (expelled) from the church. One of his crimes was criticizing the practice of selling indulgences, which were partial pardons of sins in exchange for money. Hus believed that people who purchased indulgences should suffer the full penalty of their actions and should not be allowed to buy God's forgiveness. He claimed that a truly penitent, or sorrowful, soul would be cleansed in purgatory. Indulgences were therefore not only useless but also wrong. Hus's view angered many church leaders and state officials, who often split the money raised by the selling of indulgences. This practice had been especially important during the Great Schism, when various popes were competing for support from monarchs. The monarchs frequently depended on the money to fund their wars or to help finance their kingdoms.

Hus continued to be outspoken in his demands for church reform, and he made many powerful enemies. After being excommunicated in 1410, he retired to the Czech countryside to write. Hus had the support and protection of King Wenceslas (1361–1419; ruled 1378–1419; Holy Roman Emperor 1378–1400) of Bohemia. While in the countryside, Hus composed his most famous work, De ecclesia, in which he claimed that Scriptures (text of the Bible), not the pope, had supreme authority over the church. He also wrote that the pope was not a perfect being who was always correct, and that the state had the right and duty to supervise the church. When Hus was invited to the Council of Constance, he was told that no harm would come to him. Nevertheless, many officials were still angry about his daring to challenge the church. Shortly after arriving in October 1414, Hus was arrested and imprisoned. He was kept in prison until June 1415, at which time he was finally given an opportunity to go before the council. When he tried to explain his views, he was shouted down. A month to the day after his original meeting with the council, Hus was once again given a chance to withdraw his criticism of the church. He refused. He was then stripped of his clerical robes and forced to wear a paper crown painted with three demons and the words "We commit thy soul to the Devil." Hus was led to the town square, where he was burned alive. The members of the council claimed that fire was the only way to cleanse his soul. Hus is regarded as one of the forefathers of the Protestant Reformation.

After Hus's execution, nobles in Bohemia sent an angry letter to the council and Sigismund, protesting the actions against Hus. Sigismund replied that he would eliminate all Hussites. Sigismund and Pope Martin began a crusade against the Hussites, who then retaliated by blaming Sigismund for the death of a Czech hero. Rebellion and chaos soon spread throughout Bohemia and Moravia (now a territory in the Czech Republic), leading to the Hussite Revolt (also called the Hussite Wars). The Hussite Revolt lasted from 1420 until 1434. The Hussites issued their demands to Sigismund and Martin in the Four Articles of Prague (1420). They called for freedom of preaching, limits to property holding by the church, and civil punishment of mortal sin (a sin causing spiritual death), among other religious reforms. The Hussites were led by Bohemian nobleman Jan Zizka (c. 1346–1424), who headed their military efforts even after he was blinded in battle. In 1431 the Council of Basel was called for the purpose of drafting an agreement between the church and the Hussites. The war continued, however, as the Hussites argued among themselves; eventually they split into two factions (opposing sides). Despite this division, Sigismund was unable to achieve victory.

The two Hussite camps continued fighting, with the side known as the Ultraquist Hussites finally winning out in 1434 and ending the hostilities. During peace talks the Ultraquist Hussites demanded that Bohemia and Moravia be granted independence from Germany. They also wanted their own religious practices to be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. The Council of Basel, not wanting to lose its influence, agreed to these demands. In 1436 the Ultraquist Hussites signed the Compact of Jihlava (also Iglau), in which they agreed to accept Sigismund as king of Bohemia. As a result, Bohemia became independent from Germany. Moravia came under the rule of Bohemia. Most of the political and religious issues involved in the struggle remained unsolved, but the Hussite movement stimulated nationalist sentiments among the Bohemians, checking a previous trend toward Germanization.

The Defenestration of Prague In 1471 Bohemia came under the control of the Jagiellonian (pronounced yag-yeh-LOH-nee-un) dynasty of Hungary, which ruled until 1526 (see "Hungary" section later in this chapter). During the Jagiellonian period the religious situation was tense but quiet. A dramatic change occurred in1526, when Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I, a member of the Habsburg family, was elected king of Hungary and Bohemia. The Protestant Reformation was now spreading from Germany to other parts of Europe, and the Catholic Habsburgs were intolerant of the growing Protestant movement in Bohemia. Tensions between Catholics and Protestants reached a climax in 1609. The conflict arose over two Protestant churches that had been built on Habsburg lands in Bohemia—one in Hrob (Klostergrab) and the other in Broumov (Braunau). The Protestants felt Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II had given them the right to build the churches in a Letter of Majesty (official order) in 1609. The Habsburg authorities rejected this argument, and in 1617 the churches were ordered closed. The one at Hrob was even torn down. The matter caused such an uproar that a radical wing—a group with extreme political views—of the Bohemian Estates, or representative assembly, staged a revolt against the Habsburgs in 1618. The revolt was led by Count Matthias Thurn, Baron Colona Fels, and Wenceslaus Ruppa.

Although a royal order prohibited Protestants from assembling, Protestant leaders met on May 21, 1618, and continued in session for two days. On May 22, they demanded a redress of grievances over the churches that had been shut down, but the Habsburg government rejected their demands. Thurn, Ruppa, and Fels then planned the murder of the deputy governors of Bohemia, Count Jaroslav Martinitz and Count Wilhelm Slavata. Martinitz and Slavata were leaders of the Catholic, pro-Habsburg faction in the Bohemian Estates. An armed band of more than one hundred Protestants marched to Hradcany Castle in Prague and confronted Martinitz and Slavata. Both officials denied any personal involvement in rejection of the Protestant demands. Heated words were exchanged. Suddenly, Thurn and others stepped forward, seized the two deputy governors, and hurled them through a castle window into the refuse-filled moat forty feet below. Miraculously the victims survived the fall and managed to escape.

This incident is known as the "Defenestration of Prague" ("defenestration" comes from the Latin phrase de fenestra, which means "from the window"). It triggered a widespread revolt against the Habsburg regime. Thurn and Ruppa became leaders of a revolutionary government in Bohemia and mobilized fighting forces. In August 1619 Bohemia formed a confederation with Moravia, Silesia, and Lusatia. This confederation arranged a pact of mutual assistance with the Protestant states of Upper and Lower Austria. The Protestant alliance then overthrew Ferdinand, the Catholic king, and replaced him with a Protestant, Frederick V (1596–1632), prince of the Rhenish Palatinate (a region in southwest Germany on the Rhine River).

Frederick's rule lasted only seven months and was known as "the reign of the Winter King." His time on the throne was brief because Holy Roman Emperor Matthias died in March 1619, and Ferdinand was elected to succeed him in August. Ferdinand was determined to put down the Protestant revolt in Bohemia and put the country under Habsburg control again. He defeated the Bohemian army at the Battle of the White Mountain on November 8, 1620, ending Bohemia's bid for independence. Frederick was removed from the throne and replaced with a Catholic, Maximilian I (1573–1651) of Bavaria. German was enforced as the national language of Bohemia. Although fighting ceased for the time being, it later resumed and initiated the Thirty Years' War.


Switzerland became part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1032. In the thirteenth century, it was placed under the Habsburgs, whose harsh domination resulted in the rebellion of several cities. In 1291 an "eternal alliance" was formed between three cantons (provinces) of Switzerland: Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden. This agreement was the first step toward forming the alliance called the Swiss Confederation. The Habsburgs invaded the three provinces but were defeated by the Swiss at Morgarten Pass in 1315. By 1353, five other cantons—Luzern, Zürich, Glarus, Zug, and Bern—had joined the confederation. Now unified into a larger force, the cantons won four victories over the Habsburgs (in 1386, 1388, 1476, and 1499) and defeated Charles of Burgundy, whose ambitions threatened their independence until his death in 1477. The confederation continued to grow, and by 1513 it included thirteen cantons as well as several affiliated cities and regions. Switzerland now reached south of the crest of the Alps (a mountain range between France and Italy) to the Ticino River (between Switzerland and Italy). The Swiss also controlled many of the vital passes in the Alps that linked southern and northern Europe.

Confederation weakened by Protestantism

The power of the confederation was undermined by conflicts stemming from the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation started in Switzerland in 1518, when reformer Huldrych Zwingli began to denounce the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church. Under Zwingli's leadership, the city of Zurich asserted its independence from the church. By 1524 Zwingli was turning Zurich into a Protestant city. Those who disagreed with him were forced either to comply or to leave. As early as 1524, disagreements surfaced among some of Zwingli's friends and followers. Among them were the Anabaptists, who formed a separatist movement, known as the Swiss brethren, which was seen as a threat to the Zwinglians. The Anabaptists believed that "even the atheist had a right to his unbelief as long as he obeyed Civil Law." They also strictly separated the state from the church. One of the main sources of disagreement between Zwinglians and Anabaptists was the Anabaptist concept of Believer's Baptism. (Contrary to both the Protestant and Catholic practice of baptizing children, the Anabaptists asserted that only adults who voluntarily accepted Christianity could be baptized.) A dispute in 1525 led to the suppression of the Anabaptist movement in Zurich and later to the banishment of its members. They were prosecuted, and in 1527 one of their leaders, Felix Mantz, was among those executed.

What had begun as a religious dispute rapidly developed into a force dividing the Swiss Confederation. Zurich, in turn, sought possible allies and defenders of its cause. In 1526 a Catholic-dominated conference was held in Baden. Zwingli himself did not attend because he was concerned for his personal safety. The conference condemned Zwingli's reforms, dealing a blow to his followers in Zurich. Zwingli's absence, in the eyes of his opponents, was considered an act of cowardice.

On January 6, 1528, a public religious debate was held in Bern. It was the largest state of the confederation, which had remained indifferent to the reforms in Zurich. All clergymen from Berne and the Catholic bishops were invited and so were the four bishops of Lausanne, Sion, Basel, and Constance. Many Catholics refused to attend. The debate lasted until the end of January, but the participants could not reach an agreement. It soon became obvious that Zwingli's reforms would be carried out in Berne. Zwingli had reached the summit of his power and influence, and states were looking to him for guidance. By this time, however, Zwingli and Martin Luther were not on friendly terms. Luther was not actively involved in reform efforts and was devoting his time to translating the Bible into German. Zwingli was now leading the challenge to the Catholic Church, but Luther had little regard for Zwingli's abilities as a biblical scholar. Luther was a regular priest who was said to have had a haughty manner when speaking to Zwingli. He thought Zwingli a coarse fanatic trying to show off his knowledge of Greek and Latin because his German was so bad. When they finally met at the Colloquy of Marburg in 1529, on the first day they were said to have parted without shaking hands. Finally, the participants at the conference drew up fifteen articles describing the Protestant faith.

The Kappel Wars

The Marburg meeting took place between the two Kappel Wars. In 1528 Zurich had extended its influence to the territories of Saint Gall and Thurgau and to the Lake of Constance. In 1529 Zurich declared war on the Catholic military alliance called the Catholic Confederates, and the two armies met near the village of Kappel. The Protestant troops far outnumbered the Catholics. Only a few moments before the actual fighting, the leaders of the opposite sides were called in for peace negotiations. A truce was drawn up and signed by both parties. Yet neither side seemed completely satisfied: the Catholics felt defeated by people they felt were heretics, or those who go against church teachings, and Zurich remained committed to expanding Protestantism.

Soon Protestant opponents of Zwingli joined the Catholic states of Switzerland in resisting reform. Zwingli proposed a quick military campaign to put down opposition once and for all. Yet the Bernese allies interfered, suggesting an economic blockade instead. (A blockade is a ban on trading activity.) The blockade proved very hard on the Catholic Confederates, whose well-being largely depended on prosperous trade in Zurich. The Protestant side suffered as well: by 1531 Zwingli's popularity had begun to diminish as merchants, millers, bakers, and other artisans complained of the damaging effect the blockade had on their trade. The army of the Catholic Confederates gathered near the city of Zug. Hastily, Zurich's troops hurried in from all sides, but on such short notice it was impossible to form orderly units. No time remained to ask the Protestant allies for support. Facing the well-prepared Catholic troops near Kappel in October 1531, the Protestant army of about 1,500 fought bravely but without a chance of success. After only a few days, the Protestant alliance was defeated. Zurich lost about 500 men in battle, among them its spiritual leader, Huldrych Zwingli.

Calvin makes Geneva a Protestant center

In the meantime, Protestantism continued to spread to other Swiss cities. In 1536 Geneva revolted against the duchy of Savoy, an independent state between Italy and France that controlled the area around Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Geneva refused to acknowledge the authority of its Roman Catholic bishop. That same year the French theologian John Calvin, one of the main leaders of the Reformation, visited Geneva. The local Protestant preacher, Guillaume Farel, persuaded Calvin to stay and drive Catholics out of the city.

Calvin and Farel established their own church, but their methods were extremely strict. They enforced rigid moral codes and implemented Calvin's concept of the "elect," which dictated that only a few people were chosen by God to enter heaven. These elect few were to guide the majority of other believers to salvation, or forgiveness of sins. After a couple of years Calvin and Farel were expelled from the city. Calvin went to teach at a university in Strasbourg, France, where he continued his reform efforts. In 1541, he returned reluctantly to Geneva in response to a call from the floundering Protestant church. After receiving assurances that he would be given the freedom he felt was necessary to build God's kingdom on Earth, he soon organized a highly disciplined social network. Despite considerable opposition within the city, Calvin's influence grew steadily as he defeated theological and political opponents alike. In 1553, Michael Servetus (c. 1511–1553), a Spanish religious philosopher, came to Geneva in spite of Calvin's earlier warnings that he was not welcome. Often called the first Unitarian (a Protestant denomination), Servetus denied the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity (the Christian concept of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). His views alienated him from both Catholics and Protestants. When Calvin recognized his foe sitting within the crowd listening to one of his sermons, he promptly had Servetus arrested and put on trial. As the "Defender of the Faith," Calvin demanded that Servetus be executed. His order was supported by the city government, and on October 27, 1553, Servetus was burned alive for heresy.

Calvin Stops for a Visit

One evening in June 1536, John Calvin stopped in Geneva, Switzerland, to spend the night. He fully intended to continue on his journey the following day. But the local Protestant preacher, Guillaume Farel, had another idea. He convinced Calvin that it was his duty to God to remain where he was most needed. The task was to expel the remnants of Catholicism from the city, which had recently won its independence from the Catholic Church. Together Farel and Calvin directed the Reformation in Geneva. Within a couple of years, both were expelled for being too strict and for encouraging French immigration. Calvin went to Strasbourg, France, where he taught at an academy, preached, and developed his ideas on the nature of the ideal Christian church. In 1540, while living in Strasbourg, Calvin married Idelette Bure, a widow of one of his converts. She had a son and a daughter from her previous marriage. Unfortunately for the couple, their only child together died shortly after birth in 1542. After Idelette died seven years later, Calvin never remarried. Little is known of their lives together, though Calvin's relations with women were not entirely warm. In fact women were typically the most outspoken opponents of his moral reforms.

Soon Calvin overcame most remaining opposition, and in 1555 his Consistory, a kind of moral court, was accepted and given effective powers by the city. Henceforth, moral discipline was strictly enforced. Taverns were closed and replaced with abbayes in which patrons were closely scrutinized for signs of excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages. Indeed, throughout Geneva, citizens monitored each other's behavior, ready to report any sort of wrongdoing. In 1559 Calvin established the Genevan Academy (now the University of Geneva) for the training of clergymen. Calvin did not limit his reform efforts to Geneva. He was soon spreading the Reform movement abroad, especially within his native France. Under his direction, Geneva became a haven for persecuted Protestants and the unofficial center for growing Protestant movements in countries as far away as Scotland.

During the Thirty Years' War the Swiss cantons remained neutral (they did not fight on either side). Switzerland was recognized as an independent state by the Peace of Westphalia, the treaty that ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648.

The Netherlands

Soon after the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire in 814, several duchies and counties were founded in the Low Countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg). With the coming of the Middle Ages, Holland (present-day North and South Holland provinces in the Netherlands) became the most important region. The ancient bishopric of Utrecht (regional capital of the Roman Catholic Church) was another important principality. As the Middle Ages drew to a close, individual cities such as Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Groningen rose to eminence, together with the Duchy of Gelderland. In the fifteenth century, the dukes of Burgundy (a region in France) acquired most of the Low Countries. The Burgundian dynasty came to an end when there were no more male heirs. The Netherlands then came under the control of the house of Habsburg in 1477, when Mary of Burgundy married Archduke Maximilian I of Austria.

Their grandson, Charles, became King Charles I of Spain in 1516 and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1519. In 1547 he united the Netherlands and Austria. Two years later he joined the Netherlands with Spain. By the end of his reign in 1555, Charles was master of the Low Countries. His son and successor, Philip II of Spain, concentrated his efforts on increasing the power of Spain (see "Spain" in Chapter 3). To bring the Low Countries under his direct control, he tried to stamp out the rising force of Protestantism and suppressed the political, economic, and religious liberties long cherished by the population. As a result, both Roman Catholics and Protestants rebelled against him under the leadership of William the Silent, prince of Orange (1533–1584; ruled 1579–84), who had inherited territories in the Low Countries.

William earns nickname "the Silent"

William was born at Dillenburg in the German principality of Nassau and originally raised as a Lutheran. He inherited the territories of Orange and Nassau at the age of eleven. Because of the importance of the inheritance, Charles V insisted that the young prince of Orange be raised as a Catholic. Moving to Breda and then Brussels, William was raised at the court of Mary of Hungary, the regent of the Low Countries. He also served as a page, or attendant, in the court of Charles V. William was taught French and Dutch and readily adopted the customs of the Dutch people. The teachings of the Christian humanist, Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1636) of Rotterdam, held particular significance for the young prince and later played a large part in the religious toleration for which William was renowned.

At the age of eighteen William married Countess Anne of Egmont, gaining several additional territories in the Netherlands. He enjoyed considerable favor at the court during the reigns of both Charles V and Philip II in Brussels. In 1559 the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis ended the Italian Wars and made Spain a major power in Europe. Philip then named William to his prestigious Council of State and the Order of the Golden Fleece. In 1561 Philip appointed William as stad-holder (governor and captain-general) in the important provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, and Franche-Comté. Soon serious dissension arose in the Netherlands. Two issues were of paramount importance: religion and the king's rigid policies. Philip's rule contrasted sharply with the relative independence allowed the Dutch nobles under Charles V. By 1565 the Dutch opposition was led by a faction, or small group, of low-ranking nobles called the Gueux (pronounced GOH), or Beggars, which was organized with William's assistance. Unlike the higher-ranking nobles, they were more inclined toward violence as a possible solution for their grievances. While most of the higher-ranking nobles quickly divorced themselves from the Gueux, William retained his ties to them.

Despite William's pleas for moderation, open revolt against Spain erupted in August 1566. Frenzied mobs attacked Catholic churches throughout the provinces, smashing religious idols and vandalizing church property. Philip responded by summoning the famous Spanish general, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo (1507–1582), the duke of Alba, to crush the revolt. William himself quelled a Calvinist riot in Antwerp (now in Belgium), Europe's richest city. He then closed the city's gates and denied access to both the rebels and the king's forces. In 1567 William withdrew to his family's estates at Dillenburg, where he gained his famous nickname "the Silent" by remaining neutral in the conflict.

Erasmus: Christian Humanist

The teachings of Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus had a profound impact on William I of Orange, who led the independence movement in the Netherlands. In 1516 Erasmus published Novum instrumentum, an edition of the New Testament (the second part of the Bible) that featured texts in Greek and revised Latin side by side. The first published Greek text, Erasmus's New Testament was a landmark for scholars and reformers. It paved the way for the literary and educational classics of other Christian humanists, scholars who believed that individual Christians could rely on their intellect to understand the Bible.

Another dimension to Erasmus's writing also appeared in 1516. He was serving briefly as an adviser to the future Holy Roman Emperor, sixteen-year-old Charles V. Following current humanist practice, Erasmus prepared Institutio principis Christiani, a guide for educating princes to rule justly. In 1517 he composed Querela pacis, condemning war as an instrument of tyranny. He warned rulers to fulfill their obligation to preserve Christian harmony.

William leads independence movement Alba created the Council of Troubles to arrest, try, and execute religious "heretics." It came to be known as the Council of Blood after Alba executed as many as twelve thousand people. William himself was summoned to appear before the Council of Troubles, but he refused to appear. Alba then confiscated William's possessions and deported one of William's sons to Spain. This harsh treatment pushed the prince of Orange into becoming a rebel. William organized an army and marched on the Low Countries in 1568. Alba met and crushed William's forces at the Ems River. The prince of Orange then fled to sanctuary in a Huguenot (Calvinist) region of France. Although he despised the strictness of the Calvinist faith, he gradually came to realize that accepting Calvinism was the only way he could receive support from French, German, and English Protestants. In 1572 he succeeded in convincing Queen Elizabeth I of England to send troops and money to help the Dutch Protestant rebels (see "England" in Chapter 3).

In 1572 Calvinist Holland and Zeeland joined the rebellion and called for the prince of Orange to lead them. In accepting leadership, William insisted upon equal protection for both the Catholic and the Calvinist faiths. William's brother, Louis of Nassau (1538–1574), supported the rebels by moving into the southeastern provinces at Mons. Alba rushed to confront him. William meanwhile marched virtually uncontested into the Brabant (a region in the southern Netherlands and northern Belgium) and captured several strategic towns. By late 1572, however, Alba had overcome both Louis and William at Mons. The prince of Orange then moved to the northern provinces to reorganize his forces. In the meantime, Philip had become alarmed at Alba's brutality, so he recalled the general to Spain in 1573.

William formally became a Calvinist, but he would not go along with the Calvinist provinces in declaring Catholicism illegal. In 1576 he took control of the States-General and arranged for acceptance of the Pacification of Ghent. This agreement united the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands and supported religious moderation. Philip then installed his half-brother, Don John of Austria (1547–1578), as the new ruler in the Low Countries. Don John was not overly concerned with suppressing the revolt because he was preoccupied with planning an invasion of England to restore Catholicism in that country (see "Spain" in Chapter 3). Upon Don John's death in 1578, Alessandro Farnese (1545–1592), the duke of Parma, became governor-general of the Netherlands and began subduing the southern provinces. In 1579 the Treaty of Arras united the southern provinces under Spanish rule and Catholicism. William then agreed to the Union of Utrecht, which united the northern provinces under the Calvinist faith. William still wanted to unite all of the Dutch provinces, so he turned for assistance to Alençon, the duke of Anjou, heir to the French throne. Alençon's Catholic troops then joined the Dutch Protestants.

Dutch gain freedom

In 1580 Farnese captured more than thirty rebel towns along with the city of Antwerp, bringing Holland and Zeeland to the brink of defeat. Philip issued a royal proclamation condemning the prince of Orange as an outlaw and the instigator of trouble in the Netherlands. William responded by accusing Philip of incest (having sexual relations with a family member), adultery (having sexual relations outside of marriage), and the murder of his son and third wife. On July 10, 1584, a Catholic extremist shot and killed William of Orange in his home on the Delft River. William's son Maurice (1567–1625; ruled 1584–1625) became governor of the republic. He carried on a successful campaign against Spain. Final recognition of Dutch independence by the Spanish government was not obtained until the Peace of Westphalia, at the end of the Thirty Years' War, in 1648. The southern provinces had remained loyal to Spain and to the Roman Catholic Church, and they were thereafter known as the Spanish Netherlands.

In the seventeenth century, the United Provinces became the leading commercial and maritime power in the world. Its prosperity was nourished by Dutch settlements and colonies in the East Indies, India, South Africa, the West Indies, South America, and elsewhere. The government was oligarchic (ruled by a small group of leaders) but based on republican and federative principles, principles that acknowledge the government's responsibility to citizens, and the citizens' right to have a voice in their government. The Dutch were noted for their religious freedom. They welcomed religious refugees, Spanish and Portuguese Jews, French Huguenots, and English Pilgrims. Arts, sciences, literature, and philosophy flourished alongside trade and banking.


The Scandinavian countries—Sweden, Denmark, and Norway—were politically united by the Union of Kalmar in 1397. Under this arrangement Scandinavian noblemen, who had similar languages and cultures, agreed to choose their kings by elections. They also agreed to fight off the efforts of German princes to gain influence over them. The Union frequently broke down throughout the 1400s, but it continued to function into the 1500s.


In the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, Denmark conquered most of the southern coastal region around the Baltic Sea. The Danes (the name given to the people of Denmark) established a prosperous kingdom that was twice the size of present-day Denmark. During this time merchants and craftsmen and a number of guilds gained political power. A growing discord developed between the Danish king and the nobility. In 1282 noblemen forced King Erik V (c. 1249–1286; ruled 1259–86) to sign a charter (a document that serves as the basis of government) that made the Danish ruler subordinate, or answerable, to law and created an assembly of noblemen called the Danehof. A temporary decline in Danish dominance came after the death of King Christopher II (1276–1332; ruled 1320–26, 1330–32) in 1332. During the reign of Christopher's son Valdemar IV Atterdag (c. 1320–1375; ruled 1340–75), Denmark once again became the leading force on the Baltic Sea. However, the Hanseatic League, a commercial federation of European cities, controlled trade.

Union of Kalmar collapses In 1380 Denmark and Norway were joined in a union under one king, Olaf II (1370–1387), a grandson of Valdemar IV. After Olaf's death in 1387, his mother, Margaret (1353–1412), became the ruler. In 1389 she obtained the crown of Sweden, and in 1397 she formed the Union of Kalmar, which united Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Denmark was the dominant power, but Swedish noblemen repeatedly sought independence. The Kalmar Union lasted until 1523, when Sweden won its freedom in a revolt against Christian II (see "Sweden" section later in this chapter). The revolt was led by Gustav Vasa, who was elected king of Sweden as Gustav I in that year. Also in 1523, Christian II was driven from the Danish throne and replaced by Frederick I.

A period of unrest followed as Lübeck, the strongest Hanseatic city, interfered in Danish politics. With help from Gustav I, Lübeck's interference was ended and Christian II's successor, Christian III (1503–1559; ruled 1534–59), consolidated his power as king of Denmark. Christian III supported the Reformation, and during his reign the Lutheran Church was established as the state religion. At this time the Danish kings began to treat Norway as a province rather than as a separate kingdom. Denmark's commercial and political rivalry with Sweden for domination of the Baltic Sea resulted in conflicts that are sometimes called the Nordic Seven Years' War (1563–70) and the War of Kalmar (1611–13).

In the 1620s King Christian IV (1557–1648; ruled 1588–1648) drew Sweden into the Thirty Years's War when he supported the Protestant cause in Germany. Continued rivalry between Denmark and Sweden for primacy led to the Swedish Wars (1643–45 and 1657–60). Denmark was badly defeated and lost several of its Baltic islands and all of its territory on the Scandinavian Peninsula except Norway. Economic setbacks resulting from these defeats had a widespread impact in Denmark. The growing commercial class, which was hard hit by the loss of foreign markets and trade, joined with the monarchy to curtail the power and privileges of the nobility. In 1660 King Frederick III (1609–1670; ruled 1648–70), son of Christian IV, overthrew the Council of the Realm (the governing assembly made up of noblemen). The monarchy, which until then had been largely dependent for its political power on the noblemen, was made hereditary. In 1661 the monarchy became absolute, that is, the king had the sole authority to make and administer laws. The tax-exemption privileges of the nobility were ended, and nobles were replaced by commoners in the government.


The Union of Kalmar was brought to an end by a conflict between the Danish king Christian II and the popular Swedish leader Sten Sture (called the Younger; c. 1492–1520). In 1520, after a series of battles, Christian invaded Sweden and seized the throne. Sten Sture had already been acting as an independent monarch of Sweden, but he ruled on behalf of the Danish king. Christian was eager to consolidate his power by uniting Denmark and Sweden, so in 1517 he bypassed Sten Sture and attacked Sweden directly. Sten Sture defeated Christian II on the battlefield of Brännkyrka in 1518. Among his troops was the courageous soldier Gustav Vasa (1496–1560). In the treaty that followed this conflict, Sten Sture handed over Gustav to the Danish king as a pledge of his good intentions. Christian took Gustav back to a mild form of captivity in Denmark. When Gustav heard news of renewed fighting between Denmark and Sweden, he escaped and made his way to the port of Lübeck, a wealthy trading city in the Hanseatic League. He wanted to go back and fight with his countrymen, so he obtained financial assistance for his cause from wealthy merchants in Lübeck. In 1520 Sten Sture was killed in battle. Christian then seized the Swedish city of Stockholm, and on November 8, 1520, he presided over the "bloodbath of Stockholm." During a rampage Danish soldiers chopped off the heads of nearly one hundred prominent Swedes who had supported Sture. The massacre continued in the Swedish provinces in the weeks that followed.

Gustav Vasa gains power The surviving Swedes called upon Gustav Vasa to be their new leader. Gustav regained control of the country in 1523 and was elected king. He gave major trading advantages to Lübeck in exchange for its support in the war. Although Gustav was obligated to Lübeck, he also made trading agreements with Holland and Prussia in 1526 in an effort to expand Sweden's own trading networks. He saw the advantage of adopting Protestantism as the national religion. Gustav had many debts from the war with Denmark, but he had hardly any money to repay them (at that time, monarchs financed wars themselves). In contrast, the Catholic Church had significant wealth, receiving almost five times as much as the king's income in tithes (one-tenth of church members' income) alone. It also owned estates and castles and had other forms of wealth in abundance.

Gustav was determined to lay his hands on this wealth, so he began to support Lutheranism as a way to break the power of the Catholic Church. In 1527 he called a meeting of the Swedish Estates (assembly of nobles, middle-class citizens called burghers, clergymen, and peasants) in the city of Västerâs. The Estates agreed to let Gustav take over the church. Gustav's men entered churches and took gold and silver plates, candlesticks, and other objects that could be converted into money. The king also seized estates, castles, and lands that had been church property for centuries. This policy led to an uprising of Catholic nobles and peasants in the southwestern provinces of Sweden in 1529, but Gustav soon outwitted the rebels and executed their ringleaders.

Gustav's next challenge was paying off huge debts to the city of Lübeck, but he resisted because he wanted to break Lübeck's trading monopoly. In 1534, after extensive negotiations, Lübeck declared war on Denmark and Sweden. Gustav responded by again allying with Frederick I of Denmark. The Swedish navy won victories in 1535, inaugurating the growth of Swedish naval and maritime power. In 1539, Gustav declared the Lutheran Church to be the national religion. Five years later the Swedish Estates granted Gustav's request to make his elective monarchy into a hereditary one. They also approved his plan to create a citizen-army that would replace hired soldiers. Thus a Vasa dynasty was established and Sweden became the first country in Europe to have a permanent army composed of its own farmer-soldiers. From that time until his death in 1560, Gustav's throne rested secure. His son, who took the name Erik XIV (1533–1577; ruled 1560–68), was able to carry on the expansion of Swedish power.

In 1587 Sigismund Vasa (1566–1632), heir to the Swedish throne, accepted the invitation of the Polish nobility to be their king (ruled 1587–1632). A convert to Roman Catholicism, Sigismund simultaneously held the crowns of Sweden and Poland after 1592. He faced powerful opposition in staunchly Lutheran Sweden. The religious issue developed into a civil war between Catholics and Protestants. In 1600 Sigismund's uncle, Karl IX, took the throne of Sweden away from Sigismund. In 1611 Karl's son, Gustav II Adolf (ruled 1611–32), became king at the age of seventeen. As a condition for ruling under the legal age of eighteen, he accepted limitations on his royal powers known as the Charter of 1611. He promised to give the nobility a monopoly over state offices and to govern with the advice of the council and the constitutional bodies—the Diet (law-making body) and the Estates.

Gustav II Adolf: A great king Gustav is known as one of the great Swedish kings. His reign brought higher standards of government—better administration and tax collection—as well as the rule of law and educational advancement. In 1600 Sweden did not have a central government. By 1626 it boasted the most efficient and well-ordered government in Europe. Gustav was also one of the world's leading military geniuses. He is credited with creating the first modern army. During his reign he defeated Poland and conquered Livonia. By winning a war with Russia he also acquired Ingermanland (a region in northwest European Russia) and Karelia (a region in northeast Europe between Finland and Russia). In 1620 Sweden entered the Thirty Years'War to join France against the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Habsburgs. At this time Sweden was the foremost Protestant power on the European continent. Although Gustav was killed at the Battle of Lützen in 1632, his policies were carried on during the reign of his daughter Christina (1626–1689; ruled 1632–54). She was assisted by his prime minister, Axel Oxenstierna (1583–1654).

Under the terms of the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which ended the Thirty Years' War, Sweden acquired a large part of Pomerania, the island of Rügen, Wismar, the sees of Bremen and Verden, and other German territory. (A see is the seat of a bishop's office.) This acquisition entitled the Swedish sovereign to three votes in the diet of the Holy Roman Empire. Sweden then became the greatest power in the Baltic area. In 1654 Queen Christina abdicated, or formally gave up the throne, naming her cousin Charles X Gustav (1622–1660) as her successor. She lived the rest of her life in Rome. Charles declared war on Poland, initiating the conflict known as the First Northern War (1655–60). Sweden was victorious and, in 1660, under the terms of a treaty called the Peace of Oliva, Poland formally gave the province of Livonia to Sweden. Charles invaded Denmark twice in 1658, regaining provinces in southern Sweden that Denmark had acquired in the sixteenth century.

The first modern army

King Gustav II Adolf is credited with creating the first modern army. By 1630 his Swedish army had evolved into the premier fighting force throughout the world. Gustav rejected the traditional method of massing soldiers into square groups and sending them to confront the enemy. Instead he introduced linear formations, whereby the infantry (foot soldiers) marched in several ranks (long parallel lines) onto the battlefield. He trained his men to move rapidly according to a specific tactical plan. Another innovation was the use of musketeers (soldiers carrying large pistols called muskets), who were followed by pikemen (soldiers carrying long spears with sharp points). To increase firepower and intimidate the enemy, Gustav integrated easily movable artillery pieces (weapons such as cannons) into the formations of soldiers, employing various weapons in coordinated functions during battle. He also made effective use of the cavalry (soldiers mounted on horses), a tactic he had learned from Polish generals when he fought against Poland.

Gustav would start a battle by sending in lines of musketeers, who advanced in a "rolling barrage" toward the enemy. The artillery pieces would provide additional weapons support to the musketeers. Next, the pikemen rushed forward to open gaps in the enemy line. Finally, the cavalry would move in to complete the combined arms attack. Swift mobility on the battlefield demanded incessant training and a high degree of organization. Modern military organizations—companies, battalions, brigades—and the basic chain of command originated with Gustav.

Gustav developed the first professional army. Officers were carefully nurtured by Gustav and were expected to show initiative. The nucleus of the army—Swedish and Finnish regiments—came from a system of national conscription (the requirement of all men above a certain age to serve in the military), which was unique to Sweden. Strict discipline was based on Gustav's "Articles of War," which forbade swearing, blasphemy (uttering oaths against God), drunkenness, and fornication (having sexual relations). A mixture of Lutheranism and the leadership of Gustav inspired the officers and men to fight for their country. With prayers twice a day and a chaplain, or religious adviser, in every company, the Swedish army brought a new spirit to war in Europe. In tactics, organization, and spirit, Gustav's army ushered in the era of modern warfare.


The region that now comprises Hungary has a complex history. Once a part of the ancient Roman province of Pannonia, it was occupied by the Germans, the Huns, the Avars (an Asian people), the Moravians (a Slavic tribe), the Franks (people from the region that is now France), and the Magyars (pronounced MOHD-yahrz; a tribe that originated in eastern Europe). In 955 the Magyars were defeated by the Saxon king Otto I, who became Holy Roman Emperor in 962. The Magyars maintained friendly relations with the Holy Roman Empire, however, and Christianity and Western culture began to spread into Hungary. In 975 the Hungarian duke Géza was converted to Christianity. His son Stephen I (977–1038) was formally recognized as king of Hungary by Pope Sylvester II in 1001 or 1002. A new era began during Stephen's reign. Christianity became the official religion, the government was centralized, and the country was divided into counties. For many centuries most of the burden of labor and taxation was imposed on non-Magyar people, who were treated as inferior. When Stephen died in 1038 there was no direct heir to the throne. Struggles for the throne and revolts by non-Christians caused instability in the country over the next three centuries.

In 1308 Charles Robert of Anjou (1288–1342; ruled 1308–42) became king of Hungary as Charles I and established the Angevin dynasty. Ruling until 1342, Charles restored order, limited the power of noblemen, and consolidated Hungarian territory. He also incorporated Bosnia and part of Serbia into Hungary. By marrying Elizabeth, the sister of Kazimierz III, king of Poland, he extended Hungarian control into Poland. Upon Robert's death in 1342, his son Louis I (1326–1382; ruled 1370–82) was crowned king of Hungary and Poland. During Louis's reign Hungary acquired new territory through a series of wars, becoming one of the largest kingdoms in Europe. Louis further limited the power of noblemen and promoted the development of commerce, science, and industry. In his last years as king the Ottoman Turks moved onto the Balkan Peninsula. They took control of several provinces in the southern part of Hungary, the buffer zone between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Louis's successor, Sigismund, launched a crusade, or holy war, against the Ottomans, but he was defeated in 1396. Hungary endured numerous other setbacks, including defeats by the Venetians and struggles with the Hussites, religious reformers in neighboring Bohemia (see "Bohemia" section previously in this chapter). In 1433 Sigismund became Holy Roman Emperor (ruled 1410–37) and carried out a persecution campaign against the Hussites.

Hunyadi is national hero

Sigismund was followed as king of Hungary and Holy Roman Emperor by his son-in-law, Albert II, a member of the Habsburg family. Albert was killed in a battle with the Turks in 1439. Hungary was saved from Ottoman domination by the military leader János Hunyadi (c. 1407–1456), who is now considered a national hero in Hungary. Hunyadi defeated the Ottomans when they attacked the Hungarian city of Belgrade in 1456. Despite strong opposition from supporters of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, Hunyadi's son Matthias I Corvinus (1443–1490; ruled 1458–90) was elected king in 1458. Matthias was one of the greatest rulers of his time. He initiated government reforms, formed a standing army, and supported commercial and cultural development. An able military leader, he took Austria from the Habsburgs in the 1480s and moved his residence to Vienna. He acquired other territory, including Moravia, Silesia, and Lusatia. These acquisitions made Hungary the strongest kingdom of central Europe. After the death of Matthias in 1490, noblemen regained the status they had held under feudalism, a change that led to strife among social classes in Hungary, including a peasant rebellion. General political chaos intensified during the first two decades of the sixteenth century, making Hungary unable to defend itself against foreign invaders. In August 1521 an Ottoman army under Sultan Süleyman I (pronounced seu-lay-MAHN; c. 1494–1566; ruled 1520–66) captured Belgrade and Sabac (both now in Serbia), the chief strongholds of the kingdom in the south. In 1526 Süleyman crushed the Hungarian army at Mohacs, a plain in southern Hungary.

Süleyman crushes Hungary

The Battle of Mohacs had its roots in the late 1400s, when the Habsburg dynasty set out to create a world empire. After forming marriage alliances with Burgundy and Spain, the Habsburgs in 1515 concluded a similar union with the Jagiellonian dynasty (see "Poland" section later in this chapter). Two marriages were actually involved, but the most important was the union between Ferdinand I of Habsburg and Anne Jagiello, sister of the future Jagiellonian king Louis II (1506–1526; ruled 1516–26). This union was designed to pave the way for Habsburg control of Bohemia and Hungary in the event of the extinction of the male Jagiellonian line.

By the time the marriage took place in 1521, war had broken out between the major European powers, France and the Habsburgs. King Francis I of France (see "France" in Chapter 3) and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had been rivals since Charles had defeated Francis in the contest for emperor. They had met in battle on several fronts in western Europe. Meanwhile in the East, Süleyman was about to capture the city of Belgrade, the gateway to Hungary and to the Austrian states to the north. In addition, the Lutheran revolt was sweeping the Holy Roman Empire. These problems forced Charles V to divide his vast holdings with his brother Ferdinand, who received Habsburg possessions in Austria. By 1526 Charles had triumphed over Francis. Francis then formed an alliance with Süleyman, which was known among Christian Europeans as "the sacrilegious union of the Lily and the Crescent." In other words, they considered this an affront to the Christian God because the Christian nation of France (whose symbol was the lily) had joined forces with Muslims (whose symbol was the crescent), whom Christians regarded as pagans (those who have no religion). For the first time, though not the last, Europe witnessed the union of France and the Ottomans against their common enemy, the Habsburgs.

Süleyman tried to come to the assistance of France in the French effort to drive the Habsburgs out of Italy (see "Charles VIII launches Italian Wars" in Chapter 3). When Hungary refused to grant him free passage through its territory, he directed his wrath against that country instead. Süleyman set out from Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in April 1526 at the head of some two hundred thousand men. Among them were the sultan's elite troops, the Janissaries (Yeniçeri, meaning "new army" in Turkish), a highly skilled unit composed of non-Turks. His vast army moved slowly northward until, in mid-August, they stood some thirty miles from the plain of Mohacs in southern Hungary. Awaiting the Ottomans was the disorganized Christian army of some twenty-six thousand Hungarians and assorted allies, under the unsteady leadership of King Louis II. In a battle that lasted for only an hour and a half, the Ottomans wiped out the Hungarian army. Hungary was devastated by this loss. After his army captured the city of Buda on September 10, 1526, Süleyman withdrew from Hungary.

The Battle of Mohacs

The Battle of Mohacs was a conflict between the twenty-six-thousandman Christian army of Hungary and two hundred thousand Muslim troops of the Ottoman Empire. The Hungarians were led by King Louis II, and Ottoman forces were commanded by Sultan Süleyman. The battle took place on August 29, 1526, and lasted an hour and a half. Within that short period of time, the Ottoman Turks decimated the Hungarian army. At the outset of the fray, the Hungarian cavalry broke the Turkish center, only to be held up by the Sultan's elite Janissaries. Meanwhile, other strong Turkish units surrounded the Christian army and annihilated it. More than twenty thousand Hungarians perished. No prisoners were taken, and few men escaped. Louis drowned in a stream while fleeing the field. In following up his victory, Süleyman mercilessly ravaged the countryside, wiping out a Hungarian force of some twenty-five thousand peasants. He temporarily occupied Buda, the capital of the country. On the homeward march to Constantinople a few weeks later, his troops took two hundred thousand men, women, and children to be sold into slavery.

Hungary divided

The misery visited upon the Hungarian people by the invading Turks was matched only by the political chaos that ensued in Hungary after their departure. Süleyman had not intended to make the country part of his empire, but instead planned to retain it as a dependent state. But Ferdinand now asserted his claims as a Habsburg to the vacated thrones of Bohemia and Hungary. For more than 150 years after the defeat at Mohacs, Hungary was the scene of almost continuous conflict. The Habsburg Holy Roman emperors seized control of the western portion of their former kingdom, while the Ottomans took over the central region. Groups of noblemen, especially Magyars in Transylvania, strived to keep the Habsburgs and the Ottomans from conquering all of Hungary. The Magyars had abandoned the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation, offending the Catholic Habsburgs. After the middle of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the Counter Reformation (attempts to reform the Catholic Church from within), confrontations between the Protestant Magyars and the Catholic Habsburgs became increasingly violent. At the end of the conflict called the Long War (1593–1606), Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II was forced to grant the Magyars of Transylvania political and religious autonomy, or independence. Transylvania became the center of Protestantism in eastern Europe. During the Thirty Years' War, Transylvania sided with France and Sweden against the Habsburgs. At first they were led by Gabriel Bethlen (1580–1629), prince of Transylvania (1613–29) and king of Hungary (1620–21). In 1630 Bethlen was succeeded as prince by George I Rákóczi (1593–1648; ruled 1630–48), who fought against Habsburg domination of western Hungary. In alliance with the Swedes and the French, Rákóczi invaded Austrian territory in 1644. Emperor Ferdinand III was forced to meet many of Rákóczi's demands, which included freedom of religion for all Hungarians under Habsburg rule.

George II Rákóczi (1621–1660; ruled 1648–60) became the next prince of Transylvania. During his reign the Ottomans expanded their control into Transylvania. In the meantime, the Habsburgs had sent Catholic missionaries into their part of Hungary, and many people returned to the Roman Catholic Church. Repressive measures were then taken against Protestants. These actions led to an uprising headed by Count Imre Thököly (1657–1705), who won a series of victories over the forces of Emperor Leopold I. In 1682 Thököly obtained military support from the Ottomans, but Leopold's armies succeeded in driving the Ottomans from most of Hungary and defeating Thököly's troops. Leopold punished the rebel leaders and forced the Hungarian legislature to give the crown of Hungary forever to the house of Habsburg. Under the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, Transylvania was granted to the Habsburgs and the Ottomans kept only the Hungarian Banat (a region in southern Hungary), which they had lost nineteen years earlier.


The country now known as Poland was created by rulers of the Piast dynasty around the middle of the tenth century. In 999 the Piast ruler Boleslaw I (c. 966–1025; ruled 992–1025) established Poland as a Christian country. Under Casimir III (1310–1370; ruled 1333–70), the last of the Piast rulers, Poland reached its height as a nation. Casimir made peace with the Teutonic Knights, added Galicia (a former territory in east central Europe) to the Polish realm, and welcomed Jewish refugees who were expelled from Spain (see "Spain" in Chapter 3). He established a system of laws, centralized the government, and founded a university at Kraków (also Cracow) in 1364. In 1386 Poland was united with Lithuania when Jagiello, grand duke of Lithuania, became the king of Poland. Jagiello ruled Poland as Ladislas II (1351–1434; ruled 1386–1434) and started the Jagiellonian dynasty. Jagiellonian territory extended from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, encompassing territories in central Europe, notably West Prussia and Pomerania. The combined forces of the union annihilated the Teutonic Knights (a German military religious order founded in 1190) in 1410, at the Battle of Grunewald. In order to preserve the union during the reign of Sigismund II Augustus (1520–1572; ruled 1548–72), the last of the Jagiellonians, provisions were made for a monarch to be elected by a single parliament (called the Sejm) for Poland and Lithuania. The country was officially called the Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita).

Sigismund I Supports Renaissance

Sigismund I Stary brought important Renaissance artists to Kraków, the capital of Poland and Lithuania. He had stayed at his brother Wadislav's court in Bohemia from 1490 until 1493, where he could have come into contact with Italian art and culture. Sigismund initiated many major architectural and sculpture projects that used Italian styles. Even before taking the Polish throne in 1506, he may have called Francesco Fiorentino (died 1516), a stonemason from Florence, to Kraków. Fiorentino designed the tomb of Sigismund's older brother, King Jan Olbracht, which was the first major work in Poland to exhibit the new Italian style. Sigismund I also commissioned German, Polish, and Dutch craftsmen to create paintings and decorative artworks.

Sigismund Augustus was the only son of Sigismund I Stary (1467–1548; ruled 1506–48) and Bona Sforza. Sigismund I Stary is often considered the father of the Polish Renaissance. Bona Sforza was from the Sforza family, great patrons of the arts in Milan, Italy (see "Milan" in Chapter 2). The young Sigismund Augustus therefore grew up in a Renaissance atmosphere. Tutored by the finest Polish and Italian humanist scholars, he quickly learned to appreciate art, literature, and architecture. Wasting little time, his ambitious mother nurtured him to become king. By the age of two, he was elected the future grand duke of Lithuania. By the age of nine, in 1529, he was officially recognized as the future king of Poland. Following his election, Sigismund Augustus moved to Wilno and began his reign as the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Thus, for nearly two decades there were two King Sigismunds—the father, Sigismund I, in Kraków and the son, Sigismund II Augustus, in Wilno. This dual kingship remained in place to insure that Sigismund Augustus would face no opposition from the Polish magnates (high-ranking noblemen) of the Sejm and to assure his ascension to both the Polish and Lithuanian thrones. With the death of Sigismund I in 1548, Sigismund Augustus took control of both states.

Last of the Jagiellonians

Sigismund Augustus is best known today as the last of the Jagiellonians. He did not have any children, so the dynasty came to an end when he died. According to historical accounts, Sigismund's mother poisoned his first two wives because they did not produce an heir. In 1553 Sigismund was married for a third time, to his first wife's sister, Princess Katherine of Habsburg. The marriage was a catastrophe from the start. Soon after the ceremony a frightened Sigismund learned firsthand that Katherine was subject to epileptic episodes (known as seizures; a disorder caused by disturbances in the central nervous system); thereafter he avoided any intimacy with her. Queen Bona did not remain in Poland long enough to decide whether Katherine should be poisoned. In 1556 Bona retired from Polish political life and returned to her native Italy. Since Sigismund could not take another wife, no Jagiellonian heir could be born to take the Polish throne.

When Sigismund became king, the noblemen expected him to quickly enact much-needed political and social reforms. To their disappointment, the reforms were not realized until late in Sigismund's reign. Despite Sigismund's numerous failures and countless conflicts with the nobles of both Poland and Lithuania, he ultimately secured his place in history with the Union of Lublin. Signed near the end of his reign on July 1, 1569, in the Polish town of Lublin, the act bound all Polish and Lithuanian lands together under a single constitution (system of laws). This agreement formed the republic known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Union of Lublin not only joined the two states but also provided for a system of government. Following 1569, the king of Poland also held the office of grand duke of Lithuania and governed both states as one nation. The king would rule from the new Polish capital of Warsaw and be elected by a joint Polish-Lithuanian Sejm.

Dissent brings decline

The sixteenth century marked the golden age of Polish literature and scholarship. Protestantism also gained many converts among the nobility in the mid-1500s, but it ceased to be significant after 1600. Poland began to decline when a series of political reforms resulted in noblemen gaining influence and power at the expense of the king. Meeting in the Sejm, they adopted a practice whereby a single dissenting voice was sufficient to prevent the passage of laws. The nobility imposed such far-reaching limitations upon the monarchy that national unity could not be maintained. The nation was further weakened by internal disorders, such as the Cossack and peasant uprising (1648–49). Led by Ukrainian independence leader Bohdan Khmelnytsky (c. 1595–1657), this revolt protested against Polish domination of the Ukraine. It was particularly devastating to Polish Jews, many of whom had served as agents of the nobility in administering Ukrainian lands. In 1683 Polish and German troops led by Polish king John III Sobieski (1629–1696; ruled 1674–96) rescued Vienna, Austria, from a Turkish siege. This victory halted the Muslim threat to Christian nations in central Europe. But Poland fared poorly in wars with Sweden, Russia, and other states. A Russian, Prussian, and Austrian agreement in 1772 led to the division of Polish territory. By 1795 Poland was no longer an independent state. Galicia was ruled by Austria-Hungary, northwestern Poland by Prussia, and the Ukraine and eastern and central Poland by Russia.

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