The Protestant Reformation

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The Protestant Reformation

As Martin Luther's reform movement gained momentum in Germany throughout the sixteenth century, other charges against the Roman Catholic Church sprang up elsewhere in Europe. Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss priest, challenged the church's rule that priests could not marry. He also called for a separation of church and state. The famous French-born reformer John Calvin, who adopted Switzerland as the base of his "New Jerusalem," made the city of Geneva a stronghold of Protestant activity and Calvinism. His basic concept, later known as "predestination," was the belief that a small minority of people were "elected" before birth to become the chosen who would enter heaven (the concept of the place where the righteous go after death). His followers carried his teachings to eager reformers throughout Europe, especially in France, where Calvinists were called Huguenots, and in England, where they inspired Puritanism.

Radical Protestantism became a rallying point for peasants as well as nobles who desired to escape the oppression of the Catholic Church and the monarchs who supported it. In 1555 the Peace of Augsburg stated that each of the more than three hundred principalities in Germany would adopt the religion of its local ruler, leaving over half of Germany to the Lutherans. By the end of the sixteenth century, the Scandinavian countries had become predominantly Lutheran. In France nearly a quarter of the population were Huguenots. In 1598 King Henry IV granted religious freedom to Calvinist sects in the Edict of Nantes.

Soon hundreds of new Protestant sects were forming and re-forming. Among the strongest were the Anabaptists, who believed that baptism (the ceremony in which a person is blessed with water and admitted to the Christian faith) should be reserved only for adults who were fully aware of its significance. Others, like the Spiritualists, sought personal communion with the Holy Spirit (the spirit of God). The Evangelical Rationalists and Puritans of both Poland and England applied "right reason" (the use of reasoned thinking to interpret Scripture, as opposed to the blind acceptance of the teachings of theologians) to such concepts as the deity (godliness) of Jesus Christ, the Trinity (the Christian idea of God as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and the existence of heaven and hell (place where sinners go after death). The Levellers and True Levellers, Ranters, Seekers, Muggletonians, Antinomians, and scores of other radical groups rose up, especially in England, Belgium, and France. They came to be known by both Catholics and conservative Protestants as "the lunatic fringe."

Lay preachers (ministers who are not officially ordained, that is, authorized by an established religion to head a church congregation) saw the close connections among religion, politics, and economics. They began to press for social and political reforms that they justified with passages from the Bible. The Reformation thus spread to all aspects of life, and the Christian world found itself in the middle of the most profound upheaval since Roman Catholicism was founded around a.d. 600. The Protestant Reformation had a far-ranging impact on most of the major European countries—Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, and England.


While Luther was taking his stand against the Catholic Church in Germany, Swiss pastor Huldrych (also Ulrich) Zwingli (1484–1531) was leading a similar movement in Zurich, Switzerland. In 1518 he denounced the church's practice of selling indulgences—partial forgiveness of sins—then he went on to attack other abuses. Zwingli expressed his views in sermons, private conversations, and public debates, called disputations, before the city council. Like Luther, he considered the Bible the sole source of moral and spiritual authority, and he set out to eliminate everything in the Roman Catholic system that could not be supported by the Scripture (books of the Bible). Zwingli eventually made Zurich the center of church reform. He died in battle against Catholic forces in 1531. Five years later the French reformer John Calvin established a Protestant movement in Geneva. Calvin soon became the most important figure in the Reformation, and his views gave a new direction to Protestant beliefs.

Zwingli: early reformer

Huldrych Zwingli began his career as a Roman Catholic priest in 1506, after graduating from the University of Basel with a master of arts degree. He was appointed as a parish priest in his home region of Glarus. When he was not tending to his congregation he devoted his time to classical studies. He also began reading the original text of the Bible, which was published by the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus. Zwingli had been accustomed to reading the Bible commentaries of church "experts" instead of the text of the Bible itself, and he soon began to question traditional interpretations of the Scripture. This quest eventually led him to call for reforms in the church.

Zwingli's future was also shaped by his experience as a chaplain, or religious adviser, for the local army unit. In Zwingli's day, Switzerland was organized into the Swiss Confederation, an alliance of communities formed in the late thirteenth century for mutual protection in trading and in times of war (see "Switzerland" in Chapter 4). In 1499 the confederation declared its independence from the Holy Roman Empire. As the economy of Switzerland changed from a dependence on the dairy industry (the breeding of cattle to produce milk products) to agriculture (the growing of crops for food), many young Swiss men were unable to find jobs. They often signed up as mercenaries, or hired soldiers, in the armies of the pope or foreign kings and dukes. Mercenaries could make quite a bit of money, especially from raiding captured cities. During the time Zwingli was in Glarus, France was fighting against Spain (which was allied with the Holy Roman Empire) in the Italian Wars, a conflict over control of Italy (see "Italian Wars dominate Renaissance" in Chapter 2). Popes and foreign monarchs were also involved in these wars because they wanted to assert their own power. They did not commit themselves to one side or the other, however, and they formed alliances that seemed the most advantageous at the moment.

In 1513 men from Glarus joined a unit in the army of Pope Leo X, which was fighting in Italy against France on the side of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Zwingli went to Italy with the unit. After returning home, he recorded his impressions of the campaign in a fable (a story with animal characters that teaches a moral lesson) called The Ox. His message was that, for the security of the Swiss Confederation, it was essential not to sell out to foreign warlords. Rather, Switzerland should remain neutral in the power-plays of European wars. In 1515 the Swiss troops were defeated by the French in the Battle of Marignano. The following year they signed a treaty with the French king Francis I, in which they agreed to sign up as mercenaries in the French army—the former enemy—in exchange for economic benefits. When Zwingli's opposition to the treaty became public, he had to leave Glarus.

Questions church Zwingli then spent three years as a priest at a Benedictine abbey (a monastery run by members of the Catholic order founded by Saint Benedict) in Einsiedeln. In addition to taking care of the spiritual needs of the small community, he preached to hundreds of pilgrims, travelers who go on religious journeys. These pilgrims had come to do penance, or confess their sins, and receive absolution, or forgiveness of sins, for money. During his stay at the abbey, Zwingli continued to improve his knowledge of the Scripture by studying and imitating the works of Erasmus. By 1518 his preaching skills had been noticed at the Great Minster, the main church in the city of Zurich, where he was soon appointed a preacher. To help his audience better understand the word of God, in 1519 Zwingli began a series of lectures on the Gospel According to Matthew, a book in the New Testament, the second part of the Bible. In his lectures he used simple terms and incorporated references to events in everyday life. This approach was radical because Catholic priests were considered authorities on the Bible and they were not allowed to help their parishioners interpret the Scripture. Despite some opposition from traditional priests, Zwingli's unusual method was soon adopted by his fellow priests at Great Minster.

On March 5, 1522, in the home of the printer Christoph Froschauer (died 1564), some of Zwingli's friends and supporters broke the rule of fasting during Lent by eating sausages. Lent is a forty-day period prior to Easter, the celebration of Christ's rising from the dead. Christians devote this time to prayer, penance, and reflection. As a sign of fasting and additional penance, Catholics were not permitted to eat meat during Lent. Zwingli turned this event into a public issue in his sermon, which he followed with a pamphlet. Not only did he support the actions of Froschauer and the others, but he also claimed that it was the right of every individual to choose freely what to eat.

Leads debates This question of fasting triggered discussion of other issues, including clerical celibacy, the Catholic Church policy that does not permit priests to get married. Many clergymen of northern Switzerland were married, and Zwingli was among them. Secretly, he had married Anna Reinhart and had fathered several children. Together with ten other priests he sent a petition to the bishop of Constance (the official who headed the church district based in Constance) asking for church recognition of their marriages. To strengthen their argument, they pointed out that the "bishops," or founders, of the early Church had been married. Zwingli also took a stand against praying to saints—people declared as holy by the Catholic Church—for help and favors. Zwingli thought people could learn such qualities as humility, faith, and hope from the lives of the saints, but he believed in praying directly to God. Zwingli further questioned the belief that saints worked miracles. He had seen crowds of pilgrims flocking to shrines and praying for miracles, and he felt that the church was taking advantage of their superstition to get rich. Zwingli contended that pictures and statues of saints only encouraged idolatry—the worship of images, or false gods—so they should be taken down. Many of his most enthusiastic followers took his words literally, and from 1523 until 1525 they stripped decorations, statues, and pictures from all churches in Zurich. They frequently used violent tactics, causing disturbances in cantons (small territorial divisions in a country) that refused to adopt Zwingli's new methods.

In the sixteenth century, public debates called disputations were the generally accepted means for settling conflict. In January 1523 Zwingli invited the leading clergy of various cantons of the Swiss Confederation, including the bishop of Constance, to the Zurich town hall to discuss the recent issues. Most of his opponents refused to accept the invitation, and the bishop sent his personal adviser as an observer. Zwingli presented sixty-seven theses, which offered solutions to major problems in the church. Since the audience consisted mainly of his supporters, he easily convinced them to accept his plan. Zwingli's sixty-seven theses therefore became an outline for religious reform in Zurich. Among practices no longer acceptable were pilgrimages, processions (religious parades), incense, noisy hymns, and the purchase of prayers and indulgences. Zwingli also advised his audience not spend their money on such things as gambling and lavish clothing, but instead to use it to feed the poor and support widows and orphans. Additional reforms were decided upon at a second debate held later in the year. Among them were the closing of monasteries and the seizing of church property (land and wealth), which was to be given to the poor. The reformers also wanted to change the interpretation of communion, the ceremony in which bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ. According to Catholic tradition, the bread and wine became the actual body and blood of Christ (a process called transubstantiation). Zwingli and his supporters contended, however, that communion had only symbolic significance, nothing more.

The Sixty-Seven Articles of Huldrych Zwingli

In 1523 Huldrych Zwingli held a conference in Zurich to discuss reforms in the Roman Catholic Church. At the conference he presented sixty-seven theses, or proposed reforms, which became the basis of the Reformation in Switzerland. He began the list with this statement:

I, Ulrich Zwingli, confess that I have preached in the worthy city of Zurich these sixty-seven articles or opinions on the basis of Scripture, which is called theopneustos (that is, inspired by God). I offer to defend and vindicate these articles with Scripture. But if I have not understood Scripture correctly, I am ready to be corrected, but only from the same Scripture.

Zwingli touched on nearly every practice of the Catholic Church. In theses 28 through 33, he addressed the issues of marriage of priests (he himself was a married priest), excommunication, and the giving of unclaimed property to the church.

The Marriage of Clergy

28. Everything that God permits or has not forbidden is proper. From this we learn that marriage is proper for all people.

The Impure Priest Should Take a Wife

29. All those who are in the church sin if they do not make themselves secure through marriage once they understand that God has granted marriage to them for the sake of purity.

Of Excommunication

31. No private person may excommunicate anyone else, but the church—that is, the communion of those among whom the one subject to excommunication lives—along with its guardians may act as a bishop.

32. The only one who should be excommunicated is a person who commits a public scandal.

Of Unclaimed Goods

33. Unclaimed goods should not be given to temples, cloisters, monks, priests, or nuns, but to the needy, if it is impossible to return them to their rightful owner.

Zwingli's sixty-seven theses became the basis for reform of the church in Zurich and, eventually, all of Switzerland.

Source: Mark A. Noll. Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation. Vancouver, B.C.: Regent College Publishing, 1997, pp. 42–43.


The Anabaptist movement arose in the early 1520s, mainly in Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Meaning "one who baptizes again," the name Anabaptist refers to the practice of baptizing adults, even if they had been baptized as infants. The Anabaptists called this believer's baptism because it was the voluntary choice of a mature person who was ready to accept Christianity. Calvinists and Lutherans often used "Anabaptist" as negative term for any sect (small religious group) that did not follow standard reform practices. Like the Calvinists and the Lutherans, the Anabaptists stressed the importance of personal communication with God, and they rejected the rituals of the Catholic Church. They were different from other Protestant groups, however, because they advocated nonviolence, opposed state churches, did not participate in state government, and refused to take oaths. Prominent Anabaptist leaders were Konrad Grebel in Switzerland and Hans Denck and Balthasar Hubmaier in Germany.

Closely related to the Anabaptists were the Hutterites (Moravian Brethren), a group founded by Jakob Hutter, an Austrian pacifist (one who is opposed to violence). The Hutterites established communities based on mutual Christian love and the sharing of goods. Another prominent Anabaptist group was the Mennonites. They were led by the Dutch reformer Menno Simons, the best-known Anabaptist theologian of the sixteenth century. Simons stressed the importance of living according to the teachings of Christ. Like the Hutterites, the Mennonites formed close-knit communities that lived apart from the rest of the world.

Anabaptism was embraced mainly by the poor and by uneducated peasants and artisans. Anabaptists were persecuted throughout Europe by the aristocracy and by mainstream Protestant reformers, who disapproved of their community-based religions and their opposition to state churches.

Makes Zurich evangelical city During the years to come, Zwingli turned Zurich into an evangelical city. ("Evangelical" was a term used to refer to the Reformation movement in Germany; those who practiced the new religion were called "evangelicals." They became known as "Protestants" in 1529, after many evangelicals protested the decisions of the second Diet of Speyer; see "Diets of Speyer" in Chapter 5.) Those in Zurich who disagreed with Zwingli were forced either to comply or to leave. As early as 1524, some of Zwingli's supporters claimed his reforms did not go far enough. Among them were the Anabaptists, who formed a separatist movement known as the Swiss Brethren. They were seen as a threat by the Zwinglians. The Anabaptists believed that even people who did not believe in God had this right as long as the obeyed the city's laws. They also strictly separated the state from the church. One of the main sources of disagreement was the Anabaptist concept of believer's baptism. Contrary to the Catholic and Lutheran practice of baptizing infants, Anabaptists asserted that only adults who voluntarily accepted Christianity should be baptized. This dispute led in 1525 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. This harsh policy, practiced by the reform council and supported by Zwingli, contributed to some loss of his popularity.

Religious disputes rapidly divided the Swiss Confederation. In 1524 the five central states formed a special alliance. Zurich, in turn, sought possible allies and defenders of its cause. In 1526 a Catholic-dominated conference was held in Baden. Zwingli, though invited, did not attend because he feared for his personal safety. The council condemned Zwinglian reforms as the works of the "Antichrist of the Great Minster." The conference's outcome was a blow to the reformers 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 allowed to take place in Bern, the largest state of the confederation. All clergy from Bern were invited, as were the four bishops of Lausanne, Sion, Basel, and Constance. Zwingli and Johannes Oekolampadius of Basel, who had spoken on Zwingli's behalf, were to attend the debate. Many Catholic officials refused to attend, but several Catholics did come to the meeting. A main topic of discussion was the Catholic concept of the pope as God's representative on Earth. The Catholics argued that Jesus, before his death, had told his disciple (follower) Peter to organize a Christian church. Peter (later Saint Peter) then handed down this responsibility to popes, who were to appoint bishops, priests, and lay (unordained) members of the church. The reformers could not accept this reasoning because, as far as they were concerned, the church was the body of Christ and therefore Christ was its only head.

The debate lasted until the end of January, leaving no doubt that the reformation of the church, as Zwingli had demanded in Zurich, was soon to be carried out in the canton of Bern. One region, the Bernr Oberland, tried to resist the introduction of reforms, asking the neighboring states of Valais, Uri, and Unterwalden for spiritual and, eventually, military support. To reprimand the rebellious subjects, Bern sent in troops. The peasants of the Bernr Oberland soon gave up their resistance and accepted reforms that had taken place in Zurich. Zwingli had reached the summit of his power and influence. Those states willing to conform to Zurich standards were looking to him for guidance and advice. Realizing that his dream of a Protestant Swiss Confederation could be realized only with the help of foreign allies, he encouraged the council to form stronger ties with the cities of Muelhausen and Strasbourg. Although they were part of the German Empire, they had for some time been on friendly terms with the Swiss Confederation.

Popularity declines Neither Zwingli nor Luther had any doubts about his own interpretation of the Scripture. Luther was a regular priest who was said to have had a haughty way about him when speaking to Zwingli. He considered Zwingli a coarse fanatic—one who holds extreme beliefs—who was trying to show off his Greek and Latin only because his German language skills were so poor. When the two men finally met at a conference in Marburg in 1529, they reportedly parted without shaking hands. Nevertheless, the meeting was a success and the participants drew up fifteen articles that defined the Protestant faith. The Marburg meeting took place between the two Kappel Wars, religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. The first Kappel war began in 1528, immediately after Zwingli's successful appearance in Bern, Zurich had extended its influence to the territories of Saint Gall and Thurgau and to the Lake of Constance. Furthermore, Protestant villages in these areas were supported by Zurich. The Catholic cantons of Lucerne and Schwyz prohibited Zwinglian preaching within their borders. One reform preacher, Jacob Kaiser, who did not obey the Catholic cantons was sentenced to death by burning at the stake. On July 8, 1529, Zurich declared war on the Catholic cantons and the Protestant and Catholic armies met near the village 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. Zwingli was disgusted. He warned the council against giving in to the pleading of the Catholics. A truce was finally signed by both parties, but neither side seemed completely satisfied.

When Zwingli returned home after the Marburg meeting, events seemed to develop in his favor. But soon thereafter open resistance from the Catholic cantons was combined with opponents in his own ranks. Zwingli proposed a quick military campaign to put down opposition once and for all. But allies in Bern interfered, suggesting an economic blockade instead. (A blockade is a ban on shipment of goods into a region.) This measure imposed a hardship on the Catholics, whose well-being largely depended on Zurich markets. It was not just the Catholics that suffered the effects of the blockade, however. Within Zurich, Zwingli's popularity began to shrink as merchants, millers, bakers, and other artisans complained of the damaging effect the blockade had on their trade. Zwingli asked the council to relieve him from his post. Although he was begged to stay, his position had been weakened.

Dies in second Kappel War Soon news reached Zurich that the Catholic forces had gathered near Zug, a region not far from Zurich. Hastily, Zurich's troops hurried in from all sides, but it was impossible to form orderly units on such short notice. No time remained to ask Protestant allies for support. Facing the well-prepared Catholic troops near Kappel in October 1531, the Protestant army of about fifteen hundred fought bravely, but with no chance of victory. After only a few days, the Protestant alliance was defeated. Zurich lost about five hundred men in battle, among them its spiritual leader, Huldrych Zwingli. After Zwingli's death, his colleague Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575) became the pastor at Great Minster and the leader of the reform movement in Switzerland. In 1536 Bullinger played an important role in compiling the First Helvetic Confession, a statement of reform goals based largely on Zwingli's views. The Helvetic Confession reflected the differences between Zwingli and Luther on such issues as the communion ceremony. In 1549 Bullinger joined the French reformer John Calvin in drafting the Consensus of Tigurnius, which moved Swiss reform efforts toward Calvinism. Bullinger's later views were presented in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), which was accepted in Switzerland, France, Scotland, and Hungary.

John Calvin: the most influential reformer

The next major figure in the Swiss Reformation was John Calvin (1509–1564), a French reformer who fled religious persecution (harassment for religious beliefs) in France and settled in Geneva. Calvin was perhaps the most influential of all religious leaders of the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century Europe. He was twenty-six years younger than Luther and had developed some important theological differences. Calvin believed in a sterner, more "puritanical" interpretation of Christianity. Under his tireless direction, Geneva became the focus of a far-reaching evangelical movement.

Calvin was born Jean Cauvin in Noyon, France, on July 10, 1509. His father, Gérard Cauvin, was an ambitious lawyer. His mother, Jeanne Lefranc Chauvin, was the daughter of a fairly well-to-do innkeeper. At an early age, Calvin was sent by his father to the University of Paris with the intention that he would one day enter the priesthood. But in 1528, his father ordered him to switch his emphasis from theology to law because law was a more practical profession. Calvin obeyed, leaving Paris for the University of Orléans and, later, for Brouges. Although he had already developed a passion for theology, Calvin embraced the study of law. In 1531 he published his first book, which showed his intellectual potential and promised a bright career. But the death of his father earlier that year was to change his life drastically. Returning to Paris, Calvin was now free to pursue his humanist and theological interests. During his studies he felt a personal challenge to become an instrument of God's will, and by 1533 he had converted from Catholicism to Protestantism.

Flees to Switzerland To escape persecution for being a Protestant, Calvin left France in 1534 and traveled under the assumed name of Martianus Lucianius. In Basel, Switzerland, he met people who shared his views. In 1536 he published the first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which outlined his beliefs and gained him attention as an important religious leader. For Calvin, the only spiritual authority was Scripture, both the New Testament and the Old Testament (the Christian name for the Hebrew Bible). According to Calvin, the all-knowing and ever-present God had determined, from the beginning of time, who was to be saved and who was to be damned. All people, he felt, were sinful by nature and could never achieve salvation, or forgiveness of sins by God, through their own efforts. God had therefore selected a few people, called the "the elect," for salvation. The elect were to lead others, who had not been chosen by God, toward salvation. This concept was later called "predestination," but Calvin himself did not use the term. Calvin taught that the purpose of life was to strive to know or understand God as well as possible and then to follow God's will. This path could only be followed through faith (acceptance of truth without questioning), by which people pursue union with Christ, the embodiment of God on Earth. With this faith, then, all people were required to strive to live a moral life, out of hope that they were among the elect chosen by God. Calvin enforced strict moral discipline in pursuit of this goal.

One evening in June 1536, Calvin stopped in Geneva to spend the night. He fully intended to continue on his journey the following day, but the local evangelical preacher, Guillaume Farel (1489–1565), 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 Catholicism from the city, which had recently won its independence from the church. Calvin agreed to stay in Geneva, and with Farel he worked to establish Protestantism. Within a couple of years, however, both men were expelled for being too strict and for encouraging French Huguenots to move to Geneva. Calvin then went to Strasbourg, where he taught at an academy, preached, and developed his ideas on the nature of the ideal Christian church. Calvin's friends in Strasbourg urged him to find a wife. In 1540 he married Idelette Bure, the widow of one of his converts, who had a son and a daughter. The couple's only child together died shortly after birth in 1542. Idelette died seven years later, but Calvin never remarried.

Eliminates opposition In 1541 Calvin returned reluctantly to Geneva in response to a call from the now floundering church. After receiving assurances that he would be given the freedom he felt was necessary to build God's earthly kingdom, he soon organized the local church government with his Ecclesiastical Ordinances. With these, he began to develop a well-regulated social network within a morally disciplined society. Despite considerable opposition within the city, Calvin's influence grew steadily as he defeated theological and political opponents alike. In 1553 Michael Servetus (1511–1553), a Spanish theologian, or religious scholar, was traveling in disguise to avoid persecution for his scandalous religious ideas. Often called the first Unitarian (a present-day Protestant denomination), Servetus denied the divinity (godliness) of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity (the Christian concept of God as 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 (not obeying the laws of God and the church).

Soon Calvin overcame most remaining opposition to his plans, and in 1555 the Consistory, which acted as a sort of moral court, was accepted and given 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 drinking. Indeed, throughout Geneva, citizens monitored one another's behavior, ready to report any sort of wrongdoing. In this spirit, a strict moral order—based on Calvin's particular vision of truth—was built. Constantly preaching and writing, he involved himself in all aspects of Genevan affairs including education, trade, diplomacy, and even sanitation. In 1559 Calvin and the French scholar Theodore Beza (1516–1605) founded the Genevan Academy (now the University of Geneva) for the training of clergy. Calvin was not interested in Geneva alone but also in spreading the Reform movement abroad, especially within his native France. Under his direction, Geneva became a haven for persecuted Protestants and the unofficial center of growing Protestant movements in places as far removed as Scotland. Before Calvin died in 1564 he asked Beza to be head of the church of Geneva and to help promote Calvinism throughout the world.


As Lutheranism spread northward from Germany, the Reformation was accomplished peacefully in the Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The kings of Denmark and Sweden sponsored the reform movement and broke completely with the papacy. In 1536 a national assembly held in Copenhagen, Denmark, abolished the authority of Roman Catholic bishops throughout Denmark and then in Norway and Iceland, which were ruled by Denmark. King Christian III of Denmark and Norway invited Luther's friend, the German religious reformer Johann Bugenhagen, to organize in Denmark a national Lutheran church on the basis of the Augsburg Confession, a statement of Lutheran beliefs written by the German reformer Philip Melanchthon in 1530 (see "The Augsburg Confession" in Chapter 5). In Sweden the brothers Olaus and Laurentius Petri led a similar movement, and in 1529 King Gustav I Vasa declared Lutheranism as the state religion. Sweden's Reformation, like that in England (see "England" section later in this chapter), left cathedrals, bishops, and priests in place, while gradually closing monasteries. There was relatively little debate about Protestant beliefs outside a small circle of theologians, especially by comparison with the Reformation in Germany, Switzerland, and England.


The Reformation in Denmark was initiated during the reign of Christian II (1481–1559; ruled 1513–23), king of Denmark and Sweden. In 1520 Christian asked Frederick the Wise of Saxony, the patron of Martin Luther, to send one of Luther's followers to Denmark. Although Christian had not converted to Lutheranism, he wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church. He issued several laws that limited the power of the church. For instance, he decreed that all spiritual cases were to be decided not by bishops but by the king and his council, who would act as a court of final appeal. He also prohibited the clergy from owning land. Christian's reform efforts and his support of Lutheranism were opposed by the bishops and by Danish noblemen. In 1523, after Christian used violent tactics to put down an independence revolt in Sweden, he was removed from the throne. Sweden won its freedom from Denmark and Christian was taken prisoner. He was succeeded by his uncle, King Frederick I (ruled 1523–33), who was also a Catholic. At first Frederick promised to stop the Lutheran movement, but he soon began protecting Lutheran preachers and reformers. He contended that even though a king had power over people's lives and property, he could not own their souls.

Frederick's policy permitted the spread of Lutheranism and the dismantling of the Catholic Church. Beginning in 1526, appointments of bishops were approved by the king instead of the pope in Rome. The king also allowed reformers to gain power in major cities, close monasteries, and destroy Catholic churches. He was influenced by his eldest son, Christian (1503–1559), duke of Schleswig and Holstein (then provinces in Denmark; now Schleswig-Holstein, a state in Germany), who was a Lutheran and encouraged the movement in his own territories. When Frederick died in 1533, Christian was prevented from taking the throne by a Catholic-dominated council that was in charge of electing a new king. Then the cities of Copenhagen and Malmö formed an alliance with the north German city of Lübeck to restore the imprisoned former Christian II to the throne. A civil war known as the Counts' War (1533–36) broke out when Lübeck's forces invaded Holstein, and soon Denmark was on the verge of collapse. Then Frederick I's son Christian achieved a victory over the invading forces with the help of Gustav I Vasa of Sweden, and in 1536 Christian became King Christian III (ruled 1534–59) of Denmark and Norway. He needed to pay off debts from the war, so he turned to the Catholic bishops, who were the wealthiest men in the country. They refused to give him any money, so he had them arrested and imprisoned, then seized their property. Although the bishops were released from prison, the king did not let them take their former positions.

Christian made an even bolder move in 1537, when he brought Johann Bugenhagen, a chief assistant of Martin Luther, to Denmark to head reform efforts. Christian asked Bugenhagen to crown him king, a function that was traditionally performed by the Catholic archbishop of Lund. Bugenhagen later ordained seven Lutheran clergymen, who were called superintendents, to replace the dismissed bishops. This act represented a definite break with the Catholic Church. Another step toward reform was the reopening in 1537 of the University of Copenhagen, which had been closed during the civil war. The university now had a Protestant faculty that trained ministers for Protestant churches. Bugenhagen was appointed professor of theology. In 1539 a commission of clergymen, chosen by the king and approved by Luther, issued a new Church Ordinance, which declared Lutheranism to be the state religion of Denmark. Christian III's Bible, the first complete translation of the Bible into Danish, appeared in 1550, nine years before the king's death.


The Lutheran Church was established in Sweden by King Gustav I Vasa (Gustavus Eriksson; 1496–1560; ruled 1523–60). He came to power following a civil war that started in 1517, when King Christian II of Denmark (see "Denmark" section previously in this chapter) attacked Sweden. Christian was opposed by the popular Swedish leader Sten Sture (called the Younger; c. 1492–1520), who defeated the king on the battlefield at Brännkyrka in 1518. Among Sten Sture's troops was the courageous soldier Gustav Eriksson. In the treaty that followed this conflict, Sten Sture handed over Gustav to Christian as a pledge of his good intentions. Christian took Gustav to Denmark as a captive. When Gustav heard news of renewed fighting between Denmark and Sweden, he escaped and made his way to back to Sweden. After Sten Sture was killed in battle in 1520, Christian seized Stockholm and declared himself king of Sweden. 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, including two Catholic bishops, who had supported Sten Sture. The massacre outraged the Roman Catholic Church.

Gustav Vasa gains power The surviving Swedes called upon Gustav Eriksson to be their new leader. He regained control of the country in 1523 and took the throne as King Gustav I Vasa. Gustav immediately saw the advantage of adopting Protestantism as the national religion. He had many debts from the war with Denmark and very little money of his own to repay them (at that time, monarchs financed wars themselves). The Roman Catholic Church, however, had abundant wealth. The church received almost five times as much as the king's income in tithes alone, and it owned many valuable estates and castles as well. Gustav was determined to lay his hands on this wealth, and he confided his intentions to Bishop Hans Brask of Linköping. Brask protested that Gustav would be violating the law of God by taking such a step because Catholic officials were considered representatives of God on Earth. Nevertheless, Gustav was determined to break the power of the church.

Johannes Bugenhagen

Religious reformer Johannes Bugenhagen (1485–1558) was instrumental in establishing the Lutheran church in Denmark. A native of Eastern Pomerania, he studied humanism in Greifswald, Germany, and was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. He then became a teacher of religion. At first he did not agree with Martin Luther's criticism of the Catholic Church, but by 1523 he had become a supporter of the Reformation. He moved to Wittenberg, Germany, Luther's home and the center of the reform movement. Appointed as the town priest, Bugenhagen was also Luther's personal spiritual adviser and a theology lecturer at the Wittenberg University. He then became one of the foremost leaders of the Reformation in northern Germany and Scandinavia. In 1537 the Danish king, Christian III, invited Bugenhagen to head the church in Denmark. Two years later Bugenhagen was named superintendent general—head church official—of Saxony. He died in Wittenberg in 1558.

Gustav's chancellor (secretary), Lars Andreae, had converted to Lutheranism under the influence of Olaus Petri (1493–1552), a priest who had been a student in Wittenberg during Martin Luther's confrontation with the church. Within a year of becoming king, Gustav was defending the small circle of Lutherans in Stockholm. He also gave his approval to Petri's marriage, which went against the church ban on priests being married. Most Swedes opposed the Reformation, so Brask tried to coordinate opposition and stamp out Lutheranism. He also warned noblemen that the king would take away their privileges next if they resisted his efforts to break up the church. Gustav then promised the nobles that they could share church property with him. 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 Västerås. After the clever king burst into tears and threatened to abdicate (resign as king) if his plan was not approved, the Estates let him have his way.

Gustav's men entered churches and took gold and silver plates, candlesticks, and other wealth 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 Catholics in the southwestern provinces of Sweden in 1529, but Gustav soon outwitted the rebels and executed the ringleaders. He then placed the church under the control of the state. Two years later the king appointed Laurentius Petri (1499–1573), brother of Olaus, as the first Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala. Under Laurentius's guidance, the Bible was translated into the Swedish language in 1541 and became the most ambitious publishing venture in Swedish history at the time. In 1571 Laurentius issued a kyrkoordning, or church order, that defined the beliefs of the Swedish Lutheran Church. It was also the basis for keeping the church independent from the monarchy. The separation of church and state has continued to be a distinctive feature of Swedish government.


The leader of the religious reform movement in France was Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples (c. 1450–1536), a Catholic priest and biblical scholar who was influenced by humanism. Lefèvre d'Étaples shared many of Martin Luther's views, such as the idea that the individual Christian is capable of interpreting the Scripture without the assistance of a bishop or priest. Like Luther, he also rejected the Catholic belief in transubstantiation, or the transformation of bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ during the communion service. Inspired by Luther's German Bible, Lefèvre d'Étaples translated the New Testament into French in 1523. Unlike Luther, however, Lefèvre d'Étaples advocated making reforms within the Catholic Church rather than starting a separate church. As Luther's teachings began to spread into France, however, Lefèvre d'Étaples and his followers were persecuted because church and government officials linked them with Lutheranism. Many French reformers fled to Switzerland, where they became involved in the movement led by John Calvin in Geneva (see "Switzerland" section previously in this chapter). Pastors trained by Calvin then began returning to France and promoting Protestantism. In 1559 delegates from 66 French Protestant churches met in Paris and issued a statement of faith based on the practices Calvin had established in Geneva. By 1567 more than 120 pastors trained by Calvin had returned to France. Known as Huguenots, the French Protestants grew into a powerful political force.

Olaus and Laurentius Petri

Olaus Petri and his brother Laurentius Petri played important roles in the Reformation in Sweden. From 1516 until 1518, Olaus studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood at Wittenberg University, where faculty members Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon were calling for reform of the church. Olaus adopted their views and, after he was ordained as a priest, he became an enthusiastic supporter of Lutheranism. By 1523, when Gustav I Vasa was crowned king of Sweden, Olaus was widely known for his preaching. He attracted the attention of the king, who was intent on breaking the power of the Catholic Church. Gustav's chancellor, Lars Andreae, had converted to Lutheranism under the influence of Olaus. Soon after being crowned king, Gustav began protecting the rights of the Lutherans in Stockholm. He also allowed for Petri's marriage, which broke the church law that prohibited priests from getting married. In 1531 Olaus served as the king's chancellor. Eventually he took a stand against Gustav's strict policies toward the church. He was condemned to death in 1540, but the sentence was not carried out and he was required only to pay a heavy fine. Olaus later regained the favor of the king and was appointed pastor of Storkyrkan (the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas) in Stockholm. Olaus produced most of the literature for the Reformation movement in Sweden, including a Swedish New Testament, a hymnbook, a church manual, the Swedish liturgy (text of the worship service), and many other writings.

Laurentius Petri was the first Protestant archbishop of Uppsala (1531–73) and had a great influence on the Reformation in Sweden. He oversaw the Swedish translation of the Bible, which was as important for Sweden as Luther's German translation was for Germany. Laurentius's kyrkoordning (church order) of 1571 defined the beliefs of the Swedish Lutheran Church. It was also the basis for keeping the church independent from the monarchy.

The Reformation period in France was marked by extreme violence. Efforts to suppress the Huguenots led to civil wars between Catholics and Protestants, called the French Wars of Religion (1562–98). The wars took place during the thirty years when Catherine de Médicis (1519–1589), the queen and widow of King Henry II, served as regent, one who rules for a king who is too young to take the throne. Henry was a member of the Valois dynasty. Catherine was the daughter of Lorenzo de' Médici, a powerful prince in Florence, Italy (see "Florence" in Chapter 2). After Henry died in 1559, Catherine could not rule France because the Salic Law prohibited women from becoming monarchs. Nevertheless, she wielded great power during the reigns of her three weak sons—Francis II (1544–1560; ruled 1559–60), Charles IX (1550–1574; ruled 1560–74), and Henry III (1551–1589; ruled 1574–89). As a staunch Catholic, Catherine manipulated the religious prejudices of the nobility and the public in order to assure that the Valois family remained on the throne. She was partly responsible for many of the horrors of the French Wars of Religion in the 1560s and 1570s.

France torn by religious wars

When Henry II died, his eldest son, Francis II, became king. During Francis's brief reign Protestants were ruthlessly persecuted. In 1558 Francis married Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic. The French government was in the hands of Mary's uncles, François of Lorraine, duke of Guise (1519–1563), and Charles of Guise, cardinal of Lorraine (c. 1525–1574). At that time there was considerable social unrest. After the Italian Wars, which ended in 1559, France was full of soldiers who had served in the wars. Many of the soldiers were unhappy because they had not been paid. Tax burdens on the peasants were also heavy. Calvinist preachers, therefore, with their message of pure faith that was not corrupted by politics, found a receptive audience. Huguenot noblemen took action, organizing a conspiracy to overthrow or at least dominate the court of Francis II. They obtained the support of England's new Protestant queen, Elizabeth I (see "England" section later in this chapter). Then, at the city of Amboise, their military uprising failed, and Francis's army arrested the leaders. In the presence of Catherine, her children, and Mary, Queen of Scots, fifty-seven of the Huguenot leaders were hanged or beheaded. This act only intensified religious and political conflicts as a powerful Huguenot family, the Navarres, and the Catholic Guises led factions (opposing groups) that competed for control of the government.

Upon the death of Francis II in 1560, Catherine became regent for her second son, Charles, who was crowned King Charles IX at the age of ten. For Catherine, religious differences were merely bargaining chips in a game to gain political advantage. She permitted Gaspard Il de Coligny (1519–1572), a famous admiral and an influential Huguenot, to act as Charles's chief adviser. In response, François de Lorraine and Charles de Guise formed an alliance to defend Catholicism against Coligny. In 1561, at the Colloquy of Poissy, Catherine tried to make peace between the Catholics and the Huguenots. Instead of reaching an understanding, the two parties hardened their differences. Open hostilities then broke out, initiating the first of three religious wars that raged for a decade.

Charles IX was an unstable character, and as he matured he came to dislike his mother and Henry, her favorite son. Catherine found it relatively easy to dominate Charles, despite his growing resentment. In the face of constant warfare she also tried to strengthen the kingdom for her sons' reigns. In 1565 she met with King Philip II of Spain, who was married to her daughter Elizabeth. Catherine wanted to discuss the continuing religious crisis in France, but Philip disliked her apparent willingness to pit Catholics and Protestants against one another. In his view, she should have been doing more to advance the Catholic Reformation (also called the Counter Reformation), a series of reform efforts undertaken by the Catholic Church to stop the Protestant Reformation. But Philip also knew that France's weakness was a strategic benefit for Spain. It made French intervention to aid the troublesome Dutch rebellion against Spain far less likely (see "The Netherlands" section later in this chapter). When Elizabeth died during childbirth in 1568, Catherine hoped Philip might marry her younger daughter Marguerite, but he was determined to take his French connection no further. Another blow to Catherine's politicking came the same year when Mary, Queen of Scots, was captured by her English enemies and imprisoned. This arrest left Scotland open to Protestant domination and ended Catholic efforts to encircle Protestant England.

Peace does not last

Throughout the 1560s, the two religious factions were at war while Catherine and Charles tried to avoid being associated with either side. The situation was complicated by an English invasion of France in alliance with the Huguenots. The war was further complicated by a feud among the major families, brought on when Coligny ordered the assassination of François of Lorraine in 1563. As the fighting continued, especially in the third religious war (1568–70), Huguenot armies attacked convents and monasteries, torturing and massacring their inhabitants. In retaliation, Catholic forces killed Huguenots in several districts. In 1570, following a decade of war, the two sides signed a treaty called the Peace of Saint Germain. The treaty specified that Catherine's daughter, Marguerite of Valois, should marry Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot leader. It also gave the Huguenots several strongholds throughout France and returned Coligny to his position as an adviser to the king. Catherine hoped that, as a moderate Huguenot, Coligny might curb the aggressions of his fellow Huguenots while she played the same role among Catholics. But Coligny quickly gained influence at court, becoming a friend of Charles IX. He aroused suspicions among Catholics, who were convinced that he was planning to take over the court. When Coligny discovered that Charles and his mother were at odds, he chose the king's side rather than Catherine's, provoking her furious resentment.

The city of Paris had remained friendly to the Catholic Guise party throughout the wars, and most Parisians resented the concessions to Huguenots made at the Peace of Saint Germain. The population was therefore restless and angry when a large Huguenot assembly entered their city in the summer of 1572 to celebrate the wedding of Marguerite and Henry. The bride herself was a stormy personality and a relentless intriguer. When Catherine had discovered earlier that Marguerite was having an affair with Charles of Guise, she and Charles IX had beaten her senseless. The motive for this marriage alliance was that Henry of Navarre, though a Huguenot, would have a strong claim to the French throne if neither Charles IX nor his brother Henry had a living heir. Marguerite was still in love with Guise, however, and resisted the planned marriage. She had also refused to give up her Catholic faith. During the negotiations, Henry of Navarre's mother, Jeanne of Navarre, died suddenly. Many Huguenots were ready to believe that Catherine had poisoned Jeanne, though that seems unlikely.

Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre

In 1572 Catherine accepted an offer from a Catholic faction in the court to assassinate Coligny. She hoped that Coligny's death would shift power to the Catholics. The assassin shot Coligny but failed to kill him, and a distressed Charles rushed to his adviser's side. Catherine and her son Henry then convinced Charles that Coligny planned to overthrow the whole Catholic court and should now be finished off along with other Huguenot leaders. By careful pre-arrangement, church bells began to ring at two in the morning of August 24, Saint Bartholomew's Day. The bells signaled Catholic troops to move in and kill the injured Coligny and other Huguenots. The attacks soon led to mass violence as all sense of order broke down. More than three thousand men, women, and children (including many people uninvolved in political and religious controversy) in Paris were shot or hacked to death. Similar massacres followed in the provinces, leaving more than seventy thousand dead and starting another civil war.

By a curious turn of events, Catherine's youngest son, Francis, duke of Alençon and Anjou (1554–1584), became the leader of the Huguenots in this phase of the French Wars of Religion. Placing himself at the head of the Protestant forces, he dreamed of becoming the king. He declared that Henry, who had just been elected to the throne of Poland, was no longer eligible to be king of France. (Catherine had previously arranged to have Henry appointed lieutenant-governor of Poland so he would be in line for the throne of that country.) Henry was less easily dominated and manipulated than Charles. He had spent the 1560s as a successful general in the wars against the Huguenots. His victories won him the envy of Charles IX, who was frail and could not go on military campaigns. Henry was homosexual (one who has sexual relations with a person of the same gender) and had had a long succession of lovers. Catherine tried to "correct" his behavior by ordering a banquet at which the food was served by naked women, but she could not succeed. Catherine tried to marry Henry to Elizabeth I of England, but the "Virgin Queen" declined the offer. (Elizabeth also refused to marry Francis, whom she called her "frog.") The only woman to excite Henry's interest, and to whom he sent ardent love letters signed in his own blood, was already married to a French prince.

At last Henry set out for Poland. His departure prompted another Huguenot uprising, in which Francis, Henry of Navarre, and Catherine's daughter Marguerite Valois were all implicated as conspirators. Catherine coordinated forces to put down the rebellion. Then, in 1574, Charles died at the age of twenty-four. Henry returned from Poland and was crowned Henry III in 1575. In the same year he married Louise of Lorraine, but they had no children to carry on the Valois line. From this time on, Catherine entrusted family fortunes to the Catholic Guise family. In 1576 she approved the formation of the Catholic League, which marched to triumph against the Huguenots. Henry's homosexual favorites dominated the court. When the Guises killed two of Henry's friends, the king developed an intense hatred of the Guises. Another round of feuding began despite Catherine's continued urging that Henry must settle his differences with the Guises for the sake of national and Catholic security. In 1589 Henry's bodyguards murdered Charles of Guise. By this time Catherine was in failing health, and shortly before her death she learned about the murder of Guise. She was devastated because her favorite son had destroyed her lifelong efforts to form an alliance between the Valois and Guise families. Later that year, Henry III was assassinated by a Dominican friar, Jacques Clement (1564–1589), who regarded the king as a traitor to the faith for joining Henry of Navarre against the Catholic League. In this way, the Valois dynasty came to an end.

Before dying Henry III had recognized Henry of Navarre as the legitimate heir to the French throne. Henry of Navarre then became King Henry IV (ruled 1596–1610), though he was not formally crowned. He still faced opposition from the Catholic League because he was a Calvinist. He promised to protect the Catholic Church and announced his willingness to receive Catholic instruction, which many Catholics took as a promise to convert. Wishing not to appear too opportunistic or insincere, he continually postponed receiving Catholic instruction. Eventually the Estates-General, which was dominated by the Catholic League, met to discuss the election of a new candidate as the Catholic king of France. This move forced Henry to make a decision. On July 25, 1593, his formal conversion to Catholicism was celebrated amid great pomp at Saint Denis, near Paris. Henry reportedly made the famous remark that "Paris is worth a Mass"—in other words, becoming the ruler of France was worth the small sacrifice of having to attend mass, the Catholic worship service. His conversion, however, did not end the civil wars. Many Catholics still doubted the sincerity of Henry's conversion. Half of the country was held by the Catholic League, which was being supported by Spain, and the city of Paris would not recognize him as king. After formally being crowned on February 27, 1594, at Chartres, Henry IV marched on Paris, which was occupied by Spanish troops. Encountering little resistance, he entered the city on March 22.

The Edict of Nantes

Yet the Spanish continued to support resistance to Henry IV. Thus, in January 1595, he declared war on Spain. Henry displayed great courage and leadership by beating back Spanish forces from Amiens, which is dangerously close to Paris. Finally, he led his troops into Brittany and easily defeated the remaining Spanish-backed resistance. Equally significant, on this trip he also issued the famous Edict of Nantes, which granted certain religious and civil liberties to Huguenots. They were given seventy-five fortified towns and other secure places where they could worship freely. They were also granted the right to worship on the lands of Huguenot noblemen. In addition, Huguenots were eligible for public office, and they had equal access with Catholics to schools and other facilities. Nevertheless, Catholicism remained the official religion of France, and Huguenots had only limited independence from the crown. Tolerance of Huguenots continued in France until 1685, when the Edict of Nantes was revoked by Henry's grandson, King Louis XIV. Protestantism was supposedly no longer practiced in France, but many Protestants continued to hold secret worship services. The prestige of the Roman Catholic Church was eventually damaged by Louis's harsh measures against the Protestants.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, Martin Luther's reform movement was welcomed by the prosperous middle class in the northern provinces (Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, and Franche-Comté). The southern provinces (now Belgium) were predominantly Roman Catholic. At that time the Netherlands was controlled by the Habsburgs, a powerful family based in Austria and Spain. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was a Habsburg as well as the king of Spain. He was also a Catholic, and he wanted to halt the spread of Protestant doctrines in the Netherlands. He held public burnings of Luther's books, and in 1522 he established the Spanish Inquisition to seek out heretics and force them to remain Catholics (see "Spanish Inquisition" in Chapter 7). These measures were unsuccessful, however, and by the middle of the sixteenth century Protestantism had a firm hold on the northern provinces. By this time the Dutch (the name given to inhabitants of the Netherlands) were seeking independence from Spain, and they embraced Calvinism as a way to give unity to their struggle.

William of Orange becomes leader

The leader of the independence movement in the Netherlands was William of Orange (also known as William the Silent; 1533–1584). He was born at Dillenburg in the German principality of Nassau, the son of Count William of Nassau and the Countess of Stolberg. William was raised as a Lutheran and inherited the territories of Orange and Nassau at the age of eleven. The Habsburgs wanted to maintain control of Nassau and Orange, so Charles V insisted that William be brought up as a Catholic. Moving to Breda and then Brussels, William was educated at the court of Mary of Hungary, the regent of the Low Countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg). He was taught French and Dutch and readily adopted the customs of the Dutch people. The teachings of the Christian humanist Desiderius Erasmus held particular significance for the young heir and later played a large part in the religious toleration for which William was renowned.

Henry IV Assassinated

In 1609 King Henry IV was preparing to enter the war against the Habsburg empire, which soon developed into the Thirty Years' War. In Germany, Protestant princes had united against Catholic princes, who were allied with Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. A dispute over Habsburg control of Bohemia threatened the balance of power in Europe. On May 14 Henry set out for a meeting with his adviser, Maximilien de Béthune, the duke of Sully. Henry's carriage wound its way through the streets of Paris and was caught in a traffic jam. As the coachmen dealt with the situation, a lone assassin approached, lunged at the king through a window, and stabbed him three times. With the carriage rushing back to the palace dripping with blood, the end came for Henry IV. His policy of waging war against the major Catholic powers had not been universally accepted in France. Several theories immediately arose about great conspiracies and the motives of the killer, François Ravaillac, who suffered a grisly public execution. Although nothing of note came from his military preparations, Henry IV has achieved legendary status, and today he is considered a national hero in France.

William gained favor with Charles, and he was soon named to important court positions. In 1561 Charles's son and successor, King Philip II of Spain, appointed William as the stadholder (governor and captain-general) in Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, and Franche-Comté. Soon after this appointment, serious dissension arose in the Netherlands over Philip's rule. Two main issues were religion and the king's rigid absolutism, or concentration of all power in his own hands. Philip limited the rights of noblemen, who had enjoyed relative independence under Charles V. He also took measures to drive out the Calvinists. Opposition arose among both noblemen and defenders of religious freedom. William himself openly criticized the king during a speech in the Council of State (group of advisers to the king), in which he challenged the right of any ruler to control the religious conscience of his subjects.

Calvinists gain power

By 1565 leadership of the Dutch opposition to Philip's policies was taken over by a group of low-ranking nobles, called the Gueux (pronounced GOH), or Beggars, who were mainly Calvinists. They advocated violence as a possible solution for their grievances. While most high-ranking nobles quickly broke away from the Gueux, William retained his ties to them. His brother, Louis of Nassau (1538–1574), was an active leader of the group. Although openly connected to the Gueux, William advised religious toleration and nonviolence. Despite his pleas for moderation, however, open revolt against Spain erupted in August 1566. The first stage of the rebellion featured extreme violence. Frenzied Calvinist mobs sacked Catholic churches throughout the provinces, smashing religious idols and vandalizing church property. King Philip responded by summoning Fernando Álvarez de Toledo (1507–1582), duke of Alba, to crush the revolt. William himself put down a Calvinist riot in Antwerp, 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 and gained his famous nickname "the Silent" because he maintained a neutral position in the conflict.

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 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 sought refuge in a Huguenot region of France. He despised the strictness of the Calvinist faith, but he 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" section later in this chapter).

Union of Utrecht

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 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. King Philip then installed his half brother, Don John of Austria (1547–1578; ruled 1576–78), 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. 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 and led the way for the creation of the United Provinces in the Treaty of Westphalia (see "Thirty Years' War" section later in this chapter). William still wanted to unite all of the Dutch provinces, so he sought help from Francis, duke of Alençon and Anjou. Francis was the leader of the Huguenots, a Protestant party that was waging war against Catholics in France (see "France" section previously in this chapter).

In 1580 Farnese captured more than thirty rebel towns along with the city of Antwerp, bringing Holland and Zeeland to the brink of defeat. In 1583 Francis and his French troops attempted to seize Antwerp in a coup d'état (overthrow of the government). The Dutch rose to crush this "French Fury" by killing two thousand Frenchmen and taking fifteen hundred as prisoners. On July 10, 1584, a Catholic extremist shot and killed the prince of Orange at his home in Delft (a community in South Holland). William's son Maurice (1567–1625; ruled 1584–1625), became governor of the republic. During the early phase of the Thirty Years' War he carried on a successful campaign against Spain. Final recognition of Dutch independence by the Spanish government was not obtained until the end of the war in the Peace of Westphalia. The northern provinces were officially declared Protestant, while the southern provinces remained loyal to Spain and to the Roman Catholic Church.


The Protestant Reformation reached its height in England during the reigns of the last Tudor monarchs (kings and queens who were members of the Tudor family)—Henry VIII (1491–1547; ruled 1509–47), Edward VI (1537–1553; ruled 1547–53), Mary I (1516–1558; ruled 1553–58), and Elizabeth I (1533–1603; ruled 1558–1603). Whereas most countries on the European continent adopted reforms before breaking with the Roman Catholic Church, England first broke with Rome and then made changes in religious practices. In other European countries, reform began as a reaction to corruption in the Catholic Church, but the establishment of the Church of England, or Anglican Church, resulted from a direct confrontation between the king and the pope.

Henry VIII opens door to Reformation

King Henry VIII took the throne of England at the age of eighteen. Like Europe's other monarchs, he was closely allied with the Catholic Church. In 1511 he formed a triumvirate (three-party association) of power called the Holy League with Pope Julius II and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. The major crisis in Henry's relationship with the church came when his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (1485–1536), failed to produce a male heir to the throne. He sought a divorce from Catherine on the grounds that, since she was the widow of his dead brother, Arthur, he was therefore living in sin. After long and fruitless negotiations with all parties involved, Henry became the first monarch to challenge the doctrines of the Catholic Church, which prohibited divorce. At first he had condemned the German reformer Martin Luther as a poisonous snake who was undermining the church. By 1529, however, Henry was ready to confront the pope and assert his right to marry whomever he pleased. At this time he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn (c. 1507–1536), an attendant in the court of Queen Claude of France. Henry was having a secret affair with Boleyn, and he hoped she might bear him a son. Infuriated by Pope Clement VII's refusal to grant him a divorce, Henry set out to start his own church. Thus the Church of England was formed, and his divorce was granted in 1533.

Henry's reign opened the door to the Protestant Reformation in England in several ways. Thomas Cromwell (c. 1485–1540), a Protestant lawyer and Henry's chief minister until 1540, proceeded to weaken the Catholic presence in England by taxing papal lands, including monasteries, and burning shrines. During a four-year period Cromwell expelled more than eleven thousand Catholic monks and nuns from England. In 1534 Henry's Parliament (the main law-making body of England) passed the Act of Treason, a law stating that anyone, including church officials, who called the king a heretic would be tried for treason, or betrayal of one's country. This law placed the king above the church and the pope. The act also prohibited either the clergy or the laity (unordained members of a church) from sending money to the pope in Rome. In addition, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which declared Henry to be head of the Church of England.

Closes monasteries One of the most important events of Henry VIII's reign was the closing of monasteries. At the beginning of the Tudor era the Catholic religious houses owned as much as one-fourth of all land in England. These estates had been given or bequeathed (granted in wills) to monks by religiously devout men and women in exchange for prayers for their souls after they died. Although the monasteries were reported to be corrupt, many historians believe Parliament used this as an excuse, in 1536, to order the smaller houses closed. Residents were allowed to either transfer to larger houses that remained open or renounce their vows. Most chose to renounce their vows. The great abbeys, the churches connected with monasteries, were suppressed one by one in the next few years. A second statute, passed in 1540, legalized these closures and mandated the seizing of all remaining Catholic property. Former monastic possessions were managed by a new financial bureau, the Court of Augmentations. The court paid small pensions (financial allowances for retired people) to former monks and nuns, and larger ones to former abbots and priors (heads of monasteries) who had cooperated in the closing of their houses. By the time of Henry VIII's death in 1547, most of the monastic land had been sold to noblemen and members of the gentry. These people would thus profit from the continuation of the Reformation.

The loss of the monasteries was felt in various ways. Earlier they had been centers of learning and the arts, but now the great monastic libraries were divided and sent to other locations. Some collections remained in cathedrals that had earlier been associated with monasteries, like Canterbury and Dudiam, and others were acquired by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge or by private collectors. Much of the wealth seized from the religious houses was spent on warfare.

Edward VI continues reforms

When Henry died, his ten-year-old son Edward VI took the throne. Henry had named a large council of regents to rule England until Edward was old enough to be king. Nevertheless, Edward's uncle, Edward Seymour (c. 1550–1552), duke of Somerset, took control of the government. He was unable to deal with several rebellions that broke out in 1549, so he lost power to John Dudley (1502–1553), earl of Warwick, who became Edward's new adviser. Edward was king for only six years, yet the power of the English church was increased during his reign. Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556), the Archbishop of Canterbury, was a major force in reform efforts.

Somerset, Warwick, and Cranmer approved of further reform in the church. Young Edward was enthusiastic about reform as well. He was raised by Protestants and Renaissance ideas had dominated his education. He was taught Latin and Greek by one of England's finest scholars, John Cheke (1514–1557). He was instructed in religion by Richard Cox (c. 1500–1592), later the bishop of Ely. Protestantism now reached its highest point in English history. Although Edward's Parliament revoked Henry's Act of Treason, it did pass the Dissolution Act of 1547, which ended yearly payments to Catholic priests for saying prayers for the dead. The following year all Catholic icons, or symbols, and images were removed from churches. In 1549 Parliament adopted Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer for use in Church of England worship services. It was moderate in tone—that is, it did not reflect drastic changes from Roman Catholic worship services—but a revision issued in 1552 was radically different. For instance, the revision regarded communion as simply a re-enactment of the Last Supper (the final meal that Christ shared with his disciples, or followers), whereas Catholic faith taught that the bread and wine consumed during communion were the actual body and blood of Christ. Edward and Cranmer also persuaded Parliament to issue the Forty-Two Articles, which eliminated most of the remaining Catholic doctrines of faith.

Edward died of a lung disease in 1553. During his last days some of his advisers attempted to give the throne to Lady Jane Grey (1537–1554), the king's distant relative and a supporter of Protestant causes. They knew that Edward's half sister, Mary Tudor, would restore the Catholic faith because she was raised as a Catholic. Lady Jane was proclaimed queen in 1553, but after only nine days she was imprisoned for high treason as a result of an ambitious plot to make her queen. She was beheaded, along with her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, in 1554.

Mary I restores Catholicism

Mary Tudor took the throne as Queen Mary I in 1553, after Lady Jane Grey's nine-day reign. Soon after being crowned, she married Philip of Spain (soon to be King Philip II), but Parliament prevented him from taking the English throne along with his wife. Mary had widespread popular support, and she immediately began undoing the Reformation in two stages. In 1553 she restored the Latin Mass and the following year she recognized the jurisdiction of the pope in England. Cranmer was dismissed from office and placed under house arrest, while Reginald Pole (1500–1558) was brought back to England to take the archbishop's place. Pole was an English aristocrat who had lived in Italy since Henry VIII's break with the papacy. Many people supported Mary's restoration of the Catholic faith, believing that Edward's reign had gone too far in abolishing cherished ceremonies and beliefs.

Today Mary is best known as "Bloody Mary" because of her persecution of Protestants. During her brief five-year reign nearly three hundred people were burned at the stake. This method of punishment, which was introduced by the Inquisition (an official Catholic Church court charged with finding heretics), supposedly drove evil spirits out of sinners (see "Inquisition" in Chapters 1 and 7). Many who refused to reject Protestant beliefs continued to worship in underground churches or fled to countries on the European continent. Others became involved in a series of plots against Mary's government. Protestant leaders looked to the queen's half sister, Elizabeth, as a possible Protestant replacement. Mary then had Elizabeth arrested and sent to the Tower of London, a prison for members of royalty and the nobility, and later to Woodstock. Five years later Mary, who was now near death, named Elizabeth to be her successor. Thus, on March 17, 1558, the last Tudor monarch of England ascended the throne.

Elizabeth I seeks moderation

Elizabeth set about restoring the Church of England. Although she was raised a Protestant, she had expressed a commitment to Roman Catholicism while she was imprisoned. This position enabled her to gain limited freedom. Now, as queen, she vowed to continue Henry's moderate policies in the Church of England. She could not, however, resist the new Puritanism that was sweeping the Parliament and the land. ("Puritanism" was the name given to the views of strict reformers such as John Calvin; see "Switzerland" section previously in this chapter). In 1563 she approved rules of worship and stated religious beliefs that leaned heavily toward stricter Protestant views. She was then excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. During the 1580s, Jesuits came to England and tried to convince the queen to accept Catholicism. (The Jesuits were a Catholic Reformation brotherhood known as the pope's "shock troops"; see "Jesuits" in Chapter 7.) In 1585 Elizabeth retaliated by expelling Catholic priests from the country, telling them that if they did not leave they would be charged with treason. Two hundred priests who defied the queen's order were drawn and quartered (a method of execution that involved hanging a person by the neck, and then cutting his or her body into four parts). Elizabeth also sent six thousand troops to France to aid the Huguenots in their civil war against the Catholic government of Francis II (see "France" section previously in this chapter). Later she waged a naval war against Louis XIV, another French Catholic king.

Meanwhile, Calvinists and Lutherans had been returning to England since the death of Mary I. They pressed for even more radical reforms. Many insisted that the church be run by "presbyteries," which consisted of unordained clergymen and members of church congregations. Founded by Scottish religious reformer John Knox (c. 1505–1572), this system of church organization was the beginning the modern movement known as Presbyterianism. Puritan leader Thomas Cartwright (1535–1603) asked Parliament to discontinue use of the Book of Common Prayer, which he considered too Catholic. He later wrote the Book of Discipline, which outlined a "new order" for the Church of England. Furthermore, the issue of "free speech" was now being debated in Parliament. Elizabeth was frustrated by all this clamoring for power and reform. In exasperation, she sent a message to Parliament warning that even though she was a woman, she would not let any of the factions pressure her into taking action. She ended by saying that the members of Parliament were being ridiculously quarrelsome.

Confronts Catholic threat from abroad

Elizabeth was also confronted with the threat of invasion by Catholic countries. Following the death of Mary I, King Philip II of Spain wanted to marry Elizabeth in order to form a Catholic alliance between Spain and England. When Elizabeth refused his proposal, he realized that England could never be a Catholic country. For the rest of the century England and other Protestant states were involved in conflict with Spain and the papacy. In the Revolt of the Netherlands, Protestants in the Low Countries fought to throw off Spanish rule and Catholic persecution (see "The Netherlands" section previously in this chapter). Initially reluctant to become involved, Elizabeth finally accepted the argument that England, as the chief Protestant power in Europe, had an obligation to aid Protestants elsewhere.

John Knox, the "Thundering Scot"

The Scottish reformer John Knox was one of the most celebrated followers of John Calvin. Nicknamed the "thundering Scot," he became the chief force in the introduction and establishment of the Presbyterian form of Calvinism in Scotland.

In preparation for the Catholic priesthood, Knox attended a university in Scotland, either Glasgow or Saint Andrews, but did not earn a degree. After ordination in 1532 he returned to Haddington, the region of his birth. Knox's conversion to Protestantism apparently occurred between 1543 and 1546. In 1543 he was loyally serving the Catholic Church under the archbishop of Saint Andrews. By 1546 he was vigorously defending the reformer George Wishart (c. 1513–1546), who had introduced Swiss Protestantism into Scotland. Wishart gained many followers before being executed for heresy in 1546. The following year David Beaton (c. 1494–1546), the cardinal responsible for Wishart's execution, was murdered. Upon hearing of the deed, Knox eagerly joined the murderers in the castle of Saint Andrews and became their preacher. French Catholic troops attacked the castle, capturing the occupants and making them galley slaves (men who were forced to work on ships). Knox and his comrades were released in 1549, after nineteen months of captivity.

Knox then took a paid position as preacher in England. His popularity grew rapidly. In 1551 he was appointed chaplain to King Edward VI. He worked to rid English religious services of all traces of Catholic ritual and to promote Protestantism. This work made his life precarious when the Catholic queen, Mary I, took the throne in 1553. The following year Knox left England, wandered for a time, and finally moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he joined Calvin. Knox enthusiastically embraced Calvin's strict version of Protestantism. While he was at Geneva he wrote History of the Reformation of Religion within the Realm of Scotland, his best-known work.

Knox returned to Scotland in 1559. Since preaching in the Reformed manner was forbidden, he was considered a criminal. He managed to remain free and become the architect of a new Scottish church. In 1560, under his guidance, Scotland adopted a democratic structure in which congregations elected their ministers and elders (unordained leaders). Under these conditions it is not surprising that Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic reared in France, found Scotland uncongenial soon after her arrival in 1561. Since Catholic worship was forbidden, Mary's private masses had to be defended with the sword. In 1568 she was driven from Scotland, and Knox was in the forefront of her pursuers. Knox died in 1572, leaving an independent Scotland under a severe but democratically elected church.

A major threat to Elizabeth's security were various plots associated with Mary Stuart (also known as Mary, Queen of Scots; 1542–1587; ruled 1542–67). Mary was a Catholic who had been driven from Scotland by Protestants. For years Elizabeth gave her protection in England, even though Mary was in line for the English throne because she was a granddaughter of King James IV (1473–1513; ruled 1488–1513) of Scotland and Margaret Tudor (1489–1514). But the discovery of a conspiracy to assassinate Elizabeth in 1586 led to Mary's execution at Fotheringhay castle in 1587. The execution of the Catholic queen was a signal to Philip that he must seize the throne of England. He began organizing the famous "Invincible Armada," a fleet of 130 heavily armored ships that carried 30,000 men, for an invasion of England. The English defeated the Armada during a spectacular battle in the English Channel (the body of water between England and France) in August 1588 (see "Spain" in Chapter 3). This victory positioned England to become a major sea power. Although the final years of Elizabeth's reign were marked by many problems, she managed to maintain control over the church. She was still popular with her subjects when she died in 1603. Since she had no heirs, the Tudor dynasty came to an end.

James I sponsors new Bible

Elizabeth was followed by James VI of Scotland, a member of the house of Stuart, who became King James I of England (ruled 1603–25). James also had to contend with religious unrest. As he rode from Edinburgh to London in 1603, shortly after becoming king, he was met by a group of Puritans (members of the Church of England who advocated strict reforms). They were especially critical of "popish," or Catholic, features of the church. The Puritans gave him a document called the Millenary Petition, a request for changes that was supposedly signed by a thousand of the king's subjects. Among the reforms they demanded were simplified services, less elaborate church music, simpler vestments (robes worn by clergymen), and more preaching. They also wanted to end the use of wedding rings, which were believed to be popish because Catholics wore them. Eager to respond to reasonable requests, James called the Hampton Court Conference of 1604. Here Puritan leaders met with the king and some of the officers of the Church of England. Hopes of cooperation and compromise were dashed when the Puritans demanded that the church get rid of bishops (heads of church districts), whom they regarded as popish obstacles to true reform. James felt that bishops were necessary, so he adjourned the conference. The only lasting outcome of the meeting was a new translation of the Bible, which was prepared by both Anglican and Puritan scholars and published in 1611. Although it was called the King James Bible, James himself had little to do with the translation. Known for its elegant prose style, the King James Bible is still accepted as the "authorized version" by many Protestant faiths.

Charles I executed by Puritans

After James died in 1625, his second son, Charles I (1600–1649; ruled 1625–49), became king. By this time the Puritans controlled Parliament. Charles lacked the diplomatic skills and mental agility to deal with stern Puritans who wanted to establish the "kingdom of God" or "New Jerusalem" in England. To make matters worse, Charles was married to a Catholic, Henrietta Maria (1606–1669) of France. She tried to convince Charles to aid Catholic monarchs on the continent in their fight against Protestants, which only caused more ill will against the king in Parliament. Charles lost so much control that his Parliament was dissolved in 1629. Political and religious anarchy (state of lawlessness) then engulfed England as the government sank into bankruptcy and bureaucratic chaos.

Waiting in the wings were the radical Puritans, who gained great popular support under the guidance of Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658). The successes of Elizabeth's moderate policies quickly vanished as dissent spread and the church, headed by Archbishop William Laud (1573–1645), became increasingly more Catholic-oriented. As head of the Church of England (the official religion of the country) and a staunch opponent of Puritanism, Laud aggressively moved to stamp out popular support of the Puritans. At the same time he gave increased emphasis to the Catholic aspects of the Church of England. Charles chose to side with Laud, even though only 1.5 percent of English churchgoers favored a Catholic church. By 1644 the largely Presbyterian Parliament and the monarchy were involved in a civil war. The Parliament was financing its own New Model Army under the leadership of Cromwell. These forces were joined by the radical Protestant groups called Levellers and Diggers. They sought to establish a perfect Christian society based on equality before the law and religious tolerance. After a brief war Charles was taken into custody, tried and convicted of war crimes and tyranny, and finally beheaded on January 30, 1649.

Cromwell ruled England as Lord Protector until 1660, when Charles's son, Charles II (1630–1685; ruled 1660–85), took the throne. His reign was called the Restoration because the monarchy was restored. Charles II had no success, however, in unifying the various religious elements which, once united in war, now fell to squabbling about the nature of the "true church" and the "true state." Nevertheless, England was transformed into the strongest Protestant nation in the world under the rule of Protestant monarchs.

Thirty Years' War (1618–48)

The Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Reformation were brought to an end by the Thirty Years' War. Now considered the first worldwide conflict, the Thirty Years' War began with a seemingly isolated struggle between Catholics and Protestants in Bohemia. Religious differences soon spread to other countries and then escalated into confrontations over social and political issues involving all of the major world powers.

The Habsburg monarchs of the sixteenth century regarded themselves as apostles of the Catholic Reformation. By 1600 they had, to a large extent, eliminated Protestantism from Austria. Bohemia was the next target for their reforming zeal, but the country had become increasingly Protestant, and most of the influential nobility were anti-Catholic. Habsburg efforts at reform fell apart, however, in 1607 when the incompetent Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552–1612; ruled 1576–1612) quarreled with his brother Matthias (1557–1619), governor of Austria, over control of Habsburg lands. The following year Protestants formed the Evangelical Union, a defensive alliance of princes and cities. When Roman Catholics formed a similar organization in 1609, violence became the most likely solution to the tensions between the religious groups. The Bohemian section of the Evangelical Union triggered the first act of violence, which eventually led to the Thirty Years' War.

Dispute leads to revolt

The incident began when Rudolf found he needed the support of the Bohemians against his brother. In order to buy this support, he granted the Bohemian Estates (representative assembly) a Letter of Majesty, or royal order, in 1609. Under the decree, religious freedom was granted to all Bohemians, along with the right to construct churches and schools on royal lands. But these concessions did little to strengthen Rudolf's position, and in 1611 Matthias won control of Bohemia. When Rudolf died in 1612, Matthias succeeded him as Holy Roman Emperor (ruled 1612–19). The reign of Matthias brought the religious issue in Bohemia to the forefront, but now it was coupled with a political issue, the search for a successor to the childless emperor. Although Matthias lost little time in supporting the Letter of Majesty, the Bohemian Estates soon had cause to wonder if his support meant anything. The emperor quickly removed Protestant officials from key offices in Bohemia and replaced them with Catholics. A more serious threat to Bohemian religious liberty came when Matthias named his cousin, Archduke Ferdinand of Inner Austria (1578–1637; later Emperor Ferdinand II, 1619–37)—the most fanatical Habs burg promoter of the Catholic Reformation—as his successor. The Bohemian Estates were divided and had no candidate of their own. On June 17, 1617, they reluctantly agreed to "accept" Ferdinand as their king. He was to share the title with Matthias. On the following day, Ferdinand announced support of the Letter of Majesty.

Within a few months a dispute developed over the interpretation of the Letter of Majesty. The quarrel resulted in a Bohemian revolt against the Habsburgs and ultimately led to the Thirty Years' War. Two Protestant churches, one in Hrob (Klostergrab) and the other in Broumov (Braunau), had been built on land owned by the Catholic Church. In Bohemia this was customarily regarded as royal property. The Protestants therefore felt that they were within their rights as set forth in the Letter of Majesty. The Habsburg authorities rejected this argument. In 1617 the churches were ordered to close, and the one at Hrob was even torn down. The matter caused such an uproar that a radical wing of the Bohemian Estates, led by Count Matthias Thurn, Baron Colona Fels, and Wenceslaus Ruppa, called for a revolt against the Habsburgs in 1618.

Protestant assemblies were forbidden by law, but in defiance of this ban the Protestants met on May 21, 1618. They were in session for two days. On May 22, they demanded a redress of grievances arising out of the religious dispute, but the Habsburg government rejected their demands. The Protestant leaders, Thurn, Ruppa, and Fels, then plotted the murder of the deputy governors of Bohemia, Count Jaroslav Martinitz and Count Wilhelm Slavata. The deputy governors were leaders of the Catholic, pro-Habsburg group in the Bohemian Estates. An armed band of more than one hundred men marched to Hradcany Castle in Prague, the capital of Bohemia, for a formal confrontation with Martinitz and Slavata. Both officials denied any personal involvement in the rejection of 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 trash-filled moat forty feet below. Miraculously the victims survived the fall and managed to escape.

Revolt leads to war

This confrontation is known in history as the "Defenestration of Prague." It triggered widespread revolt against the Habsburg regime beyond the religious issue, and beyond Bohemia, for the next thirty years. Thurn and Ruppa became leaders of a revolutionary government in Bohemia. They mobilized fighting forces that fought on the side of Habsburg troops between 1618 and 1620, though the outcome was indecisive. In August 1619 Bohemia formed a confederation with Moravia, Silesia, and Lusatia. This confederation proceeded to arrange a pact of mutual assistance with the Protestant states of Upper and Lower Austria. The revolt was completed when the confederation removed Ferdinand from the Bohemian throne and elected Frederick V (1596–1632), elector of the Rhenish Palatinate (a region on the Rhine River in Germany), to take his place.

Frederick's rule is known as "the reign of the Winter King." It was brief because Matthias died in March 1619 and Ferdinand was elected to succeed him as Holy Roman Emperor in August. As emperor, Ferdinand was determined to suppress Protestantism in Bohemia and regain the Bohemian crown. On November 8, 1620, the Bohemian army was defeated by the Catholic League army at the Battle of White Mountain near Prague. The Catholic League army was under the command of the Flemish (inhabitant of Flanders) general Johann Tserclaes (pronounced TSER-klahs; 1559–1632), count of Tilly. The Catholic victory ended Bohemia's bid for self-rule. Protestantism was outlawed and the Evangelical Union soon disintegrated. Frederick and a few allies continued the Protestant struggle in the Palatinate in Germany. Although they won against Tilly's army at Wiesloch in April 1622, they met numerous defeats during the next two years. By late 1624 the Palatinate, which was now ruled by Maximilian I (1573–1651), duke of Bavaria, was forced to return to Catholicism.

Christian IV aids Protestants

The scope of the war expanded in 1625 when Christian IV (1577–1648; ruled 1588–1648), the king of Denmark and Norway, came to the aid of the German Protestants. Although Denmark was a Lutheran country (see "Denmark" section previously in this chapter), Christian was not motivated by religion. Instead, he wanted to end Habsburg control of the Danish duchy (province) of Holstein, Germany. Allied with Lutheran and Calvinist German princes, Christian organized a large army and invaded Saxony. The Protestants met little resistance until 1625. By this time Ferdinand II had realized that he could not rely solely on Tilly's Catholic League forces to combat the German Protestants and the Danes. The emperor brought in Albrecht von Wallenstein, duke of Friedland (1583–1634), who assembled a powerful army of mercenaries, or hired soldiers. In April 1626 Wallenstein's troops won their first victory at Dessau, Germany. The following August, Tilly completely defeated Christian's army at Lutter am Barenberge, Germany. Ferdinand's combined forces then took all of northern Germany. In 1627 Wallenstein forced Christian to retreat to the Jutland Peninsula (a landmass projecting into the North Sea in western Germany).

Sweden enters war

Ferdinand achieved total victory on March 6, 1629, when he issued the Edict of Restitution. This order provided for the return of some land in Germany to the Roman Catholic Church. It also outlawed all Protestant sects (religious groups) except Lutheranism. Wallenstein was largely responsible for Ferdinand's success. Wallenstein was unpopular with many German princes, however, because of his misuse of power. He had also aroused Swedish fears that the Habsburgs might soon control the Baltic Sea, the lifeline of Swedish commerce and defense. Thus, in 1629, King Gustav II Adolf (1594–1632; ruled 1611–32) of Sweden was able to convince the Swedish Riksdag (representative assembly) that the Swedes must take the offensive in northern Germany to meet the threat. Sweden was at war with Poland at the time, but a six-year truce was arranged with the help of Cardinal Richelieu (also known as Armand-Jean du Plessis; 1585–1642), chief minister of France. The Swedish king was now free to give his undivided attention to Germany.

In the mind of Gustav II, politics and religion were closely connected. For this reason he looked upon Swedish intervention in German affairs as necessary. If the Habsburgs were not stopped in Germany, he reasoned, the strong position of Sweden would be jeopardized. The collapse of Protestantism in Germany would also be inevitable. In the interest of Swedish security, he had to gain a permanent hold on the southern coast of theBaltic Sea. Gustav spent nine months in 1629 and 1630 organizing and equipping his forces for an invasion of Germany. He also made plans to recruit additional soldiers in Germany and bring in reinforcements from as far away as Scotland. Late in June 1630, the Swedish army appeared off the coast of Pomerania (then under Polish rule) with an armada, a fleet of ships, consisting of twenty-eight troop carriers and an equal number of warships.

Mercenaries Used to Fight Wars

In the early sixteenth century European monarchs and princes began relying on mercenaries, or professional soldiers, to fight in wars. This practice arose because military leaders had problems maintaining armies that were recruited from the peasantry. The mercenary system began in Italy in the 1300s and 1400s with condottieri, or contractors who hired soldiers. It then spread beyond the Alps into Germany and Switzerland.

Before mercenaries replaced traditional soldiers, all fit males between the ages of sixteen and sixty were legally eligible to serve in the army. When soldiers were needed the state sent captains to recruit in certain areas. This practice was common in Spain, for example, and gave the government control over the process. Men usually joined the army voluntarily, but military service was often required. Recruiting from the peasantry was not enough, however, because the system did not work properly. Perhaps one-fifth of eligible men avoided service by evasion, bribery, or legal challenge. As many as one-third of new recruits deserted before joining the main army. The situation was even worse once a campaign had started because 25 percent of soldiers usually deserted. At the end of a campaign, most soldiers were sent home. These dismissed soldiers, now unemployed and often penniless, were hated by the peasantry through whose land they had to pass. Some were unwilling to return home because they were not welcome. Overnight the former soldiers could become bandits who added to the already high level of violence in the countryside.

For these reasons military leaders preferred professional soldiers, who were more disciplined than untrained men. Some states placed permanent agents in certain regions to hire mercenaries. For example, Venice had agents who sought cavalry soldiers in Bosnia and pikemen (soldiers who carried spears with sharp points) in Switzerland. By the sixteenth century mercenaries were the mainstay of all armies. Although a hired soldier's pay was often lower than that of a civilian job, mercenaries could become quite wealthy from looting enemy supply trains and conquered cities. In a society in which violence was common, an occupation that rewarded violence was probably appealing.

Numbering only thirteen thousand men, the army was equipped with new flintlock muskets (handheld pistols) and a new type of light artillery, or weapons. In addition, the discipline and morale of Swedish forces was far above the standards then prevailing in Germany. The king led his army into every battle and was idolized by officers and soldiers. Gustav is credited with creating the first modern army (see "Sweden" in Chapter 4).

Conflict now a "foreign" war

Meanwhile the position of both sides, Catholic and Protestant, in Germany had deteriorated. At the Electoral Assembly held at Regensburg in 1630, Emperor Ferdinand II was persuaded to dismiss Wallenstein and a large part of his army. Ferdinand had already realized that Wallenstein's usefulness had come to an end. Wallenstein had enforced the Edict Resolution too strictly, producing disastrous results. His harsh measures had created thousands more Protestant refugees in Germany and had further weakened the emperor's cause. Ferdinand replaced Wallenstein with Tilly. Sweden's entry into the conflict now made this a "foreign war," and not primarily a German struggle. In 1631 Gustav formed an alliance with France and with certain German princes. The French provided only financial aid and moral support. Relying on revenue from Sweden's Baltic ports and the French aid, Gustav built up his forces with mercenaries before opening his German campaign.

Military operations got off to an unpromising start. After moving through eastern Pomerania and Mecklenburg, the Swedes advanced rapidly up the Oder River to Frankfurt. The Swedish monarch hoped to prevent Tilly's troops from taking the German city of Magdeburg, Sweden's ally. Magdeburg fell on May 10, 1631, and 80 percent of its population died in the violence. The defeat of Magdeburg dealt a serious blow to Protestant morale and Gustav's prestige. On August 25 Tilly crossed into Saxony, and on September 7 he met the Saxons at Breitenfeld, five miles north of Leipzig. The Saxon army disintegrated under Tilly's assault, but by nightfall Gustav had won the Battle of Breitenfeld. He then led his forces in victories at Frankfurt-am-Main, Worms, and Mainz. Hailed as the savior of Protestantism, Gustav controlled most of Germany, and Sweden was now a great world power.

Gustav spent the winter creating an administrative structure to extract "contributions" to his campaign from the regions under Swedish control. He expected to raise an army of more than two hundred thousand men, which required huge sums of money and an effective organization. The closest thing Germany had ever had to a central government took shape during the winter of 1631 and 1632 as Gustav took charge. He planned to launch attacks on Bavaria, Bohemia, and Austria with seven armies. The offensive got off to a brilliant beginning when he staged a surprise crossing of the River Lech on April 5, 1632. The Swedes inflicted a devastating defeat on Tilly's forces, and Tilly himself was killed. The whole of Bavaria and the road to Vienna, the seat of the Habsburg empire, now lay open to Gustav.

Stripped of Dignity

King Gustav II Adolf was a fearless military commander who joined soldiers in battle. During his military career, he had countless brushes with death. Twice horses fell through ice beneath him. Another was shot from under him. A legend grew that the Swedish king was an instrument of God and therefore immortal. His luck ran out at the Battle of Lützen in Germany. Almost before the attack got under way, Gustav was wounded by a musket ball. His horse bolted, carrying him into the midst of the fighting, where he died. In spite of his royal status, Gustav was not allowed to preserve any dignity in death: his body, stripped by looters, lay face down in the mud.

Wallenstein was recalled to service by Ferdinand. Moving the emperor's armies through Germany, Wallenstein met Gustav at Lützen in November. The Swedish king took personal command of a cavalry regiment and prepared for the assault. The battle had only begun when Gustav was shot and killed. As news of the king's death spread through the Swedish lines, the psychological damage proved greater than any physical losses. A regiment wavered until one of its chaplains started to sing a Lutheran hymn. Soon the Swedish soldiers and their Finnish allies solemnly sang along. Inspired by anguish and the thirst for revenge, they surged forward. The Battle of Lützen ended in another Swedish victory but at a high cost. Sweden's military supremacy ended soon after: in September 1634, at the battle of Nördlingen, Swedish forces were defeated by Wallenstein's armies. To preserve the military balance, France directly entered the war in Germany, supporting Sweden against the Habsburgs.

The Treaty of Prague (1635)

By 1635 the Thirty Years' War had reached a critical stage. With the defeat of the Swedish army and its allies at Nördlingen, the way seemed to be open for peace. Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister of France, and Count Axel Oxenstierna (1583–1654), the chancellor, or chief secretary, of Sweden, signed a treaty at Compiègne in April 1635. This arrangement did not receive much sympathy among the German princes, and a peace movement began to grow in Germany itself. From their point of view it was far better to arrange a German peace and permit the German people to reconstruct their devastated society.

John George I of Saxony (1595–1656) took the lead in arranging such a peace. In 1635 he and Emperor Ferdinand II signed an agreement called the Treaty of Prague. Under the terms of the treaty, John George received Lusatia on the middle Elbe, while his second son was guaranteed the Archbishopric of Magdeburg. The difficult problem of church lands was resolved by a compromise that allowed some property to remain for forty years in the hands of those who possessed them in 1627. During this period attempts at satisfactory settlements were to be made. Other lands that were not currently held by the emperor were to remain permanently in the hands of their holders. Amnesty (freedom from punishment for crimes against the state) was given to Protestants who complied with the Treaty of Prague. John George agreed to put his forces at the disposal of Ferdinand, so that the emperor could regain his former lands, which were now held by Sweden. The emperor would allow Lutherans freedom of worship within the Holy Roman Empire. The Treaty of Prague was proclaimed in Vienna. It was accepted in the Brandenburg and Württemberg districts of Germany and by most of the Protestant rulers.

Nine days earlier, at Brussels (a city in present-day Belgium), Spanish officials learned that Louis XIII of France (1601–1643; ruled 1610–43) had declared war on their king, Philip IV (1605–1665; ruled 1621–65). It soon became obvious to German rulers that peace was not possible. Instead, Germany was being drawn into an expanded struggle between the Habsburgs and France. The German states realized that, under the terms of the Treaty of Prague, they were obligated to fight all the battles of both the Austrian and the Spanish Habsburgs. The Treaty of Prague, far from bringing peace, actually prolonged the war in Germany and elsewhere for another thirteen years.

The Peace of Westphalia (1643–48)

On December 25, 1641, the new emperor, Ferdinand III (1608–1657; ruled 1637–57), agreed to begin peace negotiations the following year in the German region of Westphalia. His negotiators would meet with Swedish representatives at the city of Osnabrück and with French representatives at the city of Münster. Military and political events delayed the formal opening of the peace conference at Osnabrück until July 1643, and the Münster conference did not open until April 1644. Then it took the emperor's negotiators almost three years to hammer out peace treaties with the Swedes and the French. The Treaties of Münster and Osnabrück were both signed on October 24, 1648, and a separate agreement was signed earlier between Spain and the United Provinces of the Netherlands (see "Netherlands" in Chapter 4).

A turning point in European history All of these agreements are considered parts of a single settlement, known as the Peace of Westphalia. It was designed to bring Protestants and Catholics together within the empire. Calvinism was given equal legal status with Catholicism and Lutheranism, so the Catholic and Protestant states of the empire were now considered to have equal status. Equality was limited to the free exercise of religion by individuals, however, and the princes in several states still had the right to determine the religion of their territories. Finally, territories formerly owned by the Catholic Church were to remain under the religion that was in effect on January 1, 1624. In addition, some lands in the Holy Roman Empire were given to Sweden and France. Sweden obtained Western Pomerania (a region on the Baltic Sea), Bremen (a province in northwest Germany), and Verden (a province in Saxony). France received Metz, Toul, and Verdun, cities in northeast France, as well as Alsace, a province in northeast France. The German district of Brandenburg-Prussia received Eastern Pomerania and several former bishoprics (church districts). The settlement gave the United Provinces of the Netherlands independence from Spain and declared Switzerland independent from the Holy Roman Empire. Each of the German states was also given sovereignty, or the right of self-rule, within the Holy Roman Empire.

The Peace of Westphalia was a landmark in European history. The Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Reformation had ended, so religion no longer played an important role in issues that divided European states. Sweden emerged as a great power in northern Europe for at least the following sixty years. Likewise, the position of Brandenburg-Prussia was greatly strengthened. The Holy Roman Empire, however, became more loosely organized than before. Spain's decline, which had already begun by 1648, was more evident when peace was finally made with France in 1659. In the second half of the seventeenth century, France, which was under the rule of King Louis XIV, emerged as the leading power on the European continent.

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The Protestant Reformation

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