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Sleidanus, Johannes (Johannes Philippi; 1506–1556)

SLEIDANUS, JOHANNES (Johannes Philippi; 15061556)

SLEIDANUS, JOHANNES (Johannes Philippi; 15061556), German historian. Johannes Sleidanus was a diplomat, scholar, translator, historian, and finally official historiographer of the Lutheran partythat is, of the Schmalkaldic Leaguewho left the most authoritative account of the Lutheran Reformation in its political as well as religious aspects.

Johann Philipson (son of Philipus, a merchant), was born in 1506 in Schleidan and, along with his friend Johann Sturm, studied first at the school of Johann Neuburg in that Rhineland town, then in Liège with the Brothers of the Common Life and at the academy of Cologne, later rejoining Sturm at Louvain. Sleidanus served Count Dietrich IV of Manderscheid, a moderate Catholic, as tutor to his son. In 1533 Sleidanus moved to France, where he remained until 1542, studying law briefly at the University of Orléans, publishing a translation of Jean Froissart's Chroniques (1537), and entering into the service of Cardinal DuBellay, who was engaged in pressing the German Protestants into an alliance with King Francis I. In this cause Sleidanus, in the company of Lazare de Baif, attended the religious colloquy in Hagenau in 1540, but his mission was unsuccessful, as were those to the colloquy of Regensberg the next year, to England in 1545, and to the Diet of Augsburg in 1547. Sleidanus was in a difficult position, poised between Emperor Charles V and the French king (who had only a political interest in the Lutherans and who had begun to persecute the French Protestants), and in 1544 he returned to Strasbourg, where he continued his scholarly as well as his political work, beginning with his "Zwei Reden an Kaiser und Reich" (Two orations on the emperor and the empire.) In 1546 he was married to Iola Nidbruck, who bore him three daughters, and he was appointed a "civil servant" to the Strasbourg council, a post that included being liaison to the French population as well as composing his history.

Throughout his intellectual life Sleidanus was interested in the writing of contemporary history. He expressed this first in his Latin translations of Philippe de Commynes's Mémoires (1537), of Froissart's chronicles, and of Claude de Seyssel's Monarchy of France (1548), dedicated to King Edward VI of England, but most comprehensively in his extensively documented history of the Reformation. In 1545, with the support of Martin Bucer (14911551) and Jacob Sturm, he began negotiations with the Schmalkaldic League for this project, which he had begun as early as 1539. This book Sleidanus had first conceived as a "history of the restored religion" (historia restauratae religionis, histori der ernewter religion), but he later included the political dimension as well. "In the history of religion," Sleidanus wrote in the preface to his De Statu Religionis et Reipublicae Carlo Quinto Caesare Commentarii, "I would not omit what concerned the civil government because they are inter-woven with the other, especially in our times, so that it is not possible to separate them." In this effort Sleidanus was diligent in the collecting of manuscript and archival as well as published materials and careful to preserve an impartial stance, as befitting a moderate Protestant, residing in Strasbourg and situated between German, French, and English parties. Published in 1555, the work offered a comprehensive survey of European history from All Saints' Eve 1517 to February 1555, that is, from Luther's appearance on the public scene at Wittenberg on All Saints' Eve 1517 to the retirement of his great nemesis Charles V in February 1555. His last major topic was the Diet of Augsburg of 1555, which put an end to the first phase of the Reformation, but the book (translated soon into English, French, and German) was extended in later editions, from Sleidanus's own notes, to September 1556, when the author died.

Sleidanus was a major contributor to the Renaissance "art of history." As a larger background to his epic survey Sleidanus also published a small textbook surveying "the first four great empires of the world," of which, through the principle of translatio imperii, Sleidanus's own sovereign, Emperor Charles V, was the last beneficiary. Reactions to Sleidanus's work were extreme, ranging from the adulation of friends, Calvinists as well as Lutherans, to the denunciation of enemies, Protestants as well as Catholics. Sleidanus answered with an "apology," which posthumously made public his historiographical confession of faith and in which he concluded by declaring that "I am the enemy of all falsehood and do not boast when I affirm that I would rather die than say, still less write, anything without proof." Leopold von Ranke (17951886), though not impressed with Sleidanus's critical abilities, would not object to his claim to be the "father of Reformation history."

See also Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; Historiography ; Reformation, Protestant ; Schmalkaldic War .


Primary Sources

Ioannis Sleidani de Statu Religionis et Reipublicae Carlo Quinto Commentarii. Strasbourg, 1555.

De Quatuor Summis Imperiis. London, 1584.

Secondary Sources

Dickens, A. G., "Johannes Sleidanus and Reformation History." In Reformation, Conformity and Consent: Essays in Honour of Geoffrey Nuttall, pp. 1743. London, 1977.

Kelley, Donald R., "Johann Sleidan and the Origins of the Profession of History." Journal of Modern History 52 (1980): 973998.

Vogelstein, Ingeborg Berlin. Johann Sleidan's Commentaries: Vantage Point of a Second Generation Lutheran. Lanham, Md., 1986.

Donald Kelley

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