A military organization of German Protestants that originated in 1531 in reaction to charles v's announced policy of suppressing the Lutheran movement by force. Named after the little town on the boundaries of Saxony and Hesse where its assemblies often took place, it was initiated by John of Saxony and Ernest of Brunswick. It included at its origin Philip of Hesse, Wolfgang von Anhalt, the Counts Gerhardt and Albert of Mansfeld, and representatives of 11 towns. It continued to expand and eventually included even the Catholic Dukes of Bavaria who joined it out of hostility to the Hapsburgs. Distracted by the menacing Turks, Charles signed a truce with the league, the Peace of Nuremberg (1532), which guaranteed peace until a general council could be held within a year. Charles's hopes for a council failed to materialize, however, and the Protestant movement continued to spread. When Pope paul iii finally issued a bull summoning the council to meet at Mantua in May of 1537, the Schmalkaldic League rejected an invitation to attend. The emperor then attempted to solve the problem within the empire itself by conferences of Lutheran and Catholic theologians from 1539 to 1541 (see interims). As the differences proved irreconcilable, and as the Protestants refused to attend the opening of the Council at trent (1545), Charles decided again in favor of war. The position of the league had been weakened by Philip of Hesse's treaty with Charles, which broke off all alliances of the league with non-Germans. In addition, Charles made treaties with several German Protestant princes, including the powerful Maurice of Saxony and Joachim II of Brandenberg. Charles gained a decisive victory at Mühlberg on April 24, 1547, and captured John Frederick of Saxony and Philip of Hesse. A theological settlement, however, was as remote as ever when Maurice of Saxony reopened the political question by rebelling. The Second Schmalkaldic War that ensued necessitated political recognition of the Protestants. Charles resigned in favor of his brother Ferdinand, who negotiated with the Protestants the Peace of augsburg (1555).
Bibliography: st. skalweit, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65); suppl., Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil: Dokumente und kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al., pt. 1 (1966) 9:426–427. w. maurer, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 5:1455–56. h. holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 3 v. (New York 1959–) v.1. New Cambridge Modern History (2d ed. London–New York 1957–) 2:162–183.
[t. s. bokenkotter]