Germany History – The Counter-Reformation and the Thirty Years’ War

Germany History – The Counter-Reformation and the Thirty Years’ War

On the basis of the peace of Augusta, in the following fifty years the princes strengthened their positions; in a Catholic sense one, Protestant the other. Among the Catholics, first, not to mention the Habsburgs (see austria) the Wittelsbachs of Bavaria, and mainly Albert V, who established an active dynastic-religious policy, which his house followed for centuries, supported in this and in all the policy of Catholic restoration by the Jesuits, and especially by the indefatigable Peter Canisius (v.). The Bavarian University of Ingolstadt became the center of Catholic doctrine and counter-reform in Germany, and not in Germany alone: ​​here the most famous apologies of Catholicism were printed, such as the Disputationes de controversiis fidei del Bellarmino (1586). Beyond Bavaria, the bishops of Salzburg, Bamberg and Würzburg acted effectively in a Catholic sense, and among the latter above all the bishop Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn, who, animated by a sincere religious spirit not separated from a certain princely pride, in his 44 years of bishopric (1573-1617) regained a large part of his subjects in Rome.

The positions on the lower Rhine were more contrasted: here, if the victory ultimately remained with the Catholics, this was due much more or exclusively to the Jesuits than to the bishops and secular clergy. With hard and persistent effort, the Society of Jesus, in its college in Cologne and then elsewhere in the Rhineland, educated a new generation of zealous and spiritually prepared priests, who managed to regain many of the lost positions, to keep the unsafe ones. And this is often in contrast with the archbishop and the university: so in Paderborn, in Minden, in Münster, in Osnabrück. But precisely in these most fiercely contrasted regions between Catholics and Protestants two problems connected with the peace of Augusta were exacerbated: the problem concerning the episcopal and abbey principalities whose owners had passed to Protestantism after 1555;

The Peace of Augusta, in the so-called reservatum ecclesiasticum, was precise on the first point: the bishop who passed to Lutheranism, had to lose his dignity with the relative benefits and incomes, and leave the chapter free to elect him a successor. So had done (1577) the archbishop of Cologne Salentin von Isenburg; but his successor, Gebhard Truchsess von Waldburg, soon thought not only of embracing the Lutheran faith and marrying a nun, but also of transforming the archbishopric into a Protestant secular lordship (1582). Losing this Catholic voter would have been a serious blow to the Habsburgs. After three years of guerrilla warfare, the archbishop had to yield to a Catholic successor. But the outcome was different elsewhere. The juridical position of those many ecclesiastical principalities, especially of northern Germany, whose owners, before or after the peace of Augusta, they had passed to Protestantism, secularizing the bishopric. As a rule, these already Catholic bishops were members of the great princely families, Brandenburg, Brunswick, Anhalt, etc., which, once the titular died, did not intend to leave the prey and, at worst, were content to keep it under the species of administratores. The Catholics, referring to the peace of Augusta, shouted abuse and insisted on denying administrators the right, which had belonged to the bishops, to sit on imperial diets. Even more serious is the problem of tolerance towards the heterodox in ecclesiastical principalities: more serious because the most zealous Catholics did not admit it, although it was sanctioned in the peace of Augusta. Immediately there had been abuses in the lands of the abbot of Fulda and the bishop of Würzburg; in the archbishopric of Neuss, then, politically and strategically sensitive in recent years due to its proximity to the insurgent Netherlands, the Catholic restoration came with the soldiers of Alessandro Farnese: the rebellious Calvinists, guilty of having burned the relics of S. Quirino, were exterminated, the country depopulated (1586). Even in the imperial cities, coexistence between the various confessions was not always easy: very lively fights were unleashed in the city councils. Likewise in Aachen (1582), likewise in Strasbourg (1592), complicated here, due to the intrusion of the Duke of Lorraine and the kings of France; so in Donauwörth (1607), where the Protestants reacted against the Catholics, whereby the city was banned from the Empire and the Duke of Bavaria assumed and fulfilled the task of punishing it too zealously. All these open problems should have and, perhaps, could have been resolved in the imperial diets: but Ferdinand’s successors were weaker, uncertain or even inept than he. In the diets it was almost only a question of aid for the wars against the Turks; when, as in the diet of Regensburg in 1608, the religious question was deeply touched, it was seen that the intransigence on both sides was insurmountable. The Protestant princes withdrew and, for the first time, the diet dissolved without deliberation.

Or sooner or later, the decision had, therefore, to be back in the arms. And in fact, immediately in the same year, on the one hand the Protestant Union was formed, initiating the southern cities threatened by Bavaria; on the other, the following year (1609), in response, on Bavarian initiative, the Catholic league, military leader the Brabantine Count of Tilly (see league). It seemed that the two sides would immediately clash over the question of the succession in the duchy of Jülich-Cleve, a Catholic and, due to his position, of capital importance for the Habsburgs of Austria and Spain, for the French and the Dutch. The two suitors, both Lutherans, not only had not taken any account of the imperial order that wanted the dukedom administered by the duke’s widow, but, moreover, they had lined up in the two fields, passing the one, the Count Palatine of Neuburg, to Catholicism, the other, the elector of Brandenburg, to Calvinism. Finally (1614) there was a peaceful division: Cleve and Mark in Brandenburg, Jülich and Berg on the Palatine.

The warfare was only postponed: it broke out five years later, when the Bohemian states, deeply imbued with Lutheranism, Calvinism or adhering to other religious denominations of more ancient national origin, preferred Calvinist Ferdinand V, elector Palatine, as their new king. to the very Catholic Ferdinand of Habsburg, the new emperor. In this decisive moment, the emperor had the support of the Catholic League and its leader, the Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, who overcame the traditional rivalry in exchange for the promised electoral dignity to be taken away from the Palatine. The army of the League put an end, at the White Mountain, near Prague (8 November 1620) to the brief adventure of Ferdinand V “Winterkönig” (for the details of the military events: see thirty ‘, War of the). The Protestant union, deprived of its leader, now exiled in The Hague, was dissolved: the elector of Saxony, in hatred of the Calvinists, had, from the beginning, passed to the imperial side, while its preachers maintained that “the Lutheran believer is closer to the Catholic than to the Calvinist “. The Rhineland Palatinate was also conquered and with the Jesuits Catholicism returned to Mannheim and Heidelberg. The Duke of Bavaria triumphed and in 1623 obtained the coveted electoral dignity, thanks to the skilful diplomatic work of the indefatigable Capuchin Father Giacinto (born Count Federico Natta from Bologna); the Catholic cause triumphed. All of middle and southern Germany had returned to Rome, except for a few cities and a few princes). The League was preparing to spread to the north, where everything, from Nassau to Prussia, he was either Protestant or Calvinist (Brandenburg). Here it was a question of saving some Catholic islands and, above all, of recovering those formerly ecclesiastical principalities which were held – unduly, according to Catholics – by Protestant administrators. But touching these meant touching the strongest Protestant principles: the elector of Brandenburg, the “administrator” of Magdeburg, the Holstein-Gottorps of Bremen and Lübeck; the Mecklenburg-Lüneburg of Halberstadt, the Dukes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel of Verden and Osnabrück. And the war continued, also due to a necessity that by now had become almost organic of the mercenary soldier bands who lived quartered in the countries cleansed of Lutheran heresy, by dint of systematic looting, of onerous war contributions; when the country was exhausted until last drop, they passed elsewhere. They now passed into Lower Saxony; came the king of Denmark, who was also the military leader of this circle (Kreis), as well as eager to lay hands on the bishoprics of the region; but he was defeated at Lutter (1626) by the troops of the Tilly League and by the imperial ones of Wallenstein, who invaded Jütland, besieged Stralsunda in vain (1628), but obtained from the emperor Mecklenburg taken away from the ancient lords. The defeat of the Protestants was complete: the Catholic side imposed peace on the king of Denmark to issue the restitution edict of March 6, 1629: cancellation of 70 years of political evolution; all ecclesiastical lands passed to Protestants after 1555 were to be returned to Catholics.

But if the emperor intended to pass the restitution edict as a victory of the imperial authority, the deliberations of the Regensburg diet of 1630 had to do so convinced of the contrary: the electoral princes, including Catholics, demanded that the imperial army of the Wallenstein had diminished in strength and the command given to a prince of the Empire. The tendencies towards the absolute autonomy of principles were irrepressible. The emperor dismissed the Wallenstein.

It was the moment when Gustavo Adolfo king of Sweden landed in Pomerania, to restore the fate of Protestantism. He was animated by religious enthusiasm, but also by the political calculation intended to close the Baltic to Catholics; later, after so many successes, perhaps even the dream of a Protestant empire. He did not have, among the Protestants, except Magdeburg and Hesse, the festive welcome he hoped for; the “alliances” that he imposed were too onerous (the Duchy of Pomerania immediately knew this), unbearable, like those of Tilly and Wallenstein, the requisitions and the robberies of his troops. The two electoral princes of Brandenburg and Saxony shielded themselves, aiming to maintain an intermediate position between Sweden and the League and awaiting events. Especially since the situation was unclear: France financed the Swedish company, but, revealing his anti-Hapsburg aims, he was also linked with Bavaria, which was not a small part of the League. As at Mühlberg, so now the Saxon attitude caused the collapse: the elector passed to the Swedes, contributing to their victory in Breitenfeld (1631) and then invading Silesia and Bohemia. Even Bavaria, hitherto preserved from the horrors of wars, was run by the Swedes and sacked: but Ingolstadt, Magdeburg’s counterpart, defended itself: the king had to pass over and parry the threat of Wallenstein, restored to his rank. The day of Lützen (November 16, 1632) was not decisive: on the contrary, AG Oxenstierna, the chancellor of the fallen king, showed himself more prudent than the king in tactfully handling the allied states, holding them in the League of Heilbronn, while the Swedish troops, under the command of Horn, of GK Bernard of Weimar, by JK Banér, their raids continued. The demeanor of Saxony was again decisive; who, eager for peace, showed herself willing to negotiate with the emperor towards compensation in Lusatia and on the basis of the year 1627 as the term to be applied in the restitution edict (Peace of Prague, May 30, 1635). The peace was joined by Bavaria, Brandenburg, all the states of middle Germany, except for Hesse and Saxony-Weimar.

The ailments of the war were already felt too much: yet, amid the weariness of the German states, the war continued on German soil for another 13 years. At the end of 1634 French troops cross the Rhine and clash with the imperial, Bavarian and Spanish troops; Swedish soldiers run Germany from top to bottom. Especially the western regions suffered cruelly: and often the German princes had to remain helpless spectators of a war from which they could only draw ills. Despite the ever more insistent and more insistently proclaimed need for peace, after the Regensburg diet of 1640-41, the Habsburg, linked to the relatives of Spain, still did not want to yield; but as early as 1644 the first negotiations began. The princes, one by one, separately obliged themselves to armistice: in 1644, with Sweden, Saxony and Frederick William of Brandenburg “the great elector”; in 1647, with France, Maximilian of Bavaria. Finally, general peace was reached (Münster and Osnabrück, 24 October 1648) to the grave disappointment of the generals, who found their business in that war, often more bloody for the defenseless population than for the soldiers.

Here the territorial clauses of the peace (Westphalian, Peace of) matter less: the rights of the Habsburgs in Alsace, Breisach and Philippsburg ceded to France; much of Pomerania, with Rügen and Szczecin to Sweden; the Upper Palatinate to Bavaria. It is more important to note that peace validated, by law, the absolute autonomy of the individual states within the Empire, granting them the ius foederis and the ius territoriale, which was interpreted as absolute sovereignty. The religious question dulled; in the last decades the Catholic counter-reformation had already come to temper and lose much of its combativeness; set the year 1624 as a term for secularization, the power to deliberate in religious matters with the simple majority of votes, still of the Catholics, was removed from the diet, despite the fact that there was now an eighth elector (the Calvinist Count Palatine) and that Protestant holders of secularized bishoprics could sit in the Reichstag; for this matter the states had to amicably seek an agreement (the so-called itio in partes). The principle of tolerance had made great progress: in Brandenburg the rights acquired by the Protestants in the peace of Augsburg were extended to the Calvinists; in very many states, especially in the Rhineland, Catholics and Lutherans coexisted peacefully, and from then on the passage of the territorial sovereign to another confession had no more consequences for the subjects. The old Empire was truly over: in its place there were states, some of European importance (Austria, electoral Brandenburg with Prussia inherited from the collateral branch in 1618, Saxony, Bavaria). The Empire had become a useless frame, an archaeological and heraldic curiosity: the diet of Regensburg (1653-54) did not know how to give it new life and, after 1663, the diets and the permanent commission (ordentliche Reichsdeputation) were harmless tournaments of oratorical and diplomatic skills.

Germany History - The Counter-Reformation and the Thirty Years' War

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