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Germany Table of Contents


Resistance to Lutheranism

Although Lutheranism had powerful supporters, its survival was by no means certain. Its main opponent was the Habsburg emperor Charles V, who had inherited Spain, the Netherlands, southern Italy, Sicily, and the Austrian lands as patrimony and who hoped to restore the unity of the German Empire by keeping it Roman Catholic. Charles had been out of Germany between 1521 and 1530, and when he returned he found that the new religion had won too many adherents to be easily uprooted. In addition, he could not devote himself single-mindedly to combating it but also had to struggle with powerful external enemies. One was Francis I (r. 1515-47) of France, who attacked the empire from the west, having resolved to destroy the power of the Habsburgs. Another threat was posed by the Turks, who were attacking the empire from the east. Even the papacy at times conspired against its coreligionist because it feared Charles was becoming too powerful.

Within Germany, forces were also arrayed against Charles. In 1531 Protestant leaders created the League of Schmalkalden to oppose him. By 1545 northeastern and northwestern Germany and large parts of southern Germany had become Protestant. Despite the significant victory over the Protestants at the Battle of Mühlberg in 1547, Charles still was not powerful enough to impose his will on the German princes.

The Peace of Augsburg

By the early 1550s, it was apparent that a negotiated settlement was necessary. In 1555 the Peace of Augsburg was signed.The settlement, which represented a victory for the princes, granted recognition to both Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in Germany, and each ruler gained the right to decide the religion to be practiced within his state. Subjects not of this faith could move to another state with their property, and disputes between the religions were to be settled in court.

The Protestant Reformation strengthened the long-standing trend toward particularism in Germany. German leaders, whether Protestant or Catholic, became yet more powerful at the expense of the central governing institution, the empire. Protestant leaders gained by receiving lands that formerly belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, although not to as great an extent as, for example, would occur in England. Each prince also became the head of the established church within his territory. Catholic leaders benefited because the Roman Catholic Church, in order to help them withstand Protestantism, gave them greater access to church resources within their territories. Germany was also less united than before because Germans were no longer of one faith, a situation officially recognized by the Peace of Augsburg. The agreement did not bring sectarian peace, however, because the religious question in Germany had not yet been settled fully.

Data as of August 1995