East Germany Table of Contents
On the eve of All Saints' Day in 1517, Martin Luther, professor of theology at Wittenberg University in Saxony, posted on the castle church door ninety-five theses that primarily concerned the sale of indulgences--papal grants of mitigation of penalties, including release from purgatory. Luther challenged the secular orientation of the Roman Catholic Church and, more fundamentally, the authority of pope and church in matters of faith, affirming instead the authority of Holy Scripture and salvation by faith alone. Because of the invention of movable type, Luther's theses, posted to stimulate debate among academics and clergy, spread rapidly throughout Germany. In 1520, in the midst of the crisis he had created, Luther published three pamphlets calling for religious reformation and for the establishment of a German national church, independent of Rome. In 1521 both Rome and the empire banned Luther, who found sanctuary among the German princes.
The oppressed German peasantry read into Luther's pamphlet "On the Freedom of a Christian Man" a promise of social reform and, stimulated by the successful struggle of Swiss peasants against the Habsburgs, revolted against the princes in the Great Peasant War of 1525. The war originated in the area of Lake Constance near the Swiss border and spread to central Germany, receiving support from dissatisfied city dwellers and rebellious knights. Luther, a social and political conservative who relied on the nobility for support in his religious revolution, allied himself with the princes in their bloody suppression of the peasant revolt.
The Habsburg emperor Charles V (1519-56), who had inherited Spain, the Netherlands, southern Italy, Sicily, and the Austrian lands as patrimony, determined to restore the unity of the German empire, which was divided between Catholics and Protestants and threatened by foreign powers. In 1521 he became engaged in a struggle with Francis I of France, who had resolved to destroy the power of the Habsburgs. During a campaign against Francis I, German mercenary soldiers, most of them Lutheran, sacked Rome in 1527. The capture of Rome restored imperial control of the Middle Kingdom, which had been lost during the Great Interregnum. A staunch Catholic and a firm believer in the tradition of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles assumed responsibility for protecting the Roman Catholic Church in the Lutheran revolt. However, many German princes, hoping to subordinate a German national church to the authority of the sovereign states and thus further consolidate their power, supported Luther's doctrines. They led a reform movement and in 1530 created the Protestant League of Schmalkalden to oppose the emperor. By 1545 all northeastern and northwestern Germany and large parts of southern Germany were Protestant. In 1546 Charles, in an attempt to suppress the growing heresy, declared war on the Protestant princes. The war continued for a number of years until a compromise settlement was reached in the Peace of Augsburg of 1555. In the settlement, which represented a victory for the princes, Lutheranism and Catholicism were granted formal recognition in Germany, and each prince gained the right to decide the religion to be practiced within his state.
Religious warfare resumed in the early seventeenth century with the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), a European-wide struggle that devastated Germany and reduced the size and power of the empire (see fig. 3). The Thirty Years' War resulted from a local rebellion. In 1618 the Habsburg-ruled Bohemian kingdom, opposed to Emperor Matthias's designation of his cousin Ferdinand as future king of Bohemia, elected Frederick of the Palatinate, a German Calvinist, to the throne. In 1620, in an attempt to wrest back control, imperial armies and the Catholic League under General Johann von Tilly defeated the Bohemians at the Battle of the White Mountain near Prague. Neighboring Protestant countries, alarmed by the resulting superior strength of the Catholic League and the possibility of Catholic supremacy in Europe, and France, opposed to the increasing power of the Habsburgs, supported the Protestant German princes, who seized the opportunity to renew their struggle against the emperor. However, by 1627 the imperial armies of Ferdinand II (1619-37) and the Catholic League, under the supreme command of General Albrecht von Wallenstein, had defeated the Protestants and secured a foothold in northern Germany. Invading armies from Sweden, which, secretly supported by Catholic France, had come to the defense of the Protestant cause, were defeated in 1635, and the Peace of Prague was signed. In that same year, however, France had openly joined Sweden and declared war on Spain, a traditional ally of Habsburg Austria. The war continued to rage, for the most part on German soil, until the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648. The settlement, which signaled the re-emergence of France as the main power on the continent, gave German territories to France and Sweden and extended toleration to Calvinism.
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents