|A depiction of the Thirty Years' War|
The last time we looked at World History we focused on the Reformation, here, but we only very briefly touched upon the Wars of Religion caused by the Reformation. These wars ravaged Europe and set Protestant against Catholic. However, the Wars of Religion are far more complex than just being about religion and they helped shape the European world today. Following the Wars of Religion Europe's wars started to be much less about religion and more about other factors, such as politics. Before we start we first have to define what exactly a War of Religion is.
Defining the Wars of Religion
There has been debate among historians about how the wars between Christians differ from other wars about religion, such as the Crusades. German historian Konrad Repgen has distinguished a War of Religion from a Crusade as he argues that Crusades are called for by popes, whereas Wars of Religion are not. However, he does argue that there is much overlap with them both being religious wars. This raises a new question: how is a War of Religion different to other religious wars? Repgen argued that a War of Religion was justified as being necessary to prevent the 'true religion' from being threatened or exterminated; to extend specific rights of religious practice; or to eliminate a 'dangerous heresy.' When the war was called by the pope for these reasons it becomes a Crusade. Of course Repgen's model only fits the Euro-Christian world, but for our purpose it fits well. Now let's look at the wars themselves.
The German Peasants' War
The Peasants' War broke out in 1524 following the Knights' Revolt of 1522. During the revolt free imperial knights had revolted against larger territorial princes using Lutheran ideas to justify their movement. All the Knights' Revolt succeeded in doing was make some princes wary of Lutheran and Protestant ideas. The Peasants' War started over grievances rising taxation levels, serfdom, laws limiting hunting and fishing rights, and imposition of labor obligations. In 1524 in Stuhlingen, just south of the Black Forest, it is believed that the uprising started over the limitations on fishing in a forbidden stream. Quickly a gathering of 1,200 peasants gathered listing their grievances which spread rapidly across southern Germany in what would become the largest peasant uprising in European history until the French Revolution. Regional revolutionary committees and military alliances were formed, and in March 1525 a union of them released the Twelve Articles of Memmingen. These twelve articles were heavily inspired by Lutheran theology calling for the abolishment of serfdom; hunting and fishing rights; and a reduction in taxes and labor services arguing that there was no precedent for these in the Bible. Furthermore, the articles called for the community to elect and dismiss pastors to ensure the 'pure gospel' would be preached. The War got many supporters, including Thomas Muntzer, and despite being clearly inspired by Lutheran ideas Martin Luther condemned the rebellion. Luther wrote Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants in 1525 writing that rulers 'as God's sword on earth to knock down, strangle, and stab the insurgents as one would a mad dog.' Huldrych Zwingli reaffirmed this idea in his 1526 publication Whoever Causes Insurrection arguing that spiritual reasons did not give individuals the right to oppose political authority. In 1525 the rebellion was put down causing the Reformation to lose much of its appeal in Germany. The merging of social and religious aspects of the Peasants' War shows the diverse background of the Wars of Religion. Friedrich Engels in The Peasant War in Germany wrote that the Peasants' War highlighted the issues concerning early German capitalism and served as a precursor to the 1848 Revolutions.
Wars of Kappel
Two brief conflicts erupted in the Swiss Cantons in 1529 and 1531 where economics, politics, and religion came together. In the sixteenth century Switzerland was made up of a loose confederation of thirteen autonomous cantons in the larger Holy Roman Empire. The cantons were deeply hostile to one another which the Holy Roman emperors, French kings, and popes exploited where they hired Swiss soldiers as mercenaries. Zwingli was very much against this saying that it was 'trading blood for gold' and he blamed Catholics for this. As the leader of the Zurich city council he started making treaties with other Protestant cantons which made the Catholic cantons formed an alliance under Ferdinand, the Habsburg ruler of Austria, to counter them. Open war was avoided until 1531 with the Second War of Kappel which resulted in Zwingli's death. With the exception of a few key areas after the Protestant defeat forced conversion to Catholicism did not happen. Reformed parishes and communities in Catholic cantons could remain Reformed, and cantons were free to be either Reformed or Catholic. Thus, Switzerland became one of the only places in Europe to offer recognition of Catholicism and a Protestant denomination. This highlights one key aspect of the Wars of Religion: limited religious tolerance. A key aspect of present European states, and many states across the world, is secularism. One view of the Wars is that it put Europe on the path to secular politics. For Switzerland itself to avoid fracturing between the Reformed and Catholic cantons it opted to largely remain neutral which has become a staple of Swiss international politics.
The Schmalkaldic War
Like the Wars of Kappel the Schmalkaldic War was a conflict between Catholics and Protestants. In 1530 Holy Roman Emperor Charles V called an Imperial Diet in Augsburg hoping to end religious divisions in the empire. An associate of Luther, Philip Melanchthon, made the Confessio Augustana (Augsburg Confession) criticizing Catholic principles which Protestant princes presented to Charles. Charles ignored the Confession, told Protestant princes to convert back to Catholicism, and ordered the return of confiscated Catholic lands. This backfired with the Protestant rulers forming the Schmalkaldic League with the Confession as its statement of belief. Several Lutheran colleges in the USA, such as Augustana, are in fact named after this Confession. Luther changed his beliefs about resistance saying that those with political authority were allowed to oppose those above them; one could argue that he only favored resistance when his own neck was on the line. Meanwhile, Charles could not respond to the Schmalkaldic League due to wars against France in Italy and southern France, and the besieging of Hungary and Vienna by the Ottoman Empire. With religion dividing the Empire and threats from outside Charles was spread thin. He did fight the League in 1546 and successfully captured several Protestant princes and cities which strangely worried the pope. Here politics comes into play. The pope feared that Charles' victories would strengthen the emperor and edge Papal authority out. An Imperial Diet was called bringing a temporary peace which the League used to regroup and even allied with France. Political power trumped religious identity.
|Charles V sitting on the throne of the defeated Schmalkaldic League|
In 1552 war broke out again with Henry II of France intervening on the side of the Schmalkaldic League. This war lasted until another diet at Augsburg in 1555. The papacy and emperor were not present at this diet so the Peace of Augsburg reflected the concerns of the princes. To bring 'eternal, unconditional peace' a principle was put forward: cuius regio, eius religio (Whose realm, his religion). For areas of the Holy Roman Empire this brought limited secularization. The Peace of Augsburg only gave religious tolerance to Lutherans and Catholics - other Christian branches and non-Christians were denied recognition. This issue would become very apparent in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Meanwhile, Charles abdicated in 1556 granting his imperial possessions to his brother Ferdinand, whereas the Spanish empire and the Netherlands were given to his son, Philip.
French Wars of Religion
Shortly after the Peace of Augsburg religious wars broke out in France. Francis I of France made a treaty with the papacy in the Concordat of Bologna where he would recognize papal supremacy over church councils in return for the right to appoint all French bishops and abbots. This gave the monarchy huge control over the French Church, and therefore, huge amounts of power. John Calvin was French and nobles turned to Calvinism to protest the monarchy's power. These French Calvinists were called Huguenots and deeply inspired by Calvinistic iconoclasm they started smashing windows in churches; burning paintings; and using religious images as cooking fuel, latrines or toys. Through fiery sermons and print literature Calvinism spread through the masses who eagerly partook in sermons and violent actions which caused Catholic retaliation. Things became worse in 1559 when Henry II died and his son, (who was aged fifteen), Francis only was on throne a year before dying of possibly meningitis, and his brother, Charles, came to power. If only for his mother, Catherine d'Medici, acting as regent, whose iron will beat back opponents, did the royal family survive. Catherine had to face court nobles using the religious conflicts and regency to try exercise their own power. Throughout the 1560s bloody conflict ravaged France where the monarchy tried to adopt conciliatory policies. In 1572 it appeared that Catherine wanted a truce so the Huguenot and Catholic leaders were invited to Paris to see the marriage of the Protestant Henry of Navarre to the king's sister. On St. Bartholomew's Day, August 24, the Protestant guests were assassinated which spread across the Parisian crowds and further encompassing France. It is believed that 2,000 Huguenots were killed in what has been called the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. This Massacre would make Protestant rulers fearful of Catholic plots for generations after. For another fifteen years wars would drag on until Henry III (Charles died young) was assassinated in 1589 by a Catholic fanatic named Jacques Clement. Clement hated Henry for trying to implement a policy of tolerance but by assassinating Henry this allowed Henry of Navarre to become king.
|A painting of the massacre by Louis Dubois|
Henry knew that the current wars would ravage France and that applying Protestantism to an overwhelmingly Catholic state would be disastrous. He was pragmatic and subscribed to a position called 'politique.' Catholicism was declared the official religion of France and eventually converted to Catholicism horrifying radicals on both sides. Catholic propaganda doubted his sincerity accusing him of saying 'Paris is worth a mass.' Eventually fighting subsided so much that in 1598 Henry IV passed the Edict of Nantes which confirmed Catholicism as the state's religion, gave Huguenots freedom of worship, and gave them the right to maintain 150 fortified towns.
Also known as the Dutch War of Independence and the Eighty Years' War economics and religion spilled over in the Spanish ruled Dutch provinces. Calvinism had spread rapidly across the Dutch provinces and Philip of Spain's regent, Margaret of Parma (who was his half-sister), began to repress Calvinism. As the cities of Bruges, Ghent, Amsterdam and Antwerp were also extremely wealthy taxes were also raised. These two factors enraged the Dutch who began a wave of iconoclastic riots in 1566. The Duke of Alva was sent to put down the revolts and he executed hundreds in a special court nicknamed the 'Council of Blood.' What was a series of small revolts became a full scale war. The Spanish reclaimed the southern ten provinces and prohibited Calvinism - which would become present day Belgium - while the seven northern provinces in 1579 formed a union later known as the United Provinces of the Netherlands. When the leader of the Dutch, William of Nassau a.k.a William the Silent, was assassinated by a French assassin loyal to Philip in 1584 the United Provinces looked abroad for support. In particular they looked for support from Elizabeth I of England who reluctantly sent money. Dutch independence would not be solidified until 1648 when it became entangled in another religious war.
Thirty Years' War
The Thirty Years' War was a destructive war which included most of Europe. Below is a timeline of when states got involved in the war:
|It was a very confusing war|
I could write an entire post on the Thirty Years' War so I'll only give an overview here. It was the most destructive war to hit Europe until the First World War costing 8 million lives through war, famine, disease, and persecution. As a matter of perspective around five and a half million people died during the First World War. There are four stages of the war and it is curious as the first two stages are religious in nature whereas the last two are political. These phases are the: Bohemian/German, the Danish, the Swedish, and the French.
Bohemian/German phase. The Peace of Augsburg had left Calvinism unrecognized and it was largely limited to German lands. This left out Bohemia - parts of modern Czechia. In 1609 the Letter of Majesty granted some religious freedom to Protestants in Bohemia. In 1618 Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Matthias was heirless so he had the fiercely Catholic Ferdinand of Styria elected to the thrones of Bohemia and Hungary. Ferdinand sent two councilors to Prague who were thrown out of a window on May 23 1618 in what has since been called 'the Second Defenestration of Prague.' They survived and Catholic propaganda portrayed them as being guided to safety by angels while Protestant propaganda had them land in manure. When Matthias died in 1619 Protestant rebels became emboldened and invited the Calvinist elector of the Palatinate, Frederick V, to be king. Ferdinand II asked the Spanish for assistance while Frederick called all the Protestant powers for assistance. However, none answered for several reasons - James VI and I of England and Scotland wanting to save money opted out of a costly war for example - but none wanted to act alone. By 1623 the Protestant armies had been defeated - until the Danish intervened.
Danish Phase. Denmark-Norway was a Lutheran state and king Christian IV was also the ruler of a duchy called Holstein in the Empire. Christian's involvement in the war was religiously and politically motivated. Catholic victory made him fearful that Catholics would threaten his Protestant state while the strengthening of the Empire under Ferdinand would threaten his new influence in northern Germany. In 1625 Christian sent his forces to aid the Lutheran state of Lower Saxony. This phase did garner some Protestant support internationally - Charles I was Christian's nephew - and even France. The Bourbon dynasty which took over France continued the old Valois hostility towards the Habsburgs - a powerful Protestant state was more favorable to the Catholic Habsburgs in Germany and Spain. However, despite English/Scottish aid and French money Christian's army was obliterated so he signed the Treaty of Lubcek in 1629. He could retain his lands in return for not intervening in the German states.
Swedish Phase. Here politics started to override religion. King Gustavus Aldolphus of Sweden intervened in 1630. Although a Lutheran power Gustavus wanted to secure economic dominance in the Baltics, as well as push back Catholic influence. The Swedish war effort was heavily subsidized by the French which Gustavus used to hire mercenaries and use artillery to reduce pressure on the Swedish military. Gustavus has been called 'the father of modern warfare' for him merging infantry with artillery. The Swedish repeatedly won battles until the Battle of Lutzen in 1632; although the Swedish won Gustavus was killed. In 1635 the Peace of Prague largely took Sweden out of the war with some of its aims - Lutheran states in northern Germany would be secured. Then the final phase was ultimately politics driven.
French Phase. France viewed the Habsburgs as being too powerful so physically entered the war themselves in 1635. Although Sweden continued fighting they largely took a backstage to the French. Sweden would fund France this time around. The Portuguese also rose up against Spanish rule in 1640 which France sent money to support. Throughout the entire conflict the Spanish war against the Dutch was continuing further draining the Spanish coffers - something made far worse by rising inflation caused by the influx of silver and gold from the Americas. Then in 1643 Denmark-Norway intervened again in the war, fighting the Swedish instead. In 1648 all sides were exhausted.
|A 17th C. depiction of the mass executions of religious opponents during the War|
Treaty of Westphalia. After thirty years of conflict the German lands were ravaged, up to 40% of the German population had been killed. A wave of witch-hunts of swept Europe again, diseases like typhus and cholera had ravaged the population, while raiding armies had destroyed crops leading to mass famines. In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia brought an end to both the Thirty Years' War but also the Dutch Revolt. Politically the Dutch and Swiss gained their independence, the borders between the combatants were formalized, and the member states of the Holy Roman Empire were granted increased autonomy. Meanwhile, in religious terms cuius regio, eius religio was applied across the Empire with recognition being expanded to Lutherans now. The Thirty Years' War can be seen as the last Medieval war and the first modern war. Civilians were affected like few other wars in Europe, religious toleration was partially implemented, and the idea of the sovereign state started to be implemented. Now we have one last conflict to discuss.
Wars of the Three Kingdoms
This refers to three conflicts: the Irish Rebellion, Scottish Bishops War, and English Civil War. Here religion, autonomy and sovereignty coalesced into a series of conflicts which ravaged the British Isles. For most of his reign Charles I had ignored parliament and ruled in his own right, but he had largely focused solely on England - despite becoming king in 1625 he waited until 1633 to be crowned in Scotland. The Three Kingdoms each also had their own religion - England was largely Anglican, Scotland was largely Calvinist, and Ireland was mostly Catholic (although some areas were largely Calvinist, like Ulster). After 1633 Charles had been implementing Anglican rites in Scotland angering many Scots which came to ahead in 1639. Many Scots resented English intrusion and there was friction as the stricter Presbyterian church saw the Anglican church as being too Catholic influenced. When the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was read out in St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh a riot broke out which escalated into a full conflict called the Bishops' War. Charles wanted to raise an army to fight the Scots so asked parliament who basically refused as they disliked the idea of the king using an army against his own subjects, especially as a third of parliament was similarly religiously inclined as the Presbyterian Scots. Parliament had resented Charles ruling with the Divine Right of Kings - that kings ruled with God's blessing - and the reforms of Archbishop Laud who seemed to Catholicize the Anglican church. Parliament gave Charles a series of grievances and declared that it will now forever be in session. Meanwhile, in Ireland Charles' Lord Deputy Thomas Wentworth promised Catholic Irish rights if they would form an army to help fight the Scots. This angered the ruling Protestant class and the British who feared a Catholic conspiracy. In 1641 Irish Catholics rose up and in 1642 a Civil War erupted in England.
|An anti-Irish engraving to demonize Catholics during the Irish Rebellion|
From 1639 to 1651 several wars between royalists, English parliamentarians, Scottish covenanters, Irish Protestants, and Irish confederates broke out. These include the two Scottish Bishops' Wars, the three English Civil Wars, the Irish Rebellion, and Oliver Cromwell's genocidal invasion of Ireland. In 1649 Charles I was executed and his sons were sent into exile forming the British republic. Religion was a deep issue in this. Irish Catholics were deeply dehumanized during since 1641, so much so that when Cromwell invaded Ireland a genocide took place. In England Cromwell offered religious tolerance to all non-Catholic Christians and let Jews back into England (after they had been expelled by Elizabeth I) in order to pave the way for the return of Jesus. Doing so would increase the power of parliament and ingrain the idea of parliament's sovereignty in Britain - Charles II when restored would remain fearful of parliament repeating what it did to his father, and his brother, James VII and II, was deposed at the behest of the English parliament by William of Orange (although the Scottish weren't consulted and William had plans to oust James anyway). Again religion was partially behind the 'Glorious Revolution' as James was Catholic - James had been exercising power over parliament to improve the rights of Catholics not long after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. Although religious tolerance for Catholics was not to be achieved until 1823 (for Jews and atheists it would take much longer) the British parliament would remain one of the most powerful in Europe until the nineteenth century. Marxist historian Christopher Hill and John Morrill, who was partially inspired by Hill's ideas, use the term the English Revolution to highlight the societal shifts behind the Civil War with Hill in particular describing it as a bourgeois revolt - or a revolt allowing a bourgeois revolt.
The Wars of Religion show the wide origins for wars. Wars never have just one singular origin and despite being called Wars of Religion economics, ethics, sovereignty and politics were deeply entrenched in the wars. Following the wars religion started to be less and less of a determining factor in the origins of European wars while economics and politics became more and more important. Meanwhile, the wars helped shape the countries that they ravaged. The destructive wars led to limited religious tolerance for the religions which fought, and the political landscape was drastically changed - Britain, for example, seeing the strengthening of parliament's power which would shape Britain's future. Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan was written in 1651 to oppose the new power of parliament in favor of the Divine Right of Kings. Despite the destruction the wars helped shape Europe.
The next World History post will focus on Russia during this time period and how it slowly became a complex, multi-ethnic empire. For other World History posts please see here. The sources that I have used for this post are as follows:
-Myron Gutmann, 'The Origins of the Thirty Years' War,' The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 1988, 18:4, 749-770
-Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, (Cambridge, 2006)
-Geoffrey Parker, The Thirty Years' War, (London, 1984)
-Geoffrey Parker, Europe in Crisis, 1598-1648, (London, 1990)
-Thomas Munck, Seventeenth Century Europe, 1598-1700, (Hampshire, 1990)
-Mark Kishlansky, Monarchy Transformed, Britain 1603-1714, (London, 1996)
-Philip Benedict, Early Modern Europe: From Crisis to Stability, (Newark, 2005)
-Christopher Hill, The English Revolution, 1640, (London, 1940)