The Peace of Augsburg

The title of this post implies it’s about peace, but never fear- it will end with war! (but just a short one) The post itself will also be mercifully short.

After the considerable upheaval of the Protestant Reformation, many rulers in the affected areas were anxious to reach an agreement that would prevent further bloodshed. In 1555, the Habsburg Emperor Charles V met in Augsburg, Bavaria with members of the Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of German Lutheran princes. The plan was to create a new religious order in the lands of the Holy Roman Empire. Charles V had hoped that Catholicism would eventually be permanently reestablished everywhere, but as this looked increasingly unlikely, he decided to negotiate instead.peace of augsburgWhat was decided upon was surprisingly effective for a good many years- it was 63 years before the 30 Years War began. Peter Wilson notes that it wasn’t until 2008 that Germany again enjoyed that long a period of peace. Unfortunately, the seeds for the later conflict were planted within the decisions made at Augsburg.

There were three main components of the final agreement.

First was cuius regio, eius religio, Latin for “whose realm, his religion.” This meant that the people needed to adhere to the same religion as their ruler. So, if a prince was Lutheran, his subjects also became Lutheran. Anyone who objected received a grace period in which they could emigrate to the lands of a prince they agreed with. Since Germany was dotted with tiny kingdoms, sometimes this just meant moving to the next village, but it was still a serious dislocation for people who often never traveled more than 10 miles in their lifetimes.

We’re so accustomed to religious freedom that this seems pretty onerous and repressive, but at the time, it was a radical policy, and no doubt seemed crazy liberal to many.

The second component was called ecclesiastical reservation. If the ruler of an ecclesiastical state- usually a bishop or archbishop- changed his religion, those he ruled were not required to do the same. It was implied, but not spelled out that the official would resign from his post if he changed religion, and this didn’t always happen.

The third part was called Ferdinand’s (the future Emperor Ferdinand I) Declaration, and exempted knights and some cities from the requirement of religious uniformity. This only applied to places where both religions had been practiced for thirty years or so. Apparently there was no desire to disrupt areas where things were already going well. Interestingly, this part was kept secret for 20 years after the treaty was ratified. No doubt plenty of people would have been unhappy with exceptions being made for some, but not for others.

While the Peace of Augsburg did reduce religious tension and increase tolerance overall, it had a critical flaw. This was the fact that it refused to recognize other forms of Protestantism like Anabaptism, and more crucially, Calvinism. Calvinism achieved considerable popularity among the ruling classes, so being shut of an otherwise reasonable agreement didn’t go over well. In fact, some scholars argue that it was Calvinism’s marginalized state that contributed to the tensions that ultimately led to the 30 Years War. You guessed it-, more on that in another post.

Varying interpretations of the second rule led to increasing Protestant control of ecclesiastical properties. This gradually upset the balance of  power within Imperial institutions and cooperation became more difficult. The nightmare scenario for the Catholics took place about 30 years later when the Prince-Bishop of Cologne converted to Calvinism and gave it equal status to Catholicism. This was technically illegal, since Calvinism was still considered heresy, The Elector further broke the rules by refusing to resign post-conversion, which meant that yet another Protestant (and an illegal one, at that!) could potentially cast a ballot for a new emperor. As if he hadn’t cheesed off everyone enough, he also got married, which meant that his position became hereditary, putting the ecclesiastical electors into an even smaller minority.

This was unacceptable to the Empire, and a competing Catholic bishop was duly appointed. This quickly led to open conflict, with the Pope ponying up for Italian and Spanish mercenaries to supplement the Bavarian troops brought in by the competing Catholic bishop, and the Protestant Dutch backing the original bishop. The whole area was devastated until the Calvinist prince-elector gave up and fled to Strasbourg. From then on, Cologne remained firmly in the Catholic camp, but what happened there was just a sample of the possibilities for the future. Unfortunately, it was a pretty accurate harbinger.



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