An Age of Religious War I. Introduction



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HIST 126: The Age of Reformations
An Age of Religious War



I. Introduction


  • Between 1560 and 1715, Europe witnessed ONLY thirty years of international peace.

  • Why? Because both Protestantism and activist Catholicism (i.e. the Counter-Reformation Church) are trying to impose “true Christianity” ALL OVER EUROPE

    • Both sides believe that religious truth is paramount concern.

    • In their minds, therefore, action is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. This INCLUDES USING FORCE in order to create truth,

    • This translates into approximately one hundred years (1560s-1650s) during which Western Europe is ravaged by religious wars.

  • The age of religious wars is characterized by three major engagements: the French Civil Wars (1562-1598), the Dutch Civil War (1567-1648), and the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).


II. The French Wars of Religion (1562-1598)


  • We saw how this conflict began between activist Calvinists and Catholics with a weak monarchy caught in the middle.

  • Remember, although the Huguenots were a very small minority, approximately 50% of the nobility converted to Calvinism

  • The Problem: the Huguenots were too small to actually take over, but have enough converts among the most important political group that they become an issue

  • During Wars of Religion, religious identity mixed with the dynastic politics of France’s leading noble families. That is, religion becomes a political ideology

  • major dates to remember:

  1. 1572: St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre


    • prompted by the marriage of a royal (Catholic) princess to leader of the Huguenot party—Henri of Navarre. The wedding was intended by Catherine de Medici to cement a truce between the parties, thus overcoming religious violence

    • Aug 22, attempted assassination of a Prot royal minister

    • Royal council decides to preempt Huguenot retaliation by killing several Huguenot leaders. However, as we know, things get out of control—Catholicss around France go on a rampage, the result of which is that over 10,000 Huguenots killed in 24 hours

  2. 1584: The Catholic heir to the throne (that is, Henri III’s brother) DIES. Henri of Navarre becomes next in line, which was seen by Catholics as a true CRISIS. Thus, radical Catholics plot against the King himself in order to try to ensure Catholic succession.

  3. 1589: King of France (Henri III) assassinated by radical Catholics. It thus happens that Henri of Navarre becomes Henri IV of France. Catholics across France rebel against him, rejecting Royal Authority on the basis of following the“True Religion”

  4. 1593: Henry converts to Catholicism, stabilizing France and finally being recognized as King

  5. 1598: Edict of Nantes

  • provides the framework for religious coexistence in France

  • Catholicism is ratified as the official state religion, but the Huguenots are given freedom of worship and control of about 200 towns in southern France

  • Henri IV’s successors in the 17th century consistently weakened the Edict until the revocation of the Edict was made official by Louis XIV on October 22, 1685.

  • BIG POINTS about the Edict of Nantes:

  1. Nantes established the 1st widespread religious toleration in Europe (remember that the Peace of Augsburg had been limited)

  2. It marks a rejection of the idea that imposing one universal form of Christianity is absolutely necessary to maintain political and social order

  3. Thus, the French Wars of Religion mark a victory of political concerns over religious ones. By 1600, most French people value political stability and social order over religious “truth”

    • this attitude is known as the politiques, of which Henri IV is an exemplar

    • For most, a strong monarchy seems the ONLY way to keep order and avoid anarchy. This will come into play later in French history, when absolutism (absolute power of kings) comes to characterize the French state.


III. The Dutch Revolt (or Eighty Years War 1568-1648)


      • The Eighty Years' War, or Dutch Revolt, was the war of secession between the Netherlands and the Spanish king. It lasted from 1568 to 1648. The war resulted in the Seven United Provinces being recognized as an independent state. The region now known as Belgium and Luxembourg became the Southern Netherlands, part of the Seventeen Provinces that remained under royal Habsburg rule.

      • The Dutch Revolt can be understood as another civil war arising out of the intensified religious conflict which resulted from the rapid expansion of militant Calvinism into the Netherlands, particularly Holland.

      • You must remember several things for this revolt to make sense:

        1. The Netherlands were part of the hereditary lands of the Habsburgs, which also included Spain, Bohemia, the HRImperial seat, the newly discovered Americas, etc.

        2. Therefore, they were supposed to be as deeply Catholic as the Habsburgs were. Think particularly of Charles V and his son, who becomes Phillip II. However, the Netherlands were geographically closer to Geneva, the seat of Calvinism, than they were to their masters’ lands. Protestant influence was arguably more direct. Also, remember that this land, particularly Holland, had already dabbled with Protestantism, in the form of the Anabaptists.

        3. Although Charles V resisted the Reformation, he ruled the Dutch territories wisely with moderation and regard for local customs, and he did not persecute his Protestant subjects on a large scale.

        4. Unfortunately, his son Philip II inherited his antipathy for the Protestants but not his moderation. Under the reign of Philip, a true persecution of Protestants was initiated and taxes were raised to an outrageous level.

      • Discontent arose all around. In August 1565, the Protestant faction petition for a relaxation of religious persecution. The king refuses, which leads many of the most important nobles to resing their positions in the Council of State.

      • The immediate cause of the rebellion was the king’s reaction to the ICONOCLASTIC FURY, the Protestant frenzy (Summer of 1566) during which Protestants violently destroyed churches and all religious art in their path. The Fury convinced the “powers that be” that Protestantism was nothing but a force of disorder and anarchy. Phillip II sees the Fury as a challenge both to God and to himself, as God-chosen king (i.e. an attack on both human and divine order).

      • This led to an official change in policy, from a tenuous toleration, to a militant attack against Protestantism within the Spanish Netherlands. To do this, Phillip II takes it upon himself to strengthen both his own position and that of the Church by implementing Tridentine reforms in the Netherlands. For example, he actively started the persecution of heretics and created 15 new bishoprics, all under the control of Spanish appointed archbishops.

      • The Protestant factions joined under William of Orange (with his vague Lutheran childhood), who openly stood up for the Protestant (mainly Calvinist) inhabitants of the Netherlands. In reaction to what had now become organized resistance to his rule, Phillip II sent his most able military commander, the Duke of Alba, to neutralize the threat. Instead, Alba’s further tightening of political and religious intolerance led the commoners to join forces with the Protestant noble

      • Things went badly after the Eighty Years' War started in 1568, but luck turned in his advantage when Protestant rebels attacking from the North Sea captured Brielle, a coastal town in present-day South Holland in 1572. Many cities in Holland began to support William. William of Orange was considered a threat to Spanish rule in the area and was assassinated in 1584 by a hired killer sent by Philip.

      • The Dutch were aided openly by the English and the French, both of which were worried over the power and extent of Habsburg domination. For the English it was still a confessional decision; for the French it seemed solely a matter of political expediency. Both kings were offered the monarchy of the United Provinces, but neither accepted.

      • England had been unofficially supporting the Dutch for years, and now decided to intervene directly. In 1585, Elizabeth I sent the Earl of Leicester to assist, with 5,000 to 6,000 troops and 1,000 horses. William of Orange's son, Maurice of Nassau, soon bypassed the Earl and took charge of the armies. The presence of the English, who were to stay until 1604, was a major reason for sending the Spanish Armada against England in 1588.

      • Under Maurice's leadership, the whole north-eastern part of the present day Netherlands was captured by the United Provinces. Spain was hampered by the financial cost resulting from the loss of the Armada and the need to refit its navy so as to recover control of the sea after defeating an English counter armada.

      • In 1595, with the declaration of war against Spain by Henri IV of France, Spain became financially bankrupt the following year, not for the first time. However, by regaining control of the sea, Spain was able to greatly increase the supply of gold and silver from America, which allowed it to increase military pressure on England and France.

      • After many years of battle, both sides realized the same two things:

        1. that a new generation had grown up in Flanders and Brabant, that had been thoroughly reconverted to Roman Catholicism and now distrusted the Calvinist Dutch even more than they loathed the Spanish occupants;

        2. and that while the Spanish would never succeed in restoring their rule to the territories north of the Meuse-Rhine delta, Dutch Republic did not have the strength to reconquer the South. Thus the revolt ended in the division of the Netherlands into two separate states: the Dutch Republic (a Protestant independent state) and the Southern Netherlands (or Flanders, which remained Catholic and under Spanish control).




      • Consequences of the Dutch Revolt:

        1. The United Provinces of the Netherlands, or the Dutch Republic, became a world power for a time through its merchant shipping and experienced a period of economic, scientific and cultural growth.

        2. The end of Spain as the dominant sea power (although Dutch attacks on Spain's vital shipping had already been undermining that position).


IV. The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648



  • The greatest "international" conflict of the period was the Thirty Years' War, which had its origins in the complicated religious and political environment of the period.

  • In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg brought an end to religious wars in Central Europe by dividing the numerous German states between Catholic and Lutheran authority. This idea is encapsulated in the phrase “cuis regio, eius religio” which means “as the ruler, so the religion.” Although each prince had the right to determine the religion of his subjects, Lutheranism continued to spread into Catholic-held lands. The spread of Calvinism, not recognized at Augsburg, also increased tensions, and things start to BOIL over.

  • During the 1st decade of the 17th century, 2 opposed religio-political alliance systems were created:

    • In 1608, the Protestant Union is created to act against Counter Reformation efforts within the empire

    • In 1609, the Catholic League is created for the exact opposite goal

  • The Thirty Years War has 4 major phases:



      1. Phase 1 (1618-1625)

        • In 1617- Ferdinand, heir to the Imperial throne, is elected King of Bohemia, one of the 7 electors (this was customary—also, remember that by 1617 there is a delicate religious balance among the electors: 3 Protestants, 3 Catholics, plus Bohemia)

          1. Problem #1: Ferdinand is a rabid counter reform Catholic, but his new kingdom is Calvinist!

          2. Problem #2: Before 1617, Bohemia had enjoyed religious toleration. However, Ferdinand gets rid of this, which leads to a revolt by the Bohemian Calvinist nobility. The revolt was started by the famous 1618 Defenestration of Prague, during which the king’s Catholic representatives were thrown out a window and landed on top of a dung cart. This was seen by Catholics as divine intervention, and proof that they were in the right; Protestants viewed it as a sign of the “dirt” a Catholic king would bring to Bohemia. (Go figure!)



        • In 1619, Ferdinand becomes Emperor Ferdinand II, which means greater influence not just in Bohemia, but around the empire as a whole. The nobles in Bohemia DEPOSE him as king and offer the crown to the Elector Palatine, who was the head of the Protestant Union. He accepts, which led to open civil war.




        • In 1620, Ferdinand defeats the Bohemians. However, the war continues, and bands of unattached soldiers begin to ravage countryside.




      1. Phase 2 (1625-1629)

        • In 1625, the Lutheran King of Denmark invades the HRE to protect “true” Christianity. He loses BIG TIME. What is significant, nevertheless, is the fact that outside parties are now taking it upon themselves to meddle in imperial affairs. Of course, this makes sense, because of the belief that any state that falls to the “wrong” religion cannot but ruin the rest of Europe…




        • In 1629, Ferdinand imposes the Edict of Restitution, which:




          1. Outlaws Calvinism

          2. Forces Lutherans to return all Church property confiscated since 1552 (before Augsburg)

          3. Shows the Emperor ACTING UNILATERALLY. This stirs fears within and without HRE of a centralized CATHOLIC monarchy. This leads to…




      1. Phase 3 (1630-1635)

        • In 1630, the Lutheran King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, invades the HRE

        • His forces were financed by Calvinist Holland AND CATHOLIC FRANCE (for strategic reasons)

        • Initially, Gustavus Adolphus does very well, but in 1632 he is KILLED IN BATTLE

        • Thus, in 1635, the Swedes leave

        • Again, what is important to remember about this phase is that internal religio-political issues have become international. It is not enough to bring “true” religion to your own lands; you must ensure uniformity throughout Europe.



      1. Phase 4 (1635-1648)

        • French forces invade, again for strategic, NOT religious, reasons.

        • The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia officially ended the war. The most important decisions were:

          1. The Holy Roman Empire was fragmented into more than three hundred sovereign states;

          2. Switzerland and the Dutch Netherlands became independent states;

          3. France acquired the rights to Alsace;

          4. In terms of religion, the Treaty confirmed the Peace of Augsburg and added Calvinism to Lutheranism and Catholicism as a recognized faith.




        • Results of the Thirty Years War:




          1. Massive destruction in central Europe (of a scale not seen again until WWII)

  • The Holy Roman Empire lost one quarter of its inhabitants, and

  • its fragmentation into hundreds of small states delayed economic recovery as well as any hope for a unified Germany.



          1. The Edict of Restitution is CANCELLED. In fact, the main terms of the 1555 Peace of Augsburg are reaffirmed and Calvinism legalized

            • Pope denounces this BUT IS IGNORED by BOTH Protestants AND Catholics. It is thus that 1648 marks the end of the Papacy as a major voice in European politics.

          2. As seen by the last phase of the war, religious motivations were ultimately eclipsed by secular political interests. The Thirty Years War is the LAST religious war

            • The horrors, the length, and the fury of the war leads to a question about the importance of religious concerns. Social and political order come to be seen as more important that the imposition of religious “truth”—THIS MARKS THE END OF THE REFORMATION.


V. Overall Consequences of the Age of Religious Wars


  • In religious terms there are two major consequences:

          1. For the first time since Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, religious toleration existed in Europe.

          2. The rise of “reason of state” over confessional politics (that is, the political philosophy which proposes that the survival of the state – and its role as keeper of order – superseded religious confession). Keeping social and political order after such great chaos becomes more important than religious uniformity.

          3. The Papacy loses supremacy in secular affairs (recall both Catholics and Protestants ignoring the Pope’s objections to the Peace of Westphalia).

  • In political terms, the most important thing to remember is that the geo-political map of Europe was significantly re-configured. New nations such as the Dutch Republic and the Southern Netherlands were created, while major powerhouses, particularly Spain, lose their supremacy.

  • In intellectual terms, the age of religious wars gave rise to Skepticism, the philosophy which had as its core doubt. Yes, basically, in the wake of the challenges to religious doctrine, political institutions, and social traditions, people came to question almost everything around them, leading in some ways to a crisis in ideology. The luminary of early modern skepticism was Montaigne, who famously asked in his Essais, “What do I know?” It’s important to stress that the challenge to tradition arguably led to the asking of new questions and the discovery of new answers without which, again arguably, modernity would not have developed in the way it did.


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