Chapter 12 the age of religious wars

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CHAPTER SUMMARY: Religious wars in France, Spain’s attempt to win an empire.

  • Spanish relations with England, and the Thirty Years' War.

  • Non-Lutheran Protestants were not recognized by the Peace of Augsburg.

  • Calvinism and Catholicism were irreconcilable church systems;.

  • After painful experiences, some rulers known as politiques subordinated theological doctrine to political-unity.

I. Renewed Religious Struggle

With few interludes, the French monarchy remained a staunch Catholic foe of the French Protestants (called Huguenots) until 1589. Under the regency of Catherine de Médicis (for Francis II and Charles IX), three powerful families tried to control France: the Guises, the Bourbons, and the Montmorency-Chatillons. The Guises remained devotedly Catholic while the Bourbons and the Montmorency-Chatillons developed Huguenot sympathies. Catherine tried to play them off against one other. She wanted a Catholic France, but not under Guise domination.

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

Three religious wars were fought between 1562 and 1570 and the Protestants were granted religious freedoms within their territories, only to have the peace shattered by the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572, which was supported by Catherine. Over 20,000 Huguenots were massacred on that day and Protestant reformers, who had urged strict obedience to the established political authority, now began to realize that they had to fight for their rights. Further political fighting finally resulted in the succession of the Protestant Henry of Navarre to the throne as Henry IV. Philip II of Spain was alarmed at the prospect of a Protestant France, but Henry was a politique and wisely converted to Catholicism while granting minority religious rights in an officially Catholic country (Edict of Nantes, 1598).

III. Imperial Spain and Philip II (r. 1556–1598)

Philip II (1556–1598) inherited the western Hapsburg kingdom, where new American wealth had greatly increased Spanish power. During the first half of his reign, he focused attention on the Turkish threat, and in the Battle of Lepanto (1571), the Holy League decisively beat the Turks. In 1580, Spain annexed Portugal. But Spanish armies were not successful in the Netherlands, which were composed of Europe's wealthiest and most independent towns; many of these were also Calvinist strongholds. Initial resistance was brutally arrested by the Duke of Alba. But after 1573, William of Orange headed the independence movement. By 1577, a unified Netherlands forced the withdrawal of all Spanish troops. It was especially the resistance of the Netherlands that undid Spanish dreams of world empire. Although efforts to re-conquer the Netherlands continued into the 1580s, Spain soon became preoccupied with England and France.

IV. England and Spain (1553–1603)

Mary I (r. 1553–1558) Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603)

In England, Mary I (1553–1558) reverted to the strict Catholic practice of her father, Henry VIII. Her successor, Elizabeth I (1558–1603), was a politique who merged a centralized episcopal system with broadly defined Protestant doctrine and traditional Catholic ritual.

  • English relations with Spain soon deteriorated.

  • In 1570, Elizabeth was excommunicated for heresy and throughout the decade English seamen preyed on Spanish shipping in the Americas.

  • In 1585, Elizabeth committed English soldiers to fight against the Spanish in the Netherlands. Finally, she was compelled to execute her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1587.

  • Philip launched his Armada against England in 1588, but was soundly defeated; Spain never really recovered from this defeat.

In the second half of the 16th century, Germany (the Holy Roman Empire) was a land of about 300 autonomous political entities (secular and ecclesiastical principalities, free cities, and castle regions). Population was about equally divided between Catholics and Protestants.

  • In 1609, Maximilian of Bavaria organized a Catholic League to counter a Protestant alliance formed under the leadership of the Elector Palatine, Frederick IV.

  • The stage was set for the worst of the religious wars, the Thirty Years' War.

V. The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648)

About one-third of the German population died in the war. Conflict divided into four periods:

Bohemian (1618–1625); the Danish (1625–1629);

the Swedish (1630–1635); and the Swedish-French (1635–1648).

Ended by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, that asserted the cuius regio, eius religio principle of the Peace of Augsburg and gave legal recognition to the Calvinists. This treaty perpetuated German division and political weakness into the modern period.
I. Renewed Religious Struggle

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

  1. Appeal of Calvinism (War between Calvinists and Catholics in France)

-Calvinism committed to changing societies and favored political decentralization

- Catholicism favored absolute monarchy and “one king, one church, one law.”

B. Catherine de Médicis and the Guises

C. The Rise to Power of Henry of Navarre

D. The Edict of Nantes

III. Imperial Spain and Philip II (r. 1556–1598)

  1. Pillars of Spanish Power

  2. Spanish occupation of the Netherlands

c. The Revolt in the Netherlands

IV. England and Spain (1553–1603)

  1. Mary I (r. 1553–1558)

  2. Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603)

  1. Struggle for supremacy between England and Spain

V. The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648)

A. Preconditions for War

B. Four Periods of War (devastation of central Europe during the Thirty Years’ War)

C. The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and Peace of Augsburg

1. How did politics shape the religious positions of the French leaders? What led to the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and what did it achieve?
2. How did Spain gain a position of dominance in the sixteenth century? What were Philip II’s successes and failures?
3. Henry of Navarre (Henry IV of France), Elizabeth I, and William of Orange were all politiques. What does the term mean and why does it apply to these three rulers?
4. What led to the establishment of the Anglican Church in England? Why did Mary I fail? What was Elizabeth I’s settlement, and why was it difficult to impose on England? Who were her detractors and what were their criticisms?
5. Why was the Thirty Years’ War fought? Was politics or religion more important in the outcome of the war? What were the main terms of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648?
6. Why has the Thirty Years’ War been called the outstanding example in European history of meaningless conflict? Was it really such? Were the results worth the cost of the war?


1. Extension of the Political Conflict of the Reformation: In the 2nd half of 16th century, the political conflict, which had previously been confined to central Europe and a struggle for Lutheran rights and freedoms, was extended to France, the Netherlands, England and Scotland—and became a struggle for Calvinist recognition.

    • German Lutherans and Catholics agreed to in the Peace of Augsburg (1555) with the credo that whomever controls the land may determine its religion.

    • Calvinists were excluded from the treaty. Not until 1648, after the Thirty Years’ War and the Treaty of Westphalia, they received legal recognition.

2. The Spanish Armada: As a response to growing English power and disruption of Spanish shipping and land interests, Philip II of Spain launched the Armada of 130 ships against England. The swifter English vessels together with inclement weather inflicted defeat on Spain and the loss of over one-third of its vessels. The news of the Armada's defeat gave heart to Protestant resistance. Although Spain continued to win impressive victories in the 1590s, it never fully recovered from the defeat.

3. The Anglican Church: One of the most skillful religious compromises attained during this period of religious war was the establishment of the Anglican Church. Elizabeth brought forth a compromise between Catholics and Protestants that resulted in a church that was officially Protestant in doctrine and Catholic in ritual. Extremists on either side opposed the arrangement and there were conspiracies against Elizabeth. But the compromise proved lasting (with incidental changes) to the modern day. Elizabeth was a classic politique and it was due to her efforts that England did not succumb to the bloody warfare on the Continent.


The Spanish Armada. McGraw-Hill. 31 min.

Age of Elizabeth. Encyclopedia Britannica. 30 min.

The massacre of worshipping Protestants at Vassy, France (March 1, 1562), which began the French wars of religion. An engraving by an unidentified seventeenth-century artist. The Granger Collection
Baroque and Plain Church: Architectural Reflections of Belief Contrast between an eighteenth-century Catholic baroque church in Ottobeuren, Bavaria and a seventeenth-century Calvinist plain church in the Palatinate. The Catholic church pops with sculptures, paintings, and ornamentation, while the Calvinist church has been stripped of every possible decoration.
Catherine de Médicis (1519–1589) exercised power in France during the reigns of her three sons Francis II (r. 1559–1560), Charles IX (r. 1560–1574), and Henry III (r. 1574–1589).

Henry IV of France (r. 1589–1610) on horseback, painted in 1594. Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY
The Milch Cow, a sixteenth-century satirical painting depicting the Netherlands as a cow in whom all the great powers of Europe have an interest. Elizabeth of England is feeding her (England had long-standing commercial ties with Flanders); Philip II of Spain is attempting to ride her (Spain was trying to reassert its control over the entire area); William of Orange is trying to milk her (he was the leader of the anti-Spanish rebellion); and the king of France holds her tail (France hoped to profit from the rebellion at Spain’s expense). The "Milch Cow." Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Portrait of Mary I (r. 1553–1558), Queen of England. Queen Mary I, 1554 (oil on panel) by Sir Anthonis Mor (Antonio Moro) (1517/20 - 76/7).
A seventeenth-century sketch of the Swan Theatre, which stood near Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames.
An idealized likeness of Elizabeth Tudor when she was a princess, attributed to Flemish court painter L. B. Teerling, ca. 1551. The painting shows her blazing red hair and alludes to her learning by the addition of books.

Bohemian protesters throw three of Emperor Ferdinand II’s agents out of windows at Hradschin Castle in Prague to protest his revocation of Protestant freedoms.
Map 12–1 THE NETHERLANDS DURING THE REFORMATION The northern and southern provinces of the Netherlands. The former, the United Provinces, were mostly Protestant in the second half of the sixteenth century; the southern Spanish Netherlands made peace with Spain and remained largely Catholic.
Map 12–2 GERMANY IN 1547 Mid-sixteenth-century Germany was an almost ungovernable land of about 360 autonomous political entities. Originally “Map of Germany Showing Its Great Division/Fragmentation in the 16th Century” from Hajo Holborn, A History of Germany: The Reformation, Copyright © 1982 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.
Map 12–4 THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE ABOUT 1618 On the eve of the Thirty Years’ War, the Holy Roman Empire was politically and religiously fragmented, as revealed by this somewhat simplified map. Lutherans dominated the north and Catholics the south; Calvinists controlled the United Provinces and the Palatinate and were important in Switzerland and Brandenburg.

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