Germany’s Protestant Union and the Start of the Thirty Years’ War
There are some wars we will never forget, yet there are some that receive very little attention. One of these was the Thirty Years’ War that ravaged parts of Europe to such a degree that the inhabitants likely thought the world was ending. What exactly started the Thirty Years’ War and what were they fighting for? As could be expected in the 17th century, a time of great religious unrest, the war largely concerned the clash between Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists. As always, however, land grabs were also involved.
For the most part, German Lutherans had been lucky. They were allowed to hold their land of choice. Catholics claimed those same rights to their own territory. Yet the Calvinists, rapidly growing in number, were unsatisfied with their own representation. As was often the case in those times, religious squabbles soon escalated into a full-blown war. It was the consensus that at this time in history the Protestant cause, still only a century old, was rather vulnerable. Then came the Protestant Union.
This union, formed by the princes of Wurttemberg, Palatinate, Brandenburg, and other German states, was created so ‘ordinary’ Protestants might have protection for their land and their families. The Protestant Union was seen as necessary after the year 1607, when the Roman Catholic faith was favored in certain territories. Maximilian I, Duke of Bavaria, decreed during the next year that the Peace of Augsburg could not be rehabilitated unless Lutherans gave back whatever land they had taken from the Catholics. Obviously there would be little agreement on either side. Adding the Calvinists and their own needs to the mix made for an explosive situation.
The Protestant Union may have put many of its members at ease, but it also meant the subsequent formation of the Catholic League, pitting Germans against their brothers and neighbors in an even more striking way. It seemed as though Germany was on the verge of a series of ‘Wars of Religion,’ the likes of which France has already seen and from which she would never recover. The Protestant Union was further destabilized by conflict between Calvinists and Lutherans and by the absence of key princes such as the Elector of Saxony.
The year was now 1619. Enter Frederick V of the Palatinate . . . the Protestant Union looked upon him with a wary eye. When Ferdinand II (the Holy Roman Emperor, whose rights trumped that of territorial princes) decided to hand over Frederick’s land and part of the Palatinate to the Catholic Maximilian, the Protestant Union took a rather unexpected action. They agreed to the terms of the Treaty of Ulm in July of 1620, which brought temporary peace between the Protestant Union and the Catholic League.
Does that sound like the end of the story? The Protestant Union had one more year. It was disbanded during 1621 and soon became a sad memory. However, many historical events --- the Thirty Years’ War were still going strong. It was fought in phases described below.
---The Bohemian Phase, which began in 1618 and ended in 1621, pitting the Bohemians against the Catholic Habsburgs
---The Palatinate Phase, which ended in 1624 and involved Frederick V and his followers struggling to take back the Palatinate from the Catholic League
---The Danish Phase, which ended in 1630 and saw opposition between Habsburg and a new coalition of France, the Netherlands, and England
---The Swedish Phase, lasting until 1634 and encompassing the Lutheran Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden’s grab for territory, which was ill-contested even by members of his own faith, as he relied heavily on French support
---The French Phase, lasting until 1648, during which time Germany’s Protestant rulers laid down their arms and --- perhaps somewhat reluctantly --- promised the Holy Roman Emperor an end to war
---The Peace of Westphalia, signed in October 1648, when the armies were set at rest.
None of this served to bring true peace, however. The seventeenth century was a time of uncertainty and dread. Without the Protestant Union, no matter how brief it existed, Germany’s Lutherans and Calvinists must have felt a sense of wariness. After all, they had reason to be afraid . . . the French Wars of Religion had ended only decades before, and tales of the bloody St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre were still on Protestant minds. Germany suffered heavily during the Thirty Years’ War. Everything lay barren. Homes, crops, entire regions were destroyed beyond comprehension.
It was a very good lesson in the virtues of religious tolerance.
(c) 2012 Joyously Saved