| Chapter 14: Reformations and Religious Wars, 1500-1600
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> Chapter 14
Chapter 14: Reformations and Religious Wars, 1500-1600

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Chapter Outline

  • The Early Reformation
  • The Christian Church in the Early Sixteenth Century
  • External signs suggested that Europeans in the early sixteenth century remained pious and loyal to the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Many people were, however, highly critical of the church and its clergy.
  • Critics of the church concentrated on clerical immorality, clerical ignorance, and clerical pluralism.
  • There was also local resentment of clerical privileges and immunities.
  • Martin Luther
  • Martin Luther (1483–1546) was a conscientious friar, but observance of the religious routine did not bring him a sense of security in salvation.
  • Eventually he concluded that only simple faith in Christ led to salvation.
  • Luther was spurred to public action by his objection to the sale of indulgences.
  • His “Ninety-five Theses” argued that indulgences undermined true Christianity.
  • Luther’s positions brought him into conflict with the church and he was eventually excommunicated.
  • Luther’s ideas spread rapidly in the politically charged atmosphere of early sixteenth-century Germany.
  • Protestant Thought
  • Luther’s followers came to be called Protestants.
  • The most important early reformer other than Luther was Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531).
  • Protestants held that salvation comes by faith alone.
  • Protestants held that religious authority resided in Scripture alone, not Scripture in combination with traditional Church teachings.
  • Protestants asserted that the Church consisted of the whole community of believers, not just the clergy.
  • The Catholic Church claimed transubstantiation¾that is, that the bread and wine of the Eucharist literally became Christ’s body and blood—but Luther disagreed.
  • Luther argued for consubstantiation¾that Christ was really present in the host in spirit, but that the bread and wine were not transformed.
  • Zwingli argued that the Eucharist was a memorial of the Last Supper and nothing more.
  • John Calvin agreed with Luther on consubstantiation.
  • The Appeal of Protestant Ideas
  • Educated people and humanists were attracted to Luther’s simpler, personal vision of Christianity.
  • Many urban Europeans were attracted to Luther’s call for an end to clerical privilege.
  • The printing press played a key role in the rapid spread of the Protestant message.
  • Luther and Zwingli worked closely with political authorities to gain support for Protestantism.
  • The Radical Reformation
  • Some individuals and groups rejected the idea that the church and state needed to be united and, instead, sought to create voluntary communities of believers.
  • Such groups arrived at their own interpretations of Christianity, interpretations that often set them at odds with the authorities and many of their fellow citizens.
  • Secular and religious leaders responded with harsh punitive measures.
  • The German Peasants’ War
  • Following crop failures in 1523 and 1524, Swabian peasants demanded an end to death taxes, new rents, and noble seizure of village common lands in 1525.
  • Luther initially backed the peasants.
  • When the peasants turned to violence, however, Luther egged the lords on as they crushed the rebellions.
  • Lutheranism came to exalt the state and subordinate church to the secular rulers.
  • The Reformation and Marriage
  • Many Protestant reformers, including Luther and Zwingli, married.
  • Many Protestant reformers praised marriage. In their view, a good marriage demonstrated the spiritual equality of men and women and the proper social hierarchy of a husband’s authority and his wife’s obedience.
  • While Catholics viewed marriage as a sacrament, Protestants saw it as a contract.
  • Most Protestants came to allow divorce.
  • Protestants uniformly condemned prostitution.
  • The impact of the Protestant Reformation on the lives of women was mixed.
  • The Reformation and German Politics
  • The Rise of the Habsburg Dynasty
  • In 1477, the marriage of Maximilian I of the House of Habsburg and Mary of Burgundy united the Austrian Empire with Burgundy and the Netherlands, making the Habsburgs the strongest ruling family in the Holy Roman (German) Empire.
  • The Habsburg Charles V (1500–1558) inherited Spain, and Spanish possessions in Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia, in addition to the lands mentioned above.
  • In 1519, Charles was elected Holy Roman Emperor. He believed that it was his duty to maintain the unity of Christendom.
  • The Political Impact of the Protestant Reformation
  • Spiritual and material concerns swayed many German princes to convert to Protestantism.
  • The Reformation led to religious wars, first in Switzerland and then elsewhere.
  • In 1530, Charles V called an Imperial Diet at Augsburg to try to halt the spread of religious division.
  • When Charles rejected Protestant demands, Protestant princes formed a military alliance.
  • Numerous outside powers became involved in Germany’s political and religious upheaval.
  • In the Peace of Augsburg (1555) Charles accepted the religious status quo in Germany.
  • The Spread of the Protestant Reformation
  • The Reformation in England and Ireland
  • In 1534, in order to legitimize his divorce and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn, English King Henry VIII convinced Parliament to approve the Act of Supremacy, making him head of the English Church.
  • Later, Henry seized monasteries and distributed their lands to the upper classes.
  • Henry’s policies provoked some popular opposition, including the rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536.
  • Loyalty to the Catholic Church was particularly strong in Ireland.
  • On orders from London, the Church of Ireland was established in 1536.
  • Armed Irish opposition to the Reformation led to harsh repression by the English.
  • The nationalization of the church and the dissolution of the monasteries led to important changes in government administration in both England and Ireland.
  • Henry’s son Edward VI (r. 1547–1553) steered England in a strongly Protestant direction.
  • Mary Tudor (r. 1553–1558) swung the country back toward Catholicism.
  • Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603), daughter of Henry VIII, steered a middle course between Catholicism and the “Puritans” who wanted a “pure” church free of Catholic influences.
  • The Elizabethan Settlement embodied Elizabeth’s religious policies.
  • Calvinism
  • Calvinism was the most important new form of Protestantism.
  • Proceeding from the idea of God’s absolute sovereignty and his omnipotence, the founder of Calvinism, John Calvin, concluded that human beings could do nothing to save themselves. God decided at the beginning of time who would be saved and who would not (predestination).
  • Predestination did not lead to fatalism. Rather, Calvinists, convinced they were saved, were ready to endure great hardship in the struggle against evil.
  • Calvin and the city government of Geneva attempted to regulate people’s conduct in order to create a godly city on earth. Card playing, dancing, and so on were banned.
  • The Genevan government prosecuted heretics, burning fifty-eight at the stake between 1542 and 1546, including the Spanish heretic Servetus.
  • The Calvinist ethic of “the calling” glorified all vocations as pleasing to God. This doctrine encouraged hard work and vigorous activism.
  • The Establishment of the Church of Scotland
  • Scottish nobles tended to support the Reformation, while the monarchs, King James V and his daughter Mary (r. 1560–1567), opposed it.
  • John Knox, a minister who studied in Geneva with Calvin, was instrumental in getting the Scottish Parliament to set up a Calvinist church as the official state church of Scotland (Presbyterianism).
  • The Reformation in Eastern Europe
  • Ethnic factors shaped the Reformation in Eastern Europe.
  • In Bohemia, ethnic grievances of the Czech majority fused with resentment of the Roman church.
  • By 1500, most Czechs had adopted the utraqism position.
  • During the Counter-Reformation, a Catholic revival was promoted in Bohemia.
  • By 1500, Poland and Lithuania were joined in a dynastic union.
  • Luther’s ideas spread to the Baltic towns and then to the University of Cracow.
  • King Sigismund I of Poland banned Luther’s teachings, limiting its success there.
  • The Polish szlachta found Calvinism appealing.
  • The Counter-Reformation cemented the identification of Poland with Catholicism.
  • Lutheranism reached Hungary via Polish merchants.
  • Military defeat by the Ottomans left Hungary divided into three parts.
  • Many Magyar magnates accepted Lutheranism.
  • Recognition of Habsburg rule led to a Catholic restoration in 1699.
  • The Catholic Reformation
  • The Reformed Papacy
  • Despite their desire for reform, early sixteenth-century popes resisted calls for a general council to discuss the church’s problems and challenges.
  • This changed with Pope Paul III (r. 1534–1549) who became the center of a reform movement.
  • In 1542, Pope Paul III established the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office with jurisdiction over the Roman Inquisition.
  • The influence of the Inquisition outside of the papal territories was slight.
  • The Council of Trent
  • The Council of Trent (1545–1563) reaffirmed the equal authority of Scripture and of Church tradition. It reaffirmed also the seven sacraments and transubstantiation.
  • The Council required bishops to reside in their own dioceses, ended pluralism and simony, and forbade the sale of indulgences.
  • The Council ordered that for a marriage to be valid the vows had to be exchanged publicly.
  • New Religious Orders
  • The new order of Ursuline nuns fought heresy with religious education for girls.
  • Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit order to fight the Reformation, again largely through education.
  • Religious Violence
  • French Religious Wars
  • In an effort to raise revenue to pay for the Habsburg-Valois Wars, Francis I sold public offices and concluded the Concordat of Bologna with the papacy.
  • Luther’s tracts first appeared in France in 1518. Calvin’s Institutes was published in 1536.
  • French Calvinists were called Huguenots.
  • Monarchial weakness combined with religious division to create civil war.
  • Popular Calvinism was manifested in iconoclasm.
  • Thousands of Protestants were killed in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre (August 24, 1572), an event that sparked a fifteen year civil war.
  • The politiques believed that only the restoration of a strong monarchy could save France from collapse.
  • The accession of Henry IV (r. 1589 – 1610), himself a politique, brought new stability to France.
  • For the sake of peace, Henry converted to Catholicism and issued the Edict of Nantes.
  • The Netherlands Under Charles V
  • Under Charles V (r. 1519–1556), the Netherlands remained relatively calm.
  • In the 1560s, the policies of Philip II of Spain led to rebellion in the Netherlands.
  • Philip tried to quell the violence by sending twenty thousand troops to the Netherlands under the command of the duke of Alva. Alva’s harsh policies only intensified the conflict.
  • Eventually, the ten southern Catholic provinces came under the control of the Spanish Habsburgs, while the seven northern Protestant provinces formed the Union of Utrecht in 1581 and declared their independence from Spain.
  • Spanish efforts to retake control of the North led the leaders of the United Provinces to look for help from outside powers, particularly Protestant England.
  • The Great European Witch-Hunt
  • The relationship between the Reformation and the upsurge of witchcraft trials in the mid-sixteenth century is complex.
  • In the Middle Ages, a demonological element was added to the European understanding of witchcraft. The essence of witchcraft became a pact with the devil.
  • During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, between 40,000 and 60,000 people were executed for witchcraft.
  • Between 75 and 85 percent of those tried and executed were women.
  • Learned ideas about witchcraft filtered down to ordinary people.
  • Legal changes facilitated massive witch trials.
  • Most witch trials began with a single accusation, but often grew to include numerous alleged witches.
  • Doubts and skepticism eventually brought the trials to a halt.


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