Habsburg-Papal Relations

A.) Traditional Habsburg Church Policy

Since 1438, the Habsburg family held firmly on to the elective title of Roman (German) King, which qualified them for the prestigious title of Holy Roman Emperor - only this required a coronation undertaken by the pope himself. As this act required good relations between the current pope and the Roman king, the latter often had to wait for the right occasion. King Albrecht II. (1438-1439) was not crowned emperor at all; his successor Frederick III. was crowned Roman king in 1440, emperor in 1452. Maximilian I., crowned king in 1486, has assumed the title of emperor without formal act of coronation in 1508.
It should be remembered that Roman King Sigismund (1410-1437, Emperor 1433-1437) had been the driving force behind the COUNCILS OF KONSTANZ (Constance) and BASEL which ended the GREAT SCHISM and thus had reunited the Catholic church, had reestablished the papacy in Rome (Sigismund not belonging to the Habsburg, but the preceding Luxemburg dynasty). The prestigious, difficult to retain title of Emperor thus bound the Habsburg family to Catholic faith; the family traditionally has supported the church.

B.) The Papacy and Early 15th Century Diplomacy

The Papacy always had been both a spiritual and a political authority. NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI blamed the papacy as the force which was to blame for Italy's fragmentation and her inability to fend off foreign (French, Spanish, Imperial) invasions. This criticism is justified, as papal diplomacy traditionally was concerned to establish (and use) a balance of power in Italy and Europe.
In the late 15th century, Italy's leading states (Venice, Florence, Milan) were no longer capable of maintaining that balance; France and Spain had replaced them as the major players. The Italian political map had changed frequently, the country being the stage for a series of wars with implications far beyond Italy's borders, and the PAPAL STATE participated in these, most notably Pope JULIUS II., whom Erasmus, because of his bellicose policy, mocked (Julius Exclusus - Julius barred from Heaven).

C.) Charles V. and the Papacy

Charles V. personified the success of Habsburg marriage diplomacy; in quick succession he inherited the Burgundian lands (Low Countries), Spain, the Austrian lands, the Bohemian lands and what remained of Hungary after the Battle of Mohacs (1526); in addition he was elected Roman king (1520) and assumed the title of Emperor (although not crowned until 1530).
This sudden change in Europe's political map, this unprecedented concentration of power in the hands of one man, had to be of great concern to the papacy which traditionally was interested in maintaining the balance of power in Europe.
Popes were elected, too; when Leo X. - the pope who excommunicated Martin Luther - died in 1521, he was succeeded by a man regarded the Emperor's pope, HADRIAN VI. (1522-1523), the only Dutchman ever elected; he died soon afterward, succeeded by CLEMENT VII. (1523-1534) who had been elected with French support and whose sympathies lay with France. France and the (yet uncrowned) Emperor fought a lengthy war over MILAN; in 1525 King Francis I. of France was taken prisoner, the balance of power threatened. In 1526 the pope joined the HOLY LEAGUE OF COGNAC, an anti-Habsburg coalition; on May 6th 1527, Imperial troops occupied and sacked Rome (SACCO DI ROMA) - an unprecedented event. Pope Clement VII. was terrified; on February 24th 1530 he crowned Charles V. Emperor. In 1533 he refused to grant Henry VIII. a dispense for a divorce from his wife Catherine of Aragon, a relative of the Emperor.
The successors of Clement VII., Paul III. (1534-1549), Julius III. (1549-1555), Marcellus II. (1555) and Paul IV. (1555-1559) were more cautious, not to provide the Emperor with an excuse to repeat the occupation of Rome. Paul III. called for general councils to be convened in Italy (Mantua 1536, Vicenza 1537), the choice of location being important - located in Italy, where the numerical majority of the Italian clergy would dominate. Yet both councils did not register sufficient support. Only when a council was called for to convene at Trent, within the Holy Roman Empire (1542, 1545) was it possible for the Emperor to agree. In 1544, France and the Emperor had concluded peace, and French delegates could attend, too.
The council did not take the direction the Emperor intended; he wanted to make it possible for representatives of the German protestants to join (therefore the location on Imperial soil, where he could guarantee their safety). The political situation in the Empire was volatile; the Empire was very poorly represented. The council early on took an uncompromising course, and in the Empire the SCHMALKALDIC WAR broke out (1546-1547).
In 1547 the council, dominated by Italian clergy, decided to relocate to Bologna; Emperor Charles V. refused recognition, and in 1551 it was reconvened in Trent. The events of 1552 - the sudden march of Maurice of Saxony's protrestant army on the Imperial residence of Innsbruck, and the subsequent PEACE OF AUGSBURG, recognized the Lutheran reformation in Germany. The slim chance for reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants, striven for by Charles V., was no longer; in the Council of Trent, the uncompromising forces which wanted to brand and treat the protestants as heretics, prevailed.

Rome Sacked (1527), from Old News
The Invasions of Italy 1494-1527. Machiavelli and Giuccardini, by Bill Gilbert
Italian Wars 1494-1559, from encyclopedia.com
REFERENCE Franz Xaver Seppelt, Georg Schwaiger, Geschichte der Päpste (History of the Popes), München : Kösel 1964

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 23rd 2003, last revised on November 15th 2004

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