1519-1556 1648-1740

The Holy Roman Empire, 1556-1648

When Emperor Charles V. resigned in 1556, he split his many possessions among his son Philip, who inherited Spain, Naples, Milan and the Burgundian territories, and his brother Ferdinand, who inherited the Austrian lands and the claim for the thrones of Hungary and the Holy Roman Empire. Thus, the Spanish and Austrian lines of the Habsburg dynasty were created.
Ferdinand I., Roman King since 1531, ruled as emperor from 1556 to 1564. He was succeeded by Maximilian II. (1564-1576), Rudolf II. (1576-1612), Matthias (1612-1619), Ferdinand II. (1619-1637) and Ferdinand III. (1637-1657).

The Religious Peace of Augsburg had reduced the political tension between the Catholic and the Protestant camps, which, since the formation of the Schmalkaldic League in 1531, had been on the verge of civil war. However, the danger of such a civil war was not banned. The Council of Trent disbanded in 1563, the Catholic church now vehemently pusuing the Counterreformation, and the protestant princes being alert Emperor Ferdinand I. pursued a cautious religious policy; his successor Maximilian II. even sympathized with Lutheranism. The Diet of Speyer (1570) rejected a reform of the military, judicial and religious organization of the Empire.
The accession of Rudolf II. to the Imperial throne raised religious tension again, for he promoted the Counterreformation. Strongly influenced by Jesuit priests, later during his rule he was temporarily insane. During his rule the Dutch War of Independence broke out, the Cologne Stift Feud and the Jülich Succession Conflict took place. When, in the city of Aachen, a protestant city council was elected (1598), the ban over the city was declared. In the Habsburg territories, Rudolf II. was deposed and replaced by his brother Matthias (Habsburg Brothers' Conflict).
Duke Maximilian I. of Bavaria, a strong supporter of the Counterreformation, in 1607 occupied and annexed the Lutheran city of Donauwörth, hitherto a free imperial city, and introduced the Counterreformation there. The failure og Emperor Rudolf II. to interfere (the act was a flagrant violation of the Religious Peace of Augsburg) caused the Protestant princes to found the PROTESTANT UNION (1608); in 1609 Duke Maximilian of Bavaria responded by founding the HOLY LEAGUE. Thus the stage for the Thirty Years' War was set. Both sides prepared for a military conflict, which was avoided by the München Compromise of 1610.

In 1559 a new Imperial coin ordinnance was decreed in order to regulate the minting of gold and silver coins..In 1578, Germany's immediate knights organized themselves in the Reichsritterschaft, outside of the organization of Imperial circles. The Diet of Augsburg 1582 banned the (English) Merchant Adventurers from Imperial soil; it was enforced only in 1597. England responded by closing down the Hanseatic Stahlhof in London.

In 1568, Emperor Maximilian II. signed the Treaty of Adrianople, with the Ottoman Empire, in which he agreed to pay tribute. From 1592 to 1606, the Empire fought another war with the Ottoman Empire.

When, in 1618, Bohemian nobles threw the representatives of Emperor Matthias out of a window of the Prague Hradschin, they started the 30 Years War. Emperor Matthias died in 1619; bribery ensured the election of Ferdinand II., who had to enlist the financial and military aid of Duke Maximilian I. of Bavaria in order to retake Bohemia. Then, Wallenstein raised an army of his own, which permitted the Emperor to pursue a policy more independent from Duke Maximilian. In the wake of Wallenstein's successes, he decreed the Restitution Edict (1629), demanding all former church property secularized since 1555 to be restored to the Catholic church. This measure affected numerous Lutheran princes of northern Germany and drove them toward Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden; the war entered another stage. The Swedish king was so successful that he established himself in Mainz, assuming the title Protector of the Princes of Germany. He died in battle in 1632. In 1635 the Emperor signed a peace treaty with Saxony; France's entry into the war extended it for another number of years. In 1648, peace finally was signed. The war had reduced the population of the Holy Roman Empire by about one third.

Biography of Rudolph II., from EB 1911
Article German (Catholic) League, from Catholic Encyclopedia
Article Protestant Union, posted by G. Brown

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on October 7th 2003, last revised on November 12th 2004

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