1500-1577 History of Italy 1622-1648

Graubünden 1577-1622

After the Council of Trent (1545-1563) the Catholic church organization vigorously took upon herself the task to combat the reformation. Archbishop Carlo Borromeo of Milan was a driving figure behind the Counterreformation; he had been appointed visitator of Valtellino and Graubünden. By that time the Protestant Synod was divided over the issue of the treatment of dissenting preachers; Tridentine Catholicism took firm control of the Valtellino, Bormio, Chiavenna and of the Misox. Graubünden's Catholics got organized and allied themselves with the Swiss Catholic cantons. In the Misox, on a visit, Borromeo had those who steadfastly held on to protestantism, treated as magicians and witches; they were burnt at the stake (1583).
In 1579 in Milan the Collegium Helveticum was founded, an institution to train (Counterreformation Catholic) priests for Switzerland and Graubünden.
The Bundestag undertook measures to prevent Cardinal Borromeo and of other Catholic bishops of regions outside of their respective dioceses; it ordered a Hesuit College established at Roveredo to close down. The archbishop, in return, blocked the establishment of a state school in Sondrio, Valtellino (1582-1584).
The population of the Valtellino meanwhile had accepted Tridentine Catholicism and interpreted the state initiative to establish a school as an attempt to force a protestant school upon them. Radical Catholic preachers agitated, suggested to cut all contact with heretics, declared mixed marriages invalid, forbade Catholic servants to serve protestant masters. A mob then assaulted protestants who happened to be in Sondrio (when the school was to be opened). An inquiry was undertaken, which came up with few results. The Bundestag ordered the school to be opened; now the Valtellinians ignored, obstructed the orders. The school was relocated from Sondrio to Chur.
Graubünden continued to strive for an alliance with Switzerland, which the Catholic Cantons of Switzerland continued to block. So Gr. concluded alliances with Wallis 1600, with Bern 1602.
In 1603 a commission was charged with a reform, which was to rid the country of illicit acquisition of public office and of abuse of office with the purpose of personal enrichment and to newly regulate the relation with the subjects in Chiavenna, Valtellino and Bormio. Public officials were to account for their revenues and expenses; in Valtellino, Chiavenna, Bormio, the office holders should no longer be appointed by the Bundestag, but by the regional court assemblies; equality of Catholic and Protestant confession was confirmed.
In 1602 Graubünden concluded an alliance with France, in 1603 with Venice. Spain, whose offers of an alliance had consistently been refused, responded by declaring a trade embargo against Graubünden, which now became dependend on her trade with Venice. Venice now found herself in a conflict with the pope and required several thousand Graubünden mercenaries. Catholic propaganda spread rumours in Graubünden about foreign mercenaries traversing Graubünden en route to Venice. In March 1607, stirred up by such rumours, 6,000 men assembled to discuss "how the fatherland could be saved". The assembly, in lieu of the Bundestag, decided to hold on to the French and Venetian alliance. However, the assembly could not solve the problem of how to pay for the costs the rebellion had caused, and in the end tore up the alliance and ordered the mountain passes to be blocked - Spanish propaganda had prevailed. Supporters of the Franco-Venetian Alliance were sentenced to pay extraordinary fees.
Then supporters of the Spanish party found themselves accused of treason; in the end the Engadin peasants took up arms and marched against Chur, a stronghold of the Spanish party. The articles which had terminated the Franco- Venetian alliance were declared invalid. A Swiss intervention foresaw the establishment of two Graubünden regiments to restore law and order - a Catholic and a Protestant regiment. However, the Catholic regiment passed a secret resolution the contents of which went far beyond restoring law and order, rather a conspiracy with the aim to alter the country's constitution. The conspiracy uncovered, the Swiss intervention attempt terminated. Meanwhile the conflict between the pope and Venice had been resolved.
The Venetian alliance, in 1603 concluded for a period of 10 years, in 1613 was up for renewal. Venice's request for the alliance to be renewed was rejected; mercenaries enlisted in Bern and Zürich were refused passage. The country was split in a Catholic faction supporting an alliance with Spain, and a protestant faction detesting such an alliance. Spain again attempted to put pressure on Graubünden by instituting a trade embargo. This caused public opinion turning against the leaders of the Spanish party, Pompeius and Rudolf Planta, who were accused of treason. The peasants of the Lower Engadin took up arms, attempted to take the Plantas prisoner, plundered the castle at Zernez, then held an assembly in Thusis. Meanwhile the peasants of the Münster Valley, the Upper Engadin and Poschiavo had joined them; here at Thusis a court was assembled, of which many prominent protestant preachers were part. The court took arbitrary decisions of anti-Catholic nature; the Plantas were banned, their property confiscated. Johann Flugi, Bishop of Chur - he had fled the country - was proclaimed deposed and banned.
The arbitrary and radical hudgments the Thusis court took again caused resentment. Even protestant preachers criticized the active participation of their colleagues and their radical actions. The Synod suspended their license to preach for six months. Another court (with pro-Spanish tendency) annulled most of their sentences; yet another court in Davos confirmed most Thusis sentences. The unity of Graubünden seemed in jeopardy.
Meanwhile (1620) the Plantas looked for support in Tyrol (Austria). A two-pronged invasion of Graubünden was planned, simultaneously from Spanish Milan and Austrian Tyrol.
The court at Thusis had sentenced Catholic priest Rusca to death; this case of judicial murder had caused hatred against the Graubünden protestants among the (largely Catholic) population of Valtellino. In July 1620 the protestants among the population of Valtellino communities massacred, only few allowed to escape; the number of victims is given as c. 600. Valtellino and Bormio seceded from Graubünden; Chiavenna remained loyal. An attempt to reconquer the Valtellino failed in August 1620. Meanwhile a force of mercenaries, recruited with Spanish money in Switzerland's Catholic cantons, entered Graubünden with connivance of the (mostly Catholic) Upper Federation, in order to link up with Austrian forces. On February 6th 1621 the Grey League concluded a separate peace with Spain; the treaty provided the dissolution of her union with the League of the House of God and the League of the 10 Jurisdictions, and the return of Valtellino and Bormio to Graubünden rule, but exclusively Catholic.
Within the League of the 10 Jurisdictions and the League of the House of God, the action of the Grey League was regarded treason. To many, Pompeius Planta was regarded responsible; Protestant preacher Georg Jenatsch and a few fellow conspirators surprised Planta at his castle and murdered him. Jenatsch and his followers cleared the Engadin of supporters of the Spanish faction; then he lead a force into the territory of the Grey League; the Swiss troops stationed there fled home. Jenatsch then lead a poorly organized campaign into Bormio; without having accomplished anything, he had to withdraw his forces (late 1621).

Article Alexander Blasius, from BBKL
Article Georg Jenatsch, from BBKL, in German; from EB 1911
Article Hartmann Schwarz (Niger), in BBKL, in German
Article Bündner Wirren (Graubünden Troubles), from Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz, in German
The Valtelline 1603-1639, by Horatio F. Brown, posted by MATEO
Protestantism in Chiavenna and the Valtellina, and its Suppression. from Schaff, Philip, (1819-1893), History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
REFERENCE Friedrich Pieth, Bündnergeschichte (History of Graubünden), Chur : Fr. Schuler 1945, 638 pp., in German
Geoffrey Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, Cambridge : UP 1972 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on August 16th 2003, last revised on May 11th 2006

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