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Germany in the 16th century


German Catholic League
German Catholic League

When Charles abdicated in 1556, his vast empire was divided, with the Spanish and Burgundian lands going to his son Philip II and the imperial title and German lands going to his brother Ferdinand I. Within the German cities and territories, however, religious tensions continued to mount as governments attempted to establish confessions of faith among their respective populaces, mostly along Lutheran lines. By the 1540s, several newly converted princes had joined the attempt, simultaneously creating new courts and officials to oversee the process. The Protestant Reformation continued to spread.

Meanwhile, a Catholic reform council met for three extended sessions between 1545 and 1563 in the north Italian city of Trent (see Council of Trent), assessing which teachings and practices required changes and to what degree.

In general, the council reaffirmed almost all Catholic doctrine on salvation and the sacraments, while also laying a blueprint for extensive clerical and lay reform at the diocesan level. When Catholic bishops turned to the task of implementing reforms and even attempting to win back Protestant converts, one of their greatest assets was a new religious order, the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. The Jesuits relied heavily on education, setting up schools and universities in Germany and throughout Europe. With the backing of rulers such as the Wittelsbachs of Bavaria, the Habsburgs of Austria, and the archbishops of Salzburg, Bamberg, and Würzburg, the Jesuits helped create a Catholic bloc in the southern part of the empire, which has remained predominantly Catholic to this day. In more mixed or predominantly Protestant areas, though, the Jesuits often escalated religious tensions. See also Counter Reformation.

Emperor Ferdinand I was more savvy in politics than Charles had been. For most of his reign, Ferdinand attempted to reconcile the two religious camps within the empire; at the same time, he built up the centralized bureaucracy of his Austrian territories. At his death in 1564, his lands were divided equally among his three sons, and Maximilian II assumed the throne. Both Maximilian II and his successor, Rudolf II, were intensely preoccupied with the Ottoman threat. As in other times of increased military spending, the emperors generally deferred to the princes and cities on a variety of issues in exchange for new taxes. Meanwhile, several small and medium-sized Calvinist states that had developed in spite of the Peace of Augsburg formed close political ties with one another.

The combination of weak imperial rule and intense religious differences increased political tensions within the empire. In 1608 Protestant delegates walked out of the imperial diet, protesting that the empire favored Catholics. German Lutheran and Calvinist states then formed the Protestant Union, a defensive league that was answered by the formation of the German Catholic League. During the reign of the exceptionally weak emperor Matthias, from 1612 to 1619, the empire narrowly averted several crises. Finally, in 1618, the anticipated war came, setting into motion a series of conflicts that have come to be known as the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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