Germany, a Companion to German Studies

By Jethro Bithell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III

GERMAN HISTORY FROM 1618 TO 1900

I. THE THIRTY YEARS' WAR

FAR from healing the divisions which the Reformation had caused in Germany, the Peace of Augsburg ( 1555) did little more than register an armistice between the contending factions. A compromise had been accepted upon the religious issue, but like most half-measures it did not prove final, and long before the century had ended it broke down. Under the weak Emperor Rudolf II ( 1576-1612), who had been brought up under Spanish and Jesuit influences, the Counter Reformation began, and therewith the struggle between the confessions and their defenders among the rulers was resumed. In 1608 the Protestant princes, under the leadership of the Elector Palatine, Frederick IV, concluded an alliance known as the Union, while the Catholic princes promptly responded with the League, at the head of which was Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. As before, the main strength of the reformed faith lay in the north and centre of the country, while Bavaria was the seat of the reaction. The temper which inspired this fresh attempt to undo the Reformation was well shown by the saying of one of its bitterest enemies, Archduke Ferdinand of Styria, who later became Emperor, that he would rather rule over a desert than over a land of heretics. No sooner did this prince come to the ducal throne than he annulled the religious liberty of his Protestant subjects, expelled their clergy and teachers, and gave to nobles and commonalty alike the choice between returning to the forsaken faith or accepting it under compulsion.

The still harsher action of this ruler in Bohemia, of which he became king in 1617, mainly furnished the occasion, if not the cause, of the Thirty Years' War. More truly it was a sequence of four wars, fought for the most part in different fields -- the Bohemian and Palatinate war ( 1618-23), the Lower Saxon and Danish war ( 1624-29), the Swedish war ( 1630-35), and the Franco-Swedish war ( 1635-48). As the result of a collision between the two confessions in Prague the Protestants, who formed the majority of the population both there and in the rural districts, set up a government of their own; and when, on the death of the Emperor Matthias,

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