Germany's Northern Challenge: The Holy Roman Empire and the Scandinavian Struggle for the Baltic, 1563-1576

Germany's Northern Challenge: The Holy Roman Empire and the Scandinavian Struggle for the Baltic, 1563-1576

Germany's Northern Challenge: The Holy Roman Empire and the Scandinavian Struggle for the Baltic, 1563-1576

Germany's Northern Challenge: The Holy Roman Empire and the Scandinavian Struggle for the Baltic, 1563-1576


Shortly after the Augsburg peace settlement of 1555, from 1563 to 1576, the Holy Roman Empire was threatened by the rivalry between Denmark and Sweden. This book examines the empire's reaction to a foreign crisis, the Seven Years War of the North, and the connections between foreign policy and internal imperial politics. As this study will show, and contrary to most assumptions, the empire, through its confederal structure, was able to provide effective means for defending the domestic order against external dangers. Further, the empire could conduct a common foreign policy to protect common interests. This study highlights the empire's internal organization and politics by introducing two new concepts: initiative and consensus. Initiative was possible on the basis of consensus, but as this study reveals, there were two specific limits on building consensus. First, the empire's polities could only support a common approach if they had common aims. Second, a united approach to an outside crisis had to foster the preservation of internal stability. Motivated by German commerce in the Baltic, the empire was persistent in trying to achieve peace in that region. The empire was not alone in its interest in the Scandinavian conflict, which threatened no less than the economic well-being of western Europe.


The Peace of Augsburg of 1555 ended over three decades of political and religious strife in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. By agreeing to the peace, the Empire's estates accepted profound constitutional changes. Among them, both Catholics and Protestant Lutherans received legal protection, thus making the Empire the first officially biconfessional polity in Europe. The Augsburg settlement ended over a century of Imperial reform, during which emperors and estates had sought to create strong central institutions. The subsequent shift to particularism made the estates' responsibility to uphold peace, a fixture of peace agreements (Landfrieden) since the medieval era, even more heavy.

Despite these significant alterations of the Imperial constitution, there prevails a widespread understanding of the Peace of Augsburg as merely a fragile, temporary truce for a conflict that would erupt again in the form of the Thirty Years' War. This assumption ignores many salient aspects of the settlement. First, this presumed armistice lasted 63 years, longer than most [eternal] peace treaties of the early modern or medieval world. Seldom did a country in early modern Europe experience more than a half-century free of violent internal turmoil. Second, for many of the Empire's estates, the Augsburg agreement enshrined gains made during the period of strife, and thus, enjoyed broad support. Third, the Augsburg settlement withstood serious external pressures. In addition to the long-standing threat from the Ottomans, many other conflagrations along the Empire's borders after 1555—the Dutch Revolt, the French religious wars, and the Danish-Swedish struggle for Baltic hegemony—threatened to spill into the Empire and destroy the Augsburg order.

This study will examine the Empire's relations with the Scandinavian kingdoms during critical years of the post-Augsburg period, 1563–1576. This era represented an important phase in the sixteenth-century rivalry between Sweden and Denmark as well. For the first seven years of this period, Denmark, aided by cobelligerents Poland and Lübeck, fought a war against Sweden known as the Seven Years' War of the North, also called the War of the Three Crowns. In terms of geographic scope, it was the largest of the many Danish-Swedish

Maximilian Lanzinner, Friedenssicherung und politische Einheit des Reiches unter
Maximilian II. (1564–1576)
, Schriftenreihe der Historischen Kommission bei der Bayeri
schen Akademie der Wissenschaften, vol. 45 (Göttingen, 1993), 223. On the period of
Imperial reform see Heinz Angermeier, Die Reichsreform 1410–1555: Die Staatsproblematik
in Deutschland zwischen Mittelalter und Gegenwart
(Munich, 1984).

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