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Peasants' War Notes

History Notes > Luther and the German Reformation Notes

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The Popular Reformation

! Widespread general rising in 1525
! Convenient to join on the Luther bandwagon


Luther's influence
! Peasants were deeply religious and liked the idea of sola scripture -- misinterpreted his

~ Thought he wanted them to have greater freedom
! Clergy who supported Luther marched with the peasants and encouraged them

~ Peasants thought Luther was going to lead them
Luther may have consciously encouraged their uprising

~ Expressed sympathy for the peasants' grievances
! Luther condemned the corrupt Church -- cause of some of the peasants' financial


Other influences
! Economic oppression -- landowners increased the amount taken each year
! Deception -- dues payable to the Church were unjustified

~ Not due to Luther
! Naive belief that the Emperor would address their grievances if he knew about them
! Thought Luther would come and lead them
! Bandwagon effect


Defeat of the peasants
! Alienated much popular support
! Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants -- peasants 'have abundantly
merited death in body and soul' by their actions

~ Seemed harsh when 100k peasants were executed
! Claims that Luther was a turncoat -- deserting the peasants whom he had encouraged in
favour of the winning side
! Peasants believed they had the support of the Emperor and Luther
! Lacked centralised planning or coordination
! No real attempt to replace overthrown structures of authority -- disorganised
! Luther encouraged forces to 'stab, smite, slay, whoever can'


! Luther gained support of rulers who had previously not been sure of their position in his

~ From above -- they are more important in spreading ideas than peasants
Luther regarded them as
God's ministers on earth

~ Were already inclined to reform of the Church

~ Persuaded them to support Luther as he agreed with their rule of the peasants
! Ignores role of people in towns and cities


The Role of the Cities
! Printing press
! Aspirations of the middle classes -- libraries

! Rulers could not subdue the large populations of cities

~ Many rulers were neutral and allowed reform
! Public sermons reached more people
! Imperial cities answered only to the Emperor => greater freedom

~ Emperor was Catholic and had many problems -- did not address the Reformation


Factors affecting adoption of Protestantism
! Wealth and control of leaders

~ Swedish Gustavus Vasa needed additional finance -- seized Church lands

~ Danish Christian III was challenged as King -- gained support by adopting

! Whether rulers were very religious
! Extent of popular support
! Rulers wanted to establish only one religion in order to keep social order -- if there were
many reformed communities then they would consider expanding it across the territory

~ e.g. Albrecht of Hohenzollern
Domino effect -- several estates became Protestant
! Many Imperial Cities became Protestant

~ Ending the Reformation would leda to a large civil war
! Wish of the people
! Whether town councils were receptive
! Fear of the princes and Charles -- many were not worried


! Princes in Germany were quite slow to adopt Lutheranism in their states




~ 3 exceptions -- Landgrave Philip of Hesse, John of Saxony (successor of Elector
Frederick) and Albert of Hohenzollern (Prussia)
Took another 30 years for half of the German princes to adopt Lutheranism
Why did they take up Luther's ideas?
~ Individual faith
~ Removing papal influence -- particularly economic power
~ Financial gain -- acquisition of Church property
~ Political gain -- Protestantism appeared to give them power => wanted
independence from the Holy Roman Empire
~ Fear of the people -- crushed peasants' revolt

~ More difficult to stop the citifies -- cannot risk civil disobedience

~ Social order -- must be all Catholic or all Protestant
~ Luther preached obedience to authority -- nothing to fear
People choose Luther for personal, selfish reasons rather than the theology
Mid 16th century -- Germany is split in half proportionately between Catholicism and
~ Inevitability of war
~ Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor left their reaction too late

The Attitude of the Emperor (Charles V)
! Thought it was the Church's responsibility to respond to Luther
! Pope was very slow -- eventually calls a council

~ 30 years after Luther started his process

! Charles V did recognise that the princes were the secular rulers of their states --
undermined his own authority

~ Saw himself as legitimate ruler of Spain -- only as artificial leader of German
states over the legitimate German princes
! Believed that a compromise must be possible

~ Naive -- underestimated the situation

~ Could not compromise on the Eucharist -- transubstantiation
! Never sufficiently present in Germany to enforce his idea of compromise

~ He did not attend the Diets (parliaments)

~ Particularly true at the beginning of the Reformation in the 1520s -- preoccupied

with the Habsburg--Valois wars
! Diet of Augsburg 1530 -- compromise fails on the Eucharist
! 1531 -- formation of the Schmalkaldic League

~ League of Protestant Germanic Princes

~ Would appear to make war even more inevitable -- Luther gives his support to this

league that is opposed to the Emperor
Before this Luther has always been on the side of authority -- now supporting
! War, however, did not come

~ Charles V is not in a position to go to war

~ Having trouble with the Ottomans who were attacking the Empire from the East

~ Needs support of Germanic Princes against them


! 1547 -- War

~ Charles V defeats the Protestant Princes at the Battle of Muhlberg

~ Philip of Hesse, leader of the league was found to be a bigamist and threw
himself on the mercy of Charles V


! 1541 -- failure of Colloquy of Regensburg
! Charles V found some strong support from Francis I of France -- agreed to stop
supporting the Protestant Princes
! Charles also gained the support of Duke Maurice of Saxony -- wanted his cousin John's
title of Elector of Saxony


! Yet Charles could not stop Protestantism and reunite the Church


~ It was too entrenched => did not want to return to Catholicism
~ Charles did not have the means of enforcing it

! 1555 -- another Diet of Augsburg


~ 'Cuis regio, emus religio'
~ Split in the Church is established and permanent

Luther's Church
! Luther was disappointed in the Church that was established

~ A new church had been created instead of an old Church reformed

~ He would not, however, compromise on the Eucharist


! Was also disappointed by the rivalry that developed in the Lutheran Church

~ Confessionalisation
! Luther wanted preachers to be chosen from amongst the people

~ 'Priesthood of all believers'

~ Yet the people were conservative -- wanted old, Catholic clergy

~ Remained separate and social exclusive from the people
! Luther's indoctrination was a failure -- did not know what they were meant to believe

~ Did people adopt Protestantism because of the doctrine or because it served

their purpose?
! Preachers, however, gradually improved

~ Knew more about Protestantism and less socially exclusive


! By the end of the 16th century -- 7 out of 10 Germans were Lutherans

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