After more than thirty years of religious and political conflicts, the rulers of Germany finally agreed to sign and enact the Peace of Augsburg on September 25, 1555. The German princes agreed to recognize Protestantism and Catholicism, and allowed both forms of Christianity to co-exist in their realm. Fragile as the peace was, it brought a measure of stability to a land long divided by differences in religion. This event can be found on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History during that time.
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The Schmalkaldic War (1546-1547) and the Augsburg Interim (1548)
Emperor Charles V never stopped trying to bring the Protestants back into the Catholic fold during Martin Luther’s lifetime. His efforts intensified after the Reformation leader’s death on February 18, 1546, but the Protestant princes did not give in. A war between the Catholic Holy Roman Empire and the Protestant princes had loomed on the horizon for many years but it finally flared in 1546. The princes of the Schmalkaldic League had no choice but to gather their own troops to prepare for war.
Battles raged between the Schmalkaldic army and Charles’s forces between the summer of 1546 and spring of 1547. By April 24, 1547, Charles’s army had finally defeated the outnumbered Protestants at the Battle of Muhlberg. The Protestant leaders Philip of Hesse and Elector John Frederick of Saxony were soon captured and imprisoned. Charles’ army also besieged Wittenberg, so John Frederick was forced to sign away the right to his title to keep the emperor’s army from destroying the city. The title of elector was then transferred to Charles’s ally and John Frederick’s cousin Maurice.
The Protestants had been a thorn in Charles’s side since the rise of Martin Luther, but he was getting tired of the religious conflict and was anxious to bring peace to Germany. While waiting for the results of the Council of Trent, the emperor went ahead and established a compromise with Protestants. This temporary compromise was eventually called the Augsburg Interim (1548). During the Interim, Protestants were allowed to live in peace granted that they would adopt some Catholic practices again. Masses were once again celebrated, and Germans were forced to acknowledge the Pope’s authority over them. Priests, however, were allowed to continue the giving of both bread and wine to the laity. Priests who married during the Reformation, meanwhile, were free to stay in that state.
The Peace of Augsburg 1555
Despite these concessions, peace was hard to obtain in a place where Protestantism had taken deep root. Charles brought in Spanish troops to enforce the terms of the Interim. But the presence of outsiders (and Catholic ones at that) only added to the resentment of the Germans. War began again in 1552, but it was the ambitious Saxon elector Maurice who stood at the helm after taking the side of the Protestants. He made an alliance with Henry II of France but gave away the bishoprics of Metz, Verdun, and Toul in exchange for military help.
Charles’s army suffered a major defeat in the same year which forced him to flee to Innsbruck. It was then up to his brother, King Ferdinand of Bohemia and Hungary, to sue for peace with the German princes (Peace of Passau, 1552). However, the Peace of Passau died prematurely when Albert Alcibiades, Margrave of Brandenburg-Kulmbach, broke ranks and offered his services to Charles V. The Holy Roman Emperor accepted his offer, and the renegade margrave’s attacks in Germany began.
The Margrave helped Charles besiege Metz in October 1552, but they were forced to withdraw in January 1553. Alcibiades then returned to Germany and once again started harassing the region of Franconia. Tired of the unrest Alcibiades was causing, a group of Catholic and Protestant princes soon rose up to oppose him. The Margrave was finally defeated at the Battle of Sievershausen in 1553. Alcibiades was forced to flee and seek refuge in France after his defeat.
The increasingly despondent emperor had abandoned all hope that he would be able to solve Germany’s conflicts. He started to withdraw from public life and allowed his brother, King Ferdinand, to represent the Habsburg side at the Diet of Augsburg in February 1555. The Pope did not send a representative, so the German princes were forced to work out peace among themselves.
The Peace of Augsburg was enacted on September 25, 1555, and included terms such as:
1. The guarantee that Protestants would enjoy the same security enjoyed by German Catholics.
2. The condition that subjects would follow their overlord’s religion. Those who do not want to conform, however, were free to sell their properties and move elsewhere.
3. The guarantee that all lands taken by Protestant princes from Catholic churches before 1552 would remain in their possession.
4. The assurance that the Catholic Church had the right to deprive the clergymen who had converted to Protestantism their former properties and other rights that were given by the Church.
The Peace of Augsburg, however, was only applied to Lutherans and Catholics. Calvinists, Anabaptists, and members of other sects were excluded.
Douglas, J. D., and Earle E. Cairns. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.
Roper, Lyndal. Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet. New York: Random House, 2016.
Scribner, R.W. The New Cambridge Modern History: The Reformation, 1520-59. Edited by G.R. Elton. 2nd ed. Vol. II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
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