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Wars of Religion

Wars of Religion

The Protestant Reformation caused a series of European wars of religion to break out, particularly in areas with Catholic kings, such as the Holy Roman Empire and France. How did these wars happen, and how were they resolved? Can we say that anyone 'won' the wars of religion?

Wars of Religion, Painting of a battle, StudySmarter

Battle of Moncontour, 1569, during the French Wars of Religion, by Jan Snellinck. Source: CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

War Between Catholics and Protestants

Questions regarding who had the authority to dictate religion caused the Wars of Religion. Was it the state, the people, or the Pope? Catholic kings fought to enforce their faith universally in their territories. Protestants fought for the freedom to choose their religion for themselves without persecution.

Politics and religion went hand in hand. The religious division between a monarch and his people served as a tipping point to war in France and the Holy Roman Empire. The king and his nobles developed strained relationships because of taxation and political representation conflicts.

The Protestants thought the Catholic Church was abusing its position as a religiopolitical leader. They revolted against Catholicism and their king, leading to war. These wars' foundation stems from the Protestant and Catholic Reformations of the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Some of their fundamental differences are outlined below.

Protestant Reformation
Catholic Reformation
Eliminate church excess and indulgence, corrupt clerics
To counter the Protestants, the Catholics established schools to better train clerics and emphasized their vows of poverty
Church services and the Bible should be in the vernacular or common language
Church services and the Bible should be in Latin only.
Clerics should be allowed to marry.
Clerics must remain celibate.
Protestants should be free to practice their religion without fear of persecution.
Protestantism is heresy, and God's representatives on earth, the Catholic kings and the Pope, should make it their primary duty to cleanse their lands of its stain.

The European Wars of Religion

The Protestant Reformation flourished in Europe in the sixteenth century, dividing the land between Catholics and many types of Protestant faiths, including Calvinists, Lutherans, and Anglicans.

Wars of Religion, Map of religious divisions in Europe in the sixteenth century, StudySmarterReligions in Europe during the sixteenth century, at the beginning of the Wars of Religion. Source: Netchev, S. (2021). World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/image/14972/religions-in-europe-in-the-16th-century

Religious War in the Holy Roman Empire: A Timeline

The Holy Roman Empire was not one united entity but rather a collection of Estates and Principalities loosely connected by a Holy Roman Emperor, who was elected. Because it was so large, it represented a wide range of government styles, independent states, and with the Reformation, religions. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was an ardent Catholic who sought to unite the Empire under Catholicism, which prompted a series of religious wars, including the disastrous Thirty Years' War from 1618-1648.

Early Legislation

  • 1519: King Charles of Spain is elected as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
  • 1521 Diet of Worms: Charles V declared Martin Luther and his religion illegal and banned any practice or distribution of his Protestant ideas.
  • 1530, Diet of Augsburg: Nobles agreed to pledge their loyalty to Charles V if he recognized Protestantism as a valid religion in the Empire. Charles refused.

A Diet gathered the Holy Roman Empire's Emperor, Princes, and city representatives to debate and decide on war, peace, and religious issues.

The Schmalkaldic Wars: The First Empire Religious Wars

  • 1531: Empire princes formed the Schmalkaldic League to defend themselves and their Protestant religion against Charles. Distracted by a Turkish threat on his Eastern borders, Charles de facto recognized the League.

The Schmalkaldic League

Two of the most influential Protestant princes in the Holy Roman Empire formed the League: Philip of Hesse and John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony. Each member pledged to help defend the other should Charles V attack their lands because of their religion. In addition, they formed alliances with Denmark and France. The League's name comes from the German town of Schmalkalden.

  • 1546-7: After he defeated the Turks, Charles repressed the Schmalkaldic League, setting off the First Schmalkaldic War. Charles crushed the League, but their Protestantism ran deep, and Charles was again denied his dream of religious unity. He instead tried to compromise with the Augsburg Interim of 1548, but it did not help.
  • 1552-1555: The Second Schmalkaldic War erupted over dissatisfaction with the Augsburg Interim. This time the Protestants won, and Charles had to provide a better compromise to gain peace.
  • 1555: The Augsburg Religious Settlement brought peace to the Empire. It declared that the official religion of a territory matched its leader's religion.

The Thirty Years' War

  • 1618-1648: The Thirty Years' War continued the conflict between Catholic and Protestant leaders in the Empire. This time, both Catholics and Protestants received help from outside the Empire. The Spanish aided the Emperor, and the Swiss and English aided the Protestants mostly located in the northern parts of the Empire.
  • 1648: The Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War. It reaffirmed The Augsburg Settlement with newly drawn territorial borders. Each state returned to its religious status of 1624.

Wars of Religion, Charles V Enthroned over his enemies, StudySmarterCharles V Enthroned over his enemies, including Philip of Hesse and John Frederick of Saxony by Giulio Clovio, c. 1556. Source: British Library, Additional 33733.

In summary, while Charles V managed to keep the Turkish threat from invading the Empire, he could not achieve religious unity. After many costly wars, the Empire was even more fractured than in 1519. Both sides tried to use religion to push their political goals forward, such as claiming neighboring territories, with varied success.

French Wars of Religion: A Timeline

In France, questions over who controlled religious matters and authority were at the center of the conflict. French kings believed they were God's representatives on earth, making them divine. This role meant that they had to safeguard their people against heresy. They also controlled all French Church appointments, shifting the loyalty of priests to the king over the Church and religion. Therefore, there was no separation between Church and State.

Many priests and bishops appointed by the king were not educated in religious matters. As a result, their appointments were more political than spiritual. This lack of priestly quality led to resentment from the French people, which combined with new Protestant ideas from Martin Luther and John Calvin to form an opposition movement led by the nobility.

Wars of Religion, Placard from the 1534 Affair of the Placards, StudySmarterPlacard from the 1534 Affair of the Placards. It stated that Catholic Communion was only a symbol, not a miracle of faith. Source: Antoine Marcourt, CC-PD-Mark, Wikimedia Commons.

Causes of the French Wars of Religion & Early Legislation

  • 1534: The Affair of the Placards. French Calvinists organized and issued a storm of anti-Catholic pamphlets all over Paris, including the king's bedchamber. This act infuriated King Francis I, and he declared Calvinism a heresy. Moreover, the Affair caused the king to see Protestantism as a threat to the body politic and his authority.
  • 1551: The Edict of Châteaubriand made Protestant gatherings illegal, offered incentives to informers of Protestant locations, and punished those who sheltered Protestants, known in France as Huguenots.

The French Wars of Religion Summary

  • 1562: Catherine de Medici, the regent for her underage son King Charles XI, tried to compromise with the Huguenots by issuing the Edict of Saint-Germain, which offered limited toleration and recognition of their faith. Instead of peace, civil war erupted. The first phase of the French Wars of Religion lasted from 1562 to 1570.
  • 1572: A marriage alliance between Queen Catherine's daughter and the Huguenot leader King Henry of Navarre erupted in tragedy as Huguenots attending the wedding were slaughtered in Paris by Catholics. This event is known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre and brought on the second phase of the French Religious Wars from 1572 to 1598.
  • 1598: The Edict of Nantes, created under King Henry IV (formally Henry of Navarre), recognized the Protestant faith and protected it under French law. Protestants gained restricted freedom to worship and build their own churches. The Edict was revoked by King Louis XIV in 1685.

For nearly a century, Protestants enjoyed a measure of religious freedom. French kings maintained their absolute authority over the combined Catholic Church and State. While these measures did not eliminate social, political, and religious tensions in France, they stabilized the state.

Effects of European Wars of Religion

By the end of the European Wars of Religion, France was almost completely Catholic. There were still pockets of Calvinists in the region, but they were driven out in 1685 by King Louis XIV. The Empire remained religiously diverse after the Thirty Years' War, with the northern parts primarily Protestant and the southern and eastern parts Catholic.

Wars of Religion, Map of Religious divisions in Europe, 1648, StudySmarter

Religious Divisions in Europe in 1648, after the Peace of Westphalia and French Religious Wars.

Source: CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Wars of Religion - Key takeaways

  • In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Wars of Religion took place primarily in the Holy Roman Empire and France.
  • Both the French king and the Holy Roman Emperor were Catholic and sought to preserve religious unity under a Catholic banner.
  • Protestants sought recognition under the law and freedom to practice their faith.
  • Both sides used the religious conflict to push forward their political agendas. The Wars of Religion were just as much about political maneuvering as they were about differences of faith.

Frequently Asked Questions about Wars of Religion

The Wars of Religion were caused by a breakdown of understanding of whether the state, the people, or the papacy have religious authority. Catholic kings fought for authority to enforce their religion on their territories, and Protestants fought to have the freedom to choose their religion for themselves.

French Protestants organized and issued a storm of anti-Catholic pamphlets all over Paris, including the king's bedchamber, in 1534. This led the king to declare Protestantism a heresy. Protestant property was confiscated and their preachers were censored with force. The Protestants fought back.

The French War of Religion ended with the Edict of Nantes in 1598, a compromise treaty that made Catholicism the official religion of France but offered protection for French Protestants.

Protestant England and Catholic Spain supported their respective sides in the wars of religion with troops and funds.

Many. Wars between religions can be traced back to the First Crusade of 1095, which pitted Christians against Muslims. The Wars of Religion during the Protestant Reformation were only a continuation of a centuries-long conflict between those of different faiths.

Final Wars of Religion Quiz

Question

When did the Council of Trent begin?

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1545

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When did the Council of Trent end?

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1563

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How many sessions comprised the Council of Trent?

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3

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Who presided over the first session of the Council of Trent?

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Pope Paul III

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Who presided over the last session of the Council of Trent?

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Pope Pius IV

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What part of church doctrine was NOT reaffirmed during the Council of Trent?

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Original Sin

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What was NOT a reform issued by the Council of Trent?

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The introduction of Purgatory

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What was the primary result of the Council of Trent?

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It reformed the Catholic Church in response to the Protestant Reformation, beginning the Counter-Reformation.

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Did the reforms issued during the Council of Trent last?

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Yes, elements of the Council of Trent are still in practice today.

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Who gained the most authority from the Council of Trent?

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Bishops

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What was the Counter-Reformation?

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A series of Catholic Church reforms done in response to the Protestant Reformation

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Which was NOT a new monastic order established during the Counter Reformation?

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Dominicans

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Who were considered "warriors of Christ"?

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Jesuits

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What was NOT something that the Protestants accused the Catholic Church of?

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Sincerity

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What law allowed legal torture in a trial?

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The Carolina Code

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What did the reformed Catholic Church emphasize?

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An inward, individualized approach to faith

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What was the primary goal of the new monastic orders?

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To live like Christ

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What was a witch?

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A devil-worshiping heretic who caused physical harm to community members

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Did the Counter Reformation help the Catholic Church?

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Yes, it enabled the Church to remain relevant in a changing religious landscape

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Who was the victor of the Reformation era?

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Neither- Europe remained divided by faith

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What States were the primary locations of the Wars of Religion?

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The Holy Roman Empire and France

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Who was a founder of the Schmalkaldic League?

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Philip of Hesse

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Who won the First Schmalkaldic War?

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Charles V

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Who won the Second Schmalkaldic War?

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The Schmalkaldic League

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What was Charles V's dream for the Holy Roman Empire?

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Catholic religious unity

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French kings believed that they were divinely appointed by God

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True

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What was the 1555 Augsburg Religious Settlement?

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It declared that the leader of a territory could choose that territory's religion based on his own preferences.

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What Protestant group was first declared a heresy in France?

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Calvinists

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What set off the French Wars of Religion?

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The Affair of the Placards

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Did either France or the Holy Roman Empire achieve their goal of religious unity?

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No, their States remained divided over religious matters

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What started the French Wars of Religion?

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The 1534 Affair of the Placards

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How did the French Wars of Religion end?

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The Edict of Nantes, 1598

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Who was NOT King of France during the French Wars of Religion?

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Philip II

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What were Protestants called during the French Wars?

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Huguenots

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What Protestant group was dominant in sixteenth-century France?

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Calvinists

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When was the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre?

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1572

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What was NOT a cause of the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre?

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The death of King Henri II

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What was an effect of the French Wars of Religion?

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Religious pluralism in France

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How many wars comprised the French Wars of Religion?

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Eight

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Which Henry was NOT one of the Henrys in the War of the Three Henrys?

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Henry, Duke of Anjou

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Which of the following was not a phase of the Thirty Years' War?

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The Imperial Civil War 

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Who was the Holy Roman Emperor at the start of the Thirty Years' War?

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Ferdinand II

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What treaty did Ferdinand II violate by declaring that the Holy Roman Empire was Catholic?

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The Peace of Augsburg 

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Which Holy Roman Emperor allowed Bohemians to chose their religion?

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Rudolf II

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Who led the Swedes to victory until he died in 1632?

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Gustavus Adolphus

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Which country funded Sweden's involvement in the war?

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France

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Which side did Spain fight on?

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Holy Roman Emperor 

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Why was France destabilized in 1643?

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King Louis XIII died

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Which country took Prague Castle?

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Sweden 

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What treaty ended the Thirty Years' War?

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The Peace of Westphalia

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