Back To CourseHistory 101: Western Civilization I
16 chapters | 173 lessons | 8 flashcard sets
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Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.
The idea of full-scale war being waged over religious differences is rather foreign to the Western train of thought. Sadly, we all know religious fanaticism can, and at times has, lead to acts of terror. However, the idea that any legitimate parliament or president would declare war over who worships where, seems absurd to most Western minds. Ironically, the pages of Western history books are replete with this very thing. To explain, we'll have to start with the Reformation.
The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century began as an attempt to reform the practices of the Catholic Church. It was sparked in the year 1517 by Martin Luther's 95 Theses. In these writings, Luther objected to the abuses he perceived within the Church. Soon, others joined the call for church reform.
Of course, these ideas didn't sit so well with the Pope. Before long, the efforts of the reformers led to a schism in Western Christianity. On one side were those who held to the doctrines of the Catholic Church. On the other were those who protested these doctrines.
Aptly so, these protesters became known as Protestants, or followers of Western Christianity, separate from the Roman Catholic Church. Aided by its followers and the invention of the printing press, the Protestant message spread throughout Western Europe. As reformers met with opposition and even persecution, what started out as a desire for reform exploded into the fight for freedom.
This brings us to Chapter 1, the German Peasants' Revolt of 1524. In this conflict, German Protestants rebelled against the very catholic Holy Roman Empire in order to gain political and economic freedom. As the name implies, a majority of them were from the lower classes of society. Sadly, for the rebels, the revolt ended in failure, leaving thousands of peasants dead. Despite this loss, the Peasants' Revolt signaled the beginning of Europe's religious wars.
Now, on to Chapter 2.
After the failed revolt in Germany, the Protestant cause found victory in the Netherlands' revolt against Catholic Spain. This conflict has come to be known as the 80 Years' War. Within the Netherlands, Protestantism came to popularity in the form of Calvinism. Calvinism, named after the 16th century reformer John Calvin, holds that only God has complete authority over humanity, salvation, and the Church.
In other words, the Pope is not the end-all authority. He, like the rest of humanity, is subject to God. With these reforming ideas in mind, the Netherlands were no longer willing to tolerate Catholic Spain's domination. For years, Dutch Protestants experienced victories and defeats in their quest for freedom.
Making the conflict more notable, Protestant England got involved in the fight. With this, Spain turned its wrath toward England's shores with the launching of the Spanish Armada in 1588. No longer content with just keeping the Netherlands, Spain launched over 100 ships towards England's shore. This was Catholic Spain's attempt to conquer England. Fortunately for the Protestant cause, England, with the help of some very bad weather, handed Spain a decisive defeat.
Having spent most of its money on these religious conflicts, the Armada's defeat added to the financial problems of Spain. In the year 1648, the Netherlands gained their independence from a bankrupt Spain. Not only was this a win for the Dutch Protestants, it stripped Catholic Spain of much of its power.
Chapter 3 takes us to France. While the Dutch Protestants were fighting for freedom, France was engulfed in the French Wars of Religion. This conflict pitted French Protestants against France's Catholic monarchy.
Like the Netherlands, Calvinism had taken hold in France. However, French Protestants took on the name, Huguenots. Adding to the tensions in France, many of the Huguenots were of the noble class. This gave the French Protestants political power to back up their reforming beliefs. It also made them a huge threat to the Catholic Church. Tensions between the Catholic Church and the Huguenots simmered for years, coming to a boil in 1562, at the Massacre at Vassy.
During this violent episode, dozens of unarmed Protestants were killed by Catholic nobles. This marked the beginning of the French Wars of Religion. During this long war, the Huguenots gained the support of Protestant England, while the Church was backed by Catholic Spain and the Pope.
The Huguenots faced many trials, which saw the murder of thousands of Protestants. Despite these tragedies, the Huguenots were granted the right to worship by the Edict of Nantes. Passed in 1598, this edict also ended the French Wars of Religion. Although this seemed like a happy ending, the Edict of Nantes didn't last. It was abolished in 1685. After its abolishment, the Huguenots of France were stripped of their civil rights, and the Reformation in France met its end.
The Reformation in France had come to an end. However, Europe's religious wars were far from over. In fact, another war had already begun. Chapter 4 brings us to the 30 Years' War. This religious struggle would engulf most of Europe. Though the war took place mainly within modern-day Germany, many of Europe's nations were involved.
Throughout this conflict, the Habsburg rulers of the Holy Roman Empire sought to unify much of Central Europe under the Catholic faith. However, countries like Denmark, Sweden, and even Catholic France were not willing to let this occur. What ensued was a series of conflicts that would devastate German lands and see the death of many Europeans.
The war began in 1618 when the Protestants of Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, revolted against the very catholic Holy Roman Empire. However, the Catholics quickly squelched the rebellion. Upon seeing this, the Protestants of Denmark feared that the Habsburg dynasty had gained too much power. In order to stem this power, Denmark went on the offensive and invaded Germany. Again, the Catholic forces won the day, and Denmark was forced to retreat.
In 1630, Sweden joined the fight. Unlike the Bohemians and the Danes, Sweden scored several victories against the Holy Roman Empire. The war continued to go well for Sweden until their king was killed in battle. Without his strong leadership, the Protestants faltered.
Fortunately for the Protestants, they were about to gain an unexpected ally. Catholic France joined the reformers' cause. This signaled a shift in Europe's religious wars. Remember, France was a Catholic nation who had no desire to see Protestantism grow, since France stomped out the Reformation within its own borders (this may be putting it mildly). However, Catholic France disliked the Catholic Habsburg Dynasty even more than they disliked Protestants. To put it simply, they supported the Protestants in order to curb Habsburg power. This motivation was purely political, not religious.
With the addition of the French forces, the Catholic dynasty met their match. By 1648, Protestant armies swept through Germany. Their victory at the Battle of Prague marked the end of the 30 Years' War. The Peace of Westphalia officially ended the 30 Years' War. Although no winner was openly crowned, Westphalia definitely favored the Protestants of Europe. Even more significant, the Peace of Westphalia signaled the end of the Church's political domination over Central Europe.
The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century began as an attempt to reform the practices of the Catholic Church. Within a very few years, the attempt for reform morphed into a desire for religious and political freedom. This shift was seen in the German Peasants' Revolt, in which the lower-class Protestants of Germany took a stand against their Catholic rulers. The Netherlands would follow suit in the 80 Years' War. Unlike the peasants of Germany, the Dutch succeeded in freeing themselves from Catholic domination.
In 1562, France became involved in their own wars of religion. These conflicts pitted the French Protestants, known as Huguenots, against the Catholic monarchy. Although for a time it seemed the Huguenots would win the day, the Catholic Church had the final victory.
Last, there was the 30 Years' War, which saw most of Europe entangled in a religious fight. Although this war was long, and cost many lives, it finally brought about the end of the Catholic Church's political domination. With this, the religious wars of Europe, which pitted Protestant reformers against the Catholic Church, came to an end.
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Back To CourseHistory 101: Western Civilization I
16 chapters | 173 lessons | 8 flashcard sets