The Peace of Augsburg in 1555: Definition & Summary

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

This lesson will explain the historical background and significance of the Peace of Hapsburg, 1555, between the various states of the Holy Roman Empire and the Emperor.

Historical Background

In 1517, Martin Luther sent a letter to the church asking mainly about the legitimacy of selling indulgences. Indulgences are essentially a way of buying one's way into heaven. There were other issues too, things that had bothered other people for years (but no one had really said anything about) that had to do with the corruption of the Catholic church. In 1518, Luther's letter was translated into German and spread throughout Europe, which is when it became known as the 95 Theses. When other people started to read it and support Luther's letter, he started Lutheranism, the first Protestant religion.

The Founder of Lutheranism, Martin Luther
Martin Luther

Sixteenth-century Germany was both more fractured and much larger than it is now. It was part of an empire known as the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire had dozens, if not hundreds, of princes, kings, and powerful dukes each ruling their territories in near-independence. Many of them wanted full independence from the emperor, Charles V. While some of the German rulers might have appreciated that Luther's letter brought up some of the serious problems within the Catholic Church, the political reality was that a religion competing with Catholicism was a great excuse for a war against the emperor. It was also a great excuse because it avoided their true reason for war - independence.

Wars

The newly Protestant regions formed their own defensive alliance known as the Schmalkaldic League in 1531 and broke away from Charles V's empire. For the next fifteen years, the league did little more than confiscate church lands, expel Catholic leaders, and continue to add both kingdoms and Holy Roman principalities to the alliance. They were able to act without interference because Charles V was busy fighting in the wars that were breaking out around his empire. Between the French from the west and the Ottoman Empire to the east, he had neither the time nor the resources to concern himself with the Protestant alliance.

The Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V

In 1546, Charles V made peace with both of his enemies and turned his attention to the Protestants in the Schmalkaldic War. By 1548 he had defeated all the members and forced them to accept his terms. However, after thirty years of existence, Lutheranism was by then too widespread to be eliminated by a 'mere' war. So, in 1552 Charles V granted some freedoms to the Protestants and called for a meeting on the subject on September 25th, 1555 with his brother Ferdinand as the presiding officer.

Terms of the Peace of Augsburg

The agreement eventually came to three main points. They were:

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