The Protest at Speyer, Germany.
John, Elector of Saxony,
reads the Protest to the Diet at Speyers.
There was but one piece of business to be transacted at the Diet of
Speyer – the Council of the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V, when
it convened in 1529. Very simply the Emperor wished to repeal the Edict of
Toleration issued at Speyer in 1526 that allowed the free
exercise of religion until a General Council was called. As a
requirement by the Emperor it was a simple enough task that should not have
taken long to agree. It was in practice a cataclysmic proposal and
subsequent events gave rise to the term `Protestant` and `Protestantism` –
named after the defining protest against the resolution.
.At the heart of the issue was an intent to enforce the Edict of Worms
(25 May 1521) that had called for extirpation of heretics – meaning in
Germany, Lutheranism. Specifically it banned Martin Luther and his
literature, and made it a crime to give him food and shelter ( similar to
the Scottish `intercommuning` provisions in later years). The Papal Numcio had the edict extended to include the killing of Luther
to be lawful – without due process of law. At the time this had
caused Prince Frederick, the Emperor`s brother, to intervene and take
Luther to Wartburg Castle for safety. It was there that Luther began his
translation of the Bible into German.
In the Spring of 1526 Charles V was in
Spain and heading towards Rome for his coronation as Emperor when there was a breakdown in relations between
him and Pope Clement VII . The Pope had visions of restoring the
medieval glory of the papacy and was seeking to create an Italian state
with himself as its temporal ruler. To this end he had entered into a
League at Cognac, in France, with some European rulers to constrain
the all consuming power of the Emperor**. In Germany itself he Peasants`
War had devastated the land and brought the religious divide between the
various states and the free towns into sharp focus. Political necessity
forced Charles to seek
the support of the Lutherans as he prepared to fight the Pope and his
confederate kings. Thus the Edict of Worms was temporarily suspended
Diet of Speyer in
1526 and an Edict
of Toleration issued to bridge the gap until further consideration could
be given. This of itself was a groundbreaking
precedent as it was the first legal act that permitted Lutheranism to exist
– at least until a General Council decided otherwise; moreover it was a
legal blow at the supremacy and infallibility of Rome. The decision ran :
“As to religion and the
Edict of Worms, in the meanwhile till a General or National Council
can be had, all so shall behave themselves in their several
provinces as that they may be able to render an account
of their doings both to God and the Emperor..”
This was interpreted as meaning that
every state was free to act in religion upon its own
Wylie in his History of Protestantism
describes it as:
“..the dawn of
toleration in matters of conscience to nations; the same right
had still to be extended to individuals. A mighty boon had been won.
Campaigns have been fought for less blessings: the Reformers
had obtained this without unsheathing a single sword.”
This then was the background to the convening of the
Diet at Speyer in 1529 and why the requirement of the Emperor to
reactivate the Edict of Worms caused so much consternation.
Diet of Speyer 1529.
While it was clear that the Edict of
Toleration was a temporary expedient, in the meantime the nascent Lutheran
Church had progressed by leaps and bounds and now had structure and
organisation. The divide between Catholics and the Lutherans had
crystalised into a constitutional and legal debate that if
unresolved, would lead to civil war. At issue was the independence of the
individual states who had the right to regulate their internal affairs,
including religion. A central diktat by a Catholic majority in the Diet
would usurp those rights and destroy the unity of Germany.
A compromise was arrived at that sought
to maintain the status quo – they would neither enforce or abolish the
Edict of 1526. But cunningly the Catholic majority in the Diet ring fenced
the Reformation until future consideration of the matter. Meanwhile the
Popish hierarchy should be reinstated; the mass permitted; and that no one
should be allowed to abjure Popery and embrace Lutheranism
till such time as a Council had met and framed a general arrangement.
On 18 April 1529 the Lutheran princes
led by the Elector John of Saxony, and Philip of Hesse, were told by King
Frederick that the matter was decided and they must submit and that was
the end of the matter. The princes retired to consider a reply while the
impatient King Frederick departed not waiting for their response. The
following day, 19 April 1529 John of Saxony read a Declaration to the Diet
“Protesting” at the decision. This was renewed at the last
sitting of the Diet on 24 April and was subscribed by John, Elector
of Saxony, Philip Landgrave of Hesse; George Margrave of Brandenburg;
Ernest and Francis Dukes of Luneburg; and the Count of Anhalt. Joined with
the Princes were several of the chief cities including Strasbourg,
Nuremburg, Ulm, Constance, Rentlingen, Windsheim, Lindau, Kempten,
Memmingen, Nordlingen, Heilbronn, Isny, St Gall, and Weissenburg. From
that day forward the Reformers were called Protestants.
** Charles V (1500-1558)
was born at Ghent , the elder son of Philip, son of the Emperor Maxmillian
and Joanna daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. In 1506 Charles
inherited the Netherlands. In 1516 he became King of Spain and some
possessions in Italy. In 1519 he inherited the Austrian Duchies and
chosen Emperor in 1520. In 1525 he had defeated France and was
ruling over more land than any other European king.
The Pope was especially
jealous of Spanish power in Italy. Charles possessed Naples and victory at
Pavia ratified his control over France, this gave him a foothold in Lombardy which hemmed
in the Papacy . Clement
VI negotiated a `Holy League` to resist Charles, joining with England, Louisa of
Savoy on behalf of France (her son Francis I being a prisoner), Venice ,
Milan and the Republic of Florence. The conniving came to no good and ended in the sacking of
Rome in 1529, and the imprisonment of the Pope for a while.
In all his strength,
power and glory Charles returned to Germany and convened a Diet at
Augsburg where it was his intention to personally attend, and ensure that
his will concerning the Edict of Worms was followed. The outcome was
the Augsburg Confession.