II. THE EMPIRE

Switzerland was only formally a part of the Empire; lusty victories against the emperors and the archdukes had left the cantons free to quarrel among themselves. Savoy and Spain joined the Catholic cantons, led by Lucerne, in diplomatic or martial efforts to recover the Protestant cantons for the Roman Church. The Jesuits, from their college at Lucerne, began in 1577 a resolute campaign of education, preaching, and intrigue. Papal nuncios in Switzerland reformed abuses in the Catholic clergy, ended clerical concubinage, and stemmed the Protestant influences that were spreading from Zurich, Geneva, and Bern.

Geneva was slowly recovering from Calvin. Théodore de Bèze succeeded his master (1564) as head of the Venerable Company (of pastors) and the Consistory (of pastors and laymen), and through them he carried on the work of the Reformed Church with tact and courtesy that only the odium theologicum could disrupt. He traveled into France to attend Calvinistic synods, and we have seen him presenting the case for Protestantism in the Colloquy of Poissy. At home he strove, not quite successfully, to maintain the austere morality that Calvin had imposed. As business leaders diverged more and more from that code, Bèze led the clergy in denouncing usury, monopoly, and profiteering; and when the city council suggested that preachers confine themselves to religion, Bèze argued that nothing human should be alien to religious control.6 He was the only one of the great Reformation leaders to survive into the seventeenth century, dying in 1608 at the age of eighty-nine.

Austria’s role in the Empire was central. It was usually the home of the emperors; it was the bulwark of Western civilization against the ambitious Turks; it was a bastion of the Counter Reformation, and the seat of Catholic power in the Thirty Years’ War. And yet it had for a time wavered between Catholicism and Protestantism, even between Christianity and unbelief. During the reign of Ferdinand I (1556–64) the Lutheran catechism was adopted in most Austrian parishes; Lutheranism prevailed in the University of Vienna; the Austrian Diet allowed Communion in both kinds and the marriage of the clergy. “It was considered a sign of an enlightened mind to despise Christian interment, and to be buried without the assistance of a priest… and without a cross.” A preacher reckoned in 1567, “Thousands and tens of thousands in the towns—yea, even in the villages—no longer believe in God.”7 Fearing the collapse of religious support to the Austrian government and the Hapsburg power, Emperor Ferdinand summoned Peter Canisius and other Jesuits to the University of Vienna. Under their lead Catholicism began to recover ground, for these trained men combined patient subtlety of intellect with an impressive simplicity of life. By 1598 the Roman Church was again predominant.

A like transformation came over Christian Hungary. Two thirds of Hungary had been under Turkish rule since 1526; the Turkish frontier was less than a hundred miles from Vienna, and peace with Turkey was preserved only by an annual tribute paid till 1606 by the emperors to the sultans. Transylvania, lying northeast of Turkish Hungary, paid similar tribute, but in 1606 its prince, Stephen Bocskay, dying childless, bequeathed the province to the Hapsburgs.

The Diet of Austrian Hungary, controlled by nobles eager to appropriate Catholic Church property,8 had since 1526 favored the Reformation. Under the religious freedom that they maintained, Protestantism won ascendancy among the literate classes. Soon it divided into Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Unitarianism, and the Unitarians divided into smaller sects over the propriety of addressing prayers to Christ. The nobles, now secure in their appropriations, saw no further reason for Protestantism. They welcomed Peter Pazmany and other Jesuits, accepted exemplary conversion, expelled Protestant pastors,9 and replaced them with Catholic priests. In 1618 Archduke Ferdinand of Styria became King of Hungary, and actively furthered the Counter Reformation. In the Diet of 1625 the Catholics regained the majority. Pazmany, son of a Calvinist, became a cardinal and one of the most eloquent Hungarian authors of the age.

Bohemia and its dependencies—Moravia, Silesia, and Lusatia—were in 1560 predominantly Protestant. All four states acknowledged the king of Bohemia as their sovereign, but each had its own national assembly, laws, and capital—Prague, Brünn (Brno), Breslau, Bautzen. Prague was already one of the most flourishing and picturesque cities in Europe. In the Bohemian Diet only the 1,400 landed proprietors could vote, but its membership included burgher and peasant representatives whose control of the purse gave them an influence beyond words. Most of the nobles were Lutherans; most of the burghers were Lutherans or Calvinists; most of the peasants were Catholics, but a minority were “Utraquists” who in 1587 renounced their Hussite traditions, insisted only on receiving the Sacrament in both kinds, and finally (1593) made their peace with the Roman Church. Most sincere of the religious groups was the Unitas Fratrum—the Bohemian or Moravian Brethren—who took the Sermon on the Mount seriously, shunned all modes of life but agriculture, and lived in peaceful Tolstoyan simplicity.

In 1555 Ferdinand I brought the Jesuits into Bohemia. They established a college at Prague, brought up a cadre of fervent Catholics, and won over many nobles who had married Catholic wives.10 Rudolf II issued edicts banishing first the Bohemian Brethren, then the Calvinists, but he lacked the means to enforce these decrees. In 1609 the Protestants prevailed upon him to sign a famous Majestätsbrief, or Royal Charter, guaranteeing the freedom of Protestant worship in Bohemia. Two years later Rudolf yielded the crown to Matthias, who removed the Imperial capital to Vienna, leaving Prague offended and rebellious. In 1617 the Bohemian Diet, increasingly Catholic though the country was still predominantly Protestant,11 acknowledged as king of Bohemia Archduke Ferdinand of Styria, who had been educated by the Jesuits and had vowed to eradicate Protestantism wherever he ruled. The Bohemian Protestants prepared for war.

Germany was a confusion within a complexity: not a nation but a name, a medley of principalities agreeing in language and economy, but jealously diverging in customs, government, currencies, and creeds.I Each of these units acknowledged no superior except the emperor, and ignored him fifty weeks in the year. Some foreigners found consolation in this division of Germany; “If it were entirely subject to one monarchy,” wrote Sir Thomas Overbury in 1609, “it would be terrible to all the rest” of Europe.12 Even for Germany it was in many ways a pleasant arrangement. It weakened her in political and military competition with unified states, but it gave her a local liberty, a religious and cultural variety that the Germans might reasonably prefer to such centralized and exhausting autocracies as those of Philip II in Spain and Louis XIV in France. Here was no tyrannical pullulating Paris sucking the lifeblood of a country, but a galaxy of famous cities each of which had its own character and vitality.

Despite this kaleidoscope of great towns and petty courts, Germany no longer enjoyed the economic ascendancy that she had held in northern Europe before Luther. The discovery of an all-water route from Western Europe to India, and the opening of the Atlantic to trade, had benefited first Portugal and Spain, then England and the Netherlands; they had injured Italy, which had formerly dominated trade with the East; and the German rivers and towns that had carried commerce from Italy to the north shared in the Italian decline. On the North Sea the ports of the Netherlands, on the Baltic those of Denmark and Poland, took most of the trade and the fees. The Hanseatic League had long since lost its old ascendancy. Lübeck was ruined in its long war with Sweden (1563–70). Only Frankfurt am Main retained its prosperity; its annual fair continued to be the best-attended in Europe, and made the city the center of Germany’s domestic trade and international finance.

Money was as popular as ever. Edicts forbidding interest rates above 5 per cent were evaded everywhere. “The godless vice of usury,” said a priest in 1585, “is practiced more zealously now by the Christians than formerly by the Jews.” An “unchristian love of gold,” complained a preacher in 1581, “has seized upon everybody and all classes. Whoever has anything to stake, instead of engaging in honest and strenuous work … thinks to grow rich … by all sorts of speculation, money dealing, and usurious contracts.”13Hundreds of working people invested their savings with the Fuggers, the Welsers, or the Hochstetters, and were wiped out in repeated bankruptcies. In 1572 the banking firm of Loitz Brothers went bankrupt after gathering great sums from simple investors, who now lost their savings, even their homes.14 The Fuggers were ruined by the bankruptcies of Philip II and Alva, whom they had helped to finance.15 The Welsers failed in 1614, owing 586,000 gulden. Perhaps fear of inflation had driven people into such investments, for nearly every German prince stole from his people by debasing the currency, and counterfeiters and coin clippers abounded. By 1600 all German currencies were in a disgraceful chaos.

Population rose while production lagged, and misery verged on revolution. In all but Saxony and Bavaria the peasants were driven into serfdom. In Pomerania, Brandenburg, Schleswig, Holstein, and Mecklenburg serfdom was established by law in or soon after 1616.16 “In what German land,” asked a writer in 1598, “does the German peasant still enjoy his old rights? Where does he have any use or profit of the common fields, meadows, or forests? Where is there any limit to the number of feudal services or dues? Where has the peasant his own tribunal? God have pity on him!”17 Many peasants went to work in the bowels of the earth, but the profits and real wages of mining declined as American silver entered Germany to compete with metal laboriously extracted from exhausted lodes. In the towns the old guild comradeship gave place to the exploitation of journeymen (day laborers) by masters. In some industries the working day began at 4 A.M. and ended at 7 P.M., with “breaks for beer”; the braziers’ guild exacted a ninety-two-hour week in 1573.18 As early as 1579 we hear of strikes against textile machinery in Germany.19 Only war was needed to make destitution unparalleled.

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