This series has five easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Focus on Prague.
The war combined a great struggle between religions and between dynasties. Should the Hapsburgs dominate Europe? This became the central question of the war.
As our story begins, the Hapsburg royal Mathias is the Holy Roman Emperor and is trying to deal with arcane agreements that involved compromises between Catholics and Protestants. The curtain rises in Bohemia.
The selections are from:
- The Thirty Years War by Samuel R. Gardiner published in 1874.
- The Story of Germany by Charles F. Horne published in 1914.
There’s 1.5 installments by Samuel R. Gardiner and 3.5 installments by Charles F. Horne. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Historian Samuel R. Gardiner was a Professor of Modern History at Kings College, London. He specialized in the Seventeenth Century.
Charles F. Horne was a Professor of English at City College, New York. He produced many multi-volume history books.
We begin with Samuel R. Gardiner.
Whether it would have been possible in those days for a Catholic king to have kept a Protestant nation in working order we cannot say. At all events Matthias did not give the experiment a fair trial. He did not, indeed, attack the Royal Charter directly on the lands of the aristocracy. But he did his best to undermine it on his own. The Protestants of Braunau, on the lands of the Abbot of Braunau, and the Protestants of Klostergrab, on the lands of the Archbishop of Prague, built churches for themselves, the use of which was prohibited by the abbot and the archbishop. A dispute immediately arose as to the rights of ecclesiastical land-owners, and it was argued on the Protestant side that their lands were technically crown lands, and that they had therefore no right to close the churches. Matthias took the opposite view.
On his own estates Matthias found means to evade the charter. He appointed Catholic priests to Protestant churches, and allowed measures to be taken to compel Protestants to attend the Catholic service. Yet for a long time the Protestant nobility kept quiet. Matthias was old and infirm, and when he died they would, as they supposed, have an opportunity of choosing their next king, and it was generally believed that the election would fall upon a Protestant. The only question was whether the Elector Palatine or the Elector of Saxony would be chosen.
Suddenly in 1617 the Bohemian Diet was summoned. When the Estates of the kingdom met they were told that it was a mistake to suppose that the crown of Bohemia was elective. Evidence was produced that for some time before the election of Matthias the Estates had acknowledged the throne to be hereditary, and the precedent of Matthias was to be set aside as occurring in revolutionary times. Intimidation was used to assist the argument, and men in the confidence of the court whispered in the ears of those who refused to be convinced that it was to be hoped that they had at least two heads on their shoulders.
If ever there was a moment for resistance, if resistance was to be made at all, it was this. The arguments of the court were undoubtedly strong, but a skillful lawyer could easily have found technicalities on the other side, and the real evasion of the Royal Charter might have been urged as a reason why the court had no right to press technical arguments too closely. The danger was all the greater, as it was known that by the renunciation of all intermediate heirs the hereditary right fell upon Ferdinand of Styria, who had already stamped Protestantism out in his own dominions. Yet, in spite of this, the Diet did as it was bidden, and renounced the right of election by acknowledging Ferdinand as their hereditary king (1617).
The new King was more of a devotee and less of a statesman than Maximilian of Bavaria, his cousin on his mother’s side. But their judgments of events were formed on the same lines. Neither of them was a mere ordinary bigot, keeping no faith with heretics. But they were both likely to be guided in their interpretation of the law by that which they conceived to be profitable to their church. Ferdinand was personally brave; but except when his course was very clear before him, he was apt to let difficulties settle themselves rather than come to a decision.
He had at once to consider whether he would swear to the Royal Charter. He consulted the Jesuits, and was told that, though it had been a sin to grant it, it was no sin to accept it now that it was the law of the land. As he walked in state to his coronation he turned to a nobleman who was by his side. “I am glad,” he said, “that I have attained the Bohemian crown without any pangs of conscience.” He took the oath without further difficulty.
The Bohemians were not long in feeling the effects of the change. Hitherto the hold of the house of Austria upon the country had been limited to the life of one old man. It had now, by the admission of the Diet itself, fixed itself forever upon Bohemia. The proceedings against the Protestants on the royal domains assumed a sharper character. The Braunau worshippers were rigorously excluded from their church. The walls of the new church at Klostergrab were actually levelled with the ground.
The Bohemians had thus to resist in 1618, under every disadvantage, the attack which they had done nothing to meet in 1617. Certain persons named “defensors” had, by law, the right of summoning an assembly of representatives of the Protestant Estates. Such an assembly met on March 5th, and, having prepared a petition to Matthias, who was absent from the kingdom, adjourned to May 21st.
Long before the time of meeting came, an answer was sent from Matthias justifying all that had been done, and declaring the assembly illegal. It was believed at the time, though incorrectly, that the answer was prepared by Slavata and Martinitz, two members of the regency who had been notorious for the vigor of their opposition to Protestantism.
In the Protestant assembly there was a knot of men, headed by Count Henry of Thurn, which was bent on the dethronement of Ferdinand. They resolved to take advantage of the popular feeling to effect the murder of the two Regents, and so to place an impassable gulf between the nation and the King.
Charles F. Horne begins here.
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