This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Opening Moves.
In 1530 Charles V convened a diet at Augsburg for the settlement of religious disputes in Germany and preparation for war against the Turks, who were advancing into the empire. The diet issued a decree condemning most of the Protestant tenets. In consequence of this the Protestant princes of Germany at once entered into a league, known as the Smalkaldic League, from Smalkald, Germany, where it was formed. They bound themselves to assist each other by arms and money in defense of their faith against the Emperor, and to act together in all religious matters. They concluded an alliance with Francis I, King of France, and from Henry VIII of England they received moral support and some material assistance.
Charles was not yet ready to proceed to extremities. In 1531 terms of pacification were agreed upon, and the Emperor received earnest support from Protestant Germany in his preparations against the Turks, who after all withdrew without a battle. During the next few years there was no open hostility between the two religious parties, but all attempts at reconciliation failed. In 1538 the Catholic princes formed a counter-league, called the Holy League, and violent disputes continued.
At last Charles determined to crush the Reformation in Germany by military force. The German Protestants refused to be bound by the decrees of the Council of Trent (1545), because it was held in a foreign country and presided over by the Pope. Their attitude confirmed the Emperor in his resolve, and in 1546 began the conflict known as the Smalkaldic War, of which Armstrong gives us a spirited and impartial account.
This selection is from The Emperor Charles V (2nd. edition) by Edward Armstrong published in 1910. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Edward Armstrong wrote biographies of Rennaissance people.
War was actually opened neither by Emperor nor princes, but by the Protestant towns. The capable condottiere Sebastian Schartlin von Burtenbach led the forces of Augsburg and Ulm briskly southward, seized Fussen in the Bishop of Augsburg’s territory on July 9th, and then surprised the small force guarding the pass of Ehrenberg, which gave access to the Inn valley. The religious character of the war was emphasized by plunder of churches and ill usage of monks and clergy. Two obvious courses were now open to the insurgent princes. Either they could march direct on Regensburg, where a mere handful of troops protected Charles from a strongly Protestant population, or in support of Schartlin they could clear Tyrol of imperialists, close the passes to Spanish and Italian reënforcements, and even pay a domiciliary visit to the Council of Trent. This latter was Schartlin’s program; the Tyrolese had Protestant sympathies and dreaded the advent of the foreign troops; Charles averred that even their government was ill-affected. Schartlin would even have persuaded the Venetians and Grisons to forbid passage to the Emperor’s troops, and have enlisted the services of Ercole of Ferrara, the enemy of the Pope. But either of the two strategic movements was too bold for the Smalkaldic council of war. The first would have violated the neutrality of Bavaria, in which the league still believed, while it had no quarrel with Ferdinand, who was ostensibly conciliatory. The towns, moreover, wished to keep their captain within hail, for they feared the possibility of attack either from Regensburg or from Ferdinand’s paltry forces in the Vorarlberg.
Schartlin retired on Augsburg, but on July 20th, reinforced by a Wuertemberg contingent, occupied Donauworth, and was here joined on August 4th by the Elector and Landgrave. The insurgent army now numbered fifty thousand foot and seven thousand horse. The very size of this force, by far the largest that Germany could remember, is a disproof of the not uncommon assertion that Charles took the Lutherans by surprise.
On a rumor that the enemy were crossing the Danube to separate him from the troops on the march from Italy, Charles moved on Landshut with some six thousand men, not much more than a tenth of the opposing force. He was determined, he wrote, to remain in Germany alive or dead, rejecting as idle vanity the notion that it was beneath his dignity to lead a small force. At Landshut he met papal auxiliaries under Ottavio Farnese and Alessandro Vitelli, with detachments of light horse sent by the Dukes of Florence and Ferrara. When the Spanish foot and Neapolitan cavalry had joined, he could muster at Regensburg twenty-eight thousand men, over whom he placed Alba in command. The Elector and Landgrave, in renunciation of their fealty, had sent in a herald with a broken staff addressed to Charles self-styled the Fifth and Roman Emperor. To him was delivered the ban of the empire against his masters, condemning them, not for heresy, but for acts of violence and rebellion, for the Pack plot, the attack on Wuertemberg, and the seizure of Brunswick.
The campaign now began in earnest. While the Lutherans timidly wasted their opportunities, Charles with his greatly inferior force made a hazardous night march on Ingolstadt. The movement was executed with much disorder, resembling a flight rather than an advance. The league neglected the chance of making a flank attack on the hurrying, straggling line as it followed the right bank of the Danube until it was conveyed across the river at Neustadt. To add to the Emperor’s danger, his German troops were mostly Lutherans, hating the priests and the Spanish and Italian regiments. Many had early deserted from their general, the Marquis of Marignano; all cherished ill-feeling against Charles’ confessor as being the cause of the civil war. Even the population of Bavaria, professedly a friendly territory, was in great part a Lutheran.
At Ingolstadt Charles could draw supplies from Bavaria, whose neutrality the league had foolishly respected, and thither the Count of Buren with the Netherland army might find his way. He was by no means out of danger, encamped as he was with but feeble artillery outside the city walls. But the Lutheran princes with all their bluster had little stomach for stand-up fights. From August 31st to September 3d they bombarded the city with one hundred ten guns, to which Charles’ thirty-two pieces could make scant reply. They did not dare attack the impoverished trenches. “I would have done it,” wrote the Landgrave, “had I been alone.” On the other hand it was reported that the Lutherans laid the blame on Philip, that he had refused to move, “for every fox must save his own skin.” The Cockerel, as the confessor, De Soto, had contemptuously prophesied, had crowed better than he fought. Charles, on the other hand, was at his best. He rode round the trenches, exhorting his soldiers to stand firm, with the assurance that artillery made more noise than mischief. In vain Granvelle sent the confessor to persuade him that Christianity needed an emperor less gallant and more sensible. He answered that no king nor emperor had ever been killed by a cannon-ball, and, if he were so unfortunate as to make a start, it would be better so to die than to live. When Ferdinand afterward expostulated with his brother, Charles assured him that his self-exposure had been exaggerated, but that they were short of hands, and it was not a time to set bad example.
The division of Lutheran command was already giving Charles the expected opportunities. The princes withdrew westward, a palpable confession of weakness. They had been the aggressors, and yet they now surrendered the initiative to Charles. Their retirement enabled the Count of Buren to march in with his Netherland division, and with him the troops of Albert and Hans of Hohenzollern. This march of Buren was the strategic feat of the war. He had led the hostile forces which were watching him a dance up and down the Rhine, and slipped across it unopposed. He had brought his troops three hundred miles, mainly through the heart of Protestant Germany, with no certain knowledge where he should find the Emperor, for communications could only be maintained by means of long detours. Finally he marched boldly past the vastly superior army of the league, which had professedly retired from Ingolstadt to bar his passage.
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