This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Henry II Prepares for War Against Charles V.
Henry II, son of Francis I, ascended the throne of France in 1547. It had been the ambition of the French to establish the eastern boundary of their country on the Rhine, and thence along the summit of the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea. Jealousy of the growing power of his father’s old enemy, the emperor Charles V, probably added to the French King’s eagerness to fulfil the desire of his people for extension of their borders.
Charles was now occupied with the religious wars in Germany and Henry prepared to improve his opportunity by taking full advantage of the Emperor’s situation. The fact that the Protestants among his own subjects were cruelly persecuted did not deter the French monarch from furthering his ambition by consenting to assist the German Protestants against their own sovereign.
In 1551, when for six years there had been no actual war between France and the empire, Henry entered into an alliance with German princes against the Emperor. Several of those princes, headed by Maurice of Saxony, had secretly formed a league to resist by force of arms the “measures employed by Charles to reduce Germany to insupportable and perpetual servitude.”
This selection is from The Court of France in the Sixteenth Century: 1514-1559 by Lady Catherine Charlotte Jackson published in 1886. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Lady Catherine Charlotte Jackson (1824-1891) wrote on a variety of topics but especially on French history in the sixteenth century.
Charles V was on the point of becoming as despotic in Germany as he was in Spain. The long interval of peace, though not very profound — war being always threatened and attempts to provoke it frequent — yet was sufficiently so to enable him to devote himself to his favorite scheme of humbling the princes and free states of the empire. He had sown dissension among them, succeeded in breaking up the League of Smalkald, and detained in prison, threatened with perpetual captivity, the Landgrave of Hesse and the elector John Frederick of Saxony. They had been sentenced to death, having taken up arms against him. Frequently appealed to release them, Charles declared that to trouble him further on their account would be to bring on them the execution of the sentence they so richly merited.
His political aims he believed to be now accomplished, and the spirit of German independence nearly, if not wholly, extinguished. But with this he was not content. The time had arrived, he thought, for the full and final extirpation of heresy, and the carrying out of his grand scheme of “establishing uniformity of religion in the empire.” The formula of faith, called the “Interim,” which he had drawn up for general observance until the council reassembled, had been for the sake of peace accepted with slight resistance, except at Magdeburg, which, for its obstinate rejection of it, was placed under the ban of the empire. But the prelates were assembling at Trent, and the full acquiescence of all parties in their decisions — given, of course, in conformity with the views of Charles V — was to be made imperative.
Henry II had already renewed the French alliance with Sultan Suleiman, and was urged to send his lieutenants to ravage the coast of Sicily — a suggestion he was not at all loath to follow. Yet the proposal of an alliance with the heretic German princes — though the league was not simply a Protestant one — met with strenuous opposition from that excellent Catholic, Anne de Montmorency. The persecuting King, too, anxious as he was to oppose his arms to those of the Emperor, feared to do so in alliance with heretics, lest he should compromise his soul’s salvation.
But the princes had offered him an irresistible bribe. They proposed — even declared they thought it right — that the seigneur King should take possession of those imperial cities which were not Germanic in language — as Metz, Cambray, Toul, Verdun, and similar ones — and retain them in quality of vicar of the Holy Empire. As a further inducement, they promised — having accomplished their own objects — to aid him with their troops to recover from Charles his heritage of Milan. This was decisive.
On October 5th a pact was signed with France by the Lutheran elector Maurice, in his own name and that of the confederate princes, Henry’s ambassador being the Catholic Bishop of Bayonne. Extensive preparations for war were immediately set on foot and new taxes levied; for the King had promised aid in money also — a considerable sum monthly as long as hostilities continued.
He, however, deemed it expedient, before joining his army, to give some striking proof of his continued orthodoxy; first, by way of counterbalancing his heretical alliance with the Lutherans and his infidel one with the Muslims; next, to destroy the false hopes founded on them by French reformers. The heretics, during his absence, were therefore to be hunted down with the utmost rigor. The Sorbonne was charged “to examine minutely all books from Geneva, and no unlettered person was permitted to discuss matters of faith.” All cities and municipalities were strictly enjoined to elect none but good Catholics to the office of mayor or sheriff, exacting from them a certificate of Catholicism before entering on the duties of their office. Neglect of this would subject the electors themselves to the pains and penalties inflicted on heretics.
A grand inquisitor was appointed to take care of the faith in Lyons, and the daily burnings on the Place de Grève went on simultaneously with the preparations in the arsenals, and no less vigorously. Thus the King was enabled to enter on this war with a safe conscience. Montmorency, * unwilling always to oppose the Emperor, was compelled, lest he should seem less patriotic than his rivals, to add his voice also in favor of the project that promised the realization of the views of Charles VII and Francis I that the natural boundary of France was the Rhine.
[* Anne de Montmorency, Marshal and Constable of France. He was distinguished in the wars against Charles V.]
To return to Germany and the Emperor — whose complicated affairs are so entangled with those of France that they cannot be wholly separated, each in some measure forming the complement of the other. The command-in-chief of the German army was given to Maurice of Saxony — an able general, full of resource, daring and dauntless in the field, crafty and cautious in the cabinet as Charles himself. Throughout the winter he secretly assembled troops, preparing to take the field early in the spring, yet adroitly concealing his projects, and lulling into security “the most artful monarch in Europe.”
The Emperor had left Augsburg for Innsbruck that he might at the same time watch over the council and the affairs of Germany and Italy. He was suffering from asthma, gout, and other maladies, chiefly brought on by his excesses at table, and rendered incurable by his inability to put any restraint on his immoderate appetite.
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