Schmalkaldic League

Schmalkaldic League

The Schmalkaldic League ( _de. Schmalkaldischer Bund) was a defensive alliance of Lutheran princes within the Holy Roman Empire during the mid-16th century. Although originally started for religious motives soon after the start of the Protestant Reformation, its members eventually intended for the League to replace the Holy Roman Empire as their source of political allegiance. [Merriman, p. 110.] While it was not the first alliance of its kind, unlike previous formations, such as the League of Torgau, the Schmalkaldic League had a substantial military to defend its political and religious interests. It receives its name from the town of Schmalkalden, in the German province of Thuringia.

Origins and members

The League was officially established on February 27, [ws|"" in the 1913 "Catholic Encyclopedia"] 1531, by Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, and John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony, the two most powerful Protestant rulers at the time. [Kagan. "The Western Heritage", p. 360"] It originated as a defensive religious alliance, with the members pledging to defend each other should their territories be attacked by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. The League quickly became more of a territorial political movement, as breaking from the Catholic Church offered significant economic advantages. In December, 1535, the league admitted anyone who would subscribe to the Augsburg Confession, thus Anhalt, Württemberg, Pomerania, as well as the free imperial cities of Augsburg, Hanover, Frankfurt am Main, and Kempten joined the alliance. [Acton, et al. "The Cambridge Modern History", p. 233.] In 1535 Francis I of France joined the League against the Hapsburgs, but later retracted due to religious conflicts from within. In 1538 it allied with newly reformed Denmark. In 1539 the League acquired Brandenburg, which was under the leadership of Joachim II Hector. [Smith, Henry Preserved. "The Age of the Reformation". p. 119.] In 1545 the League gained the allegiance of the Rhenish Palinate, under the control of Elector Frederick III. [Smith, Henry Preserved. "The Age of the Reformation". pp. 120-121.] In 1544 Denmark and the Holy Roman Empire signed the Treaty of Speyer, which stated that during the reign of Christian III of Denmark Denmark would maintain a peaceful foreign policy towards the Holy Roman Empire.


The members of the League agreed to provide 10,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry [Wilde, Robert. [ "The Schmalkaldic League, Part 1: Introduction and Creation"] ] for their mutual protection. They rarely provoked Charles directly, but confiscated Church land, expelled bishops and Catholic princes, and helped spread Lutheranism throughout northern Germany. Martin Luther planned to present to the League the Schmalkald Articles, a stricter Protestant confession, during a meeting in 1537.Smith, Henry Preserved. "The Age of the Reformation". p. 121.] Luther attended the critical meeting in 1537, but spent most of his time suffering from kidney stones. The rulers and princes even met in the home where Luther was staying. Though Luther was asked to prepare the articles of faith that came to be known as the Smalcald Articles, they were not formally adopted at the time of the meeting, though later they were incorporated into the Lutheran Confessions, in the Book of Concord, of 1580, in German, and in Latin translation, in the official Latin edition of the Book of Concord, the Leipzig edition of 1584.

For fifteen years the League was able to exist without opposition, because Charles was busy fighting wars with France and the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman-Habsburg wars lasted from 1526 until 1571. In 1535 Charles led a successful campaign against Tunis. Francis I of France, in an effort to limit the power of the Habsburgs, allied with Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire. The Italian War of 1535-1538, between France and the Holy Roman Empire, ended in 1538 with the Truce of Nice. The final war during this period Charles fought against France, the Italian War of 1542-1546, ended with inconclusive results and the Treaty of Crépy.

The Schmalkaldic War

After Charles made peace with Francis, he focused on suppressing Protestant resistance within his empire. From 1546 to 1547, in what is known as the Schmalkaldic War, Charles and his allies fought the League over the territories of Ernestine Saxony and Albertine Saxony. Although the League's military forces may have been superior, its leaders were incompetent and unable to agree on any definitive battle plans. [Smith, Henry Preserved. "The Age of the Reformation". p. 127.] On April 24, 1547, the imperial forces gathered by Charles and Pope Paul III routed the League's forces at the Battle of Mühlberg, capturing many leaders, including, most notably, Johann Frederick the Magnanimous and Philip of Hesse, and forcing residents of thirty different cities to reconvert. [Merriman, John. "A History of Modern Europe, Volume One", p. 110.] This battle effectively won the war for Charles; only two cities continued to resist. Many of the princes and key reformers, such as Martin Bucer, fled to England, where they directly influenced the English Reformation.


In 1548 the victorious Charles forced the Schmalkaldic League to agree to the terms set forth in the Augsburg Interim. However, by the 1550s, Protestantism had established itself too firmly within Central Europe to be ended by brute force. A small Protestant victory in 1552 forced Charles, weary from three decades of war, to sign the Peace of Passau, which granted some freedoms to Protestants and ended all of Charles' hopes at religious unity within his empire. Three years later, the Peace of Augsburg granted Lutheranism official status within the Holy Roman Empire and let princes choose the official religion within the domains they controlled.



* cite book
last = Acton
first = John Emerich Edward Dalberg
coauthors = Ernest Alfred Benians, Sir Adolphus William Ward, George Walter Prothero
title = The Cambridge Modern History
publisher = Macmillan & Co., ltd
year = 1904
location = New York
url =

* cite book
last = Kagan
first = Donald
coauthors = Steven Ozment, Frank M. Turner
title = The Western Heritage: Since 1300
edition = Eighth Edition
publisher = Prentice Hall Publishing
year = 2002
location = New York
isbn = 0131828835

* cite book
last = Merriman
first = John
title = A History of Modern Europe, Volume One: From the Renaissance to the Age of Napoleon
edition = First Edition
publisher = W. W. Norton & Company
year = 1996
location = New York
isbn = 039396888X

* cite book
last = Palmer
first = R. R.
coauthors = Joel Colton
title = A History of the Modern World
edition = Eighth Edition
publisher = McGraw-Hill Companies
year = 1994
isbn = 0070408262

* cite book
last = Smith
first = Henry Preserved
title = The Age of the Reformation
publisher = Henry Holt and Company
year = 1920
location = New York
url =

* cite book
last = Tracy
first = James D.
title = Charles V: Impresario of War
publisher = Cambridge University Press
year = 2002
isbn = 0521814316

External links

* [ The Schmalkaldic League (1530/1 - 1547)] at
* [ The Schmalkaldic War] - World History at KMLA
*de icon [ Schmalkaldischer Bund]

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